My name is Ravensunset (well, it is for blogging purposes at least). I love to walk, listen to audiobooks, and travel. I always work to improve myself, even when I find that I am ruining myself in the process. I think it’s important to try hard and to always remember one’s goals.
I am writing this all in the pursuit of one of my goals, namely, that of “self-actualization,” despite at times it feeling like a pursuit toward self-destruction.
Sometimes I have trouble keeping a balance in my life. I have a distinct tendency to complete a task with an “all or nothing” mentality. I believe it is indeed this mentality that is the source of about 49% of my woes (the other 51% stemming from an odd mix of overanalysis, hyper-sensitivity, unrealistic expectations, and pop culture).
I hope that by writing here occasionally, I can be better at understanding myself and at helping myself (rather than self-destructing). Maybe through these musings I can bring you a shred of amusement, joy, or distraction, so in this hope, I am opening up my journey to anyone with internet access.
Do you ever have those moments when a song triggers a memory?
I was having trouble with my iPhone a few weeks ago. When I took it to the Apple Store they said that the only fix would be to restore my phone to factory settings. While I didn’t lose the important stuff like photos, phone numbers, and music, I did lose all of my apps and the phone settings (including, background, ringtones, alarms, etc.). Additionally, through this process, all of the music that was downloaded onto my phone was now in the Cloud. I like listening to music on the go, which means that I’m better off downloading my songs. I could press a button to download all of the songs easily, but because I didn’t want to overload my phone with music I no longer listen to, I opted to download my music one song at a time — this was (and as of this writing, still is) a process.
I have only about half of my music library downloaded at this point, yet I find myself listening to the music more than I did in the past. Today, I shuffled my music and was surprised to hear a German song that I downloaded almost a year ago. While I was listening to the song, it brought me back to a memory I had when I was in Iceland. I wear earbuds whenever I walk and I remember that this German song was playing for part of my wanderings through Reykjavík last winter.
It’s weird how clear this memory was. I was walking down a hill within the city towards the water. I remember having a general idea of where I was going, without a concrete plan. I remember thinking that the water was my endpoint and that I would just take a picture there and wander back in the return direction. I also remember being pretty tired as my flight arrived early that morning. The German song that I was listening to was a part of a rather short playlist. I definitely heard the song play multiple times during this walk, which is probably why the association between the song and the place stuck.
I was listening to a German playlist at the time, because this was around when I first started learning German. I remember that I was really intense about my learning. At the beginning of my language journey, I would opt to either listen to a German audiocourse or German songs whenever I had headphones in. This little moment with the song in Iceland highlights this phase of my life. Even while I was exploring someplace new, I still pushed myself to adhere to my learning regimen.
Music evokes emotions and activates many parts of our brains. I’m sure that we all have songs that unleash particular memories. “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” by Shania Twain will always remind me of a dance class I took when I was a kid, because it was the song to our final recital. “Eye of the Tiger,” by Survivor will always remind me of middle school, and “Toxic,” by Britney Spears will always remind me of the local roller rink when I was a kid.
Sometimes songs are more than just songs. If we let it, music can be a transcendent experience. What do you like to listen to, Dear Reader, and where does the music take you?
P.S. the name of the German song was an oldie called “Geh nicht vorbei,“ sung by Christian Anders
When was the last time that you said goodbye to a friend? The last big exodus of friends in my life was over a year ago now when I graduated from my master’s program. Within months after graduation, almost all my close friends had left Boston. It’s a crazy feeling watching someone slowly make an exit in your life. I don’t like it.
Tonight, I went to a little get together at a friend’s house. She often hosts these little mixers and features some fancy food and event. Tonight, there was fondue and mulled wine as well as a poetry reading. The fondue was amazing–for those of you who want to step up your fondue game, I recommend adding white wine to the mixture. I left early though and did not stay for the poetry this time.
Somewhat early in the night, I learned that my friend, the one who is hosting the party is departing Boston for a few months to do some work and travel abroad. In preparation for her trip, she asked us to sign her scrapbook. She has been scrapbooking for years. Her version of the activity is taking a blank notebook and filling it with pages upon pages of drawings, pictures, handwritten notes and other memorabilia. She had some scrapbooks dedicated to events like summer travel and others devoted to periods of her life like college.
