I celebrated Valentine’s Day in the middle of a several-hundred-person pillow fight. It was amazing and beautiful and a great outlet for the anti-consumerist singledom disdain I carry for that day. Throughout the battle, I kept my glasses safely in a case in my pocket and lunged face-first at the whump-thwumpers.

Eventually, my neck got tired of being pummelled, and I stepped out of the fray to pick feathers out of my teeth and shirt. I put my glasses back on to get my bearings just before WHACK!, they were smashed off my face by an errant pillowfighter and buried under a groundcover of feathers. Panicked, I grabbed the five closest bystanders and had them hunt for me. One very well-meaning man found my beloved glasses. After he stepped on them.

Once upon a time, I used to wear contacts every day. I took this as a sign that maybe it was time to go back to them, and I carted myself to Lenscrafters the next day to get sized up for them. After a day of dilation-induced disorientation, I was home again. Contacts! Peripheral vision! Freedom!

naked1.jpgBut one major thing has changed since I was a daily contacts wearer: I no longer have hair. So, despite the fact that the contacts feel completely and utterly freeing, I was weirdly disturbed when I looked in the mirror. On days when I don’t wear makeup (which is about 50% of the time), I now look… really naked!

It’s jarring how much comfort we find in having some sort of shield between us and the world. Bangs to hide our worry wrinkles and long hair to curtain our cheeks. Foundation to hide our blushing. Shades to hide our tears. We paint dark lines along the edges of our eyes to remind people to see us directly, and then we shield them with lenses and frame them with angles and curves — thick and thin — to change the shapes of our faces.

When I make all that go away, I look uncomfortable. I look vulnerable. I look scared.

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So it was back to Lenscrafters today, urgently looking for face jewelry. Give me something that will dress me up when I don’t have the motivation to do anything more than put on my glasses. Make me safe again. I’ve got the contacts — I know how to look like myself. Now give me something else!

I went for bigger. I went for quirkier. I went for something that would announce a confident style without any extra input from me.

And I got them.

And they feel weird.

But now I’m safe again. And now can go back to putting effort into appearing transparent. Whew.

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(pillowfight photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid )

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haircut2.jpgI get this question a lot. It’s the “hipper” way of asking, “Why do you have your hair like that?” (which I also get a lot), and the masked way of saying, “Your hair confuses me and makes me uncomfortable. Explain yourself.

I don’t mind talking about my hair. I do mind having to respond to spoken judgment from strangers. Preferred variations of this conversations starter include, “That haircut looks easy to take care of,” “I bet your head is cold,” or (my personal favorite), “I love your hair!

The other really common one I get is, “You have a really nicely shaped head. I could never have that haircut because my head is too lumpy and dented.” Don’t laugh–this is serious! I get this more often than any other comment, hands down, even from strangers passing me on the street. Sometimes it’s sounds generous and sometimes it sounds like they’re uncomfortably grasping for something to say. Completely depends on the tone of voice.

But back to “So… what’s up with the haircut?” I’ve accumulated quite a few answers to this question over my last two years of relative baldness, and I’d like to share a few of them with you. Most of these are true:

“It’s a great conversation piece.”

“I don’t like hair.”

“I was really angry one day while giving myself a haircut, and I accidentally cut too close to the scalp — so the only way to even it out was to shave it. I wasn’t working in an office at the time, so I figured it didn’t matter much. But then I got so many compliments on it that I just had to keep it.” [note: this is actually how it all started.]

“The shorter my hair is, the more free I feel.”

haircut4.jpg[dumb look] “What do you mean?”

“It helps people remember me.”

“I like to spend my time and money on things that matter more to me than my hair.”

“Rubbing it brings me good luck.”

“I look terrible with hair.”

“I got tired of people hitting on me.” [note: the haircut does not actually fix this problem]

“It’s a social experiment. I like to see which kinds of people feel the need to comment on it.”

“Ooh, I love this game! I’m a militant nazi skinhead man-hating lesbian buddhist monk with cancer! Now you tell me about your haircut!”

“It shows people I have nothing to hide.”

“Oh I’m from San Francisco.”

“It changes the assumptions people make about me as a consultant in the tech industry. I’m more likely to be seen as brazen and cutting-edge and less likely to be talked down to as a young woman.”

“Oh, thank you for noticing! I paid $300 to have this done by a famous hairdresser in LA. Do you like it?”

“It’s a great haircut. I’d been listening to men brag about it for years. They were absolutely right.”

“Does it make you uncomfortable?”

“Wigs are a hassle.”

“It’s part of my personal brand.”

“I like it.”

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It’s a long story, and I won’t get into it now.

It involves all of the plot elements of a good high-budget dramatic movie. I’d like to think that after I finally sell the script to David Lynch, my character will be played by Janeane Garafalo. It will be a romantic comedy, filled with dry wit and poetry, and it will document all of the laughter and tears in the latest chapter of my most tumultuous love affair: my relationship with the tech industry.

The film will end with me sitting at the top of Nob Hill, looking out over a sparkling, thriving city with a shaken longing in my eyes. And after a few minutes of thoughtful silence, I will take a deep breath and say, “Holy crap. I’m unemployed!”

And as the screen fades to black and the credits start to roll, the music will be soft, and a heavy sigh will be heard through the darkness. It will be followed by three words in the same intense voice : “It’s about time.”

