All posts by jessicaglazertalks

In Season

There is a quote that I have always loved. It was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, and I always think of it during mid-October, on the days when I try to rationalize not wearing a coat and then wish that I had decided to bring it along:

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

I have always loved the fall season. This may have started with my passion for new school supplies – untouched notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils – and I would imagine that it developed further when I reached the age where fall also meant new riding boots, trips with friends to go apple picking, and long drives through the changing foliage. I’ve had the good fortune to live in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and now, North Carolina. Fall is deeply engrained in me; Northeastern seasons seem as much a part of life as bedtime or my birthday. Even here, “down South,” the leaves are beginning to change colors. The breeze is no longer warm and languid, but brisk and chilly. Walking our puppy requires a sweatshirt and closed-toed shoes. Yesterday, I dropped off three coats at the dry cleaner and was told that they’d be ready very soon because “it’s time for a warm coat.”

I’m thrilled that it’s time for a coat, that autumn is in full swing. There is something special about the fall. It is a chilly respite from the relentless heat of summer and it is undeniably the most gorgeous of seasons, with even a short drive to the store turning into a photo opportunity. Every tree displays itself like a peacock, preening and posing in an effort to outdo the rich displays of its neighbors. It is the botanical version of keeping up with the Jones’, though much more palatable to watch. But unlike spring, where the relief from the cold turns to lush, feral growth, fall gives way to a grueling cycle of snow and of cold. Were it not for the clever punctuation of holidays focused on the warmth of family and friends, the winter season might be wholly unbearable; fall is then, in some ways, a harbinger of gloom.

And so it is interesting that it should feel as though life has begun again in the fall. One might easily say that life is just about to wind down, to freeze over. That fall is sunset, then dusk; the difficult knowledge that what is so bright and beautiful will pass too soon. But instead, fall, with its melancholy beauty, its pre-frost swansong, snaps us out of the laze and lethargy of hot summer days. It sends us back into the classroom, necessitates socks, and shoes with laces, calls for warm drinks and, yes, new notebooks.

Fall requires an element of grit from each of us. It requires the pluck and wherewithal to shake off the sand and salt air of the previous season in order to prepare ourselves for the coming trip around the sun. Fall is both potential and preservation. It requires scarves and gloves, the padding of jackets, but more than that, it requires the padding of spirit. In exchange for this, it provides beauty and perfect Saturdays, pumpkin lattes and Thanksgiving.

The thing is, just like fall, every day – each morning – requires something of us. Each day requires grit and fortitude and the tenacity to begin again.

Life starts all over again in the fall, but it starts all over again every morning, too. Every day rewards us with beauty in return for our willingness to rise to the challenge. The trick is to see the beauty through the chaos or confusion of the day, to allow ourselves to be governed, not by the loss of what was or the fear of what is to come, but the perfect knowledge that we are, as we should be, in season.

 

*This essay was inspired by an open letter that I wrote to the students in my Fall 2012 Positive Psychology course at Johns Hopkins University. Thank you to them, and to all of my students, for being a year-round inspiration.

Clippings: This Week’s Articles of Interest (9/29/14)

Amazing Graze: I’m a big fan of grazing, often because then I get to taste a little of everything. Yesterday’s grazing included kimchi, a piece of muenster cheese, leftover alphabet soup, and some Talenti pistachio gelato (of course, every day should include gelato). In this article from The Guardian, Amy Fleming explores why we love to graze. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2014/sep/30/grazing-underrated-way-to-eat

Off the Ranch: When I do sit down for a full meal (which is usually twice a day, though I’m slowing coming around to this “breakfast” thing), I often like to start with a big salad. But putting the wrong dressing on a salad can really ruin a good thing. To save your greens, here is a great article from Bon Appetit on how to build dressings for any salad. It does leave out my favorite for argula, however: an easy mix of olive oil, lemon juice, and freshly grated parmesan (like this): http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/cooking-tips/article/how-to-dress-any-salad-green

