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Something to Think About (357 posts)
The "Things I'm Afraid to Tell You" meme started with a post on Make Under My Life. Jess Constable writes, "Though I like to think I’m pretty much an open book online, there are things about me that I hide for fear of rejection or judgment. But my emotional, fearful mind freaks when I think about sharing some things in my life." And thus, she launches into a list of the things she's afraid to reveal. Number one: "Yesterday after a tense customer service call, I cried in front of my assistant and new intern. (Not the “ugly cry,” but pretty close.)"
Within a few days, her friend Ez posted her own "Things I'm Afraid to Tell You" to the Creature Comforts blog, about how the idea had gone viral, and shared, despite her professed nerves, her own list. She admits that, despite writing a blog devoted to perfect and pretty things, "The nitty-gritty is that some months have been so tight that I've worried about making my rent payment or even buying groceries...a handful of times it's gotten scary enough that I've had panic attacks daily just trying to think of how I'll make it through."
Since these first posts, the movement has spread to hundreds of blogs. It's really worth the time to peruse some of these posts, if for no other reason than to see how mundane some of these confessions are. We are all so afraid of revealing any imperfections at all, as if the ability to curate the image of a perfect life has created its very own brand of insecurity, a whole new cyber-neurosis. Why should we be afraid to reveal that we are uncrafty? That we care what people think of us? That we love sitcoms?
As Ez puts it, "we are all just a little bit sick of all this perfection." And many of these bloggers add in their TIATTY posts that this dose of honesty has changed the way they want to write -- real names appear for the first time, and pledges to share "real selves" in addition to images of aspirational lives. So if you're beating yourself up over a speck of imperfection, it may help to write your own "Things I'm Afraid to Tell You." Even if (especially if) your "You" is yourself.
Why You Need to Embrace Imperfection
Face Your Inner Perfectionist
Last year, Lisa Bloom's book Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World came out, and started a nationwide (and Internet-wide) conversation about how we talk to our little girls, and how simply saying different things to them (and encouraging reading and thinking) can help them grow up to be smart women. Boys, presumably, were doing okay. After all, men have it easy in today's world, right? I mean, they never have to wait in line for a public bathroom. How hard can their lives be?
Well, guess what. Bloom's new book -- Swagger: 10 Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness, and Thug Culture (can this lady rock a subtitle or what?) -- is out, and now she is telling us that our boys are in trouble too. (I know. Bummer.) Apparently, we are not expecting enough of our boys, and in this way, undermine their early development. Bloom writes for The Huffington Post, "The new cultural trope is that girls naturally mature faster, that they have better innate verbal skills, and so pushing young boys to read is unrealistic and vaguely unfair to their boyness...Boys today do worse on national reading tests compared to their own gender a generation ago." And what's more, "Poor readers -- mostly boys -- struggle to read textbooks and tests in all subjects. They get suspended, expelled, flunk out and drop out at alarming rates - the majority of our African-American and Latino boys (who have the lowest reading proficiency of all) drop out of high school, with white boys faring only slightly better."
I admit to a sinking feeling of guilt upon reading this. My son is only 14 months old, but I already hear myself saying things all the time like, "Oh no, he doesn't really have any words yet. His sister did by now, but you know - boys!" As if I accept -- even expect -- that this smart kid is nothing more than a hammer-, truck-, ball-obsessed little caveman. How can our low expectations begin so early? Knowing that kids rise to the expectations (or lack thereof) we set out for them?
Thankfully, one of Bloom's solutions is, you guessed it, reading to our sons. "Make your home a reading mecca," she writes. "Kids with parents who read for pleasure are six times more likely to do so themselves -- and their grades shoot up." This I can handle. As soon as my little caveman stops hitting his sister over the head with that board book.
Lisa Bloom on How to Talk to Little Girls
The Bond Between a Mother and a Son
It's a strange thing to be so unaccustomed to silence. To associate the sounds of leaves rustling and one's own heartbeat with ominous moments in horror movies. And that's just external quiet -- how many of us can imagine taking a vow of silence ourselves? We so often go through our days in a din, our ears plugged with music, our mouths talking talking talking. Wouldn't silence keep us from communicating, prevent us from connecting with our thoughts, and, you know, scare the crap out of us?
Writer Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston posed this question (sort of) to the Trappist Monks of Oka Abbey, in Quebec. Trappist Monks are known for being the only Western order that practices silence (it's not technically a "vow of silence," as he explains). Mesiano-Crookston explains that it was "their dedication to the enshrinement of silence" that compelled him to reach out to them. He wanted to know how the silence works, and what it does for them. So he interviewed them -- via email, of course.
