Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Scorpion & Peeing Standing Up

"Well, that's not good." I had just felt a strange prickling sensation on the side of my flip flop clad foot. I suppose those words were an understatement to Rob as I pointed out the scorpion running away from my shaking toes. He was on the picnic table before I was. Rob, not the scorpion. We were tired and hungry after a long drive from L.A. to Lone Pine. Our goal was to find a campsite near town instead of driving up to the walk-in backpacker campground for the Cottonwood Lakes trail we intended on tackling the next day. We had circled around the desolate campsite searching for a site with even a little shade. Finally, we parked and pulled out the food so I could make lunch before setting up the tent. The scorpion was the first I've seen.  Rob laughed later at how I didn't miss a beat, kept making our Tofurky wraps and calmly told him we would not be sleeping there that night or probably if he wanted to after catching a glimpse of what he reported to be a very large scorpion (he saw them as a kid in Georgia and this one beat them out I guess).  We ate sitting on the top of the table and then packed it all back up for our steep climb up the mountain.

Inyo National Forest is an elusive creature. The desert valley floor stretches for miles at it's feet as these granite mountains jut straight up daring adventurous souls to tackle their rough outer layers. Mt. Whitney looks condescendingly down on it all. You have to have a ticket to go on that ride. Cottonwood Lakes campground is at 10,000 ft. As the road snakes up the side of the mountains and sneaks into the trees, you're rewarded with not only magnificent views of the valley but peeks into the alpine wilderness that is to be your temporary refuge.

Rob and I have been there before. A few years ago we made this same trip but were much less prepared and in no shape for the hike to the Cottonwood Lakes. This time around we were able to spend the night before that ten miler which meant we were acclimated and ready to go earlier than if we'd stayed down with the scorpion.  Up there, we only had to worry about bears.

We spent that first night just relishing the nearly empty grounds and the quiet. Living in Los Angeles can wear down the nerves.  The only time I enjoy total silence in the city is at night when I put my earplugs in, and even then I still hear the wailing of the police siren and the hot rods squealing by at all hours.  Rob and I sat in our camp chairs just listening to nothing and watching the sun go down. That first night was a hard one. My toes refused to get warm! I tried everything but it was just too cold. As usual I had to wake Rob up to walk me to the bathroom in the middle of the night (vault toilets are better than nothing) but it was worth the walk because I'm quite certain that the stars are prettiest between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. I believe it's because it's always darkest before dawn.

The next morning we excitedly prepared for our day of hiking and hit the trail before ten. I regaled Rob with show tunes until I couldn't sing and hike which was very disappointing for him. He loves playing my favorite game "name that movie".  I promised him we could watch The Music Man and The Sound of Music as soon as we got home. In the meantime, we hiked, and oh what a glorious day for a hike! The sandy ground and sparse tree cover soon turned into meadows and streams and then the prettiest lakes to soak our tired feet in.  We had lunch by the biggest of the Cottonwood Lakes and spent a while just absorbing it all.  We wanted to stay forever, but the sun would set and we wanted to be back at camp before the cold  hit. Even though I'll post pictures at the end of this post, they won't do any justice to mother nature in all her magical wonder. That second night was made quite comfortable when Rob remembered his toe warmers. We both stuck one down in the foot of our sleeping bags and were perfectly warm all night (except when I woke Rob up to go look at the stars at three).

Okay, you're wondering about that title now aren't you? A little bit? You know about the scorpion but what about that "peeing standing up" part?  The short answer is, I peed standing up. If you don't want to hear the long answer...skip to the end. If you do: I am the owner of an interesting little invention called "The Freshette". It's purpose is to allow women to pee as the boys do. It revolutionized my hike. I won't go into detail, but I will say that for the first time I wasn't holding it until I was in pain. I used my new device whenever I felt the urge to go and for once I was able to enjoy the entire hike! The first time I used it, I was at a loss for words to explain to Rob what it felt like. All I could say was that lots of girls always wonder what it would be like to pee like a boy (it's not just me right?) and now I know.  Ladies, it's way easier. No more waiting until my bladder is about to burst and then trying to find a very hidden spot where I have to bare it all and try not to splatter on my shoes. Hey you were warned to skip to the end...


Friday, September 28, 2012

Pod Club: This is Your Brain on Music

Hi. My name is Rachael and I'm a music addict. I first realized I had a problem when I found myself overdosing on Tori Amos in high school. It escalated to late night binges on Arcade Fire and morning fixes of The Kills. It's hard for me to admit, but I often used music as a weapon against myself and others. Many times, I found that I enjoyed manipulating the emotions of crowds of people with my chosen playlists for work when i was a bartender.  If I was happy, I could craft the perfect combination of songs to foster happiness all around me and vise versa (mwah ha ha ha ha). I've been in recovery for almost a year now and learning to keep music in it's place. 

Why does music provoke emotion? That was the topic of this weeks Pod Club pick found at How Stuff Works. They began by asking what emotions are anyway and worked into how art and music can affect humans in various ways. Our brain is one complicated piece of machinery. When we hear a piece of music, it has to process the many facets (rhythm, melody ect...) and filter them through each individual's variables such as whether that brain has musical training or a negative memory connected to Disco. I'm sure somewhere there's amazing footage of the little pockets of brain lighting up as it figures out what to do with a song. Does it cause sadness? Joy? Anxiety? Anger? Memories may be accessed that contribute to the overall emotion as well. We all have songs that take us back to an exact moment. I have entire albums that transport me to a specific time or place. Someday I'll map it all out and create the soundtrack of my life. Until then, some of those albums are off limits. I'm still just in recovery after all!

I think the part of this episode that was the most interesting to me was when they brought up breakup songs.  Apparently love and music both stimulate the Limbic System in our brain. One study was referenced to illustrate that when the Limbic System is activated for a period of time it's almost like being on drugs (my words).  So when the Limbic System suddenly stops being activated we actually feel the effects as if in withdrawal from an intoxicant! It was during this part of the podcast that someone said maybe you need to "unplug and not listen for a while" and it really hit home for me.  For some reason I've stopped listening to music all day every day. I became aware of how my mood would change depending on the song playing on the radio or on my iTunes. Put my music on shuffle and you'd probably find me rocking back and forth in a corner after a few hours. 

Musical guest Ben Sollee is introduced for the second half of the show and I couldn't help but identify with many of the things he said.  I grew up in a very musical family and started writing and performing music with my sister for years (and will again when she gets sick of Brooklyn and comes back to this coast). Ben talked about what it feels like to write a song and perform it live. How crazy it feels to watch complete strangers be moved emotionally by something you've created.  I took issue with one point he made though. He said a songwriter has to be careful not to water down a song too much but shouldn't make it too personal either. I'd like to just say this: Tori Amos. Explain to me how people such as myself and many many others can be taken on emotional rollercoaster rides by this musical genius (can you tell I'm a fan?) when most of her lyrics don't make any sense.  My opinion is that if emotion is in that music, you'll feel it.  Maybe you won't understand why at first but you can't help feeling affected.

I finished this podcast with more questions than answers. Why do some of us prefer one type of music over another? What is it that makes hospitalized children prefer music time over play time? How does music do so much that nothing else can? What is dub step? Does it make me old that I listen to more podcasts than music? Why do I love music but hate crowded live shows when live music can me so amazing? Should I use my powers for good or evil? Where did I put my Fedora?

Thanks for suggesting this one Jill! I hope anyone who stumbles upon my ramblings here will check out Jill's take on the subject at her lovely blog: Just Jill.  Tune in next week to see what our ears are up to next...Pod Club welcomes new members!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Pod Club : Stuff You Should Know

Jill turned me on to a great podcast called "Stuff You Should Know". This week our Pod Club review will be on one of their episodes entitled "Why Does Music Provoke Emotion".  Listen, learn and report back to me (or Jill) on Friday.

You can find this podcast via the House Stuff Works website (linked above) or on iTunes. It's free entertainment you can enjoy while doing other things like rowing a boat!

Dear Diary 3/9/1990

1990. Good year for a nine year old to start a diary!

I guess when I was happy I wrote in cursive...

"Dear Diary,
 today was not as bad as yesterday. I got three sweets for correcting papers and I had fun after school. I went to mcdonalds with Auntie and I sang good in choir."

I had a good day but I was still a bad apple.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wanting to Want

An interesting idea has been introduced into my world and I can't stop considering what it means. As humans, we want things. We crave things. We are trained to want by our society. I admit, I want the new iPhone 5. Why do I want it? My "antique" 3GS works just fine. But hearing about the new version and seeing pictures and hearing about my friends and family already having one have shaped this craving in my mind. Do I need it? No.

So we have an object or situation that we want. We know from an early age that when we get what we want we achieve a sense of pleasure. We believe that pleasure is happiness. This leads to the broken record of wanting, getting what we want, finding something new to want so that we can fulfill that desire and feel the pleasure again. We want to want. The only way our brains know to be happy is to continually have things in line to want so that we can get them and feel soothed. Wanting to want is our path to happiness.