Grande Social Inspo: Every so often, I get a Facebook update from someone I do not know. Clearly, I did know them once or, perhaps more accurately, I met them at some point, but their name rings no bells. I’m happy to hear that they’ve just become an uncle/run a marathon/made spaghetti for dinner, but our relationship really begins and ends there. Not this guy! When he realized he didn’t really know most of his Friend list, he decided to have coffee dates with everyone on it. Wishing him the best of luck and hoping he works in a few herbal teas to avoid the caffeine rush I used to get after long days of coffee with students. And while we don’t all need to schedule 1,000 visits to Starbucks, let’s all use this as “Social-Inspo” to put down our iPhones more often in order to focus on the people (who are or could be) sitting across from us.  http://elitedaily.com/news/world/guy-getting-coffee-facebook-friends/776773/?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=pubexchange

The Danger of Un-rest: From The Atlantic, an important piece on the dangers of not being able to afford sleep: how our bodies are impacted by long-term sleep deprivation, and why those working grueling schedules are especially at risk. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/when-you-cant-afford-sleep/380128/

Rides for Recyclabes: Brilliant idea in Beijing subways: rides for recyclables. Given that Beijing citizens are apparently better at recycling than most other city’s residents, it would be terrific to see this implemented in other locations: http://www.notimpossiblenow.com/the-latest/beijing-recycling-incentives-subway

A Break, but Not a Rest

If I’ve not posted recently, please be assured that it is not at all due to a lack of interest in this blog. The past few weeks have just been especially eventful, chaotic, and somewhat challenging, but overall, they’ve been good.

I had a shoulder biopsy (results: tests came back good; healing: slow); a massive allergic reaction to bug bites on my left foot which led to my foot swelling to twice its normal size (results: Halloween-esque, and I needed to use crutches for the first time as I could not stand on the foot; healing: today is my last day of antibiotics!); and being dive-bombed by hundreds of mosquitos a week later (results: more swelling, more Benedryl; healing: lengthy – I’m grateful that Fall has brought jeans and long sleeves).

But there was a lot of great stuff peppered in there, too! As always, it’s important to look through the challenges to find the positive. Even though I had to show up on crutches, wearing a high heel on my right foot and a man’s sock on my left (not the most lovely look), I had the pleasure of presenting at Prudential Finance’s Annual Finance Learning Exchange. This was my second year in a row presenting, and I was happy to have been asked back after last year’s lecture. Prudential asked me to create a new presentation on the topic of positive communication, and I had a terrific time during both days.

Due to my ER visit and medicine-overload, however, I was unable to stay at the conference hotel as planned, and instead stayed with my parents 90 minutes away in NY. Thanks to my incredibly kind and accommodating Mom, who changed all of her plans around, this meant a ladies’ road trip – 3 hours of driving each day, for 2 days – to and from New Jersey. Although I did not enjoy having to change icepacks every 30 minutes and I may have been a bit woozy due to meds, I had a rare and beautiful opportunity to spend two full days with my Mom, with no technological distractions or To Dos.

AND I was only attacked by giant swarms of mosquitos because I had the good fortune to be in Galveston, Texas for a weekend. While our post-rainstorm timing was good for sunny skies and warm weather, it did lead to swarms of determined mosquitos unlike any I’ve ever encountered! But it was great to see Galveston, and to also spend a few days in Houston.

So there you go. Every cloud, a lining; every bug bite, a chance to visit with my mom.

Now I’m armed with calamine lotion and my laptop, and am happy to be back home, back to work, and back at the blog. Hope your week is going well – and I look forward to posting again soon!

Clippings: This Week’s Articles of Interest (9/22/14)

30-Minute Meals – or Slow-Cooker Creations?: How to be more efficient in the kitchen? “Invest time or work, not both.” From one of my favorites, Mark Bittman: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/dining/when-cooking-invest-time-or-work-not-both.html

Dental Dilemma: Excellent article from The Atlantic on the issue of health plans refusing to cover dental care, how this proves to be a medical danger and financial roadblock, and why this needs to change immediately: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/why-dont-we-treat-teeth-like-the-rest-of-our-bodies/380703/

An iPhone Case for Superman: Currently trying to decide: should I get the (bendable) iPhone6, or wait it out with my (cracked) iPhone4? I’ve been waiting a while for the 6, but am not exactly delicate with my belongings and fear that I could take “bendable” to a new level. Maybe this Yale-generated, super-steel case could help? If not, it will sure make some fancy superhero gear: http://www.notimpossiblenow.com/the-latest/bulk-metallic-glasses-smartphone-case