Their answers are illuminating: "The silence does make me aware of my inner workings, however, what we call in the monastery, 'self-knowledge.'...Silence seems to keep me from idealizing myself...I've become very attuned to the sound of bird-song, the wind, water running through the pipes, identifying unseen monks by the sound of their footsteps—just paying attention to my surroundings."
Identifying unseen monks? Wait, does a vow of silence come with superpowers? As much as the idea of so much silence makes me feel, I have to admit, immediately claustrophobic -- the way the monk describe it makes it sound like it might just be the key to something, to way to some mindful way of living and connecting to the world itself, not to mention developing your own inner resources. Another wrote: "On yet another level, silence means listening."
The monks' thoughts on silence make me wonder whether my own country-weekend aversion to silence might have been standing in for some larger noisiness in our lives. As one monk put it, "Silence is an aid and not an end in itself. It aids prayer, communal and private, and seeks to reduce distractions." We are so unused to really contemplating our own thoughts, the world around us, or really anything -- could it be the enormity of this that made a country weekend of quietude feel like a daunting prospect? According to the monks: "When there is lot of noise or movement around you, it’s tough to take notice of what you’re going through." So that's every waking moment of my life. No wonder I feel so scattered and, you know, un-monk-ish.
How might some moments of silence help you to focus on what you're going through?
For more on how silence works, and for the surprising connection the monks make between the noisy life and loneliness, read the entire essay here at The Awl.
How Silence Can Make You More Creative
The Quest for Quiet in a Noisy World
In one of the more absurd episodes of my often-absurd existence, I found myself locked in the famous Pére Lachaise cemetery in Paris, alone, at dusk. I know. Who knew it closed? Such is the life of 20-year-old monolingual American backpacker with her head up her, uh, in the clouds. I'd been so busy communing with the spirits of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and the other heroes-of-a-20-year-old-American-backpacker-type, that I'd forgotten to check the time. And there I was, on the wrong side of the (lovely) gate, freaking the #$^* out. Despite the great story material, I decided I really would rather not spend the night, and ran like one of those modern, fast zombies toward the Crematorium (I know, I know) where a jovial groundskeeper in a diesel-powered gold cart picked me up and giggled Frenchily as he drove me back to the land of the living on the other side of the gate, from whence I dispatched to my youth hostel for a night of incredulous hyperventilating.
But what if being locked in a cemetary -- as it happens, Pére Lachaise itself -- were a kind of whimsical, enchanted romp? What if you could commune with those many eminent spirits in, you know, a fun way? Here is a short film that is beautiful, dreamy, and - bonus! - helps me to come to terms with my traumatic experience. Leave it to the French.
A Real-Life Ghost Hunter
Sky Therapy in Video Form
Well, recently Flood finally got her chance, at age 75, to dine in the dining car of the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. (This happened thanks to an awesome program called Wish of a Lifetime, kind of like Make-a-Wish but for seniors. ) "Oh she would have loved this," she said of her grandmother. Listening to this story, I thought of Flood's grandmother, of how heartbreaking it would be to explain to a child, This world we live in, it is unjust, and it is unjust specifically to you, and here is how you must deal with it. And how glad her grandmother would be, to see Flood in the dining car, enjoying a meal and a glass of wine. And how the simplest things—being on one side of a glass door or another—can make all the difference in a life, whether we realize it at the time or not.
Learn more about how Wish of a Lifetime, along with their partner, Brookdale Senior Living, enriches the lives of seniors.
Oprah's Tribute to the Freedom Riders
Meet the Original Rosa Parks
So you've got to love this concept a group of Portuguese architects, Ana Luisa Soares, Filipe Magalhães, and André Vergueiro came up with for the awesomely-named Rooftops, Why Not? contest: putting public schools on top of New York City skyscrapers. As they put it, "What if suddenly the education would become the highest (and most visible) value of a society?" The resulting imagery is dreamy and futuristic, and evokes the question: How else can our urban spaces be reimagined? And: what do our structures say about what we value in life? And: how cute and raucous would the "School Elevator" be?
Be sure to visit the Cargo Collective site for more gorgeous images of architectural inspiration.
The Invention That Makes Everyone Smile
Saving the Hair of Cancer Patients
Oprah's Search for New Ideas
“Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”
"Who wrote that?" I asked her once.
