A celebration of everyday wonder

Safe in Seattle

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I have arrived safe and sound in the Emerald City – Seattle, Washington. It is more beautiful, and also colder than I anticipated. I have spent the last couple of days exploring the city (in long pants), orienting myself, and gorging on seafood.

The trip here was happily uneventful. We listened to some audiobooks, talked, and I came to appreciate how nice it is to drag your home around behind you on a long journey. No matter where we found ourselves at the end of the day, I still got to sleep in my own bed. That is nice.

I am toying with the idea of starting a new blog specifically to chronicle my adventures here in Seattle. I feel I have accomplished what I set out to do with Butterfly Wings & Lovely Things, and it is time to start on a new project. In addition, I am working on my novel, and would like to share the process of beginning that journey as well. I will post further about those activities as they unfold.

For now, I am enjoying the city and looking forward to seeing what else awaits me.

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No News is Good News

[This is a slight deviation from the mission of the blog. I wrote this article a few months ago and I am sharing it here, because I think the message is important. I also welcome your feedback! Thanks.]

NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS
Why Television News is Making You Crazy
Melissa K. Randles

A few years ago, I worked in an office building where, in the lobby, two televisions constantly displayed a round-the-clock news network. My coworkers and I used to play a game we called “Good News.” The object of the game was to be the first person in the office who spotted a positive news story playing on one of the TVs and to share the heart-warming tale with the rest of the team. We started this game on a Monday morning. By late Wednesday afternoon, only one of my fifty coworkers had received credit for pointing out a story about a heroic dog that saved his owner from a house fire. Never mind that the canine had perished during his act of heroism; this was the closest we had come to a happy story all week, and I was not inclined to argue. Eventually, the “Good News” game lost its appeal, largely because there did not seem to be any.

These office hijinks piqued my interest on the subject of television news. With all the negative stories piped into households and businesses through the news, I wondered what effect all this could have on human psychology? That is what I set out to discover. What I found was this: Watching television news directly contributes to anxiety, stress and a general belief that the world is unsafe.

Before going any further, it is important that I clearly define the scope of the phrase “television news” in this context. Television news refers to daily, sometimes hourly, news broadcast on both national and local networks. The content of these broadcasts often includes, but are not limited to, live and taped interviews, video feeds of events, “on-the-scene” reporting, and pre-recorded pieces which are shown as part of a larger story. An anchor, or a team of anchors, typically host the broadcast and provide snippets of news stories along with video or photograph images of the event in question.

As for what stories make it onto the news, that has been a subject of some debate. According to the experts, the prevailing methodology for determining what makes an evening broadcast has been the following maxim: “If it bleeds, it leads.” What this amounts to, they say, is a team of journalists looking for the most violent, gruesome stories possible to pump into the family room TV every night. Positive stories do not hold the attention of an audience and thus the news focuses on subjects that will, however disturbing they may be. If you think about your own experience watching the news, how often have you heard the phrase, “Viewers are advised that the following segment contains graphic images that may not be fit for all ages”? Knowing that, consider how many times you have ever changed the channel or left the room after such a warning. If you’re like most people, you almost never do.

With a steady diet of negative news available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week (thanks to networks like Fox News and CNN), it begs us as viewers to question what all of this harmful information is doing to our minds and, more specifically, to our emotions. In a 2007 study, researchers found that after watching a short news clip concerning a negative subject (murder, theft, natural disasters and the like) participants reported very high levels of stress, and continued to feel somewhat emotionally disturbed even days later. However, when participants were taken through a guided relaxation exercise after watching a similarly troubling news clip, they reported much lower levels of stress. From these results, the research team drew the conclusion that not only is watching the news a mentally taxing activity, but that a “buffer” period is needed to reduce the negative psychological effects. Just take a moment to consider that – the fifteen minutes you spend watching the news is disruptive enough to your mental processes that it could take twice as long to undo the effects of what you have seen.

Unfortunately, the negative effects of television news do not end there. In a 2002 study researchers set out to explore a concept referred to as the “optimism gap.” This idea is a psychological phenomenon that says people will generally rate their own surroundings as relatively safe, but the world outside as a dangerous place. In a series of interviews, the research team asked individuals about the relative safety of their community and the United States in general. In addition, participants were also asked how often they watched television news. The research team found that those individuals who reported watching television news most often also indicated the greatest amount of anxiety associated with locations outside of their own, sharing their perception that the country in general is a dangerous place. Not only that, but the individuals who watched the news most often were also more likely to hold those beliefs very strongly and be less likely to waver upon repeated questioning. So, not only do you end up feeling anxious after watching the news, but xenophobic, as well.

There are those who argue that watching the news provides perspective and allows individuals to better engage with world events. However, little evidence exists that this is the case. Even studies that have been conducted to try and prove this point has produced no compelling data. For example, a recent research program attempted to draw a correlation between adolescent civic engagement and the frequency they watch the news. The results did not produce a strong argument for any such a connection. Watching the news may give you something to discuss the next time you’re confronted with a group of strangers and need to make small talk, but you have to ask yourself – is it worth the negative effects?

All of this begs the question: if we are not any more well-informed by watching the news and doing so causes psychological harm, why continue? My answer is: Don’t. I do not mean that individuals should not attempt to be informed on what is happening in the world around them; however, I do think there is an opportunity to cut out the negative, and, therefore, damaging, sources of information. Digital technology, RSS readers and other “news feed” programs such as Google Reader have made it so that everyday consumers can pick and choose the information they want to see. With these tools, one can read about gardening, technology news and other life-affirming and positive sources rather than focusing on the violence, disaster and crime-ridden source that is television news. With all the world at our fingertips, there is no reason I can see why anyone should have to watch television in order to stay informed on what is happening in the world.

