A Little Help Doesn’t Hurt

St. Petersburg, Russia, fall 2014

Dear Reader,

Is it hard for you to ask others for help? For some people, asking for help is not a problem at all. One of my colleagues is all too eager to ask for help. Sometimes in the middle of a conversation with him when a problem arises, he will pause the conversation to dial up another colleague to immediately get an answer to the problem. I, on the other hand, would rather struggle for 15 to 20 mins, before seeking another’s input. Why is that?

For some reason, I have always been of the “I can do it myself” mindset. My best guess is that this trait of mine stems from the fact that 1. I was a shy child, and that 2. I can be overly considerate. On point 1, being shy meant that asking for help was always a scary task. In grade school, asking for help meant raising my hand and speaking up in front of the entire class. What if I asked a stupid question and embarrassed myself? What if my teacher thought I was stupid and couldn’t handle the work? Asking for help is an admission that you cannot do something on your own. This admission can leave us open to feelings of embarrassment, shame, and insecurity. Asking for help also has the unfortunate side effect of leaving us open to criticism and rejection.

In addition to shyness, another reason I have trouble asking for help is because sometimes I think too much about others, sometimes to the point of preoccupation. Asking for someone else’s help means asking for someone else’s time and attention. I am essentially asking someone to give me something of great value and expect them to do it just because I asked them to. Isn’t this rather selfish? A normal person would probably say no, however, to my anxious mind, I would say that it is totally selfish! I know that I am overreacting and thinking unreasonably, but part of my brain cannot help but classify “asking for help” as an extreme act. For this reason, I always try to do things myself and only ask for help as a last resort… you know, out of respect for others’ time and such.

Today, I had to ask for help. Currently, I am applying for graduate programs, which means writing statements of motivation, research proposals, as well as asking for letters of recommendation. Unfortunately, it is totally impossible to go through this process completely alone. I simply cannot be my three recommenders on my application. No, instead, I had to ask three (!!) different people to undertake the task of writing a letter on my behalf just because I decided that I wanted to go to grad school. I dreaded sending off these emails. I actually made a word document in which I edited my request emails over the course of a few days before sending them because I was nervous. However, I did finally ask. There was some back and forth as well as delayed responses, but they each agreed to write on my behalf. Not only did they agree, but I also received valuable feedback on other parts of my application.

Good things can happen when you allow others to see your problems. While it can sometimes be hard, it can ultimately be beneficial to have more than one brain working on an issue. Humans are generally inclined to help others. Scientists have found that even babies have some sort of innate willingness to be helpful. Perhaps this is because some cooperation between humans is necessary for survival. No one can do it all on one’s own. There is a reason we humans live in communities, form relationships, and share houses. Like it or not, we just need other people. We shouldn’t be afraid to admit that we need help or feel bad about asking for it. We could all use a little help sometimes, Dear Reader, so I hope you are not afraid to ask for it when you need it.

Love,

Raven

Occupying Free Time

Cambridge, MA, fall 2019

Dear Reader,

If you were unexpectedly granted an evening free from work or commitments, how would you spend it? My guess is that how you consider this question is heavily influenced by whether you are more of a planner or more of a go-with-the-flow type — a type A or a type B. I am the former, a Type A, an organizer, a pre-occupier, etc. 

Today, I received a message from one of my jobs that my shift this evening was cancelled. This is the job that takes me to all different parts of Boston. Today, I was scheduled to a location very near where I live (which is quite rare!). I was happy to finally work in a convenient location, so when I got the message that my shift was cancelled, I was left with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I had an evening free (yoo hoo!), but on the other hand, I was missing out on a nice shift and also on getting paid (boo!). After considering these points, I decided to look upon a free evening as an ultimately good thing. However, I was immediately stumped about how I would spend my free evening.

If were a Type B, I suppose I would have rejoiced and then continued on with my day as usual. Perhaps, as a Type B, I would have just “played it by ear.” Maybe, a Type B would just keep routine and do something that they would likely do on any other evening. A Type B would likely really enjoy the free time and just live in it and do something nice like meet up with friends, watch a movie, or continue on with a project. I, however, Dear Reader, am not a type B.

