Vulnerability in Frozen and My Life

“Life is going to present to you a series of transformations. And the point of education should be to transform you. To teach you how to be transformed so you can ride the waves as they come. But today, the point of education is not education. It’s accreditation. The more accreditation you have, the more money you make. That’s the instrumental logic of neoliberalism. And this instrumental logic comes wrapped in an envelope of fear. And my Ivy League, my MIT students are the same. All I feel coming off of my students is fear. That if you slip up in school, if you get one bad grade, if you make one fucking mistake, the great train of wealth will leave you behind. And that’s the logic of accreditation. If you’re at Yale, you’re in the smartest 1% in the world. […] And the brightest students in the world are learning in fear. I feel it rolling off of you in waves. But you can’t learn when you’re afraid. You cannot be transformed when you are afraid.” Junot Díaz, speaking at Yale

Dear P,

I’m sorry about your computer troubles. I hope you can get everything up and running again soon. Also, I hope everyone reading this is safe and warm.

I spent May of 2013 at my aunt’s house in Georgia. I lived in the basement and spent a lot of time reading Murakami and Ian McEwan, listening to Joni Mitchell’s album “Blue” and hanging out with my two-and-four-year-old cousins.

That month I dealt with a lot of shame. I made awful grades my freshman year of college. I was in this program where I could have been pre-accepted to either of two Texas medical schools, but because of my grades neither let me in. I knew my GPA was below my honor program’s standards and wondered when I would get the email that I was kicked out. I had enormous opportunities offered to me and I wasted them. I felt like I had managed to mess up my entire future in my first semester of college and that the repercussions of my failures would soon set in.

I felt the same way Elsa feels in the beginning of Frozen after she curses her sister. She feels the shame of hurting Anna and the fear of what will happen if Anna and the rest of the world find out about it. Elsa worries that something crazy-awful will happen to Anna’s brain if she learns her secret because the troll-magician told her Anna shouldn’t know about any sort of magic.

Back to my aunt’s house, where I was listening to Joni Mitchell and awaiting my impending doom, too scared to talk to anyone except my mom and eventually my aunt about my situation. The storm never came. It stunned me to realize that, though I had made bad grades, life continued. I had one beautiful day after another. Life didn’t suddenly lose all of its precious moments: I continued reading and playing and working on weird projects (I was trying to come up with the solution to Australia’s cane toad infestation). In other words, I didn’t lose E when I lost her impeccable GPA. I didn’t feel dumber and the word “failure” didn’t brand itself on my forehead. I will always be me, always be resourceful, even if it took me a little while to learn how to make A’s in college.

My shame was blocking me from doing better. During my freshman year, I was embarrassed to talk to professors and ashamed to ask my friends for advice. I felt like the grades gave me a shroud of stupidity that kept everyone from respecting me and my ideas.

My transformation from scared girl to fearless diva has taken a lot longer than Elsa’s. I still make decisions out of fear some days. Grades are powerful. They have bolstered us up for our entire sentient lives. What happens when they no longer back us up, whispering yes, this opportunity is yours, you earned it, you’re smart, you work hard, your ideas are valid?

Only you hold the answer to that question. Rip off the band-aid, pick off the scab, let as many people as possible know about it. It’s the only way people can help you and, more importantly, honesty is the only way to help yourself. Grades are not mysterious, undeniable measures of self-worth. You can easily improve them, and I have.

My mom asked me today if I knew who Brené Brown is and I said, “Yeah. She’s the anti-shame vulnerability lady.” It clicked to me that shame is what I have slowly been shedding since May, shame is what was holding me back, and shame is why I identified so deeply with Elsa. I no longer learn for the grades and I no longer write for the accolades, and because of that I am free from the fear of not reaching them and the shame of not having them.

Since I read your post about choosing one word to think about this year instead of resolutions, I’ve been considering what word I want to base my life around this year. I chose the word “brave” today. I want to move beyond the fear of failure, the fear of feeling like I’ve disappointed the people I love, and the fear of traveling to unknown places. I want to live my life so mindfully I have no mental room for fear. When I feel fear and shame I want to tell people so they can help me, love me, give me advice and know that I have failed.

