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Leigh Newman (186 posts)
Many years ago, I knew a woman who couldn't wait for her boyfriend to go out without her on hot summer nights. That way, she could stay inside and scrub the floor in her underwear. And by underwear, I mean the genuine female article: white cotton, saggy, stretched elastic. She didn't want her boyfriend to see her like that, I assumed, because it conflicted with the rare but crucial poetic fictions that a couple often needs to survive long term.
These days, I know friends who indulge in all kinds of secret activities: say, smoking a forbidden cigarette or overeating alone. In my case, I wait until a night when my husband has to work really late and watch mindless romantic comedies back-to-back until 1 in the morning, while guzzling Diet Coke and a 2-pound bag of fat-free Twizzlers. Nobody, not even my husband, needs to see me passed out on the bed, mentally wounded (by choice!) from Kate Hudson movies, aspartame and artificial strawberry flavoring.
Then along with 4 million other people, I saw this video of a cat barking.
Here was this cat, in his hour of presumed privacy, barking away like a German shepherd. What was he thinking? Was he trying to protect the house? Did he have some kind transspecies issue, i.e., inside, he was secretly a dog? Or was he barking—like so many dogs do—just for the joy of it? This was what it felt like to me. Then again, I am not a cat.
The important part came when the cat realized that his owner was taping him and began instantly to meow. I wanted to say, "Don't change yourself for anybody! Bark it up! Be different! Be yourself!"
Instead, I thought about my old friend. I called her up. "Is the reason you don't wash the floor in front of your boyfriend, now husband, because you're embarrassed and you think he'll think of you differently?"
This morning, MSNBC's The Body Odd posted a story on whether you can die from laughter. (Spoiler: You can in cases of intense overexcitement, plus you can also black out from "overbreathing.")
But I prefer to think about the upside of cracking up. Laughter can lower your heart rate and blood pressure as well as reduce the constriction in your blood vessels. It can also help with your mental health. The problem is, we don't do it enough.
Enter psychologist Dr. Steve Wilson, founder of the World Laughter Tour, who trains nurses, doctors, social workers and lay people to run group therapy laughter circles. "Like music, art and certain physical movements," says Wilson, "laughter can help you work through emotional issues or simply help you feel better. But sometimes in life, we're told that our laughter is too loud, or too snorty. We're told to stop doing it. And we do.""
Surprisingly, he doesn't use jokes to help clients refind their inner laugh. Jokes can make the listener feel obligated to respond. "Fake crying doesn't help anybody," he says. "Why should fake laughter?"
Wilson, who formerly worked with celebrated laughter yoga guru Dr. Madan Kataria, uses a series of exercises designed to make you chortle, chuckle and just plain giggle like a fool. For example, there's the Hawaiian Handshake, where you say a rolling "aloha-a-a-a" which turns into a "ha ha" burst of laughter. Or there's the Burning Hot Sand, during which you imagine you're tiptoeing across boiling sand (ah, oo, oo, ah) ending in an ah-ha-ha. Over the phone, he demonstrated the Roller Coaster, ending in a long, sputtering round of ho-ho-hos. It wasn't funny. But I laughed. I couldn't stop, in fact.
"All humans are born to laugh," he claims. "Look at a baby. He lies in his crib, laughing at nothing. He's doesn't even have a sense of humor yet."
Groups, though, are the most effective way to get the laughter rolling. Accordingly, Wilson has been asked to run his workshops at weddings and bar mitzvahs, to bring family members together. I am considering inviting him to my mother's Fourth of July barbecue, sometime before Mom gives my kids their third red-white-and-blue Popsicle for breakfast but after my husband tries to grill on her tiny, toppling, coal grill from the '70s which requires an entire bottle of mind-numbing lighter fluid to produce sufficient flames for one very black hot dog.
Imagine grocery shopping at your local megastore, reaching down into the assortment of dented, limp red onions and pulling out an envelope with the words "This letter is for you" written on it in loopy blue ink. Would you leave it there because you might not be the real "you?" Would you open it on the spot? Or would you look both ways, then scurry off with it hidden in your purse to read later?
