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There are drawbacks to freelancing (financial ups and downs, feast-or-famine schedules, condescending credit card companies), but there are many rewards, as well. Perhaps the greatest of those is being able to choose every project I take on, and sometimes being paid to do things I would love to do whether or not money was involved.

For example, I often do small projects for Sounds True, the spiritual and self-help publisher where I’ve once had the privilege of working full-time. Lately, I’ve been transcribing installments of Sounds True’s weekly podcast, Insights from the Edge, for posting on their web site. In these podcasts, Sounds True Founder and CEO Tami Simon interviews great thinkers who’ve created audio programs (lectures and lessons on CD or downloadable mp3) for Sounds True. Three weeks ago, I was particularly excited to find that Tami had interviewed Vicki Robin, who, with the late Joe Dominguez, co-authored Your Money or Your Life. I was being paid to listen to one of the great heroes whose ideas had informed much of my adult life! Check out the interview here.

Tami’s interview celebrates the release of the updated, 10th anniversary edition of the Your Money or Your Life. I remember when the book first came out, when I was a 20-something, deep in college studies and deep in anxiety, wondering if I would ever figure out how to handle my own finances, live free of family support, and take care of myself. I read the book, began tracking my expenses, and have never looked at a job offer or a price tag in the same way since. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this book changed my life, or more accurately, that it did a great deal to shape my adult life.

Vicki Robin and her coauthor, the late Joe Dominguez, taught me to see money as something I (or someone, such as my parents, who have given me many generous gifts over my lifetime) traded hours of my (or my loved one’s) precious, limited life to gain. They also taught me that credit is a form of indentured servitude—a harsh way to put it, but it is signing up to work for many hours, often hundreds or thousands of hours, to pay off a debt—not free money. And best of all, they taught me that true financial independence—defined not as having mountains of money, but as being wholly in control of one’s own financial life—is possible. Creative lifestyles can be fun and freeing, the “American dream” is not a dream for one, and a sustainable world for all is possible.

I was delighted to trade my life energy for money when it came with a chance to listen to Vicki Robin expanding on the ideas from this life-changing book. The interview is a nice introduction to the Your Money or Your Life philosophy, and an interesting listen (or read, if you prefer—just go to the podcast page and click “Read the Transcript” to see my handiwork). I encourage you to check it out.

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The amazing ups and downs of my life (settling into a new home, worrying more than I need to about my mom and her recovery) have slowed my progress, but I am still working through Martha Beck’s step-by-step self-help program, The Joy Diet.

I actually have kept up my daily dose of “Nothing,” as Beck calls any basic meditation practice, but only because she’s pointed out that one can quiet one’s mind while safely driving a car. Since the idea is to let one’s thoughts and emotions flow by without getting hung up on any of them, I find that my driving is actually more safe, not less so, when I’m trying to meditate. I’m not lost in a daydream, and I’m in the present moment, so I’m more alert to every bump in the road and sudden move from other drivers. Since I’m now back to living in my house, but visiting my mom’s every day to check on her, I feel better knowing that I’m spending my time wisely during the 45-minute drive each way.

I’m also getting quite used to menu item #2, “Truth,” a series of questions Beck suggests we ask ourselves after a meditation session. I haven’t had any more truly surprising revelations, like I did when I first tried the exercise. I think I’ve simply become more aware of my underlying thoughts and emotions, so this exercise comes as a gentle reminder now, rather than a slap in the face. I’m quite relieved to find that the process gets less scary as one gets used to it.

Now I’ve spent two weeks trying to wrap my mind around item #3, “Desire,” and I’ve been struggling with it. Beck’s book laid out the first two steps so clearly, but while chapter 3 gave her philosophy of desire, I felt less clear about what I was supposed to do with my desires on a day-to-day basis. Beck asserts that we can and should have everything we truly want. If we want something immoral or self-destructive or evil—for example, to punch our boss, to kill our ex, to leave our children, or to have another six or seven beers—that want is only a cover for a deeper desire that we think we can’t have. We really want love and respect from our boss and ex, and only want revenge because we feel we can’t get it; we really want peace of mind, not seven beers in one sitting; and so on. Our true desires always feel warm and safe, and are the best for ourselves and the world.

