Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Blog Review: Zen Habits

Whenever I run across someone in a rut or someone talking about making changes in their lives, I always want to recommend Zen Habits to them. Zen Habits is a blog about simplifying, building good habits and enjoying life. It’s written by Leo Babauta, and chronicles his story as he changed his life in a variety of ways. His blog featured on Time Magazine’s list of top 25 blogs to read.

Leo went from an overweight man living the standard office-driven, object-driven American lifestyle to a fit, healthy, happy man who makes a living doing something he loves and is passionate about. Mostly that’s writing e-books and inspiring others to change their lives through his words and online workshops.
One of my favorite of Leo’s posts is Breathe. It begins simply. “Breathe,” he writes. “Breathing can transform your life.” It goes on to give seven examples of when you stop and take some time to breathe. I keep a print out of it pinned up next to my computer at work to keep it on my mind.

Leo has something for everyone. Whether it’s building habits, getting fit, getting rid of the clutter that fills our lives, following our passions, paying off debt or simply being in the moment, Zen Habits can touch your life and inspire you as it has, as the blog reports, over “230,000 sexy readers.”

You may have heard of the 100 things challenge, in which Leo went through everything he personally owned that wasn’t a necessity or belonged to the family and got rid of the excess. Since that first challenge he’s gone to 50 things and further, but he’d be the first say that what you get rid of is up to you. You can be as strict or loose as you want. A thing can be individual items, items in a category or both. (I, for example, consider my books and clothes categories.) The point is to free yourself from materialism. Read the blog for more details if you’re interested.

If you do head over there to check it out, in the very simple fashion that is Zen Habits you can find a convenient link that says, “Start Here.” With this link’s guidance, you can find the articles that most interest you and, if you’re like me, get lost in Leo’s easygoing tone and comfortable candor. If you have a free moment, give it a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 

Skyrim Review. Caution: Spoilers and an F-bomb

I feel like shit this morning. I woke up with a headache and it transformed into general mehness and nausea. The edge is coming off after taking three ibuprofen but now things are just fuzzy instead of miserable. Fun.

I played Skyrim all weekend and I’m not certain that it deserves the 9.5 out of ten most critics have been giving it. I think an 8 would be more appropriate. It is a good game, and I enjoy the time I’ve put into it, but at the end of the day, I still feel like I’m playing an improved Oblivion. Skyrim is simply a natural progression of an engine and story. The history is rich and in depth and I enjoy the factions and events I recognize from Oblivion.

My first character was an Imperial thief/assassin, more or less the same character I played in Elder Scrolls VI. I completed the first quest of the “main” storyline and proceeded to wander around looking for the Thieves’ Guild and Dark Brotherhood storyline. (In three play throughs of Oblivion, I never did anything except become the Archmage, the Grey Fox and the Hand of Sithis. Each time.) At Adept difficulty, killing most things with a bow was a hassle, a time consuming event of firing a shot or two and running and hiding til the mobs decided I must have been a figment of their imagination. (I shoot magic arrows from the darkness!) I took to sneaking more often than I killed or running through when discovered until I reached a door. I suppose that’s what a thief would do. The ending of the Thieves’ Guild line was anti-climactic and I should have just kept the Skeleton Key. My new character will.

Before I go on to the new hero of Skyrim (“hero,” Shadowmere is totally worth murdering half the continent for), I want to approach the two underworld plots. Barring the details, they’re the same. Each was once a powerful group now plagued by problems. Through my actions, I brought them back to a historical position of power. In both plots, the current head of the guild betrayed my character and the void I left through their destruction was mine to fill. (This also serves to bring you to power as Archmage, by the way). It’s a little redundant and I fully expect to experience the same rite of passage to fill the already vacant position as the leader of the Companions. Personally, I’d settle for a position of respect underneath one of the leaders for once. Otherwise, may as well just make me Emperor of Tamriel as well, since I assassinated him I see no reason why I shouldn’t usurp the throne. (Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened anyway, the way things are shaping up.)

After twenty plus hours I started a new character. He’s a little more streamlined than my thief, (perhaps one of the issues with my thief character, too many points spread out instead of saving them for perks later). I created a High Elf mage, and after getting my Unrelenting Force shout, I went straight for the title of Archmage. I also turned down the difficulty after a few hours. As many reviewers have commented, magic is fun. I’ve focused in Conjuration and Destruction. I have a bad habit of not using my glyph spells, though I discovered the fire glyph is a great way to assassinate nasty old women who torture children. Did I leave that on the floor? Oh, I’m sorry about that, I should really pick up after myself.

Short of slitting someone’s throat with a sneaking dagger kill, one-shotting weaker targets with the Ice Spike spell is probably one of the most rewarding deaths you can deal. Draugr, bandit or silly mage, it’s satisfying to see their crumpled bodies with a giant icicle still buried in their flesh. I wish the forensic team luck figuring out where the murder weapon went. Fireballs and lightning bolts would be more satisfying if the corpses would smolder or twitch. No, I’m not normally this twisted, it’s just a game.

Conjuration, while immensely useful and macabre fun, needs improvement. My Flame Atronach ends up half a mile away while in the meantime I’m facing down a horde of draugr. This is inconvenient and I don’t really want to use my mana to summon another one at this point. I have similar issues with zombies. Particularly when it stands five feet away while an ice mage is face. . . uh. . . melting my toon or some bandit with a great sword is trying to find a hole in my heavy armor. Battlemage for the win.
Admittedly, with this change, I’ve not spent nearly the hundred hours the big time reviewers have and I look forward to having had a little more experience with more powerful spells and summons. The one time I used a firestorm scroll on a horde of enemies was immensely satisfying.