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, fall 2019 – this morning before the rain

As an extreme Type A, my first order of business was to figure out exactly what hours in my day are now free. While the shift is only three hours, I would need to factor in the commute (relatively short) and the time I take to prep before the shift. With those numbers in mind, I started to think about how alternate evening activities could fit nicely into this time slot. Then, I had to think about my priorities. Knowing that I only had one evening free, would I prefer to work on my personal project, develop my yoga routine, go to the gym, or visit a social group that I am a member of. Each option has its pros and cons and I simply cannot fit everything into one evening. I am suffering from an acute case of decision paralysis! 

However, there is another factor that makes my free evening a little less free. It’s raining and it’s pouring in Boston! Aaaand, I forgot my umbrella. So now, because I just cannot stand getting wet, instead of going out and enjoying my free time, I am huddled here in the office trying to wait it out. At the time of this writing I have about 30 mins left in my quarantine. Therefore, I have now given myself only 30 more minutes to plan and then the rest of the evening to “live.” 

Type A or type B, they both have their perks! Type As generally have a greater sense of urgency which makes them more competitive, ambitious, and more effective planners. Type Bs generally have a more laid back disposition and experience less stress and take more joy in their surroundings. While I will always be a Type A, tonight I will make a plan to NOT plan (well, after the 30 mins I mean)… results TBD. 

Wishing you a relaxing evening, Dear Reader. And if you’re in Boston… stay dry!

Love,

Raven

Manic Monday

Hang in there 🙂

Dear Reader,

Are you familiar with Murphy’s Law? If not, it’s the old adage that states — anything that can go wrong, will indeed go wrong. Of course, this is not a scientific fact, but when you’re having a bad day, it can sometimes be comforting to think that the events that transpired are not your fault.

It’s just another manic Monday. I borrowed the line from The Bangles’ song because it perfectly characterizes my day today (which also happens to be a Monday). The first not-so-great thing that happened this morning was that I woke up with a minor headache. I am used to headaches as I often get them from sleeping in the wrong position or from dehydration (and not even from alcohol! Just natural), so I just drank more water this morning and hoped for the best. 

Then, unexpectedly, when I was doing my makeup, I broke my pencil sharpener! I felt the little thing literally crumble in my hands! It’s so old that I do not even remember when I got it, however, I was still a little sad to see it meet its sudden demise.

Moving forward, today at work, I was tasked with meeting a moving company at a storage facility to retrieve items for a project. The meeting (which was planned by a colleague) was set for 8am at a storage facility. I believed everything to be set and I hurried off to meet the movers at the site. However, it turned out that the movers messaged my colleague that they would be arriving very, very late, but I did not receive the message in time. So, although I moved around my schedule to make this early meeting, I was left sitting outside the storage facility without a clue as to why no one was there to meet me.

After calling the facility and waiting several more minutes, I was informed that the movers were experiencing car trouble and that they would arrive in about an hour or so…. By this time, my minor headache turned into a medium one. Feeling unwell and not wanting to sit on the floor by the elevator for another hour, I called an Uber to go to the office and wait. 

The Uber driver was wearing very heavy cologne, which made my headache turn from a medium one to a major one. To make matters worse still, we were stuck in heavy rush hour traffic. While sitting in the Uber, I received a phone call from the moving company. They informed me that the movers would actually make it to the storage facility in a half hour rather than the 1 hour+ that they originally estimated! This quick turn around meant that I would arrive at the office and immediately need to turn back to the storage facility. However, the heavy traffic meant that I would in fact be late for the movers if I proceeded with my current plan.

Somerville, MA, fall 2019

So, at a red light by a Target store, I decided to abandon the Uber. Because I was feeling so unwell from my headache by that time, I went into the Target and I bought myself a Coke Zero and took a Tylenol. I then called another Uber and made it back to the storage facility to meet the movers. 

The moving process went pretty smoothly, but I still felt sick from my headache for several hours afterwards. At the end of the day, at least I managed to coordinate the move of everything from point A to point B and at least I did not vomit in the process. Mondays can be tough. This one was especially so. At the end of the day, Dear Reader,… at least it’s the end of the day 😉 Wishing you better days than mine.

