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September 2011 (131 posts)
Somehow I have this idea of myself as someone with a lot of willpower. I think it was those three months or so when I was a vegan. Let me tell you something about being vegan. It’s terrible. All I could think about was cheese. Let me tell you something about soy cheese. It’s terrible.
Anyway, since those days something has happened to my willpower-power. It’s not just food, either. Lately I find I’m having a hard time sticking to a budget, for example, or–here’s a big one–maintaining my temper when my 2-year-old does exasperating 2-year-old things.
Could it be that I’m simply out of practice? That after years of cheese-devouring and budget-ignoring I’ve actually lost my ability to control myself? Actually, yes! This according to psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and science writer John Tierney in their new book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. They recently told NPR’s Audie Cornish that the power to resist temptation, whether that means eschewing dairy from your diet or the word “like” from your speech, is tantamount to what Tierney calls “a muscle that can be strengthened with use.”
Everybody has their inexplicable fears. I once knew a woman who was afraid of coconuts and spent her whole vacation in Hawaii sitting inside the condo, afraid that if she went outside, one was going to drop off a tree and onto her head. As for me I am afraid of leeches, weird cults that suck you in and brainwash you, and the wholesale collapse of the economy, which would cause my husband to lose his job, which would cause us to lose our house and....move in with my mother. Late at night before bed, I often rehearse this worst case scenario in my mind: selling off all our stuff on the sidewalk, assigning us new bedrooms, and somehow finding schools for my kids in the middle of the year. Hence, the bags under my eyes.
My toddler, on the other hand, is afraid of dinosaurs. You do not want to be a two-year-old boy in America with this particular phobia. Dinosaurs are everywhere, lunging off lunchboxes, raging across raincoats, tromping with bared teeth across every television and playroom in the neighborhood.
Today was his first day of daycare. We entered the classroom and grabbed a tub of plastic animal figurines, all about 6 inches high. We pulled them out one by one...a lion...a chicken....a whale...a German shepherd....and gray-green T. Rex with jaws like some kind of prehistoric trash compactor. My son shrank, inserted thumb in mouth. I attempted recovery. I held up a giraffe.
"Is this a dinosaur?" I said.
"No," he said.
I held up cow. "Is this a dinosaur?"
I held up a lobster. "Is this a dinosaur?"
He wobbled, and jammed that thumb back in his mouth.
I looked at the lobster. It was the same size as the cow and the cat and the suddenly horrific-seeming crustacean (note to humanity: for us to maintain our supremacy on the food chain, crustaceans must remain smaller than us). With the change in scale, a lobster could be a dinosaur, a monsterous armored one with evil, neck-snapping claws.
Lightening as only astronauts and Zeus see it! A truly uplifting dawn! A new video flies over Earth in 60 seconds!
If you're too busy to read this...you probably need to read this.
"I just went into every tournament wanting to win." A 16-year-old girl beats Tiger Woods' record (as her dad-caddy turns to a pile of mush).How a Sharpie on the wall can be a good thing. A room-after-room good thing.
Video gamers change the world--the real world--by solving molecular puzzle that could help cure AIDS.
The Life Lifter: At the Reno air show crash, strangers pulled together—"They came, held my hand, told me I was going to be all right."
Every week, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. On sale today, the revolutionary (gut-wrenching) memoir...
Mighty Be Our Powers
By Leymah Gbowee (with Carol Mithers)
At her high school graduation party, beautiful 17-year-old Leymah is surrounded by music, family, friends and a glittering pile of gifts (including gold bracelets and a pair of rare Dexter boots). Six months later, her country, Liberia, is torn apart by tribal conflicts and overrun with rebels and government troops who rape, loot and kill at random. Separated from her family and struggling, Leymah gets involved with an older, seemingly safe man, who gives her plenty of beatings and four kids, at one point leaving her to sit in a hospital corridor nursing her newborn preemie, with no money for even an incubator. Worse, however, is her emotional destruction—emblemized by her own children, who, in imitation of their father, begin to call her "stupid" and refuse to share any of their rice with her. "When you move so quickly from innocence to a world of fear, pain and loss," she writes, "it's as if the flesh of your heart and mind gets cut away, piece by piece, like slices taken off a ham. Finally there is nothing left but bone."
Broken, Leymah somehow finds the strength to start training as a social worker (studying at night in bed with her babies, reading by candlelight) and rises to become the leader of the women of Liberia, who, as a group, overturn their powerless roles and march their country toward peace with a national strike that includes denying their husbands lovemaking until the fighting stops. So many memoirs focus on the story of a single person who inspires us all with her story and language, but Mighty Be Our Powers is a different, larger, more universal kind of book that tells the story of both Leymah and an entire generation of girls-turned-women-turned-world leaders. Read it—and be inspired.
