Friday, December 26, 2014

Another Marlon Brando New Year

Let’s be real.  For once.  It’s OK.  Go ahead and let it out:  We’re not keeping our New Year’s resolutions, are we?

There now.  Doesn’t that feel better? 

Oh sure, we mean well.  We have every intention.  We do so want to improve.  But do we even remember what we resolved with such fervor on January 1, 2014?

No.  No we don’t.  Unless of course we are coming up on January 1, 2015, fixin’ to resolve it all over again.  With a straight face.  Like it never even happened.

But aw shucks, Miss Carolyn!  We was just funnin’!  Honest!  We was just kiddin’ anyway!  What’s all the fuss about?!

Year after year we flap our lips!  Expel hot air into an already warming global climate. 

When if we’d kept our own promises TO OURSELVES, we could’ve been better by now.  We could’ve had class.  We could’ve been somebody.  We could’ve been contenders!  Instead of a bunch of bums.  Which is what we are – let’s face it.

Last year right about this time we punched our one-way tickets to Palookaville. And this year, if we don’t make some changes, we’re climbing on board the express train!

The Wall Street Journal quantifies the phenomenon for us: 88% of New Year’s resolutions fail!  So who are we kidding anyway?  Really – Who?

As I see it, if we want to hold our heads up, we have two courses of action available:

Option one:  Follow the advice of Oliver Burkeman, also known as Mr. Grumpy Gills at The Guardian, who says – Abandon your resolutions now “rather than waiting a week or two for the moment when [they] will inevitably collapse in a quagmire of failed hopes, self-reproach and packets of Pringles.”

Geez!  That’s a little harsh!  All right, it’s true.  But harsh. 

Interestingly, his crabby cynicism has the opposite effect on me.  Rather than give up before I begin, his defeatism on my behalf makes me want to prove him wrong.  Just show him that I can keep my resolutions even though my track record mirrors that of Charlie Brown’s classic football kick. 

Maybe I am doomed to fail.  Maybe the Lucys of the world have conspired to pull that ball away from me; or maybe I’ve done it to myself.  But no matter how many times I land on my back screaming “Augh!” I want to get up and try again. 

Ever hopeful.  Ever optimistic.  All right – ever naive.

Senor Crabbiness explains: “The lure of making a ‘complete fresh start’ can be hard to resist… But in fact, aiming for across-the-board change – to get fitter, eat better, spend more time with the family and less time playing Angry Birds, all at the same time – is exactly the wrong way to change habits.”

He and the WSJ agree – we should respect the feebleness of our self-control.

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for willpower and it has lots of other things to worry about besides our half-hearted New Year's resolutions.

“Willpower is a depletable resource, which means investing energy in any one goal will leave less remaining energy for the others; so your resolutions end up fighting each other.”

Sabotaged by a weakened wherewithal!  That explains why I have no recollection of my earnestly enumerated good intentions.  They paired up and knocked each other out!
Far better, according to the Grinch, is to aim for one new habit every couple of months.  Maybe it could be worth a try – In January swear off the Law & Order marathons.  Then in March…I don’t know…dust?

Or, says he, you can manipulate your surroundings and totally eliminate the need to spend your precious reserves of willpower.  For example, it's much easier to watch less TV when you don't have one.  Right.  Like that’s going to happen! 

Make things automatic, he says, so you don’t have to strive constantly to be better.  It’s too hard on your pea brain!  But despite your handicap, you can automatically use your credit card less if you hide it in your sock drawer.  That’s exactly how I wound up with a surplus of sox!

This year, I think I’ll simplify.  Opt for Plan B:  Line up your excuses in advance.

I plan to blame my brain.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Holiday roundup


From CBS news affiliate WIAT-TV: A report that Officer William Stacy was called to the local Dollar General store in Tarrant, Alabama, on Saturday where a woman was caught trying to steal a dozen eggs.
The officer recognized the woman because he had responded to a previous call to her house and had seen her difficult living conditions.
The store agreed not to press charges, and Officer Stacy decided to buy the eggs for her.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis say they've discovered that nitrous oxide – laughing gas a somewhat mild general anesthetic often used as a sedative in dental surgery may be a rapid, effective treatment for severe depression when a patient isn't helped by standard therapies such as antidepressant medications.
Two-thirds of patients who received the laughing gas reported significant improvements in their depressive symptoms. 
Side effects of the use of nitrous oxide are feeling relaxed, unconcerned, happy, slightly numb and disconnected.


Psyblog reports that when thinking about almost anything, anxious people are prone to expect the worst.
However, socially anxious people often enjoy social occasions much more than they expect.
One study had people predict how much they would enjoy a group celebration on St. Patrick’s Day.
The results showed that socially anxious people consistently underestimated how much fun they would have.


A former monk speaking on The Daily Good says that “deep within each of us is a great well of health, abundance, knowledge and guidance.  When we enter into silence and stay in the silence, we come into direct contact with that sacred well.  In that place dwells our True and Higher Self … One of the most powerful spiritual practices you can adopt is also one of the easiest to do."

If you leave an open box under your Christmas tree, your cat will sleep in it instead of trying to open the other packages.  The box doesn’t have to be big enough for the cat.  Cats seem to enjoy squeezing into too-small boxes.  This strategy also helps with cat hair containment.
Associated Press reports that Ron Ingraham, a 67-year-old boater who had been missing at sea for 12 days, is on his way to shore after being found uninjured 64 miles south of Honolulu.
The Coast Guard searched for him after his mayday call on Thanksgiving reported that his small boat was taking on water about 50 miles west of Kailua-Kona.  In an audio clip of the call, Ingraham is heard saying he was in danger of sinking. 
The search was suspended Dec. 1 until another mayday call came in Dec 8th.  A guided-missile destroyer was nearby and its crew members found him.  
The Coast Guard says Ingraham was weak, hungry and dehydrated when the Navy ship reached him.  The agency said that he accompanied the cutter that towed his 25-foot vessel to the island of Molokai.
Time Magazine featured the SAME cafe in Denver which serves food “So All Might Eat.”  The cafe’s menu has no price structure other than “Pay what you can.”  Diners can choose to work in the garden, wash dishes or sweep floors in exchange for fresh soups, homemade breads, and entrees.

Tucson News Now tells us that the North American Aerospace DefenseCommand's “NORAD Tracks Santa” website,, officially launched on Dec. 1, as it does every year.  In keeping with technological advances the site features a mobile version, a holiday countdown, new games and daily activities for kids.
The website is available in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese.
Starting at one minute after midnight (MST) on Dec. 24, website visitors can watch Santa make preparations for his flight.  NORAD's "Santa Cams" will then stream videos on the website as Santa makes his way over various locations around the world.
NORAD Tracks Santa began in 1955 when a local Tucson advertisement told children to call Santa direct but misprinted the number.  Instead of reaching Santa, the phone rang through to the crew commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center.  Thus began the tradition, which NORAD has carried on since. 
You’re welcome.

Hope your holidays are warm and sweet.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Kevin Bacon never forgets

Trying to remember…have I already written about Alzheimer’s disease?

No.  No, I haven’t.  I’m sure of it.  Pretty sure. 

This much is certain – I follow every trick and tip I discover to stave off that thief of noodles. 

That’s why I play Words with Friends.  It’s not a deadly time-killer that beckons its victims to the Qi at any pause in their action-filled lives.  No!  No it’s not.

WWF is ‘way more than a silly electronic game of Scrabble!  On the contrary, WWF constitutes a pointed effort to hop up the hippocampus.  Oh my yes! 

I can’t tell you how happy I am to find that my compulsive pastime plays a preventive role in saving synapses.

It’s good to find evidence to back up my here-to-fore defenseless argument about why those little yellow lettered squares mean so much.

I learned it at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, 2014.

OK.  I didn’t go to the Alzheimer’s Conference.  Couldn’t find my car keys.  Forgot to mark my calendar.  Missed the flight to Copenhagen.  Yuk yuk yuk groan.

But here’s the good news for us addicts of WWF – not to be confused with the World Wrestling Federation, which, most likely, is bad for your brain – straight from the AAIC:  Traditional pastimes like playing card games and working puzzles help to increase brain volume! 

Evidently when it comes to brains, size does matter.

And these findings build on previous studies which have linked playing video games to larger brain structures. 

Would someone please tell Mr. Plath?  He makes a point of needling me at every opportunity just because my fingers twitch whenever my iPhone plays that tinkling notification that one of my nemeses has sent me another WORD! 

I cannot not respond…!

On the other hand, please don’t tell my boomerang son who plays video games, or more accurately, a particular video game, with the fervor of a young suitor pursuing the woman of his dreams.  He lives for long stretches in that virtual world where an actual woman is unlikely to materialize.  Unless perhaps, she also has heard the Call of Duty.  A mother can hope.

On the bright side, his brain must be bulging against his ear drums.

Another favorite game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, builds brain power too. 

Oh you may think of Six Degrees as an exasperating exercise that movie buffs use to clear a room.  It works well for that; but it is much, much more.

Six Degrees is a memory exercise that constructs a web of actors, their playlists, full movie casts and connections over time in Hollywood history.  That’s an elegant metaphor for a neural network! 

Case in point:  Just this week I happened upon a snippet of “Footloose” starring Kevin Bacon; and guess who costars in it?  John Lithgow! 

Instantly, my dementia defiant system of associations kicked into gear like a Rube Goldberg machine:  My memory mouse ran down that 1984 “Footloose” ramp, hopped onto the Ferris Wheel, swung around and jumped into a canoe.  From there, she paddled up to the ladder leading to 2014’s “Interstellar” starring Matthew McConaughey and, wait for it…John Lithgow!

So, “Interstellar’s” entire cast:  McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Michael Cain, Matt Damon, Ellen Burstyn, Anne Hathaway and lots more – all connect to Kevin Bacon via John Lithgow.

That spans generations of movies and dozens of second-degree connections!  All those actors’ playlists!  I couldn’t wait to explain all this to you! 

Isn’t it just so cool?!!

Oh.  OK.  I get it.  You’re not a movie nerd.  But you get the brain-building analogy, right?  I mean, it’s at least as good as pinochle.  Come on!  You have to give me that!

And Kevin Bacon is more interesting than Super Mario!  In another study cited at the AAIC, German researchers had people playing Super Mario 64 – a 1996 video game from Nintendo – for 30 minutes a day over 2 months and then compared their brain volumes with those of a control group.

Guess who had larger grey matter structures in areas of the brain associated with memory, spatial navigation and strategic planning?  John Lithgow!

Wait!  No!  I meant Kevin Bacon!  No!  No!  What was I doing?  Where was I going with all this?

Oh yeah.  Defeating dementia through distracting diversions.

See?  It works!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Silver Linings Makeover

I am so done with self-improvement.

Thank God.  It was exhausting!  What with the constant recognition of my shortcomings, the seeking of remedies, the futile attempts at changing ingrained behaviors and personality traits, and of course, the forgetting of what I started only to blunder into another reminder of my imperfection.

I really hate being a work-in-progress at my age.  Truly, truly, I do.

But that’s OK.  They’re all in the past now, my foibles.  Something to chuckle about over a snifter of brandy.  A fleeting wisp of whom I once was.  A ship smoke on the horizon (thank you Pink Floyd).

But how can it be, you might ask.  How can someone so faulty, so incomplete, so blemished, so, so… Hey!  Watch yourself!   

But it’s a fair question.  How can a person be so swiftly transformed?

Easy peasy!  Modern science has relieved me of the burden of trying!  I’ve learned that I need only quit struggling and live my life without further concern for those around me.  Other people can just deal.  Take me, my idiosyncrasies and faux pas for what they are – signs of my bright, charming and capable alter-self.  Ha!

Oh yes.  Science to the rescue! 

Researchers in the Psychology Department at New York University report that holding a “silver lining theory,” that is a sort of common-sense belief that being socially inept, for example, holds a hidden benefit of some sort, actually proves itself to be true!

That’s right, according to these guys:  Believing that a negative personality trait has a positive ‘silver lining’ is enough to boost performance in that area.

Psyblog reviewed the results of the study in their article entitled, “How to Turn Character Flaws into Strengths with One Easy Mental Trick.” 

It’s perfect!  It plays right into my strong suit – mind games.  I fool myself all the time:  This bite-sized Snickers won’t lead to another; no one notices my white roots; Words with Friends is a worthwhile use of my time.

I couldn’t wait to start hoodwinking myself right out of my imperfections.  Better living through chicanery!

“People know that a weakness can also be a strength but these results show that if we actually believe it, we can use these beliefs to our advantage.” 

So says Alexandra Wesnousky, the study’s lead author, who probably believes that her penchant for flimflam is a virtue:

In her experiment, participants were manipulated into believing they were impulsive.

Then half were told that there is a scientifically proven link between impulsiveness and creativity.  The other half were told the link was rubbish.

In fact, until this study, there was little evidence either way — the ‘science’ was fabricated to help people believe – or not – in the connection.

But then get this – The results of the experiment showed that participants who accepted the association between impulsiveness and creativity performed better than those who did not on a subsequent test of creativity!

Go go go, you implusive you!  You can invent anything you want!

Now this study only tested the silver lining relationship between impulsiveness and creativity, but participants freely advocated all sorts of unseen benefits to personal traits they thought of as negative. 

For example, those characterized as careless claimed a hidden benefit of being good-natured.  OK…

Your mom says you’re lazy, but no!  That’s not the whole story.  Lazy’s happy ending is patience!  Yeah, that’s the ticket!

You annoy your co-workers by being over-analytical?  Ha!  At least you’re thorough, unlike some others unnamed here.

Pessimistic?  Realistic!  Shy…modest.  It’s all good.  No character development required!  My kind of problem solving.