Bad things happen and life usually turns out okay. Some of it doesn’t. My mom, after she asked me about Brené Brown, told me that her friend was taking a course based on Brown’s teachings. My mom’s friend has experienced a devastating amount of tragedy in her life. Such sadness put my problems in perspective and reminds me of a quote from Dear Sugar:

“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”

So unclench your shoulders. Take a deep breath. Say some prayers for people you love. Create something, like Elsa created her magnificent ice castle. You can fail miserably and still have a brilliant life. In fact, you can’t not fail miserably and have a brilliant life. Shed the fear and enjoy yourself. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

Yours,

E

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What I’ve Learned Through Keeping a Logbook

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Dear P,

I have done a pretty good job of keeping track of the day-to-day activities of 2014. The first week of school, I forgot to log some days. When I tried to write down the events of a day from the week before, I found that I was unable to. This terrified me and renewed my logbook gusto.

When photographing my logbook for this post, I found that I struggled to find a day that didn’t reveal too much of my personal life. The viewing and funeral days were too much. So was the day I got frustrated with someone close to me. I found two consecutive days that I documented well but didn’t contain anything crazier than the possibility that I might have tuberculosis.

I made my logbook out of an old textbook about animals that I found for $2 at goodwill. It has exactly 364 pages, so I started on the cover page. I glued in January’s pages in while watching the first Harry Potter movie with MuggleHustle’s audio hustle dubbed over. There are eight Harry Potter movies, so this strategy will last for eight months. Austin Kleon uses moleskins for his logbooks. There is no assembly required with moleskins and they would provide a nice consistency from year to year.

I keep my logbook to remind myself of the fun times I have had and to look forward to the blank pages. If I am not doing something productive or extraordinarily fun, I have a higher chance of catching myself and stopping because I will have to hold myself accountable by writing it down later. A logbook is motivation to keep myself living deliberately.

Have fun filling your own logbook, real or figurative,

Love,

E

What Makes You Feel Beautiful

Hello my dearest darlingest E,

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while! I shall have to update you about SF soon, but as you know I don’t have internet in my apartment and I literally did not have a spare second this weekend to go to our little cafe with free internet, so the posts have been sporadic.

I stumbled upon this beautiful video while looking for interesting designers on tumblr (for my job.) I love the message of this video. We’ve discussed body image and body acceptance many many times on this blog and in life, and we will probably continue to discuss it as needed. I find the statistics at the beginning of this video absolutely appalling and kind of horrifying, but this is true life E.

I found myself smiling with my entire being at a lot of parts in this video. Occasionally when I look in the mirror I find that I am tearing myself apart. As you know, to me my mind and my heart will always be my number one assets. I never feel like I’m trying to “fix myself” when it comes to these things. I always want to improve myself, there is no doubt, but it’s so different. I just want to devour books like there is no tomorrow and learn all of the things and there has never been any doubt in my mind that I can fit love and acceptance for another new person in my heart. But when it comes to my body and I look in the mirror I always think “I would be so much hotter if I just lost 15 pounds, once and for all” or “I wish I had clearer skin” or I sometimes look at pretty pictures of myself and wonder if I actually look like that in real life. I don’t know why I do this to myself when I am so forgiving of other people—I can find beauty in almost every face or being and I think every person has something you can fall in love with. I don’t know E, I really just don’t know. Sometimes I feel like a goddess/warrior/superheroine/sparkling human being and sometimes I feel like I’ll never be skinny enough, pretty enough, “fuckable” enough.

I feel most beautiful when my heart hurts from how beautiful life is—a conversation that forces me rethink how I feel, a book that inspires something within me, a view that steals the breath from my chest, my favorite people (like you E, or my little brothers who would die of embarrassment if they ever saw this.)

How could a body that holds all of this not be beautiful?

Sending you love and sunshine from Cali,

P

Office Hours

(Me at office hours with one of my heroes, Anis Mojgani)

Dear P,

You’ve been blogging up a storm! San Francisco sounds beautiful and your job sounds AMAZING. I love hearing about all the magic going on in your life. Including those boss leather pants. Mostly the boss leather pants, actually. But yeah, the beautiful view of the city from your apartment, your adorable roommate, and that you get to choose the clothes for fashion shows doesn’t sound so bad either.

The first day of school was perfect, but I wanted to talk to you about one of my goals for this semester: office hours. In this stage in our friendship, you are aware of my authority-induced-social-anxiety. I failed to give volunteer Santa a hot chocolate I got him because I was too shy. Last semester, before I went to my favorite professor’s office hours every week to ask questions about my favorite subject, I had to stand outside and count to sixty while taking deep breaths, and even then I had to promise myself I would get some chocolate afterwards.

While many of my professors at UT have been nothing but kind and supportive, even in response to my high-pitched and rushed questions, there are many who would much rather be doing research or other work than spending time talking to nervous undergraduates. Which, I mean, I understand. My first semester of college, I went to talk to my psychology professor about the advantages and disadvantages of getting a psychology degree over a neurobiology/neuroscience degree. She had just gotten some bad news. Her blatant unhappiness coupled with my nervousness meant that I was completely unintelligible and nearly in tears by the end of the consultation. I have since thought in depth about how to improve my demeanor in office hours or in other situations where I feel intimidated.

Make sure you know what your professors do. Many of the professors at UT have summaries of their research online, and a quick google search never hurt anyone. This way, you have something to talk about other than yourself. Make sure you have a quality introduction planned, especially if you’re in a big class and there’s a chance that the professor has no idea who you are. For example: “Hi, I am E. I am a sophomore getting my degree in neurobiology and writing with a psychology minor. I am interning in the writing center and taking an EMT course in addition to my regular studies.” There are any number of things from that introduction that may resonate with a professor. Building rapport is the key here. I have found it helpful to bring professors some small, casual gift, like a hot chocolate. This makes them smile and keeps you from feeling like a sponge of their time. Look, you have something to offer them! I am going to meet with one of my old TAs (the great Joe Hanson of It’s Okay to Be Smart) so I can pick his brain about how he got to write for Wired magazine (one of my personal ambitions), whether or not graduate school is worth the time and money, and just generally how I can be more like him. Professors are obligated to at least be there to see you because you are paying them, but Joe has agreed to hang out with me out of the goodness of his heart. I have been scouring his videos to make sure I have plenty of conversation topics planned out, and during my research I came across a beautiful speech about special snowflake syndrome at the end of this video. I’m going to make a blank notebook or poster out of the speech somehow. It’s going to be awesome.

Remember, even though it might make you feel better to bring a small gift, most people want to help you. Especially professors. Their research may keep them busy, but building relationships with students is at least in their top three priorities (or they wouldn’t have become professors). Some rare asshats may dislike you right off the bat, but if you start off the conversation with hot chocolate and asking them about their research, you may even overcome a bad first impression. If you can’t, it’s in your best interest to switch classes. College is an investment of time and money, and there is no way you are getting the most out of your investment if you are not taking advantage of being in the vicinity of some of the best minds out there. Work to get the professor talking and make yourself feel as much at ease as possible. They’re just people, and all people like to talk about themselves.

You can ask many people for advice, not just your professors. I send regular fanmail to my favorite authors and bloggers, and sometimes they write me back (see Joe Hanson). Many of my heroes have made appearances at BookPeople, the local bookstore. I follow them on twitter so I can keep up-to-date. That’s how I got to talk to Anis Mojgani.

You probably think I’m ridiculous, P, because talking to people has always been your forte, but it’s a struggle for me and I have to continue to improve. If anyone has any advice for me, I would be happy to receive it (unless it’s “don’t be so neurotic” because I’ve tried that). In the meantime, I will continue practicing.

Love love love,

E

Making Mondays Sunny

P’s Quote

“I’m never gonna wait that extra twenty minutes to text you back, and I’m never gonna play hard to get when I know your life has been hard enough already. When we all know everyone’s life has been hard enough already it’s hard to watch this game we make of love, like everyone is playing checkers with their scars, saying checkmate when they get out without a broken heart. Just to be clear, I don’t want to get out without a broken heart. I intend to leave this life so shattered there’s going to have to be a thousand separate heavens for all of my separate parts.” -Andrea Gibson

Things P is Grateful For

my sweet sweet friends and family, seriously how did I get so lucky? I can’t even start to express how thankful I am for that. Other than that I’m thankful for IAP, for being in San Francisco, that none of my flights got delayed the second time around, for google maps, for kind strangers pointing me in the right direction when my phone dies and I don’t have google maps, for people who send me sweet text messages that make me smile, for being able to drive, going to Hawaii, chats in the car late at night with C, C and I fucking shit up, hopping from B&N to Fuddruckers to the pound store with E, good food, like really really good food, the kind that makes you close your eyes and think HOLY HELL YUM, for snail mail, for the cafe just down the street from our apartment that has free WIFI thank god, for green tea lattes at Starbucks (did you know this was a thing E!??!?!? My roomie just turned me on to them! I always knew about the frappes but for some reason I never thought about turning it into a latte! It really is life-changing), for my awesome job, for the startup lifestyle, for Instagram, for kisses, for new people, new adventures and new memories.

Things to make this week sunnier

1. Embrace the fact that I don’t have internet after 6 pm. It’s weird but it’s kinda nice.

2. Embrace the fact that I’m all alone in a brand new city and that’s awesome and empowering.

Love you!

P

Sunday Funday

Hello E!

I have been snapchatting you like a mad lady today 🙂 I miss you! And C. My life feels empty without you guys 😡 I also really miss my friends from school and my little brothers who are annoying yet freaking awesome at the same time (how do they do it?!) This morning I went up and went for a run, along a similar route as yesterday. And then I spent a couple of hours walking around the city. I went to Union Square where there is this HUGE Macy’s and I tried on a ton of cool things as you know tehehe. I am so glad I can snap you and C during a dilemma of what shoes to pick and you guys actually take me seriously and help me decide lol. Also, you guys decided on the same shoes and just cemented in my head the shoes I really wanted to pick lol. The weather was beautiful outside so it was actually really peaceful and fun walking around all day. Except after I went shopping I was kind of struggling going up and down the hills with all my bags. OMG the hills. It’s so hilly here E! Remember how a couple of days in the flat old LBK I was snapping you myself on the treadmill with incline all the way turned up? Well that’s real life here. Seriously, after a month here I am going to be SO READY for Mt. Kilimanjaro! Anyway after my explorations all day I was pooped so I went home and took a nap and then met up with my roomie at a cafe where we ate dinner and now here I am blogging. 🙂 I am going to wake up early to run tomoro so I will probably be in bed early. I’ll have to post some pics later this week when I get them from the phone to the computer. Miss you and love you!

 

The City by the Bay

Dear E,

Hello from San Francisco!! I miss you already but SF is amazing! I got here on Thursday and after I dropped my stuff off at the studio I went straight to work! Work is really awesome, but we do a lot. I like it thus far 🙂 Our apartment is tiny but like really really cute. It’s all white everything and three of the four walls are made of windows. There’s a tiny kitchen area, a closet, and a bathroom that I think is the same size as our kitchen lol. The bathroom walls are all covered in mirrors which is really cool. The view is absolutely stunning. Our studio has a door that leads out to one side of the roof thats really old but if you open the windows up (the windows are huge) you can climb right out onto the roof and see all of San Fran. We can see both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge from our roof. It’s literally STUNNING. Today was my first completely free day and it was really fun. I woke up and went for a run. I ran towards the pier (it’s a five minute run to the beach) and I ran west, towards the Golden Gate Bridge. After that I basically walked around a TON of neighborhoods alone and wandered into tiny shops and this morning I googled the best bookstores in SF and visited two of them. It was heavenly. SF is so beautiful. Minor mishaps: 1. Our apartment does not have wifi. This is actually extremely difficult I didn’t even realize how reliant I am on the internet. 2. It was raining all day and I was wearing a t-shirt. Oops, me being irresponsible as uge. I was soaked by the time I got back home and I kept getting weird looks but like whatever, it was actually kind of fun. 3. I got a bite or something on my toe like two days ago and it’s HUGE AND SWOLLEN and I cant put my shoes on without a huge amount of pain. I tried going to Walgreens to pick up medicine that my parents called in for me and I guess everything is closed on Saturdays and Sundays?! WTF. At&t was also closed! The people of SF really take their weekends seriously lol. So I tried to run errands today but failed. Oh well, hopefully my toe heals itself. I am going to buy shoes tomoro that don’t make me cry when I put them on my feet lol. Other than that I have had such a lovely time here. The food is real good. Like SO good. Also SF reminds me more of NYC than Boston just because of the sheer number of restaurants and stores. Anyway, the cafe that I am at is closing so I am posting this and I will try to update you again as soon as I get wifi! Love you and miss you loads!