One other point of contention before I close. Is that a horse or a Hum V? My thief can’t climb some of these rock faces and Shadowmere or any other horse I’ve stolen just heads right up with a little wiggling on my part. It’s quite possibly the most unrealistic part of the physics in Skyrim. Don’t get me wrong, I abuse it mercilessly, but it disappoints me. In a fairly well-built fantasy world in which I can easily suspend my disbelief, I have a hard time with an equine that could climb the Matterhorn without ropes or a helicopter.

Skyrim is still a really good game. If I change my mind later and decide it’s great, I’ll let you know. For now, it’s just not quite there. Bethesda’s finest work has its moments, but it has its drawbacks too. (Let’s not talk about the glitches.) I highly recommend playing it, especially on the PC if you have one good enough. I’ll take the control a keyboard and mouse allows over the limits of a console controller any day of the week. I give Skyrim a solid 8 out of 10 and look forward to many, many more hours conquering the world.

A final note, for those gamers who think Bethesda should add a war between the werewolves and vampires: FUCK YOU.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

On Christianity & Morals


I’ve been thinking about Christianity and how much it irritates me again. There are rumors of real Christians out there, but I still don’t know that I know any. I still feel as though as soon as someone picks up the cross, they turn into a self-righteous, judgemental ass. Because, in spite of what that book they so readily defend says, they seem to think that belief in their God gives them the right to pass judgement and, even worse, define what is moral and immoral. That’s just downright frightening.

Morality should not be bought and paid for by promises of an afterlife. It shouldn’t be founded on tales of bloodshed and murder. It shouldn’t be symbolized by the execution of a man. I’ve experienced the “morality” of some of these people. I’ve listened to a teenage girl from a very religious family adamantly support the idea that tolerance is wrong. Her church and her parents had taught her that all Muslims are evil. She believed they should all be deported from America. I listened to her sister, who I briefly dated, tell me stories of the abuses of her oh-so-righteous father. Yet these were good, church-going Christians.

I realize that they’re not all like that. There are critical aspects of their teachings that are wonderful, common sense morality. Let’s look at a big one: thou shalt not kill. This is a great start and would be even better if the so-called religious would stop sending other people to do their killing for them. I’m sorry, but the degree of separation doesn’t keep their hands clean. Let me tell you, I didn’t lose faith in Obama when his plans didn’t work out. I lost faith when he started celebrating the deaths of our enemies. Death should never be celebrated. Even a wake is a celebration of life. The only time killing is ok is when you must kill or be killed.

The best of the ten commandments can be summed up fairly easily: don’t kill, steal, lie or cheat. They’re summed up even better by the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. Which is terribly similar to the Wiccan Rede: An it harm none, do as you will.

The Golden Rule shows up many times in the Bible, notably in Matthew 7:12 when Jesus says, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” and Luke 6:31 when he says, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” So, this being the case, I’d love to hear a few more Christian excuses as to why they will not support basic human rights like gay marriage. Not only is this a ridiculous issue, it shouldn’t be an issue. Gay marriage isn’t a matter of morality or legality and attempting to use a Christian moral structure to deny these people their right to live and love as they will is, according to Jesus F. Christ, denying yourself that right as well. Homosexuality is not a crime, and if it is, barring rape, it’s none of your business. If you’re Christian, that judgement is your God’s to make, not yours. The Christian role in dealing with homosexuality, really, any group they believe God doesn’t approve of, is to love them anyway. Or at least leave well enough alone. If you’re going to be smug and self-righteous about your belief that someone else is going to hell, keep it to yourself.

While we’re talking about hell and God and heaven and angels and immaculate conception, let’s take a look at what that implies. It implies you believe in the supernatural. That in the world you live in it is possible for some being to magically create the world. The universe. As in, abracadabra and POOF Harry Potter creates life. If you or me or anyone else for that matter went around claiming that we found a magic lamp and a genie granted us the ability to walk on water or make bread and fish multiply on a whim, we’d be branded delusional and carted off to the nearest insane asylum. It’s as if religion exists to channel our crazy just enough that we can go about normal lives. In the world we live in, surrounded by technology and scientific fact and discoveries that are constantly giving us a better definition of how it all works, why is there still a need or room for this crutch? It’s insane. Literally.

In fact, science has brought us to an era in which Christianity (and other deity based religions) are completely unnecessary. Quite honestly, it’s been unnecessary since the founding of Buddhism but now we have a secular methodology that has similar approaches without the religious trappings. There is a science of human well-being and it’s been empirically proven to fulfill the needs that have so long been the domain of religion. Jung said human spirituality was a built in part of our psyche, but I think if he were here now he would change his mind. What he recognized was our need to lead fully-realized lives. The path to that is out there. It’s just slightly more difficult to achieve.

That’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Christianity is EASY. It’s so easy to stand ignorantly behind faith and tell the scientific community that the Big Bang theory is a silly view of creation. Well, the first problem with that is it ISN’T a creation theory. It’s an expanding universe theory. What this brings us to is critical thinking. Religion protects people from the terrible effort that is using their brains. While there are most certainly intelligent religious people, studies have shown that there is a direct link between religion and brain health. If you don’t have to think, question or learn, you aren’t using your brain. Much like any other part of your body, if you don’t use it, your capabilities degrade and your health degrades. For fun and non-profit, one might say that religion is obesity for the brain.