Love,

Raven

Fall Phase Two

Darwin’s Cafe, Cambridge, MA, fall 2019

Dear Reader,

Daylight Saving Time ended today in the United States. Although I woke up early this morning, I wore sunglasses on my morning commute because we have fallen back one hour. The days are becoming shorter and the nights are beginning earlier. We are now in phase two of fall.

If I were to arbitrarily divide the seasons into phases, I would consider Fall Phase One to be everything from the first day of autumn in late September to the end of Daylight Saving Time in early November. Then, Fall Phase Two would start from the beginning of Standard Time in early November until the Winter Solstice in late December. With this division, Fall Phase One would be described as a somewhat warm, still mostly green season (at least in Boston) and marked by Halloween. The transition to Fall Phase Two would be marked by the bright colorful leaves, the brisk temperatures, and the turn from Halloween to Thanksgiving/ Christmas (again in Boston that is). 

Our temperatures took a plunge here in Boston as if “Fall Phase Two” were a legitimate phenomenon. While the weather was dry and sunny (beautiful!), the temperatures jumped from lows in the mid-50s to lows in the mid-30s seemingly overnight. Gone are the days of sitting outside. There is so much green space in Cambridge that is left barren, because outdoors becomes more of a place of transit rather than a destination.

Although the main attraction for me in Fall Phase One is Halloween, I am very happy for the transition to the second part of the season. I quite enjoy the holidays and knowing that Thanksgiving (Black Friday!) and Christmas are on the horizon are other great things to look forward to. To usher in the new Phase, I baked pumpkin cookies. I want to become better at baking, so I try to bake something once a month. Although I love pumpkin flavored everything, I have not yet made pumpkin cookies.

Butter not fully mixed in 😦

As a novice baker, I found a relatively simple recipe for pumpkin cookies with cream cheese frosting. (Quick note, if anyone cares, icing is thinner, more sugary, and more of a glaze, while frosting is thicker and more buttery). Although I tried my hardest to follow the directions to a tee (including letting the butter soften, cream until fluffy, etc.), things did not turn out 100% to my satisfaction. For one, I do not own a mixer, which makes it hard to cream butter and sugar. Even after I stir until my arms are sore, I still find little clumps of butter in the batter. Although things did not turn out perfectly, the cookies tasted pretty good and I’m excited to bring them to my coworkers at the office this week 🙂

Pumpkin cookies with cream cheese frosting

As the days grow shorter, sometimes people can find themselves feeling a bit blue this time of year. Finding little things to celebrate like Fall Phase Two, the end of Daylight Saving Time, or a new recipe is a small but effective way to spark joy into one’s life. In the spirit of celebrating the little things, if you are living in the U.S. (not including Arizona and Hawaii) I wish you a Happy End of Daylight Saving time — I hope you slept well! And, to you, Dear Reader, wherever you are, I wish you a happy Fall Phase Two and beautiful November!

Love,

Raven

Homo Sedentarius

Cambridge, MA, fall 2019

Dear Reader,

I don’t know you, but I bet that you are sitting as you read this right now. I too am sitting as I write this line for you. Although I try to be active, I usually find myself seated for one reason or another. As 2019 draws to a close, thoughts like “I sit too much” are slowly converted into my new year’s resolutions. Anyone will tell you that a sedentary lifestyle is bad for you. But just how bad is it really? Well, I have taken the liberty of looking it up and taking some notes on the subject from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Sitting for long periods uses less energy than standing/ moving
  • Research has linked sedentary lifestyles to health problems including obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels, cardiovascular disease and cancer (yikes!!).
  • Any extended sitting (think your 9-5pm) can be harmful
  • Recommendation: try incorporating bursts of activity into your day!

While incorporating some movement into one’s routine sounds good and reasonable, this may prove to be a bit trickier than anticipated in the modern day.

If you think about it, we humans evolved to stand. Homo Erectus’s ability to stand allowed him to use his hands for building tools and crafting, rather than for purposes of transportation. Our ability to use our hands advanced us and allowed us to write and create large and sophisticated communities. With these developments, humans were able to settle down and form societies rather than being constantly on the move. 