It’s not important whether the silver linings are ‘true,’ just that people believe that they are. 

Oh, I believe.

And that’s the scientific Zen of my makeover – recognizing that I’m already there.  My flaws are virtues:  My tendency to know-it-all is counterbalanced by my generous habit of correcting others.

Take that, you smug self-help gurus!  So what if I blurt out the truth in situations that call for a polite white washing of the uncomfortably obvious.  That only means I’m insightful.

The beauty of my penchant for procrastination?  An enviable ability to live in the now. 

Socially inept?  So what?  The merits of solitude are many.

And the upside of being a curmudgeon?  Isn't it obvious?  An irascible sense of humor!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thankful for the small things

A lone pelican works our cove, swooping with his huge beak pointed downward, keen eyes following fingerlings below the surface of the water.

He spots a fat one and forming a dagger with his body, he plunges, then bobs to the surface, tilts his enormous beak upward and lets his holiday hors d’oeurvre slip down his throat.

Then, extending his neck, he spreads his wings wide, flaps once, twice, and rises again into the hazy sunshine.  Magnificent.  Serene.  Emblematic of the beauty of nature and the cycle of life.

Across the alley, my neighbor’s boys jump on their trampoline, rising above the fence line in counterpoint, their longish hair rising too, outward, and their arms for balance.  Their young voices call out into the crisp air. 

Leaves on the gingko tree in their yard fan out yellow now.  And behind it, what is that tree?  Scarlet!  Dazzling.

My cat hops onto my lap as I write, turns and curls into her coziest configuration, pushing her nose and lips against my hand as she goes.  Her predecessor lived to 21 years so I’m hoping she will accompany me into my old age.  We are of like minds, after all.

I hear our boomerang son in his room below me, cajoling his online international team members in World of Warcraft.  He’ll be with us another year or so as he reestablishes himself on solid ground this time.  He’s smart and strong and good.  Just like we hoped and planned for, if a little tardy.

Mr. Plath and I have been married almost 25 years now and we have that easy comfort of a pair of old shoes. 

2015, our Silver Anniversary year is shaping up to be a memorable one:  He’s retiring come February and already dancing the happy dance of a short-timer.  A party is definitely in the offing. 

We’re planning a nostalgic repeat of our honeymoon trip to Niagara Falls coupled this time with a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  While we’re in the neighborhood, we might head over to Fenway Park to see Pablo Sandoval play.

There’s even talk of a third pilgrimage to Alaska this year to catch some halibut for the freezer – you really only need one!  Maybe we’ll go to Kodiak Island this time.  See glaciers and bald eagles.  And a moose.  Or a grizzly.  Through the binoculars!

That book I vowed to complete in 2014 is close to its checkered flag.  One last push and I’ll move it to the next phase, still muddling along, learning as I go.

On Facebook, past students send out their Thanksgiving wishes.  Some are married with babies and toddlers and I feel like a virtual grand-mamma.  The least taxing role of all, but still heartwarming.  Maybe before too long the Boomerang Kid will produce some progeny and we will be real-time actual grandparents! 

Oklahoma friends and family send smiling pictures and “wish you were here!”  Out of focus or too far from the lens – it’s OK.  The message still hits the mark.

I have it easy for Thanksgiving dinner again this year.  The Plath family gathers in Sacramento.  Siblings, spouses and the next generation, and the next, arrive bearing side dishes.  Cheesy broccoli and rice casserole.  Candied yams.  My sister-in-law is the only person I’ve ever met who doesn’t want leftovers.  She always sends lots of turkey home with us.  Yum!

My beloved 94-year-old father-in-law will make the trek and hold court at the dinner table.  Seeing him gaze into the eyes of his great-granddaughter is mystical and life-affirming.

These next few weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year are some of my favorites – joyful and sentimental.  I’ll decorate the house this weekend and have as many mini-parties as I can to share it and show it off and celebrate.

Oh!  A pair of swans glides across the cove now!  And Pachelbel on the radio!  My mother would love this!  She raised me on classical music and Audubon.  Thanks Mom. 

So there it is – my thanks-giving. 

I could go on, but you get the gist.  Life is so good.  Bittersweet and sweet.  Better than I ever imagined it could be.   

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Black, white and gray

As is well-established by science, there are two types of people in the world.  There have only ever been two types.  Two types alone.  Amen.

Any effort to define and sort people into a third group is futile.  A fourth?  Abomination!

People love the binary and in fact will self-sort.

You’re either built for comfort or built for speed.  You declare yourself a lover not a fighter. 

You recognize the universal duality as you go about your daily life:  There are those who signal and those who blithely change lanes.  Those who listen and those who merely wait their turn to talk.

