Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Don't let this happen.


"...what if you wake up some day, and you're 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn't go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It's going to break your heart. Don't let this happen." -- Anne Lamott 

Recently I came across this quote on Instagram. I remember feeling inspired by these words when I first read them. Seeing them again brought a smile to my face and I just had to re-share. 

A

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Judging Your Date by His Bookshelf


Recently I came across this feature on Refinery29: "6 Books That Say 'Date Me!' (& 4 That Don't)" The R29 article lists 10 books that your date may or may not have in his/her home, and then goes on to explain what each particular tome's presence indicates, i.e. run for the hills or start planning your wedding.

I was intrigued. I'm a big reader and also a big believer in finding common interests with your mate, or at least different interests that make for good conversation. Plus, a well-stocked bookshelf can help seal the deal. For instance, my sister met her husband abroad. They didn't speak the same language when they first met, but they had a connection that was deepened when they realized they had the exact same books on their respective bookshelves, only in different languages. 

I don't agree with all of Refinery29's prescriptions, i.e. this assertion, cringe-worthy for multiple reasons: "But if your bae has [The Notebook By Nicholas Sparks] on the bookshelf, consider it a free pass to send Ryan Gosling memes at any time." I do, however, agree with R29 that taste in books can be telling.


A

Image via apartmenttherapy.com

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tribeca Film Festival


One of my favorite Spring traditions is attending the Tribeca Film Festival. In recent years Justin and I have screened a couple of films per year, including The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir, The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq and Whitewash. Attending the festival is always a treat, even if the films we see aren't always winners. (Whitewash for example... Not so great.) Not only do viewers get to see films before they're released on a large-scale, there is typically a question and answer session with the filmmakers and actors after each screening. For especially big premieres, there may even be a red carpet and plenty of celebs in attendance. 

This year we saw Live From New York! and Franny. Fortunately, we were two for two regarding our picks this go around. Live from New York! was the festival opener and it was well-attended. Fellow audience members at the Beacon's showing included Robert De Niro, Tom Brokaw, Rudy Giuliani and Grace Gummer. The movie itself was awesome. Live from New York! is a documentary about "New York institution and comedy powerhouse" Saturday Night Live. It shows a behind the scenes look of what makes Saturday Night Live so special and it features interviews with tons of SNL actors.

Franny is a drama starring Richard Gere, Dakota Fanning and Theo James. Gere plays an aging and hedonistic philanthropist who ingratiates himself into the lives of newlyweds played by Fanning and James. The filmmaker, Andrew Renzi, has described Franny as "part Scent of a Woman, part Leaving Las Vegas, part Cable Guy. Whatever the components, it's a good movie, and the acting is excellent. And hearing the actors discuss their inspirations and experiences post-viewing was a highlight.


Franny Q & A
A

Top image via Variety

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Serial


I just finished Serial. In case you've been living under a rock or you're not a millennial (and therefore not familiar with the purple app on your iPhone), Serial is a popular podcast. What is a podcast? A podcast is essentially a radio program you can access via the internet. Below is the premise for Serial:

It's Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he's innocent - though he can't exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. But someone can. A classmate at Woodlawn High School says she knows where Adnan was. The trouble is, she’s nowhere to be found.

I gave Serial a go because so many listeners I spoke with were absolutely obsessed with this podcast. They exclaimed I just HAD to give it a listen. I was wary at first. I love to read: books, magazines, articles, blogs. So when would I find time to sit and listen to a podcast? It didn't seem appealing. But then the weather changed and I started going for long walks. That's when I had my "aha" moment -- long strolls are the perfect opportunity for podcast consumption.

I completed the Serial series in an embarrassingly short period of time. It is, in fact, addictive. However, I had thought I'd be drawn to Serial simply for the murder mystery story. A surprising element that kept me coming back was host (and producer) Sarah Koenig. Koenig has a soothing narration voice but she doesn't sound radio host-like, per se. She sounds like a friend in conversation, with typical inflections and pauses. And of course she speaks clearly and confidently.

