Thursday, September 24, 2015


Lola's always in the Christmas spirit.

Don’t hate me.

I bought a Christmas gift the other day.

It’s just a stocking stuffer, but I thought, when I saw it, “Let me be organized and smart for once and get this now.”

Every year, I hope to do better: start earlier, ship earlier, avoid crowds …

… And most importantly, spend time musing about what each person on my list might actually want. I think that’s a good, spiritual exercise – to get outside myself and think about others for a change – and it can get lost in the rush.

Incidentally, there’s a big difference between getting someone something they like and getting them something that reflects well on you, your taste, your money.

Some people are easier to buy for than others. I love shopping for people who have interests. People who like to read are, in particular, easy.

Some people will say they don’t want anything. In our family, such people are told, “Cough up some ideas or I will buy you a spider monkey.”

And there’s pickiness. For example, there is simply no way for me to choose clothing for my daughter. In fact, I suspect, me liking something is reason enough for her not to. And I’m not sure she’d return it, which is like setting money on fire.

I’m against gag gifts. It hurts my flinty Yankee heart to spend money on crap that’s just going to end up in the landfill. (Except I do like goody bags for children’s birthday parties … Hey, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”)

I’m also against tchotchkes. I like edible gifts: eat, hopefully enjoy, and then it’s gone.

Oh, and those “easy” grab-bag gifts, something that’s good for everyone and stays within a strict spending limit? Those are a pain in the ass.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Get a Whiff of That

My first apartment after college was a dump.

My mom and I were in the hall with the landlord. There was an unpleasant tang in the air.

“Someone must be keeping a dog,” said the landlord.

“That’s not dog pee,” my mom and I both said, in unison. “That’s cat pee.”

The landlord looked at us like we had three heads. But cat pee smells different from dog pee and from human pee (which only smells when it’s stale, like in subway corners), just like chicken shit smells different than cow shit.

Doesn’t everybody know that?

My grandmother told me something that haunts me to this day: “You can’t smell yourself.” That’s why you can have B.O. or bad breath and not realize it.

She was right. We only register the smell of something for a short time, when we first encounter it. That’s called olfactory fatigue.

I once met a man who had lost his sense of smell permanently. He had, he explained, been having a bad LSD trip when he opened the door of a moving car and stepped out. (This was one of my more memorable first dates.) Anyhow, he said not having a sense of smell affects you more than you might think. You can’t taste food. You worry that you might not smell something important – like a gas leak.

Our sense of smell is pretty interesting. According to this article, it is the oldest sense, even single-cell animals have it, and studies have shown that, yes, we can really smell fear.

Also, the sense of smell is very direct. When you smell, actual particles of what you are smelling are in your nose, coming into direct contact with neurons, the only brain cells that are exposed like that.

Like the cat pee that day. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Whoa, Rethinking Yoga!

Been looking up Joseph Encinia, the yoga champion whose video I saw.

His life story is pretty amazing. He was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis as a child and lived with constant pain. He had a heart attack at the age of 13, probably from all the medications he had been on to control that pain.

And then he found yoga.

(The link to this video.)


Maybe I need to be more open-minded about the incense and the "Namaste" thing. :o)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

My Impressions of Yoga

I like yoga.

I think … until about three-quarters through the class … when I’m once again peering, upside down, from between my legs, the sweat dripping down my face …

And I’m not even doing “hot yoga,” when the room’s kept at 100+ degrees.

One thing’s for sure: it’s not your mother’s yoga. Back in the ‘70s, I recall yoga being gentle stretching, then lying around.

These days, my doctor husband says his fittest patients say they do yoga.

I'm surprised to find that people compete at yoga, like this man, the 2012 world champion:

Incidentally, me doing yoga looks nothing like this.

I tried to read about yoga, but even the Wikipedia summary made my eyes cross.

This dust-up, about whether the physical practice of yoga started out as a sex cult or not, was mildly interesting.

For me, yoga is exercise that has been carefully staged to be enjoyable.

When they direct you to pay attention to your breath, it does distract you from your screaming thighs.

And I am proud of my new ability to stand on one foot without falling over immediately.

I like the aesthetics, too: the outfits, the gear, even the yoga-mat “sling” you use to carry your rolled-up mat over your shoulder like some folklore hero wandering into the village.

