Archive for November, 2011

Sylvia Plath in Bhutan.

I found this on the ground near the primary school in Samtengang, a village in Bhutan. English is taught in the schools, but it still seemed charmingly mysterious, and I took a picture.

Of course, few things are really a mystery anymore with the internet. So when I was going through old picture files tonight and found this, I googled it. It turns out it is part of a poem, Mushrooms, by Sylvia Plath. And so, because I love a good poem, here is the missing beginning and ending:

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

***

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

A few practical ideas for feeling grateful more often.

This time of year, of course, you hear a lot about gratitude. There are lots of reminders to be grateful, and articles like this one, touting the health benefits of gratitude, including better health, better sleep, and less anxiety.

I buy it. The older I get, the more I’m convinced that once a basic level of needs is satisfied — shelter, food, water, human contact — how happy you are is largely determined by what goes on inside your brain.

This is not to say that I’m good at this, because I’m not. My talent lies more in finding the flaws in any situation than finding the positive. I’m just persuaded by the idea. So, with Thanksgiving coming up, it seemed like a good time to try to incorporate more gratitude in my life.

But another thing I’ve learned is that it’s hard to develop new habits.

I had to develop a habit of being neater when I moved in with my husband after living alone in increasing sloth for years, and it took time and repetition. And I can’t count the number of times I’ve told myself that I was going to do 30 push-ups a day or spend five minutes a day meditating, only to have it last for a mere day or two. Similarly, I know I’ll never sit down daily or even weekly and make a list of things I feel grateful for, at least not more than once or twice.

So I spent some time thinking about practical ways I could remind myself to feel grateful that I would actually carry through with, until — hopefully — it becomes a habit. I think these ideas might work for me, and maybe serve as inspiration for someone else.

1. Buy some pretty cards, like these or theseand use them for thank-you notes. Putting aside thank-you notes for gifts received, I’ve probably written one thank-you note in my life for every 10 times I have thought about doing it. But the few times I have actually followed through on my intentions, it made me feel great. Not to mention how nice it feels to receive a thank-you note—recently, I was charmed to receive one from a new resident in my building after she got locked out of her apartment while she was moving in and I let her use my computer and phone. I sincerely love pretty note cards and this would not only give me an excuse to buy some, but hopefully give me the kick in the pants I need to actually write thank-you notes.

2. Pick an activity you already do every day and set an intention of feeling grateful at the beginning. I practice yoga or run nearly every day. Setting an intention for your yoga practice is something yoga teachers often mention but that I never do unless prompted at the beginning of class. I’m probably mangling the concept, but I like the idea of applying it to running as well as yoga. Then, with something I do most days anyway and really enjoy, I can take a moment at the beginning to appreciate it and set an intention of feeling grateful more often. For someone else it could, of course, be a different activity.

3. Get a “gratitude journal” iPhone app. When I wrote above that I know I would never sit down daily and make a list of things I feel grateful for, I might have lied. I think it could happen–if not every day, at least once a week, with the right iPhone app. I’m already in the habit of using my phone to remind me of things, and I’m also in the habit of pulling it out to entertain myself whenever I’m waiting in line for more than 30 seconds, walking down the street, on public transportation, and so on. I could see myself using those moments to make a quick entry in a gratitude journal.

 

No. 97 on the list of parts of daily life I don’t understand.

Every time I go to the gym, I’m asked if I want to use a locker. I almost never do, except when it’s really cold out and I had to wear a bulky coat to walk to the gym.

What can I say? I come prepared–I change into my workout clothes at home and only bring what I need with me. I don’t understand why so many people need a locker. Can’t they leave their excess baggage at home? I guess it’s possible that a lot of people don’t go straight from home to the gym, so they need to change their clothes. I’m also given to understand that many people like to shower immediately after working out,  so maybe they are using lockers to stow shower supplies as well.

But the really mystifying part is that they don’t just ask if I want a locker, they also ask if I have a preference for which locker I’d like to use.

I sincerely can’t understand why anyone would care which locker they use at my gym. I myself can’t muster the slightest preference, though I often feel as if I’m disappointing the helpful gym employees.

Keep in mind, you can’t store things in these lockers from day to day, so nobody needs to use a particular locker because their things are already in it. The lockers are all the same size, and it’s not like there is a fancy new wing of the locker room and an old section in need of repairs. It’s all the same. It’s not that big; no lockers require substantially more travel than other lockers. No part of the locker room is visible from outside (I wouldn’t want to use a locker in the part you could see in either).

I’ve never asked anyone about this, so maybe I’m missing something obvious. I just totally don’t get it. But, at the risk of sounding too judgmental, I think that if you care at all about using the same locker every time you go to the gym, it’s probably time to shake things up a bit.

Big excitement in my household this morning.

evidence

I live on the fourth floor of an apartment building in the city. It’s not Manhattan, but there’s more concrete around than grass or trees.

After I got a kitten a few months ago, I had the idea of putting up a window bird feeder so that my cat could be entertained by birds at the window. (The only thing below the window in question is a roof a couple of stories down; there’s no risk that the bird feeder will come loose and fall four stories onto the head of an unsuspecting passerby strolling down the sidewalk).

