Tag Archives: life

Chex or Cheerios?

The great 21st century cornucopia.


Did you know that the average American child can name more corporate logos than common flora and fauna? “Young children are ready learners and are learning about their brand environment just about everywhere,” says T. Bettina Cornwell, a professor of marketing and sports management at the University of Michigan in this ABC News article.

“What Kids Know: McDonald’s, Toyota, Disney” details a study that found preschoolers, children ages 3-5, can often recognize brand logos before even becoming fully literate.

You don’t have to be a trained sociologist to realize that when the average kindergartener has already logged close to 5,000 hours of TV time – and spends an average of only half an hour a day outside – they are going to have absorbed quite a bit of commercial messaging into their malleable mind.

In a poignant, prescient Adbusters piece from the same year, Mike Weilbacher writes:

“And the geographic world they wander is collapsing like a black hole into their laptops; the typical kid today roams a world only one-ninth the size a child of the ‘70s did. I wandered Long Island’s rapidly decreasing pine forests in the ‘60s, biking and hiking unthinkable distances, alone and with friends, with neither a cell phone nor a dime to make a call. Because inside our houses were the adults, and who wanted to be there? Every last child was outside, in the street, in the yard, on the corner, at the 7-Eleven.

But letting kids go into a forest alone today is unthinkable, heretical …This radical retreat from the great outdoors, now called ‘nature-deficit disorder,’ a phrase coined by journalist Richard Louv in his groundbreaking book Last Child in the Woods, is the greatest health catastrophe facing Western kids. Ever.”

He continues by noting the skyrocketing rates of obesity, ADD, asthma and diabetes; that enjoying an active childhood in the great outdoors is essential to proper emotional and mental development and is even tied to higher test scores later in life.

But hey, adults need the wild too. It’s call has been paved over by asphalt and concrete and drowned out by cars and cellphones and the sirens of shopping malls and the latest iPad and “making it.” Our outside time is too often relegated to our freeway commute, our scenery marred by billboards. The average person is exposed to 3,000 marketing messages a day.

You might not be fully aware of how much this consumer culture has permeated your psyche and informed your habits. That’s the thing about brainwashing – you don’t actually realize it has occurred. And it doesn’t mean we are literally programmed to unthinkingly drive through the nearest Mickey D’s just because we pass some golden arches and a redheaded clown. But we may be inspired to pay more because we recognize that Apple, or D&G, or name or shape or insigna and all the myriad connotations it carries.

You are a better student than you have realized. You have learned your lessons so well they are second nature, embedded deep into your memory. Seashells represent gas; a bell means tacos; bunny ears mean sex. Take this quiz to see if you are truly an ‘A’ student.

But of course, you know what you like. Do you prefer Colgate or Oral B toothpaste? Dawn or Joy dish soap? Tropicana or Dole juice? You might be surprised to learn they all have the same parent company, and that many products you consider green and scrappily independent are actually owned by the big-names. Burt’s Bees by Clorox, Naked Juice by Pepsi, and so forth.

It’s not all terrible. And for better or worse, it’s the way things are today. But it definitely doesn’t hurt to be a little bit more aware of the products you are incessantly being peddled — and to maybe start saying ‘no’ a little more often.

One-way ticket to Rome

Yep, that’s right. Today I bought a one-way ticket to Rome. I’ve been thinking about going for some time, but something has kept me back; and it still haunts and threatens me.

No, I’m not talking about money. This is something intangible. I’m referring to my conditioning.

Those who know me well have heard me bring up this topic time and time again. They are either sick of it or are too conditioned themselves to acknowledge it. Most people respond with any critical comment of America with, “This is the greatest country in the world.”

I am by no means a black-and-white thinker. I understand that every situation, person and place has its good and bad. I am grateful to be an American and to enjoy the rights that I do; I love my job and my life. But none of that negates my point: Americans, in general, work too much.

And I’m not just BSing. Numerous objective studies consistently place the States far down the list of the best countries to work in. Here are the top 10, as reported by the Huffington Post: Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Portugal, France.

This was based on work-life balance (how much paid time off is afforded, how many hours worked a week, how much paid leave for parents, etc.)

It is a well-known fact that most countries in Europe mandate a 5-6 week PAID vacation. Of course, Americans get about 2 weeks if they are lucky. 21 days is considered phenomenal. The problem is that most workplaces discourage people from taking off more than a week at once, even if it is unpaid. Therefore, most people are not able to take extended vacations.

Everything is relative. Some people have it far worse and I know I am lucky. But to many, travel is not considered a self-indulgent luxury, but one of life’s greatest and most fulfilling, educational experiences. In fact, one of elderly people’s frequent greatest regrets is that they did not travel more when they were younger (another is wishing they had worked less).

Trips — and not of the weekend resort/Disneyland variety, although those are nice too — are often the highlights and hallmarks of a lifetime. Who wants to do the same thing, in the same place, every day for years upon years? Who doesn’t yearn to admire our planet’s great natural and manmade wonders, to immerse completely in the utter foreignness of other lands, to interface with our brothers and sisters across the seas?

