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.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Thank you so very much

1.       Bushy eyebrows are back in.

Thank God.  Or just thanks.  Or gee whiz!  No more tweezing! 

When I heard that news, I wasted no time tossing the hot wax.  Going back to my Brooke Shields!

Even though I have only a few faded eyebrow hairs left, I do appreciate that piece of retro styling.

2.      Now, let’s see…parsnips!  Gotta love parsnips:  Parsnip fries.  Mashed parsnips.  Can’t forget parsnip-carrot salad.  Mm mm!  Yummy!  Makes life worth living!

OK, full disclosure:  I’ve never eaten a parsnip.  Not sure I’d knowingly seen one until today – this picture.


Parsnips look like albino carrots.  Just realizing in this moment that parsnip-carrot salad would be a sort of orange and white affair made by shredding the fraternal twins of the root vegetable world.

Man oh man!

3.      And what’s this?!  A filtered water pitcher that’s nice enough to put on the table?  How long have we waited for just such a breakthrough?!

Shatter proof glass.  Coconut and silk filters.  And only $59.  Wow. 

Up until now, I’ve been pouring tap water into drinking glasses, never even dreaming of the possibility.  We live in an amazing world.

OK.  So.  That’s it.  Those are my entries into my gratitude journal today.  I have to give credit to Oprah for helping me out with this.  I took those items directly from her magazine’s latest edition – an article entitled “25 Unexpected Things to be Grateful for Right Now.”  Really.

See, I’ve been living gratefully for quite a while now and I had begun to have trouble keeping up the pace.   I had a lot of repeats – wonderful husband, great kid, blue skies, raindrops, blah ditty blah blah blah.

Years ago, on the advice of Reader’sDigest, I made notes on a calendar each time something happened that lifted my spirits or made me smile.  The idea was to fill the days up and then, when a bad day came, I could flip to that date on my gratitude calendar and feel good again. 

I was a classroom teacher at the time, so it was easy.  Young people are like slot machines.  They pay out good feelings like cherries.

I kept that calendar for years, starting over each September.  I clipped school pictures to its pages – notes, even a packet of sugar – any token a student offered.  Soon, most weeks had two or three entries, so if I had a dismal January 10th and found it empty in the calendar, I could just look at the 9th or 11th and read something sweet that a teenager had said to me.

It worked.  I always felt better.  Noting those tiny gestures kept me mindful of the beauty in my life.

These days I just look around myself and sing like Lois Armstrong, “What a Wonderful World!”

But lately, gratitude’s become mandatory.  Wherever you look, someone’s wagging a finger and admonishing appreciation.  You’ll sleep better.  It’s good for business.  Your breath will be fresher.

And I’m beginning to resist the whole gratitude thing. 

Just back off telling me to be thankful, OK?  I’m thankful already! 

How could expressions of appreciation have become annoying?  Yes, it’s a beautiful day.  Yes, yes, the sunrise, the sunset, the twilight, the moon.  Children playing.  Puppy’s breath. 

Yes, it’s all lovely – and you’re starting to tick me off. 

We are reaching just a bit, don’t you think?

I mean really:  The mandate.  The minutia.  Bushy eyebrows?  A filtered pitcher?  Parsnips for Pete’s sake!

Nowadays, you can be living your oblivious, thankful life and if you’d don’t maneuver fast enough someone on Facebook will challenge you to an Appreciation-Off whereby you must declare publicly five things a day you’re glad about.  Or else.

I’ll tell you what I’m glad about:  I’m glad no one has tagged me on that one because I might appreciate poking that person in the nose!

I know, I know.  It’s a good habit.  It’s worthwhile.  But how do you think curmudgeons are born?
Forced appreciation! 

Don’t try to make me grateful!  It takes away the impetus – the sincere up-welling of emotion in the face of beauty, or kindness, or generosity, or grace.

You can’t over water a plant.  And too much sunshine makes a desert.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Golden Years, tarnished

Uh oh.

I don’t want to sound the alarm prematurely – but I don’t want to be caught flatfooted either.

It’s probably nothing serious.  It’s just a twitch.  One of those eyelid flutters that no one else can see.  It’s nothing really. 

An anticipatory tic, that’s all.  A tiny, fleshy convulsion in solidarity with my Japanese sisters.  A sympathy spasm.

See, I ran across this article in Forbes reporting that waves of Japanese women are showing up at their doctors’ offices with physiological symptoms including rashes, nervous tics, upset stomachs and headaches. 

What could be causing this phenomenon on such a wide scale the medical community wondered?

What form of aggravation, what vexation, what unending source of distraction could so affect the normally serene Japanese woman? 

Researchers took up the gauntlet.  They donned their lab coats and furrowed their brows.  They clicked their ballpoints and scribbled on their collective clipboards.  They put their heads together, compared notes and ultimately arrived at a clinical diagnosis for that particular constellation of symptoms. 

And they gave it a name:  RetiredHusband Syndrome.

Da da daaaaah!

It’s official.  It’s real.  When your husband retires, RHS can make you itch!

And yes, you guessed it:  Mr. Plath is retiring.

But I doubt if this tic is directly related to his upcoming superannuation.  I mean we’re happy.  We so very happy that he gets to retire and be home with me.  All the time.  Daily. 

‘Til death do us part.

A friend of mine’s husband retired recently.  A doctor.  Hospital administrator.  Smart guy. 

She tells me he now waits passively each morning for her to supply his to-do list.  She compiles tasks for him at night during the time she had formerly designated for reading romance novels. 

