February 26, 2013

Brain Candy


Don’t you just love smart in-depth content?  Well, I’ve collected some links over the years to some really great sites.  So, for your Tuesday Rabbit Hole of the Mind, here they are.

·       TED, or Technology, Entertainment, and Design, a site that has great 20 minute talks by really smart people (

·       Byliner, which highlights amazing longform journalism and fiction and even has some great short book-length works in their Byliner Originals (

·       Brain Pickings, a great site by Maria Popover that highlights and points to great smart and original content (

·       Arts & Letters Daily, a site that points to really smart academic and related articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education (

·       Open Culture, a free cultural and educational website (

·       The Millions, smart people saying smart things (

·       The New Yorker (of course) (

·       New York Times (of course) (

·       The Atlantic (of course) (

·       Harper’s (of course) (

And a bonus for those of you who forgot more about math than you ever knew:

·       The Khan Academy, the absolute best way to brush up on your algebra, trig, and calc (

February 25, 2013

A Braver Life, or Today I Write

Bravery, by Nathaniel Eckstrom (via)

One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is fear as dream-killer.  The opposite of dreams is fear, I’m convinced.

It is very hard to live a brave life.  By brave, I mean following up on opportunities, going for your dreams, and allowing yourself to dream in the first part.  Going against the tides of your life and the world around you to go after that which lights you up, whether that’s doing art or following a career as an animal communicator or going to Africa to help the poor.

It’s so much easier to be safe, to do what we’re supposed to do.  I had a counselor once who said, “Don’t ‘should’ yourself to death.”  Because it can be death, a slow spiral where you feel like you’re drowning.  And the whole world around you and your family and friends all have an agenda for you.  They want you to be answering their needs, doing what you’re expected, and not changing an iota. 

And beyond that, you can take on the fears of those around you.  The political climate of the last ten or fifteen years has included lots of fear-mongering, and it’s like mass hysteria took over there for a while ~ even now with the whole gun thing.  It’s about fear.  And you can also take on the fears of those closest to you, and they only want what’s best for you, so you honor that and before you know it, your life is very small.

The problem with all this is you can’t just make one big decision and everything changes.  Well, you can decide, “I’m going to live a braver life,” but then what it comes down to is a whole bunch of very small decisions every day.  Do you carve away time to do your art, or do you do the laundry?  Do you follow up on that serendipitous connection a friend mentioned, or do you not bother?  Do you take care of your body so it’s in the best health it can be so that you’re ready to follow your dream, or do you get fast food because it’s cheap and easy?

So, a braver life, one tiny step at a time. Today I write.

PS And if you want a smart and hilarious take on being brave, read Patty Chang Anker's Facing Forty Upside Down blog ( and follow her author page on FB (!/PattyChangAnker) and her on Twitter (@PattyChangAnker).

February 22, 2013

Names as Destiny

The Gashleycrumb Tinies, by Edward Gorey (via)

Are our names our destiny?  Well, Edward Gorey is certainly evidence in favor of the theory.  Like Charles Addams, he saw life as dark and humorous, and his work is amazing. 

But as it turns out, he did not originate the meaning of "gory."  According to the OED, it occured as early as 1480. 

So what do you think?  Nature or nurture?

February 21, 2013

Guy Fieri's Dad on Imagination

My wonderful mother-in-law came across this in Guy Fieri Food, a great cookbook.  This is in the introduction.  It is entitled "Jim on Imagination" ~ Jim is Guy's dad.  I love this!

Guy Fieri and his dad Jim (via)

We’re all born with imagination ~ that’s the first thing we have going for us.  Kids are fantastic to watch ~ they don’t speak for the first two years because they’re so busy learning! For that reason I’ve always felt it’s important not to rush them from the imagining stage to the memory stage of their growth, such as learning to speak or teaching them the alphabet.  There’s a connection between imagining and doing, and I’d argue that it’s just as important throughout adulthood as it is in childhood.
For the most part, if you can’t imagine doing something, there’s a good likelihood you can’t actually do it, and vice versa.  I can’t imagine walking on a tightrope between to high-rise buildings, but I know it can be done.  Some people have no problem taking a long pole and going for it ~ but that wouldn’t be me!  On the other hand, there are people who are unemployed for three years who can’t imagine getting a job again.  But without the ability to imagine it, how can it ever happen.
We must be careful not to destroy children’s imagination, because we don’t have a good framework for getting it back.  How do we get people to start imagining again?

February 20, 2013

Terrafin, or Feeling Things Intently

My son is absolutely ecstatic with anticipation.  He loves the video game Skylanders, and he’s been waiting for at least 6 months to get the character Terrafin, shown above.  I write this on Tuesday afternoon, and the figurine should be delivered this afternoon.  It allows you to be this character within the game in a world called Skyland, which are islands floating in the air. My son's grandma just flew in today, though, and he has music concert tonight, and so he won’t be able to play with it much today.  He was totally bummed about that.