I like my instructors’ playlists.

I like my instructors, all beautiful and impossibly limber.

I like the names of the poses – warrior, dancer, happy baby, eagle, tree.

I even like the “Om” part. Sounds cool.

The incense I could do without.

Also, the lingo, where we all pretend to know another language, like speaking Klingon or ordering at Starbuck’s.

I’m not going to say “Nameste,” especially not while putting my praying hands up to my supposed “third eye, I’m just not.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My Favorite Cognitive Distortions

I was reading an interesting article in the Atlantic, about how the newest version of “political correctness” on college campuses, such as “trigger warnings,” might really be exacerbating and even causing anxiety and depression in students.

I have a knack for making everything about myself, however. What caught my eye was a sidebar listing the “common cognitive distortions” of anxiety and depression.

And they looked like old friends.

Cognitive distortions are false habits of thinking that lead people to feel bad.

I do some of them. Others, I deal with in other people.

Some favorites:

Catastrophizing: Oh, yeah. This is thinking of the worst possible outcome in any situation. My entire family has a gift for doing this.

Black and white thinking is seeing one bad thing in a person or a situation and deciding the whole thing just sucks and always will suck.

Emotional reasoning is when you are convinced that what you feel is how things really are. Have you ever done something that you dreaded, only to find yourself surprised that it wasn’t anywhere as bad as you thought it would be? Bingo.

Personalization is constantly comparing yourself to others, trying to figure how you rank in terms of success or smartness or good looks, like life is one big competition.

Blaming is feeling that someone, preferably never you, has to be held responsible for every bad thing that happens. Ever find yourself saying, “I told you so”?

Fallacy of change is thinking that other people should do the way you want and that you can make them, if you just keep pressing them relentlessly.

The thing is, I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t do at least some of these things, some of the time. How about you?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

“The Glass is Already Broken”

I have a new favorite saying.

A wonderful commenter, Suzanna from Oregon, explained it recently on "Motherlode," the parenting blog of the New York Times.

I also found the story of it recounted, by author Mark Epstein, who was there, in his book, Thoughts Without A Thinker. (I love Google.)

Basically, Ajahn Chah, a famous Buddhist monk, whom Epstein visited in Thailand with a group, showed them his drinking glass. He told them he loved that glass, it was so pretty, and when he tapped it, it made a lovely sound, but, he explained, “The glass is already broken.” He went onto explain that it was inevitable that, someday, that glass would break. There is no way that it would last forever. Maybe he would knock it over with his sleeve or maybe it would fall off its shelf, but it would shatter and be gone.

Rather than spend effort trying to prevent the inevitable, twisting himself up with worry, maybe being grumpy to other people, maybe even packing the glass away in storage where he wouldn’t be able to use it or even see it, he chose to enjoy the glass now, while he had it, and not worry that it would someday be gone.


Friday, September 4, 2015

Handing Out and Handling Compliments

Yup, I really do wear this.
Would it kill you to say something nice?

No, but it can be tricky.

I routinely experience a situation where about 50% of the people have a hard time.

When I write an article, I might interview a dozen people. When the article is published, I will email these people the online link to it. Only about half will acknowledge they got it. Is it hard to hit “reply”? Does it cost money to say “Thanks”? And these are not people who are unhappy with the piece. It’s not unusual for me to find out later that they ordered reprints, etc.

I’m not blaming them. I’ve done the same thing myself.

But, why?

The people who do respond about an article, do so immediately. That’s key: if you have the opportunity to say something nice, don’t hesitate.

But timing can be hard, especially in conversation. Some people are so good at immediately complimenting somebody on something. But once they compliment you, you now can’t just turn around and compliment them because, well, it sounds like you’re doing it only because they did it to you.

And I’m not always so quick to notice something positive or to formulate what to say. It’s one of the drawbacks of being a grump.

I worry about sounding sincere. I have a Cookie Monster t-shirt that people always compliment. “Yeah, well, if you had an enormous pink bow on your head, they’d say, ‘Nice bow’ too,” my husband pointed out. So, there’s that: people tend to mention stuff that draws their attention, good or bad.

Then, there’s being on the receiving end. The proper response to a compliment is “Thank you,” period. It can be hard to refrain from replying that, no, your outfit actually sucks.

I’ll get the hang of all this someday.