She squinted at it and shrugged. "Someone who didn't do a lot of laundry, I'd guess."
2. Laundry is one of those household tasks that's so mundane, so repetitive and unedifying and, particularly if you have kids, so unending, that it's hard to find any joy in it. Cooking has gotten a bit sexed-up, what with food blogs featuring glamour shots of daily dinners. Getting organized looks awfully fun and pretty on Pinterest. But laundry? Laundry is just...laundry.
And yet, the blog Four Deer Oak has a nice post on laundry this week. Blogger Anna Camille writes, "I don’t mind doing the laundry. It sounds like a rather odd thing for a 21st century feminist to say, but I’ve realized this year that I like doing the laundry for my family. It’s a chore, sure, and a necessary one, but who doesn’t like to have clean, fresh-smelling clothes. I don’t mind doing it and as I fold the cleaned laundry, I think of my loved ones and the blessings we have."
Wait, I think she made a mistake there. I think she misspelled "as I fold the cleaned laundry I grumble about how little my family appreciates all the work I do around the house." Oops!
3. Still, I have to admit that my laundry situation has recently changed in a way that has made life much, much easier. As I take the warm clothes from the shiny new dryer, I actually am able to appreciate (almost all the time) how this is something I can do for the people I love, and how lucky I am that there are these nifty machines that do all the work for me, that the hardest part of the task is the soothing work of folding everything while watching mindless television. "Let there be nothing on earth but laundry" indeed!
4. So I was doing the laundry in this nice clean new laundry space and suddenly those words from my mother's laundry room came floating up into my head. I abandoned the almost-folded pile to google the poem.
5. Here it is: Love Calls Us to the Things of This World, by Richard Wilbur. It's just the thing for those moments when you are doing laundry or any mundane task at all and need a jolt of inspiration, a peek out of yourself, a reminder of the beauty of the every day, of the small journeys your soul can make while the rest of you is half-asleep, the joy of that stinking always-full basket... how "outside the open window/The morning air is all awash with angels."
(Whether or not Richard Wilbur did his own laundry, of course, is still up for debate.)
A Sign to Live By: Be Excellent To Each Other
A Magical Approach to Cooking
Today marks the end of National Short Story Month (NaShoStoMo for short—and yes, this exists, in addition to May being National Bike Month, National Hamburger Month, and National Moving Month. Who knew?) Some of our favorite works of fiction this past year were story collections (plus: remember Oprah’s 2009 Book Club pick, the short story collection about children in Africa, “Say You’re One of Them”?), and while looking for a way to celebrate them, we stumbled on Storyville, an app that lets you keep up with the newest ones out there without purchasing a library's worth of different collections. Every Tuesday, you receive a single fresh story right to your phone or ipad—ranging from tales by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors like Jennifer Egan to those by up-and-comers like Emma Straub and Tania James.
“Every year, hundreds of wonderful short stories are published, but readers have no idea they exist,” says Paul Vidich, one of Storyville's co-founders. “We’re trying to engage fiction fans in a new conversation. And with the stories on your phone or iPad, they’re always with you—on the bus, at the airport, in your bed. (Paul is right about that: I got so caught up reading writer Ana Menendez’s Traveling Fools, a whimsical yarn about a man who flies away on a weather balloon while waiting in line at Starbucks that I didn’t even hear the cashier call my name three times!)
Here’s a few more fast, easy ways to delve into short stories that should hold you over until NaShoStoMo 2013:
Unrequited love stories
John Irving's new smash novel
Vacation inspiration, part one: The Atlas Obscura: a compilation of curious and wondrous travel destinations.
"The internet tastes like a cup of peanut butter pudding and it looks like a star chart." A journey to the center of the internet.
Don't even think about eating a bagel. 23 energy boosters for getting through the day.
Vacation inspiration, part two: Quirk up your travel by visiting the World's Largest Things.
The Life-Lifter: Now that's a shopping spree. A Kentucky man spends $200,000 to buy out entire K-Mart store and donates everything to charity.
You can click through the images and note what expression you think they express, and then view the results of the larger experiment here. One result? People today have different words for emotions than Darwin's Victorian crowd did -- reminding us that what we think of as being innate emotions may well be social constructs. I know, it's deep. What strikes me most, though, is how uncanny, unsettling the photographs are, proving, if nothing else, the intangible qualities that go into these nonverbal human communications. In other words, a smile is not just some muscles contracting.
via It's Okay To Be Smart
The Smile That Can't Be Stolen
Smile -- it's Contagious!