Today, we have settled almost too much. Many of us mostly move to get to our next sitting place. Think about it. An average day for me is as follows: wake up, walk to work, sit at work, walk to the subway, sit on the subway, walk home and then sit at home until sleep. Of course, there is some variance. Some days, I go to the gym. However, a 45-min gym session makes up only 3.125% (!?!) of the day. 

I think about sitting today in particular, because even though it is a Saturday, I found myself clocking in an 8-hour workday. However, unlike most days when I walk for almost an hour to the office, today I woke up late and took the subway. After sitting for nearly 8 hours, I took an Uber home. Today was the least active day that I have had in a long time.

Becoming more active will not happen overnight; it is a process like everything else. I see incorporating more movement into my everyday routine as a lifestyle change. Lifestyle change means small, incremental, natural adjustment. Today, I will do yoga before bed. Tomorrow I will go to the gym. Monday, I will plan to do even more. Now it is getting late and I’m losing energy, so I will get up now while I still have the willpower to do yoga. Dear Reader, I don’t know what your goals are, but I wish that you will always have enough energy and willpower to pursue them! Good night now.

Love,

Raven

A Love to Listen

Cambridge, MA, fall 2019

Dear Reader,

Are you more of a people watcher or a people listener? I, myself, am the latter — an eavesdropper of sorts. Some people are perfectly content to sit on a park bench and watch peoples’ lives unfold briefly before them, like a silent movie. I, however, would much rather turn my back to the scene if it meant that I could listen in to a nearby conversation. 

My preference for listening over watching also extends to books and movies. Sometimes I find myself just skimming the paragraphs of a novel that describes action (such as a chase or detailing some complex motion). I am much more interested in character development through internal musings and dialogues. Also, in movies I find myself uniterested in fight scenes as well as in sex scenes for that matter. I can think of two friends who would identify more as a people watchers and their movie tastes are strongly rooted in action (one more in action/ thriller and the other action/ sci-fi/ fantasy). 

Tatte, Cambridge, MA, fall 2019

Today, I visited my favorite cafe (more about that here), for dinner before an evening engagement. It was mid-afternoon and the cafe was quite near maximum capacity. I found myself wending my way through narrow pathways and overextended limbs until I found a little seat at a bar in the back corner… near the restrooms… right by where they stack the high chairs for babies. Regardless of the sub-prime location, I was very happy to have found a spot at all. Not more than 10 mins had gone by when the woman sitting next to me was replaced by two college-aged guys. I could no longer concentrate on what I was reading because the guy next to me was practically yelling to be heard by his companion in the already-very-loud cafe. As a result of his shouting, I decided to abandon my reading materials and invited myself to listen in on their conversation.

After hearing a few lines of the conversation, I tried to define the relationship between these two young lads. They were almost definitely Harvard students, they dressed liked students, talked about school and, well, I was sitting right across from Harvard’s campus. Although these two were familiar, they did not seem to be close friends. One thing that stood out was that the dialogue was less like a conversation and more like a free-flowing Q&A. In a way, it was like one student was interviewing the other. The two discussed one student’s background, goals, and upbringing. One funny line from their conversation went something like follows:

“When I was growing up, I always wanted to work hard, be a CEO, and make ‘big money.’ But now my goals have changed. I don’t want to stress myself out all the time about work. I want to have weekends off, a small family, and a nice house in a nice area. Now, it’s not about being number one, but just being comfortable, a white-picket-fence sort of lifestyle.”

The statement was a little laughable, because if you want a white picket fence in the Boston area, you better be willing to pay well over $1 million for it. 

Whether you prefer to watch or listen, Dear Reader, sometimes, it just feels good to sit back and enjoy the show.

Love,

Raven

Happy Halloween to All!

Harvard Arts Museum, Cambridge, MA, fall 2019

Dear Reader,

Happy Halloween! Did you dress up this year? As a 20-something with an office job, I did indeed go to work today… but I did it in style. I woke up at 6am and turned my kitchen into a studio as I piled on layers of face paint, eyeshadow and lipstick. My partner, also very much in the Halloween spirit, joined in for the little makeup session and changed into a costume of his own. I was a Victorian-era vampiress. See the picture above. This is me. And, yes, this is exactly how I shuffled into the office this morning.

