Latest Entries »

Stop judging me and cut my damn hair!

A little rant about why I hate going to the hairdresser

Four months after my last trip to a hairdresser, I still find myself replaying the memory whenever I wash my hair. It evokes an uncomfortable combination of embarrassment and anger.

I regard going to the hairdresser in much the same way as people view going to the dentist. I don’t like it, I feel judged and talked down to, and I put off going as long as possible.

My last haircut was particularly traumatic. The last couple of times I’ve had a professional cut it has been while I was on holiday on a cruise ship. My logic? By going to the cruise ship salon I don’t have to eliminate any of my local salons from possible future use, I won’t ever have to see the stylist again, and usually they are a bit less harsh because they know you’re on holiday and just want to have a nice time.

Usually.

The stylist I got in November ticked every box for why I hate going to the hairdresser.

  • He refused to cut my hair the way I asked for it to be cut. “Oh no, you mustn’t cut that much off! It’s better long, don’t you think?”
  • He questioned and criticised me about my hair care regime. “What products do you use? How long have you used that for? It’s terrible for your hair, absolutely awful, you must never use that again. Use this instead.”
  • The first thing he did was try to pressure sell me a keratin treatment costing over £100, “you need keratin, it will fix your hair”, when all I wanted was a cut and dry.
  • He continued to pressure sell me products throughout whilst simultaneously managing to guilt trip me for not taking the keratin treatment. “I know, you should use this mask, it will help. Not as good as keratin, but it will help”. I ended up agreeing to buy the £40 mask just to get him to leave me alone.

Now it probably doesn’t help that I always feel vulnerable when I have to take my glasses off. Having to engage in conversation with the hairdresser without being able to see their expression or make eye contact makes me feel like I have no control in the conversation. But, nevertheless, getting my hair cut shouldn’t have to result in me, months later, still replaying the traumatic event when I wash my hair with the “terrible” products I was forbidden to use, and thinking about how I could have better handled the situation.

You might be wondering why I didn’t complain about the service I received. Had this been different from my usual experience of going to the hairdresser I might have, but it was pretty much the norm. In my experience, this is just what going to the hairdresser is.

I understand this judgmental approach from a dentist. No one likes being given a catalogue of their teeth defects and told they should floss more, but you do only have one set of teeth, so you can appreciate the judgmental advice is for your own good.

Hair is not the same. The only physiological purpose of hair is to keep my head warm, a job that can be achieved with that commonly available prosthetic, the hat! My hair does not need expensive products and there is no reason I must spend hours tending to and caring for it. It’s just hair!

One thing I always know when I enter a salon is that “hair” is going to be infinitely more important to the stylist than it is to me. I understand this, but I don’t think the stylists do. Hence the assumptions they make. One, that I care, want to care, and/or should care, about my hair being the best hair it can be. And two, if they explain what I am doing wrong I will want to change my behaviour. I don’t. I won’t. But you might succeed in making me anxious about it. Thanks!

How many people start flossing just because the dentist told them to?

Telling my what I must do and what my hair needs just makes me feel uncomfortable, judged and embarrassed. Why can’t you just cut my damn hair?

I really wanted to take on a reading challenge this year, to try to add diversity to what I read. I looked at several I found online but none of them quite hit the points I wanted to challenge myself on. So, I decided to compile one of my own.

I’m challenging myself to read 18 books in 2017, from my list of 24 challenge criteria. I’m not necessarily trying to read something for everything on the list because I’d like to give myself some flexibility and a chance to actually succeed. You could try to do all 24!

24-book-reading-challenge

In January I read:

“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins – which I counted as “a popular best seller”. This was outside my normal reading habit as I tend to go for genre fiction and avoid mainstream books, perhaps because I don’t want to feel like I’m reading the same thing as everyone else.

“Marked” by Sue Tingey – I won this book in a competition I didn’t even enter! It was weird. I got a message on Twitter, completely unexpectedly saying “you’ve won a free copy of a book”. It was “a book I knew nothing about.” Anyway, they sent it and this year I finally got round to reading it.

In February I am reading:

“The Dark Half of the Year” by North Bristol Writers – I could count this as “a book by someone I know”, but I’m going to use it for “an anthology of short stories” instead. I may or may not skip over my own story.

“The Works of John Keats” – My lovely partner bought me an 1899 edition of the Works of John Keats for Valentines Day. I’m planning to work my way through this over a couple of months while also reading other things. I don’t want to risk carrying it around in my bag at my day job.

 

If you’d like to try this challenge, why not post a comment with a link to your blog and let others know what you’re reading.

Arrival - movie posterArrival is sci-fi tale told with an air of intense realism. Alien objects appear around the world and humans are “invited” to check them out and try to figure out what’s going on. The aliens make no hostile moves, but tensions and miscommunication between the nations of Earth escalate nonetheless. But, this isn’t really a film about aliens, it’s about communication, linguistics and the relationship between language and perception.

If humans who speak different human languages perceive the world in subtly different ways, and if learning a new language can change your perception, what changes to perception might we experience if we were to learn a completely alien language?

I am utterly in love with this as a concept for a film. It is fascinating to me how people classify their world and how language is integral to this. We learn the word for something at the same time we learn what that thing is, and so the two things, word and concept, become inseparable. We think in our language.

Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguist and is therefore hyper-aware of language. She takes on the job of trying to communicate with the aliens, and this is explored in very real detail, interesting in itself as a “what if?” exercise. However, it is the exploration of the further implications regarding perception that make this film truly thought provoking.

Other events happening in the background of the film explore the idea that careless communication does damage, whether it’s the omission of information, or the choice of one word instead of another. It’s particularly poignant after the events of 2016 where fake news, echo chamber social media and misrepresentation of facts have been hot topics. In Arrival, the simple presence of the alien objects causes a mass breakdown of society and it’s completely believable because it’s based on phenomenon of communication that we see every day.

Every aspect of this film explores a different idea of communication and language. The film opens on a montage of a little girl growing up and then becoming sick and dying as a teenager. Because of our understanding of the language of film, our instant assumption is that this is backstory. It’s in the past. Later we’re forced to question that assumption. So, the film even goes so far as to be a commentary on the language of film.

In the space of a feature film, you are lead on an introductory journey into the subject of linguistics and communication, including being pulled into the dialogue yourself when prompted to confront your own assumptions. All the while you’re following engaging, human characters (including the aliens). There is emotional and intellectual stimulation on multiple levels. Arrival is simply an outstanding piece of film making.

Arrival is directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on the short story “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. It is out in cinemas now.

A little bit of potted “wisdom” based on my own experience of receiving edits and critiques

When confronted with edits, you invariably won’t like what the editor has suggested. They may have changed the meaning, or the tone of a sentence in a way you don’t like. But, don’t get upset or angry over it (or not for too long, anyway), because you don’t have to accept their solutions.

Instead, take a step back and look for why they thought the edit was needed. Figure out the problem they were trying to address. You might not agree there is a problem. In which case reject the change and fight your corner. You have your own reasons for wanting it that way and so long as you can justify it to yourself there are no wrong ways of writing.

More likely you’ll see where they were coming from, and while you don’t like their idea of how to fix it, you’ll agree with the need for a fix. Often, in these situations, a better solution will jump out at you. It might even be a sentence that you’d struggled with before, and seeing their suggestion will trigger something in you and you’ll suddenly figure it out.

So, when you receive edits you don’t agree with, don’t get emotional, get to work. Unpack each edit and let it guide you, one way or another, to improving your writing.

On Author Voice vs Editors


What is your author voice? How do you develop it and bring it to the fore?

It’s a tricky question and one many authors struggle with. I myself struggle to reconcile what I know to be good writing practice with injecting distinction and personality into my writing.

I went to a fantastic seminar at the Hay Festival earlier this year, which really helped me explore the notion. The crux of the seminar, hosted by the BBC Writer’s Room,  was “first, know yourself, then, put yourself in the writing”. Easier said than done, granted, but it’s a starting point. The goal is to achieve “specific” and “distinctive” writing, and avoid “bland”. Bland is bad.

What I’ve been trying to do to meet this challenge is go with my gut instinct a little more. Rather than strictly following the “rules”, I’m trying to go with what I feel works best, especially where I can pinpoint why I feel that way.

Red pen editingI felt like I was making progress on the concept of author voice vs technique, but recently I had a little setback.

I submitted a short story for a collaborative anthology and got some edits back to consider. Now, really, I ought to be happy with the fact there were only a few small edits per page. I know this. I should be ecstatic. Some of the edits were genuine mistakes and I was happy to accept these, but the rest, well. It almost felt like they targeted everything I’d purposely done to make the piece more interesting and more distinctly me. Here’s some examples:

  • There were a number of adjectives deleted as superfluous. I tend to use them sparingly anyway, so where I have used an adjective it’s because I wanted to enforce a point, make something stand out.
  • There was one particular place where I’d used “then” at the beginning of a paragraph, on purpose, to give a stronger sense of a break from what came before it. I could have gone for “But, then,” but I thought “then” was enough. What I didn’t want, as the editor has suggested, was to continue the action without that pause to actively draw attention to the difference between the before and after, and the fact that the after has alleviated the before.
  • What probably disappointed me most was the re-wording of a couple of past continuous sentences to past perfect. If I’ve used past continuous it’s because I want to convey a sense of continuous action or movement! The two tenses are different and one is not inherently better than the other.

When I first started out, these types of things could be found all over my early, amateurish work, and I learned to look out for them. In fact, I became quite hung up on them. I would strip out any adverbs that crept in, stick to past perfect unless I absolutely couldn’t see a way around using another tense and I would search my work for “was”, “then”, “just” and a bunch of other “banned” words. Passive voice? Nope, not allowed.

At first it was a great way to improve my writing, but after a while it started to turn my writing into something I didn’t recognise as mine. Obviously I understand the need not to flood my writing with such things, but everything was coming out the same and I didn’t know how to inject that sense of character or author voice into it. If we all rigidly stuck to the same rules all writing would be the same.

Which is where the advice from the seminar and my own realisations come in; I needed to relax and go with the flow. This piece was one of the first where I’d put that philosophy into practice. So, having the things I would previously have hunted out myself, but actively chose to keep in, picked up on by someone else undermined my confidence a little. Perhaps I was going at this the wrong way?

Thankfully, at the same time as wrong footing me the feedback gave me the opportunity to analyse the examples. No writer can ask for anything more than the chance to think things through from a fresh angle and learn from every setback. I took the story away and went through each and every edit in detail and found a way to improve the problem sentence or paragraph. I can honestly say the result was a better piece of writing.

%d bloggers like this: