2017 Hopeful

To be blunt, 2016 sucked. I had this same conversation with a ton of people over Christmas, and the conclusion was the same. It seems like everyone suffered this year on some level. On a global scale, violence and death have been pervasive- the Bastille Day terror attack, the Pulse shootings, Aleppo, the numerous killings of unarmed Black men, the Dallas police shootings, Hurricane Matthew killing upwards of 900 people, the Istanbul attacks, the bombings in Brussels, the Ghostship fire, Harambe, the attacks in Germany (just to name a few). It’s been a horrible year for celebrity deaths- I was upset enough when it was just Alan Rickman, but to add Prince, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Alan Thicke, George Michael, and now Carrie Fisher, and so many others, just seems like a slap in the face. We’ve had Brexit, and the horribly contentious 2016 US Presidential election (not to mention the fact that Donald Trump will now be the president). That article that came out saying Millennials are making less than their parents, and life expectancy is declining was just icing on the worse cake of all time.

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Personally, my year hasn’t been amazing. The last two weeks really sum it up well. A 4 hour plane delay followed by getting sick enough to have to leave a girls weekend in wine country to go to the hospital, then the ER, and capping it all off with surgery, and a super painful recovery! 2016 is really ending in a fine fashion.

However, things aren’t all doom and gloom, and things could certainly be worse. As we close out this year and embark on a new one, I aim to be hopeful. LBJ said it pretty well:

Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.

So, with that in mind, I turn towards the future. I turn towards hope, I turn towards the light, and I turn towards positive progress. I’ll keep this short and sweet (everything 2016 wasn’t), and simply say that despite the shit-storm of 2016, moments of joy and happiness did occur (success at Standing Rock, Leo winning an Oscar, an Ebola vaccination was deemed successful, Harriet Tubman is going to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20, one of my cousins got engaged, another had a baby, the Nigerian Army rescued hostages from Boko Harem, and the ALS gene was isolated, which means a cure may be possible, the Cubs finally won a World Series Title).

As I will not be able to drink for the rest of the year following my surgery tomorrow, tonight I will raise a glass and toast to 2017. I will write my resolutions and I will stay resolute in the belief that this too shall pass. 

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Why I Got a Dog

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This weekend Umur and I welcomed a new rescue pup to our family. We named her Luna, Luna Lovegood to be exact. She’s had a rough start to life after someone dumped her in a lake as a puppy hoping she would drown. She has spent the last 6 months or so in various shelters and foster care systems. It’s unimaginable to me how people can be so cruel and heartless, especially to animals that are incapable of such cruelty. I have always been a huge animal lover, so the obvious reason why we got Luna is because of this life-long obsession. When I was a kid all I wanted to be was a vet, until I found out you had to be good at science to be a vet, and then I quickly disposed of that dream. Another big reason I wanted to get a dog was because I wanted to rescue a dog. Not buy one at a pet store or from a breeder, but really rescue a dog that would have had an unfortunate life otherwise. We have created a terrible situation for dogs through excessive breeding which has landed millions of dogs in shelters all across the country, and I think we bear the responsibility for taking care of these animals. The easiest reason to explain for why I wanted a dog was because I have the ability to take care of her and I knew that I could make her life better. There is a sense of purpose that comes from that knowledge (and also a sense of overwhelming responsibility).

Aside from these clear and easy to understand reasons for why I wanted a dog, there was also another reason. This is the one that would most likely get me funny looks, so I usually go with the easier to explain reasons when asked. But really, I wanted a dog because I wanted to go on walks and be outside more. I know that sounds like a really silly reason to get a dog, but in the past few years of working I have felt more and more like my world exists inside several screens, rather than in the actual physical world. If I had to guess, I would say on an average day I spend about 10 minutes outside. I get in my car in my garage, drive to work where I sit inside all day without moving, then drive home, then drive to the gym and walk to the door which is about 20 steps from my car and that’s it. So maybe not even 10 minutes. The rest of the time I spend in front of my computer at work, and then in front of my tv and phone at home. And spending all this time in front of screens is enough to make a person feel very detached, easily distracted, impatient and even incapable of enjoying simple pleasures like taking a walk. I got a dog because I wanted to remember what it felt like to go on a walk outside and just take my time, without rushing to the next thing I have to do, or compulsively checking my phone every few seconds. Even in this act of walking her though, I can feel my impatience dulling the pleasure I take from it. I have even found myself telling her to hurry up when she is zig-zagging in front of me smelling every bit of grass in our neighborhood. This impatience I think will be hard to break, but I’m working on it.

