Wearing shorts on a recent sunny day, I wondered if it was possible to see my copious leg hair from six feet away. I haven’t wanted to shave my legs during the lockdown—truly, what is the point?—and of course it doesn’t matter if someone sees my leg hair, but I was curious. I googled, sure that the internet would provide me with a conclusive answer, but I couldn’t find anything.
I thought about that, and I also thought about a resolution I’d made for myself late last year about sending my writing somewhere. The resolution was vague, I thought maybe I’d pitch to an online magazine or submit something to a literary journal. Six months after making this resolution, though, it’s clear that I have a mental block. I don’t know how to pitch something, for one thing, and every time I think about it I go down a spiral. I’m too old, I don’t understand anything, I’m not a good writer. I’m also scared of rejection. I have the thinnest skin, I lack fortitude, I am weak.
Something about the leg hair question moved me, though. I decided not to let the moment pass without taking action. I emailed a pitch to an online women’s magazine, subject line: Is leg hair visible from six feet away? I wrote that I would take photos of my own hairy legs from six feet away, and also source leg photos from friends with different skin tones. To provide context I would briefly discuss the history of leg shaving, how it originated as an advertising ploy to sell more razors and why second wave feminists rebelled against it. I’d also discuss the projected timeline for social distancing measures, to provide readers with an idea of when they could expect to begin shaving again if they’d stopped, should they feel inclined to begin again.
The people want to know whether you can see their leg hair from a safe social distance, you see? I could be the intrepid investigative reporter here to provide the internet with an answer.
I’m taking a nonprofit accounting class right now and I realized on a Zoom call the other night that I don’t enjoy it at all. The professor is good and the content is surely good for some people, just not me. I don’t like it.
I’ve been trying a new thing lately where I tune in to my own displeasure. I’ve had a lifetime of sublimating that feeling, so it takes practice. When I notice I don’t like something I’m trying to let myself feel that way, without guilt or self-doubt. I noticed how I felt about the accounting class and decided that I’ll finish out this semester and then, hopefully, never think about accounting again.
This morning I thought about my pitch and how I don’t want to write for the magazine I pitched to. Like accounting, there’s nothing wrong with the magazine. I’m just not interested in most of the articles they publish. I don’t care about fashion, nor do I want tips on productivity in the midst of a global pandemic. Like any for-profit magazine, this one makes money through advertising and sponsored content, and my politics are antithetical to brands capitalizing on this moment or—more accurately—to the whole concept of huge, multinational corporations that exist outside the bounds of democracy, pandemic or not.
I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me earlier this week. In the midst of lots of terrible insight about this country’s pervasive racism, there’s a brief section in which Coates talks about school. Coates is a famous college drop-out, and he has real problems with formal education:
“Algebra, Biology, and English were not subjects so much as opportunities to better discipline the body, to practice writing between the lines, copying the directions legibly, memorizing theorems extracted from the world they were created to represent. All of it felt so distant to me.”
Coates goes on to talk about his love of learning and how he found books and mentors outside of formal schooling. This was all very clarifying to me. I’ve often wondered why, after all these years of education, I still seem almost entirely unable to learn anything in a classroom setting. It’s as if I can only learn by reading about precisely what I am interested in at that exact moment, a very dumb and myopic kind of disability.
I was valedictorian of my high school class, along with a huge group of other people, so lax were the grading standards in my Southwest Missouri public high school. Reading Coates I realized that what that dubious achievement primarily conveys about me are two things: (1) my aptitude for rote memorization and (2) my lifelong struggle to recognize and reject what I don’t like. I am capable of doing reasonably well in classes I’m not at all interested in, which I proved to myself at age 18 and which I’m continuing to prove now, at age 32. If I had fortitude I might have been a college drop-out, too.
I don’t want to bother my friends for photos of their legs. If you google “leg shaving history” you will find a glut of informative articles and blog posts. This is the best article I’ve read about the future of social distancing measures, and the final conclusion is still, basically, “we don’t know.”
One of my coworkers has one of those mass-produced inspirational art pieces hung in the room she’s currently using as her home office. On Zoom calls with her I can read it over her shoulder. “She decided to start living the life she imagined,” it says.
It’s easy to make fun of mass-produced inspirational art, but I don’t want to. Several years ago at a homegoods store I was confronted with a whole wall of “Don’t quit your daydream” canvases and it was a profound experience, even if not in the way the creators intended. Still, right now, my coworker’s art is funny. Did the life she imagined include a global pandemic? Being trapped in her home? Zoom calls with me?
Her art in this context is absurd, and I like things that are absurd. What is this pandemic if not a worldwide reminder of how absurd everything is? There is a real and ongoing debate about whether to preserve life or the economy, evidence that some people truly believe the economy can exist without life, as if the economy isn’t just a “theory extracted from the world it was created to represent.” It’s also a terrible reminder of inequality and corruption. But there’s something absurd about that, too, if you can think about it without succumbing to deep depression.
A political concept I learned about relatively recently is radical imagination, the ability to imagine the world not as it is but as it might otherwise be. I like this idea. I believe that social change results from people who have the courage to dream about a better or more just world.
At the same time, I feel sure that radical imagination is a cop out, that I am drawn to it because it allows me to believe that sitting home and thinking is a political act as valuable as calling my representatives, canvassing for candidates, or otherwise “doing the work.” Is it possible that radical imagination is both the only thing that matters and an enormous waste of time?
There is no answer to whether leg hair is visible from six feet away. I could never write the article, even if the magazine did respond favorably to a hastily written pitch from someone whose only public writing experience is a blog read by a dozen people, which seems highly unlikely. Leg hair’s visibility depends on so many factors: skin tone, hair color and texture, whether the sunlight catches a hair and makes it glint. And how could I prove anything with photos, anyway? A camera isn’t a human eye at all, says nothing about whether an actual person would perceive hair.
I don’t care about leg hair. I’ve never liked school. I might never successfully pitch anything. No one has any idea what the future holds. The absurdity of everything is on full, horrifying display. Imagining the life you want may or may not be the same thing as radical imagination. None of this is as profound as a wall full of inspirational canvases, created halfway around the world, likely under terrible working conditions, presented in a big box store as if in an art gallery, urging shoppers to signify their desire to keep dreaming through the purchase of something they don’t need.
Here is a picture of my legs from six feet away. Don’t quit your radical daydream.