She likes to gather the notes in the scrapbooks and read them as a way to leave one adventure and move on to the next. Dear Reader, I don’t have any pictures of the scrapbooks, but believe me when I say that these were beautiful little books. It is amazing that she can simply pick up a book and look back into 2008. She has pictures, text, and drawings from over a decade ago at her fingertips. Unedited reminders of how she looked, talked, and what she was interested in at a different age.
I was really impressed by her collection of books, but at the same time I was a bit jealous. How come I didn’t have memorabilia spanning the past decade? Holding on to memories can be hard if you are not actively thinking about them. However, my friend can revisit her memories anytime effortlessly with her little books. My friend is a beautiful person and her unique little books are just a small glimpse into her kind, complex, and deep soul.
We all have stories to tell. Perhaps it’s time that we got little books of our own. I don’t know how your book would read, Dear Reader, but I hope you will start writing it soon.
How do you move through the city? Public transport, cars, bike, on foot, other? I mostly travel on foot and by public transport. However, last night my coworker and I were working in East Boston and instead of taking a convoluted “T” ride home, he offered to drive me to a more convenient “T” stop closer to where I live. Rather than changing trains twice, I happy accepted my colleague on his offer.
Following up on a conversation that we had earlier that evening, my colleague started talking about emo music when we entered the van. Are you familiar with emo music? I’m not, but I just got a crash course in the genre earlier that evening. For those of you who don’t know, emo, short for “emotional,” is a brand of rock music, which focuses on the emotional lyrics. My coworker described the genre as, ‘like alternative music, but the lyrics are weird and the singers don’t sing as well.’ Then, he described the different types of emo music, including “math rock,” which is characterized by its atypical tempos and rhythms.
When we started the drive, he surveyed a couple of different emo songs. He would play each piece for about 30 seconds as he half sang/ half explained the song to me. This continued for several minutes until he settled on a song that he liked. I already forget the song that he chose, but I remember that he described it as ‘a math rock song, which has a great ending, but the ending is too grandiose because the musicians aren’t skilled enough to pull it off.’ Although this coworker of mine is really passionate about emo music, he seemed rather apologetic about the actual quality of the music.
Once we got closer to Boston, my coworker started to play songs in their entirety rather than cut them off in the middle. The music was naturally turned up on high volume. Once we passed through the late evening traffic and began to cruise, the music became surprisingly more enjoyable. My coworker again was singing along to the music and swaying with the beat. It was a good moment. As a passenger in the van, I took the opportunity to stare out into the late-night scenery. Boston is lit up at night and Christmas lights are entangled in tree branches. Seeing the world move quickly around me was a beautiful sight. The combination of the pulsing music, my enthusiastic coworker, and the scenery made this one of those moments that is much greater than the sum of its parts.
I’m not a fan of emo music, but I made sure to find the song that was playing for this nice stretch of drive so that I could better remember the moment. If you do not know emo, I will drop a few lines from the song that was playing here, so you can get the tiniest of glimpses into what this genre is all about: I’ll start tanning my skin, to be more like my mother, because I am a ghost in size small clothes. It is a very strange feeling, Dear Reader, to feel so out of your element, but so comfortable in a situation. I can’t say that I can relate to any of the music that I listened to that night. However, I feel happy to have experienced emo in this little moment. With my demanding schedule, sometimes it can feel nice to just sit back and enjoy the ride, if only for a few minutes.
I don’t have to like emo music. I did not pretend to my coworker that I was secretly a fan or that I was going to run home to download some songs. However, I was open to learning about why this genre was special to him. When you are open to new things you allow yourself invaluable opportunities to experience your own beautiful little moments. Cruising along in a company van with emotional wailing in the background, Boston at night somehow never looked so good. Who would have thought? I surely didn’t and I guess that is one of the reasons why the moment was so beautiful.
Have you ever participated in a Secret Santa, or as we call it in my office, a Secret Snowflake? Briefly, the tradition goes that a group chooses names out of a hat and receives the name of another participant. Whoever’s name that you choose is the person you will get a small gift for. Then, at a predetermined date, everyone will receive their gifts and find out the identity of their Secret Santa.