I can get on board with that philosophy. In fact, I believe that I have always known what I truly want out of life, and thinking of those dreams makes me feel great. I just don’t know how to get them, and don’t fully believe that I can.

Once I’ve come into contact with my true desires, though, I can’t see from The Joy Diet how to incorporate them into my daily practice. Instead, I’ve been practicing the “Cherishing” exercise from another of Beck’s books, Steering by Starlight. (Yes, I’m becoming quite the rabid Martha Beck fan.) This exercise simply involves imagining that one’s desired outcome has already happened. I already have that boyfriend, that business, that play. I’m already watching my mom smilingly waving her once-painful arm. Beck assures us that imagining every day makes our dreams more likely to come true. In any event, the exercise is fun. It feels good to have what I really want, even if, so far, it’s only in my imagination. I feel more confident, more hopeful. I’m ready for the next step.

I’m still working through Martha Beck’s book, The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life. I’ve already commented on my experience with the first “menu item,” Nothing, which is actually a practical, flexible plan for learning meditation. I’m…well, still working very hard at watching my thoughts go by, at not letting any of them stick on me, and I have to admit that sometimes my mind wanders down the path of a thought for quite a while, but I spend more than half of my time in a more meditative state, just watching, just being. I’m certain that I am learning. I still love Beck’s suggestion that, instead of sitting still, I try a “mindless, repetitive physical activity.” For a lifelong knitter, this is perfect. I’m actually learning to meditate, and the simple baby blanket I’m knitting is coming along nicely. I promise, as soon as I find my camera, to post a photo of the blankie, and a pattern.

I’m now almost through one week with Beck’s menu item number two, “Truth.” I’m getting used to it now, but I have to say, it scared the crap out of me the first time I tried it. It may be the technique, or it may be that I started it on a difficult day. Per my post-road-trip life plan, I had been auditioning for every play I could possibly imagine myself in, I’d seen some great folks, old friends and new, had some fun, and even made callbacks (the actor’s equivalent of a second job interview) in some impressive theaters, but still, I haven’t been cast in a play for over two years. The day I started the “Truth” step, I had just given up on ever hearing back about an audition I’d been to three days before. I’d been auditioning for this particular director, again and again, for over 14 years, often getting callbacks, but never, ever getting cast. At the audition, I’d felt stupid for even showing up, but I’d promised myself I’d keep trying, and hey, this director wouldn’t keep calling me back it I didn’t have a chance with him, would he? He always acted happy to see me. Surely I shouldn’t give up. So many factors are involved in casting any play…

Then I received this email from him: After a form-letter-looking sentence that thanked me for auditioning and told me “unfortunately” I wasn’t being cast, the director had typed this personal note, “Anita, I just need to tell you this. You are a wonderfully talented actress and I so appreciate you coming out to audition for us. You have a very unique and specific look and sound to me that requires just the right role and ensemble for casting. Obviously you work a ton so I know this is just my opinion. But I didn’t want you to think it was because I don’t appreciate your work or your time coming out to audition with us. I hope you keep coming out to try and if you would like me to tell you next time whether I legitimately think there is a role for you, I will certainly do that.”

On the surface, it looked very nice. How kind of him! I got big compliments, and a great time-saving offer: I can just call the director and ask if there’s a place for me in his next show. Lovely. Lucky me! I sent a polite reply, thanking him and promising to call and ask him before coming to the next audition, and then, as far as I could consciously tell, I moved on with my life and forgot all about the email.