Cat people.  Dog people.  Wallflowers and dancers.  Math people and the rest of us.   

Don’t mess with the order of the universe.  Coke or Pepsi, man.  Make your choice!  Commit!

It’s been true since Noah built the Ark.  Two by two, dude.  Two by two.

But the wise guys at Personality andIndividual Differences just couldn’t leave it alone.  They just had to tinker.  Guess which of these two groups they fall into – those who make things simple and those who make things complicated.

And the result of their meddling?  The title of their research tells it all:  “How many diurnal types are there?  A search for two further ‘bird species.’”

First of all – Diurnal?  Diurnal?!!  That in itself is a tipoff.  Who says ‘diurnal’?  These aren’t red-blooded American lab geeks. 

You’re not a ‘diurnal type’!  You’re either an early bird or a night owl.  Period. 

But evidently, if your family names are Putilov, Donskaya and Verevkin, you just had to investigate.  You had to fiddle with the American way of life.

Sure, Mr. Putin’s emissaries start with larks (early birds) and (night) owls, like normal people.  But they immediately get into unnecessary subtleties.  What does it matter if you don’t fit the pigeon hole? 

Because you do fit it! 

Do not attempt to resist your label.  You lark you.  You owl.

Admit it.  You’re in one of two sleep-over camps:  1) you prefer to get up early and prance around cheerily as though you are something special.  And so you go to sleep early because even you, in all your insane optimism, cannot sustain that level of irritating merriment past dark.  Thereby you are an early bird – a lark.

 Or, 2) you prefer to rise according to the prophecy – when the mid-morning sun is on your face and the cat is desperate for nourishment.  You go about your business like a sensible human being and get your news of the world from Jon Stewart and StephenColbert, thereby demonstrating your night owlishness.

Don’t fight it!  Resistance is futile.  And rough on the feathers.

But here we go:  Thanks to the Ruskies we now have two more types of sleep/wake patterns to cope with somehow.  They identified a third group of extremely annoying people who feel high energy in the morning as well as at night. 

Where do these people fit in?  What are we normal dichotomous folks supposed to do with Diurnal Group #3?  They probably put ketchup on their hot dogs for God’s sake. 

I’ll bet they unwrap packages by slipping their fingers along the edge of the seam, loosening the tape, just so, saving the paper and ribbons for reuse.  I really hate these people.  Really, I do.

What shall we call these giddily energetic folks?  Why hummingbirds of course!  They’re probably high on sugar water.

And then there’s the fourth group who feel lethargic all day.  These guys make us night owls look bad.  If we nap during in the afternoon to make up some REM time, the logic holds; but Group 4 sullies that fine institution.

There, there.  Poor weary you.  You’re too worn-out to eat the crust of your pizza.  You don’t have the strength to sort your Skittles.

Look, just because you lay about heaving heavy sighs, back of your hand to your forehead all day, doesn’t mean you deserve your own avian appellation. 

But it’s too late now.  The damage is done.  Patterns detected and documented.  The only thing remaining is the moniker.  And the Russians don’t disappoint.

What better name to call such a ringer?  Number 4 in a two-category world?


Friday, November 14, 2014

Call me Neo

 You’ll excuse me if I seem etheric.    

I have passed through a complicated mass of neurobiology and entered the flow state.  The deep now. 

Always seeking the cutting edge, and in accordance with the latest research, I have eased up on my gray matter accelerator and backed off my normally ultra-quick sharp-as-a-tack-edness.

But Carolyn, you must be thinking, why would you do such a thing? 

I’m so glad you asked. 

I have gone deep to improve my performance in the realm of mental acuity.  I read about it in an article on Big Think titled, “Your Brain Performs Better When It Slows Down.”

At first glance, that might seem like a paradox; but it made immediate sense to me, being pretty darned acute already. 

Of course!  Thought I.  I want to expand my awareness.  And at last, I can quit gritting my teeth and ease into amplification; turns out, a pokey perceptual pace performs preeminently!

That’s what best-selling author of TheRise of Superman, Steven Kotler, talks about on Big Think – “the optimization of consciousness through flow states.” 

And I’m all over it.

The best way to describe a person in flow, e.g. me, is a person who obtains the ability to hone her focus on the task at hand so keenly that everything else falls away. 

That is so me!

Sometimes, I am so immersed in writing this very column, Dear Reader, that time “dilates,” which means it slows down (You’re welcome).  

I strive for that freeze frame effect Kotler references, just like the one Keanu Reeves has in The Matrix when Laurence Fishburne is trying to teach him martial arts, or kill him.  

According to Kotler, Keanu and I are in “bullet time.”