Do you remember what it was like to anticipate things when you were a kid?  Oh, the agony, the torture!  There’s a great Calvin and Hobbes comic strip series (which you can see here) about this very thing.  Wanting something so bad and having to wait.  Once we ordered it, my son only had to wait two days, though ~ a huge difference from when I was a kid.

I wonder if kids experience these kinds of things more intensely.  We certainly get more patient with age, and we get blunted somehow.  Self-preservation, maybe. 

But I think it would do us good to remember, sometimes, what it’s like to remain that open, to feel things that intently.  Sometimes not, a lot of times it’s too much.  But that’s the state that’s the most alive, the most creative.

February 18, 2013

'All These Stars Are Silent'

I must reread Le Petit Prince.

The Little Prince (via)
All men have stars, but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems... But all these stars are silent. You-You alone will have stars as no one else has them... In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night...You, only you, will have stars that can laugh! And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me... You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure... It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh. ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince 

February 15, 2013


Ronan (via)

Ronan, son of Emily Rapp, has died.  She writes about it here and here. Oh, honey.  Our deepest and most heartfelt and ... well.  Let's just say, there are so many of us sending our most caring love your way.

February 14, 2013

Happy vs. Meaningful

 A Young Boy from Belsen Concentration Camp, Eric Taylor (via)

A great article in The Atlantic by Emily Esfahani Smith about happiness. 

It begins with the story of Viktor Frankl, who was a Jewish psychiatrist who survived a Nazi concentration camp.  While in the camp, he counseled young men who were suicidal, even as he lost his parents and his pregnant wife.  There is so much to unpack in that, so much irony and paradox.

But the article is about why he lived, what made him go on?  His assertion in Man’s Search for Meaning, Smith says, is that those who went on had meaning in their lives.  They had a purpose. 

Smith goes on to make the distinction between happiness and meaning. 

Most importantly from a social perspective, the pursuit of happiness is associated with selfish behavior -- being, as mentioned, a "taker" rather than a "giver." The psychologists give an evolutionary explanation for this: happiness is about drive reduction. If you have a need or a desire -- like hunger -- you satisfy it, and that makes you happy. People become happy, in other words, when they get what they want. Humans, then, are not the only ones who can feel happy. Animals have needs and drives, too, and when those drives are satisfied, animals also feel happy, the researchers point out.
The study participants reported deriving meaning from giving a part of themselves away to others and making a sacrifice on behalf of the overall group. In the words of Martin E. P. Seligman, one of the leading psychological scientists alive today, in the meaningful life "you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self." For instance, having more meaning in one's life was associated with activities like buying presents for others, taking care of kids, and arguing. People whose lives have high levels of meaning often actively seek meaning out even when they know it will come at the expense of happiness. Because they have invested themselves in something bigger than themselves, they also worry more and have higher levels of stress and anxiety in their lives than happy people. Having children, for example, is associated with the meaningful life and requires self-sacrifice, but it has been famously associated with low happiness among parents, including the ones in this study. In fact, according to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, research shows that parents are less happy interacting with their children than they are exercising, eating, and watching television.
Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment -- which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning.
Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future. "Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life," the researchers write. "Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future." That is, people who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, though they were less happy.

This is a brilliant distinction, I think.  If we are “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” it is critical to think about the definition of happiness.  If you consider Smith’s definition ~ the satisfaction of basic needs ~ rather than today’s definition ~ an ecstatically positive emotion ~ you get something very different.  Maybe what the Declaration of Independence meant was not that we all have the right to satisfy our most outrageious desires but rather that we have the right to have our basic needs fulfilled. 

And then, as Smith says, true happiness comes from having meaning, of having this greater thing outside ourselves that gives us purpose and focuses outward and puts us on a journey.


February 13, 2013

'The Red Wheelbarrow' by William Carlos Williams

Just because.

The Red Wheelbarrow

by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

February 12, 2013

Essays by Women You Should Be Reading


I recently came across some great links to contemporary essays by women.  I haven't had a chance to read them all, but the ones I have read are so brave and well written and wonderful.  I have always tremendously admired Virginia Woolf, and all these women inspire me in that same way. Makes me feel so good about the state of contemporary writing.

I thought I would pass along the links.  Happy reading!

Flavorwire's "17 Essays by Female Writers That Everyone Should Read"

Huffington Post's "Best Articles 2012: The 25 Pieces That Should Be Required Reading For Women"

February 11, 2013

Little Patches of Light and Darkness


I drove my daughter an hour and a half each way this morning for her orthodontist’s appointment.  The interstate was a little icy up on top by the Lincoln Monument (the highest point on the nation’s interstate system), but otherwise it was fine.  A nice but cold sunshiny day.

