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Amy Shearn (558 posts)
The conversation that followed is notable in many ways, not the least of which was the advice Mr. Invented the Computer offered: "Nothing is withheld from us which we have conceived to do." This, from an innovator before there was an internet full of innovators, from the man who, among other notable accomplishments, scanned the first image (in yet another instance of this man's foresight, the photo is, like so much of the Internet today, a picture of an adorable baby). The other advice Runyon shares? "Do things that have never been done."
Yes! Don't you love when inspiration comes from unlikely places? Like that person sitting next to you, maybe, who you've been ignoring while you read?
Beating Your Creative Blocks
The Invention That Makes Everyone Smile
There is a lady in my yoga class who does yoga the way we all imagine ourselves doing yoga: she's fit and flexible, makes every pose look easy and dancelike, and wears her long hair down the whole time, sweeping it into a cascade during downward dog as if she were auditioning for a shampoo commercial. Peeking a not-very-meditative glance at her the other day I thought: What must it be like to be a hair-down-yoga-lady? I will never be that. I am the grunting one in sweatpants, whose legs are not physically long enough to do a proper downward dog. Curse you, fates!
Naturally, as is the way of the world, I went from yoga class to seeing this video of George Dennehy, an amazing (and armless) teenaged guitar player. This is a kid who was born without arms, people, and who thought to himself, Alrighty then, I guess I'll play guitar with my feet. Sure, why not? His cover of the Goo-Goo Doll's "Iris" went viral a couple weeks ago, so the Goo-Goo Dolls decided to invite the kid on stage to play the song with them. Observe:
Right? Aren't we lucky there are people like this, who remind us that not being a hair-down-yoga-lady is completely, totally fine? That our bodies, strange and beautiful as they are, figure out how to get their jobs done? And most of all: can George Dennehy rock out or what?
Lottery Winners Donate a New Leg
Zimbabwe's Unlikely Oscar-Winning Musician
It is the best thank you on Earth.
I'm trying to study this method of saying thank you. Not the cheerfully texted "thx!", not even that kindest of cyber-gestures, the retweet -- the actual, face-to-face, eye-to-eye, fully felt, "Thank you. Thank you so much." You know who they are, the people you need to thank: the customers who patronize your business, the shopkeepers who make dinner for your family when you can't deal. Try it, without smiling in a newscaster way, without adding verbal punctuation like "so so so, very very very" -- just mean it. Thank you.
Oprah on the Power of Saying Thank You
An Attitude of Gratitude
Thank You Note Etiquette
The Neuroscience of Gratitude
Then I learned about the Brooklyn parrots. Yes, they are really parrots: bright green birds occupying the scrappy trees and power lines of Brooklyn. Part of me wants to leave the story there, imagining that the tropical poultry packed up one day and immigrated to the big city out of some birdy mix of courage, ambition, and confusion.
Turns out, there are also colonies of Monk Parakeets (most likely escaped pet birds) in Chicago, Florida, and elsewhere -- this site even tracks new sightings of feral Monk Parakeets. Opinion is divided on the hearty ex-pats: some call them invasive species (think "weeds of the bird world") and believe we should eradicate these non-native fowl. Others, like the aspiring ornithologist behind BrooklynParrots.com, celebrate the injection of tropical wildlife in our, let's face it, largely unnatural setting. (Visit this Brooklyn parrots blog for some theories on how they arrived in the city -- no, they didn't take the train, clutching suitcases, hoping to make it on Broadway.)
The thing is, I think that many of us are in our hearts Brooklyn parrots. We find ourselves ostensibly all grown up, in a place, doing a thing, living a life. And sometimes we are up all night, squawking into the darkness, wondering how we have come to be here. (It's so much colder than we imagined! Or -- so much hotter!) With any luck we find other refugees like ourselves and set up a colony, populating our nests with newfound family members whose lime-colored feathers remind us of a distant, half-remembered home. As the strange menu of my local diner plaintively asks, "Where else would you go?"
