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

The Bottom of the Valley

Oban, Scotland, summer 2019

Dear Reader,

If you are sitting at the bottom of a wet and cold valley, it may become hard for you to imagine the beautiful and warm beach on the other side of the hill. Sometimes, when we feel sad, we also feel hopeless and like things will never change. Conversely, when we feel happy, we become optimistic that things will always continue to be this way. Well, we are not always sad nor are we always happy. Often, it is the case that when we feel sad, we also tend to feel longing for “simpler,” or “happier” times. I recently learned that nostalgia—crudely defined as ‘a feeling of longing and wistful affection for the past’—was once considered to be a disease.

In 1688, Swiss physician Johannes Hofer created the term “nostalgia” from the Greek “nostros” meaning “homecoming,” and “algos” meaning “pain.” Sufferers of this psychological disorder would feel intense longing for the past as well as severe melancholy. Unfulfilled ambitions, heartbreak, and homesickness are some triggers that could evoke nostalgia within patients. Treatments to this disease were gruesome… and could be both physically and psychologically harmful (more on that here). Nostalgia used to be a serious “diagnosis,” yet today it is considered nothing more than a feeling or a state of mind.

A trip down memory lane can be nice. If we remember the good times and they bring a smile to our faces than the nostalgia is ultimately helpful. However, if we remember the good times and feel a bit of anxiety and sadness, then the nostalgia is ultimately harmful. Getting stuck on “memory lane” is more likely to happen when we are feeling bad, sad, or hopeless about our present situation. The nostalgia in this way can make us feel even worse if we continue to ruminate on “better” days.

Why do our brains get stuck in this melancholic state? I opened this entry with a metaphor. Consider we are sitting at the bottom of a valley. All around us is brown landscape, dark clouds, and wet earth. When we are put in such a sad and hopeless place, it is natural for us to dream and recall better days. However, in this metaphor, there is a beautiful, warm beach just beyond the hill. The problem is, instead of moving forward and searching for that warm beach, we are sitting in our cold, wet valley thinking about the warm beach from our past. When we have recurring, unhelpful thoughts, we are ruminating. Rumination means that we are focusing our attention on the source of our distress and allowing these thoughts to consume us. In this way, our rumination has made us blind to the possibility of future happiness, or in the metaphor—future beaches.

Delving into our past does not have to consume us and, if we are mindful, can ultimately help us out of our valleys. Introspection is when we think deeply about our thoughts and feelings in a self-reflective way. It is the process of asking ourselves, why do we feel the way that we feel? and what does this mean? This can be a long and deeply personal process, but if our past haunts us, then it is most necessary. The past is in the past and that is okay. If things are bad now, that does not mean that they will be bad tomorrow, next week, or the next year. We must learn from the past, if we can get passed the past, then we should. Of course, we can feel free to take a trip down memory lane every once and a while if the memories bring us pleasure. However, if the past becomes a continual source of sadness and anxiety, then we must find it within ourselves to close that chapter and start writing a new history for ourselves.

Sometimes we find ourselves in valleys. Sometimes the hills are so high that we become disoriented. Sometimes the past will tempt us and make us feel weak, stuck, and unsure of our next steps. However, we are strong people, Dear Reader. Forward is the only way to free us from the wet valley. There is so much goodness in the world; I hope from the bottom of my heart that we all get to see it from the top of the hill.

Love,

Raven

100% Chance of Uncertainty

Dear Reader,

How much does the weather affect your life? I was recently in Cartagena, Colombia and everyday for a week the days were hot and sunny and the evenings were comfortable and breezy. The weather over there is so predictable, I’m sure many take it for granted. Here in Boston, every night before I go to sleep I check the weather on my phone because I want to be sure that I am prepared for the next day. The last few days have been irregular with highs in the 60s, but today it felt more like January with light precipitation and temperatures in the low 30s.

While I expect cold weather in the winter and hot weather in the summer, the unpredictability of the day-to-day (or even hour-by-hour) forecast is enough to drive one mad. I am the sort of person who walks everywhere. This means that knowing the temperature and likelihood of precipitation is of the utmost importance to me. Yesterday, I saw that there was a distinct chance of rain from the early to mid-morning, so I decided to bring my umbrella with me. While the air was moist, there was no rain when I began my walk. By 8am, the rain was forecasted to stop, so I ditched my umbrella on this advice. However, after walking for about an hour more, I sat down at a cafe and looked out of a window to see that it was raining moderately. I felt so betrayed! I pulled out my weather app and the page updated before my eyes. Where there used to be gray clouds was now replaced with rain droplets. And, according to the updated forecast the rain was due to continue for two more hours….

I do not do well with uncertainty. If it is going to rain, it is going to rain. I will carry my umbrella all-day if it is going to rain without (or with little) complaint. However, when the forecast changes dramatically throughout the day, I feel as if I am being fed misinformation, rather than a true account. It is raining today outside of my window as I write this, yet the forecast says it’s dry….