It is common knowledge that certain foods are bad for us – if we eat nothing but fats and sugars, our bodies feel the negative effects of those choices. The same applies for information. We have a choice in our daily news “diet” and if we continue to fill our minds with the unhealthy products of television news than we will feel the effects for years to come. However, if we start making better choices and using technology to help us curate a healthier diet of information, we will all find our minds to be a healthier place. If we start becoming as deliberate about what we put in our minds, as what we put in our bodies, is possible for all of us to finally get some “Good News.”

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When I was little, I used to dream of having fresh flowers delivered each day so that I would always have something beautiful in my home. My boyfriend has helped make this dream a reality, and for the past few weeks has been bringing flowers to my mother and I on a regular basis. It’s such a small gesture, and takes almost no effort at all, but it means the world to me. After all, who isn’t impressed by a partner who wants to help make all of your dreams come true?

I took this photo of the single rose which was floating in a shallow glass vase in our living room.

“For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.”

Judy Garland

Love is, to me, truly the stuff of everyday wonder. This morning I am particularly surrounded by it. My love is in the next room getting ready and I find myself smiling at his muted exclamations and casual utterances. I’m quite sure he doesn’t know that I can hear him, and I know for certain that he is unaware of the affection these rituals inspire. It is these moments that I remind myself to sink into gratitude and enjoy the beauty of love.

Every day for the last month I have been writing down, in a little pink notebook, at least five things that I am grateful for. Studies have shown that taking time to appreciate the small moments that occur as part of every day life results in a measurable increase in overall happiness. Having given this exercise its fair shake, I have found the results life-changing.

Since starting my gratitude journal I find that I generally appreciate more. I stop on a regular basis throughout the day and think, “This is really wonderful, I need to remember this for my gratitude journal”. That process is a great benefit all on its own, but it is not the only positive effect I have experienced.

Upon instituting this practice, I have several times experienced an overwhelming sensation of joy. And when I say overwhelming, I don’t mean it lightly. These are stop-what-you’re-doing-tears-in-eyes-breath-stolen moments unlike any I have ever experienced before. The first time it happened, I was a little worried that something might be physically wrong with me (“Oh no, is this what a heart attack feels like?!”) but realized shortly that the sensation was wonderful, not worrisome. Every time after that, I have tried to hold onto the feeling for as long as possible, letting myself sink into it and absorb all of the thankfulness, wholeness, and wonder.

I wholeheartedly recommend taking the time write a gratitude list every day. It takes me no more than five minutes, and the benefits I have experienced since instituting this ritual are unbelievably worth it.

If you have any interest in keeping a journal of the more general variety, I advocate for Gretchen Rubin’s One-Sentence Journal. It’s a lovely book, and a great reminder to record life’s precious moments before they slip right on by.

My Next Big Adventure

It seems that I have grown allergic to doing things by degrees. When I make a life change, these days, I change everything. What’s strange is that I don’t feel like I am doing it intentionally, it’s just how life unfolds, and I feel like it is my job (my privilege, perhaps) to roll with it.

So, as before when I left my job and my home in South Denver for a place farther west and a new educational horizon it is now, again, time for something completely different. In about two weeks I will be packing up my stuff and heading Seattle-way. My boyfriend’s company is situated in the Emerald City, and he asked if I wanted to accompany him while he is working out of home base for the next two months. Eager for the adventure this opportunity affords, I agreed.

Now, at the same time, the reserve of cash I set aside for living expenses while in my first semester of college is about to run out. It is high time I start generating some income and, while I’m at it, I figure why not play to my strengths? It is for that reason that I’ve thrown my hat into the ring of freelance writing. I am skillful with the use of words, I love learning new things, and it would be extremely gratifying to get paid for something that I enjoy so much. Not to mention that I could work this job from anywhere, like, say, Seattle.

I can’t tell you how excited I am for this experience. After ten years of my successful, but rather soulless corporate career, the idea that I could feed my family as well as my soul is most attractive. Of course, I know it won’t be easy. There will be rejection, struggle, frustration, and all of the other little rocks rolling around the shoe of existence. However, I also know that I have the opportunity to learn from those things and continue to improve.

So, here’s to another voyage into the unknown! Whatever happens, I know this – it’s going to be exciting!

Mother’s Day

An ode to my mother: 

My mother is, to me, all the sunshine that exists in this world. She is that perfect Spring day where you slip off your jacket and run like a child through the tall grass. She embodies that temperate kindness that is so easy to take for granted, but smart-folk know is rare indeed. She makes me laugh, she makes me thankful, and she shows me the many ways to marvel at the world.

In her striving to reach the highest peak of her potential, my mother taught me to do my best. In her easy generosity and compassion, my mother taught me to be sensitive. In her vulnerability and gratitude, my mother taught me to be strong. With her humor and playfulness, my mother taught me to be myself.

From the moment she first held me, warm and wrapped up in a little pink blanket, my mother has loved me better than anyone. She has been my safe place, my favorite person, my best friend, my trusted guide, and my champion. Whatever twists and turns my life has taken, and whatever future adventures await me – I was born rich in love. Wherever I go, when I hug my Mommy, I will be home.