SPOILER ALERT


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The One That Got Away


One of my closest friends just found her wedding dress at Kleinfeld. As soon as she slipped on her gown, she knew it was The One. It was a real live Say Yes to the Dress moment. When she emerged from her designated area to peer at herself in the store's big, central mirror, shoppers around her made comments. Tears were shed. It was a fairytale wedding dress shopping experience, and I was so thrilled for my friend when she recounted her story to me.

I, on the other hand, did not have a traditional fairytale wedding dress shopping experience; it was more of a dysfunctional fairytale situation. Don't get me wrong--I was accompanied by loving women and even a couple of uncomfortable men. These patient people, especially my mom, joined me on many visits to many stores. I recounted my experience here and here. What I didn't discuss was how I finally settled on My Dress, and how I have lingering feelings for The One That Got Away...

Monday, April 27, 2015

That Theatergoer Life


Tis the season to take in theater performances. Since seeing Constellations back in March I've been lucky enough to secure seats for On the 20th Century and Fish in the Dark.

My dad had recommended "On the 20th Century" and I was sold once I learned that Kristin Chenoweth, of my favorite TV show ever, was a lead. Chenoweth and her cast members, including Peter Gallagher, were phenomenal. They had so much energy onstage and their performances were so impressive. Thespians are the ultimate brave souls. The actors in "20th Century" sang their hearts out, danced in well-done choreographies and generally hammed it up. Taking in their talent was a real treat. I didn't love the storyline, but the play was still suburb.

Louis C.K. spoke about his appreciation for stage actors in a recent Hollywood Reporter article:


Every time I go to a Broadway play of any kind — good or bad — as soon as the lights go out and people come onstage and start to speak, I start to cry. I can't help it. The first minute of any play feels really stupid — they're pretending the audience isn't there, and they're having this loud dialogue, and you're like, "What the f— are these people doing?" — but it's so vulnerable. It's such an effort, and it's such a generous thing to do, and so I always get all choked up.

I agree with Louis C.K. completely. I have so much empathy and love for live actors, even Larry David :)

Larry David didn't get me choked up during his performance in "Fish in the Dark," although I did verge on being teary-eyed from laughter. "Fish in the Dark" was hysterically funny. The acting was good (no singing or choreography required) and the storyline was witty. The dialogue was so smart and, in true Larry David fashion, at times uncomfortable. Of course, Larry David has made a lucrative career out of creating characters who say socially unacceptable things. A New York Magazine article by Benjamin Wallace explains:


The Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm is a curmudgeon and misanthrope unconcerned with niceties. David himself conceives of the character as the person he’d like to be, if he weren’t impeded by social constraints. 

Wallace goes on to explain that these misanthrope characters David creates are dissimilar to Larry David himself:


[H]is friends are used to having to explain that he’s not really the guy on the TV screen. They’ll describe him using shockingly off-brand words like “tremendously sweet” (Jason Alexander) and “kind” (Jeff Garlin) and “so generous in every way” (Steve Adams). [Anna] Shapiro (director of Fish in the Dark) says she was initially wary. “I thought he would be neurotic in a not-amusing way. I thought I would encounter the darkness behind his humor. And I just haven’t had that. I find him to be incredibly warm, very friendly, really nice, and in the relationship really respectful, really generous. I can’t say enough about him as a person.”

David may be a sweetheart himself, but his characters are outrageous in ways we all wish we could be. And that's what makes his work so enjoyable.

