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Something to Think About (357 posts)
The end of summer—not unlike the arrival of a 40th birthday—always makes me think of time. June, July and August seem to move on their own emotional clock, one that has a few different speeds: slow when it comes to hot afternoons, quick when it comes to a week of vacation, lightning-fast when it comes to considering the season as a whole in those last few final days of its fruition.
A friend of mine named Sam once described the three months right after the birth of his daughter as both "fast and slow at the same time." I knew what he meant: everything stops for a newborn and everything blurs by. This is why time is so fascinating. Its progress is so brazenly dependent on how we experience it. It can suspend and race. It can sludge by and whisk by and vanish completely—concurrently. Which is why I so liked seeing this video I found on The Laughing Squid.
Note how the clip only lasts just over a minute. But it seems as if it lasts for much, much longer. Three whole fat balloons bounce by after all, over and over. If I were the kind of person who uploaded videos onto her phone, I would keep this one close by, for all those dark horrible moments when I realize that my son's birthday was nine—not two—months ago or that my mother sold our old house 20—not five years—ago, at which point I scream to myself "Wait! Stop! It's all going so fast!"
Because, as odd as it may sound, the water balloon may be the only rival to the human brain, when it comes to slowing down time. Be each rubber ball manipulated by cameras (as in: here) or tossed towards our heads (as in: the park), these wonderfully lumbersome, cumbersome objects make us realize just how long 60 seconds can last. All for the price of 5 cent a (sorry) a pop.
Martha Beck manages time
Ways to love your life before the end of summer
Photographer Tanveer Badal spent 101 days traveling Asia and Africa, and in so doing created one of those blogs that sears your eyeballs with its ridiculous beauty. It's a good place for a quick dose of vicarious travel, or many lost moments bathing your brain with images of pretty places. World feeling small? Not hardly! Look!
So anyway, Badal recently posted about the unexpected highlight of his extensive travel in Southeast Asia: Laos, AKA, "'that thing' between Thailand and Vietnam." He explains how Laos took him by surprise with its beauty, ruggedness, the friendliness of the natives, and above all, that mysterious sense of enchantment that accompanies all indescribably great experiences. He describes their first day in Laos: "...some of us went on a long hike to explore caves at a nearby national park while others napped. (And that’s what I like the most about SEA and extended travel in general. You can either go on an adventure or you can nap. And it’s totally cool either way.)"
It seems like a kind of travel Rorschach Test -- Answer quickly, without thinking: adventure or nap? I'm no psychiatrist, or even a travel agent, but I'm going to go ahead and say you should probably, for optimum health, think both. Adventure and naps are the yin and yang of life, the alpha and omega of recreation, the peanut butter and jelly of leisure. True for any of us enjoying a free moment, whether we're cooling our heels in a Laotian bungalow or kitty-cat-curling-up on a sunny couch, whether by adventure we mean long hike in caves or an afternoon making sand castles at the beach. And it's totally cool either way.
For more on Badal's photogenic adventures (and naps), visit his site.
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The 23-Year-Long Road Trip
Plenty of road trips end with that Thelma-and-Louise feeling, am I right? You know what I mean. Reaching the end and realizing how much has changed, how much hasn't changed, how much you just want to keep on going. Not in a driving-into-the Grand-Canyon-because-the-law's-catching-up way, but in a soaring-into-the-air-eternally way. But you don't, of course you don't, because your life is waiting. You know, real life -- the job that needs to be returned once the vacation days expire, the dog that needs to be picked up from the kennel, the house full of all your very important stuff that you can't quite picture anymore, quietly awaiting your return. But what if you just kept going? Well, that's what Gunther Holtorf did. Twenty-three years ago.
When Gunther Holtorf and his wife began their journey in 1989, they meant to take an 18-month trip around Africa -- an ambitious enough undertaking. But somehow they just weren't ready to stop traveling, and continued on in their Mercedes Benz G Wagen for the next, oh, 500,000 miles. This BBC News video is a must-see, full of inspiring images of the trusty car (Holtorf says he's never had a major breakdown!) just about everywhere on Earth a person might want to travel.