This spring, Brooklyn artist Liz Medina has been dropping off these anonymous missives around as part of her Eternally Yours project. She tucks them into bushes and weaves them into the spokes of bikes. She hides them in old antique cannons and on the shelves of toy stores and—just yesterday—in the bill of her restaurant check.
Each envelope contains three things: (1) a love letter that asks how you have been and tells you how wonderful you are, which you are invited to respond to, (2) a drawing that you are invited to add to artistically by drawing or painting or writing on it, (3) a prepaid envelope to send your contributions back.
"I'm trying to address the breakdown in traditional communication, such as with letters and writing," says Medina. "I want to ignite a small spark in people's lives, for them to feel a flash of joy as they go back and forth from work—if not some mystery."
Eternally Yours volunteers now hide letters in states as far flung as California, Texas and Iowa. Medina herself has tucked over 500 on her home turf of Brooklyn. Her favorite response back from a reader was a tiny scrap of torn white paper with the words "try harder" written by manual typewriter. But over 20 other examples are posted on her site.
"I went to art school to paint and draw," she says, "I thought I would spend my life simply perfecting those skills. But when I moved to New York, I decided to act on all the crazy ideas that I think about but never do. I mean, why not, if it makes people happy?"
Her next project is a 20-foot-tall inflatable gumball machine.
Our response: Why not, if makes people happy?
Tell about your love letters—the sweetest, the strangest, the one you wish you'd written...
When it comes to fashion trends, we all make mistakes. Some uh-oh moment flashbacks: harem pants, retro tube tops, the head-to-toe designer logo trend. This summer’s jumpers might not be the easiest thing to wear, what with the bra problem (to wear or not to wear?) and shorts that are just a tad too short. But jumper are fun and flirty, and ideal for summer bike riding or...a tennis match?
Today, the San Francisco Chronicle reviewed the jumper that Venus Williams wore at Wimbledon describing it as “open in the back and generally unwieldy” and remarking that “it brought to mind togas, or hospital gowns.” Then and only then did the paper mention her 6-3, 6-1 victory over Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan.
Not to be picky, because Williams clearly dresses to get attention, but does the message for women so often have to be: clothes first, achievement second? This woman has won 43 major tennis singles titles, 18 doubles titles, and earned over 27 million in prize money. She can wear a naked-looking bloomers if she wants. Oh wait....she already did that.
The jumper looked pretty elegant to us, except from the back where things got a little low cut (note to self: remember to look behind you in the dressing room). But at the end of the day, women who know how to risk are usually women who know how to win.
Besides, a certain other woman close to our heart has risked a little fashion ire—and lived to laugh about it.
Today is the summer solstice. You can make the most of it with these quick, fun ways to honor our nearest, brightest star.
Do some yoga. How to do a sun salutation
Try a weird veggie. How to eat/cook/deal with a sunchoke
Make a little music. How to play "Here Comes the Sun" on the ukulele
Pretend you're at Stonehenge, partying all night with sun-worshiping pagans. How to build a backyard bonfire
Boost your IQ. How to measure Earth's tilt using your shadow
As of today, I'm no longer going to try to be a better person. For the next decade or two or three, I'm going to work on a life of minor crime. I'll shoplift candy, park in handicapped spaces and sneeze deeply on the salad bar at my local deli. I may even dress up like an exterminator and inform certain, select neighbors that they have bedbugs when they do not actually have them.
I'll leave the really violent, upsetting stuff to the professionals. Those are the people who will eventually die and be reincarnated as lice or algae. Sadly, I'll also have to forgo the really loving, compassionate stuff. That's for people who dream of coming back as Indian high priests or the Dalai Lama or perfect beings like Reese Witherspoon.
All I want to do is complete enough not-so-admirable acts that I can spend my next life as a lobster.
Last week, The Christian Science Monitor profiled these unappreciated crustaceans. After talking to biologists, the newspaper reported that not only can lobsters live up to 50 years (or more) but also "lobsters don't show any signs of aging."
Lobster do not slow down or weaken. They do not become infertile or get weird brown blotches on their foreheads that look kind of like Canada. In fact, at regular intervals, they shed their shells and create fresh ones, which makes them appear "as though they are brand new again."