A

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Provence: Part 4


Day 4 was wacky. We were returning to our Provence home base: Avignon. En route we took in some totally unique sights. We rode through a town having some sort of fair. Locals were setting up a stage and testing microphones, clearly preparing for a special musical performance. They were also hosting one special guest: a bull. There was a huge, snorting bull running around an enclosed part of village. Little boys kept taunting the bull with noises and movements. The townspeople thought it was hysterical. I thought it was animal cruelty. So we hit the road.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Provence: Part 3


Day 3 was intense. The road wasn't mountainous,  but it was tricky. At some point we took a wrong turn and we became completely lost. We ended up off-roading in a vineyard. For real. After many minutes (felt like forever) of slowly biking over branches and debris, we figured we had to be going the wrong way. Also, we had to escape our scary whereabouts. There were "beware of animal" signs and I was sure we were about to encounter a snake and/or bear. So we turned around. We ended up making many wrong turns before finally finding other humans who kindly pointed us towards our destination: Graveson. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Provence: Part 2


On day two we got our wish for mountainous terrain. We rode from St. Remy to Arles on hills so steep I had to dismount my bike and walk, panting, legs burning, eyes squinting in the sun and sweat, along the road. Again, we didn't see many other people for the most part. But at one point a car came by and its driver yelled at us to get out of the way. We were confused. On one hand we didn't actually know what the driver had yelled. We don't speak French. On the other hand, get out of the way for what? Then the freaking Tour de France whizzed by. OK, it wasn't actually the Tour de France, but it was a real deal professional bike race. Hoards of skinny men on skinny bikes came racing down the mountain at such a speed I was flabbergasted. (See below for photos.) This at least made us feel like we were the real deal, biking along a real bike route. And wishing we were back on the beginner trail...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Provence: Part 1



I've been getting one very annoying distress signal on my iPhone lately: My storage is full. I cannot download new apps or even take photos. Womp womp. So I've been painstakingly deleting photos, one by one. Many of these pictures have already been uploaded to Instagram or Facebook, so it's no big deal. Yet, it still pains me each time I have to confirm deletion of a beloved photo. My husband accuses me of being a picture hoarder, and he's right. (I also balk at the idea of deleting the photos off a digital camera memory card, even after said photos have been uploaded to a computer and hard drive.) 

The upside of having to go through old photos is that I get to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about past travels. I just deleted, for instance, hundreds of images from a bicycle adventure in Provence. I look back on that trip with such fondness and I'm happy to share some South of France memories here.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Constellations


A few weeks ago my mom took me to see Constellations on Broadway. We started the night at Joe Allen with lobster rolls and wine. Then we made our way to the theater for some delicious Jake Gyllenhaal viewing. Gyllenhaal was looking especially beardy and handsome. He also adopted a British accent for the play which was convincing and crazy attractive. His acting? Fantastic. What blew me away, though, was Ruth Wilson's performance. She was spectacular. 

Constellations stars just the two actors: Gyllenhaal and Wilson. There is no intermission. The two performers are on stage for the duration of the dialogue-heavy play. In a word? It's impressive. Both actors show a wide range and make the subject matter, albeit depressing, spring to life. The show's storyline is sad; it deals with relationship issues, disease and more. But the acting is phenomenal.

The one downside, besides the deflating subject matter, is the audience. Of course, the audience isn't always an issue. But it was at this performance. I was seated next to two chic-looking middle-aged women. The one directly beside me kept whispering to her friend, "Aren't they amazing?!", "OMG, did that just happen?" and so on. Chatty Cathy nearly ruined my play-going experience. I would start to get lost in the story, but then I'd abruptly be yanked back into the disappointing reality that my sixty-something year old neighbor needed incessant attention.

Everyone in the theater is so (rightfully) concerned about cell phones going off during performances. I think there should also be warnings about audience commentators. How can viewers get lost in a performance when some rude theater-goers are creating disturbances? Fortunately, Gyllenhaal and Wilson are such talented storytellers that they made the great lasting impression of my evening. Chatty Cathy is fading into the distance, and even Gyllenhaal's dreamy accent is no longer on the top of my mind. 

A

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Love at First Date

[Woo Central, Circa 2009]
I recently read Emily Schuman's blog post describing her first date with her now husband and baby daddy. They ended up seeing a movie neither of them was all that interested in, but the two lovebirds wanted to do something, anything to spend more time together. 