So far he has fixed that chronically lopsided screen door, painted the guest room and laid new tile in the hall bathroom.  He changed the oil in both their cars, had the tires rotated and replaced the wiper blades.

He’s content to tick off item after item.  He offers no resistance.  No complaints.  A wife’s dream, right?

All she has to do is make the list.

She keeps a catalog of conversation topics too, to get them through breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Seems her husband has not only retired from the workaday world but also from all responsibility for adult conversation.

The stress of having him home has taken its toll.  My friend now evinces a sort of furtive countenance.  She laughs inappropriately; smiles through clinched teeth, searches my eyes for something – comfort maybe – or asylum. 

I worry what forensic technicians might find in her computer’s search history.

But it’s OK.  We’re not like that, Mr. Plath and I.  I’m more likely to give him the headache.

For one thing, he’s always been the more industrious half of our union.  He’s a kinesthetic sort of guy.  He comes home from 10 hours in the corporate world and starts right in replacing that warped board on the deck.  Or the roof of the dog house.  Busy, busy, busy! 

He visualizes and plans.  Measures and sketches out.  He buys materials and builds things. 

He uses my Customer Loyalty card at Ace Hardware so often that when I finally went in to have a key made and gave them our phone number, the kid at the cash register said, “You’re Carolyn Plath!?”

Not that I don’t work anymore.  I do things.  But the things I do don’t require so much…exertion.  I read.  I write.  I fold clothes.  I, I…oh quit bothering me!

That’s the reverse of having a stomach ache because your retired spouse is too much under foot.  I’m concerned that he’ll keep a demerit book filled with my shortcomings.

What if he starts tracking my movements, more accurately, my slo-mo progression through the days.  Will he be there tapping the face of his watch as I wake up from my afternoon siesta?  What if he can’t wait until I finish writing that book?!

Here’s my nightmare for Day 1 of his retirement, the day after the party.  I roll over at 6 AM to find him bedside, smiling at me.  “Good morning Honey,” he says.  “What are you going to do today?”

Gives me a rash just thinking about it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Be gone bugaboos!

I will not think of a polar bear.

OK.  Your turn not to think of a polar bear.  Or a grizzly.

Stop it!  Stop thinking of the animals in the zoo.  No penguins for you!

No lions.  No tigers.  No bears!

Good.  That’s it.  That’s better. 

My mind is free at last.  I’ve been stuck on that bear thing ever since I read a quote from Dostoevsky:  “Try not to think of a polar bear and the cursed thing will come to mind every minute."

OOH!  There it is again!  Why did he have to say that?!  This is worse than visiting Disneyland and wandering innocently onto that ride…you know the one…It’s a Small World!

Hahahahaha!  It’s a small world after all! 

Good luck trying to get rid of that one!  It’s a musical earwig of the first order.  Now you’re in this with me! 

How can we rid ourselves of these persistent, unwanted thoughts! she cried, holding her ears and rocking her head from side to side.  Whatever should we do?

And so, not only for myself, but also for you, Dear Reader – in spite of the fact that I dragged you into this – in my deeply altruist manner, I sought expert assistance in resolving the problem of niggling, uninvited recurrent sentences repeated by the voices in my – in our – heads.

Maybe we’re replaying our most recent social gaff (I stick with the most recent.  Otherwise, the playlist is so long!)  Possibly it is that goof at work.  Perhaps we just can’t get off the front side of that back-handed compliment. 

We’re not crazy.  We’re just riding an irritating merry-go-round of repetitive proclamations.

So I went searching relief and came upon Daniel Wegner, Ph.D. of HarvardUniversity, the father of research into crazy-making circular thoughts.

Full disclosure – Right off the bat I found it disconcerting that he says thought suppression doesn’t work!  You can’t just push that annoying idea off the stage.  It’s going to return in the second act with renewed vigor and determination.

Wegner says the research has proved that again and again.  He actually said that – “again and again.”  Sounds like he couldn’t shake the thought that he could shake the thought.  He just had to keep on proving it to himself!  Hahahaha!

OK.  Maybe I shouldn’t take so much pleasure in that.  It’s funny that’s all.  Ironic.  The great mind in thought suppression.

Oh never mind.

He came up with lots of other ideas for dealing with the exasperating experience of recurring thoughts and I’ve brought them here for your edification even though one of the biggies was the most difficult to accept:

Wegner says if something that bugs you just keeps on bugging you, an effective strategy for getting rid of that infuriating gnat of a notion is to postpone it until later.

That’s right.  Wegner says that while continuously trying to suppress a thought only makes it come back stronger, deferring it until later can work.

Set aside your worrying until a designated 30-minute ‘worry period.’ 

Well that’s just groovy unless the thought that nags is that you procrastinate too much!  What do you have to say about that, Dr. Brainiac?  Wanna answer me later??

OK.  Here’s another one:  He calls it paradoxical therapy because it seems illogical that focusing in on a thought might help it go away, but research suggests it does.

What if, instead of trying to suppress a disquieting cyclical thought about, say, death, you head straight for it and concentrate on it?

Super!  I’ll just set aside about half an hour right before I go to sleep and concentrate on dying!  I feel better already! 

This approach is not for the faint-hearted, Wegner says, in an unfortunate choice of words, but what the hay!  Go ahead and try it!  Sweet dreams!

Or, be zen about it.  Just accept those thoughts.  Meditate on them says the guru.  “I want you to allow those soldiers to march by in front of you, like a little parade.  Do not argue with the signs, or make them go away.  Just watch them march by.”

I don’t know. 

Maybe I’ll go with my first idea and his last one:  Have a pesky thought?  Write about it.