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Good evening Reader, 

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.

So, dear reader, enjoy (or don’t… free country)!

Love,

Raven

Small Small Talkers

Trenton, New Jersey

Dear Reader,

Sometimes you just can’t skip the small talk. Yesterday, my office hosted a winter cookie party (more on that here). People from all corners of the office convened in a small lounge elbow-to-elbow to enjoy the scrumptious spread of sugary selections. While many of us do not enjoy small talk, it is customary at such events. I was as excited for the cookies as I was anxious about social engagement.

I have come to realize that small talk is not only a skill, but an art. Mastering small talk means that you turn simple interactions into actual discussions with relative ease. Eleanor Roosevelt supposedly said that “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Never mind the validity of this statement, but I think that “small talkers” can be broken down in a similar way. “Great small talkers discuss anything; average small talkers discuss events; small small talkers discuss whatever is in eyesight.”

Small small talkers will comment on the weather, someone’s clothing, a painting on the wall that they’ve seen but never looked at, on what they are eating, etc.. In short, they are not very creative. Food and drinks can be a social crutch for these folks. What is the flavor of this cookie? Do you think these brownies were homemade? These sorts of openings are kind of like conversation non-starters. The flavor is pumpkin. No, clearly not. There really isn’t much of a follow up to these lines of inquiry. Sometimes, if you are lucky, these little openings can spin into a story about baking or childhood. However, for a rather reserved bunch, conversation about the food is about as bland as a sugar-free cookie.

Average small talkers discuss events. Did you hear about the Chinese virus that already killed six? Greta Thunberg is getting called out for her ideas on the economy. Discussing events at a social gathering among acquaintances can have mixed results. In a best-case scenario, people are all familiar with the event, they engage freely, share their views, and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. In a less-than ideal scenario, not everyone is familiar with the topic and many are left out without any real way to pick up the conversation again. Of course, there is also the worst-case scenario where people become heated by politics, religion, or other social taboos.

Great small talkers can turn any simple commentary into a real discussion. They discuss the food, the war in Syria (yes, it’s still unfortunately going on), as well as ideas. There is a big difference between ‘events’ and ‘ideas.’ With events, participants must be knowledgeable of the details and context in order to have a meaningful conversation. With ideas, there is no such knowledge barrier; anyone can engage. One simply needs to create a scenario and without much explanation, participants are free to concoct their own responses to the curious inquiry. Ideas can be simple. If you were to redesign this office, what would you do differently?

Great small talkers use techniques such as active listening, open-ended questions, enthusiasm, good eye contact, and openness. They continually feel the temperature of the room and know when to push further on a subject, when to pivot, and when to make light of something that was said. Great small talkers speak to everyone as if they are genuinely interested in every word that is being said. They ease you into the pool and gently lead you to the deep end.

I am not a small talker myself. I mostly just interject comments but am never really one to carry the conversation. Like most things, small talk at social engagements can be improved with practice…but practice is hard and I’m an introvert, so I’ll just perfect my Irish exit!

Love,

Raven

American Sugar Bomb

Dear Reader,

Do you have a sweet tooth? I certainly do. If you live in the U.S. like I do, your definition of “sweet” may be on a whole other level than the rest of the world. Today, my office hosted a winter cookie party. The event took place in the early afternoon right around lunch. I was pretty hungry going into the event, not having eaten since morning. The spread was pure eye candy. The mini buffet started with a small tray of disparate cookies (chocolate, pumpkin, and red velvet), followed by a few decorated gingerbreads, cake and fudge pops, and assorted mini cupcakes. Coffee, hot chocolate, and a mini-bar of hot-chocolate toppings brought the buffet to a warm, sugary, and satisfying end.