On top of my costume for Halloween, I also prepared little treat bags for my office mates. We could all use a little amusement in our lives. I know that my costume sparked joy (and a healthy dose of fear) in those who passed by me on my morning commute. Several people complimented me on my outfit and a few even asked for pictures. If a few people in costume can bring that much joy into the world, imagine what it could be like if we all dressed up and partook in the celebration? There are so many little ways in which we can spread happiness. A little candy and face paint can go a very long way.

Although I passed hundreds of people today, I only saw less than five adults in any sort of costume at all. When I walked into cafes, I was told on both occasions that they hadn’t seen anyone else in costume at all today. In the first cafe I stopped in, I overheard a woman whisper to her boyfriend that she totally forgot that today was Halloween!? The children are, of course, in the Halloween spirit. They are all giddy and excited to show off their costumes. This day for them, much like for myself, is something that they have been eagerly awaiting. As children, many are still filled with feelings of glee, rather than with preoccupations about looking foolish or silly.

Embracing your childish side and allowing yourself to experience joy without reservation can bring you happiness without bound. Some of my most vivid memories are those that are tied to feelings of elation. In life, stress is abundant and some sort of personal struggle is guaranteed. I think it is important to find happiness in our surroundings. Enjoying the holidays (even if you find them to be a bit silly or juvenile) is an easy way to re-introduce pleasure into one’s life.

I wish you a very Happy Halloween, Dear Reader, one filled with costumes, chocolates, and nice surprises!

Love,

Raven

My Little Blue Friend

Dear Reader,

It’s a symbolic end of an era for me. My passport is due to expire soon! When I got my passport almost ten years ago, it was for a trip with my high-school group to Spain. As a 17-year old, traveling abroad for 10 days in a chaperoned group without parents was the most freedom I had ever had growing up. I remember it being an exciting and scary experience. I remember over-packing (bringing a suitcase that weighed almost 50 lbs for a short trip!). I also remember the feeling of excitement and nervousness I had while leaving the plane and entering a foreign airport for the first time.

Now, almost a decade later, my passport is almost absolutely full! While there are many stamps, the real space-fillers are the visas. These stickers occupy whole pages. Because of a few trips to Russia and one to China, I only have two half pages that are totally free from stamps and visas. My passport expires in 11 months, but many countries (Russia specifically) requires that passports have a few pages free and at least six months validity when applying for visas, which makes my passport renewal timeline a little more urgent.

I am excited and nostalgic about getting a new passport. My passport is a keeper of memories. It has been there for me without fail all over the world for the past decade. It has documented my travels from Argentina to Japan. It has even documented a funny mistake my friends and I made in a German airport. A group of four of us were walking through passport control. Unbeknownst to us, we were in the wrong line. Two of us went through the wrong line successfully, however, when the third tried to pass, the border control officer realized his mistake. He ushered us back through the little gate and crossed out the stamps he made in our passports with a pen. We were then sent back to another passport control line. So now, I have one German entry stamp and two German exit stamps.

Icelandair Flight, summer 2019

Another reason I will miss my old passport is because, honestly, my new passport photo is very unflattering. So unflattering, that a few days after I took my passport photo at CVS, I returned to a CVS at a different location to take new pictures because I looked so horrible in the first pictures. But… the second set of pictures that I took turned out to be even less flattering than the first and I ended up sending the first photos in with my passport renewal application… if only the State Department accepted selfies….

Regardless of how I feel about my new passport photo, I’m excited to get a new passport and this time also a passport card! New journeys await and if the next ten years are anything like the last ten years, then I hope to receive my new passport soon to let the adventures begin! Where will the next ten years take you, Dear Reader? 

Love, 

Raven

You’re a Grown-Up

Cambridge, MA, fall 2019

Dear Reader,

Today, my job took me to a Halloween party at an apartment building in Cambridge. Upon entry into the lovely modern lobby, my team was ushered upstairs to the community room. The area was decked out from floor to ceiling in cobwebs, lights, and other spooky touches. This building certainly went all-out for the holiday.

The event was so wholesome. Little kids ran around excitedly in their costumes. Families enjoyed pizza and chatted with one another. It was such a lovely scene, much unlike the Halloweens that I have experienced in recent years (filled with keg-stands, beer bongs, and costumes that would make your grandma cringe).