This reminded me of my first date with my husband. Justin and I had been friends for years, so while we were comfortable in each other's company, we still had to make the leap from friend zone to romance. There was much wooing involved.

Justin proved himself to be quite the romantic. He recommended we see 500 Days of Summer. Little did I know at the time that he had already seen the movie with a friend and deemed it date appropriate. He knew I'd like it, and then perhaps like him (Spoiler alert: it worked). 

We made casual plans to see the movie after I took a yoga class at my beloved, and now closed, studio Om in USQ. Justin picked me up outside the yoga studio and escorted me to the theater down the block. I loved 500 Days of Summer. And maybe that's when I started to love Justin, who knows ;) It was a perfect first date, and well worth Justin's reconnaissance work. He's been wooing me ever since. 

xo A

P.S. Another blogger's first date story, here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Riding the Wave


The older I get, the more of a scaredy cat I become. I'm terrified of cats, for one. Flying, something I've been comfortable with my whole life, is now scary -- especially during moments of turbulence. And big waves in the ocean? Let's just say I cannot hang ten.

My newly developed wave phobia is devastating because I love the ocean. I yearn to be by the sea at all times. I'm happiest on the sand, listening to water lapping up against the shore. Actually, that's a lie. I'm happiest in the ocean, dunking my head and feeling free. My newfound problem is that I can only enjoy the sea when it's wave-free. And nature doesn't always cooperate with my neediness.

The best solution, of course, is to conquer my fear of waves. People swim in wavy waters all the time, unscathed. The key is to swim into the belly of the wave. My instinct, however, is to 
panic and flail in the other direction, until I'm undoubtedly swallowed up by the water and spit out panting, scared and sometimes hurt.

I know the answer to my conundrum. I know I need to face my fear and get out there and just swim into the waves. I know this, and yet I wallow in fear. In Tulum recently, the water cooperated with my neurosis for most of my trip. I contentedly bobbed in and out of the pristine water on most days. On my 31st birthday, however, I was tested by God or The Universe or Poseidon or something... A big wave came and I freaked out. I tried to escape but of course I got pummeled. I emerged from the water topless and scared.

The rest of the day I only dipped my toes in the ocean. I didn't dare enter in far enough to risk having to face a menacing wave. When I moseyed up to the hotel to use the ladies room (No, clearly the ocean is not a suitable option for me) I met a stray cat. The feline blocked me from proceeding. I recoiled and waited for it to pass. Yup, like a true p*ssy.

I didn't check my phone often on that Tulum trip. I typically like to disconnect on vacation. I did check my email at some point on my b-day, though. I opened my "daily inspiration" email from Martha Beck to find these words of wisdom:
The only way to the Place beyond Fear is to do the thing you fear most. This is how to surrender to your best destiny.

Whether it was a coincidence or a message from my fairy godmother, I'm not sure. But I decided to finally heed Beck's advice, the advice I'd been telling myself but not acting on. The next day I would claim the walkway from cats and claim the sea from my scaredy cat self. I was determined but terrified. The next day, however, much to my relief, the water was calm like a bathtub. Still, I floated around and felt free.


A

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

An easy antidote to the blues


How do you relax? When the weather allows, I relax by jogging along the Hudson River, going to yoga classes or meeting friends for a glass of wine.

However, during this particularly harrowing winter trekking anywhere has seemed more stressful than reaping the benefits from participating in such calming activities.

So what did I do to fend off those winter blues? My saviors have been taking tropical trips, watching The West Wing on Netflix and tuning into the occasional old movie.

I've always had a soft spot for Turner Classic Movies. TCM shows old films that are generally heart-warming; even if the movies don't always have happy endings, the black and white tones and dialect from earlier times is nostalgic and uplifting. 