What is it about sweet that we love so much? I think it has to do with our upbringings. In conversation with a colleague, she confessed to having a massive sweet tooth. She told us tales of trips to the marshmallow “Fluff” factory as a kid and admits to fixing her own children peanut butter and Fluff sandwiches (PB&F, if you will). In contrast, another colleague lamented that American cakes were “sugar bombs.” He then remarked that certain European cakes had a sort of richness and deep flavor that American-style pastries lacked. In my opinion, this is because much of our American desserts include more than a healthy portion of pure white sugar. When my colleague bit into his treats, he indulged with care and attention to the flavors that he was consuming. His tastes were discerning, and he didn’t just accept the pretty, artificially-colored assortments as “good,” by virtue of their status as a dessert. Instead, he actually tasted the treats rather than simply indulging in them. While the red velvet cake seemed to please his palate, other distinctly American morsels (like vanilla cake pops) did not hold his appeal. I, on the other hand, went a bit overboard.

As I mentioned earlier, I came into the winter cookie party feeling pangs of hunger. I did all within my power to restrain myself but ultimately went back to the buffet table for just one more cake pop, or to sample a cupcake that I had not tried. I made a meal out of sugar today. Sugar can be, what I will very unscientifically call, “low-key addictive.” A piece of research I came across indicated that chronic consumption of added sugar—aka 98% of that cupcake—dulls the brain’s anorexigenic oxytocin system, which signals the brain to stop eating. This means that when we are consuming sugary treats, we are much more likely to overindulge.

Chinese macarons

Sugar consumption (again of the “added” variety) can make us crave more sugar. When we give into these cravings, we feed our brain’s reward system and get a dopamine spike. Overtime, our brains will require more and more sugar to get this sort of “high.” Through this vicious cycle, we are inadvertently increasing our tolerance to sugar. I am positive this has happened to me to a certain extent. I remember an instance when I was in China with a group of British companions. At a hotel breakfast, many of us chose to take bread as a part of our meal. While the bread tasted normal to me, not even very flavorful, I overhead a British friend warning another that the bread was much too sweet. They agreed and could not believe that this sort of thing would be served so early in the day. I felt so strange and overtly American in that moment, because I could barely detect any flavor on the bland slice let alone any semblance of sweetness.

While I recognize that America is a big and diverse country, I think we collectively have built up a tolerance to sugar. We put it into our coffee, eat it in bowls with milk for breakfast, add it to our granola bars, and even make our low-calorie beverages taste sickeningly sweet with chemicals. While the research on sugar’s addictive quality is disputed, we all know that too much sugar is a bad thing for a myriad of health reasons. Even if our culture is low-key addicted to sugar that does not mean that we must be. Like all habits, our sugar consumption can be learned and un-learned. If we treat sugary foods as a special exception rather than a staple of our diets, then we can enjoy desserts instead of just craving and over-indulging in them.

I won’t shame myself for over-sampling at the cookie party today. Instead, I will take this as a lesson to never ever approach a dessert buffet on an empty stomach ever again 😊 Now, if you will excuse me, Dear Reader, I will go think about the consequences of my sugar cravings for a full 45 minutes at the gym.

Love,

Raven

Leaving the Virtual Bubble

Middlesex Fells Reservation, MA, winter 2020

Dear Reader,

Did you ever have that day in high school or college when you could learn about the different school clubs and sign up for them? In college, we had a few days at the beginning of each term devoted to showcasing on-campus activities. The auditorium would be packed with tables like a career fair, but instead of submitting resumes, you would put your email into the group listserv. As an adult post-college, there are no more “club days” like this that I can readily attend… or so I thought.

Social media and other virtual spaces can play an important role in community building. How many of you out there use Facebook to meet new people? In a way, this sounds counterintuitive. We use Facebook to keep tabs on and keep in touch with old friends. Facebook, however, also has a “groups” feature, which allows hundreds of like-minded strangers to engage in online fora on group topics. Groups can be regionally based and centered on activities such as running, language practice, etc., on affiliations–political, religious, cultural—or on any other unifying factors. While many of these groups stick to online banter, many others use Facebook as a planning space for their offline adventures. In pursuit of my 2020 resolution to “do more,” I began to look on Facebook for groups to join. I stumbled upon an outdoors group and eagerly signed up for a hike not far from Boston (more on that here). I enjoyed the time that I spent on the trails, meeting new people and testing the limits of my physical fitness on the rugged terrain. Hiking was something that I had never seriously pursued, but seeing the enthusiastic group online gave me enough encouragement to try something new.