Cambridge MA, fall 2019

I stood by our table adorned with its own cobwebs and plastic spiders. Sometime during the evening a little girl in a unicorn costume ran up to me and asked if I could open a Jolly Ranger lollipop for her. I said, “of course!” and proceeded to attempt to slip apart the tightly sealed plastic. It initially gave me some trouble and I off-handily remarked that the wrapping was a “little tricky.” The little girl responded to my comment by saying, “that’s okay. You can do it, because you’re a grown-up.”

Cambridge, MA, fall 2019

Dear Reader, never have a felt so old. I’m a female in my mid-20s and I was already lumped into the large, indiscriminate category of “grown-up.” I guess when you’re a seven-year old girl, it doesn’t really matter how old the adult-looking person is.

Even though I had mixed feelings about the comment, it ultimately made me feel good. I was able to help that little girl tonight because I was a capable “grown-up.” Dear Reader, if you’re feeling anxious, or sad, or not-too-good about things, I just want to remind you that “you can do it because you’re a grown-up” 😉

Love,

Raven

That Hole Where Friendships Used to Be

Boston, MA, fall 2019

Dear Reader,

How do friendships fit into your life? Naturally, we tend to make friends with the people around us and with the people who share our interests. If you think about your own friends (from any point in your life), you can probably group these individuals into categories, for example work friends, school friends, jogging friends, poker friends, book club friends, or what have you. For myself, I always made friends at school or while participating in some activity. However, now, my life consists of working (3 part-time jobs) and not much else. Because of this, I have seen my friend circle shrivel like a grape that was left out in the sun for too long. 

If I were social and extroverted, I would probably have three friend groups for each of my part-time jobs. However, I am more of a wallflower and have three groups of colleagues rather than true friends. Seeking out more social experiences is healthy and definitely on my to-do list, but at the same time, I want to say something controversial — having a very small friend group for the past year and a half, has had its advantages! I can explain…

After graduating from my master’s program, I found myself without a full-time job or a long-term plan for the future. I was penny pinching and was taking up many one-day jobs and participating as a research test subject to get some extra cash. This was a hard time for me. Even though I had frequented dating apps like Tinder and OkCupid in the past, I took a break when I was unemployed because I never really wanted to tell anyone else about my uncomfortable situation. Even going out with friends felt very awkward because I never wanted to split the bill if I literally got the cheapest thing on the menu and everyone else got sides and drinks with their orders. Going out under these circumstances made me feel more bad than good. Ultimately, I would just end up feeling guilty about spending money unnecessarily. I declined most invitations. 

Goodwill, Somerville, MA, fall 2019

Another thing that happened in the past year and a half, when I decided to forgo friendships, was that I became more goal-oriented. Because of my (un)employment situation, I became hyper-focused on financial goals and career goals. One thing I did was listen to several audiobooks (all free through public libraries!) on the topics of self-help, careers, and personal finance. Through these books, I learned about methods for staying motivated and tips for “success.” Additionally, through the finance books, I finally got the courage to open a Certificate of Deposit (essentially a high-yield savings account), increased my contributions to investments, and opened a Roth IRA retirement account online, as well as setting (and sticking to!) a budget. Having goals and pursuing them gave me the degree of control I needed when I otherwise felt that I was floating aimlessly. 

Now that I am in a better place financially and career-wise and I even somehow managed to attract a [an INCREDIBLE] boyfriend along the way, I feel that friendship (along with personal fitness to be honest) is my next goal. Although I’m an anti-social introvert, I like humans; they are my favorite of all creatures in kingdom animalia. I am happy that I am now in a place where I can prioritize friendships and social activities (my case is essentially a textbook example of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). 

Perhaps this post can serve as a reminder, Dear Reader. In life we go through many stages both long (like childhood) and short (like a tough academic semester). If something feels bad, in the moment it can make one feel like things have always been bad and will always be bad. However, this we know is not the case. Things change, we change, and we are always moving in some direction. I hope you, Dear Reader, are in a good place and stage in your life and if not, I hope that you are moving in the right direction.

Love,

Raven

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