Thursday, September 30, 2010

A rude awakening

I have 7,000 things I need/want to blog about, BUT this morning, I've got about ten minutes I feel okay devoting to blogging before I get on with my to-do list, and there is one thing above all that absolutely NEEDS addressing.

At approximately 5:30 a.m. this morning, I woke up to a very noisy, very nearby clamor. It took a few seconds to register what was happening: someone was yanking open the blinds on the window right over the headboard of my bed...they were jerking upward at an alarmingly fast but haphazard rate. I think the thought in my head right at that moment was, $@#%, somebody'sbreakingindamnitI'mdoomedIhopealltheimportantpeopleknowhowmuchIlovethem...

...until I sat up in a panic, flipped the light on, and realized what was actually happening. Chloe had gotten herself tangled in the cord of the blinds. She'd managed to get it to be a sling for her belly as she leapt from my pillow to my nightstand, thereby pulling the entirety of the blinds open in one (albeit herky-jerky) fell swoop.

I'm still trying to figure out whether I've got the clutziest, most accident-prone cat ever created, or the brightest, craftiest one in the world who's simply realized that quieter efforts (tromping across my pillow and wiping alternating sides of her body across my face like a paintbrush, gentle paw-prodding at my eyelids) to wake up her breakfast-provider have proven fruitless lately. Chloe knows: desperate times call for desperate measures.

The adrenaline rush of thinking someone was breaking in to my apartment kept me up for awhile. I might have been angry, but she's just so darn cute...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Booklust: Another long one.

A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.
- Franz Kafka

Less than one month ago, I finally picked up a copy of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, by Nicholas Carr - a book I'd heard much about, picked up every time I wandered into Elliott Bay, and tried to chase down at libraries and used bookstores all over - before making the plunge. I read it in two days, and it's been a serious wake up call.

Flipping open my laptop first thing in the morning, starting my days with internet, and punctuating most of my free moments with mindless web browsing is NOT good for the soul. Nor for the mind. I've justified it, telling myself that it's important to read the news and stay up on current events, that Facebook is a pleasantly mindless, relaxing pleasure at the end of an exhausting work day, that the internet is crucial to being connected in this modern world, that most careers are web-based anyway, that it's far more interactive than TV anyway and hey, at least I don't own a TV.

All those things are true - but it doesn't mean that constantly being connected is a positive thing in my life.

I should know, right? As a lifelong devotee to the great outdoors, I've written plenty of journal entries that attest to the mystical powers of disconnecting from the daily grind, of immersing oneself entirely in the natural world and just living in the moment.

Oct. 2006: Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

(Case in point: Journal entry, Oct. 22, 2006, after my first multi-day backpacking trip: As cliched as it is to say so, it was so refreshing to liberate myself from all the meaningless crap we fill our day-to-day lives with, the "free time" we create through microwaves and laptops and flush toilets, that we just, in turn, squander. Or, at least, I feel like I do. Even as I'm writing this entry, I'm multi-tasking a bit online...and I HATE that! I felt so very "in the moment" during our trip...I was just thinking about the woods, the rain, the people I was with, my body - "moments of being" as Virginia Woolf called them.) It's a powerful thing.

It's not just in nature. It happens, too, in deep, rich conversations with a close friend. Or on my morning walk to work, face turned to the sun's first rays over the building tops downtown. Or when I curl up in bed with my leather-bound journal and ink pen and let my thoughts flow. Or on a 15-minute break at work, the din of screaming kids and bad 80s music on XM radio in the background, as I lose myself, however temporarily, in the refuge of a good book. Or in dreams, or while cooking, or while riding my bike, or while stepping over a fallen leaf, or while photographing the full moon, or in those groggy, post-alarm clock, first few moments of a new day.

The moon last night.

It's in those moments that thoughts are born. Not just normal processing thoughts, but the fodder that gives rise to our best insights - the very stuff that makes us most human. That insight, those connections, is what separates the human brain from the computer brain, and what can be the saving grace of our species, if people can only not lose the ability to harness that power...the power of insight, from which we also derive the powers of compassion, of imagination, of free will and ambition and creation.