I recently learned from my boyfriend that through a government auction, 5G telecom companies recently won the right to a wavelength on the electromagnetic spectrum that is located extremely close to the wavelengths that meterologists use to predict the weather. Meteorologists understand and predict weather on a molecular level through satellites. These molecules are measured at a certain frequency. If telecom companies operate at a similar frequency, then there could be unintentional negative consequences for meteorologists. This was all news to me. In my mind, predicting the weather was as simple as looking at some clouds and measuring air pressure to predict sunny versus wet days.

Weather forecasts are precise, but, of course, still have their faults. Learning that the accuracy of forecasts could decline due to competition in the electromagnetic sphere makes me shudder. Will I be doomed to step out of my house each morning wondering just what is to come? Should I plan on carrying an umbrella whenever overcast skies are predicated? I’m kind of exaggerating, but at the same time, I feel that for those of us who do not live in high-pressure systems, weather is EXTREMELY important. We plan our days and lives around weather. Thunderstorms for an afternoon can mean cancelling a child’s pool party, a company picnic, or a long-awaited day at the beach.

At the time of this writing, research into the effects of the licensing are still being carried out to determine to what extent (if any) 5G networks will have on forecasting. The general feel of the internet seems to indicate that the results will be negative, however, there are some sources denying that any tangible effect will come from this.

For me, at the end of the day, Boston is Boston. I do not expect it to routinely be 80 degrees and sunny. I don’t even expect the weather to be consistent from day to day. However, it would be nice to at least trust the forecast and not have to impulsively refresh the page every few hours just to make sure that things have not dramatically shifted. Until that day, Dear Reader, for me “clouds” = “umbrella” and “light rain” = “it’s going to pour.”

Wishing you a dry and pleasant winter.

Love,

Raven

Madonna Lives in East Boston

East Boston, winter 2020

Dear Reader,

How often do you explore your own city? While I have a number of plans in my head to visit different parts of Boston, I have a tendency to collect rather than enact these plans. Today, however, I finally made a long-awaited visit to East Boston. If you have ever considered a trip to Boston, you likely did an online search beforehand about things to do. Popular places include Boston Common, Fenway Park, and Harvard University. As a resident, I have already visited all of the top Boston sites, however, I’m still eager to see new things.

One day at work, I was speaking to a colleague and was telling him that I wanted to see more of Boston this winter. We were stationed in East Boston at the time, and he mentioned that this part of town has a large statue called “Madonna Queen of the Universe,” which was of the Virgin Mary. He did a Google search of the statue and showed it to me on his phone. I was astounded! This is a seriously large and imposing structure. Never had I thought that something so prominent was right here in Boston. How could I have not known about it!? In that moment, I decided to make “Madonna Queen of the Universe” the next stop on my Boston-based adventures.

East Boston

To get to the statue, I took the blue line on Boston’s subway, known as the “T”, to Maverick station in East Boston. East Boston is separated from downtown by a body of water, which means to get to this section of the city one must either take a bridge or tunnel. The T goes through a tunnel and emerges just on the other side of the water. East Boston is home to a large Spanish and Portuguese-speaking community. I passed a number of restaurants and stores, which had signage completely in Spanish. East Boston is also seemingly divided along economic lines. The houses by the water and beachfront are noticeably newer and nicer than the properties located more inland.

The walk to “Madonna Queen of the Universe” was long from Maverick (48 mins according to Google Maps) but it was 60 degrees today (in January) so I thought a pace would be worth it. The statute is located on a hill, which means that the rear of the statue is highly visible from its surroundings. As I walked up the stairs to the structure, it was unclear to me where exactly the entrance was. There is a building underneath the statue and I saw a woman enter through a side door so I just quickly followed her in. I was momentarily stunned.

Madonna Queen of the Universe

I had walked into a large, dark auditorium—a church altar actually. The altar was huge and filled with paintings, figurines, candles, and many other religious and festive items. It makes sense that the statue would be associated with a church, however, I was not expecting it. I walked through the building until I found an exit that led to the statue. Even if you are not religious, you may likely be impressed with the shear size of the statue. The statue sits in its own courtyard on the side of a hill and overlooks East Boston, Boston, and beyond. The view was truly marvelous!

Madonna Queen of the Universe

I took a view pictures, enjoyed the view, but did not stay long to admire the statue. I began to walk back to the T station, but decided to end my short trip to East Boston with a stop at the beach. Although Boston sits on the Atlantic coast, beachfront access is relatively limited and heavily concentrated in East Boston and the outskirts. I found an entrance to the beach near Orient Heights and walked towards the water. The sand area is limited, but the beach was near empty on this January day. Just beyond the water, visitors will see the Boston Logan International airport. From the beach one can see planes taking off and landing and hear the roar of the engines.

East Boston

It is amazing how much there is still to see in the place that I call my home. While I only made two stops in East Boston, I know that there are many other little things and places that I would like to see and experience. Dear Reader, if you think you’ve seen it all, my best advice to you is—just keep looking!

Love,

Raven

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