The only downside to my new life after death: escaping the hungry seals and cod. On the other hand, fleeing madly to survive, on a daily basis, may leave me with 10 exceptionally toned, sexy legs.
It's often said that names can forge our destiny. Harry, the hairdresser, for example. Or Carol Moeller, the dental hygienist. Or Zoe Hamburger, the McDonald's account handler. (Check out this fun, silly list of names and professions.)
The Phil Campbells of the world had no such pretensions to glory. Their name linked them to small town in Alabama, also called Phil Campbell, which, in 2011, is celebrating its centennial. This spring, the plan was to welcome as many Phils to down south as possible, from as far away as possible, for the town's annual hoedown.
Then, on April 27, a tornado hit, killing 26 and decimating homes and businesses.
Instead of reveling in the streets, Phil Campbells (and one Phyllis) from all over the globe headed to Alabama last weekend to help rebuild those same streets, clearing debris, raising international attention, even organizing a movie-screening fundraiser. "I just thought we would be raking," Phil from Brooklyn told us. "But Big Phil from Wisconsin broke out the power tools and disassembled an entire wooden structure that had fallen over."
The website ImwithPhil.com, shows that Phils from Bowral, Australia, to Juneau, Alaska, have raised $35,000 to build a Habitat for Humanity home for one lucky family. "It was a profound experience," says Phil from Brooklyn. "But I don't want our names to overshadow the people of the town. They still need help."
To learn more, read The New York Times article or donate to the cause.
On the list of things we love—a little before garlic and a little after lilacs—comes David Whyte. This Irish-born, American-bred poet makes us look, think and feel differently. Take his poem "Self Portrait", or this line from his poem "The Journey": "Sometimes everything / has to be / inscribed across the heavens / so you can find / the one line / already written inside you."
Sure, he gives seminars at Oxford and has been profiled by PBS. But today he's given Life Lift 10 Questions That Have No Right to Go Away, questions that "almost always have something to do with how we might become more generous, more courageous, more present, more dedicated" and show us "when we might step through the doorway into something bigger, better, both beyond ourselves and yet more of ourselves at the same time." They might point your life in an unexpected, unforgettable direction.
I was thinking of giving my husband the day off for Father's Day. He could laze in bed reading, and I would take care of the kids. But maybe I should let him take care of the kids...and I'll go catch a movie instead.
As we found out this morning on LifeInc.Today.com, women aren't the only ones struggling to find a balance between spending time with their family and advancing their careers. A study by the Boston College Center for Work & Family called The New Dad surveyed nearly 1,000 fathers, most of whom had wives who also worked. The men reported that they spent an average of 2.65 hours interacting with their children, and, when asked if they would like to spend more time with their children during the week, "77 percent of the fathers reported that they would."
Most importantly, 65 percent of the papas believed that care for the kids should be split 50-50 between both parents (though 65 percent of them admitted that the mamas actually gave more care).
I'm beginning to think the whole country should move Father's Day from Sunday to Monday, close all the post offices and businesses, and let dads stay at home to pick up the children from school, buy them an ice cream and, screaming in terror, chase after the kids as they pedal like speed-drunk bicycling maniacs toward the intersection, only to stop at the curb and ask innocently, "Pop? Why are you so upset?"
So let's stop showering Dad with cards and gifts. Let's make Father's Day about being a father—from carpooling to making spaghetti for supper to laughing over who exactly floated the bath toys in the toilet bowl (true story).
Not to mention my favorite: Listen to your mother!
Luckily, I stumbled onto something that combines all those life lessons into one fun, good-for-the-soul project. This month, the website thredUP kicks off its Summer Book Swap. Here's how it works: Parents and kids pack up boxes of unwanted children's books (clean up your room!). They exchange the boxes with other families online (recycle!). The kids read their new used books at home (turn off that computer/iPad/video game/phone!), and the whole family receives coupons and free credit at websites like BookSwim, Chronicle Books and eBookFling (share!)
Just so you know, those coupons and free credits can be used to buy, swap or rent the new summer novels you've been dying to read perhaps on the beach, under an umbrella, alone for a few hundred juicy pages...
Check out these other ways to get cheap—and even free—grown-up books online!