So sing on, Brooklyn parrots, you wonderful oddballs!
A Guide to Love in Any Species
Using Home As a Way to Connect
How to Reach Out of Loneliness
Recently at a Fort Worth, Texas, community pool, two parents had the unthinkable happen, when they saw their kids nearly drown. Luckily for them, a string of coincidence led Christy Daae to be at the pool, which she told the Star-Telegram she almost never visits. Daae recounted how she saw the two kids playing happily. The three-year-old girl then started struggling, and her four-year-old friend, brave little guy, tried to help her. (Cue throat-lump.) Another good Samaritan saw the kids go under and pulled them out. Daae, who is an ER nurse, and another woman began giving the boy CPR. (The girl was in better shape and breathing on her own.) The kids were both whisked away to a nearby hospital. Daae called her presence at the scene "a God thing." "I do feel that it was divine intervention," she said. "We never go to that pool." (Read the whole story here at the Star-Telegram.)
There are so many moments in life when a split-second, a mere millimeter, a seemingly random decision, ends up changing everything. Thank goodness, in this case, for Daae's bravery, quick thinking, and the "God moment" that brought her to that pool on that day.
Mothering in Public
A Small Act of Kindness
Claire Potter faced this conundrum with her 13-year-old son, whom she describes in the Guardian as being "eager for more freedom and independence" but also "a boy who hated sustained effort and shied away from any kind of system or daily ritual." So she devised 13 challenges, each of which played to his strengths while also addressing real-life issues. The challenges are inventive and inspiring; for example, the first was "Get on a train on your own. Get off at the 13th stop. Go to a sit-down cafe or restaurant. Order the 13th item on the menu. Then buy yourself a whole outfit with £13.13."
First of all, what a brilliant parenting move. Since she helped him to buy the ticket and they live in a rural area, Potter was able to present the train trip as a grown-up adventure, while also being able to keep tabs on his whereabouts. And the challenge truly does help him to hone some adult skills. But upon reading this I thought, not just, wow, that does sound like a very practical and also fun challenge, but also, Wait, I want to do that! I go places and buy things all the time. But taking the train to a place I've never been -- just because? Ordering a randomly preselected item on the menu? What a fun way to add secret sparkles of fun to every day.
The challenges span from learning and performing a piano piece in public to completing 13 household chores to creating a self-portrait of himself to learning Hungarian. As Potter puts it, the real lesson she hopes her son will learn is "that life is full of possibility and playfulness if you want it to be." Which is something we could all stand to learn, no matter how old we are. (Read the whole essay for Potter's inventive ideas for challenging your children -- or yourself.)
Rites of Passage for Grown Women
Challenge Yourself and Energize Your Life
So I am overwhelmed just reading about Lou Xiaoying, the Chinese rubbish collector who rescued more than 30 abandoned babies over the course of her life. Although she lived in poverty with her husband and her own children, Lou personally raised 4 of the children and found homes for the rest. According to the Daily Mail, Lou said, "The whole thing started when I found the first baby, a little girl back in 1972 when I was out collecting rubbish. She was just lying amongst the junk on the street, abandoned. She would have died had we not rescued her and taken her in. I realized if we had strength enough to collect garbage how could we not recycle something as important as human lives."
She adopted her youngest child when she was 82.
Now, according to the Huffington Post, Lou Xiaoying is dying of kidney failure, and trying to raise money to help support her youngest children after she is gone. She is being hailed as a hero in her community, and no wonder. Any mothering has echoes of the heroic in it, but when you add extreme poverty and an even more extreme altruism, when you think of the children whose lives had no value to anyone but Lou, well, it kind of makes you want to rise to the occasion, to find the bit of Lou Xiaoying in all of us.
(Read the whole article to learn more about how China's policies have likely contributed to the large number of abandoned babies and about how you can contribute to Lou Xiaoying's family.)