When I came across this "letter of recommendation" in The New York Times Magazine I was instantly intrigued. Author Leon Wieseltier extols the virtues of the classic movie channel in a passionate ode. See below for an excerpt:

"Some people turn to psychopharmacology when they are blue. I prefer Turner Classic Movies... I switch on TCM and find swift transit beyond the confines of my position. Alongside my reality there appears another reality — the world out there and not in here. One objective of melancholy is to block the evidence of a more variegated existence, but a film quickly removes the blockage. It sneaks past the feelings that act as walls."

Wieseltier praises TCM for providing not only an alternative reality but also beautifully made films created without computer interference. Wieseltier adores old movies because they have integrity. Back then, acting was a craft performed on a set and not before a green-screen. Movie stars actually performed stunts. It wasn't all pretend. 

Wieseltier is in favor of finding a real outlet for help in facing reality. Old movies don't remove us from our present scenarios, but they may make them more tolerable. As he says, "We watch movies because life must be faced."

A

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Oh, Mexico


I recently returned from Tulum, Mexico. As I mentioned here, my husband and I started a tradition of celebrating my birthday in Tulum last winter. Prior to visiting Tulum in 2014, I never thought I'd choose one spot to return to again and again. I have a serious case of wanderlust and I love to explore new locations. But, I found myself so drawn to Tulum and its laid-back energy, warm locals and picturesque surroundings. I inadvertently found my home away from home in this special Mexico town. 

This year we went with one of our close couple friends and we had an amazing time. A typical day started by eating breakfast on the beach, accompanied by fresh juice or smoothies. In the late morning we'd read and take dips in the ocean. For lunch we walked along the soft sand to find fish tacos, fresh ceviche and Sol beers at neighboring boutique hotels. Sometimes there'd be live music. The afternoon was spent reading, swimming in the lukewarm, turquoise water and strolling the beach a bit more. In the evening we drank tequila cocktails and ventured to different restaurants for homemade pasta or super fresh catch of the day dishes. 

As I type this recap, sitting at my desk in my drafty NYC apartment, my wool socks rolled up over my ankles and my life-saving space heater beside me, it all seems so far away. I do, however, have some mementos to keep my memories fresh and accessible. 

While I deliberately unplugged during the trip and didn't post anything to social media, I did take tons of photos to enjoy after the vacation. See below for some pics.

Also, my friend Colleen and I purchased beautiful string bracelets from a sweet ten year old local selling her jewelry on the beach. The bracelets are brightly woven reminders of the casual vibe and technicolor natural beauty prevalent in Tulum.

Another keepsake I took from Tulum is a handmade ring I bought from designer Belen of De la Rosa Jewelry. Belen approached me on the beach just before dusk as I was lost in another world, reading. I wasn't interested in buying anything, but Belen was so warm and charismatic I decided to take a look at her work. She has beautiful pieces and I was drawn to a gold-plated ring with a circle design. The understated piece fit perfectly on my ring finger, and Belen explained that it symbolizes "new beginnings." I was sold on the ring. I was also enamored of Belen. She has the most gorgeous smile and the sweetest demeanor. We bonded and exchanged contact info. She's from Argentina and lives in Tulum for part of the year. She's planning a visit to NY to display her art, and I'll be at her show with open arms, and one specially accessorized finger. 

A






Monday, February 23, 2015

Modern Man


The February issue of Glamour inspired my girl crush on Allison Williams and it also opened my eyes to the sensitive side of Jimmy Kimmel. I know Kimmel as a long-time comedian and TV personality and I see clips of the Jimmy Kimmel Live! show when they go viral, especially the popular "Celebrities Read Mean Tweets" bits. Kimmel has always seemed likable and funny, but after reading his interview in Glamour I've learned that he is also sensitive, self-deprecating and even domestic. Here are a few highlights from Kimmel's feature in Glamour:
Kimmel says that modern men need to be renaissance men: "Being a modern guy means we have to do a little bit of everything." Kimmel provides the example of men no longer sitting in waiting rooms, cigars dangling from their lips, while their wives give birth. He explains that he held his wife's leg and "said encouraging things" while his baby girl was being born. Bravo, Jimmy!
Kimmel cooks and cleans. He's especially drawn to doing laundry and vacuuming, activities he chalks up to OCD. In the kitchen Kimmel's specialties are pizzas and pastas. See below for his special sauce recipe.
Kimmel watches his weight. He says, "I am that pathetic man--I didn't even notice that I got fat." He doesn't like to exercise, so he relies on the two-five diet: "On Monday and Thursday I eat only 600 calories or less and am starving at my desk. But the rest of the week? I eat like I've been on an island and then got dropped off in front of an all-you-can-eat buffet in Las Vegas."
Kimmel admits that he's still figuring it all out. He's divorced and he feels guilty about having had to share custody of his two oldest kids. But, he also found that it made their time together more meaningful and comprised real communication, not just watching TV. 
Kimmel seems like a good guy. I'm officially a fan. 
A