18 fresh new books to read this month
How to help women and children in Africa
Actually, no. Jokes should not be cheap Groucho Marx glasses you use to disguise heat-of-the-moment insults. Humor, when deployed correctly, doesn't just lighten the mood; It can change the whole tenor of a conversation for the better. Real jokes offer an opportunity to say something you believe in a new way or to see something someone else believes in a new light.
This is something Jon Stewart understands. In an excellent cover story in this week's Rolling Stone, he explains how he and his team keep The Daily Show, which won its ninth Emmy on Sunday, from becoming too preachy, and in the process he also explains why so many of us admire him: "The key is not to contrive it—don't bring the same level of indignation to things you don't feel. As long as you keep it as honest as you can to your own feeling, then you hope it doesn't become a pure parlor trick."
At the risk of sounding overly preachy myself, shouldn't we all aspire to stay as honest as we can to our own feelings whenever we communicate? Stewart doesn't insert levity into a conversation because he doesn't take it seriously, he does it because it's a way to express serious things clearly. Or, as Oprah put it when she interviewed Stewart in 2005, "You say what everybody else is thinking but can't articulate, in a way that makes people laugh. That's a gift."
It happens at least once a day in one way or another. Yesterday it was someone on the street. "Look at those blonde curls! Those huge blue eyes! I love your tutu! Aren't you a little doll!?" the well-meaning lady screamed at my toddler, who was lounging in her stroller wearing her favorite floofy "dancing dress."
"No," my daughter said, confused by the lady's baffling mix-up. "I’m a pewhson."
I was as pleased with her response as I was turned off by the stranger's greeting. It always makes me feel weird when people talk to my daughter about how pretty she is. She is, after all, a pewhson. I mean, like every child her age, she is adorable. And she likes to dress herself in frilly pink dresses and strings of beads and my one pair of heels she deems dress-up-worthy, and then she likes to twirl in front of the mirror and pretend she's a fairy. And of course I want her to feel good about herself, and to feel beautiful. So why don't I like that automatic "You’re so pretty!" people are always cooing into her (pretty) face? Aren't they just being nice? Luckily writer Lisa Bloom is smarter than I, and put her finger exactly on just what is wrong with greeting a little girl by saying "Oh, you’re so pretty!"
Today, the MacArthur Fellows were announced, known casually as the "genius" grants, since the winners are recognized for their unparalleled creativity in a variety fields, from medicine to musical composition to law to (this year) silversmithing. Each receives $500,000 to continue doing what they love to do—breaking boundaries.
Our favorite of this year's award honorees is the poet Kay Ryan, who explains in this short video that "only through the manipulation of language...was I able to reach the most interesting places in my mind."
Her happiness at wining the grant at age 65 is lovely, but note that midway through her talk, she mentions that "I'm always just beginning." She is speaking of how she approaches a new piece of writing and how her past writing can't or won't help her in the creation process. But taken out of context (why not?) the line makes a great motto for all of us, if not a poem in and of itself. Consider what your day would be like, if you woke up in the morning and said to yourself, "I'm only just beginning." On tough days, try putting an exclamation point at the end.
7 ways to spark your creativity
Inspirations from a few of the world's most creative people
Yes. Domenica Catelli's Pumpkin-Chia Seed Muffins are rich and cakey, with a hearty pumpkin flavor but no butter or sugar. Instead, the recipe calls for high-quality extra-virgin olive oil (I used Whole Foods' 365 Organic Arbequina olive oil, which is fruity and a little peppery) and either maple syrup or agave nectar (I used agave). Other perks: Whole wheat flour and ground, omega-3 fatty acid-rich chia seeds, whose mild nutty flavor is almost undetectable here, thanks to other flavorful ingredients such as cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. (Chia seeds also show up in Lisa Oz's lentils-and-rice dish.) And an entire 16-ounce can of organic pumpkin gives them a deep orange color (using fresh pumpkin probably wouldn't make a difference, taste-wise, since the canned version is more consistent and fresh can vary.)
If I could only find a way to justify eating this other fall classic with my morning coffee.
What would it take to change your life for the better? It may be less than you think—we've got mini-makeovers to help you upgrade everything from your workout to your weekend. #30: 3 smart ideas for expanding your social circle.
You moved, you switched jobs, you lost your best pal to a new romance. Now what? Rachel Bertsche, author of MWF Seeking BFF, on how to solidify a new friendship:
Don't play hard to get.
You might need to make the first move, and the second, and the third. People are busy in their routines. If you wait for reciprocity, you could be waiting forever.
Skip the dissertation-length explanation of why you've got time to burn. A simple "I'd love to get together sometime; are you available for lunch or coffee this week?" should do the trick.
"Friending" is not befriending.
It's easy to get caught up in a virtual friendship, but monitoring her Facebook is not a real relationship. If she posts, "like" it—then meet IRL (in real life).