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402 days. 402 (plus or minus… mostly minus) posts.

Month: April, 2013

Day 155: Six Reasons to be Weird

Being a weirdo is a-okay. Here are six reasons why:

1. As long as your weirdness doesn’t extend into severe social anxiety or obscene outbursts (in which case, practice taking some deep breaths before you panic), it can help others feel more comfortable around you. Everyone has a freak flag; they’re often just nervous to fly it. You admitting your fascination with flightless birds may be just what your conversation partner needs in order to let their guard down and connect with you (perhaps even over mutual avian interests).

2. Weirdos get a free pass to have more fun. Love moonwalking down the street to the music coming out of other people’s windows? Just do it. It’ll only take once for you to get a “weird” label and then you can street dance as often as you want without anyone bothering you.

3. According to John Manley of Fast Company, your inner weirdo helps you get ahead at work. His recent article also includes some wonderful commentary about “declaring a minor” in life—a weird or not weird avocation that keeps you stimulated and fosters your propensity for adventurous creativity.

4. In extreme situations, weirdos always prevail. Stranded on an island? The weirdo knows which plants taste like pizza (and won’t kill you). Accidentally erased your harddrive while trying to watch videos of cute cats? The weirdo will have you back in business in three minutes flat.

5. As my mother always says, “to be interesting, you have to be interested.” Showing interest in something unique helps define you as an interesting human being. Showing interest in others unique interests doubles (maybe even triples) your interesting factor and additionally makes you extremely pleasant to be around. Everybody likes a weirdo who asks good questions.

6. Because of your wide-ranging weird interests, you’re able to connect the dots on disparate concepts and come up with creative (albeit not always plausible) solutions. When successful, this ability not only helps you at work (see number 3), it gives you greater appreciation for the community knowledge-pool. You’re more likely to be able to capitalize on someone else’s weird skill when you have a few of your own.

Woman with Eat More Kale sweatshirt

One of my weird family members with a squash head named “Turkita” over Thanksgiving. We clearly had no fun. 

Day 150: My Weekend with Oliver Sacks

Over the weekend, I attended Live Ideas: The Worlds of Oliver Sacks in New York. It. Was. Wonderful.

Live Ideas was a five-day festival of dance and discussion exploring the mind-body connection through Dr. Sacks’ work.  You may know Oliver Sacks as the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, or the semi-fictional doctor portrayed by Robin Williams in Awakenings. He’s a neurologist and writer known for his in-depth case studies of people with unusual neurological disorders.

I’ve read three of his books (I’m currently mid-way through a fourth—Hallucinations) and have been mildly obsessed with his work for the better part of a decade. The way he writes and thinks about his patients is fascinating, kind and brilliant. So when I heard about Live Ideas (thank you, Erin), I booked a ticket and signed up for the events in three minutes flat. Dance + neurology? Sold.

In the brief weekend I spent listening to Dr. Sacks, watching footage of his patients, listening to his publishers and peers, watching dance and generally being inspired, overwhelmed and delighted, a small window into his world emerged. This is potentially a much larger post, but in favor of sharing my excitement immediately, below are a couple of things I took away from the weekend and some quotes from the man himself.

Hospitals are non-narrative. They’re built to collect metrics and provide diagnoses. But as Lawrence Weschler, a panelist in Sacks the Writer: Process & Influence pointed out, neurology is all about narrative. “The brain secretes stories,” as he says, and tells the doctor how it is functioning and what might be amiss. Dr. Sacks’ way of collecting and recounting his patient’s stories is part of the treatment. He has somehow always understood that to know a person’s brain is to ask them how they are.

It’s possible to be empathetic and academic. Dr. Sacks’ care for his patients is compounded by his interest in the way the brain functions. The stories he writes read almost like poetry, but they are precise and based on systematic observation and careful listening. Dr. Chris Adrian, one of the other panelists, brought up the question of empathy within the medical field. He said, “Can one person participate in and truly understand another person’s suffering? In reading Sacks, I think the answer is no. But he shows us that we can—and should—surely try.”

Straight from Dr. Sacks:

“Human beings’ capacity to forget is very, very great.”
With regard to forgotten diseases, such as encephalitis lethargica, the “sleepy sickness” that attacked the nervous system and left its sufferers catatonic and mute in the 1920s. Dr. Sacks worked with survivors of the disease in the 1960s and, at the request of those who could speak, documented their stories in Awakenings.

“No one got more disappointed with the stem cell situation than my patients with Parkinson’s, who thought their lives were being sacrificed for fetuses.”
Reflecting on the way Parkinson’s disease kills dopamine-generating cells in the mid-brain, and that there is no known cause or cure.

“Any physical activity will work. Exercise of any sort calls on the executive functions of the brain, which takes patients out of dysfunction.”
Answering a question about how dance and physical activity can positively combat brain disease.

“What I did then I would surely be imprisoned for now.”
Telling the audience his experience with administering L-Dopa to catatonic patients in the 1960s and how he ignored the DEA’s mandate to perform a blind study in favor of treating everyone. 

“Oh, there’s nothing overwhelming about me.”
After I asked him for a photograph and nervously admitted being overwhelmed by meeting him in person.

Day 144: Craigslist Made Me Cry

I had a much different blog planned for today, but… who knew Craigslist could be such an emotional roller coaster?