P.S. See below for Kimmel's famous tomato sauce recipe:
1. Heat a few tablespoons of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil in a pan.
2. Slice some garlic into thin pieces, and fry them until they're golden but not brown. If the garlic turns brown, start over. Remove the garlic from the olive oil.
3. Add a whole can of tomatoes to the olive oil, but remember: Not all canned tomatoes are created equal. I like Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes the best. They're not easy to find, but you can buy them on Amazon. Add a little bit of sea salt and a few leaves of fresh basil.
4. Bring that to a boil for a minute, and then turn down the heat and let it simmer for at least 20 minutes. It can do this for quite a while—up to a few hours will get you an even deeper flavor.
5. Once you're done, take a ladleful of pasta water and add it to the sauce.


[How to Love (& Live With) the 21st-Century Man, Glamour, February 2015]

Thursday, February 19, 2015

To Fall Out of Love, Do This


You know those "it" articles - the ones that are shared incessantly, paraphrased everywhere and plastered all over social media? Each it article has its 15 minutes of fame, and for good reason. The fashionable article is eye-opening, controversial or relatable. A New York Times article titled “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This” recently made the rounds. Below is a brief description: 

In Mandy Len Catron’s Modern Love essay, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” she refers to a study by the psychologist Arthur Aron (and others) that explores whether intimacy between two strangers can be accelerated by having them ask each other a specific series of personal questions. The 36 questions in the study are broken up into three sets, with each set intended to be more probing than the previous one. (The Times)

Personally, I was suffering a bout of self-diagnosed A.D.D. when I first started the Times article, and I didn't finish it. I did, however, devour The New Yorker's satire of the Times article, titled "To Fall Out of Love, Do This." This follow-up article is laugh out loud funny, relatable, and A.D.D.-repellent. You won't want to put it down. See below for the article's introduction, and click here to read the piece in full:

The following questions are part of a follow-up study to see whether the intimacy between two committed partners can be broken down by forcing them to ask each other thirty-six questions no one in a relationship should actually ask. (New Yorker)

Enjoy,
A


Image via A Cup of Jo

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ballsy Girl


I reluctantly picked up the February issue of Glamour at an airport Hudson News recently. I needed to satisfy my craving for a pre-flight magazine splurge, but nothing really tickled my fancy after judging the glossies by their covers -- Glamour included. As much as I admire cover star Allison Williams, I didn't anticipate her interview being all that interesting. Williams is a TV star who's earned "good girl" status in her personal life. She's the daughter of famous parents (her Glamour feature was well before the current Brian Williams scandal emerged) and she's in a committed romantic relationship. It all just seems so saccharine, so I assumed she wouldn't have much to offer in terms of entertaining interview content. But boy was I wrong.

Allison Williams is not a boring "surface person." She's the real deal. In her Glamour interview, Williams comes off as both intellectual and street-smart. She knows she's fortunate and she's quite perceptive. She's decidedly self-aware and she shares a real-life example:

Say I got an email about a friend from college having a birthday at a bar. I now know that simply walking into a bar gives me anxiety--for myriad reasons. So I don't go. Instead I send an email: "If we can get coffee soon, amazing." It's fully selfish, but it's just something I've learned about myself.