The other day Umur and I went on a walk with Luna, and it was the first time in a long time I can remember us going on a walk together, with our phones away, just walking and talking and watching our crazy dog. I felt an immense sense of peace and authenticity in that moment. I felt connected to the world and to the living things around me and I felt present. I think she will bring me a lot of these moments throughout our lives together. We like to think that we are training our dogs to be better, but I think she is training me to be better as well. She is teaching me to be more present, more patient and more grateful for life’s simple pleasures. And that’s why I really got a dog.

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-S

Electoral Bondage?

Today is the day that the Electoral College officially votes on the next president of the United States of America. For those of you who skipped civics and refuse to watch the news, the Electoral College (E.C.) is what you actually are voting for on election day.  The E.C. consists of various individuals that have been nominated by political parties. When you cast your vote on election Tuesday, you are actually voting for the elector who is pledged to vote for the candidate of your choice.

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So why do we have this system? Well, during the founding of the nation, all kinds of election ‘types’ were considered (popular vote, congressional selection, state governor votes, etc.),  but the convention eventually settled on the E.C.. The ‘goal’ of the college was to allow for popular participation by the people, but also to give smaller states as much of a voice as larger states. The E.C. was also set up in hopes that it would act as a safeguard against the rise of a demagogue.

However there are also political theorists who think the E.C. was less about the balance of power between populous and less-populous states, and more about the slavery lines of the North and the South. When the popular vote was suggested as the process to elect a President, the South pushed back hard. Because slaves were disenfranchised, the North’s number of eligible voters massively outnumbered those in the South. A compromise was originally met which allowed the Southern States to count slave as 2/5’s a person, which dramatically increased the South’s share of electoral votes.

“If the system’s pro-slavery tilt was not overwhelmingly obvious when the Constitution was ratified, it quickly became so. For 32 of the Constitution’s first 36 years, a white slaveholding Virginian occupied the presidency.” – Akhil Reed Amar

Obviously, the 2/5 compromise is no longer valid, but the Electoral College is still a hotly debated topic today in American politics. While this election has generated A TON of publicity around the E.C., people on both sides of the aisle have raised complaints against it for years. (In fact, Donald Trump tweeted against the E.C. a few years back). The world has changed a lot since the late 1700’s, and the efficacy of the Electoral College seems to be limited.

While I would love to see the members of the Electoral College vote against a demagogue (in case you aren’t familiar with the term, a demagogue is  defined as ‘a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.’ i.e. Donald Trump), it is highly unlikely that will come to pass. Also, I would be terrified to see how Donald Trump would react to having the Presidency taken away from him. I imagine it would be similar to when you take a toy away from a toddler and then the toddler stabs you repeatedly…

While I would personally feel vindicated if the E.C. were to evaluate Trump off his actions as the President Elect (see below for a few in particular), I realize that is not realistic, nor what our nation was  founded on.

  • His cabinet appointments (alt-right, anti-environment, anti-the very organizations they are supposed to advocate for… it’s like the opposite of the Justice League)
  • His refusal to take security briefings
  • His international relations snafus (Taiwan/China, support for Assad, statements on Castro’s death, etc.)
    • Everything with Russia (when the CIA & FBI all agree something untoward happened, SOMETHING is off)
  • The incessant tweeting (I think we can likely all agree tweeting about SNL and Vanity Fair should NOT be our presidents priority)
  • His Carrier deal. (He promised to save 1,100 jobs that were being relocated to Mexico, and ended up saving around 800, but negotiated millions of dollars in tax breaks for Carrier & United- which sets a dangerous precedent.)

    “In exchange for downsizing its move south of the border, United Technologies would receive $7 million in tax credits from Indiana, to be paid in $700,000 installments each year for a decade. Carrier, meanwhile, agreed to invest $16 million in its Indiana operation. United Technologies still plans to send 700 factory jobs from Huntington, Ind., to Monterrey, Mexico.”- Danielle Paquette

However, the preservation of this nation should be the bottom line, and while I am terrified over a Trump Presidency, I understand that changing the system now would cause a massive reaction through the country, and those wounds would be deep.

With that said, I do feel that it is time for a change in our electoral structure. With the internet (even with all the fake news), the fear that the public doesn’t have the means to be informed are unfounded (even if a lot of Americans choose to remove themselves from political education). The popular vote should be the bottom line, not an outdated, messy system that most people don’t fully understand.