And guess what: Holtorf has documented these amazing travels with only a couple of ancient film cameras. Film! No blog. No Twitter. No Instagram. It's almost as if the true roving spirit, the collective unconscious travel bug, has swarmed and assembled in this cheerful world-driver. After I'd seen this video for the first time, I was walking across a highway overpass and found myself gazing at the river of cars, wondering if any of them were in the midst of a grand adventure, feeling somehow, as I hadn't before, that most of them must be.
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Inspiration for the Armchair Traveler
Phyllis Diller passed away on August 20th, at the age of 95, and has been widely remembered for her eccentric persona -- the wild wigs, the claims of terrible housekeeping, the rapid fire one-liners. But besides being one of the first female comedians to make it big with her brash style of self-deprecating humor, Diller was also a relatively late bloomer. In fact, she didn't become a comedian until she was 37, and already a mother of 5. (I'm sure any mother of 5 is either a comedian or too tired to speak, or possibly both.) As Diller once told NPR, "The thing is, I had been doing [comedy] all my life without realizing it because I'm a born comic." So when her family was struggling financially, her husband convinced her to try her hand at comedy. And what do you know, it worked.
Besides a willingness to do anything for a laugh, and the creation of an outlandish persona, what set Diller apart? As she wrote in her 2005 memoir Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse, her impulse as a performer was never to copy, never to mediate, never to even pay homage; it was always to be purely herself: "I purposely never watched other comedians perform because I didn't want to copy anyone. I wanted to become me, totally me. The more me, the better. I instinctively knew this and I was right. My attitude, my material, and me—those were the components that distinguished me from the rest of the field right from the start."
Becoming "totally me" -- what a good goal, performer or not. And a useful mantra, it turns out, as it launched the 30-something star of PTA-skits into the annals of great comedy. Starting with her first television performance, seen in the clip below, in all its sweet awkward glory:
Remembering Maurice Sendak
Tiny Fey Talks to Oprah
Cerand writes of her longing for a quiet life, far from the breathless glitter of Manhattan and the constant hustle of her freelancer/publicist lifestyle. "An enormous amount of dedication is required to patch together a living, and it occurred to me this week that there is a direct correlation with how long it’s been since I’ve taken a vacation and how long since I’ve dated anyone. Years, so many that sometimes it seems pointless to reach for a two-week break, or a person." She draws a startling, vivid connection with the feeling of skidding on an icy highway—out of control, terrified, moving too fast to stop.
Then, as wise women tend to, she quotes Mary Oliver: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?" Aren't you doing it, Cerand asks of herself, of all of us? And if not, good gracious, why not? Whether it's more quiet or more glitter, more time for contemplation or more nights out eating oysters and wearing pearls, leaving behind the job that's sucking you dry or embarking on a new project even though you know it will be demanding—when do you plan to start living that real life you keep meaning to begin?
As Cerand puts it: "I must practice, with all the days that I have; I will improve the way I pass the time."
To which I say: Yes, yes, yes. And: now.
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Homeless Female Veterans
Words are so wonderful. We use them all day long, and everybody knows what they mean. What always surprises me, though, is when you really try to sit down and describe what a word is, it's incredibly difficult. For example: cat. We all know what at cat is. But how to explain it? A short furry animal that—uh—will scratch the freckles off your face if you attempt give it the pill prescribed by the vet?
This is why the dictionary is such a glorious invention—its ability to precisely explain the complexities of our seemingly simple language. And as of yesterday, one of our favorite phrases, "Aha Moment," has made it into Merriam-Webster's Collegiate version, where it's described not just as a noun but as "a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension."
USA Today spoke with the Merriam-Webster's associate editor, Korry Stamper and found out that "aha moment" was first introduced into the lexicon almost 75 years ago and was cited in a 1939 psychology textbook. But we know who brought it into our lives:
Now when are they going to put bing-bing-bing-bing in the dictionary?
See Rihanna on Oprah's Next Chapter this Sunday
Nora Ephron's Aha Moment
The Aha Moment Hall of Fame
Would you like to ask Oprah and Iyanla Vanzant for some advice? We've got another chance to take your virtual seat in the live taping of Oprah's Lifeclass. Oprah and Iyanla will be answering questions in real time—will yours be one of them? Find out more about the webcast here or by logging on to Oprah.com or Facebook.com/OWNTV Monday, August 13, at 11amET and 3pmET.
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!
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Using Home As a Way to Connect
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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