I do not know so many people at my office on a personal level and I chose the name of someone who I am unsure of what to get. The tradition at my office is that the recipient of the gift has to open the gift in front of the group and guess the identity of their Secret Santa. This ritual can be a little awkward if the participating group is not very intimate, i.e. like a group of coworkers.
I picked the name of a coworker who I do not know on a personal level. At this point I could do one of two things: 1. go for a generic gift, or 2. try to learn more and find something more personal. I opted for number 2. I naturally ventured to Facebook as my first point of research. Much of what I learned was superficial—relationship status, political affiliation, recent trips taken, etc. Also, there seemed to be many inside jokes. While I could have easily gotten a gift related to one of these jokes, even I know that that would have been creepy.
Without any real leads on Facebook, I’m tempted to go for option one, something generic, as my contribution to the secret snowflake event. There are some classic gifts that I have given in similar situations in the past—usually some food item works well. I personally like giving “hot chocolate sets” which come complete with a mug, cocoa, and marshmallows. I’m running out of creativity for these things.
I think I’m missing the point of Secret Santa events. While I’m sure that they are done with the intention to bring people together and put everyone into the holiday spirit, I can’t help feeling a little stressed about having to find a gift for someone. I really just want to find a special gift that brings the recipient joy, but with limited knowledge, it will be hard to do so. Normal people would probably just strike up a conversation with the coworker in question to uncover their interests. Normal people would probably look forward to the unveiling of the Secret Santas at the office holiday party. Normal people have it so easy.
If my ultimate goal is to find a meaningful gift, then I guess that means that I will have to go for option two and make a true effort (outside of social media) to find out more about my coworker. This means that I will have to *gasp* socialize at the office more and, perhaps, speak about personal subjects with my office mates. If you are reading this right now and think that I sound like a lunatic—bless your beautiful, extrovert soul.
The holidays are meant to bring people together and to bring us joy. These things should be simple, if they’re not, then, perhaps we are just overthinking them. I don’t know yet what I gift I will find for the Secret Snowflake event, but I will try my best to enjoy the process and care less about the outcome.
The holiday season is here, Dear Reader, enjoy it while it lasts!
Our bodies are kind of like machines. While it may sound like I’m praising humans for their efficiency or ability act logically, what I actually mean is that humans have problems, kind of like machines. If your computer is facing some sort of issue, you may receive an error message. Sometimes the error message will tell you what steps to take (like restart the program or update your system) to resolve the problem. Other times, we do not get a clear message from our computers, yet, we can usually guess what sorts of actions that we should take to correct the problem.
Lately, my body is acting like a 2013 MacBook Pro with a worn battery and out-of-date software. My work is really busy right now, which is taking a toll on me. If my body were a machine, there would be several alerts sounding. One alert would warn me that I was running on less than 20% battery and that I should consider sleep in the near very future. Another alert would inform me that I am wildly dehydrated and should seek water (not a caffeine-infused beverage) immediately.
Although I believe that humans can be complex creatures, at the same time, I feel that we are pretty simple. If we are tired, then we should rest. If our skin is dry, then we should moisturize. If we keep losing our phones, then we should stick to landlines (I kid!). But, of course, we are not machines and things are not that simple. Sometimes we must burn through our reserve energy, even if we are exhausted because we were cruelly awoken by a (false!!) fire alarm in the middle of the night (hypothetically of course…). We can’t just update ourselves like a computer system. Quick fixes are usually just reserved for the machines.
If your body is telling you that there is some sort of a problem, really listen to it. It is so much easier to fix problems when they are still little. If your laptop is unlucky enough to acquire a Trojan virus, you can stop the attack rather easily if you identify it before it infects your entire system. If you are a human starting to feel cold symptoms, then water, rest, and some antioxidants can greatly help yourself mitigate or even eliminate the virus. Even when you are stressed, your body deserves your attention. So the next time your are feeling a little off, make sure to take the time to understand your body’s “error message.”