Let’s talk about how Christianity is the Borg of religion. When in it’s infancy, the Church followed the example of Rome and assimilated EVERYTHING. Rather than making those pagans stop celebrating that obnoxious winter solstice holiday, the Christians suddenly decided it was a convenient time to celebrate the birth of their deity’s mortal incarnation. His conception sounds remarkably like any number tales of Zeus coming down and playing around with mortal women. (We won’t mention the probability that Mary was LYING, either.) There are a lot of books on the origins of Christian mythology and I recommend starting with Thomas’ Paine’s The Age of Reason if you’re interested.

I could go on and on and on. Really though, I’d be more than willing to leave Christianity to its happy little delusion if its people would start having a little more respect for the rest of us. I’m not interested in forcing someone to believe or not believe. I would simply appreciate it if as a group Christians would stop treating non-Christians, non-theists, gays and any other group they’ve chosen to impose their flawed immorality on as second-class citizens. Where is the love and respect your God supposedly teaches? What right do you have to deny people life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

As I wrote earlier, morality should not have to be bought and paid for. Not to mention that it’s clear that the Christian system of morality doesn’t work. First, let’s make the easiest point: 81% of incoming inmates in American jails are Christian. (If you want a comparison .02% are atheist, but I’m not here to defend atheism.) What that statistic means is that 81% of all prison inmates have most likely in some way broken one of the commandments they were raised to respect. Their Christian upbringing somehow failed to create good, God-abiding citizens who loved their neighbors and did unto others as they would have others do unto them. The promise of heaven and the threat of hell just weren’t enough to keep these people on the right path.

Science, again, has an explanation for this. It’s all about human motivation and we know for a fact that offering rewards for good behavior and punishment for poor behavior ISN’T a successful method for motivating people. In fact, it’s been shown in experiments done all over the world that when offered a reward for any non-formulaic activity, people will perform worse than if they’re not offered one. (Which explains a lot about the atrocities performed in the name of God, if you ask me.) Morality, indeed, is quite non-formulaic. In the end, it turns out the best way to motivate people is through intrinsic motivation. People must do something because it gives them a sense of mastery, autonomy and purpose. Therefore, being a moral person is something that should be done because it is the right thing to do. Being a good person is its own reward. No system of ethics is good in which morality is not intrinsic.

This is why I find myself irritated by Christianity once again. I expect more of a congregation that follows a messiah who preached love for your neighbors. There’s a beautiful message in the Bible, if Christ’s followers would just stop fishing with a bucket. I’m irritated because I’m disappointed. Disappointed in people who can’t or won’t think for themselves, people who think that belief in an amorphous entity is a reason to judge others as good or bad and disappointed that these people are so capable of extracting the worst parts of their belief and acting upon them instead of embracing the ones that would let them welcome anyone and everyone with open arms.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Love Dreamt, Love Lost

I fall, I fall
I fall for her
wandering in Wonderland
maybe this time
the rabbit hole
will feel more like home;
Alice never stays.

My subconscious decided to dwell on my frustration with lost love last night. I had another sci-fi/fantasy dream, which makes four story driven dreams in the last five nights. It’s the end of this one that stuck with me.

In my dream, I met a woman who loved me as much as I loved her. I knew she was the one. I don’t think we as much as touched or kissed, we were in the middle of that playful banter stage. Much like Petruchio and Katherine but with less vehemence. A faceless man came, I think to kill my character in the dream. He pulled out a gun and “Kate” tried to get me out of the way. Something like this:

The newcomer pulled his hand from his coat. I barely noticed the glint of metal in his hand, but Kate did.
“Petruchio, gun!” she shouted and pushed me. I grabbed her wrist and started running, but it was too late. The gun leveled with ceiling and the man fired. One shot. Another. A third. A fourth. Another. A final shot. Each bullet found its home in my Kate. Ripped holes in her body, in my heart.
I caught her as she started to fall and lowered her gently to the floor. My mind was reeling.
As she lay there she said to me, her voice weak, “I would have loved you forever.”
“I will,” I said.

Sigh. There was more, but I don’t feel like wasting today on the details. As far as an interesting story, it was a pretty good dream. But that scene was certainly a metaphor for the way my love life has been going. The only difference here was that in this dream, she was taken from me instead of leaving for whatever life she imagines is better out there. Which, in spite of the tragedy of it is better in a way than abandonment.

Don’t think this dream has me down or is weighing on me. It was just a dream. And the scene a reflection of not only something that’s been eating at me, but a symbol as well of the hope that still resides in me. She’s out there and someday we’ll find each other, which is far more important than the possibility of losing her. In the meantime, I think it was also a message that it’s time and I’m ready to put the last love I found to rest.

I’ll leave you with a few lines that came to me as I wrote:

I’m done jumping fences
mowing other’s lawns
It’s time to grow a garden
among the green enough
grasses of my soul.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Things I Don't Need


This post was inspired by Zen Habits, a blog I read as often as it's updated. Much of my journey into the exploration of positive psychology began there. I consistently find places where the two paths converge. I intend to write on the subject a little more when I'm ready, but it isn't time for that yet. 

