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

Pumpkin Time!

My poor, scared pumpkin, fall 2019

Dear Reader,

Not all hours are created equal. This week for me has been filled with work. Our team has a big project in December that we already must devote much of our attention to. Even this week, we met for a few hours on Sunday, because we just wouldn’t have had the time to work on this specific issue on a weekday. 

With busy work schedules, my boyfriend and I have hardly had any time to have a real conversation. I go to sleep super early (around 9:30pm) and wake up super early (around 5:30am) and he goes to sleep hours later than me and wakes up hours later than me. Since we both work during the day (and he is at the office later than me on all days), we just are not able to have reliable quality time during the week. For example, my mom texted me on Monday to ask about my boyfriend and my plans for our scheduled visit. I texted my mom back that could I get back to her with an answer Sunday, explaining that the first time that my boyfriend and I would be able to have a real conversation would be on Saturday and that we would need one more day to make up our minds. 

The workload is quite frankly insane! How can I just tell my mom that I can get back to her in 7 days with an answer? It almost feels like I’m messaging a work colleague rather than my own mother. I can’t complain too much though. Even though we’re busy, I think both my boyfriend and I both have a large amount of flexibility in our jobs (most notably the ability to travel).

The best way for my boyfriend and I to spend quality time together is to make sure that we schedule something well in advance. Sitting on my boyfriend’s calendar for the past several days has been the words “Pumpkin Time.” Yes, my boyfriend and I scheduled time (3.5 hours exactly) to carve pumpkins together!

We went to Trader Joe’s to pick up the pumpkins. In my childhood, I would always visit a pumpkin patch with my family to select pumpkins. We would run through the patch turning over pumpkins to find the roundest and smoothest of them all. Then having found the perfect pumpkin we would carry them back to the little shop to weigh them. It was always a fun process, however, now that I live in Boston, it was quite a different experience to just pick up a pumpkin for $3.99 from a cardboard box and then take it to the register to check out.

With pumpkin carving equipment in hand, we gingerly removed the pumpkin tops and begun to remove the insides (saving the seeds to roast later). My boyfriend used a stencil to carve a friendly bat and I just winged it to carve a scared-looking face. This experience was extra special for us, because this was my boyfriend’s first time carving a pumpkin! I, on the other hand, have been doing this for perhaps almost two decades as it was a tradition in my family growing up.

The pumpkins turned out quite well! And, we even (successfully!!) roasted pumpkin seeds. It’s amazing how just a few hours sometimes is all it takes to make up for days of work and related-madness. Although I hope that our schedules will slow down in the near future, I am content with the fact that we both cherish our quality time and are eager to plan more adventures together when we can. I’m sure your days are hectic too, Dear Reader, but I really do hope that you get a few precious hours that make everything else worth it.

Love,

Raven

Feelings of Vorfreude

Cambridge, MA, fall 2019

Dear Reader,

You know that feeling of anxious excitement you get when you expect something good to happen like an upcoming vacation, first date, or special celebration? Well, the Germans have a word for this– “Vorfreude” or in English “anticipatory joy.” Looking forward to something and expecting it to turn out well can be such a wonderful feeling; it can sometimes literally be half the fun.

I think about this word now because Halloween is fast-approaching and I have a strong sense of Vorfreude for the event! My boyfriend and I will be dressing up as Victorian-era vampires on Halloween and we are taking our costumes very, very seriously. We ordered our costumes online and they just arrived in the mail a few days ago. As soon as I picked up the box, I texted my boyfriend who was still at the office and we set a time that evening to open the package together. Finally, when he arrived home at 8:45pm, we eagerly tore into the box and took no time to change into our garb. 

Halloween costumes, fall 2019

We were both overjoyed to see ourselves in our fancy black and red attire (capes and dickies included!) as well as don our jet black wigs. With this little sneak preview, my boyfriend and I now have an even stronger sense of Vorfreude as we await Halloween and the opportunity to parade these costumes to the world. My Vorfreude for Halloween is perhaps even stronger than my boyfriend’s. Unbeknownst to him, I have been slowly acquiring black makeup for our vampire costumes. I have visited Target, CVS, Sephora, and a Halloween store in pursuit of the right combination of equipment. 