Conversely, he says time may speed up and five hours will pass by in what seems like five minutes.  Not sure what that means on the actual clock.  Did I miss my nap?

But yeah.  There’s nothing else quite like it.  Not since the sixties anyway.  As though wading through molasses, I can navigate my slow crawling stream of consciousness.  Everything is within my reach – eventually.  I pull words out of the cosmos as if they’re Carl Sagan’s teeth.  Whatever.

And, Kotler says, when in flow, “all aspects of performance go through the roof.”

It’s relative, of course.  I mean, if a person’s mental performance in her normal, anxiety-ridden, distraction-filled, scatter-brained time is at a baseline of, say, four, then the ceiling is considerably lower.  Think old English thatched-roof bungalow.  It’s fairly easy to reach up and touch it.  

Still, it’s an improvement.

Big Think says it’s a common myth that humans use only 10% of their brains.  If that were true, an optimal “flow” performance would mean the brain works harder and faster to achieve 100% efficiency.  But Kotler says that’s backwards –

"In flow, parts of the brain aren’t becoming more hyperactive, they’re actually slowing down, shutting down.  The technical term for this is transient, meaning temporary, hypo frontality.  Hypo – H – Y – P – O – it’s the opposite of hyper – means to slow down, to shut down, to deactivate.” 

OK.  He seems a little condescending.  I mean really.  We get the transient hypo frontality thing, Mr. I’m-the-Brainiac Scientific Guy.

And since the prefrontal cortex calculates time, when we experience this transient hypo frontality, we lose the ability to sense past, present, and future.  Hence, flow.

As Kotler explains it, "We’re plunged into the ‘deep now.’”

So it’s all good in the deep now, even if it is a bit of a conundrum:  You get to the flow when performing at high levels.  And when you’re in the flow, performance levels are enhanced. 

Kotler says scientists have studied flow for 140 years and it is present in every altered state from dreaming to mindfulness to psychedelic trips.  Umm hmm.  

When in the deep now, your sense of self-doubt and your brain's inner critic are silenced.  This results in boosted states of confidence and creativity. 

That will come in handy because I’ve been thinking for a while now that it would be fine with me if my Inner Critic would just Shut Up.  She’s messing with my flow, man.

In the meantime, I’m scheduled for a cookie with the Oracle.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Land of the free; home of the sorta happy

I’m about to realize a life-long dream – moving to the Happiest Place on Earth!

I’ve had it with all this marginal joy!  It’s just not good enough.  Why settle for 16th best?

That’s right.  The United States ranks 16th among the top 25 happiest countries in the world, according to a study conducted by Juliana Breines, Ph.D. of Brandeis University and online source of good news, usually:  The GreaterGood Science Center:  The Science of a MeaningfulLife.

Our blissful country didn’t even make the middle of the pack of republics populated with gleeful peeps.  Nope.  This land of opportunity was topped by the likes of Finland and Bulgaria.  The Czech Republic!

My favorite guy is a Czechoslovakian and I’m a nervous wreck.  I took him home to meet my folks.  But my folks said they don’t accept Czechs.

Sorry.  I know I’m distracted.  I had to take a moment to process the news of my melancholy.

I had no idea.  It’s mortifying.  All this time.  Tripping along as though I were content! 

And who’s Number One?  Croatia!  That’s right!  That bright destination spot of the Eastern Bloc countries:  Croatia! 

OK.  Croatia is really #2 on the list following Costa Rica.  But everyone knows Costa Rica must be happy, right?  It’s no fun to write about that!

So – Croatia.  Based on this survey, moving to Croatia would constitute a 14 point jump on the contentment countdown.  In one fell swoop!  And who doesn’t love a fell swoop?

But when I think of Croatia, all I can picture is a damp World War II nation of blues and grays; head scarves; bad posture; plows strapped to tired horses in fields of … OK.  I’m a typical US citizen who knows virtually nothing about anything outside our borders, save Cancun and Cabo.

Speaking of which, why didn’t Mexico rate higher on the happiness index?  Oh wait.  It did.  #11.  Incredible.

Anyway, I looked it up.  Croatia…here it is:  Formerly a single party Socialist union; declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991; became totally cool thereafter.  Sunny beaches and high Human Development Index. 

Who knew?  The pictures are beautiful.  And they have a travel bureau.  I’m going to live there.

Or Denmark.  Denmark tops another international happiness survey carried out annually by Leicester University inEngland.  The US ranks 23rd on that one, by the way.

What in the world could possibly make the home of Hamlet so much flippin’ fun?

CBS News talked to Professor Kaare Christensen at the University of SouthernDenmark, who found it odd too.  So he conducted a careful investigation and published his results in study called, “Why Danes are Smug.”