A couple of nights ago, I posted a listing for a free loveseat. “Cute, cozy and clean. It’s yours if you can pick it up.” I purchased it from a friend two years ago and fully enjoyed its endearing sag and the way the seat cushions inched their way forward as I lounged. But it was time for me to purge some belongings.

Within 60 seconds of posting, I had six responses. Immediately overwhelmed, I deleted the posting and made a snap decision to give it to the first person who wrote in response. It seemed like the fairest thing to do (and I always appreciate fairness).

So, after telling a complete stranger where I lived and when I could be home the next day, I took one last sit on my lovely loveseat and read the other emails.

Most of them were hurried, a couple were incomprehensible and one was sort of scary (“IT’S MINE. WHERE ARE YOU.”). But the sixth email was sent by a woman named Maggie, who wrote an articulate and impassioned plea for the loveseat. She explained that she could give it a wonderful home in her new apartment and could pick it up anytime at all. She included full contact information and a grateful “thank you” for listing it at all.

I felt a twinge of regret and wrote her back to tell her someone beat her to it, but that I would let her know if it fell through. She replied with a swift note of sincere appreciation and I promptly burst into tears.

I really, really wanted to give her the loveseat. She seemed so deserving and trustworthy. But in haste, I had already promised it to Drew, who I was now imagining to be some kind of smarmy serial Craigslister who would either kidnap me, break into my apartment and take something valuable (my sewing machine?), or sell my precious loveseat for profit in some kind of illicit loveseat-reselling industry.

I calmed down enough to get ready for bed and begrudgingly agreed to meet Drew and his roommate at 11:45 a.m. the next day (at which time I gave my co-workers Post-It notes containing my address and a come-find-me-if-I-don’t-return-by-12:15 memo). I couldn’t shake the thought that I’d made the wrong decision, but I couldn’t ethically turn back.

Drew and roommate were both somewhere around 21-years-old, reeked of smoke (“doobie” smoke, as I like to call it) and were polite but not logical. After spending 30-seconds watching them try to jam the couch through my doorway head-on, I gently suggested a sideways approach. “Cooool,” they said.

While I watched them roll away with the loveseat precariously hanging out of the back of Drew’s truck, I gave the thought of Maggie’s empty apartment one last sigh. I’m comforted knowing that Drew and company are probably enjoying a smoke and a snack on its comfy cushions at this very moment, but I am also pretending I didn’t see one of the arm cushions lying on the side of the road two blocks away this morning.

One day, I know I’ll wake up without a loveseat-care in my head. It’s just going to take some time.

blue couchIn all her glory.

Day 138: What to Expect from Your Job

In my three decades on Earth, I feel really lucky to have had many different jobs in many different fields. I’ve been a grant writer, catering server, adjunct professor, administrative assistant, marketing manager, barista, hotel sales coordinator, yoga instructor, writer, production manager, cleaning lady, lighting designer, babysitter, stage manager, DJ (not so great at the DJing, as it turns out), program coordinator, sales associate and research assistant. Right now, I’m a contract content producer (and I love it).

My history gives me what I’d call a pretty well-rounded perspective on what makes a good job. So here are eight things you should expect from your place of employment:

1. Challenges. Tiny ones, quick ones, long ones and gigantic ones. If you’re not being challenged, your brain is probably dying.

2. Like-minded people. People who understand your satisfaction with a beautifully organized Google doc (for example), and who can empathize with you when things aren’t going quite right. These people keep you grounded.

3. Different-minded people. People who are able to look at a situation from angles you didn’t even know existed and pull metaphorical rabbits out of metaphorical hats. These people keep you on your toes.

4. A way for you to move around and not sit or stand in the same place all day long. Whether it’s a nice outdoor space or a mobile indoor situation in which you can work wherever feels productive, good jobs let you move.

5. Good tea and coffee. And some healthy snacks. Simple pleasures make a big difference.

6. Quiet space where you can focus without distraction. It’s important that you’re able to plow through a problem or a project uninterrupted when you need to.

7. Distractions. Being able to adapt and switch gears based on the needs of the people around you is an important skill that will serve you in all areas of life. You might as well hone it at your job.

8. Laughter. You should be skeptical of anyone who wants to be serious for eight or more hours straight. Human beings are built to laugh.

Happy jobbing.

Day 133: Incredible Creatures

Here are some reasons why humans are incredible creatures:

We are adaptable and scrappy.

We can remove ourselves from our own realities and imagine how another person feels within theirs.

We are both mind-blowingly strong and incredibly fragile. We can steel ourselves through extreme turmoil and duress, but still fall to pieces over a couple of words.

Our brains can change themselves based on how we use them.

We love learning.

Our bonds with each other are so strong that we’ll put another’s safety, wellbeing and even life ahead of our own.

Even though we can be ruiners, we are also fixers, savers and solvers.

Our changeability allows us to be cruel and indifferent, and still learn to be compassionate and kind.

We want to know what’s out there, so we go out there.

We can always be worse and always be better.

We are logical, whimsical, romantic, dogmatic, sensitive, practical, strategic, spontaneous, naïve, deliberate, careless and brilliant. All at the same time.

Bittersweet by Brian AndreasStorypeople by Brian Andreas