Today's article was on the 5 principles of a profound workday, however, I think they're simply 5 principles for a profound life. The focus was on simplifying. Simplify your day, your space, your so on and so forth. Take your time. Do something worthwhile with your day. I'll share an excerpt, the section that resonated most for me:
4. Simplified. The principles for a profound workday might seem impractical to most people, because there just isn’t the time or space to implement them. The only way to create this type of workday is to simplify.
It’s the key to everything else. Subtract. Pare everything down to its essence.
What’s on your desk right now? What are the three items that actually need to be there? Remove everything else.
What’s on your schedule for today? What are the three tasks that would really make a difference in your life? Eliminate everything else that you possibly can.
What do you do every day? How many of those things can be eventually pared down?
How much do you do online? Could you do without it?
Simplify, and you’ll be able to find emptiness, solitude, silence, slowness, mindfulness.

"Subtract. Pare everything down to its essence." It's that line that really gets me. From there I look inward and I see in myself all the things I need to pare down to get to my essence. So I asked myself, "What are things I don't need in my life?" Here are my answers:

I don’t need depression.
I don’t need another human being to feel complete.
I don’t need a partner to be active.
I don’t need someone else to explore the world.
I don’t need to hold other people up to my expectations.
I don’t need to live through expectation.
I don’t need World of Warcraft.
I don’t need to feel like I’m not good enough.
I don’t need to feel like what I create is not good enough for others.
I don’t need days in which I create nothing.
I don’t need to be shy or bashful.
I don’t need boredom.
I don’t need “I don’t know how.”
I don’t need a lack of faith in myself.
I don’t need to think about where I should be, what I should be.
I do not need fear.

Take away depression, to make more room for contentment.
I must be all me to share myself fully.
Take away lethargy and lack of motivation, I can enjoy the things I enjoy with and for myself.
The world is a fascinating, exciting place. I can appreciate it alone or with someone.
Take away expectation, let things simply be.
Take away World of Warcraft. I barely enjoy it and I feel bound to it. Take away unnecessary responsibilities.
Take away insecurity. Self-doubt is poisonous.
Take away distrust. Listen to the voices of those who appreciate every thing I create.
Take away shyness, if the dance floor is the place I am most comfortable, let the world be the dance floor.
Take away boredom, let there be activity. There is always something to learn, something to do.
Take away “I don’t know how.” I know how to research, how to learn. Use that knowledge and don’t give up because it’s difficult to find motivation.
Take away self-judgment, the world is as it is and is what it is, and so am I.
I am here. The path led here. The only direction I can go is forward, with the current.
Take away fear, let it enter a chrysalis and emerge courage.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Diet vs. Dieting


I don’t like the concept of dieting. I see a huge dichotomy between diet and dieting that shouldn’t be there. If your diet is bad and you go on a diet, there’s no permanence to that. The diet you’re on may be a good one, but if you give it up later, what was the point? That being said, I’ve been eating healthier and healthier over the last couple years. I have never gone on a diet, but I have been changing mine. It’s been a slow process but since I worked on one thing at a time, it was such a small thing that I didn’t know how well I’d succeeded til I discovered I was ready for the next change.

Let me share with you some of the biggest changes I’ve made:

- First, I stopped eating fast food almost entirely. This was pretty easy for me, since I find greasy, low quality junk food unpleasant anyway. The quality and the prices disgusted me, since by the time you super size a meal you may as well have had a decent meal at a decent restaurant. I usually look for the cheapest delicious looking item on the menu anyway.

- Next, I stopped drinking soda. This was harder. I used to drink a -lot- of soda and I really prefer my beverages have flavor. But soda is horrible for you. Not just because you can use Coca Cola to clean up oil spills, battery terminals, or dissolve nails. The carbonation is bad for your bones, too. These days I typically drink water, coffee, wine and juices.

- I avoid processed food as much as possible. I personally avoid eating anything premade unless it comes out of a can. In the long run I don’t do that much either. Human beings weren’t designed to eat Meals Rejected by Ethiopia. (MREs or Meals Ready to Eat). And don’t tell me your microwave dinner is anything more than a tasty version of the same.

- My most recent change is also related to what I do/do not drink. Anyone who knows me at all can tell you that I refuse to operate without a double mocha first thing in the morning. That makes for a massive intake of milk (especially when I had milk in my cereal, too). The human body is not designed to digest cow’s milk, let alone the processed milk we drink. I moved from 2% milk in my mochas to soy milk. Since making that change I’ve started using soy milk in my cereal as well. It’s a bit more expensive, but it has a richer, nuttier flavor I’ve come to enjoy and I’ve lost weight.

- Finally, the hardest one for me, avoiding candy. When I find myself craving sweets I try to at least eat something natural. My boss at work has his “office” right across from my desk and keeps a bowl of bite-sized candies out for everyone. While I don’t begrudge myself one from time to time, when I find myself wanting one I make the trek down to our cafĂ© and get a fruit smoothie. (Frozen fruit and apple juice, nothing more).

A caveat before I close. You’ll notice I use words like “typically,” “avoid,” “usually” and so on fairly often. I don’t consider myself an obsessive health food nut and I indulge myself in things I enjoy but don’t consider off limits often enough. (Soda and fast food are mostly off limits. Ice cream, the occasional bag of gummi bears, the bite sized candy bars, those are fine from time to time.) And that’s ok, because it’s just how I eat, not part of some diet I’m on to get slimmer. I feel better, trimmer, more content with my body and self, eating the way I do. It is its own reward.