P

 

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Book Recommendations and a Public Service Announcement

Dear P,

I miss you already. I can’t wait to hear about your adventures in San Francisco. To combat my P withdrawals, I’m drinking tea with whipped cream on top. I put the whipped cream on the tea. It gets an earl gray flavor and I sip it out of the top. And then I put more whipped cream in my tea.

I would like to write about two things in this post: books and a common health issue. Yesterday, I went an exercise class with my mom and my mom’s friend PA was there.  PA is a very cool person-she has a law degree, children, and likes Downtown Abbey and horses- AND she reads my book recommendations. She is the first person I have ever met who reads our blog without being a close friend or family member of either of us. In honor of her, I’m writing out a top-ten book list from 2013, in no particular order:

1. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed- If you’re looking for a beautiful and emotionally exhausting book about how to embrace all the messy parts of life, this is your pick. Cheryl Strayed is a genius at the essay format she wrote her advice column in. I am less crazy about her memoir, Wild. If you don’t want to buy Tiny Beautiful Things, you can read the Dear Sugar column here.

2. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki- This book will change the way you think about money. It is the best business book I have ever read (close second is The World is Flat). Another good business book is Maximize Your Potential, edited by Joceyln K. Glei. It’s a series of essays by CEOs and other people maximizing out their potential. I also loved Choose Yourself because, of course, I have a crush on James Altucher. He sent me an email once.

3. The Diaries of Anias Nin, Volume 1– I read this book during the summer and it put me into this weird haze in which everything I said seemed significant and strangely sensual. Read at your own risk. This book would be good to listen to on tape; the prose is like poetry.

4. Bossypants by Tina Fey- I listened to this book while I was training for my marathon, and several people in Austin think I am insane because they saw me laughing while running. But I don’t care, because I believe in the Tina Fey sect of feminism: “Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.”

5. The House of God by Samuel Shem- This book is like Catch-22 except the setting is a hospital instead of a military base. Read this book if you ever plan on dying. It’s important to consider these things from the doctor’s point of view.

6. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott- I have read a couple of high-quality books about writing this year: On Writing by Steven King and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, both of which I highly recommend. Bird by Bird touched me in a way the other two didn’t, though. If you don’t feel like reading the Natalie Goldberg book, the most useful tip I got from it was to set your timer for twenty, thirty, fifty or more minutes every day and just write everything that comes to your brain. You are supposed to use ugly spiral notebooks and Goldberg fills up one a month. I have been able to go more deeply into my thoughts in my writing since I started this practice. Now you don’t have to read the Goldberg book and you can focus on the Lamott and King (sorry, Natalie Goldberg).

7. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin– Ben Franklin is not only one of the founding fathers of our country, he is one of the founding fathers of the self-help genre. His autobiography details how he lived the “American Dream” (John Green refutes some of his claims here) and is riddled with productivity and self-improvement tips that are as relevant today as they were in 18th-century Philadelphia.

8. One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson- Many of my life goals revolve around how I can be more like Bill Bryson. My favorite book by him is still A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I gave to JFV on his birthday, but One Summer is a close second. I imagine 1927 as America’s senior year of high school: it was getting good at the stage it was in, was top in most things, and suffered a crippling reality check soon after. Bryson chronicles this summer of flight, fights, and theaters while capturing the era of hopefulness that overcame out country. This book is a pretty long read: consider yourself warned. It’s an accomplishment to finish it.

9. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid- I like books that push the boundaries of style and genre, like Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler and Truman Capote’s In Cold BloodHow to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a novel posing as a self-help book. It sounds like it might be gimmicky but every word seems right.

10. Love 2.0 by Barbara Frederickson- There is a certain weirdness about the kind of romantic love that modern America has embraced-the kind that plays on our radios, is written in our novels, and is transferred through our Disney movies- and this book cleared up all the nigglings I’ve always had about love but never been able to articulate. Many women (think Bridget Jones) are gripped by the desperation-inducing belief that they will only feel complete when they fall in love with the man of their dreams and live happily ever after. This book’s thesis is that love is created every day in interactions between family, friends, and strangers. Frederickson shares therapies that help foster this kind of love and use it to make your life richer and more enjoyable.

This beautiful list of books shows what a beautiful year I had in 2013. I hope these books see you through equally full and exquisite times in your life.

Now for my public service announcement. Over the break, I discovered that I had lower-than-average blood pressure. Not cripplingly low, but low enough so that if I exercise in the morning I feel strangely exhausted at points in the rest of the day (usually when I’m lying down). This problem is easily remedied with a V8 and lots of water. I’m pretty sure the V8 brings more sodium into your blood stream, which causes it to be hypertonic and suck in as much water as possible. I have verified this theory only anecdotally and haven’t asked any scientists about this. However, since I’ve started doing this, I have felt much better. After I exercise, I drink two glasses of water, a V8, and then two more glasses of water. Yesterday I didn’t even feel like I was going to pass out in the bathtub after my run. I think many people have this easily-fixed problem without knowing it. More emphasis is put on having high blood pressure because it puts you at risk for a heart attack and there’s a booming market for statins and other blood-pressure-lowering medications.

P, I am so glad you are safely in San Francisco and I can’t wait to hear about your forays into the fashion industry. Keep in touch ❤

Much love,

E

Focusing on the Process

Dear P,

I remember you once said that you wanted out blog to be more real. I knew what you meant, but I hadn’t figured out how. Filters surround our society like pretty scabs. It’s hard to be honest.

This break, I read Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”. Natalie Goldberg is a poet, which is interesting, because besides a brief stint in seventh grade I have never been much of a poet. The most valuable thing in the book is her advice to keep an ugly notebook and do timed writings every day. Since December 31st, I have filled nine pages.

I put up an enormous fight to begin this notebook. I wrote about how writing for myself didn’t make any sense, because I thought all writing should be a conversation (hence why I love this blog). I wrote about how I thought a diary was myopic and a waste of time. Then, I wrote for several pages about my disgust for my brother’s man-boobs when I was fifteen years old. My pettiness and vanity shone through like never before. I realized why Goldberg recommends keeping a diary like this and not letting yourself stop. You can cut through your own bullshit when you are forced to have a conversation with yourself. It stops being about how many likes or views  you get, or if so-and-so will publish you, and starts being about how honest you can be with yourself. It becomes about the process, and not the end success story, of writing.

Yesterday was January 1st. A lot of people resolved to run a marathon in 2014. Many of these people will never achieve that goal, because many of these people hate running. You have to love it. I started running because I have the hand-eye coordination of a toaster and I enjoy the endorphin high. I resolved to run a marathon last year because it sounded impressive (again, pettiness and vanity). I may have started training for the wrong reasons, but through the training I learned to love running. Even if you listen to a book on tape or music while you run, it’s hard to pull your mind away from the step, step, step. I like the isolation of it- it’s a form of meditation. If I fart, no one cares. I am too fast.

I am learning that everything is like that. The step, step, step of running is like the sound of my fingers on the keyboard or my pen on my notebook. I am learning to love the process of writing as opposed to worrying about the end result. We had the conversation on the last day of 2013 about how you wanted to love the process of learning, like you used to, without thinking about the grades. You want to focus on the process. I don’t know how to ignore the grades, but I admire and respect you so much for wanting to enjoy learning. I think just the realization that you want it will help you with your journey. The realization that you want it, and the practice, which you won’t escape anyway.

I love you,

I can’t wait to hear about how you biked down a volcano today,

E