Monday, May 30, 2011

What I Learned From the Time 100

Sting has mesmerizing eyes. Seriously. Just look at those bad boys. I could get lost in them.

Paul Ryan is a cocky looking SOB. (had to be said) His whole look just says, "I don't care that my ideals screw over the lower classes - they didn't work hard enough anyhow." You don't see that in his face? Well, I may be a bit cynical. But just wait a few years. If Ryan has his way, you'll see it the way I do, but then it will be too late.

Colin Firth is about as close to perfect as a man can get. And it isn't just about that profile. It also isn't just about his phenomenal ability to act in a multitude of roles and capture audiences of all ages around the world. What else is there? Well, he was named Philanthropist of the Year from Oxfam for his work on the Make Trade Fair campaign which focuses on global trade issues. He and his wife also launched Brightwide, a political activism site that offers free films.


Glee may be a cheesy show, but it is making a difference. I know. A show about a high school show choir and all of the drama that goes along with it. But Glee is also doing something that not many other shows have been able to do. It is telling high schoolers (or any age group for that matter) that it is ok to be who you are. Take the 'Born This Way' episode. By the end of it, the majority of the characters had confronted the one thing they are most self-conscious about, and learned to accept it. And then there's the reason that this one made it on the blog in the first place: Chris Colfer's "pitch-perfect portrayal of a gay teen" put him on the Time 100 list. If you know me, you know that this is an incredibly important issue for me. To see a gay teen as the star of a show - as well as in multiple supporting roles - is fantastic. Hopefully once being gay becomes less 'taboo' in our culture,  the bullying, the gut-wrenching stories of people not being able to live their life as they were meant to, and the heart breaking suicides will come to an end.

The world will (unfortunately) always be at war.  There is not one single picture to represent this one. I just did a rough count, and of the 100 most influential people of 2011, 17 had some connection to a current world conflict. Some were influential because they started conflicts, some fed the conflicts, some tried to stop them, and some provided aid after the conflict. But nonetheless, there were (roughly) 17 influential people involved in conflict. I don't mean to be a pessimist, but unless our race evolves in a way the makes power and control less desirable, war is inevitable.

Our future depends on true education reform. Here's where two of the most inspirational people in my life come in. Geoffrey Canada and Michelle Rhee. They are proving that true education reform needs to be child-focused. That means we need to get down and dirty and fire some teachers, close schools, and make some generally tough decisions. But the thing is, the research supports their actions. Change is never easy. But if we want to see future generations succeed, and if we want the United States to have an education system that we can actually be proud of, then we need to start looking at the research and focusing on the kids.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    A Learning Experience

    Yesterday I had the opportunity to hear two phenomenal speakers lecture on two very different topics. I am officially looking into graduate school...again.

    The first was Sara Quandt at Lawrence University's Honors Convocation. Quandt has a doctorate degree in anthropology and spoke about health disparities in the United States, with a focus on migrant workers. Her stories were, first and foremost, sad, but also inspiring. She discussed the situations of three migrant workers: one working in tobacco fields that develops green tobacco sickness, one that picks cherry tomatoes and eventually gives birth to a child without arms or legs due to her exposure to pesticides, and one very poor mother who is paradoxically obese and struggling to put food on the table. Those are the sad parts. The inspiring part is what Dr. Quandt is doing with these stories. The topic of her talk was "It Takes a Community: Collaborating to Reduce Health Disparities in the U.S." Her argument was that if the communities of academics (scientists, anthropologists, statiticians, etc) and citizens (community organizations, individuals) worked together, health disparities could be recognized, researched, and reduced. As someone working in a nonprofit, I can definitely agree with this proposition. Collaboration is key in solving (or even reducing) major social issues. No one person, organization, or community of persons can solve a problem.

