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

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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

10 Ways to Make Art Even If You Can’t Draw

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Dear P,

Though you have never been the greatest of draughtswomen, I consider you to be an artist. I always enjoy looking at your journals, your writing is vibrant and your handwriting is precise and beautiful.

Art like yours is not just for walls. The catharsis of expressing yourself is a reason to make art all on it’s own, but you can put your creations to many uses. This is especially true during the holidays, when many gifts are needed of varying expense and thoughtfulness.

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(I got this pic here)

1. Terrariums

Over Thanksgiving, my aunt and I made several terrariums of plastic Christmas trees with glitter snow. We set these up on the mantle, where they glittered.

Whether you need Christmas ornaments, a place to put small plants, or a reason to use plastic dinosaurs, junk looks more tranquil in a glass case. And placing the objects in the container is relaxing in itself.

2. Collages

Collages are quick and easy. Each collage holds the stamp of the media it was collected from, the person who made it, and the times they were created in. Your journals (and this one I particularly like) are filled with lovely collages, but this can be used for more than just journaling.

You can use collages to make a personalized card for someone you love. For example, last year I made our friend S a postcard of a picture we had taken together. I cut out flowers and made them into a flower crown for S and had more floral patterns going on in the background. You can make treasured gift-wrapping paper out of collages. Add some funny quotes or anecdotes for added personality.

You can even make poetry from collage, like my friend Austin Kleon:

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3. Letters

Emails are not art. Letters are. Through letters, you convey yourself not only through your words, but through your handwriting, your signature, and even doodles. It’s another form of body language. If you want someone to know you care, tell it to them in a letter. It doesn’t have to be long, and you can add photos or inside jokes if just pen and paper feels too Mr. Darcy-ish to you.

4. Make Beautiful Snapchats

Snapchat has proved an interesting medium in 2013. IM is my favorite snapchatter, as well as the queen of unconventional art:

5. Decorate Cookies

There is so much inspiration on the Internet, especially Pintrest, for creating interesting cookies, hor d’oeuvres, and really anything delicious you could ever want. “Harry Potter-themed Christmas Cookie Decorating Party”? Check.

6. Have a Party

As you read this, P, I am probably obessesively planning the post-New-Year’s “Black and White Ball” I want to host with you. Hosting a party is a balancing act in every way. You must have the perfect mix of food, festivities, and decorations, or else things get awkward quickly. I am planning my party based on the iconic party Truman Capote threw in 1966.

7. Iphone Photography

Instagram and other iPhone has capitalized on the halfway-decent camera in ways that nobody could have imagined. I recommend the apps VSCO cam and Camera+. Through these apps and others, you can turn precious moments from your everyday life into colorful little illustrations.

8. Alter Your Clothing

Sew interesting patches of fabric as frockets, elbow patches, and the edges of sleeves or skirts. Use a bleach pen to write words on simple shirts. Tie-dye or mock-tie-dye your shirts, socks, or sports bras. Dye a thrifted denim jacket, or anything else. Write in sharpie on a pair of shoes, like IM did for my birthday:

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9. Wear a Perfect Outfit

Since you are the queen of dressing like you have a date with destiny every day, P, I do not need to go into this one.

10. Write on Your Mirror

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(I found this pic here)

Lipstick works well. Write nice notes to yourself. “You’re beautiful” is a classic.

Stay creative,

E

No Luck with No-Poo

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Dear P,

This is a picture of me the day before Thanksgiving with your friend G. At this point, I had gone three weeks without using shampoo.

Look closely at the picture. There is a greasy string of hair stuck to my forehead. My hair is up because it looked hideous down. The final straw was that I had a constant, slight headache that lasted for about two days. My hair, you see, is too heavy for my scalp to handle when it is too greasy. My family was horrified. Except for G, of course, who doesn’t notice superficial things like gross hair.

I was inspired to adopt the “No-Poo” method by this and this article. It sounded straightforward and appealed to two of my main sensibilities:

1. I am lazy.

2. I am cheap.

According to the authors of these articles, I should use baking powder and vinegar fake shampoo/conditioner for the first two weeks and then par down from there to once a week. I would only have to “wash” my hair once a week.

I lasted for three weeks. Honestly, I probably would have continued if I hadn’t had a headache and I hadn’t want my aunt to braid my hair. My hair had obviously started producing less oil: since I started using shampoo again, my hair has been as dry as our desert hometown. It still seemed pretty greasy on the day of the picture, though.

In conclusion, I would do some research into the chemistry of No-poo before I start putting baking soda and apple cider vinegar on my hair again. As my family pointed out, it is what fifth-graders use to make science-fair volcanoes. On the other hand, my hair did exactly what the articles said it would, so maybe I quit too soon.

People should try this they have hair that isn’t heavy like mine (so not you, P), don’t mind being greasy for a couple of weeks, and are very motivated to not have to use shampoo every day. The motivation is key.

Yours,

E

 

How to Be More Like Nellie Bly

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Dear P,

This morning I was doing my usual perusal of my favorite blog, Brainpickings. Maria Popova wrote a post today about the 13 best biographies, memoirs, and histories of this year. In it is the book Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World. I had never heard of Nellie Bly, so this discovery prompted some quick research. P, I discovered that Nellie Bly was one of the coolest women in history. I think you will like her too, so this post is a brainstorm about how we can be more like Nellie Bly.

The Quests we did when this blog started were a good start. As you will recall, when we still lived in our hometown, bored out of our minds, we embarked in a series of quests that involved camping out in a library, making flower crowns, and creating beautiful forts:

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Nellie Bly had simliar types of quests, though hers were more oriented towards social activism than our teenage antics were. In 1887, Bly wanted to find out what insane asylums were like from the inside, so she convinced a team of doctors and psychologists that she was insane. She spent ten days as a patient inside the Woman’s Lunatic Asylum and found the conditions deplorable. She brought lots of attention to the poor conditions of asylum patients through her journalism, which was compiled into a popular book called “Ten Days in a Mad-House”.

Another of her self-assigned quests involved traveling around the world in eighty days like Jules Verne’s character Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days. She resolved, in fact, to beat Fogg, and travel around the world in less than eighty days. 1888, the year she set off, was still many decades before Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 flight across the Atlantic, and all her travel was by ship, railways, and, of course, foot. Along the way, she met Jules Verne, visited a leper colony in China, and bought a monkey in Singapore. The book mentioned in the first paragraph is about her journey.  She ended up reaching her goal and traveling around the world in seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds.

Nellie Bly was an excellent journalist because she had the ability to both stand out and blend in. Many biographers of Nellie Bly comment on her average looks. Matthew Goodman, author of Eighty Days, describes her as “neither tall nor short, dark nor fair, not quite pretty enough to turn a head: the sort of woman who could, if necessary, lose herself in a crowd.” Many women would take being called “average-looking” as an insult, but I disagree entirely. When you need to fly under the radar, it can be an effective method of camouflage. In the book You Can’t Lie to Me, which I read this summer and highly recommend, the author Janine Driver discusses a friend of hers who is a middle-aged, sweet Southern woman who also happens to be a private investigator. This woman’s looks and status in society allow her to work her magic almost completely undetected. People will carry on private conversations or continue duplicitous activities in her presence. I know we are young and fairly good-looking, P, and you’re especially tall, but sometimes it’s fun to skip the makeup and dress down to fly under cover. Today I did and it allowed me to avoid a certain anxiety-inducing boss (you know who I’m talking about). Thanks, Nellie Bly!

Nellie Bly wasn’t afraid to stay flexible. After she retired from her journalism career, she became the president of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., which made steel containers. She was one of the leading female industrialist in the U. S. and published several patents. When her company was foiled because of employee embezzlement, she fell back on her journalism career and covered the Suffragette Parade of 1913. She accomplished all these adventures before dying at only 57. Throughout her last days, she worked hard for the betterment of orphanages and children’s living conditions.

Here is a lovely rendering of Nellie Bly by “The Reconstructionalists“.

Stay adventurous, flexible, resourceful and generous,

E

How to Be The Perfect Wing Woman

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Dear P,

The other day, I listened to an episode of “Relations: the Podcast” about how to be a good wing-woman or man. I agree with most of the points Elijah Young and Sarah Storer make, but I think they gloss over some of the more important issues and are wrong about some things, so I am going to do my own version here. I have no qualifications other than being the self-appointed matchmaker of the year. If I were as good at having my own game as I am helping other people have game, I would be the most popular girl at UT.

The point of being a wing-woman is making the other person look cool. In its best form, it is a selfless act of love. I would go so far as to call it a spiritual act. You are completely focused on the person you are with. You laugh enthusiastically at their jokes and tell cool stories in which they play the protagonist. You get them more drinks before they run out. Basically, you act enamored of them, and then, following your example, everyone else will be. Your goal is to set an example.

To initiate a conversation, Storer had a good tip. Pretend you are having an argument over something with your friend and you need an objective opinion. Extra points if the argument is over something sexual, because that sets the tone.

In this role, you are not allowed to be weird. Why would anyone follow the social example of a weird person? You must be perfectly charming and neutral. If the person you are targeting ends up sticking around, they will figure out you are weird eventually anyway. Do not talk too much. If the person you are wing-womaning for makes a slightly off-joke or extends their story a little too far, find a way to redirect subtly while continuing to act like they are the most interesting person in the room. Remember, this is an art. You do this for the joy of the art, not for your own attention. Your ego is not important. What is important is that your friend gets laid.

When it comes down to closing time, go away for a couple of minutes, then come back. If your wing-womaning worked and your friend has a new make-out buddy, they will probably disappear. If either party is not feeling it you can diffuse the situation and take your friend home for ice cream. You probably want your wing-womaning skills to work, but remember, your friend is the most important party here, and she needs to feel comfortable at all times.

This formula works for more than women. Men can use it, too. Also, it can be used beyond the contexts of romantic situations, though you should probably adjust the amount of sexual tension in your conversation accordingly. If you have a particularly shy friend at a social gathering, wing-woman until they have a large group of shimmering new friends around them.

Why you should indulge in the act of generosity? To hone your socializing skills, to make your friends happy, because it is more fun to focus on others than you own self-conciousness and because the universe will eventually return the favor. Trust me on that one.

A Beautiful Day for a Thrift-Shopping Lesson

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Dear P,

Sometimes, even thrift-shopping queens like us and Macklemore need a refresher. I don’t know if you’ve seen this TED talk, but it is adorable. Even if you don’t love all of Jessi Arrington’s outfits, you have to admit that her attitude is infectious. I’ve been missing our pound store back home: the thrift stores in Austin are more picked over. Here is a beautiful article on Rookie about Halloween thrift shopping with the band “Au Revoir Simone”. If you’re more into practicalities than aesthetics, there is also this article about how to thrift your holiday gifts. Here‘s an excellent article by one of my favorite bloggers, Elsie of “A Beautiful Mess”. Her tips are solid. My rules of thrift shopping are contradicting:

1. Keep an open mind

2. You don’t have to buy everything

Stay away from items that are awesome but slightly too big or otherwise not flattering. It’s easy to buy too much when everything is so cheap. On the other hand, you can find a lot of great vintage slightly out of the way. Keep your eyes and mind wide open.

The cover of this post is John Cusack in “Say Anything”, which I watched last night. It was a great eighties movie with an uplifting ending. I highly recommend it. I think they set a good standard to thrift shop to.

I hope you’re having a lazy Sunday,

E

Emerging from a Slump

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Dear P,

It seems like nearly all of my friends have failed a test, broken off a relationship, or gotten sick or injured in the last month. Even the sparklingly happy Ms. Darling wrote this article about trying to boost her own spirits. I’ve been trying to recover from my own bout of health issues that have been preventing me from running. Since I’m addicted to endorphins and my sleep is dependent on my exercise regime, this has made for a pretty grouchy E. Also, I don’t want to alarm you, but I found my first gray hair today.