Back to reality for a moment. I suddenly have no income. I’ve said goodbye a team that I’ve been calling “family.” I’ve transitioned out of exciting projects with valuable clients that I adored. No, these things do not make me happy.

But there is a relief that comes with change. There is a blank piece of paper in front of me, and I haven’t even picked out my pen yet. There is a time to rest.

And there are also many questions to answer. So let’s get them out of the way now.

The “Sarah is Unemployed” Fall ’07 FAQ

Q: Are you okay?

A: Yes.

Q: What was your job?

A: I was the Project Manager and Technical Writer for a new partnership between two firms, overseeing the production of high-end internal websites for large corporations. In other words, I was the “details person” for a startup.

Q: Were you an employee or a contractor?

A: I was a contractor. I haven’t been an employee anywhere in about 3 years. My autonomy and flexibility are very important to me. So is my ability to legally work eight hours without a break. :)

A: ::sighs:: You’re giving me that look my mother gives me, aren’t you. Yes, I buy my own health insurance. No, it doesn’t cost that much. And my level of job security is no worse that it would be anywhere else in the tech industry.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I’m taking a few weeks off to rest, volunteer, write, and reacquaint myself my plans and goals.

Q: Don’t you think you should be looking for work right away?

A: To be honest, work seems to be looking for me. I’ve only been out of work for a week, I haven’t asked for any help, and I’ve already received 10 nudges/leads/offers for new work. This tells me that the tech industry is alive and well, and I don’t have much to worry about.

Q: I know someone who needs a website. I’ll send the request your way, okay?

A: Hold that thought! While I appreciate all leads and adore the spirit of community, I’m not in a position to be building websites right now, and will have to decline the request. I’ll let you know if that changes. I am, however, happy to offer suggestions for where to get assistance with your web needs — especially if you don’t mind me blogging the advice for the general public to see, too.

Q: But isn’t building websites your thing?

A: It used to be, back when simple designs and static page content were considered “high-end websites.” Now there is so much more that can (and should) be done with a website, and I’m far more interested in managing and documenting the vision and process than I am in learning new programming languages. Consider me a Project Manager and Technical Writer now. And while, yes, I could manage and document the details around your web development project, I don’t currently have a team on hand for building that website. If you have that team, we should talk.

sdopplaughing.jpgQ: Are you, um, going to grow your hair out now?

A: Nope.

Q: Okay, I mean, it’s a good look on you. So anyway, what are you looking for right now?

A: Open space. Inspiration. Coffee dates with people who are living lives of their own design. Calls for submissions to publications. A good yoga class. Resources for improving my financial literacy. Lunch dates with people who have outlandish dreams and want to scheme the details. Tech conferences that I can get into for free or cheap. Meetups. The motivation to fix up and reorganize my home office. A renewed connection with the blogosphere. Lots of time and space and focus to write.

There’s more to come, I’m sure.

Get this: I actually received internet fan mail about my hair. A gentleman named Peter, whom I presumably have not met in meatspace, wrote me and said:

"I think your website is very good! About your hair: My personal opinion is that the shaved head look was the best! The shorter the better! It reflected the uniqueness and confidence of your personality. Will you ever shave it again?"

The truly beautiful part is that I received this letter two days after I had decided to shave my head again. That’s right. Sarah is again hairless.

Why?

Let’s be honest here. Having hair just doesn’t work for me.

And not having hair does.

Read the rest of this entry »

I know you’re all on the edge of your seats, checking this website every day (or maybe staring at its node on your super-fancy RSS aggregator), wondering what the heck I’m up to these days. ‘Cuz it’s a pretty good bet that if I’m going a few weeks at a time between entries, my “real world” life is packed full and bursting at the seams with some pretty neat stuff.

First of all, yes, I did go to New Hampshire for a month. It was wonderful and relaxing — I saw many friends, and spent plenty of time with family. I sat in a rocking chair on the porch of an old farmhouse and watched the trees. I swam in lakes. I screamed at the ocean. I told stories around campfires. I stood on the top of a mountain. I bought candy at a store that still sells things for a penny. I surprised the heck out of my mother by showing up several days early, in a wig, on Mother’s Day. I heard poetry.

Second of all, yes, I’m back in San Francisco now, and I love it here. Some people were apparently under the impression that I was moving back to New Hampshire. Let me set you straight right now: that’s not going to happen.

Third, yes, I’m working again (am I ever!) — and while I’d love to hear about your awesome new project, chances are I can’t help you with it for a couple of months if you’re not already on my backlog list. And for those of you who are already on my backlog list, rest assured, I will get it all done. I just did a headcount, and I’m working on eight websites right now. EIGHT! Some are bigger and more urgent than others, but they’re all on my desk.

It’s been another period of chaos recently as I’ve tried to grapple with both the Big Picture and the Daily Details… but I’m feeling in control now, and going merrily with the flow. And can I tell you a secret? 

I know what I’m working for now. I’ve nailed down The Dream into tangible terms: I’m amassing skills and resources to become a Producer of Projects. Our lives are made up of projects. The urgent ones get done, and the important ones often die from lack of support. I can’t tell you how many times people have come to me and described things they’d really love to do or create, but don’t believe that it’s possible. I’m becoming the one who makes it possible. I knew this excessive optimism would come in handy someday…

(And you’re probably wondering about the picture on this entry. This is you watching me evolve. Click it for a bigger version.)