Since The Shallows, I've been in a reading frenzy (as I've mentioned in brief passing already in this blog, I know.) It's crazy that two months ago, I was saying, "I'd love to read more, but I just don't have the time." Wrong. I just wasn't making the time. I've had the same 24 hours in my day as before, the same crazy 50-60 hour work weeks, the same obligations, everything; I've just made reading priority again. As Gandhi once said, "Action expresses priorities." After all, I didn't seem to have a problem reading when I was at Oberlin. One (delightful!) semester's worth of reading then:

Here's my reading list from the past month, most of which, yes, I've read cover to cover...a few are still in progress.

Compelling Nonfiction: Because we live in a fascinating world.
The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr
Bait and Switch, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Framing Innocence, by Lynn Powell
UTNE Reader: The Best of the Alternative Press, Sept/Oct 2010 Issue

Business Books: To help me help the companies I'm proud to work for.
Raising the Bar: The Story of Clif Bar Inc., by Gary Erickson
The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
The New Rules of Marketing and PR, by David Meerman Scott
The 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss

Personal Development Books To give the gifts of knowledge and motivation to myself.
Rich Brother, Rich Sister: Two Different Paths to God, Money, and Happiness, by Robert Kiyosaki
Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World, by Lama Surya Das
My Reality Check Bounced!, by Jason Ryan Dorsey
The Myth of Stress, by Andrew Bernstein
You're Broke Because You Want to Be, by Larry Winget
Poor Dad Rich Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki

Writing Books To give me a definitive shove toward my dream of being a published author.
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
Nonfiction Book Proposals Anyone Can Write, by Elizabeth Lyon
Writer's Digest, October 2010 Issue

Some samplings:

It seems to be that Facebook and Twitter and YouTube - and just so you don't think this is a generational thing, television and radio and magazines and even newspapers - are all ultimately just an elaborate excuse to run away from yourself. To avoid the difficult and troubling questions that being human throws in your way: Am I doing the right thing with my life? Do I believe the things I was taught as a child? What do the words I live by really mean? Am I happy? The problem...with Facebook and Twitter and The New York Times [is that] when you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now - you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people's thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people's reality: for others, not for yourself. You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice. - from "Solitude and Leadership" by William Deresiewicz, reprinted in UTNE

My favorite season is autumn; my favorite time of day is sunset. These are beautiful times - poignant and ever so fleeting. Isn't that true of many of life's loveliest moments? Everyday problems teach us to have a realistic attitude. They teach us that life is what life is: flawed, yet with tremendous potential for joy and fulfillment. Everything is workable. Until we fully learn this lesson, we are burned time and again by our unrealistic expectations. - from Awakening the Buddha Within

In an interview Writer's Digest did with Alice Walker, WD asked, "You've said that heaven should be a verb. What other words are underutilized?" Alice responded, "Bliss, ecstasy, joy. I live in Mexico part of the time, and my friend Yolanda always says that something is maravilloso. The word marvelous - especially when she says it about almost everything - reminds me that yes, indeed, that's the truth of it. Even with all of the things that are so awful, if you walk into your yard and stay there looking at almost anything for five minutes, you will be stunned by how marvelous life is and how incredibly lucky we are to have it.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Thoughts on a rainy Friday

Changed my blog layout, as some of you non-RSS -feed readers may have noticed. Just needed a change of scenery, I suppose.

That's what autumn is all about anyway, right? Shifting seasons, changing colors, falling leaves, a new year beginning for the schoolbound, that cyclical creep of cool, crisp September air nosing its way into August heat. For Seattle, it's just meant a lot of rain the last few days. I keep thinking about Ruth, who just moved here a few weeks ago from New York, and how she must be calling home and telling everyone, "It's really true, this gray and rainy all the time business about Seattle!"

For now, though, I like it. Rain means books, fleece, butternut squash soup, music, snuggling with Chloe, Cozy Time socks, copious amounts of tea, and snowboarding season just around the corner. I guess that's how I know I moved to the right city...I can take my place among my Seattle friends whose Facebook statuses all echo my sentiments: James "likes that it's overcast today" and Gale wrote, "has anyone looked outside? Exquisite rain. Really. Top notch Seattle rain. I love it.", etc. Clearly I am in the right place. I was listening to some great music a minute ago, but I've turned it off, because I'd rather sit by my open window and just listen to the droplets splattering in the gutters. What a great sound!

Life's been interesting lately. I've read more books in the past month than I think I have in all my time since graduating. A bittersweet observation...completely awesome and tragic, all at once. Why did it take me until now to remember how much I love reading? How much richer my life feels when it's surrounded by words - real, thoughtfully crafted, deliberately transposed words - and not just Twitter posts? For once, I haven't held myself to one or two books at a time. I've checked out dozens from the library, spent afternoons lost in bookstores, placed exorbitant orders with Amazon (no, I don't think they're evil, just because they're an online retailer), and woken up every morning surrounded by books and let myself take to work the one or two that really appealed to me on that particular day - rather than holding myself to the one, necessarily, I was reading the night before. It's been fantastic.

I went for my first run in 6 weeks. I did about 3.5 miles, and it felt spectacular, but also hard (though not as hard as I was worried it might be.) But I was ready to be done by the end. It's sad to not be in the kind of running shape I was in just a couple months ago, but my body feels strong and rejuvenated and excited for all the rebuilding and strengthening that's possible when you're not already in tip-top shape. The fact that "going for a run" only takes half an hour now instead of three or four is also very productive for the book-reading habit.

Got together with three lovely Oberlin folk a few nights ago for tacos and a political discussion on the pros and cons of Katy Perry and her effect on American pop culture. Ah's amazing how many fellow alumni have settled in the rainy city, too.

School starts in another week and a half. I'm excited for all the possibilities. And again, for change. Change is great. It's always been a positive driving force in my life. I've had so many ideas in the last few years, but with the modern technological age, it feels like a roadblock to not have the skills to build websites for my ideas. School will (hopefully) help me develop those skills, and for that, I'm infinitely grateful.

My eclectic soundtrack for the month:
Goodbye, Sean Fournier (his whole album if obtainable free at his website)
Jolene, Dolly Parton
Turns Out You Won, Meredith Bragg
Seminole Wind, James Taylor
Otherside, Macklemore
Alla This, Ani Difranco
In the Barrel of a Gun, Emily Wells
Cornflake Girl, Tori Amos
When You Come Back Down, Nickel Creek
Ain't No Reason, Brett Dennen
Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

That's all I got for now, folks.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Ramblerambleramble on life.

Many years ago now, I initiated a huge, huge project that absorbed hours of my life every day - part journaling, part artwork, part web design, all with a huge dose of self-reflection - and I didn't tell a soul about it. To this date, until this moment in which I'm deciding to write about it on my public blog, nobody's really heard about it. Bear with me.

During my sophomore year in high school, I was fairly depressed and angsty. I was going through a devastating breakup in my young life, having lost my best friend and the person I'd been sure I was going to spend the rest of my life with it, all at once. My mom had gone back to school herself and my dad was getting crushed under his workload, so I felt like they were both too busy for me - and even when they weren't, I shut them out in the stubborn way that only 15-year-olds can. I hadn't really blossomed yet socially, and the word "shy" was still the dominant adjective people used to describe me. I was struggling with everything from my self esteem to my body image, from feelings of hopelessness to a serious exhaustion with life.

But I was good at hiding it.

At the same time, I recognized that I had to do something drastic to get myself out of the hole I felt like I was in. I credit my parents fully with having loaded up my emotional toolbox in childhood with tools to cope with challenging situations. I thought about what I'd read in my one of my favorite books at the time, "Succulent Wild Woman" by SARK: a story the author relayed about a male friend of hers who'd whined to his mother about not being able to meet the right woman. The mother told him to stop worrying about meeting the right woman (which was out of his control) and focus instead on making himself into the right man (which was within his control) so when he finally found her, he'd be ready for her.

That was my thinking when, at 15, I launched my secret project, which I dubbed DMTM - "Discovering Myself Through Myself." Using techniques Mike had taught me during our relationship plus a lot of research on my own, I built myself a website on my personal computer. I never uploaded it to the internet, but instead kept it buried on my PC for personal access only. I designed a main menu that led to a dozen pages and sub-menus. I moved my personal journal onto the site. I kept other writing I was proud of on it, too. I put up scans of my sketchbook pages. I kept record of any and all dreams I had and remembered. I showcased my budding web design projects - all with no audience in mind but myself.

