E’s Family Tree

Dear P,

I came home today, exhausted after the day’s work, and decided to listen to RadioLab while I snacked on a grapefruit. This turned out to be the best decision I’ve made this long day, as I stumbled across an 80th-birthday-celebration interview with Oliver Sacks. P, as you know, Oliver Sacks is my favorite writer. Whenever I listen to interviews with him I always end up getting emotional. This interview was no exception.

To get into why I started tearing up today we have to go back to this time last night. I was sitting in the same spot I am now frantically googling ways I could get into Austin Kleon’s SXSW speech that was today at 2:00. Spoiler alert: I didn’t get in. My irrational optimism led me to believe his speaking presentation would be open to the public, and especially the bright young minds at UT Austin. Turns out badges are $1000+ and I did not plan enough to volunteer. At about 8:00 AM this morning I emailed Austin Kleon asking him if I could come to his speaking presentation (again with the irrational optimism).

The reason I wanted to go to Austin Kleon’s event so very badly is because he has a lot of interesting ideas. He has a new book out called Show Your Work. I recommend it. But the idea most central to my Oliver Sacks story is under a subtitle in his first book: “Climb your own family tree”. I consider Oliver Sacks to be my creative father. That statement sounds egotistical and ridiculous on many levels, but I don’t care. When I first started reading Oliver Sacks’ books at age thirteen my mind was opened. He is the reason for both my college majors, Neurobiology and Rhetoric and Writing, and is the first person I was aware of who successfully combined the two.

Austin Kleon encourages each reader to “Climb your own family tree” because “Seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage will help you feel less alone as you start making your own stuff.” Dr. Sacks has the amazing ability of making his work relatable. This is his great power. His patients have otherworldly neurological disabilities that make it hard for us to imagine what reality seems like to them. Oliver Sacks takes us into his patient’s brain, allowing us to empathize with them. However, Dr. Sacks was not always in a position where he could use this super-power. In the interview I just listened to he talked about how he was a researcher in the beginning of his career. He was a terrible researcher. He lost his notebook and then the myelin he had been collecting from earthworms for nearly a year. The faculty of his research office decided he should be moved to a nursing home with many patients that were victims of the 1920’s encephalitis lethargica disease. These patients were doomed to remain speechless and motionless for eternity; that is, until they were administered L-dopa under the watchful eye of Dr. Sacks. The rest is history, beautifully documented by Sacks himself.

This story made me tear up because I, too, tried research and I, too, lost my specimens. I felt very much less alone. I felt even less alone when Sacks went on to describe one of his heroes: Dr. A. R. Luria. Dr. Luria was the only modern physician Dr. Sacks was aware of that wrote his case histories with the style that Dr. Sacks wanted to write with. Not just the facts, but all the expressive details that portrayed how the patient was feeling: “..a case history that did not shy away from the human aspects and the pathos and drama”, as Sacks described one of Luria’s works.

You know what this means, P. If Oliver Sacks is my creative father, A. R. Luria is my creative grandfather. Sacks felt the same way about Luria as I feel about Sacks: a mixture of overpowering envy and awe.

My plan now is to research Luria and read his best work. Then I will find out who he looked up to, and go further and further up my family tree. After all, we are all related somehow*.

Your soul-sister,

E

*This means no disrespect to my biological family that I was very lucky to be born into.

Advertisements

This is My Decade

“This is about a new phase in history where art, science, business, and spirit will join together, both externally and internally, in the pursuit of true wealth. It’s a phase where ideas are more important than people and everyone will have to choose themselves for happiness, just like I did. They will have to build the foundation internally for that choice to manifest. And from that internal health the rest will come, whether it’s a business, art, health, success.”

-J. Altucher

image

Dear P,

I’ve often heard our friends say things like, “Ugh, I wish I had been born in the twenties,” or “The sixties were where it was at.” This sentiment is echoed in Woody Allen’s recent masterpiece, “Midnight in Paris.” I agree that being a flapper girl would have had a splash of glamour to it, though the whole prejudice thing would have been an issue. It would have been cool to be alive when the Beatles were in their heyday, or to don red lipstick and poodle skirts (cough, cough, T).