What if we could get out of the broken cycle of wanting to want? I would imagine we'd feel much more peaceful. Maybe we'd find pleasure in what we already have, where we already are right now. It's important to note that "wanting" and "aspiration" are different and also that this doesn't mean we should ultimately sit around and smile and say no matter what everything is grand. Nope, it means we note the wanting, we pay attention to our emotions around it and we let the wanting pass. Paying attention to how you react to it and the ability to let go of it will help you move forward and take actions toward being truly fulfilled.

I did an experiment with this. I was doing a short meditation the other night. My head began to itch and since I have been thinking about this idea of not immediately trying to fulfill the "want" I didn't scratch it. I sat there in discomfort just thinking about what it felt like to want to scratch the itch. I focused back on breathing in and out. I still didn't scratch it. After a minute of what felt like torture, guess what happened? The itch slowly went away. I'm not making this up.

Dissatisfaction with the current state of our lives can very often be traced to wanting what we don't have. What if we could simply let go of that craving? Could we find a better state of pleasure and happiness just in the letting go? It couldn't hurt to find out!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Pod Club: Listen Up

No Expectaions: Podcast Review

"Expectations are premeditated resentment", Johanna Harper says near the end of this podcast. I began listening to this episode of Against The Stream with the expectation i'd be hearing about not having any..expectations that is. This phrase was proven as I came to the realization that what the message here had more to do with truly listening to people around us. Johanna begins with a touching story that illustrated how "great moments catch us unaware". The idea that we get caught up looking for the next big, important or exciting moment rang true. I can spend so much time planning for the next adventure, I forget to see the adventure in today. She follows this story with another about a woman who didn't understand why she was feeling alienated and treated poorly by those around her, but all the while was wearing a hat with the words "Fuck You" on it. Another reminder that people treat us how we expect to be treated. We may walk around with the notion that the world is mean and people don't like us and then guess what? That's how we find ourselves treated.

After the short stories, I really feel like the talk centered around how we listen to others. This is where I felt the most in tune with what Ms. Harper was saying. She brought up how ultimately we all want to feel the connection that comes from being truly heard by another. Why do we push people away when we want this connection? Many reasons were brought up by her and those in the crowd. A couple that stood out to me were that we may be prejudging people or caught up with our own agenda. We don't trust them or perhaps we are simply afraid of what they have to say.  How can we truly hear what someone is saying if we've already placed judgment on them? The term "Jumper Inner" was used to describe people who get so revved up about the topic that they jump in before the speaker is even through...oh my... I am SO guilty of this! It's something I've been working on and still catch myself doing over and over and over (to those of you who's words have been trampled by my jump, i'm sorry for not letting you finish).

Frustration tends to be the common result of not feeling heard, not being understood and validated. Another idea that turned on a little lightbulb in my brain was that when we sense another person isn't listening to us, intimacy is stopped. So many times in my life I've stopped talking to someone I really care about because I don't feel like they care to hear what I have to say. I feel like those walls can be broken down but it might take time.  In any relationship (romantic, familial, platonic) we achieve intimacy through letting the other person tell their story and knowing they, in turn, are witness to ours. No judgments. No expectations. No fear or mistrust.

A woman approached me yesterday as I cooled off after my hike. I was under a tree, listening to the breeze and working on a crossword. If I could have hung a "do not disturb" sign over my blanket I would have.  I'd already noticed her rifling through the public garbage for cans and bottles and popping them into her little cart. I heard her before I saw her "Excuse me? Hello?". I was annoyed. Immediately. Judgment had been made minutes ago based on her actions and appearance alone. "Do you know what those bones over there are from?" she asked in a small, almost childlike voice.  I told her that I didn't know and didn't particularly want to go look at them with her as she requested. She seemed worried and wouldn't leave me alone so I put on my flip flops and walked with her to the bones in question. Our conversation was basically a discussion of what animal it could have been and that we sure hoped it wasn't a person's beloved pet (the bones were cat size).  She became visibly calm and just said "We should warn people to watch out for their pets". I concurred and told her that I would be sure to warn everyone I saw and that she could do that too.  She smiled and thanked me and went back to methodically picking through trash.  As I sat back down, all I could think about was how she just wanted to be heard, to have her worry validated by another human. The universe has sneaky ways of teaching lessons and this is one I need to learn.

Did anyone else listen? Any thoughts? Please comment and don't forget to check out what Jill had to say!   Just Jill

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dear Diary 3/8/1990

my first diary

(this is my very first diary entry. i was nine years old and in fifth grade. if i make this a regular blog entry i will eventually have to edit my dramatic young self but you'll get a good picture of the internal workings of my mind at a young age. hopefully it's good for some laughs!)