Of course it is not enough just to eat well. A good diet is a great step forward. The next step is to get off the couch, out of the computer chair, out of the house and LIVE.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Writing & Writings


Yet another day finds me writing for the hell of it. Writing for it’s own sake. Just typing random words as they come to mind. Getting irritated with Microsoft Word for trying to convince me that my grammar is bad. Like I’m going to trust the company who created Windows. Cause that’s certainly an example of something done right . . .

I want to write. Yet I do so aimlessly. I suppose I could be working on my novel, but that sounds like more effort than I actually want to put into writing at the moment. It’s hard to motivate myself to do so. There are so many other things that are easier. Like rambling on about the subject.

I actually have two novels and a television script on my life agenda. One of the novels is a full-fledged fantasy novel that works as an alternate origin story for Peter Pan. That’s the one I’m working on right now. The second is a military sci-fi romance. In the love story sense, not smut. That one is about an alien invasion that features Earth as a lost colony of a galactic empire. And, of course, finding the love of your life after six years only to ship out the next day. Oh, and discover you have a telempathic daughter; who’s being used as a weapon.

The television show is called Angelus, and is totally unrelated to Angel from the Buffy series. The Angelus are the descendants of mortals and fallen angels. The premise being that when God cast the angels from heaven, some of them chose to Fall for mortal lovers. Their descendants have been all the great leaders in history. It takes place in the modern era. The main character is the only descendant left with a bloodline strong enough to access the powers of the Angelus. In the first episode his guardian angel voluntarily Falls in order to warn and protect him. He is being hunted because, classically, he is the only one who can stop the demons from releasing a more powerful demon/the devil into the world. There’s an extended cast of characters.

I suppose there’s more than that, really. I have every intention of putting together a book of poems based on the work of Albert Camus, specifically The Myth of Sisyphus. I imagine some Zen and Positive Pysch concepts will make their way into that one too. I also want to write at least a chapbook that features my Sun and Moon “story”. I’ll include my poem by the same name at the end to give you a better idea.

There are, of course, the many songs and lyrics I’ve written; and the vast body of poetry. With some exceptions, I’ll probably leave most of that as a trail that leads to my current work. As I get better with the guitar, I’ll revisit some of the lyrics I’ve not put to music yet, and I’ll continue playing the one’s I like at open mic nights from time to time. Sometime soon I’ll start playing with a guy I know who does a great job with the solo/lead/first guitar part while I stick to the rhythm/second guitar. I should call him.

On another note, dancing continues to be an important part of my life and I’m pleased with the people and opportunities it brings. I’d like to think it’s made me a new friend and I look forward to teaching her to dance, going sailing and horseback riding with her. In conversation or activity, I feel it will be time well spent.

Enough for now. Writing done.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Actualization


It’s said that part of living a fully realized life is to do things for others. That doesn’t mean you have to rush out to the nearest soup kitchen or animal shelter and start volunteering. You can, if that’s what you’re moved to do. For me, that type of volunteering isn’t the right answer. What we have to realize is that the right answer is different for everyone.

So what’s my answer? It isn’t that I don’t want to help people. I actually really enjoy helping people. But what I love is sharing the things I’m passionate about. I want to share those things and pass my love fore them on to others. I have done my share of volunteering. However, the majority of my volunteer experience is made up of the over 90 hours of teaching swing dance for a non-profit organization in Moscow, Idaho. That total doesn’t include the half hour early I arrived in order to open and set up the venue almost every week that I taught, (and many weeks when someone else did). Dance is something I’m passionate about it and I love helping others learn it. Many of those people were inspired to take it up as a hobby and passion all their own. I continue to teach today, spending an hour and a half each week teaching whoever cares to show up for my small swing class at a local coffee shop. I do charge $3 a person, but I don’t do it for the money.

I also do my part through awareness of the people around me. I like to share the things I love with people I think will gain from them at least half as much as I myself did. One way I do this is through sharing books that have changed my life. It’s more than saying, “you should read this book.” Usually it’s, “here, have my copy.” and I simply order a new one. Sometimes it’s a link to an article to a blog or specific article that I think suits the moment or the person’s situation. Offer what you have, offer what you love and remember that it’s okay if your gift doesn’t inspire someone else the way it inspired you. When it does, it’s all worth it. But don’t be pushy.

Finally, what I’ve realized, and possibly what I’ve known all along is that I want to help people for a living. I want to help people connect and lead fuller, better lives. Until recently, I didn’t know how I was going to do that and I drifted through job posting after job posting unsatisfied with the offerings. Non-profits seemed like good causes, but weren’t the cause for me. And while I currently work in the corporate headquarters of a major women’s fashion retailer, just helping someone else make more money has never appealed to me. Yet it was here that I had the opportunity for exploration that helped me discover what I want to be doing: Applied Positive Psychology. I want to help organizations and the people in them work together to create an environment that boosts productivity through better leadership and better employee satisfaction. I’m even looking at a way to make dance a part of that. How awesome would that be?

I’ve found my calling and a way to help others that’s personally satisfying. There’s something out there for everyone. Don’t worry if you can’t bring yourself to march for cancer or ring a bell for the Salvation Army. Don’t beat yourself up if the Peace Corps isn’t the path for you.  Find out what is it that you’re passionate about sharing and do it in a way that suits YOU. Every spark you light in a student or peer is a step toward a fully realized self. And if you make a living off it, that’s ok too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What's Your Question?