Cupbearer Chopsticks: Innovations abound. I would carry these chopsticks with me everywhere!: http://www.notimpossiblenow.com/the-latest/smart-chopsticks

“In Daylights, In Sunsets, In Midnights…”A cool set of infographics, and a very interesting way to conceptualize our precious time. Hoping everyone is lucky enough to fill out all of their squares – or mindful enough to make each square they have really matter: http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/life-weeks.html

“…In Cups of Coffee”: A Coffee Guide Infographic – I will bring the cortado picture with me so US baristas will stop shouting back at me “WARM milk!?” and I can sip happily, imagining that I am back in Mallorca: http://visual.ly/38-ways-make-perfect-coffee

Clippings: This Week’s Articles of Interest (9/15/14)

Mental health research update: new study on schizophrenia indicates that it is not one, but a combination of eight separate genetic disorders: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/15/schizophrenia-isn-t-one-disorder-but-eight.html?via=desktop&source=facebook

Living ColorI am moved every time I see a collection of recolorized photos. Makes such an impact and helps history feel so much closer: http://diply.com/trendyjoe/historical-photos-in-color/50653/3

Lost in TranslationI love all of these words, especially “commuovere,” “luftmensch,” and “trepverter!”: http://www.buzzfeed.com/alannaokun/16-fantastic-words-that-cant-be-translated-into-english#29dmlg5

Typewriter PaintingAmazing feature on an artist with cerebral palsy who uses a typewriter to “paint” pictures: http://themetapicture.com/paints-masterpieces-typewriter/

HS Favorites Book Guide: Book suggestions based on your favorites from high school: http://www.buzzfeed.com/ariannarebolini/books-you-should-read-now-based-on-your-high-school-favorite?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Books+914&utm_content=Books+914+CID_d0c7c4e9b3c74772c09f2cd598c6ce00&utm_source=Campaign%20Monitor&utm_term=24%20Books%20You%20Should%20Read%20Now%20Based%20On%20Your%20High%20School%20Favorites#u025uq

Lost in Translation, by Ella Sanders http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00J6YBYGU?btkr=1
Lost in Translation, by Ella Sanders
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00J6YBYGU?btkr=1

The Case for Journals

As someone who has kept a diary on and off since the age of 4, I can vouch for the fact that reading about everyday events from the past is really wonderful. It is a pleasure to see when and how I was writing, what I was focusing on, who I mention in my entries. It’s also nice to be able to “account for” my days throughout the years when I can barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday. In fact, I just realized, while typing this, that I haven’t yet had lunch today!

This article from the NY Times’ OpTalk page (which happily cites Pennebaker, of course), looks into new research that shows that “recording our run-of-the-mill, daily experiences, rather than just our highs and lows, could bring us unexpected joy.” Ting Zhang and colleagues asked people to write two short journal entries (what they did and how they felt): one on Valentine’s Day and another on a “regular” day. Subjects were then asked to rate how “extraordinary” each day was – and how much they felt they would enjoy reading each entry in the future. Perhaps because the afterglow from boxes of chocolate is so strong, subjects did not feel that they would enjoy recounting their everyday experiences as much as they would a “special” day. However, according to the study, “ordinary events came to be perceived as more extraordinary over time, whereas perceptions of extraordinary events did not change across time.”

There is a certain beauty in the time capsule that is a journal and, if you use a traditional book and a pen, that beauty comes nicely packaged in your own handwriting. (Handwriting can be enjoyable to examine, as well – messy writing from journaling on a bumpy train while abroad; neat writing while penning a swooning entry about your new love interest.) Looking back on how you mentioned your fiancé in an entry well before you really got to know each other, or smiling while you remember that you used to do the dishes every night together before you got a dishwasher, or reading about how much you used to hate waking up for the class that led you to choose your current career – these are unique glimpses of the sweetness and serendipity of our lives.