Something to think about…

 

 

 

‘What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding’

I just finished reading What I was Doing While You Were Breeding, and I absolutely loved it. The author, Kristen Newman (who wrote for That 70’s Show and How I Met Your Mother), put together an insightful and insanely entertaining memoir. Spoiler alert: While her friends were ‘breeding’ and settling down, she was traveling the world. Her anecdotes are inspiring and poignant, and at times, hysterically funny. I think her book speaks to what Sarah was talking about in her last post, perhaps we need to stop worrying about where we are and what we’ve achieved, and simply enjoy our lives… Try to separate societal expectations from your own, because society doesn’t give a shit about your happiness, but you should.

Seriously, who can’t relate to this?

“I wanted love, but I also wanted freedom and adventure, and those two desires fought like angry obese sumo wrestlers in the dojo of my soul.”

She gives you a lot to ruminate on, and what I found especially important is that she never casts a judgmental light on anyone’s choices (despite what the title of the book might suggest).

“Life is almost never about choosing between one thing you really want and another thing you don’t want at all. If you’re lucky, and healthy, and live in a country where you have enough to eat and no fear that you’re going to get shot when you walk out your door, life is an endless series of choosing between two things you want almost equally. And you have to evaluate and determine which awesome thing you want infinitesimally more, and then give up that other awesome thing you want almost exactly as much. You have to trade awesome for awesome. Everyone I knew, no matter what they chose, was at least a little in mourning for that other thing.”

Basically, reading this book reinvigorated my desire to travel, and to go on some solo adventures. I’ve done one large international trip by myself (and some smaller domestic/international trips), and it was amazing. I chose to go to Ireland, on a road-trip down the Wild Atlantic Way. In honor of Kristen’s memoir, I decided to share some things I learned from my solo adventure.

Buy the damn rental car insurance.

Buy the Damn Rental Car Insurance.

I am typically against spending money on the non-essentials when traveling (I’d rather save my money and blow it all on some amazing souvenir or experience), but paying the extra $60 dollars for my rental insurance was the smartest thing I could have done. It ended up sparing me a $2,000 repair bill for a scratch. Scratching a car in Ireland is easier than finding a pint of Guinness, and it costs a hell of a lot more to deal with.

Minimizing stress and protecting yourself from potential incidentals when traveling by yourself is a major step in enjoying yourself.

Befriend Bartenders. When you go out alone, especially as a woman, it is important to be safe. Ideally, this wouldn’t be something we would have to deal with, but that is not the world we live in. While on a night out in Galway, I made a point of sitting at the bar and chatting up the staff. They realized I was on my own and were invaluable in keeping drunken fools away from me. At one point, a guy had overindulged, and was getting a little too handsy with me, and the bartenders asked the guy to leave. Quick, clean, and easy.

You can also get free drinks…

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Meet Locals- of all ages! My very first night in Ireland I met an elderly man that I ended up having dinner with. He was full of amazing stories and introduced me to a few of his friends. One of them played music in a local bar and invited me along. I went, and I was treated to complimentary Irish coffees. I ended up making friends with some people around my age, and we sang along to Irish folk songs and Beatles tunes until 3 am.

 Treat Yo Self. Traveling is stressful. Taking a break and relaxing will only help you enjoy the craziness of touring a new place. Towards the middle of my trip, I decided to go to a spa and get a facial. Being pampered for an hour reinvigorated me, and made me beyond ready to hit the road. Obviously, not everyone is going to a spa, but taking the time to sleep in, or pass on a crazy night out to get some extra shut eye can turn a trip around completely.

Get Lost.

Turn off your GPS and get rid of the map. Part of the charm of going somewhere new is wandering off the beaten track. I went for a walk in one of the towns I stayed in, and I had no set destination, but headed out towards the ocean. I stumbled on a completely deserted ruin of a castle (I might have hopped a fence or two). It was a surreal and out-of-body experience for me- it was like something I had dreamed up. Since it was my first day, and I was severely jet-lagged, I didn’t actually believe what I was seeing until I climbed into the castle in the picture above (even my imagination isn’t good enough to come up with a complete floor plan).

Bring Books. While I could wax poetic on the wonders of traveling along forever, it can also be lonely. I’m not going to lie and tell you that eating alone is a wonderful, magical experience all the time. It can be really awkward to be surrounded by couples and families giving you a pitying ‘you have no friends’ look or the more aggressive ‘are you a murderous lunatic?’ stare. Having book can turn a lonely dining experience around. You don’t need dining companions when you can disappear into a solid story.

Do something unique.

Have you always wanted to bungee jump? Or learn a traditional jig? Or go surfing? Whatever it is- just go for it. There is no one to tell you it’s stupid, or silly, or not worth it. Don’t have regrets.

For me, it was horseback riding across the open fields of Ireland. I ended up on a one-on-one trek where they let me canter and jump over trees and fences. Riding over the green hills with (I kid you not) a rainbow over head, was enough to make me believe in the magic of Ireland.