Do you get upset easily? When I’m stressed, I’m more easily affected by any sort of small annoyance. However, today, I became truly angry because of an argument. Anger is not an emotion that I experience frequently. Usually, I range from mildly amused to mildly upset. The anger that I felt today came as a surprise. The feeling was so foreign to me, in fact, that I decided to google “anger” because I was so fascinated by it.
I started with a dictionary search for “anger” first to get things off the ground. According to Merriam Webster, anger is a “a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism.” Considering what I felt earlier, I feel that this definition of anger is a bit too mild. I then went to Wikipedia, and found anger defined as, “an intense emotional state. It involves a strong uncomfortable and hostile response to a perceived provocation, hurt or threat.” This is certainly more fitting for my recent experience.
Anger, for me, actually felt more like a physical state rather than a simple emotion. I read more into this. Anger manifests physically as a response to a perceived threat or injury. Anger, when intense, can give you a physical burst of energy. Your sympathetic nervous system accelerates your heart rate, constricts your blood vessels, and raises your blood pressure in preparation for a fight-or-flight response. Your body is on high-alert, but your prefrontal cortext, responsible for your brain’s judgement capacities, has not yet had time to process the threat. This makes you liable to take deliberate, immediate action, seemingly without thinking.
For these reasons, when we are angry we are far more liable to do something that we may regret than when we are not angry. Have you ever said some nasty words or even have thrown a punch in the heat of the moment? While there are no “real” excuses for our bad behavior, at least there is some biochemical evidence to suggest that other factors may have contributed to our actions. Anger, however, like any other action, can also become a habit. Anger leaves us with a sense of excitement that sometimes lasts for a while after the outburst and can even lower our threshold for anger. This can make it easier for us to get angry as time goes on. So the next time we are peeved, we can more easily slip into an angry state. Anger is a poison, but there is a cure.
Forgiveness. It sounds cliche, but forgiveness really does matter. It is like a pool of cold water over a simmering bed of fire. Were you ever forced to say ‘sorry’ when you were little? Perhaps back then you did not feel the relief that true forgiveness can bring, but as an adult feeling sorry and actually expressing it can seriously help correct your biochemical state.
It is never good to feel bad. It is also never good to make others feel bad because you are feeling bad. After writing this, I can feel myself slowly returning to my normal mild-mannered self. I hope you are doing okay today, Dear Reader. Actually, I take that back, I hope you are doing better.
How good is your memory? I recently went through one of my old email addresses to find specific information about a doctor’s appointment from years ago. In my searches, I stumbled upon a picture of me in high school at a choir concert. While the choir concert was important at the time, today, without the picture, it is not even a memory!
At the end of the day, we can all remember the major stuff–a great life accomplishment, a tragic incident, or even a best friend. However, it is the less-than-significant stuff that makes up the bulk of our lives. How much of what has happened in the past week or the past month will you remember in a year from now–two years, five?
A memorable event for me was a study abroad trip that I took to Russia when I was in college. I lived in a dormitory in St. Petersburg for a semester with a group of Americans. I made good friends during this trip. A few years after returning back to the U.S., I met up with one of my good friends from the program. We started chatting about a pizza place that we often visited in the city called “Pizza Bar.” He recounted a specific, funny incident to me from our time there, expecting me to remember it, but I just looked at him blankly. When I told him I did not remember the event, he looked for signs of humor in my face and was incredulous to discover that I truly did not remember the incident. He is the keeper of the Pizza Bar memory. How many other moments have I let slip through the cracks of my mind?
One of the reasons that I like blogging is that it can help me hold on to more of my memories. I have so many good solitary moments that I am sure to forget a few days or weeks from now. By taking the time to consider my experiences and write them down, I am able to preserve my memories in a unique way. Will I remember where I wrote this post one year from now? Will I remember my mood, mindset, and current preoccupations? I’m unsure, but the more I consider these questions as I type words onto this page, the more likely it is for me to retain these memories for longer periods.
I have a solo vacation coming up in a few weeks. I will see new places and have new experiences all on my own. I will be the only keeper of my memories. I will not be able to ask someone if they remember the hipster cafe I visited or the eccentric man that I met selling charm bracelets (all hypothetical of course). Then, when I will return home from vacation, my memories will fade day by day. There will be no one to remember things with. No one to share an inside joke with about a funny incident. No one to remind me of the time that such-and-such a thing happened.