The focus of my project was to redirect all my angsty energy into something productive - an investment in my own future. I refocused my journal entries on positive thoughts of change, of learning, of growth, rather than on negative ruminations about how stagnant and trapped and sad I felt at that point in my life. I meditated. I went running a lot. I tried to calm my soul, and recorded the entire process on DMTM as it was happening. On the first day of it, I wrote:

So many people spend their lives so desperately seeking their own purpose on this Earth, and they are seeking for it so intensely that they lose sight of what’s right in front of them. Life. Reality. Humanity. Being. Existence. This. Now. My purpose is to find myself and be true to that. I am forever changing myself, changing who I am, to make others happy. The few times I don’t do this are when I write in my journal with the confidence that no one is going to read what I’m writing and while I am running and my mind is completely centered on that.

In a world full of people screaming to be individuals, I’m just like everyone else. I want to leave my own unique imprint on the world. I want to be special, too. I want to inspire. I want to be an individual. But I’ve come to realize I can’t do that merely by dressing funky or writing band names on my backpack or posting my poetry in my AIM profile. I have to start small. Before I can even think of advertising who I am, I need to find out who that is. I don’t do that by trying a million different self-images out on my peers and seeing which one everyone else likes best. I have to start with myself.

Psychosocial scientist Erik Erickson acknowledged in his work that, indeed, identity formation is the most crucial task of adolescence. (Check!) The next steps of young adulthood and beyond include the searches for intimacy (vs. isolation) and "generativity" (vs. stagnation) - so I suppose those are naturally my next life projects. The point of writing about all this is that, first of all, I'm infinitely grateful to my 15-year-old self, and second of all, the amazing thing about personal development is that you can do it for free, anytime, anywhere, and it always, always yields results.

A few years ago, when I first began dreaming of moving to Seattle, I imagined myself securing from afar a full time job in publishing or editing. I certainly never imagined myself working in retail once I got here. And yet, "things not going as imagined" can be such an unforeseen asset. On the bright side, I work for three fantastic companies, doing diverse projects and work at each, generally loving it all - all the while getting to reflect a lot more on what aspects I appreciate most in each, plan for my future accordingly, learn about different business models, and develop my own life skills along the way. I love that REI pushes me constantly to be a better worker, a stronger communicator, a leader with positive drive and energy. I love that everything about my job with Kaplan is pretty far out of my comfort zone, and made me miserably scared at first, but sticking with it despite my anxieties has led me to grow into a confident, effective tutor. And I love that all my work at the magazine so far has helped illuminate for me this path I'm interested in pursuing further academically...the overlaps between print journalism and internet media. Hello world.

It almost feels like cheating to be reading books on personal success, because they're full of wisdom and lessons that people have taken entire lifetimes to earn - and I can access them all now, at this age. That's powerful. I've just been reading a ton of books lately. I've stopped checking my email or Facebook when I wake up, or on my breaks at work. I read books instead. It's completely transformed my energy levels throughout the day.

It's part of the reason Seyeon and I bonded so intensely when we met at Stanford the following year; I recognized instantly that disparate as our personalities were, we were made of the same clay. I emerged from conversations with her energized about life, about thinking, about learning, about planning for the future. We're both feeding off that energy again in each other now, and our reading/hiking seminar on Mt. Teneriffe last week was only the beginning. We're both going to school this fall; after Oberlin, I was burnt out on school and vowed not to do any more of it until my adult self figured out for sure what I wanted to study and could pay for it with my own money. That time has come.

Happily, Alan's on board, too. I know it's rare for me to do this much personal rambling on my public blog, and probably most of you won't make it this far anyway (web stats show that the average person reads only 18% of text on any given webpage), but I'd like to state for the record that I feel really lucky to be in a relationship with someone who loves and supports me as much as Alan does, and furthermore, is making purposeful tracks of his own in creating the future he wants. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, "You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with." True story. I'm a lucky lady.

Let me know if you would like to share book recommendations. I'm in a reading frenzy, and would love to share in it with you. So, no awesome photos of beautiful Washington this week. Just a lot of enjoying being home, reading and writing and relaxing and catching up on both sleep and cuddle time with Chloe.

Thoughts always welcome, in the form of blog comments, emails, Facebook messages, handwritten letters, phone calls, in person, or whatever other crazy medium you can come up with.