"Dear Diary,
today everything wrong happened. first I got in trouble for Just saying something to my mom and I got restricted from the tv over the weekend. then I got in trouble for getting pencil shavings in moms nail stuff. I even think Andy does not like me at all because I got my cast off on Mon. and He just noticed it today. and today in school I got a D+ in my math corrections and I had to stay in in recess and pe because i had a broken arm. and I had a lot of stuff to do and I was behind in my school work I ame usually done before lunch time. That is my terrible day. I even considered running away. Ben came over P.S."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Room to Breathe

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29: Rainer Maria Rilke
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pod Club

How many members are required to form a club? Jill and I think two is plenty to start with. And so, Pod Club is born. It's a work in progress but since we only have to consult each other at this point, it's been fun. It was hard to choose our first podcast to listen to and write about but finally we agreed on this one from Against The Stream. It might be odd to start with one that's not a well known podcast. It's not even perfect sound quality, but the content is such that our brains will have thoughts to think about and report on. We would love to have anyone out there join in the conversation. Our goal is to do this every other week or so. Ideally, we will post our choice near the beginning of the week so that anyone else who wants to listen before we post our thoughts on it will have time. Friday we will have our thoughts typed up and posted with links to each other on our blogs. If you you have a blog and want to blog your response, we could link to you to! If you don't have a blog and have something to say please comment on one or both of our blogs! Happy listening!

This podcast is only about half an hour long and was recorded live. It's also available on iTunes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Standing Lenticular

rosie hardy

When I was young, I had an aversion to my feet leaving the ground. I wouldn't cartwheel. No sommersaults in the fresh cut grass for me. Jumping off of things, even not too far from the ground, was not something you'd catch me at. If an adult asked "if so-and-so jumped off a bridge, would you follow them?" I just rolled my eyes and huffed that of course I wouldn't jump off a bridge. I couldn't even force myself to jump out of the swing at its apex just to feel that giddy flying feeling my friends were laughing about.  My feet stayed where I thought they belonged...on the ground.  Sensible.

As a teenager this sorely inhibited my skills as a dancer. The leaps and twirls and tricks I so wanted to master were not only difficult but frightening. My teacher patiently coaxed me to let go little by little over the years, but by the time I was in college I still was not where I could have been. "Relax and let go...Rachael shoulders DOWN".

This week I decided to attempt getting these responsible feet off the ground. I dabble in Yoga.  I do it for strengthening and stretching but find it has the added benefit of calming my thoughts and giving me confidence in my abilities.  Supported headstand...surely I could at least do it with my body relying on the wall.  Last Monday I gave it my first try. I won't bore you with the preparatory steps (plenty online if you're curious). Let's just say I assumed the position, head down, hands clasped and then did a little hop up to the wall. Feet over head. For all of about ten seconds I was incredulous that I was completely upside down. It didn't take long for the discomfort to set in and I lowered (okay toppled) down to the ground again.  Every day since, I have tried it again. The first few times I had to let my heels stay in contact with the wall no matter how hard I tried to balance away from it. A few days ago I pulled both away and was self supported for all of two seconds before teetering over. Wow, what a feeling! Two seconds! Okay so cut to yesterday and you'd find me not only self supported standing on my head but able to hold my own body that way as I counted to 45.  I felt like I could stay there forever but I remind myself often that just because I can do something doesn't mean I should.

Maybe it's all the blood in my brain, but I can't help thinking about how the scary things we face in life are just like this. We might think we would never be able to do it, wouldn't even attempt it! Probably we wouldn't even like it so why should we try? The first time it will be uncomfortable. The second time it will still be difficult but maybe just a hint less.  The third and fourth time you might lose some of your fear and start to find the sweet spot. It might take hundreds of starts and stops before you finally get there. Wouldn't it be worth it? I know one thing for sure, you won't know if you never try.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fear of Happiness

Are we afraid to be happy? 

Rolling around like a lost pinball, this thought has been refusing to go away. I don't have any answers yet and I doubt I ever will, but I have my suspicions. Being a happy person comes with a certain sense of responsibility to remain happy. If a generally happy individual admits to being in a bad mood aren't we (the sad and envious) a little disappointed? Dare I say angry? If someone asks you how you are, and you respond that you're doing "great!" do you have a tinge of fear that they will expect more of you? They might expect you to cheer them up or to have a sunny outlook all the time. A bad day isn't allowed. 