At the end of the day, we are our memories. Our minds are like a CDs that are written and re-written everyday. Some memories stay, some get altered, others become corrupted or permanently deleted. Experiences become memories. They become subjective, malleable, and flimsy. At some point, we will forget whether we went on that vacation in 2005 or 2009. We will not remember whether it was our Aunt that hosted Thanksgiving one year or our cousin. Memories are slippery creatures. If we do not keep our eyes on them, they might just poof disappear.
Life is made up of so many precious moments, Dear Reader, I hope that they live on in your memories for years to come.
Do you dread Mondays? I didn’t always, but now that my job has entered the busy season, I feel a sense of dread creep in every Sunday. I learned that I’m not the only one that feels this way. I looked it on Google and found a few articles, “Surprising 81% feel ‘Sunday Night Dread’ about work,” “76% of American Workers say they get the “Sunday Night Blues,” and even “Sunday Scaries: A Psychiatrist Shares How She Deals with Sunday Night Anxiety.” It sounds like many of us are not as happy as we could be.
If you feel a sense of dread about going to work on Monday, what is it specifically that makes you feel unhappy? Is it the work itself, your co-workers, the environment, or just the schedule? For me, right now, it’s just the quantity of my work. A lot has to get done in a rather short period of time, which means that there will not be any proper weekends until Christmas time. I know that my sense of dread will pass when the busy period is over, but for others a cure to the Sunday blues may not be so simple.
When I used to work in an admin job at a company, I would also get the Sunday Night Dread. I would dread waking up early. I would dread going downtown. I would dread the minutes right after 9am when I would begin working. I would dread every task assigned to me. And, I would dread the final minutes of the workday because it meant that I spent my best hours doing something that actively brought me dread. Clearly, I was not in the right job.
Recognizing my sense of dread at my admin job was important because it allowed me to focus on finding work that was more compatible with who I am as a person. Now, I work more hours in my current position, yet I feel much better about the work that I’m doing (with the occasional dread during the busy period).
To help combat dread, I try to change up my routine. “Dreading Mondays” when done weekly EASILY can become a mental routine. Sundays can be fun days. Even when I have to work 7 days a week, I try to make sure to always take Sunday evenings off. The work will always be there. Even if you accomplish everything Sunday night, there will still be more stuff to do Monday morning (that I swear to you).
Preoccupying yourself about work is mentally exhausting. “Stop worrying” is easier said than done, but there are few easy ways to get started. Turning off all work emails, removing oneself from the work environment, and having some fun events over the weekend planned, can really help create a mental distance between oneself and work. My best weekends are the ones filled with activities or trips that have me focused on the present rather than anticipating a not-so-fun-nor-exciting-near future.
Sundays are not “pre-Mondays.” Sundays should be something to look forward to. Also, make sure to sleep well, don’t drink too much alcohol, get some fresh air, and eat a carrot every once in a while — physical health is important to your mental health. I wish you happiness everyday, Dear Reader, but especially on Sundays.
Do you like deadlines? Although I always considered myself to be the sort of person to get work done early, I am relying increasingly on deadlines to motivate me to get started on anything at all. For example, I have two meetings coming up in less than 24 hours, this means that preparation for these meetings will happen first thing tomorrow morning. Then, the preparation for my meetings the following day will take place tomorrow afternoon.
My mental to-do list now only addresses the things that must be accomplished rather immediately. Although this can be stressful at times, I feel as though I am meeting all of my work commitments. However, at the same time, there are several non-work commitments that I am failing to meet because these tasks do not have firm deadlines.
For example, I need to submit paperwork to opt-in to an environmentally friendly electric plan with my energy company. I also need to cut my nails, buy toiletries, and call my mom. Deadlines for these activities are not too definite. In my experience arbitrary self-imposed deadlines are far less effective than tight work-related ones.