Then, hours later, I started Beck’s suggested exercises. I set my timer for 20 minutes, started my repetitive, mindless knitting, and to my surprise, started to cry. I cried, hard, and knitted as I watched amorphous thoughts go by:

“But I don’t work a ton! I have a long resume, because I’ve been at this for 14 years, but nobody has cast me for two years! Wow. One-seventh of my adult acting career has been auditioning and auditioning with a result of absolutely nothing. Why haven’t I given up? Is there any good reason not to?”

“‘…requires just the right role and ensemble…’ means that I don’t look or sound like any character in all of Western theatrical literature, and if he puts me in a play with normal actors, I’ll screw them up, too.”

“This guy is actually the third director to tell me something like this. One told me, years ago, that ‘people are cast by type, and you don’t have a type…or maybe you’re just a really strange type.’ Another told me, after I’d done a lot of extra work for his theater company (press releases, set painting, and so on), that he liked me and wanted to produce a play just to showcase me (as he often did with his favorite actors), but he couldn’t think of any play that would work. He told me I’d have to write my own play.”

“Can I fix my voice? I don’t think so. The problem is that I project too well, enunciate too clearly, sound too intelligent. Actors’ voice training is designed to make people sound more like me. I’ve just gone too far. I don’t think anyone knows how to fix me.”

“Why is there something so wrong with being me? Why doesn’t anyone want to see a character like me on stage?”

“I can’t really do anything to fix this. I’ve been trying to solve the problem with more training, but if I were the best-trained, most talented, best-acting freak in the world, I’d still be an uncastable freak.”

I was actually very upset. I was terrified that I’d have to give one of the things I loved most in the world: acting. Then, blessedly, the timer rang, and it was time to move on to the “Truth” phase, which requires answering these questions in writing:

  1. What am I feeling?
  2. What hurts?
  3. What is the painful story I’m telling?
  4. Can I be sure my painful story is true?
  5. Is my painful story working?
  6. Can I think of another story that might work better?
  7. Of the options available to me, which one brings the most love into the world?

I cried throughout the writing, but I felt better when I was done. In the case of this particular problem, I am clearly not going to quit acting. I love it too much to do that, however difficult it is to find a role. I am going to learn more, and become very, very good at looking and sounding like me. Also, I can revel in getting older, as more parts are written for older women who look and sound powerful and intelligent. Most roles for women are simpering, Barbie-ish ingenues. So I won’t get cast as them. Fine. I was never an ingenue. I never wanted to be. But if I keep acting now, I can grow into being queens, mothers, college professors, CEOs…

After that first ordeal, the combined “Nothing” and “Truth” sessions have been much less frightening. I suppose I just had to open up that first layer of truth I’d been ignoring.

Note: I once had a blog, now offline, called Anita’s Weekly Column, in which I practiced writing one essay per week. I’m trying for more of a standard blog format now (though I don’t know if I’m any closer to it), but I’d like to occasionally repost some of my favorite essays from the old blog. This is one such essay:

Me as a child, on a family trip to Springfield.

Me as a child, on a family trip to Springfield.

In his blog, Traveling Hypothesis, my friend R.J. Zimmerman has posted an intriguing review of Lewis MacAdams’ book Birth of the Cool. It sounds like a great book, full of fascinating tidbits about the musicians, poets, and visual artists who shaped our world through the avant-garde movement, but I won’t be reading this book anytime soon. One of R.J.’s comments scared me away: “The story moves along one name drop at a time, leaving a story unexpectedly at the mere mention of a new player. It’s the kind of book you memorize so you can be cooler than your cool name-dropping friends at parties.” If this is a book by a name-dropper, for name-droppers, I refuse to read it. I have a great fear of any path by which people try to become cool by studying those who were cool in the past, trying to ride on their cool coattails by claiming an association with them. I’m afraid that to read such a book would remove any chance I have of ever being cool.