I recently finished reading Drive by Daniel Pink. At the end of the book Pink includes a series of exercises and readings that can help you identify what motivates you, gives you a sense of purpose, etc. (Yes, I know you’re supposed to have three examples before an etc. If you want more, go read the book. You should anyway.) =) One of the most striking exercises is the “What’s Your Sentence?” exercise, one that caught the imagination of many of his readers.

In a nutshell, what you do is: “Take your life, take what you want to do and distill it into a single sentence.”

Daniel Pink’s sentence is, “He wrote books that helped people see their world a little more clearly and live their lives a little more fully.”

I’m still thinking about my sentence but I want it to go something like, “Through his passions he helped people grow as social individuals.”

The passions in my sentence are varied: dance, positive psychology (my newest passion), and teaching are probably the top three. Even those have subcategories, however. What do I love about dance? It’s fun and gets the body moving, engages the brain and leads easily to a flow state. But moreso, it’s about connection with yourself and another human being and it’s about communicating clearly with that other person and playing/engaging with them. Every dance is a story and a conversation and your willingness to play makes it more fun and more engaging. What I love about positive psych is even more in-depth.

Through dance and applied positive psychology I can teach these things and more. I can help people become better leaders. I can help them become better social individuals. I define a social individual as someone connected to themselves and others in a positive way. There are few people who prize individuality as much as I do, but we can all see the flaws inherent in a society in which individualism is defined better as narcissism combined with an overbearing sense of entitlement. We can only survive as individuals so much as that individuality improves our interactions with those around us. Human beings have both individual needs and social needs, both of which must be met to achieve a sense of well-being.

I’m excited about moving toward a future in which my sentence defines me more and more every day.

So there’s only one thing left to do, and that’s ask:

What’s your sentence?
  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Direction

Yesterday I figured out what I want to do with my life. It’s kind of an overwhelming joyfear (zenhabits.net/joyfear) but lifted my spirits through the roof. Yesterday was a great day and has carried over into today. And with my field of choice, hopefully that mood will carry into the rest of my life.

It all started with Zen Habits. I don’t remember how I discovered Zen Habits, but through Leo Babauta’s exceptionally popular blog about simplifying and building a better life, I found Goodlife Zen, another blog that promotes personal well-being, self-improvement and a Zen lifestyle. On one of the first posts I read on Goodlife Zen I came across a video of a seminar given by Daniel Pink. The video was about intrinsic motivation and how the carrot and stick version of motivation our society doesn’t really work. (It does work, but only for certain types of tasks and only to a certain point.)

Between Pink’s A Whole New MindDrive and a whirlwind of exploration in my free time I was introduced to Abraham Maslow, Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Unless you want to dislocate your jaw, I don’t recommend trying to pronounce that last one. ;) What do all these people have in common? They’re all big names in the field of Positive Psychology. And that’s what I want to do; I want to work in Applied Positive Psychology. I want to get a Master’s in A.P.P.  from the University of Pennsylvania. It so happens to be where Martin Seligman is in residence.

What does one do with a career in Applied Positive Psych? Well, it has uses in a variety of fields, from business to sports to education. It can help improve employee satisfaction, increase productivity, and through it, profitability. It can help improve learning and guide us toward personal satisfaction. All of that is something I want to be part of.

I won’t be applying for fall of 2012, but I’ll shoot for fall of 2013 at earliest and keep applying til I get in. Most of the coursework can be done without living in Penn. The description online says that the degree can handle commutes from anywhere on the globe. My first step is to make connections that can give me recommendations that show I’m committed to positive psych. I figure that will take the most time, which is why I’ve set my start date within the next two to three years. In the meantime, I’m going to start reading and writing about the topics. I started writing an article on the concept of flow, (total absorption in a task), for my company’s intranet but I’ve decided to hold off til I’ve done a little more research. My own copy of Drive is in the mail along with one of Csikszentmihalyi’s books on flow and Seligman’s books on Positive Psych.  

I’m content with that start and looking forward to immersion in the subject. By the time I start my Master’s work, I intend to know a fair amount about the subject and have my own ideas ready.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tis the East and Juliet is Blonde


I’ve started to realize that I unrealistically categorize women by hair color. Which doesn’t mean there’s a blonde joke coming up anytime soon. Well, maybe, since now that I mention it, I can’t resist.

Q: What do you call a smart blonde?
A: A Golden Retriever.

Right, now that that’s out of my system.

If you aren’t aware, I’m rather single at the moment. This time around, I’m constraining my dating to women between 21 and 30 (with leanings toward women 23-28). I’ve given in and dated a few too many twenty year olds and thus far it’s not been terribly satisfactory. Not really anyone’s fault, it’s simply that most young people don’t know what direction they want their life to go. Lord knows I didn’t at 20.  (Not to mention that whole finishing college and getting a job who knows where thing.) Those who think they do -often- discover that what they thought they wanted changes. I’ve known some wonderful young women, their lives just weren’t settled enough to make our relationship a real commitment. Anyway, that has little to do with hair color.

In my frequent online browsing of the limited choices in the surrounding area, I realized that I tend to immediately put pretty blondes on a pedestal and move on. As if something about being pretty and blonde meant that they’re more goddess than human and less likely to have easy, fun conversation or share interests with someone like me. I think I’ve unconsciously been doing this for a while now. Years, really. I don’t know that’s it’s fair to them, nor myself.