As a post-college adult, sometimes I feel as if I have lost my sense of community. In college, my friends and I lived together, studied together, ate together, and in freshman/sophomore year even slept in the same room together. Camaraderie was strong and the friendship unquestioned. Today, these friends have virtually disappeared. Or, more appropriately, I disappeared as I was the one to move away. I mourn the loss of my friend group. I’m confident in my ability to make new friends this year, but can I make a whole friend group? Earlier, I would have thought it to be too farfetched. However, the online community has given me hope that forging friendships and connecting over shared interests is possible in the “real world.”

I will continue to expand my barriers this year. I will challenge myself to try new things, especially if it means meeting new communities of people. It is hard to grow when you refuse to leave your comfort zone. However, it is when you leave your comfort zone that you inadvertently expand it. I hope you have a community(-ies) that you can call your own, Dear Reader. Real human connection is necessary, even for us introverts. I hope you can find the thing that you love and people to share it with you. The more the merrier 😊

Love,

Raven

The Treatment Trap

Boston, MA, winter 2019

Dear Reader,

I have a rather peculiar question for you – is dry skin born or made? It is the dead of winter in Boston and my skin is drier than ever. I find myself applying chapstick at least three times a day and moisturizer for hands at least twice. My sister is similar, and she often carries around some hand cream, which she regularly offers to her companions. We’re normal, right? I don’t for one second think everyone lives this way, but I did not realize until recently that some people happen to have silky, smooth skin without the aid of a daily moisturizer.

TV and print ads regularly feature nourishing creams and specialty moisturizers that will work miracles if applied daily. Somehow, I just accepted that everyone should moisturize in the same way that everyone is expected to shower or brush their teeth. Just yesterday in conversation, my companion mentioned to me that he bought a lotion for his hands—a first for him! However, after using it, he remarked that his hands felt drier than before he had applied the cream. Somehow, this lucky individual managed to have soft skin sans moisturizer all his life. It was as if the cream disturbed the natural ecosystem of his skin and dried it out. Is this possible?

I have always just accepted that I had dry skin. However, now, I wonder, is my skin naturally dry or have I become so addicted to moisturizers that I have a biochemical addiction to them? To clarify, I have been using creams since I was very young. Even as a child, I know my mom prioritized moisturization. About a month ago, I conducted a short experiment on myself to see whether I could “reset” my skin and free myself from the dryness trap. I quit creams and chapstick cold turkey. The results were as expected…. It is the driest, coldest time of the year and my body reacted poorly. Even after only a day or two my skin became dry, and itchy at times. This was particularly bad on my hands and feet, two locations more prone to dryness. My lips though, faired the worst. They were immediately irritated; I rationally knew that I should apply something to my lips. I looked up some natural remedies and chose honey. This made my mouth taste perpetually, and rather uncomfortably, sweet, and my lips were no more moist. My lips chapped, cracked, and were on the verge of bleeding when I gave up the experiment and bought a moisturizing balm.

I am a stubborn person, and I would hate to just accept something because of the so-called laws of nature, but maybe my skin is just dry. This is hard to admit, because I feel that long-term moisturizer use played some sort of role in this.

In the U.S., it is common for advertisements to make you believe that you are lacking in some way that can only be fixed with medicine or the treatment du jour. There is an overabundance of appealing yet non-vital products on the market. Also, there are so many products out there that are kind of addictive. For example, high-processed foods like Doritos leave you feeling unsatisfied and with cravings unlike more natural foods like vegetables. Could moisturizers (which contains drying agents like alcohol) be designed to trap us into a cycle of short-term relief and long-term dependence? Perhaps! I am (obviously) not a chemist. I do not know why drying agents would be included in a moisturizing product, they could serve vital functions that I am not aware of, but I’m not so sure. Maybe my moisturizer is like a bag of Doritos. I will have to indulge ad nauseum to feel satisfied.