The Controversy Over Older Mothers
The Baby You Have to Give Back
Of the many inspiring stories to come out of the Olympics, how many of them have to do with a champion's excellent manners? Usain Bolt, world's fastest man, was being interviewed after winning the gold medal in the 100 meter dash, when US sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross's own gold medal ceremony began. He stopped his interview (in a very low-key way) to listen to the national anthem, and to let Richards-Ross have her moment over on that other side of the screen.
In a world that rewards competitiveness, how lovely it is to see an athlete take a moment to honor a fellow athlete's accomplishments. If only we could all feel this way about each others' successes -- writers, businesspeople, politicians, artists, even parents -- after all, we're all in this whatever-we-are-in together, and it never hurts to take a moment for someone else's moment.
(And you have to love how, when told he is a legend, Bolt chuckles, saying, "Yeah, people say that." Do they give gold medals in class and humility, too?)
We could all use a little more happiness in our lives. But sometimes the universe forgets it's supposed to be our accomplice, and dumps hail storms AND droughts AND babies smashing cameras AND immediately-spilled iced lattes into our laps all at once. Anyone looking for an infusion of happiness would do well to visit Stefan Sagmeister's The Happy Show. If you happen to be in Philadelphia you can view the show at the Institute of Contemporary Art this week before it closes. Otherwise, the evidence of the show is archived for all to take joy in -- thank you Internet! -- on Flickr, Tumblr, and Twitter. Sagmeister's show features the graphic designer's own rules to live by, based on his ten-year exploration of the topic of happiness, like so:
But the Happy Show also, crucially, invites participants to weigh in by drawing their symbols of happiness (like the heart-cloud above), and answering questions about what makes them happy. For example: What is the happiest word? As the ICA blog points out, the answers often create a kind of poetry:
"What Did You Do to Make Someone Else Unexpectedly Happy?
I took care of a dog last summer. I emailed pictures of her every day to her owners with funny captions.
I admit, these questions, even the idea of the symbols of happiness, seem anodyne until I actually try to answer them in my own head. What IS the happiest word? What WOULD I do with a year off? I can rattle off lots of foods that make me happy (probably too many), but what is my symbol of happiness? It seems like we should know what makes us happy, or how to make others happy. But as the need for such an exhibit, and the outpouring of response they've received via social media, proves, these are not questions we as a culture find easy to answer.
The exhibit doesn't profess to be able to provide happiness either. But it does provide insight, and most meaningfully, a way to connect. Which, when you think about it, might just be a road to happiness in itself.
Do you ever wonder what your legacy will be? Aaron Collins, according to his mother in this heartbreaking CBS news clip, "wanted to leave the world a better place than when he found it." His family always knew he would do something amazing, something to change the world, to help people. When he died last month at age 30, he left behind reputation for kindness and a peculiar wish: "leave an awesome tip (and I don’t mean 25%. I mean $500 on a f***ing pizza) for a waiter or waitress.” According to Aaron's brother, "Aaron was the type of person that took great joy in unexpected kindness...Of course, the way he lived his life meant Aaron never had much and didn’t leave much. We want to make his wish come true... His hope was clearly that such a random gift of kindness would leave an impact for life."
The family started raising donations and soon they had thousands of dollars to bestow upon unsuspecting waitstaff. Like Sarah, at Puccini's Smiling Teeth in Lexington, who said, "Are you kidding me?" and then, immediately, "I'll share this with everyone." (Just as, one suspects, Aaron had planned.)
The story is a beautiful one for Aaron's kindness, and for his family's devotion to helping his kindness live beyond him. But it also serves to remind us all that our contributions to the world, our own acts of kindness, need not be huge. That sometimes the best way to reach out is in some small, specific way -- making a harried waitress's day, for example -- a gesture that helps to create a culture of kindness. The kind of culture we all want to live in.
Oprah's Pay it Forward Challenge
When Fate Puts You Last for a Reason