He says it's because they're so glum!  Wha??  They get happy when things turn out not quite so badly as they expected.

That’s it!  The key to Danish happiness:  Low expectations! 

Don’t aim for the moon, Frederik.  Be glad you get a filtered view on a cloudy night.  

Danish national anthem – sing along with me - Denmark, oh Denmark!  You could easily be worse!

I didn’t find a list where the US ranks first in anything except maybe list making.  We come in 6th when compared to more individualistic cultures.  Those happiness measures tap personal accomplishments and self-esteem as sources of happiness.  Ffft!  

We score well in the category of “Flourishing,” a measure focused on individual achievement.  Sample question: “I am competent and capable in the activities that are important to me.”  The Croats couldn’t care less.

Yep.  Costa Rica and Croatia beat us out in Subjective Happiness.  They report that they are extremely happy.  We report we’re happy, kinda. 

Get this – in spite of Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram,LinkedIn and all that crapola, the Croats and the Costa Ricans score higher in Social Connections than we do.  What’s up with that?  I’m gonna unfriend them!

Low levels of Stress.  High Life Satisfaction.  Yadda yadda yadda.

So I guess they’re pretty laid back.  Denmark too.  I picture them all hanging out in their European cliques singing “Zippity Do Dah!”

It just makes me mad.  I mean where do they get off being happier than we are?  The very nerve!

I might just take my hard-earned American money and, and…  Maybe I’ll move to Disneyland.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Sally Field syndrome

 If you could only see me now, you’d know that I keep my palms up.

Between letters, of course.  Between pecking out each word on the keyboard, I always turn my palms up.

Sure, it slows me down, but it’s what all remarkably likeable people do.  So.  It’s my habit.  Totally unconscious.  Palms up – likeable me.

That’s one of the items I have checked off the list published by Robin Dreeke, former head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program and contributor to an article in Barking Up the Wrong Tree titled “How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert.”  Keep your palms up.

Dreeke should know, right?  After all, who doesn’t love an FBI agent?  Their dance cards are always full!

He talks about conversational techniques like actually listening to the other person instead of just waiting for your turn to talk.  But let’s continue with the basics:  non-verbals.

Palms up.  Oh, and don’t forget to smile.  In fact, if you want to increase your smile’s power – and who doesn’t? – smile slower. 

Slower?  Really?  Seems creepy, but OK.  We’re practicing our Cheshire Cat.

What’s next?  Elevated eyebrows?!  What the heck?

All right.  I’ll try it.  I just hope I don’t get that surprised look, the sure sign of an amateur facelift.  Seems like that would be off-putting, diametrically opposed to getting people to relax, and therefore making them like me, which is, of course, the goal.

I mean, picture it:  You and I are introduced in a social setting.  I take your right hand with my right hand and shake it while touching you non-sexually on the upper arm or shoulder with my left hand– following the FBI ‘like me’ protocol – and thereby deftly putting you at ease with my sincere display of friendly care and interest. 

Then, maintaining good, open, comfortable non-verbals, my palms return to their upward orientation. 

Whew!  This must be what it’s like on screening day at Quantico!

And I wonder how you, my potential target, uh, friend, feel when I expand my repertoire to include elevated eyebrows?  You might cautiously retrieve your hand and shoulder, take a step back to give me a curious once-over, your newest irresistibly affable amigo, and who would see?  Phyllis Diller?  Bozo?  Jack Nicholson?  Nancy Pelosi?!!

Those folks all have big smiles and perpetually elevated eyebrows, but I’m not sure people near them feel free of anxiety.  Think “The Shining,” or US Congress! 

Here I conclude my likeability score will be tied to the altitude of the elevation.  Therefore, I shall strive for Goldilocks eyebrows – not too high, not too low; elevated just enough to mesmerize you without tipping you off to my designs on your friendship.

OK.  So far, I’m smiling with palms up and elevated eyebrows. 

Now what’s this?  Chin down?  This is getting tricky, but I think I can manage it.  

According to Dreeke the rule of thumb in artificially friendly interactions is “anything going up and elevating is very open and comforting.  Anything that is compressing: lip compression, eyebrow compression, where you’re squishing down, that’s conveying stress.”

Well!  We, the seekers of love from all whom we encounter, can’t have that!  No siree!  We won’t be pursing our lips or squelching our facial muscles.  No!  We’re open!  We’re comfortable!  Our non-verbals convey only the sweetest and most inviting of false emotions!

One last thing:  “…if you can show a little bit of a head tilt, that’s always wonderful.”

Tilting head!?  Sure!  Right or left?  Say the word.  I’ll tilt.  No worries! 