Regardless of whether dry skin is born or made, I wish we could rely on products that were designed to “cure” us once and for all, rather than perpetually “treat” us. I have never been one to resort to non-Western treatment or herbal products, but for this particular issue I am tempted. I would be very interested to see what happens when we focus on products that have less than five ingredients and that were not designed to make a profit. I won’t abandon my commercial products entirely, but I will no longer treat them as the “only option” or the “gold standard.” I want to see what’s out there. I’ve always been a big believer in the adage “good things happen to those who seek them” (or something like that). So, I hope you too, Dear Reader, will keep your eye out for something good.

Love,

Raven

Where Do I Exist?

Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA, winter 2019

Dear Reader,

How big is your existence? Do you have a large family, an abundance of friends, and call a few different locations home? Or, perhaps, does your path cross with fewer people and your home is just one tiny spot on the map? On my afternoon commute today, I started to think about my reality/ existence in terms of people and places.

In social network analysis, relationships are mapped by drawing connections between people (points on a field) with straight lines. Someone who is widely connected would be a point on the grid with dozens of lines stretching outward to other tiny points. Those of us with only a few connections, would have fewer lines. Let’s say on our map that thick lines signal strong connections like close friends and family, while thinner lines depict weaker connections, like acquaintances or colleagues. Picture your social existence—i.e. the people—as the quantity of thick and thin lines connecting to your point on a grid.

Now, let’s think about our existence in terms of places. Do you know heat maps? Think about maps that depict population. For example, picture a map that shows large, dark splotches over cities such as NYC and Los Angeles, but lighter, smaller splotches over the American heartland. Heat maps show us where activity (in this case, population) is concentrated. To map our existence, let’s create a mental heat map of “our places.” I will take myself for example, I grew up in Pennsylvania, which means my “existence heat map” would have some large, dark splotches over my hometown. However, I moved away for college, studied abroad a bit, and now live in Boston. Boston would get a large, dark-ish splotch, college a medium, dark splotch, and places I’ve visited, even just for a day, would be marked with much lighter splotches. So, like a population heat map, my existence map would show larger dark splotches where activity is concentrated and lighter splotches where activity is less.

Because my existence is a combination of my people and my places, it is now necessary to combine my social network grid (i.e. the people) with the geographical heat map (i.e. the places). I’ll use myself as the example. On my map, I see my large, dark-colored homebase splotch over Boston, but there are also other little splotches over places where I have lived and have visited in the US and abroad. Next, I must think about my people. There is point located at the center of my Boston splotch—this is me. Then, I think about my close connections—friends and family. Thick lines emerge from my Boston-based point and extend to family members in Pennsylvania as well as to friends both in the U.S. and abroad. I also have many thinner lines connecting me to colleagues and acquaintances around Boston.

When I stand back and look at my map, I see my existence. I see that my thickest lines connect me to those in Boston and in my hometown in Pennsylvania. I also see that I have splotches over places I have visited, yet, in some splotches, I do not have even a single thin line to connect me with a soul there (for example my solo trip to Colombia and Panama). Additionally, I curiously have lines extending to places I have never visited, which represents my ties to friends and acquaintances who have moved away.

I like my existence map. This map shows me where I’ve been and those who have been a part of my journey. This little mental exercise also helps me see where I am lacking. This year, I hope to draw more thick lines. I want to make more meaningful connections here in my Boston home. Additionally, I also hope to call more places home. Even just “living” rather than “visiting” somewhere for a few weeks would darken and enlarge the splotches on my existence map in a very satisfying way for me. What does your existence mental map look like, Dear Reader? I hope this year will bring you thicker lines and larger, darker splotches.