No One Knows You… do what you will with that There is a 0% chance that your friends and family know anything you did unless you tell them (within reason- if you get arrested people will know). If you want to have a crazy one night stand with a random person you can! If you want to pretend to be someone else for a day, go for it! If you want to flirt with someone all night and then run away, you do you! (I’m not saying I did that, but I’m also not saying I didn’t). You can do and be whomever you want without worry that your friends or co-workers or family members will judge you. Go crazy- OR DON’T!

Seriously, you can do whatever you want. Well, within the confines of the law and normal human levels of decency. You have no schedule and no one to be beholden too besides yourself. If you’d rather sit in a pub than hike a mountain, go for it! If you want to spend an hour staring at a painting, you can! If you want to see every tourist attraction in a 20 mile radius, get in your car and get going! The freedom of traveling alone is amazing, and you have no one to blame but yourself if you don’t enjoy your trip. There are no excuses.

 In summary, traveling alone is the best.

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On my first trip, I tried to wade into it by going somewhere known for being friendly and English-speaking. I was absolutely terrified to go. The week before I left, I didn’t sleep well since I was so nervous.

I can honestly say it was on of the best experiences of my life. I learned I don’t need to rely on other people to have an amazing time. I can trust that I am enough for an incredible adventure. I am so much more confident after having had this experience. I feel like I know myself better, and (luckily) still really like myself.

Get out there. The world is yours.

Our Obsession with Progress

I almost quoted Dolores Umbridge for the title to this blog, but I just couldn’t do it. I’ve been thinking lately about our society’s obsession with the future and with continual improvement. Kate’s last post got me thinking about the nature of happiness and then I was reading Outline by Rachel Cusk and was struck by this passage:

“In his marriage, he now realized, the principle of progress was always at work, in the acquiring of houses, possessions, cars, the drive towards higher social status, more travel, a wider circle of friends, even the production of children felt like an obligatory calling-point on the mad journey; and it was inevitable, he now saw, that once there were no more things to add or improve on, no more goals to achieve or stages to pass through, the journey would seem to have run its course, and he and his wife would be beset by a great sense of futility and by the feeling of some malady, which was really only the feeling of stillness after a life of too much motion, such as sailors experience when they walk on dry land after too long at sea, but which to both of them signified that they were no longer in love. If only we had had the sense, he said, to make our peace with one another then, to start from the honest proposition that we were two people not in love who nonetheless meant one another no harm; well, he said, his eyes brimming again, if that had been the case I believe we might have learned truly to love one another and to love ourselves. But instead we saw it as another opportunity for progress, saw the journey unfolding once more, only this time it was a journey through destruction and war, for which both of us demonstrated just as much energy and aptitude as always.”

Do you even read something and for a second just feel completely seen and understood? That’s how I felt when I read this passage and it’s a little bit unnerving. My life has been a series of goals with the finish line of one race turning in to the starting line of another. I feel lost without goals and without the next tangible thing that I am working towards. Anytime I am confronted with a moment of stillness, I automatically find a new goal or a new thing to do to fill my time. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. Though this kind of work ethic is a good thing, I wonder whether it is an attempt to distract ourselves. We are so uncomfortable with this feeling of stillness that the moment we stop moving we assume we’re doing something horribly wrong. It’s such a deep culturally rooted feeling that it’s even evident in the way we talk about our lives. We talk about being in ruts, about being stagnant and complacent and about settling. These are all the things we don’t want and we are so scared of doing. So instead we always frame our lives, relationships and careers in terms of what we want to do next. We bombard each other and ourselves with questions about the future as though the present without an imagined future is worthless. When you were younger the questions were about where you wanted to go to college; when you were in college the questions were about what you were going to do when you graduated; when you graduated and got a job the questions were about what you were going to do next; when you are in a relationship the questions are about when you will get married; when you are married the questions are about when you will buy a house and when you will have kids. We are all so concerned about our next steps and about everyone else’s next steps. I wonder what will happen in life or in love when there is no obvious next step. Once you have finally acquired everything you think you should have and have checked off all the life accomplishments you think you should check off, then what?