Yes, I do believe that I have the potential to be really, truly cool. I know that those of you who’ve met me are laughing right now. You’ve seen the wire-rimmed glasses I insist on wearing almost everywhere, even though I own contact lenses. You know that I wear no makeup at all, except on very special occasions—the occasions when I break out the contacts. You’ve noticed that my fashion choices have gotten a bit sexier since I realized that spandex-infused tight jeans and polo shirts are even comfier than the huge, baggy ones I used to wear, but that’s about as dressy as I usually get. The Converse sneakers I wear everywhere are falling apart again, but I can’t replace them because I don’t know where to find more in bright purple. I have a new haircut because I’ve realized that the all-one-length, long locks I’d had most of my life can’t get nearly as messy as my new, piecey short cut can. I can speak knowingly in the terms of Dungeons and Dragons, and I remember reading The Lord of the Rings more reverently than I remember the Bible. My stuffed animals have stuffed animals, and lately I’ve been knitting totem animals that represent myself and my friends. For fun, I read about mummies, autopsies, and neurological disorders.

It gets worse if you look at my childhood. I wear glasses now because I’m quite used to them; I was four and a half when I got my first pair. (Jerry Maguire would not convince the world that very small children with glasses were cute for another 18 years. In 1978, a four-year-old with glasses was simply a freak.) I didn’t learn to speak at the rate generally considered normal. In kindergarten, I was sent to a speech pathologist who systematically taught me to pronounce “sh” “t” “th” and “s” sounds correctly and at the right places in the language. I continued to see a string of speech therapists through the fourth grade because it took them that long to figure out how to get me to pronounce the “r” sound. In the meantime, I shuddered when people asked me my last name, knowing that they would never understand “Harkess” coming out of my mouth. I learned to avoid speaking at all. By the time I mastered “r”s at the age of nine, I was used to being practically mute, and stayed so well into high school. When I was six, my orthodontist started experimenting with pulling lots of baby teeth to see if this would make my adult teeth grow in straighter than otherwise expected. They didn’t. After my few remaining teeth leaned in, my canines grew in high up on my gums. From age 10 until I got my extremely painful braces at age 12, I avoided smiling so that other kids wouldn’t be scared by my fangs. On top of all of that, I was definitely what psychologist Elaine Aron now calls “a highly sensitive person,” meaning that I was one of those kids who involuntarily burst into tears with the slightest stress. In short, a string of issues beyond my control doomed me to a childhood as an incorrigible dork.

All of this, of course, is the blessing that gives me the potential to be truly cool. In his review, R.J. explains that MacAdams’ book has taught him what cool really is: “the detachment from what seems important to everyone else, mostly because nobody’s listening to you anyway.” Learning early on that I could not possibly attain the small details that seem important to everyone else, I learned not to care as much as most people do. I never struggled to fit in, simply because I never had much hope that I could.

I didn’t realize what a marvelous, protective gift my dorkiness was until 2002, when my very cool friend Rachel sent me a copy of the New York Times Magazine article profiling Rosalind Wiseman and her upcoming book for parents, Queen Bees and Wannabes. Wiseman had done a great deal of work with young teenaged girls. Her book, and the article, revealed how truly horrible these outwardly sweet little girls could be to one another. She shocked and worried a nation of parents by showing how the “queen bees” at the top of the most powerful cliques in most American schools can order communal actions that amount to psychological torture. Those at the top can make those on the edge do just about anything, all the way from buying clothes their families can’t afford, to standing for public humiliation, to going way too far with alcohol, drugs, and too-early, promiscuous sex. Yes, the clique system is dangerous and cruel. And what gives the queen bees such incredible power? It’s the desire of the wannabe, that urge everyone has to belong, to be accepted, to be part of a community. The wannabe wants so desperately to fit in that she will do anything to please those in power.