CVS, Cambridge, MA, fall 2019

While all of my preparation for Halloween has been extensive, the holiday itself is just a day (or even just one night). In my experience, so much of the fun of Halloween is in the joyful anticipation and preparation for the event. For myself, Halloween has been a mini-season. Initially, at the beginning of October, I was merely conceptualizing my Halloween costume. Then, in mid-October I decided on my first Halloween costume (originally I had planned to be the White Rabbit from Alice and Wonderland) and I had also made Halloween treat bags for my co-workers. And now, in late-October, I have switched my costume to a vampire costume to match my boyfriend and am in the final stages of holiday preparation. 

Vorfreude brings maximum joy. Halloween will be just one day. However, for me the Vorfreude has brought me several weeks of happiness and joyful anticipation. Planning can be literally more than half the fun. Dear Reader, I do not know what it is that you look forward to in life; however, my advice to you is to embrace it. Always look forward to that thing that brings you happiness and I guarantee that it will bring you happiness ten-fold.

Love,

Raven

When Dreams are a Wake-Up Call

Sunset, Reykjavik, Iceland, summer 2019

Dear Reader,

Did you know that ‘oneirology’ is the scientific study of dreams? While many people are interested in the meanings of dreams, these scientists study the correlation between brain functions and dreaming. My interest in dreams is superficial and not very scientific, however, I wanted to share a dream with you that I had.

Last night I had a dream in which I was running towards my mother’s car, which was sitting at a stop light. My mom and sister saw me through the car windows and waved to me. However, before my mom had time to roll down the window to speak with me, the light turned green and she drove away. Seeing my family’s car disappear in front of my eyes made me sad and I started to turn away to walk back to the sidewalk. When I looked up at the sidewalk though, I found that I was not alone, rather my boyfriend was standing there waiting for me.

This dream gave me mixed feelings. On the one hand, it made me feel sad that my mom and sister were leaving me, but then it made me feel good to know that I had another family, i.e. my boyfriend, that was still there for me. Perhaps this dream is my subconscious telling me to forge meaningful relationships outside of my biological family. I have been so busy this year that ‘making friends’ became an agenda item that has completely slipped through the cracks.

Sunset, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, spring 2019

On another note, perhaps, this dream is my brain’s reaction to a sad German Christmas movie that I saw the day before (more about that here.) Either way, this dream held deeper meaning for me. I choose to view this little episode as a wake up call. I need to think about my priorities and think about how family, friendship, and my relationship with my boyfriend fit into my work-life balance.

I love dreams that make you think; they are a great tool for personal reflection and growth. The prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain responsible for logic, rests during REM sleep. For this reason, dreams can function like unfiltered thoughts free from logical biases and justification. There is no real reason for my dream last night, other than the fact that my synapses fired in just the right way to create this little mental movie. However, I am happy that my brain played this short show for me, because it did allow me to think more deeply about my current situation and plan for the future.

Holding on to this dream tightly and remembering the emotions I felt last night will help inform my decisions moving forward when considering personal relationships. Dear Reader, I wish you sweet dreams and an engaging, fulfilling, wonderful reality.

Love,

Raven 

The Loneliest Humans

Rainy day, Cambridge, MA, fall 2019

Dear Reader,

Today I finished watching the most depressing Christmas film of my existence. It is the end of October and out of respect for Halloween and Thanksgiving I try not to start celebrating the Christmas holiday until Black Friday. However, when I was looking for a movie to watch, this German film caught my eye despite the fact that it was set around Christmas.

The movie plot centered on the lives of a few strangers who live in the same city. While they are all in close proximity to each other and interact with each other at times, they are all peripheral characters to each others’ stories. The common themes that tied these stories together were loneliness, sadness, and hopelessness. In one word, I would describe this movies as bleak. Instead of putting me in a Christmas-y mood, this movie made me consider a future for myself in which Christmases would be uniformly depressing.

The stories in this movie centered around people young and old in different life situations: a lonely young mother (who is also a prostitute), a lonely woman (who is married with a philandering husband and young child), a lonely social worker (who wants to escape from her reality) a lonely middle-aged divorcé (with an estranged daughter), and a lonely old widow.

Rainy day, Cambridge, MA, fall 2019

This year even in October I am already starting to plan a trip to visit my relatives for Christmas with my boyfriend. My mom and I are happily texting with the details and I look forward to the holidays very much. However, this movie made me consider how radically and tragically things can change. Will Christmas 10 years from now be something I will look forward to or will it only bring me sad memories in my lonesome?

I don’t like to think this way, Dear Reader. I am an optimistic person, but I am also a person whose entire mood and outlook on life can change for a few hours in the aftermath of a sad film. Instead of dwelling on the great unknown, I will just consider myself lucky that I have something to look forward to this year and people I am excited to spend the holidays with. I hope you too, Dear Reader, are in a good place this year and look forward to spending quality time with loved ones. And, if not, I do hope you will work to find happiness now, before you find yourself alone this holiday season. 