Williams then goes on to share a trick for dealing with anxiety triggers:

A good trick is to literally wiggle your toes in your shoes, just [to] ground yourself: "I am right here, and these are my toes in my shoes. This is where I am, and everything's OK." It's just sort of bringing yourself back to where you are, because inevitably, when I'm anxious, I retreat into my head. But the way out is through. 

Williams allows herself to be vulnerable, but at the same time she's setting her sights on an EGOT. She seems authentic and confident. She even refers to her "balls [getting] bigger" as she makes leaps towards achieving her dreams. I'm officially intrigued.

A

[Girl? Please., Logan Hill, Glamour, February 2015]

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Free Your Mind (And The Rest Will Follow)


I am indebted to O, The Oprah Magazine. I first found Martha Beck when I picked up O mag a few years back. I came across Beck's column in the glossy's section "May We Help You?" and I became an instant devotee. I went on to read two of Beck's books, which I dogeared to the umpteenth degree and which I keep stacked on my desk. I also receive Beck's daily inspiration emails and I write about her teachings often.

So I couldn't resist sharing Beck's "Don't Ask" article from the February 2015 issue of O Magazine. In this piece Beck lists 13 common questions that plague many of us, and she explains how we can stop harping on these queries that are just not worth our time. Beck explains:


"We're always running across lists of questions we should be asking our doctors, financial advisers, parole officers, and so on. And I like those lists. This is not one of those lists. Not every question in the world is useful, and in fact many of them can actually make our lives harder and more painful."

See below for my favorites:

When will my ship come in?
Happy expectation helps draw good things into your life. Compulsively asking when they'll arrive drives them away. Has anyone ever pestered you about getting something done? Remember how this made you want to slow down solely to annoy them? Don't choke good fortune by clutching at it. Identify what you want, do what you can to create it, and then distract yourself. I guarantee that your ship will speed up. 
Do I look fat in this?
Some clothes make you look slightly large, some slightly smaller, but here's the truth: Whatever you're wearing, you look approximately as fat as you are. Accepting that fact frees up a ton of energy, lightening you considerably.
What will people think?
This is an excellent question to ask continuously if you want to live in the emotional equivalent of a Turkish prison. What other people think is none of your business. Ask yourself what you'll think on your deathbed if you spend your whole life worrying about others' opinions.
How can I get more?
If you're hungry and you eat a square meal, you'll feel better. But you won't feel ten times better if you eat ten square meals. Our culture instills in us an unfettered lust for more, more, more. Like a cancer, that lust doesn't know when to stop. Consider asking, How can I make do with less? You'll find yourself headed for the even-keeled moderation that leads to real happiness.*
A

*Check out the full feature in the February 2015 O, The Oprah Magazine for more words of wisdom from Beck.
Photo via juliarobbs.com

[Don't Ask, O, The Oprah Magazine, February 2015]