Love,

Raven

Clean Like There’s No One Watching

Dear Reader,

If I were to do a poll and ask the inane question of “who out there likes to live in a clean place?” I am sure to get a clear consensus. However, if I were to ask, “how many of us would be willing to devote ourselves to regular cleaning to ensure that our place stays nice and clean?” then the response would surely be less. Cleaning the apartment is not high on my list of preferred activities. My cleaning modus operandi is haphazardly vacuuming and pushing crumbs from the countertop into the sink. My time-saving efforts are merely a stopgap rather than “real” cleaning.

This weekend, I undertook a tidying and cleaning “adventure.” First, I began to get rid of some old items with the KonMari method rather unsuccessfully (more on that here). After, I had a small bag of clothes to donate and a large garbage bag filled with old papers, tiny almost-empty bottles of hotel toiletries, and other worthless dodads that I forgot I even had. Then, I began step two, the cleaning. When I am determined to do something, I will usually do it with a “go big or go home” mentally. That evening I set out to get the apartment in the best shape it had ever been in (since moving in anyway).

Cleaning is a deliberate activity but can also be done mindlessly. As the soundtrack of my cleaning montage, I chose the audiobook “The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo” by comedian Amy Schumer. This isn’t the typical genre that I listen to, but I wanted to get my mind off things and have something to make cleaning a bit more fun.

I have no special knowledge on cleaning and just did what I was feeling at the time. So, the first thing that I did was take a shower. A clean apartment starts with a clean resident, right? Then, before changing into any clothing, I picked up my rag and spray bottle and cleaned the shower… naked. I then slipped into some clothes and went to go vacuum everywhere. My style was erratic, and I was worried that without a plan I wasn’t going to be as thorough as I had endeavored to be. So, I went back to square one, aka the bathroom and mapped out a plan for myself in my head. I decided to clean the place section by section, starting with my homebase, aka the bathroom. I turned on the audiobook again, cleaned the mirror, and reflected on my life. Then realizing, that I was distracted, I rewound the audiobook and re-cleaned the mirror while focusing on Amy Schumer’s compelling tales of her childhood.

I cleaned it all. I cleaned the nooks, the crannies, the hard-to-reach places, and the unpleasant ones. There was a point where I became so engrossed in the audiobook that I was just thinking up new places to clean. The inside of the appliances – of course! The outside of the appliances – a no brainer! The walls? I tried but can claim no success there. However, the molding on the walls near the floor was a source of some sa-tis-fy-ing dusting. Some people run away from their problems, I, apparently, hole up in my apartment and “clean away from my problems.”

I don’t often like to track the time—it reminds me too much of my own mortality—but I was curious to figure out how long I had been cleaning. Four hours. I had literally been on my feet, hands and knees, and at times on my stomach just cleaning for four hours. Sometimes I astound myself.

A few tips when cleaning. Tip number one—do the floors last. I tactlessly vacuumed near the beginning and got much of the crumbs and other nonsense from the countertops on the floor, which warranted round two with the vacuum. Tip number two—consider wearing gloves. Cleaning chemicals are harsh on your hands and will dry them out. I imagine this can be bad if done routinely. Tip number three—make it fun. Think that famous scene from the movie Risky Business in which Tom Cruise’s character slides into the living room dancing to the song “Old Time Rock-‘n’-Roll” in his underwear. If you’re home alone and you want to dance, sing, or listen to audiobooks nude while cleaning—just do it. Be you!

I’m not the most “domestic” person, but I must say, cleaning last night felt like a genuinely good time! Being able to clean in my element, i.e. while listening to an audiobook, made this feel more like a fun activity than a chore. Thank you, Amy Schumer. Dear Reader, if you must clean anyway, do yourself a favor and at least make it fun!

Love,

Raven

Take a Hike

Middlesex Fells Reservation, MA, winter 2020

Dear Reader,

A hike is not just a walk in the woods. Today, I undertook my first ‘real’ hike. I met with a group of young, social outdoor enthusiasts at the Middlesex Fells Reservation state park just outside of Boston. There were nine of us in total (ten if you include the dog), an interesting cast of characters including a programmer, a mechanical engineer, and even a seismologist.