However, I believe we came of age at the most magical possible time. It has my pleasure to grow up with the internet, to watch it evolve and change society. The crash in 2008 made “job security” a thing of the past. Technology has made the repetitive jobs of our parents and grandparents obsolete. Flexibility and resourcefulness are replacing specialization and rote work. This is the decade of the artist-entrepreneur, who can start a business and create great work from anywhere. Old, bloated establishments, like the publishing and music industry, are going under, leaving room for the new and exciting. Alex Day, a British youtube sensation, beat Justin Timberlake for the number two spot on iTunes at the beginning of this year. Alex lacked Timberlake’s media empire, but managed to broadcast himself and his music with sheer talent and business acumen.

I’ve heard you worry before about the Big Question: “What am I going to be when I grow up?” This question is irrelevant. We need to pursue our interests with abandon and find ways to expand upon them. That is all. Adults will still try to fit us into boxes: “pre-med”, “pre-law”, “loser”, etc. These adults are deluded and we should not confine ourselves by the boxes they impose on us. You may go to medical school, but that does not mean that you can’t start a business, do research or find a way to use new research to develop better ways to teach kids math. To be successful, we must combine, recombine, develop and peel away.

I am lucky because my parents understand this. They have never advised me in terms of, “Secure one, steady job you can bore yourself to death with for your entire life.” They have always focused on developing marketable skills so that I am able to seize as many opportunities as possible, and even develop my own.

I am especially excited to live at this time because I feel that I am in such good company. I am only a tweet away from my heroes: Oliver Sacks, who is the grandfather of the popular science book, Maria PopovaJames Altucher (who I stole the Alex Day story from), Penelope Trunk (who I found recently and am obsessed with), Steven PinkerCheryl Strayed of Dear SugarGala DarlingJeff CorwinBrene Brown, and my former TA Joe Hanson of the youtube series It’s Okay to Be Smart. These people invariably make their living conveying interesting information in a compelling way. P, I want to do that. Being a contemporary of these people is better than being a contemporary of Fitzgerald, Roosevelt, Einstein or Picasso.

It’s a beautiful world, P, and for smart, creative ladies like us and our compatriots, the future is wide open.

Hugs and kisses,

E

Emerging from a Slump

image

 

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

Let the Summer Reading Commence!

 

image

 

Dear P,

First of all, I have read this interview with Emma Watson about four times. It is my favorite post ever on RookieMag. I hope your journey home to Texas was smooth and that the hometown is just as flat as you remember.  Send my love to your family and our friends for me. If you feel like dropping by Grandad’s house he’d probably give you some watermelon.

I wanted to take today to review my summer reading list:

Read so far:

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami- I wish I could read this book with a class. I feel like I picked up about a tenth of the symbolism, but the dark imagery still made for an interesting read. I suppose I’ll just have to read it ten more times.

The Daydreamer by Ian McEwan- A charming collection of stories. It would be great bedtime read for kids.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan- Abandoned halfway through due to boredom. This book lacks McEwan’s luscious gothic style found in Atonement and The Daydreamer.

WomanCode by Alisa Vitti- Changed my life. Watch Vitti’s TED talk here.

Currently Reading:

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee- I’m only a few pages in, but I’m completely enraptured by this book. Mukherjee is a brilliant science writer.

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan- JFV borrowed this and read it on the plane to Vienna (I had barely started and was preoccupied with other books). He gave it the thumbs-up and Michael Pollan is one of my loves. I can’t wait to read it.

To-read:

So many, P. This is just scratching the surface.

The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin- I first read about Grandin in one of my favorite books of all time, An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks. She is the anthropologist. Since that book, I have read a few articles by Grandin and I can’t wait to read this book.

The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley- The most interesting-souding of the four or five business books James Altrucher recommends. I aim to read at least one business book a summer. Last summer it was The World is Flat, which completely revolutionized my worldview.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed- Dear Sugar broke my heart in ten thousand exquisite ways. Strayed is one of my favorite writers.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid- The novel everybody’s talking about.

The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks- I still haven’t read everything by my hero, Oliver Sacks. He is so prolific.

Frida by Barbara Mujica- Frida Kahlo has fascinated me since we learned about Diego Rivera in Acadeca. It was a difficult and interesting time to be an artist and a woman, and Frida thrived.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo- Another interesting-sounding biography.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran and Bossypants by Tina Fey- These both sound brilliant.

Happy reading!

E

Quest #13: The Ten Books that have Influenced Us the Most

Just warning you… if you read these books you will be forever changed and will be unable to look at the world the same way again. 