    The next speaker was Dr. Richard Davidson, a renowned University of Wisconsin brain researcher. He spoke at the Compassion Project event at the Performing Arts Center last night. I am no neuroscientist, but what this man said made sense. And made me wish I could be a neuroscientist so I could join his lab. Dr. Davidson has conducted studies and research that show how happiness and acting compassionately affect the brain. And he's able to show that these skills can be taught. One of the most fascinating things he said last night was that, although we are born with a set DNA structure, we are not held hostage to our genes. Through behavior therapy, we can be changed. While the details of this concept are far, far above anything I will ever understand, the basic principal can be grasped, and in my opinion...celebrated. I am one of those people that thinks everyone can learn to be happier than they are, and that each person I meet is inherently good. And now I have a neuroscientist telling me that I may just be right!

    So what do these two speakers have to do with me looking into graduate school? Well, aside from the fact that I got goosebumps during the faculty processional at Lawrence, and was literally anxious waiting for Dr. Davidson to continue his talk after the musical interludes, the speakers sparked a bit of jealousy in me. Sure, I do a lot of good in my community already. I'm very early in my career, and people already know me. But am I really making a substantial difference? Did I bring light to an illness (green tobacco sickness) that affects thousands of people in the world? Am I researching a topic that could bridge Eastern thought and American education? No, no and no. But I could. Maybe (ok, definitely) not either of those topics, but there are certainly other areas of study that I have an interest in, and also a decent amount of knowledge. But a decent amount isn't enough to make any ground breaking revelations. I need more knowledge, more training, more inspiration.

    Plus, learning makes me happy. And happiness is exactly what I'm after.

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    Another Goal and a New Tattoo

    I have another goal to add to my list of summer goals:
    • Be Thrifty. I used to be so much better at this. Through high school and into college, I was a pro at shopping at thrift stores and garage sales. I'm not exactly sure what changed, but my thrifty turned into shopping at outlet malls, which is not nearly the same. What I remember about shopping at thrift stores and garage sales is how much effort you sometimes need to put in to find what you're looking for, but that once you do find it: pure joy. I'm excited to feel that sense of accomplishment again. Starting today: multi-family garage sale in Sherwood with the girls. Time to be a deal hunter!
     And now...the moment we've all been waiting for: the tattoo.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Rocks, Pebbles, Sand...and Beer.

    I can't even count how many times professors used this as a lesson in class while I was in school. It is definitely over-used. But really, the underlying message is a good one, and I always laugh a little bit at the end, so why not share?

    A philosophy professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, rocks about 2" in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full. 
    They agreed that it was.
    So the professor picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full.
    They agreed it was. The students laughed.
    The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.
    "Now," said the professor, "I want you to recognize this is your life. The rocks are the important things - your family, your partner, your health, your children - things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else, the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the rocks first - the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."
    But then... a student then took the jar which the other students and the professor agreed was full, and proceeded to pour in a glass of beer. Of course the beer filled the remaining space within the jar making the jar truly full.
    The moral of this tale is: no matter how full your life is, there is always room for BEER.

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    The First Set of Goals

    I may not have the structure of my Happiness Project figured out yet, but that doesn't mean I should wait to write down my goals. In Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project, she has a theme for each month and then makes related goals for that month. Ideally, that is what my Happiness Project will look like too. However, because I haven't laid that structure out yet, I will start with my theme for the summer, and the corresponding goals.

    Resolution: Enjoy my surroundings.