I’m ready.  I’ve rehearsed.  I can do this.
It’s feeling a little unnatural, like I’m in a strait jacket on crutches, but hey!  It’s all for the worthwhile goal of being popular. 

Ah!  Here’s my opportunity to try the FBI’s system.  My new neighbor has stepped into the alley.  He’s looking this way.  Our eyes meet.

OK.  Here goes:  Deep breath.  Palms up.  Eyebrows lifted.  Smiling.  Slowly! 

Hello!  Let me shake your hand and touch your shoulder!  Come on!  Nice to meet you!

Hey!!  (Head tilted right.)  Where are you going?!  (Tilt left.)  You know you want to be my friend!  You know you like me! 

You really, really like me…

Friday, October 24, 2014

Even cannibals eat healthy

How many sweet potatoes must you examine before you find one that looks like your pancreas?

Fewer than you might think. 

You know you've done it, right?  At Thanksgiving time for sure:  You find yourself in the produce aisle, lingering near the potato bin.  But you won’t randomly select the first of those tuberous roots that you encounter. 

Admit it.  You surreptitiously scrutinize each one, turning it over in your hand as if you were considering a long term relationship.  You won’t settle.  No run-of-the-mill kidney-shaped spud will do.

Maybe, just maybe, subconsciously perhaps, you’re checking to see if that sturdy yam looks like your pancreas.

Could be creepy, but don’t worry.  According to Woman’s Day, pretty much every “oblong sweet potato bears a strong resemblance to the pancreas.”

But this isn’t just another one of those your-pancreas-looks-like-a-potato stories.  There’s more.

The really peculiar part?  According to Web MD, sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, which is a potent antioxidant that protects a certain organ from the damage associated with cancer and aging.

That’s right:  Sweet potatoes promote healthy function of the pancreas, the very same organ they resemble…hmmm.  

This pearl of healthy eating emerged this morning when, coincidentally, I was reading about how eating walnuts helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease. 

I couldn’t help thinking that walnuts look like little brains and wasn’t it just the weirdest of flukes that eating that miniature brain-nut twin would be beneficial to a person’s actual brain?

So of course I Googled “foods that look like body parts,” and man!  I hit the nutrition pyramid jackpot! 

The coolest thing is that not only do some foods look like human organs and appendages (ahem!), but also those same foods are beneficial to those very same anatomical, uh…things.

Therefore, walnuts are good for your brain and pancreatic-looking yams are good for your pancreas! 

Here’s another one from Elizabeth Somer, registered dietician and author of “Eat Your Way to Happiness”:

Red wine looks like blood!  OK, duh.

But…drumroll…When you drink red wine, you're loading up on resveratrol – the healthy stuff that protects against destructive things in the blood!  Be gone LDL cholesterol!

Your cabernet can even reduce blood clots courtesy of the blood-thinning compound built in at the vineyard.

O. M. G!

Now admittedly, some of the examples cited stretch the imagination.  To wit:  Does ginger root really resemble a stomach?  I guess if you have time on your hands you might be able to unearth a chunk of ginger root that is stomach-shaped – assuming it’s the stomach of a 127-year-old desert dweller.

But every mother knows that ginger ale soothes a tummy ache.  And that is thanks to the effects of gingerol, the ingredient responsible for ginger's pungent scent and taste.  Gingerol is listed in the USDA database of phytochemicals having the ability to prevent nausea and vomiting.

Slice open a tomato and voila!  Multiple chambers that resemble the structure of a heart!  And, "Studies have found that because of the lycopene in tomatoes, there is a reduced risk for heart disease in men and women who eat them," says Somer.

The cross section of a carrot reveals a pattern of radiating lines that mimic the pupil and iris.  And noshing on carrots helps decrease the chance of macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in older people according to Sasson Moulavi, MD, medical director of Smart for Life Weight Management Centers in Boca Raton, Florida.

There are even corresponding body parts for avocados, clams and grapefruits that we will leave to your speculation.  Suffice it to say that eating them is good for you in a reproductive sort of way. 

Makes you wonder about kiwis.

Celery?  Of course, bones!  Tibia.  Femur.  Ulna.  Radius.  Really.

Logically then, a person could adjust her grocery shopping according to any current ailment or deficiency. 

I can’t help wondering about the reverse perspective though – fruit or vegetable first, body part after.  But then, mangoes?  Baby bok choy?  Artichokes?!!  What in the human anatomy??

Web MD offers a list of 20 Common Foods with the Most Antioxidants and it is skewed toward beans, with #1 being the “small red bean.”

So the analogy may be flawed.  I’ll consult my Gray’s.

Meanwhile, eat your vegetables.