Gathered here today are a few ideas I’ve been brainstorming for myself about how to make October beautiful, golden, and 200% better than September:

1. Be grateful. The number one reason some people are happy and some people aren’t is gratitude. Watch this video and click on the research article if you don’t believe me. There are an infinite number of ways to be grateful, and Alexandra Franzen goes over fifty beautiful ones in this article. Even though this month has been tough, there have been thousands of beautiful moments and things to be grateful for, like chocolate bars, nice texts from good friends, kisses and laughs had by all.

2. Cultivate self-disipline. For me, this means eating food that make my insides feel clean, keeping my room tidy, exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol, attending my lab every day, and not wasting time reading fun articles on the internet (like the one I’m writing now, irony be damned). It’s important to decide what self-disipline means to you and relish the feeling that comes from achieving it.

3. Listen to this awesome playlist that I made! I’ve been listening to the song “Counting Stars” on repeat.

4. Laugh a lot. I’ve been re-listening to “Bossypants” by the great Ms. Fey while I work on the frustrating-but-empowering task of re-training my body. Here you can watch one of my personal heroes, Dr. Oliver Sacks, on the Daily Show with John Stewart. Comment on this with your favorite laugh-worthy article or video.

5. Embrace change. I downloaded IOS 7 today. I like it. It’s just like the old version except more beautiful. My two As, S and C have been looking for a small house or big apartment to move into next year. We’re beyond excited.

I’ve been throwing myself into these positive steps with abandon, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that, in the end, it’s time that is going to make things better. With time, my illness will dissipate, my sleep will improve, and I will gain new tools to address problems in my life. It’s in both of our natures to work on something until it gets better, but some things only get better with time. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but it helps me deal with frustration I have felt this last month. The next will be better for all of us.

Happy Octobers!

E

Ten Blogs Someone Should Start Right Now

Dear P and other potential blog-starters,

1. A blog devoted to videos that were supposed to be pictures

2. A blog devoted to babies and puppies being friends

 

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3. A collection of people looking at their phones who are about to get into disastrous situations

4. A blog of the first and last sentences of books, real and made-up

5. A blog about the life of Lemony Snicket, the alias of author Daniel Handler. Snicket has his own intriguing backstory in “A Series of Unfortunate Events” that was never really fleshed out. The internet would be an excellent place to do this.

 

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6. A blog of obscure kitchen ingredients and their whereabouts. Filé powder was supposed to go into the gumbo A and I wanted to make one time. That gumbo never came to fruition because of that one spice.

7. A blog devoted solely to awesome Halloween costumes and how to create them. During the parts of the year that aren’t October 31st, the costumes could be put to good use at parties and other shenanigans.

8. A blog devoted to taking pictures of normal people like they are celebrities. It can be called “Paparazzi”.

9. A blog made by people who make amazing sand castles giving me advice. Lots of photos of their sand castles included. See two posts ago for elaboration.

10. A blog of street caricatures and their artists.

 

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Happy blogging!

E

I Want to Build the Perfect Sandcastle

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Dear P,

Yesterday, my cousins and I visited a small creek near their house. I built this “sandcastle”:

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It’s so ugly. It it so ugly. So. Ugly. I can’t even call it a sandcastle without putting quotation marks.

On a school orchestra trip in 2007, I watched the movie “Nancy Drew”. In the movie, as in the books, Nancy Drew has a wide variety of interesting talents. One of these is the ability to build the perfect sandcastle. Since I saw this movie, my own dungy sandcastles have filled me with disappointment. I think it would be an excellent party trick to be able to built an exquisite sandcastle from nothing but water and sand.

I’ve found a couple of examples from tumblr:

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I like the idea of dying the roof and filling the castle with lights.

I have also researched some tips from the interwebs. This eHow article recommends building quickly with fine, wet sand. It also says to build patties on top of one another to promote stability. One you have created your foundation, you can carve out details using a fork or a stick. The technique of constantly patting your sandcastle down to make it easier to carve out is also highly lauded.

I think the problem with my sand castle is that the sand found near a creek is too grainy. The next time I am at a beach, I will put my new sandcastle-building techniques to use.

Wishing you sunshine,

E