Wiseman’s book goes on to instruct parents on how to communicate with their daughters to help them navigate the clique system and rise ethically to a position of power. Me, I suggest a different solution. You see, I remember the cliques from my junior-high days. I remember the queen bee, her wannabe disciples in tow, following me as I walked home from school each day of seventh grade, yelling something about my hair. (I think it had to do with the color. My hair had recently turned from light blonde, like hers, to the murky midpoint between blonde and brown where it still is today. For some reason, this color, and my refusal to bleach it out or dye over it, is particularly offensive to 12-year-old blondes.) I remember ignoring her, and I remember letting out a friendly laugh as the wannabes quietly came to me at my locker the next day, apologizing for their queen’s behavior. I remember being touched by their respect for me, but I don’t otherwise remember caring much. I definitely don’t remember changing my appearance or my actions to make this stupid girl like me. It’s not that I didn’t want to belong to the group. I just realized that nothing I could do would ever make that possible, so I went on with my dorky little life, saving a lot of time, energy, and money for my own interests. I’m grateful now that I was such a complete outsider. If I ever have a daughter, I’d like to give her such a gift. I’ll spare her the tooth-pulling, and I’ll let her speak correctly if she can, but I am definitely going to buy her the ugliest pair of glasses I can find, then make her wear them, whether she needs them or not.

I do believe in the problem Wiseman describes. Even as a girl, I had an inkling of what it was like to be a wannabe. I felt sorry for the sweet girls who met me at my locker. As early as eighth grade, I heard about drunken parties I could never be invited to, about the boys who prowled them looking for passed-out girls to have sex with, and the class president, who peed in another eighth-grader’s mouth because he was too drunk to enjoy oral sex. In high school, I heard about kids being rushed to the hospital with alcohol poisoning. I heard about the girl in my senior class who got so drunk that she spent the night spread-eagled on a pool table, having sex with any besotted boy who wandered by. I heard how horrible she felt afterward, and that her parents threatened to sue the school paper for running a classified ad that cryptically mentioned the incident, but that most of the damage was already done. I felt sorry for her, too. I was grateful that I wasn’t invited to that party. My freakishness was my armor. I was saved from the torture of belonging.

This is why I believe that I may someday be cool. I think that we too often mistake being “in” for being cool, when in fact the two states are opposites. The “in” crowd, the fashionable people, those who belong, simply do as they’re told. They work very hard at being just like as many other people as possible. The truly cool do whatever works for them, whether or not anyone else understands it. They focus on their own lives, on causes that matter to them, on art that comes from their souls, and in so doing, they accidentally become unmistakably unique. The “in” are sometimes respectable. The cool are geniuses.

For example, the more I learn about Neil Young, the cooler I think he is. He is, and always has been, a strange-looking guy. His voice is even stranger. He is best known as a guitarist, but his songs are so easy to play that they are often taught to beginning guitar students. In his solos, he doesn’t show off technical prowess or speed; there are plenty of guitarists who play faster and more complicated licks. He just plays what sounds good to him. He even wanders from genre to genre, from the hippie protest songs of Buffalo Springfield, to the pretty folk of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, to Crazy Horse’s hard rock—the precursor to grunge—to some beautiful country songs and some so twangy that I wonder if he’s making fun of the genre. When he dabbled in electronica in the early 80s, he was so far outside of expectations that his record label sued him for making “unrepresentative music.” Even now, at 60, (note: This essay was written years ago. Young is now 63.) he has not sunk into the mire of doing only greatest hits albums and “I-need-the-cash” reunion tours, as many older stars do. He’s still writing new songs, still performing, still using his power as a celebrity to propel his favorite social causes, like Farm Aid, Live 8, and his wife’s creation, the Bridge School. In an age when appearing in an iPod or car commercial is considered to be the best way to promote an album, Young is one of the few classic rockers who hasn’t sold any song for any ad. He’s surely a celebrity worth admiring. His real appeal for me, though, is best summed up by Kevin Chong, the self-described geek who wrote the homage book Neil Young Nation: “Young was the embodiment, in his appearance, his singing, his music, of a type of anti-beauty. To an awkward kid, this was appealing. Young sought beauty in frayed edges and worn-out patches. He reveled in bum notes, in buzzing guitar strings.”