After my daughter’s appointment, the nice ladies at reception gave her two balloons ~ a yellow and a purple one ~ that were attached to a Twix bar, and they gave her fruit snacks for good measure.  Allie, the one receptionist, is particularly perky and sweet, just like my daughter, and my daughter always gives her a big hug as we leave.

About halfway home as I watched in my rearview mirror, my daughter, who is almost 7, started playing with the balloons.  She was having a conversation with them and telling a story about them and even arguing with them.  I couldn’t hear much because the radio was on, but it was an indepth and complex game she was playing.  Her eyebrows would shoot up and she’d tilt her head and say something very pleasant and then her brow would furrow and she’d shake her head and say something stern and then she’d get mock-angry and banish the balloons to the third seat in the back of the van.  Then she’d bring them back forward and shake the violently and hit them against one another as if they were fighting, and then I would hear her say, “Now, be nice to each other.”  This lasted for almost 45 minutes.

Besides the obvious mirror of what us, her parents, say to her, this got me thinking about interiors.  In some ways, the interior lives of our children are totally open to us.  We mystify them because we can guess what they did wrong and what they are about to do wrong.  That’s because it is written in neon letters on their forwards by their expressions and their body language and what they’ve done before.  They are a little bundle of desires, and you can see them moving from TV to candy to the video game back to dinner.

But there are corners of them we don’t know and never will.  Sometimes ~ like my daughter’s story to herself this morning ~ I have no idea what prompted it and what story she was telling.  The people who are closest to us and whom we think we know so well are riddled with these little patches of light and darkness that we know nothing about.  Your husband or your wife ~ they have a whole inner life that you don’t want to think about.  Could it be they’re thinking of leaving you?  Do they secretly detest you? Or are they simply taking you for granted and you are no longer the center of their thoughts?

And I can imagine that one of the horrible things about kids growing older is that they become estranged from you.  It is out of necessity ~ they have to become their own people ~ but I could see how those portions of light and dark within your kids could expand, until it overtakes them and these little beings whom you love with all your heart are now strangers to you. 

In some ways, life is a series of losses that you grieve forever, but then again the flip side is that it’s a series of wonderful gains too. I guess the trick is to be open ~ despite the fact that there is loss, let yourself love again.  Sure, your kids will grow up one day and move away, but if you don’t have them in the first place, you'll never know them and also there’s a part of you you will never know.

February 5, 2013

Richard III

So, Richard III is having yet another 15 minutes of fame. The youngest of eight, he was the King of England from 1483 until his death in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field.  He was also a great Shakespeare villain.  And now they’ve found his bones, with evidence that he was not only killed in battle but brutalized.

Want to go down the internet rabbithole?  Some great resources.

Here’s the Wiki entry for some background.

Here’s the announcement that they confirmed it was Richard III.

Here’s a video about the dig.

Here is more info about the wounds here and in the video below.

And, finally, about Richard III and Netflix’s new series House of Cards.

February 4, 2013

Remaking our Selves


We moved my mom this weekend. (Is my husband not a saint?) It was only from one apartment to another within the same building, and there was an elevator.  But, man oh man, was I tired.  I worked about 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days, give or take.  I’m not nearly as sore today, though, as I expected to be.

Mom is happy with her new surroundings.  She moved from the third floor to the first floor.  There’s more traffic noise, and it’s in a north/shaded part of the building, but she has a bigger bathroom and hallway and nicer floor coverings.  She’s excited for the change.

Got me thinking about how moves allow us to reframe our lives.  We get in ruts, doing things the same way, feeling like everything is same-old same-old.  Most humans, I think, like a little variety.  It helps you appreciate what you have and enlivens you.

And a move.  It allows you to rethink your whole life, even if not much really has changed.  You step outside yourself and think, I like this, I think I’ll keep it, or I don’t like this, I think I’ll change it.

It would be great if we had regular times in our lives that we could do this on a regular basis ~ say the third Thursday of every month.  A time to step back and say, you know what? This isn’t working, let’s redo this.  Call it a Redo Remake Holiday or something.

I imagine there are people who do do this, who aren’t as much security freaks as my husband and I.  Some people make it a point of moving every two or three years or going on lots of vacations.  They seem to want to deliberately disrupt all the community they’ve built and start things new, but then they might also be the type of people who are able to hold onto that old community or come back to it. (Or maybe they don’t want that old community.)

And as I think about it, it allows you not just to reimagine your life but yourself within your life.  It’s like when you go away to college.  A lot of people change their names and adopt slightly ~ or not so slightly ~ new identities.  They separate who they were from who they want to become, and this break from family is a the perfect opportunity.

It’s hard to do because the whole world generally doesn’t want you to change (if they are attached enough to care).  They know who you are and what to expect and that’s what they want from you.

As I said, wouldn’t it be great to have a time that we all try out new selves and new places in the world?  Halloween once a month!