    • Move downtown. Currently, I live right in the heart of the valley (seriously, I'm a mix of Darboy, Kaukauna, Kimberly, Appleton, and Buchanan). I live in an 1,100 sq.ft. 2 bedroom apartment...alone. It is 2.6 miles to Target, Festival, and MotoMart, 6.3 miles to Copper Rock, and 6.6 miles to work. Add that all up...and it just doesn't make sense for me to live there anymore. So, first goal: find a rental unit within walking/biking distance to downtown and work.  UPDATE: This goal is unofficially complete! I signed a lease today! Just a few blocks from downtown and less than 2 miles from work. SO excited.
    • Buy local. I feel that I am fairly conscious about buying local already, but moving downtown will further enhance this practice as I will be closer to the local shops I already frequent and to the shops I'd like to frequent. Here is a link from Appleton Downtown, Inc's website about shopping local: Give Your Community a Reason to Shop Local. Another part of this goal includes the farmer's market in downtown Appleton. I want to make an effort to go to the market every Saturday that I am available. My fun spin-off on that goal: try a new local-made salsa every week. YUM.
    • Get involved. I've already started the process of achieving this goal. The way I see it, if I'm going to live in this community and enjoy all the benefits and activities that it has to offer, I better be doing my part. I currently have three potential opportunities lined up: I have attended 2 Appleton Fox Cities Kiwanis Club meetings and have now been invited to apply for membership, I am in the process of joining the Appleton Downtown Rotary Club, and I have expressed interest in volunteering with Appleton Downtown, Inc (for their Thursday concert series, and also possibly on a committee). Kiwanis and Rotary will provide excellent opportunities to get involved in service projects in the community and volunteering with ADI is my way of giving back to the organization that provides much of my summer fun in Appleton.
    So there it is. My first set of goals. Are they extraordinary? No. But will they lead to a greater sense of happiness in my life? Absolutely. And that is, after all, the point of this project. I'm sure I will add more as I define the structure of my Happiness Project in the coming weeks. But let me tell you, just getting these down on paper (side note: are there 21st century colloquialisms? Because I keep using paper/pencil phrases, when in actuality - I am typing.) feels amazing.

      Monday, May 2, 2011

      Good Friends and Tattoos

      The last week has been... awesome, emotional, stressful, busy, exciting, a growing experience. I have basically practiced Jim Valvano's wisdom all week:
      "To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special."
      Well, audience, I must have had something special. When thinking about this little nugget of wisdom, I realize how grateful I am that I have friends, family, and coworkers that really do make it possible (and very likely) that I will laugh. Every. Single. Day. How great is that?! Here are some facts about laughter:
      • Laughter lowers the levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol suppresses the immune system. Lowering these levels enhances the work of the immune system and may prevent disease.
      • You can stimulate your heart and lungs, elevate your blood pressure and improve breathing capacity by laughing.
      • In terms of exercise, you can get the same benefits from laughing 100 times a day, as you can from 10 minutes of rowing.
      • 15 minutes of laughter equals the benefit of 2 hours sleep.
      • One good belly laugh burns off 3 1/2 calories.
      But that's not all Jim talked about. Thinking. Thinking every day. Well, of course I do this. But in the last week, I've done some excessive thinking, both good and bad. I spent a decent chunk of a day thinking about whether a relationship was working for me. Good thinking to do, yes. Happy-thoughts-producing? Not so much. I then spent an evening talking with some friends after a volleyball game. I did some thinking there too - my friends sure know how to bring up topics that require deep thinking! But we also laughed. A whole lot.

      But my favorite thinking memory from the last week? Spending 1:30pm-midnight on Friday (with just a brief two hour break) with a great friend. We were supposed to be planning our Happiness Project group. We did get a few goals jotted down, but we spent most of the day and night just talking, reliving experiences, comparing pasts, analyzing ourselves...thinking about what our lives have taught us. It truly is an incredible feeling to have a friend that I can do that with. A little freaky at times with how similar we are, but I feel so, so lucky.

      And then, the third thing Jim thinks we should all do every day: cry. Honestly, why did that have to be on this list? Is it really necessary to cry to have a full day? Well, let me tell you. I think I cried almost every day this last week. A mix of happy tears (from all that laughing, you see) and not so happy tears (from the thinking, of course). I also cried on my first real bike ride in probably 4 years. But I don't want to talk about that! But all of those other cries? Awesome. I've found that crying, like blogging, is an incredible release. I can just let out all of my stress, fears, pain and feel a new breath when I've finished. And being moved to tears from laughter? If you haven't experienced that, I hope someday you do.

      I think this was a great week. I had quite a few amazing nights with the people that I am lucky enough to call my friends. And even though not everything went the way I would want it to, I felt pain, and I was very stressed, I ended the week thinking: life goes on.

      And that brings me to the second part of this post's title. As long as everything goes as planned, I will be getting inked on Friday afternoon. The outer edge of my right foot will have an addition: life goes on. What a great reminder to see every single day for the rest of my life!

      "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on." -Robert Frost