Of course, I haven’t read Chong’s book, either. I’ll allow myself to read it in a couple of months. I’m rationing my Neil Young intake now, an album here, a book there. Loyal fan that I am, I am afraid of steeping myself too thoroughly in anyone else’s story. I don’t want to become an imitator, or the sort of rabid fan who is so excited about someone else’s life that she forgets to live her own. That would definitely not be cool.

Anyway, I don’t ever need to know all about Neil Young, as I don’t want to be exactly like him. I just want to be cool like Neil Young—to be an outsider, irreverent, obviously imperfect, a little bit ugly, a little bit odd, and proud of it. Thanks to the gifts I’ve been given, I think I just might have what it takes.

Although I’ll admit I’m thoroughly hooked on self-help literature, Martha Beck is not the kind of author I’d expect me to love. She’s just too popular, too chick-flicky, too over-hyped, too much of what society would expect a person of my demographic (single white female, American born, liberal arts degree, middle class, lives near Boulder, mid 30s) to like. Not only has she been endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, but she’s a regular columnist in Oprah’s O Magazine. All of this makes me want to rebel against her, to find her sappy and irritating and … and I have to admit that Martha Beck is one of my heroes. This woman rocks.

Beck’s audio program, Follow Your North Star (published by my beloved former employer, Sounds True) was the most interesting-looking thing on a sparse shelf of CDs in my local library as I was preparing for my latest big road trip, so I gave it a try. On it, she explained that the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly (cue the syrupy music) is the best analogy for any major life change … in that a caterpillar in the cocoon falls apart completely, dissolving into a soup of undifferentiated cells (cue the sound of the needle being dragged off a record, and kids saying, “Ew!”). From that point on, I was hooked. She had me from undifferentiated goo.

I moved on to read the book version of that program, Finding Your Own North Star, and I’ve just started working my way through her later work, The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life. I like this lady. In a genre of new-age, nonspecifically spiritual advice, Beck is refreshingly practical, intelligent, and funny. Some of her advice actually reminds me of that of another of my favorite authors, the businesslike, jock-ish, very practical Timothy Ferriss. Both Beck and Ferriss profess that our lives will be infinitely better if, every day, we do one thing that scares the crap out of us. Both also recommend that, when we’re afraid of taking the next step, we take a moment to imagine the worst that could possibly happen—though Ferriss does it because he’s sure the worst won’t really be all that bad, and Beck does it because the worst is likely to be funny. Martha Beck is not empty fluff. She’s got brains, she’s got guts, and her life-coaching ideas actually make a lot of sense to me. I’m excited about The Joy Diet, in particular, because although it continues her philosophy (that if only each of us could listen to her deepest self, and have the courage to do what it really wants, our best life paths would become obvious), it does so in a simple, step-by step program. This book won’t overwhelm me or prevent me from getting other things done. In fact, in it, Beck orders readers to take in just one chapter, one “menu item,” per week. One spends a full week adding one tiny change to every day’s routine, and when that becomes second nature, one adds one more change, taking another week to incorporate it. I can do one tiny change a day. This is my new year’s self-help plan.

I started step one, “menu item one,” as Beck called it, a few days ago: Nothing. Doing nothing, nothing at all, Beck explains, is a big challenge in America’s multi-tasking society, but it’s absolutely necessary if we are ever to know what we really think and feel. Once she explains what she means by “nothing,” it becomes clear that she’s recommending daily meditation. Still, practical as she is, she makes her meditation instructions simple and customizable, and thanks to that plan, it works better for me than any meditation I’ve tried before (and, working at Sounds True, I have dabbled in a few forms). It works for me because she gave the option of, rather than sitting still and staring into space, engaging in any mindless, repetitive activity. I can do that. I’ve been knitting for nearly 25 years. With a simple pattern stitch, I can knit in the dark, in a moving car, or even while my mind finally shuts down. This is cool. I can do this. In my very first day, I was able to sink into my “nothing” and come out, 20 minutes later, with a new perspective on one of my life’s problems. (It turns out it’s not a problem. I was just catastrophizing because I was bored.)