Brunettes, well, much more approachable. As if somehow being dark haired made them more “down to earth,” and more inclined to a kind nature. I like beauty in all shades, but something about dark hair sprawled across my pillow really appeals to me. Dark hair and blue eyes? Spectacular. Though I have navy pillowcases right now, so maybe blonde would be a nicer contrast. ;P

Finally, there’s the rare red head. I’m in the “red head’s are either one end of the spectrum or the other” camp, gorgeous or unpalatable. I do like red heads, much as I like Russian women. As if all red heads (and Russians,) are straightforward, direct and let you know when, what, why, and how angry they are with you. I will admit a preference to what I like to “Scandinavian red” over the Scots-Irish tint. Green eyes, blue eyes, it doesn’t matter. I’ve dated one and wanted to date another. Pretty good, for the aforementioned rarity.

So there you go, you are now equally aware of my natural inclination to stereotype how dateable a woman is by the color of her hair. Much as you do, I think that being aware of this will hopefully allow me to begin to let go of these pre-misconceptions. Bear with me, however, there’s history that led to these developments and habits are oh, so hard, to break. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Competence


If you’re going to do something, you may as well do it well. Otherwise, find someone else who can. Ask them how to do it better now so that the next time a similar opportunity comes up, you can be the one who does it. It’s ok to make mistakes, as long as you learn from the experience and don’t make them again. We go through training and spend our time learning in order to better ourselves, in order to do whatever we do, better. Or at least, that’s the intention. It doesn’t always work out that way and I see this in all aspects of my life.

For me, I enjoy doing a good job. It doesn’t really matter whether I’m repairing a computer, building a retaining wall, making a Subway sandwich, proofing an advertisement, running a raid in World of Warcraft or writing. I am where I am and it’s pride in my work, no matter how shitty that work, that helps me move forward. When people describe me, I want them to use words like capable, competent, hard-working. Talented, intelligent, friendly are nice too, but are a subset of the prior descriptions.

When I owned my own business with a friend, one of our company philosophies was to do the best work for the most reasonable price. While monetary profit is important, our reputation for doing our work right the first time, for giving not only good advice, but the best advice was more important. A perfect example: one of our customers was having internet connection problems after her ISP changed their hardware. She spent hours on the phone with them and their solution would have cost her hundreds of dollars. She called us and we found the simplest, cheapest, and ultimately the only right answer to her problem. . . she reset her router to the factory defaults and voila, everything worked. The fix took about ten seconds and cost her nothing. Guess who she took all her business to until we closed our doors?

The subject is so important to me that I recently left my guild in World of Warcraft and started one of my own called <Competence>. It’s founded on the idea that a casual group of skilled players can accomplish end game raiding goals in spite of minimal time spent. And our first night we killed a raid boss on our fifth try (similar to a puzzle game like Labyrinth, in which your marble can drop into a hole and you have to start over, only with 10 people who have to work together), in spite of a more experienced raider’s doubts about our ability to do so. For all that it’s a game, I’m proud of our accomplishments so far.

Finally we come to the spark that inspired this article. I work as a proofreader for an in house advertising agency. A recruiting project for our company made its way across my desk today and after reading through the copy, I was disappointed. It was limp, lifeless, repetitive and unengaging. Had they been attempting to recruit me with this project, I would not have been impressed. I wrote down some suggestions for changes and took them to the copy director. She hadn’t even seen the copy and both agreed with my opinion of the work and approved of the suggestions I made. While it feels good to have my own ideas accepted, I don’t think it should have made it that far. As an advertising agency for a major brand, our standards should be a little higher. We should look for and expect the product we ended with, not the product that came to me to be “finalized”. Maybe the company would be doing better overall if that were the case.

So there it is. Competence. You can only hit a target if you aim for it in the first place.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

To Write, To Ramble

 I’m not sure what to write today, but since I have the time I may as well write something. I’m not certain there’s a better way to spend free time than writing. It’s a great opportunity to be creative, particularly since I’m being paid while I’m doing it. I suppose I should be writing pages of my novel, but that’s a hard habit for me to create. I’ve avoided writing prose since poetry became my medium of choice. It was a matter of effort, really. Poetry comes from me like a geyser. The pressure builds, I fall in love with an idea, a line, a woman, and the words flood out, wash away the white of the page in the waves of tiny black detritus. It’s a flash flood, whipping through one of those arroyo’s during a summer storm, just like you read about as a child. Was it Gary Paulsen? Or perhaps the Happy Hollisters. No matter, it’s quick and easy and over almost as soon as it began.

Prose is more like adding a water feature to your yard, or a reservoir to a national forest. You have to lay a base, craft, form, create. There must be a solid foundation and it must be engineered so your words don’t simply seep out into the soil and leave you with a dry, empty basin. It is built, layer upon layer like a retaining wall. Prose is rarely a project accomplished in a day, let alone an hour. That, I think, is my stumbling block. My prose is the first shovelful of unbroken ground and I have a tendency to lean on that shovel and stare at all the work that’s left to do. Future effort added to the concept of the completed project equals a lone shovel and no one to dig it. Forget that I lose time when I’m writing, and I enjoy losing time. Forget that it seems like the road that leads to my dreams. Prose is the mountains on the horizon and writing is the seemingly endless trek toward them. 