I knew it was a long shot that any birds would use my feeder–I thought at most a few seagulls might dive-bomb the window–but I decided it was worth a try.

It took a bit of work. I had to find a bird feeder that would attach to the window with suction cups but that wouldn’t look too terrible stuck there, disrupting the view.

Then I needed food. My neighborhood pet store had only two options: a huge, expensive bag of bird seed and a small, cheap block of suet with bird seed scattered through it. Of course, I went with the cheaper option.

I knew on some level that “suet” equals “animal fat” but it looked inoffensive in the package, so I was unprepared for the horror that awaited me when I opened it. Not only was bird seed scattered through the suet, but glistening caterpillars and plump grubs were also implanted throughout  the waxy lump.

I persevered, trying to wedge the larvae-crusted suet chunk securely inside the bird feeder, all the while leaving greasy smears of suet all over my apartment and the feeder. I quickly realized, however, that I couldn’t stick a chunk of fat to the outside of my west-facing window in the summer: it would soon turn into a stinking, rancid mess. So I threw the whole mess out, ran the bird feeder through the dishwasher, and bought a bag of bird seed.

Months went by, and nothing disturbed my bird feeder. Last week, I thought it was probably time to give up and take it down.

And then, this morning, my husband called me into the living room with a level of excitement in his voice that is literally unprecedented in the time I’ve known him. I knew immediately what was up.

triumph!

Sure enough, there was a small brown bird sitting on the windowsill. It flew away, but it has already been back to peck at the seed.

I feel triumphant. My theory is that all it takes is one–that little bird is probably now telling all of the birds it knows about a great food source, and word will spread like wildfire through the urban bird community.

Dreaming about houses and water.

I have two recurring dreams.

Or, not so much recurring dreams so much as recurring themes in my dreams. The first is houses and the second is water.

I have had two kinds of recurring house dreams. The first I don’t have anymore, but did for a while. Those are what I called, in my head, the “big cool house with something wrong inside it” dreams.

The name (paraphrased from a song in the musical The Secret Garden) pretty much says it all. In those dreams, I was visiting or living in a house. It was usually big and interesting and I liked things about it, but there was something wrong with it that prevented it from being the great house it could otherwise be. The “something wrong” was never anything as concrete as a ghost in the attic or a zombie in the basement, and I never encountered it directly, though sometimes I think I knew where it was located: maybe underground or in a dark wing of the house. It was just something that felt wrong—moldy, unwholesome, malevolent. Those dreams were unpleasant, and I woke up feeling bad.

I still have the second type of house dream, and it’s not scary at all.

In these dreams, I’m either looking for a new place to live or I’ve just moved into a new place. I almost always like the new house or apartment and the neighborhood I’m looking in quite in a bit. Occasionally I’m looking but it is too hard to find an apartment, because the neighborhood is too expensive or there are too few vacancies. Usually my new or prospective home is in a city, but once it was on a long strip of land beside some blue water at the edge of a city, and recently it was in a small green college town. My dream dwellings are never in a place that actually exists, and even during the dream, I often wonder why I’ve overlooked living there before.

Unlike the other kind of house dream, I don’t wake up from these dreams upset, just a little wistful.

My water dreams aren’t as narratively coherent as my house dreams. The water–a nice play to swim with pools of clear blue water–is more of a recurring image. The landscape tends to be brown or yellow, not lush green like in the Pacific Northwest. Sometimes in my dream, I remember visiting the water but I either can’t find it again or I don’t have time.

I love swimming in my waking life, and I’ve been to a few places that come pretty close to my dream swimming hole: some hot springs outside Mammoth, California; parts of Pedernales State Park and Barton Creek in Texas; some caves with a stream running through in New Zealand. (The cave that the pirate ship is in at the end of Goonies also comes to mind.) But it’s never quite right.

Lencois Maranhenses

Lately I’ve been brainstorming for my next vacation and I’ve been thinking about trying find a place with water like in my dreams. I just saw a picture of a place called Lencois Maranhenses in Brazil. It looks like a desert but it gets flooded during the rainy season, creating fresh-water lagoons. I think it looks amazing but I’m not sure I can convince my husband to accompany me on a weird pilgrimage to a remote corner of Brazil where there is nothing to do but wander through dunes, swim, and get sunburned.

Southern California can keep its weather; I’ll take a nice cloudy day.

The weather in Seattle gets a bad rap, but I love it. I lived in Texas before I moved here, and I got tired of the implacable sun and heat. I like wearing hats and scarves and jackets. I like cold mornings and foggy skies and the exuberance with which Seattle embraces sunny days.

Plus, Seattle is in an incomparably beautiful setting, surrounded by mountains and water, and the often cloudy weather makes for fascinating variations of light and landscape.

Here are a few shots from my window at sunset on different days over the last few weeks. I feel lucky to live here. I sometimes think that if I was under house arrest and had to stay in my apartment all the time, this view would be enough to keep me content. (This probably helps keep me sane working mostly from home in a one-bedroom apartment.)