What if every morning you say to yourself "I choose happiness" and find that by mid-afternoon you have hidden under the covers and decided to sleep through the rest of the day rather than deal with crippling depression? Fear of failure, even just in your own eyes, can be immobilizing. 

I have only just begun down this trail of choosing happiness. I've spent so many days of this life blanketed by fear. It's only now that I realize I've been afraid of happiness and all it could mean for me. Depression is not something I'll make light of. I don't even want to delve into it in this post except to say that I do NOT believe you can just choose one day to snap your fingers and wave goodbye to depression. What I do believe is that everyone deserves to be happy and without being scared that they won't be allowed to be sad ever again. We should feel safe asking for help on the path to happiness without fear of letting down others or ourselves. 

I'm starting to think some are afraid to be happy because of our culture's idea of what's "cool".  Let's face it, the cool kids wear black, scowl a lot and listen to music you havn't even heard of. They drip with moods that are dark and considered deeper than the cheerful folks. If someone in marketing wants to sell a product based on it's "hip" factor, I doubt they show a smiling monk or a bubbly child in their advertisement. Does our society view happiness as a clear sign that one is unintelligent and boring? I suspect so. 

If you have a lifetime built up around a certain identity it can be terrifying to let that identity go even if that mask is one you hate. It's still how you identify yourself and who would you be otherwise? That may be the most terrifying thing of all: loss of self even if it is a loathed one.  

For me, the biggest fear of this quest for happier life is that I fully believe I will always struggle with depression and I may face entire decades where happiness eludes me completely. Someday I hope I don't believe this anymore. For now, I'm choosing to start small and admit that I'm happy at this moment. Aside from all of the worries I have today, I can still choose to be positive right now. Now is all I have.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Podcast Linktacular

artist Brian Despain

I listen to podcasts more than actual music these days. It all started with This American Life. Radiolab soon followed, and before I knew it I was addicted to more than a handful. I hike almost every day and if Rob isn't here, my hiking partners are the podcasts carefully selected for "Today". Yep, that's a special folder on my iPhone specifically for the podcasts designated for, you guessed it, today. It's a new level of geekery that I'm not embarrassed about and excited to share! I fully believe there is a podcast out there for everyone. Here are a few that fit me just right:

When I want to think and learn:

This American Life
Stuff Mom Never Told You
A Way With Words
Wait Wait Don't Tell Me

When I want to laugh:

The Ronna and Beverly Show
The Smartest Man in the World

When I just want to hear other people talk about stuff:

The Nerdist
Sound Opinions
Ask Me Another

All of these are free in Itunes.  Did you hear that? I said FREE ENTERTAINMENT that leaves your eyeballs to do other useful things! It's radio the way it should be people and it's better than whatever channel surfing you've been doing. If you have favorite podcasts PLEASE PLEASE comment and tell me what they are. Even you, stranger who stumbled upon this blog accidently at four in the morning...I want to know what podcasts you love the most!  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Crocodile Meditation

Have you ever had one of those weeks you wish you could do over? A few too many sighs and mis-steps. Maybe, like me, you wake up on Monday morning with a few unexplainable bruises. Words were spoken out of frustration, out of fear, taken out of context, taken as criticism. Interactions refused to stay on the conversational path they set out on but instead careened off into the bramble where only the darker ideas live and multiply. Thoughts were mini daggers behind the curtain of your eyelids held in only by lashes closed tight in frustration. A certain point is reached where it's forgotten that peace is just right there waiting for you. One day turns into four turns into smack in the middle of day seven and you still struggling to keep a nose above water.

It's at this moment I highly recommend Crocodile Meditation (not to be confused with Crocodile Rock). Crocodile Meditation takes place in water, the bathtub. Crocodiles love lavender scented bubble bath. Fill the tub with the perfect temperature water and bubbles enough to hide under. Either devoid of clothing or in your favorite swim gear, slip into the water and submerge your body almost completely. Only your head from the nose up should remain above bubble level. Make sure to tilt your head back so that your ears can hear nothing but the underwater sound of your own breathing. Close your eyes or stare into the bubbly clouds and breathe slowly and peacefully through your nose. That is all. Stay there until your fingers are all pruny and you can finally hear that small voice in your head. The one that's always there telling you everything will be alright. That's the voice so easily lost in the noise of daily life but it's the only one you should be listening to.

Oh, and we do get a do over! Every day, every week is a new opportunity. Don't waste any more time in regret.  The truth is that every minute is new. Nothing ever stays the same, the good or the bad. The trick is to realize this in the middle of it all.