This article, by the Atlantic, goes more in-depth on the subject. It details the top 23 countries to work, with the States dead last. I also encourage you to read the top comments, comments like this:

“Americans work longer days and get less vacation then our European counterparts. Did you know that more German made cars are sold than American made cars? Yet German auto workers make twice what American auto workers make and , get better benefits and more vacation? I’m sure thats all just stacked against the good ol USA.  Wake up, look around. Instead of believing the old BS learn about the reality you are living in.”

and

“I work in the Netherlands. I get 8 weeks paid holiday, a very reasonably priced health insurance plan and I work for a company that has flex hours. We have public transportation that is clean, efficient and plentiful. The Netherlands is an extremely integrated society. There are people from all walks of life living in Holland. And oddly enough, they have almost none of the social problems that the US has.

Are you kidding me? It’s a fantastic life and one I thoroughly love. I’m privileged to be able to work there and live there. And yes, all of these countries are in Europe. That should tell you something. ”

Just to give you some perspective. CNN also featured an article entitled “Why is America the no-vacation nation?” I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you read this article. It discusses the fact that not only do Americans get barely any vacation opportunities, but they are CONDITIONED to think that they SHOULD NOT BE taking the vacation — my original premise. They (I) feel guilty; I should instead be working diligently, impressing my superiors, climbing the ladder, stacking the cash and saving for the future. Taking a vacation is impractical, self-indulgent, immature and reckless. These are the thoughts nagging me (while the other me is saying go enjoy life and have adventures while you still can).

I doubt that Europeans feel guilty while they are out enjoying life and not chained to their desks. And I’m rather perturbed by the commentary I get in response to these statements — one, people are under the impression that their current economic crisis is a direct result of working less hours. How does this make sense when the U.S. is the one that set off the global recession; when you observe that Europe prospered for years and that people who work hard and long in sweatshops, for example, have little to no effect on their country’s GDP, let alone their own personal well-being. Any cursory survey of world history will prove the correlation of more hours worked to national financial health to be a fallacy. The real culprits are corruption and mismanagement in the upper echelons.

The other response I often get is something along the lines of, “everyone in the world wants to come here; at least you can say what you want without getting shot.” There is truth to this. There are many opportunities in this land of plenty and people, for the most part, are allowed to voice their opinion. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t improve or learn anything from others.

Plus, taking vacations is supposed to improve health, relieve stress, and improve cognition and creativity — all things which contribute to a higher quality of productive output.

The Lady of Shalott

I once memorized this poem with my mother. It is a very mysterious, dark poem with elements of fantasy and magic. Why is the lady cursed and by whom? It is reminiscent of medieval times, and the imagery of the lonely, doomed, lovestruck Lady floating dead down the river is hard to forget. A very evocative tale from one of my favorite poets, Alfred Lord Tennyson, it seems to defy analysis. It is just a sad, supernatural tale told in beautiful rhyme. If I had to interpret it, I would say it has to do with the tragic nature of life and love itself: how we can lose so much when we choose to take a chance; the swiftness of time; the nature of regret and experience (do I play it safe or take the leap, and which is preferable); the intricacies of the human heart;  and how nothing gold — not beauty, not anything — can stay. As Edgar Allen Poe put it : “the death… of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.” Another rich, interesting poem from the mid-19th century — that my mom and I also loved — is Christina Rossetti’s The Goblin Market.

PART I

ON either side the river lie

Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
          To many-tower’d Camelot;          5
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
          The island of Shalott.
Willows whiten, aspens quiver,   10
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
          Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,   15
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
          The Lady of Shalott.
By the margin, willow-veil’d,
Slide the heavy barges trail’d   20
By slow horses; and unhail’d
The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d
          Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?   25
Or is she known in all the land,
          The Lady of Shalott?
 
Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly   30
From the river winding clearly,
          Down to tower’d Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers ”Tis the fairy   35
          Lady of Shalott.’
PART IIThere she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay   40
          To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
          The Lady of Shalott.   45
And moving thro’ a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
          Winding down to Camelot:   50
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
          Pass onward from Shalott.
Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,   55
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair’d page in crimson clad,
          Goes by to tower’d Camelot;
And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue   60
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
          The Lady of Shalott.
But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,   65
For often thro’ the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights,
          And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;   70
‘I am half sick of shadows,’ said
          The Lady of Shalott.
PART IIIA bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,   75
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
          Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel’d
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,   80
          Beside remote Shalott.
The gemmy bridle glitter’d free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily   85
          As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon’d baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
          Beside remote Shalott.   90
All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
          As he rode down to Camelot.   95
As often thro’ the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
          Moves over still Shalott.
His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;  100
On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow’d
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
          As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river  105
He flash’d into the crystal mirror,
‘Tirra lirra,’ by the river
          Sang Sir Lancelot.
She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro’ the room,  110
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
          She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;  115
‘The curse is come upon me!’ cried
          The Lady of Shalott.
PART IVIn the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,  120
Heavily the low sky raining
          Over tower’d Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote  125
          The Lady of Shalott.
And down the river’s dim expanse—
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance—
With a glassy countenance  130
          Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
          The Lady of Shalott.  135
Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right—
The leaves upon her falling light—
Thro’ the noises of the night
          She floated down to Camelot:  140
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
          The Lady of Shalott.
Heard a carol, mournful, holy,  145
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken’d wholly,
          Turn’d to tower’d Camelot;
For ere she reach’d upon the tide  150
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
          The Lady of Shalott.
Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,  155
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
          Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,  160
And round the prow they read her name,
          The Lady of Shalott.
Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;  165
And they cross’d themselves for fear,
          All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, ‘She has a lovely face;
God in His mercy lend her grace,  170
          The Lady of Shalott.’