Perhaps part of the problem is there’s too much wondering what I want to write about and not enough writing. I haven’t brought what I’ve learned from Zen into my creative side. I’m daunted by the goal instead of letting the journey be the goal. Maybe that’s what’s next. Time to be Camus’ Sisyphus: “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Tool for Getting More by Taking Less


I have been a Catholic, a polytheist, an atheist, and a glorified agnostic. In varying amounts I’ve studied Zen, Christianity, Wicca and so on and so forth. I’ve read Nietzche, D.H. Lawrence, Albert Camus, Abraham Maslow, Voltaire, Aristotle, Plato, Derrida. I enjoy anything that opens my mind, gives me a broader perspective on life and teaches me that acceptance is the road to contentment. Be where you are and all.

There is one philosophy that has carried me through all of my education, formal and informal. The basic version everyone knows: “take life with a grain of salt,” but I have another metaphor that I think more accurately defines the point I want to make and it’s all about fishing.

Fish with a net, not a bucket.

I don’t believe any one person or any one source has all the answers. There is no need to conform completely to any one idea or path. What makes us unique as human beings is that each piece of information we gather resonates differently with the experiences we’ve lived through. Like fishing, there’s a purpose to our learning, and that’s to gather fish with which to nourish our minds. (It’s the omega 3s, you see).

Let’s imagine it’s a hot, summer day. You live a mile from some of the best fishing in the area. Your favorite fishing hole takes a path through the woods, so you leave your car far behind. When you arrive, you settle in and the water is busy with fish jumping. You wade in. Within minutes, the first fish bites and you excitedly reel it in. As it gets closer, you see it’s a big one and it’ll feed you more than once. So here’s the question. Net or bucket? Let’s explore the consequences of both.

Bucket: you scoop up the fish, along with a good four gallons of lake water. You begin the two mile hike with fish, bucket, water, fishing pole, and all. Everything that’s in the water, you’re carrying with you. The extra burden of its weight. Some algae. Probably giardia. A fish that’s flopping madly about bruising its flesh against the side of the bucket. Once or twice, it escapes entirely, dropping to the ground and splashing you with water. After all these trials and tribulations, you make it home. You collapse on a chair, exhausted, damp, and smelling like fish water. The fish, when you finally do get to eat it, tastes much like you’d expect after that journey.

Net: you scoop up the fish, string it up, grab your pole and head home. Fifteen minutes later, you’re there. You clean it, grill it, enjoy a delicious meal of fresh bass.

Which sounds better to you?

Why You Should Dance (with other people)

How’s your health? How’s your fitness? How’s your memory? When was the last time you really connected with your significant other? There’s a panacea for all these things that anyone can do, and it’s called social dance.

This may seem like a big claim, and it is. But the studies are out there to back it up. If you’re looking for a healthy and fun exercise, according to Discovery Health’s Activity Burn Rate Calculator, swing dancing can burn approximately 265-326 calories an hour for someone weighing from 130-160 pounds. Not enough? Dancing can help your posture, balance, and even help improve your intelligence and prevent memory loss.

Let me share with you some study results listed in an article by Richard Powers, an instructor and dance historian at Stanford.

The only physical activity [in a study of the effect activities have on memory loss] to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.

                     Reading - 35% reduced risk of dementia
                     Bicycling and swimming - 0%
                     Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week - 47%
                     Playing golf - 0%

            Dancing frequently - 76%.
[Dancing] was the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical.

Why, you ask? Well, the answer is pretty complex. Simply stated, social dance is one of the most well rounded activities out there. As Powers wrote, “Dancing integrates several brain functions at once, increasing your connectivity. Dancing simultaneously involves kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional processes.” When you dance, as either a lead or follow, you have to be constantly aware of many things at once. You have to know how to move, where to move, when to move (I call this staying on beat). A dancer must make a connection with their partner and speak clearly (and listen) without ever saying a word. You’ve heard that 55% of any communication is body language, (Albert Mehrabian, UCLA), well, one can manage whole dances without saying more than seven. “Would you like to dance?” at the beginning and “Thank you,” at the end.

Which brings me to the final point, connection. While I know from reading I’ve done that dance is a growing, successful form of couple’s therapy, I don’t need studies or quotations to tell you about the importance of connection in social dance. As a former ballroom and swing dance teacher for the University of Idaho, the Swing Devils of the Palouse non-profit corporation, Festival Dance, and private dance instructor, I’ve spent countless hours teaching hundreds of people how to connect, communicate and move together. As one couple in a class I taught just last Thursday so aptly said, “This is the closest to my partner I’ve been in a week without a child between us. It’s nice to be able to just look into her eyes.” When you dance with someone, you have to be willing to accept who is leading, who is following and really open up to listening to both your connection to yourself and how that connection relates to your partner. Whether you know how to dance or you’re just beginning, it’s a wonderful way to learn and grow together. And do I even need to mention the benefits of that much physical contact, especially with someone you love?

If you don’t know where to begin or if you’re worried about those two left feet, I’ve got an answer to that, too. Start walking. Put on some music and walk to the beat. Put on some Michael Jackson and do your best moonwalk. When you realize that I’ve said “walk” four times in the last four sentences, you’re starting to get the picture. Now add a dash of attitude. There you go, you’re dancing! It’s that easy.

Resources:

Discovery Health

Dancing Makes You Smarter