I wish you the best and lots of happiness always, Dear Reader.

Love,

Raven

P.S. the German film I mentioned is called “Dreamland” (Traumland). At the time of this post, it can be found for free on Amazon Prime.

Displaced Enthusiasm

Morning in Cambridge, MA, fall 2019

Dear Reader,

Do you ever feel excited about an idea or the start of something new? I get that feeling all the time, but sometimes I feel that I do not always translate that energy into appropriate action. Here’s one example, one of my goals is to learn German. I was listening to a German-learning podcast that introduced the listener to a variety of new and helpful words. I was commuting, while listening and could not easily write these new words down. However, while I was listening to this podcast I felt so excited and eager to start some sort of Word doc filled with helpful phrases and the new vocabulary. However, by the time I arrived at my destination and could simply start putting my plans into action, for some reason the energy was gone.

Another example. I was sitting in a meeting today with some colleagues. The topic was ticket sales. Although my supervisor and I were very hopeful and enthusiastic about all of the next steps we could take, our other colleagues (who are more along the periphery of this project) reverted to talking about worst-case scenarios and emergency back-up plans. It felt very much like time squandered sitting there listening to how badly things could go instead of proactively planning and taking the first steps. Although I was fueled with energy and was ready to ‘prove them wrong’ during the meeting, now, I feel like the momentum has dipped and our important agenda items have fallen from the status of ‘urgent’ to ‘medium-high’.

Why is it that we are so keen to do things at the wrong time? Perhaps we are more interested in the dream itself rather than the steps necessary to make it happen. For myself, I get so excited sometimes to leave work and start on my “creative projects,” however, when the end of the day comes, I can hardly generate up the enthusiasm that I had that morning. 

The gap must be quite large between dreamers and doers. I’m sure we all get a million-dollar idea once and a while, but how many of us are actually willing to put other important things on hold to pursue these ideas? I have a lot of creative ideas (well, at least I think so) that I should push myself to put into action. The leap from 0 to 1 is far greater than from 1 to 2 or 2 to 3 and so on. Perhaps, just pushing myself to take the first step is the best way to make ‘the dream’ a reality. This week I will try to put one of my plans into (slow, but deliberate) action. Wish me luck, Dear Reader, and I wish you all the best in all of your future (or, more appropriately, soon-to-be present) endeavors.

Love, 

Raven

Buyer’s Burden

Rush hour, Downtown Boston, MA, fall 2019

Dear Reader,

Since the beginning of October I have been seriously considering my Halloween costume. I know that this isn’t the best use of my time and energy, however, I love Halloween too much to not think about it for 31 days out of the year.

In my preparations, I have unfortunately experienced strong feelings of buyer’s remorse. I have been so excited/ focused on Halloween that I have even accidentally purchased items that were not even related to my intended costume (more here). Besides buying too much, I have also experienced buyer’s remorse in the opposite case, when I have decided against purchasing anything at all.

This afternoon between jobs I gave myself a 45-min window to buy black high-heel boots to go with my vampire costume (and could ideally wear to future professional events). So I went to the DSW in Downtown Crossing to look at my options. There were literally aisles of shoes that had the type of shoe that I was searching for. I felt like that I had gotten so lucky! However, upon closer inspection, the shoes seemed less perfect. Some of the heels were too wide, too narrow, too short, or too tall. Some had laces, others had bulky buckles, and others were just way too expensive.

At the end of the day, I just couldn’t bring myself to purchase anything. After having left the store, I found myself fixed on women’s feet. So many women were wearing shoes similar to the ones that I had just viewed. Why couldn’t I just bring myself to make a decision? My indecisiveness could be explained by the paradox of choice — too many choices can leave shoppers feeling indecisive and with lower levels of satisfaction after purchase.

So, I am now left with ambivalent feelings about the matter. On the one hand, I feel like I missed out on purchasing something that I was very interested in, while on the other hand, I’m feeling good that I didn’t squander my money on something that I don’t exactly need. I don’t think there was really a right answer here — to buy or not to buy that is the question. At the end of the day, I think it’s just how you justify your answer to know whether you’ve made the right decision. As a rule, Dear Reader, there are no right answers; there are just decisions that will give you more or less happiness. I suggest you go for the decisions that will bring you more 🙂

Love,

Raven

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