E’s Books

1. The Harry Potter Series– I firmly believe that each of us have one part of pop culture we reach for in our greatest need. Our pop culture comfort food, if you will. Harry Potter is mine. I have been listening to the books on tape since I was five years old and nothing calms me down like Jim Dale’s dulcet voice imitating my friends Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the rest of the gang. 

I took the above picture myself. My love for Harry Potter motivated me to visit London last summer with my dear friend H (http://liveitothefullest.tumblr.com/) to see the actors and JK Rowling at the premiere of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.” It was one of the cooler things I’ve ever done.
2. “An Anthropologist on Mars” by Oliver Sacks– Oliver Sacks is a personal hero of mine. He is a genius in so many ways. He is a great scientist, writes beautiful prose, and is an empathetic, caring man. I love the way he approaches neuroscience. Anyone would be interested in reading his works. 
3. “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson– Talk about a mind-blower! This book really puts things into perspective. It is, actually, a short history of nearly everything, from the formation of the universe to the scientists that made these discoveries. 
4. The “Odyssey” by Homer– I read the Iliad and the Odyssey while I was in Greece the summer before my freshman year. My dad was working in a small fishing village near Delphi, so my family got to tag along. This was a really incubative time for me in a lot of different ways, and somehow Homer worked himself into who I am today. The ultimate quest for the unreachable Ithaca, the faithful Penelope, the dreaded Cyclops and ensnaring Sirens. I love it all. 
5. I feel like I should include the King James Bible. I asked my mom for this version when I heard that Martin Luther King learned his rhetoric from the grand language used in this version of the Bible. Even if you’re not religious, Christianity is such a huge part of our culture and literature. You can recognize stories from the Bible everywhere. Of course, the same is true about Shakespeare and Greek Mythology, so you should also read those. 

P’s Books

  1. Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling-Like, E, these books have been a huge part of my childhood. I read them growing up and I was literally the same age as Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they battled dementors and learned magic. I’ve learned so much from the series and the books have contributed so much to my love for reading. 
  2. Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom-This book is absolutely wonderful. I read it and it really changed my view on what I’m doing with my life and about what’s important. If you go back to our first blog post you’ll see that this is one reason we started the blog. After this book I quickly became a Tuesday person and E and I have lunch every Tuesday to celebrate Morrie and his view on life. In addition, if I’m being real with you guys, I am ADDICTED to self-help books, not that I’m like, messed up or anything, it’s just that I have this weird desire to improve like every facet of my life and with self-help books I can read all about other peoples’ journeys and tailor their tips and advice to my own life. For reals, once you go self-help, you never go back. Other self-help books I enjoy are The Happiness Project, How to be a Hepburn in a World Full of Hiltons, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, etc. The list goes on forever.
     
  3. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen-I love this book and I do not care whether you judge me. Don’t get me wrong guys, I love me some Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. I like Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain and I read Homer and Shakespeare and I think classics are great books (sometimes), but there is just something about cheesy romance novels and young adult fiction that I cannot resist. I remember reading the Hunger Games almost two years ago and loving it! I just love fairytales and teen fiction and things about high school and magic and worlds that only exist in your imagination. Percy Jackson and Penndragon used to be some of my FAVORITE books. Yea, sometimes the plots are shallow and the characters are underdeveloped, but the idea behind the story always shines through. Certain ideas, certain quotes, they always stick with me from these kinds of books. It’s comforting for good to triumph over evil, and it’s fun to read books from the old days and have them take you back to your childhood. I don’t think I will ever outgrow children’s books or young adult books. 
  4. Blindness by Jose Saragamo-This book won the Nobel Prize for Literature and I can absolutely see why. The story was horrifying, yet extremely touching and a very wide array of human emotion is depicted throughout the book. It’s a hard book to describe and really just one you’ll have to read for yourself.
  5. The Science of Fear by Daniel Gardner-I really love reading science-y books, I guess because I’m a math and science nerd. This one is one of my favorites. I really like reading about the brain and about the body and why we do what we do. I find various diseases and ailments very intriguing and I enjoyed the Science of Fear a lot because it truly broke down what fear is and why humans feel it. it makes me approach my fear in a very different way. I have tons of other favorite science-y books (Michio Kaku anyone?) and I would definitely say this is one of my favorite genres.

CRAP. I just realized that I didn’t even include The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and that’s one of my favorite books. EFF. Maybe I’ll write a post called Why I Love The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Truthfully, this process of choosing five of my favorite books was absolutely grueling because there are so so so so so many wonderful books out there.

Anyway. Lots of Love and Happy Reading!

-E&P