Hindsight is hardly 20/20. As we move down a road, the things behind us get smaller and distorted. Reading our own words, from a “real-time” journal entry, helps us to avoid needing to squint as we look backwards on our own journey. We don’t need to piece together the fuzzy clues and memories; we can read it right there on the page. Even glancing back over your Day Planner as the year comes to a close can be rewarding. It’s pretty cool to know that you on April 18, you met your brother for coffee at that place you’d been meaning to try, and on October 2, you and your partner went to dinner with his cousins. Rereading journals, noting these little moments that might have been missed memories, instead cements them in our brains, allowing them to become part of our personal narrative. At the very least, they become a nice thing to reflect on.

Day slip by, weeks race on, years pass in a blink. We can’t control it, but we can use journals to be more mindful of the time we have. So find the type of journal that works for you and give it a try.

This research does more than support my love for recording life. It supports my true belief that even, and especially, in the “ordinary” lives the “extraordinary.” It’s just a matter of how you look at it and, perhaps, when.

The Case for Journals: Types of Journals

Interested in keeping a journal? Some journal types to try:

– Basic Journal: pen and paper, generally bound in a book. Write as much or as little as you’d like. Skip a week or write twice a day. Record daily events, record “extraordinary” days. Maybe include some Doodles. Up to you.

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– Art Journal: often pen and a book, as well, this is mostly drawings. Can be used to harness your creative thoughts, or to record the Basic Journal events using visual art.

– Poetry Journal: no need to show this to anyone. But if you liked writing poetry as a teenager, and sometimes feel like you don’t have the creative outlet that is right for you, give this a shot.

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– Phone Journal: we’re on our phones half the day anyway. Open up the Notes apps, or find a journal app, and use the moments on line at the store, or a few evening minutes as you wind down from the day, to type out a few thoughts on your personal current events.

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– Computer Journal (aka The Doogie Journal): if you, like Doogie Howser, would prefer to wind down each day by entering your thoughts and lessons-learned onto your computer, go for it! You may want to password-protect, and be sure not to use your work laptop for this purpose.

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– Gratitude Journal/Went-Well Journal: as I mentioned in my last post, these journals can be very relaxing – and they are proven to increase your happiness levels. Every night (or morning), jot down 3-5 things for which you are grateful from that day. (For Well Wells, write 3-5 things that, yep, went well that day.) These can be serious things (“Sara’s biopsy results were fine.”) or more day-to-day gratitudes (“Nick made the bed this morning.”). With a few days, the results of priming yourself to seek out more things for the list (i.e., priming yourself to find the positives in every day), will be evident.

– Day Planner (aka Tiny Writing Journal): maybe you already keep a Day Planner or use a calendar/scheduler online or on your computer (I do both, but that’s another story), and maybe you don’t want to have another book to think about every day. No worries. Just make sure to record some personal stuff, in addition to your professional obligations. (Note: be sure to do this in a private way; your colleagues don’t need to see that Wednesday at 9pm is “snuggle time” every time they try to schedule a meeting with you.) Easy things to note: what you ate for lunch or dinner, what you wore, who you talked to on the train, what the weather was like, and for all of these, how you felt about it. Easy entrée into the world of journaling. When you get tired of squeezing your thoughts into writing small enough to fit into the little calendar boxes, I suggest finding a thin Moleskine or Muji notebook and starting with the Basic Journal! You’ll be smiling about last June’s trip to the beach in no time.

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Muji Notebooks: 4 for $4
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Moleskine notebooks: 3 for $8.95; each book has pockets and some pages are detachable

Tips for a Positive Start to the Week

Mondays are tough. We often have an earlier start to the day than we did during the two days before, and we often head off to work first thing – and we often aren’t very happy about any of it. Here are a few things to try that might make Mondays more bearable, if not actually enjoyable.

Gratitude Journals

Rather than grumbling about our early rising or activities for the day, try listing your gratitudes (keeping your gratitude journal) first thing. I am constantly recommending that people keep a gratitude journal, and my general advice is to make the list before bed. But the challenge that Monday presents to most people lends itself well to gratitude journals.