Thursday, February 5, 2015

What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human


This article written by veterinarian Vint Virga struck a chord. Virga begins by relaying a personal story: 
Late one November evening in my fourth year out of veterinary school, while tending to the first wave of patients who had flocked to our clinic for emergency care, a single dog in an unconscious haze forever changed the course of my career: Pongo, a 2-year-old flat-coated retriever struck by a pickup speeding by his front door, lay before me on a blanket. He was no better for all that modern medicine and my training had offered him; his vital signs ebbed fatefully weaker than when he’d arrived several hours before. Worn from the onslaught of all the night’s cases, I surrendered to a wave of frustration and sank exhausted to the floor, with little else left to offer Pongo except for my arm draped across his chest, a soft word spoken, and a gentle touch. Yet, from this simple act of caring, in less than an hour, I watched him fully recover in body and spirit.
Virga became inspired to spend the next 20 years studying animals and the connections we share with them. See below for a list of 10 specific lessons Virga learned about being human in his study of animals:
1. Savor the moment.  
Animals, by their very nature, live focused on the moment, while we, as humans, far too often are distracted by thoughts about the past and future—a fight with a friend last night, the performance review with our boss tomorrow, or our growing to do list for the coming week. By taking our cue from animals and noticing more of each present moment, we can find a chance to more fully appreciate what is happening right now in our lives.
2. Heed your instincts. 
Alert and attentive to each of their senses, animals respond to cues about the world around them by trusting their instincts and acting on them. When we rationalize in our human minds what our instincts may tell us to take notice of—or ignore what our senses are conveying to us—we risk dismissing important signals about events, circumstances, and the people around us. As we attend to our senses and acknowledge our instincts, we open ourselves to new choices and opportunities.
3. Keep focused on what’s most important. 
On those days when it seems everything has gone wrong and we come home exhausted and spent, our animal companions devotedly greet us with unfailing offers of love and affection. Even those times we may speak harshly toward them or ignore them completely as we walk in the door, they wait in the wings for the moment to come when we, at last, turn our attention to them. And in their patient devotion, they serve as reminders of how much we value connecting with others and sharing our hearts.
4. Don’t get bogged down on words. 
As we communicate with family and friends, most often we think of relying on words. Yet we often neglect to consider the many other ways that we portray our inner world. The tone of our voice, our facial expressions, our posture, our movements, scents released by our skin to waft through the air communicate our thoughts, emotions, and intentions, often more reliably than the words we choose. 
5. Take time to rest. 
In the hurried pace of our daily routines, it’s all too easy to fill our days with a steady stream of activities—places to be, people to meet, tasks to accomplish before it’s too late. But, taking a cue from our dogs and cats, the lions at the zoo, a hawk perched in a tree overlooking the road that we glimpse from the car, we can take quiet moments to rest for a bit and give ourselves time to relax and reflect.
6. Remember to play. 
In the midst of our day, when we feel the pressures from work or at home, a well-deserved break—even just a few moments—from the task at hand can lighten our load and help ease our concerns. From Labradors to Bengals and timber wolves to leopards, the creatures around us routinely play to invent, discover, and bring joy to their day.
7. Don’t take yourself so seriously. 
Whether rolling in catnip or pouncing on strings, our cats jump to play fully absorbed in their game without worries about how they may appear to us or others watching them. Likewise our dogs while chasing a ball, sniffing at lampposts, or gnawing a bone relish their pastimes without concern for how they may look to passersby. Letting go of our inner critic and the judgments of others, we can more fully embrace those times we enjoy.
8. Let go of attachment to being right or wrong. 
Evolution favors those creatures that focus on what matters most—finding food, remaining healthy, resting, breeding, and caring for young. When we defer to our sense of pride and self-importance, we risk losing the outcomes and results we want most. Letting go of our attachment to being right or wrong frees us to align ourselves with what we value most.
9. Practice forgiveness. 
While animals, certainly, suffer grief, misfortune, and misery, they move past them with greater poise than we humans often do. The continuity of their lives takes precedence over reliving the past.  When words and deeds come back to play in our minds, like the creatures around us, we can give as before with grace and equanimity.
10. Love unconditionally. 
In the silent presence of the creatures around us—all alone on the sofa with our dog by our side or cat resting cozily curled in our lap—we sense their regard for our thoughts and feelings, and we respond in kind without reserve. If we choose, we can do so, as well, with each other.
These are all lessons we can apply to our lives now. Life Coach Martha Beck has been teaching similar ideas for years, specifically the notions of savoring the moment (or mindfulness), not getting bogged down by words, taking time to rest and remembering to play. Below are links to some of Beck's teachings, many of which were inspired by furry friends:

Martha can't live without this simple meditation practice called "Mindfulness."

Meet Your New Therapist. He's Wise, Compassionate...And Likes To Eat Hay

Play, not work, is the key to success. (#4)

Often complex problems are best solved by thinking like an animal. (#7) 

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[10 Things Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human, Vint Virga, Psychology Today, 1/10/15]
 

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