At first, the hike seemed like any other walk that I have taken in a park. The entrance to the park was non-discreet and the trail was wide but mostly flat. However, suddenly we took a hard left by a tree with a white marking on it and we diverted onto a much smaller path. We walked single file winding around and over jagged, rocky terrain. There is a lot ‘up,’ ‘down,’ and ‘around’ in hiking. We took a brisk pace, which meant at times the hike felt like a step workout, however, the ups and downs evened out to make this hike feel more like an activity than a cardio class.

The group that I joined today comprised serious hikers. Although many had been affiliated with the group for years, it seemed that most were unfamiliar with the others as individuals. The conversation in the group was light and much of it initially revolved around hiking topics, the Blue Hills in New Hampshire was a recurring theme that I unfortunately could not relate to. Everyone in the group seemed to enjoy outdoor sports in general. One of our trip leaders told us about her recent adventures in Costa Rica where she snorkeled and kayaked. Through my conversations I also learned what “snowshoeing” is (walking on the snow, but with shoes that resemble mini snowboards). There is a whole world of outdoor sports out there that I feel is just out of my reach, as a city dweller.

The hike took us by a very beautiful pond. However, the focused and determined group did not take even a 30-second pause to admire the view and instead pushed on down another trail. Somewhere along the white trail, we changed course and followed the orange trail around a dog park and up several more hills. At the highest point, we reached a scenic spot that overlooked Boston from a distance. It’s amazing how much can be seen from that vantage point. From so far away, Everett, Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston all seem like one place rather than separate little communities. It was as if I was taking a picture of the “greater Boston city” skyline from such a distance.

I had a beautiful hike. It was very cold, but with handwarmers, a heavy coat, and some steep hills to get your heart pumping, the weather felt pleasant; I was certainly working up a sweat! In fact, the least enjoyable parts of the hike were when we were just standing around (notably to wait for one latecomer). My companions described today’s trip as a moderate day hike at around 6.5 miles. What we did was nothing in comparison to their New Hampshire backpacking trips that the group often coordinates, but it was good for a (already physically active) beginner. The group was incredibly friendly, and it very much makes me want to continue this hiking journey and see more of New England.

Days like today make me feel as if I’m still just a kid. If something sounds interesting to a child, the child will want to pursue it, even if he has zero experience or training. Without any familiarity with hiking or acquaintance with the group, I just signed myself up and then met up with total strangers for what turned out to be a very fun day. As an adult, it can sometimes be hard to be an absolute beginner, however, if your interest is there, it is well worth trying something new! I think there will be more hiking in my future. Next time, perhaps, to terrain a bit further out of the greater Boston area.

If you are looking to elevate or step up your outdoor physical activity, hiking is worth a try. Even if climbing up and down hills is not your thing, to just be in nature is a valuable experience. If you’re wanting things to do, Dear Reader, why not just take a hike!

Love,

Raven

Out With the Old

Dear Reader,

Have you ever heard of the KonMari method? Named after its creator Marie Kondo, the method is a simple system for organizing your home by getting rid of items that do not bring you joy. I listened to her audiobook, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a few years ago and feel like it has been referenced in pop culture hundreds of times over. Unlike Marie Kondo, I’m not a very tidy person and it is kind of hard for me to discard things all at once.

Today, I half-heartedly embarked on the task of tidying up. Luckily, for me, this weekend is not that busy and I also have a good opportunity to clean up the apartment. I am not a particularly dirty person, but I am messy. Clothes, books, papers, and even my email inbox are in varying degrees of disarray. This weekend, I would like to get everything in order and then do some actual cleaning.

Tidying up is harder and more time-consuming than I initially expected. When I touch my clothes about 90% of them bring me some sort of weak positive emotion. None of my clothing (save for a few pieces of exercise attire) are particularly new. When I look at each article of clothing, I think about how fitting an item was for a previous occasion. Even if my navy long-sleeved dress is over five years old, it is functional, so I should keep it, right? Also, I have a few sets of business professional attire. I am certainly not married to any of these pieces, but I just need them. They do not bring me joy, but I would be a fool to throw out the paint suits and office dresses that I took so long to acquire.  