In a way, deadlines are what makes me a high-functioning employee, yet an average, kind-of-slow person. Seriously though! At home the laundry is piled up, the mail lies unopened, and I do not spend any significant amount of time cooking or cleaning. However, at work, I begin looking at and responding to emails early in the morning and try my best to be responsive and get work done quickly. For some reason my work approach to tasks does not translate to other parts of my life.
Making a to do list does not guarantee that tasks will be accomplished in a timely matter, if even at all. Making adjustments to one’s personal life can be hard when there isn’t a system for accountability. I think it all goes back to routine. If I slowly start routines like organizing laundry before bed or scheduling some time each week to perform basic maintenance then, hopefully, I can solidify better habits.
We are not robots, Dear Reader, we are just upright animals with deep thoughts and complex emotions. Lifestyle change can be hard, but it starts with the smallest steps.
Happy Day After Thanksgiving! Black Friday is practically a holiday in the United States. Some stores open before the crack of dawn while others do not open at all. I have been getting Black Friday sale notifications in my inbox since the beginning of the month. Black Friday is here at last, did you buy anything special?
This year, I was very interested in booking a January vacation. Just a few weeks ago, I found out that my tentative plans to Europe this winter had fallen through. Subsequently, I immediately became determined to fill the hole in my schedule with another adventure (more about that here). To book a vacation, I started my Black Friday research on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Some sites start their Black Friday sales days before the event itself, while other sales drag on until early December.
For my January vacation, I was determined to make it a memorable experience…on a tight budget! I wanted to go somewhere international and warm, so I chose Latin America as my general destination. Flights to Latin America in January are relatively cheaper than at other times but can still be expensive depending on the day and route. As a rule of the thumb, the later in January trips are the less expensive they will be (in fact, early February may even be the cheapest option).
When looking at flights to Latin America, I was forced to consider how cheap I was willing to go? For example, I found a roundtrip flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico that was only $192, but that price could only be secured if I was willing to arrive to the island at 2 in the morning, endure two connections each way, as well as one overnight layover each way (not to mention this fair did not include a carry-on bag nor flight insurance). If I wanted something somewhat reasonable to Puerto Rico—say a flight that gets in during the day with no overnight layovers—I would need to pay at least twice as much.
Searching for flights was pretty stressful. I seriously considered three Latin American destinations and spent LITERALLY 7 hours on Thanksgiving searching for different vacation options. Eventually, right before I needed to leave for Thanksgiving dinner (more on that here), I ended up purchasing the flights. I did happen to secure a flight with a 25-hour layover, which sounds horrendous, but actually gives me an amazing opportunity to visit a second Latin American country without paying for an additional flight!
Booking hotels also had me considering what I was willing to sacrifice for the sake of my budget. In the past, I have made reservations at hostels with 8+ beds in a room and shared bathrooms to save money. While I still book shared accommodations occasionally, I really was determined to find a private space for myself for this upcoming trip. To search for accommodations on a budget I immediately looked into 2-star and 3-star options—which are traditionally just hostels, sometimes with private rooms. At Latin American destinations, you can find rates such as $18 per night if your willing to share a co-ed space with 9 others. Typically, if you want to find a private space with a private bath you will have to pay $70+ per night. Because I was booking during a not-so-popular time and because I was able to snag a few Black Friday discounts, I did manage to find a private room for just $52 a night. In this $52 I was able to find a hostel in a good (safe!!) location, a private room/ bath, free breakfast, free AC, and free wifi. I think I did pretty good here.
When booking budget accommodation ALWAYS read the reviews, especially the 2-star ones. Sometimes I do not trust 1-star reviews, or 5-star reviews for that matter. Both super high and super low reviews should be taken with a grain of salt. If people cannot find one negative or one positive thing to say about a place, unless the accommodation is literally the Ritz or a dump, they probably were heavily biased by one element of their stay and, perhaps, overlooked other qualities.
Traveling on a budget can be both scary and exciting. Saving money on travel and accommodation can allow you to spend more on experiences or take trips more frequently. Book in advance; travel on the off-season; use frequent flyer miles; travel on a Monday; travel with companions or travel solo! If you want to travel, then start planning now, Dear Reader, your hard work, research, and saving will pay off.