Inspiration from an aging supermodel

Okay, so this is a little Chicken Soup for the Soul-ish. But I have to share. I had kind of a “Oh wow, good point” moment in an unlikely situation and from an unlikely source recently: I was getting a pedicure while reading an interview with Elle Macpherson in People magazine.

The story was about how, at 47, she is in good shape enough to pose in a bikini. But of course Elle is inclined to reflect on the way things were. She says something to the effect of: “With age comes perspective. I didn’t realize what I had. Now I look back and think, ‘Wow, I had a smoking hot body.’ I’ve learned to appreciate what I have while I have it.”

This really made me stop and think about how I am sometimes guilty of not taking the time to really reflect on all my blessings. All of us have gifts — talents, health, people, opportunities — that we enjoy in our lives and often take for granted.

Feeling gratitude has been shown to boost health and increase longevity. Whether you thank God (or another deity) for your gifts in prayer, record them in a journal, or simply take the time to ponder, it can do you good to count your blessings. And some New Age-y types even believe that this attitude encourages even more good things to come your way.

I’m often so caught up in thinking about all the things I want and how my life could be better that I forget to stop and look around at how pretty good I have it right now. I encourage you to think about what you have, the little things as well as the big. Good health and good people are the big ones; everything else is just a bonus!

Sail beyond the sunset

One of my absolute most favorite, cherished poems is  “Ulysses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It is the ultimate ode to living life to the fullest: “I cannot rest from travel; I will drink life to the lees …”

It is about Homer’s ancient Greek king Odysseus, but anyone with a case of restless wanderlust and an innate need for adventure can understand this mantra: “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.”

The sentiment is echoed in this popular quote by Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” 

All of us have to find a way to make our dreams come true. Our main enemies are time and resources. This is my main concern, always in the back of my mind, every day. How can I live life to the absolute fullest while still fulfilling my responsibilities and being a practical, level-headed person? After all, I can’t just catch the next plane to Paris, however enticing that idea may be. I guess I could go Into the Wild.

Sometimes it’s difficult to know if I should act on instinct or be more logical; but if I am more logical, I am holding myself back unnecessarily? Am I conforming too much to society and constructing my own mental barriers? Should I drop everything and dedicate every ounce of energy to my dream, or should I simply send my intention out into the universe, like in The Secret?

When I was little I loved books like The Chronicles of Narnia, and I would often embark on my own make-believe adventures. Now I long to explore the world and connect with nature in uncharted territories (are there even any left?). Hopefully I can find a way to sail my own ship “beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die …”

Ulysses

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known,– cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor’d of them all,–
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
>From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
to whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,–
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me,–
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads,– you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

When you are old

Just want to share a poem that I love … one of the few I know by heart. It’s by Yeats and was inspired by his lifelong love, Maud Gonne, whom he proposed to five times — and I think banged just once. Ah, life.

 When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

“Dost thou love life?

Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.” — Ben Franklin

That quote popped into my head in a recent early weekend morning when I was debating sleeping in or going on a long bike ride. I want to learn to manage my time better. Any older person will tell you that time goes by fast, to make the most of every moment, to live life to the fullest, as if today were your last day on earth.

That can sometimes seem hard to do. If you were truly to live every day as if it were your last day, you would have to call everyone to tell them everything you never said. You might go bungee jumping, or buy a plane ticket to Paris. You would eat like a king, and make love with your spouse. But we have jobs, and kids, and errands to run. Get the groceries, fold the laundry. Most of our lives are not very exciting.

But we can also make the most of what we have. We can choose to get outside and off the couch. To shop at the farmer’s market instead of Walmart. To be kinder, more patient, understanding, compassionate and generous. To really listen to people. To sincerely welcome someone new. To take a walk in solitude and spend some time with your inner self, and listen to what she has to tell you. You can choose to make a bucket list and start chipping away at it, little by little. To be less lazy, less inactive, less passive. To turn off the TV and get creative. To read, write and converse. To savor the simple pleasures that our great-great-greats once enjoyed: good wine and savory, wholesome meals. The beauty of nature and the thrill of good companions. The pleasure and joy, the non-regret, of not wasting time.