Unsure of how to come up with gratitudes first thing in the morning, before – you might say – anything has even happened? Well, how about these: Did you wake up from an alarm that you set? Congratulations! I used to work with children in need who would ask how they were supposed to get to school on time when their family had no alarm clock (plug-in or via phone) to rouse them from sleep. You have one? Fantastic! Happy day! Did you get up, stumble to the bathroom, and turn on hot, clean water for a shower? Get grateful; 780 million people lack access to clean water for drinking or cooking, never mind taking a long hot shower to start the day. (In case your Monday math skills are a bit fuzzy, 780 milion is 2 1/2 times the US population.) But lucky you! You got up and had a shower. Terrific day! Did your kids’ bus come late, leaving you waiting outside, checking your watch, and wondering if you would make it in on time? Maybe. But did you also get another precious few moments to see your children, a rare chance to talk with them for a bit longer in the morning? Yes? Well, look at that! Three gratitudes and we haven’t even addressed the fact that you likely had food to eat, coffee to drink, clean clothes to put on, and and job to go to in the first place. If you’re employed, even if you would prefer to be employed elsewhere, that’s something to be grateful for. We can always change our career path (more on that later), and we can always change our mindset (more on that later, too.) Changing our mindset about things – like how we view extra moments with the ones we love or how we view Monday mornings – can make a world of difference to our happiness.

Went Wells

And if gratitude journals aren’t your thing? Research shows that keeping a list of What Went Well works, too (Seligman, 2011). And yes – this can be done shortly after waking, or on your way to work. Did your alarm go off? Great! Better than that time the power went out and you slept through a meeting. Did you actually get to bed on time last night? Hooray! Nice way to kick off the week. Keeping track of what doesn’t suck, what doesn’t let us down, can be very effective, especially when we spend a lot of our time focusing on what didn’t work out. Start the week off with a bang by focusing on the better stuff.

Fresh Air

As we close out summer and look forward to changing leaves, cozy sweaters, and pumpkin spice mania, we must also accept that evenings come sooner and days grow shorter. Try getting outside every morning, especially while the weather still permits a 10 minute walk sans parka! Take some deep breaths, close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you (even city sounds are more interesting if you close your eyes and pay attention), and enjoy a few moments of fresh air. Several years ago, I was living in a lovely apartment building with the luxury of an attached, indoor parking garage. Each morning, I would get into my car, drive to work, park underneath my building, and take the elevator to my office. Each evening, I would reverse the process. I liked that I could avoid what was at the time a miserable winter chill, but it took almost a week of this routine for me to realize that I had had virtually no fresh air for days, only filtered, heated air in either my apartment, office, or car. I also hadn’t allowed myself the opportunity to interact with people outside of my office or home! Getting outside provides us with a chance to increase our luck, develop our creativity, and better our health (info on all of that coming soon). So go for it: have your morning coffee outside, park further away from the office, get lunch from somewhere a few blocks away rather a place close by, take the kids to the park, or enjoy some quiet time on a solo run tonight. Making this a practice on Monday makes it more likely that we will continue this healthy habit throughout the coming week.

So there you go! A few easy things to try today. Take a moment during lunch to start a gratitude or went well list, and then make sure to get outside. And if you simply can’t get away from whatever is keeping you busy today (do try again tomorrow!), just “set wide the window… [and] drink the day.”

x Jessica

"Set wide the window. Let me drink the day." Edith Wharton

Play On: All This Beauty (The Weepies)

Happy Friday, everyone!

Hope you enjoy this song from The Weepies.

Maybe take a moment to read the lyrics – and then head off to your Ice Cream & Chocolate Cake Weekend!

x Jessica

All this Beauty (The Weepies; 2008)

All this beauty
You might have to close your eyes
And slowly open wide
All this beauty, we traveled all night
We drank the ocean dry
And watched the sun riseYou can ask about it, but nobody knows the way
No breadcrumb trail to follow through your days
It takes an axe, sometimes a feather
In the sunshine and bad weather
It’s a matter of getting deeper in, any way you can

All this beauty
You might have to close your eyes
And slowly open wide
All this beauty, we traveled all night
We drank the ocean dry
And watched the sun rise

I can see you’re new awake
Let me assure you, friend:
Every day is ice cream and chocolate cake
And what you make of it, let me just say
You get what you take from it, so be amazed
And never stop, never stop, never stop
You gotta be brave

‘Cause all this beauty
You might have to close your eyes
And slowly open wide
And watch the sun rise