After wading through and re-organizing piles of dark clothing, I was able to get rid of just six items. That was hard, but I do not feel as if I accomplished much. After weighing the value of my clothes based on the amount of joy they brought me, I have calculated that the joy factor reads only about at a 4 out of 10. I like nice clothes, but I don’t like buying nice clothes. Most of my clothing is functional and worn, but not damaged. The fact that all my clothing “works” makes me reluctant to buy new “equally functioning” pieces. Perhaps, if my closet were filled with newer, nicer items rather than my worn ones, then they would spark more joy within me.

Part of me wonders whether the problem is not the volume of clothing I have (a normal amount I suppose) or the nice-ness, but, perhaps, the organization of it all. As it stands, some of my shirts and dresses hang from hangers, pants, skirts, and casual attire are folded (or haphazardly placed) on shelves, and undergarments are shoved into a box. The presentation of these garments on a good day looks quite cluttered. Perhaps, I am more concerned with the way my closet is arranged rather than what is actually inside it. Maybe, I just need to reorganize rather than get rid of things.

You know what, Dear Reader, I think Marie Kondo was right. I am unsatisfied with my closet not because of the volume of clothing or the organization of it, but because my clothes just don’t bring me joy. I am sitting here writing these words to you in 8-year old sweatpants and a 6-year old sweatshirt. My outfit could enroll in 3rd and 1st grade respectively…. Perhaps, it is time to go out with the old and in with the new!

I don’t think that I am KonMari-ing correctly, but the method has given me a lot to consider. Other tips of Marie Kondo include: 1. tidying up by type (books, clothes, office supplies, etc.) rather than by location, 2. visualizing your space post-tidying to help you through process, and 3. tidying up all at once. I think I failed the first time around. Like most things in life, in order to be successful, actions must be carried out deliberately and with purpose. I will consider my early stab at the KonMari method to be a prelude of what is sure to be a “life-changing magical” adventure. At the end of the day, Dear Reader, I hope we are all just surrounded by joy.

Love,

Raven

Total Beginner or Total Imposter?

Boston, MA, winter 2020

Dear Reader,

When was the last time you tried something new? I don’t mean like a new restaurant or craft beer, but something more significant. I have a lot of vague New Year’s resolutions (which I should really just write down and clarify to be honest) relating to new things. Two such resolutions are that I increase my overall fitness and attempt to make new friends.

My first thought was that I should get into rock climbing. My ex’s brother met his future wife that way, and a friend met a long-term partner (sadly, now ex) that way. Rock climbing seems to be the kind of sport in which people make meaningful connections, as there is a large degree of adventure, challenge, and trust involved. While this all sounds logical to me, I think I would spend way more time fretting over falling than actually enjoying myself or being social. Although rock climbing will not be my new activity this year, I found another opportunity through a group on Facebook filled with avid and social outdoorsmen(and women!) that host a number of events in the community. This group was offering a free hiking trip. With little hesitation, I filled out an online form and applied for a spot. The application listed the required gear, notably including microspikes (aka crampons) for the shoes in icy conditions, hiking boots, wool gloves and hats, among other specific items. I, predictably, did not own the requisite hiking gear, but said that I did and signed up anyway….

The next day, I received an email informing me that I had been approved for the trip! In that moment, I felt a mix of overwhelming elation tainted by feelings of foolishness. What had I done? Am I basically an imposter trying to fit in with outdoor enthusiasts? I pushed these feelings of doubt aside and then excitedly planned an emergency shopping trip for hiking gear.

Where does one even buy hiking gear? I knew of the outdoor, recreation store REI. I thought about going there, but it was a bit out of my way, so I, like the city-dwelling naïf that I am, went to Macy’s which was both closer and more familiar to me. Dear Reader, I truly am an imposter. Macy’s is the very last place anyone should wander to for hiking gear. I think the reason that I went there was because I knew that they had quite a large shoe department. Embarrassingly, I was not even sure what ‘hiking boots’ looked like. Those ‘duck boots’ that are so popular to wear in the rain (made by LL Bean and Sperry) kind of looked like ‘hiking boots’ in my mind. After a flurry of google searches for “women’s hiking boots,” I finally changed course and headed down to the LL Bean store near Seaport.