I am rather disappointed, though, that I’m supposed to read just one chapter a week. As I said, Beck is one intelligent, funny lady. I may have to check out one of her memoirs (Expecting Adam, about raising a son with Down’s Syndrome, or Leaving the Saints, about her choice to disconnect from the Mormon church she was raised in—this lady has guts!) so I can get a new dose of her voice each day. Sure, she fits onto bookshelves next to vapid, fluffy, repetitive, over-hyped pop psychology, but I’m convinced that Martha Beck is the real deal. I’m looking forward to my New Year’s diet. I’ll tell you how I’m doing when I’m ready for next week’s chapter.

HairI’ve been a fan of the late, great newsletter-cum reference book The Tightwad Gazette since I was a subscriber in the early 90s. I loved the idea of people across the country sharing simple, creative little tricks for creating a quality, happy life, while spending less money and amassing less unnecessary stuff. In that wonderfully friendly, miserly tradition, I’d like to share any fun ideas I come across that help me use less money, less time, less space for stuff, or all of the above. I think it’s fitting here. My “nomad” lifestyle is all about staying as free as possible from the fetters of unnecessary bills and unnecessary stuff.

Here’s my latest discovery: Since I grew up enough to wash my own hair, I’ve always shampooed my hair every single day. I felt I had to. My genes have blessed me with the charming combination of an oily scalp and baby-fine hair, so that any oil in my hair sticks it flat to my head. To add to the ickiness, my hair is light in color as well as texture (shifting, through my teenage years, from pale blonde to my current light, reddish brown), and any extra oil covers the pale color, making the entire flat mess dull, dark—quite obviously an oil slick. I’ve always felt the need to do a full shampoo at least every 24 hours, and sometimes even more often.

Well, fellow oily folks, check this out: The beauty magazine in a web site, Total Beauty, gives targeted advice for all hair types. After I took a quiz on the site, my hair was diagnosed as “oily” (big surprise), and I was given this advice: “It may sound counterintuitive, but don’t wash your hair every day. Why? Because it dries out your scalp, causing it to produce more oil, which just makes the situation worse.” I’d, um, never thought of that. The site suggested that I wash no more than once every other day, but assured me that I could just rinse my hair with water on off days, for styling and anti-ick purposes. I’d never thought of that, either. It had never occurred to me to just rinse my hair without going through the whole shampoo-and-conditioner-and-styling products routine.

Well, I’ve been following the advice for about two weeks now, and I’m delighted with the results. The oil slick seems to come on a bit more slowly, and just rinsing my hair in the shower on the second day does wonders: My hair gets its color back, and it dries fluffier and cuter than it does on the days I shampoo. I don’t feel the need to add volumizing hairspray (which I do on shampoo days), because my hair already has just the right amount of residual stickiness. Better yet, I use only half as much shampoo and conditioner, and my non-shampoo showers are lightening fast, saving time, water, and heating costs. It’s sad to think how much shampoo, conditioner, time, and natural resources I’ve wasted over the years because I just didn’t know any better. I’m glad someone finally enlightened me.

This is a prime example of the fine example set by The Tightwad Gazette. From it, I learned the power of scientific experimentation in everyday life. Its author, the brilliant and entertaining Amy Dacyczyn, always encouraged her readers to find new uses for old things, new fixes for broken things, and to question how much laundry detergent they really needed, whether the dishwasher or the sink used more water, and so on. Now that I’ve realized that my lifelong hair-washing assumptions were wrong, my scientific tightwad mind has been reawakened. I’ll let you know how my future experiments turn out.