I think part of the reason we glorify this continual improvement model of life is that happiness is most easily felt when it is juxtaposed with struggle and unhappiness. We struggle towards our goals and once we achieve them, for a brief moment, it feels like perfect incandescent euphoria. The kind of happiness felt in stable, long-term contentment is very subtle and not easy to appreciate. It’s like when you have a cold, and you swear on everything that is holy that you will be so grateful when you are healthy again. You will breath in and out of both nostrils and seize the day! And then you get healthy again and you forget again how good it feels to breathe in and out of both nostrils. Because you can’t know how good it feels to breathe in and out of both nostrils unless you remember vividly and painfully how bad it feels to not be able to breathe in and out of both nostrils. And our capacity to remember feeling is actually pretty limited. We can remember events, but to fully conjure how they made us feel is almost impossible. So we have to move away from this kind of happiness that is only found in juxtaposition to struggle. The real accomplishment in life is being able to stomach stillness and to find that eternal source of happiness within yourself.

I think finding that subtle happiness is powerfully linked to gratitude. Not gratitude for material things or big accomplishments, but gratitude for small moments of contentment, the ones that you barely notice when you are so busy moving from thing to thing. Like Kate’s peppermint scented, candle-lit bath she talked about in her previous post. These small moments can be very powerful when we fully immerse ourselves in them. We are scared of stillness because it is harder to recognize and fully feel those subtle moments of happiness. In contrast, the euphoria that comes with drastic swings between struggle and achievement is glaring and palpable. We embrace struggle when it is for the sake of progress, but when it comes to happiness we try to take the easy way out. But once you have tuned in to gratitude and small moments of happiness, you can allow yourself to be filled up by them. Gratitude is a habit and it can be formed as easily as it can be broken. So my challenge to myself and to anyone reading this is: don’t get so caught up in the quest for your next achievement and forget that happiness too is a struggle and must be worked for. Because one day you’ll achieve all those things that you were supposed to achieve and everything will be still and calm at last, which is what you always said you wanted, and you won’t know how to feel content and at peace.

-S

Get Your Hygee On

Happy December!

As you may or may not know, I have some Danish heritage. My maternal great-grandfather immigrated from the land of the Danes back in the day, and I’ve always felt a kinship with the Vikings. I have ALWAYS believed Leif Erikson was far superior to Christopher Columbus. Brief history spotlight: my boy Leif was the first European to step foot on the North American continent, and he didn’t brutally decimate the indigenous cultures he found (point Erikson). But I digress… Scandinavia is the most feminist area in the world, and Denmark is the happiest country in the world (coincidence? I think not).

A month or so ago, I came across a Danish concept called hygee (pronounced: hoo-gah). It’s a difficult concept to define properly, but essentially hygee is the feeling when you take genuine pleasure in making each day just a little bit more special or meaningful. I’ve heard it translates literally to ‘internal coziness’ or the ‘art of creating intimacy’. It’s not dissimilar to the French concept of ‘joie de vivre’.

So why am I rambling about the Danes? Well, Denmark deals with an incredibly dark and cold winter and still manages to maintain their happiness (and avoid that pesky seasonal affective depression disorder). As Americans, who tend towards the negative, we can get a lot out of our lives by incorporating some hygee into our day-to-day.

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Relaxing with green tea by the fire

We tend to remove ourselves from some of the simple joys in our lives. Technology is amazing, but having access to pretty much everything immediately makes us a little less present. It’s a weird, dark time in the world (as I’ve discussed previously and will be sure to continue to discuss), which just makes it that much harder to take a beat to make small moments just a little bit more magical.

It’s important to remember our lives are not chores and routine doesn’t have to be something to ‘get through’. Ordinary tasks can be special and enjoyed. Maybe you take a second to light some candles or take a bath or read a book by the fire. Maybe its drinking and savoring a glass of wine or whisky while you cook dinner. Or waking up a little earlier to watch the sunrise. Maybe its going to dinner with friends and acknowledging the moment. Make the perfunctory pleasurable! That’s what I think hygee is really about- savoring moments and activities, not just ‘getting through it’.

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Prince on vinyl, homemade scones, candlelight, and tea

This is my favorite description:

“Hygge isn’t just a middle-class thing. Absolutely everyone’s at it from my dustbin man to the mayor. Hygge is so crucial to living Danishly that the other day on the motorway, I saw a camper van driving along with lit candles in the windows. This is probably illegal but Vikings don’t tend to be too hung up on health and safety.”- Helen Russell

Take a beat and enjoy yourself. Relax. Be kind to yourself, spend time on your soul.


So I wrote the above throughout this past week- I had spent time working to really appreciate smaller moments, and to take the time to enrich the perfunctory moments. However, I just had the most perfect hygee experience. I ran myself a peppermint scented bubble bath and brought out the candles and prosseco. I spent 2.5 hours in that bath reading a book that spoke to me, and I was almost giddy by the point the water turned cold. Yes, I was drinking, but this was so much more than that- it was being at peace, and being not just content, but happy. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more relaxed and present, so a serious THANK YOU to my Danish people.

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Hygee on!