Unlike Macy’s, LL Bean’s shoe department is small and there were only 4 types of women’s hiking boots to choose from. One pair was over $200 (and they weren’t even waterproof!), so that left me with 3 options. After my fruitless search at Macy’s, 3 shoe options was a luxury. Luckily, they had my first choice in my size and they were waterproof and super comfortable—instant purchase.

I felt like a total fish out-of-water today and I haven’t even started to hike yet. I admit that I thought hiking would be a leisurely trek through the woods, but based on the gear list and the email correspondence so far, I was sorely (and rather naively) mistaken. But, I can’t back out now. I’m already too invested, and I must say quite excited to do something new that I think I will enjoy. Also, I am continuing to tell myself that I’m not an imposter, I’m just a newbie and that’s okay. This is a funny but good feeling, Dear Reader, I hope you get to experience it too in 2020. Let this be the decade of new things without hesitation 🙂

Love,

Raven

Yoga Changed My Life… for 20 minutes

Cambridge, MA, winter 2020

Dear Reader,

How often is your brain actually focused on something? For me, when I am having a discussion, solving a problem, or writing, then my brain is incredibly focused. Though if I am doing something less stimulating (for example, repetitive work, chores, etc.), then my brain simply will not give its undivided attention to the task. In life, I must admit that my brain probably spends more time being less-engaged than more-engaged. I think this is a problem.

I think we live life most fully when we are living “in the moment,” our minds are present, and we engage more of our senses. A true “in-the-moment” experience is when you loose track of time because you were so engaged, or when you didn’t realize how hungry or thirsty you were because you were so focused on the activity. I think our minds crave these moments and that is why we forget in these moments how to function like a proper human (e.g. like making time for restroom breaks).

Yesterday, I followed a yoga video to completion for the first time in a long time. In the past year, I have made a few half-hearted attempts at yoga. For example, I would look up poses online and then just try to perform them while listening to an audiobook or watching TV. This is probably the exact wrong way to do yoga. One thing I did not realize until yesterday was just how engaging yoga could be. I followed a video on Youtube on a relatively simple yoga routine. As a first timer, I listened and watched closely to everything the instructor did and said. I tried to match my breathing and stretch and push myself along with the instructor. It was more difficult than I had expected. My muscles were resistant and unwilling to fold and stretch themselves into the new positions. I found myself really listening to my body and trying to do better. Yoga for me was, surprisingly, incredibly engaging.

Yoga helped me live in the moment. In those 20 minutes I did not worry about what I was going to do next; my brain was not bombarded by any recurring preoccupations; I just focused on exactly what I was doing—yoga. I have heard people claim that yoga has “changed my life.” I can’t say that I felt this way during the 20-min video, but I am open to allowing yoga to bring more engagement in my life.

I had a similar experience today while jogging outside. In this setting, I was virtually prohibited from checking my phone every few minutes, lest I risk swiftly connecting my face with the uneven concrete. When I jog, I do have my headphones in, but I remain focused on my speed, the path, and on how I am feeling in the moment. It is almost as if the physical nature of this exercise overpowers my ability to preoccupy myself with anything unrelated to jogging.

For me, yoga and jogging give me a sense of “presence.” These activities make me feel as if I am here and that that is all that matters. My mind, in a way, feels “cleaner” after these activities. It’s like my mind is a house that is fumigated, and all anxiety, preoccupations, and unhappy thoughts disappear (more on that here). It is as if physical activity triggers some sort of mental “reset” within me.

I hope 2020 is the year of “feeling good,” Dear Reader. Whether it’s reading, writing, running, cooking, dancing, or whatever, I hope you get to do more of the activity that brings you happiness and engagement this year.

Love,

Raven

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