Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What's making you happy this week: The smile, science and other stuff

It would be correct to assume that most of you know the last few months have been a roller coaster of anger and sadness. I had a conversation with my brother a few weeks ago about how he finally had 20 minutes of happiness. "I just expect that one day I'll wake up and feel ready to be myself again. It'll be like flipping a switch," he insisted. "I'll be productive and go surfing!"

"I'm not sure that's how it works, JJ. I think this process operates on a gradient and today you've had 20 minutes. Tomorrow, maybe you'll have 24 and the next possibly only 22. I think it's going to take a very long time for us to reach a normal level." What I've learned from others who have lost someone they love is that your sadness never really goes away. You learn to live with it and in 7 seven years, I'm still going to cry over the loss of my mother.

There is a silver lining. I've noticed that I am able to appreciate things much more. For example, I take a lot of pride in wearing something that was my mom's or was a gift from her. At the grocery store the clerk said to me, "Do you really like frogs too? I like your pin."

"Actually, it was my mothers," I stoically responded, and my eyes drifted to the corner of the counter as I processed this interaction. After a moment, I realized I was happy to have a moment to talk about the beauty my mother brought into this world with a perfect stranger. I quickly glanced back at the cashier to convey this realization through a smile but noticed she was intensely focusing on scanning groceries. 

Over the holidays Katie and Skyler made a pumpkin cheesecake, a dessert my mother had been making for 20 years. I had enjoyed this so many times and never found it to be my favorite. This year, however, it tasted different. As Uncle Matt said, "Put a little nostalgia in the mix and it anything is delicious!"

Yesterday, I wasn't granted much happiness but was proactive to obtain what was possible. On my way to an assessment test for a very good job, I ran into a lot of traffic in addition to feeling overwhelmed by the amount of debt I possess. I will be able to sustain my finances for a few months in the meantime, and I had left hours early for the assessment, but I still found myself grinding my teeth and on the verge of tears. What could I do? This was my opportunity to take control over my emotions, something I haven't had much of lately, but I knew I was capable of it in that moment. I turned on one of my favorite podcasts, Culturetopia's Pop Culture Happy Hour, a program that my sister insisted I listen to. I avoided it initially, recognizing that I am a woman who doesn't own a TV. However, the hosts of the show (Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, Trey Graham, Glen Wheldon, and producer Mike Katzif) are hilarious and explain the shows, books, or movies that are discussed so a layperson like myself can enjoy. They discussed New Year's resolutions in the episode released on 1/7/11 and they ranged from vowing to watch all the movies nominated for an Oscar before the Oscars to reading more to watching less trashy reality TV. Linda, who I continually find inspiring, resolved to be more positive. I can get behind that in my life too.

Yes, that reads, "I EAT
Thus, the motivation for this post. Every episode, Holmes ties up the show by asking each member, "What's making you happy this week?" My answer is, another great find by my sister. She discovered it on Christmas Eve and we tried so hard not to laugh too loud. It was the best present.

I woke up this morning not wanting to get out of bed but eventually found myself in the bathroom by 8:30. To my surprise, I saw snowflakes as big as baby's fists (Thanks, Leah for the colorful terminology). I padded downstairs and spotted my new breakfast pin (Thanks, Andrew!). Finally, I read a great article in the New York Times by Carl Zimmer. In short, there was a study conducted that highlighted our ability to recognize the genuineness of a smile if we can mimic it. It discussed different responses in the brain to fake and real smiles and insisted that there is mystery linking faces and feelings. Using the least scientific data possible, I disagree. 

Editor's note: this video was jacked from the viewer's video on Tosh.0. Thanks!

As my mom would say, it's the smile that makes you happy. IT'S THE SMILE THAT MAKES YOU HAPPY. Try it, I'm serious. Right now smile to yourself. Having trouble believing me? Maybe this video will help (or maybe it will just give you the willies!). 

Finally, I'd like to address the most hallowed and over-hyped political traditions: the State of the Union address. Hearing President Obama mention science numerous times really made me smile. Yay science!

Tomorrow, I might not be so lucky and maybe all the happiness I have today is due solely to the coffee. For the time being, I'm going to enjoy it, share it, and allow myself to be productive. I hope you can do the same!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Survival in a new world

Well, I survived. I made it through the first Christmas without my mother.

I was fortunate to spend Christmas and NYE with my family on the East coast. First on the agenda was the gingerbread house decorating party at the Glowatz's. Everyone decorated with intensity and the most creative designers took home the top prizes. We stayed up late drinking into the night and few people may or may not have smashed houses with glee when the Christmas spirit had bubbled up through their beers.

Katie and I wrapped presents and put the finishing touches on Christmas Eve with Aunt Sue and Uncle Matt--I think they were more excited than Sky and Clay! It was a joy to experience Christmas from this perspective. Uncle Matt and I had a long conversation about my next move and he encouraged me to pursue the life I desire and to enjoy the open air. Yes, I've become that cliché.

I stayed up late stewing and processing my situation as it has become multifaceted. My boyfriend and I split up, a move we had been discussing for a few weeks as we recognized our paths were moving in different directions. Although we adore each other, neither of us is committed enough to drag each other through what lies ahead. Maybe when we're older.

As a part of my grieving process, I found it scary to be without my mom for Christmas. Here's a letter I wrote to her on Christmas Eve:


I wanted to tell you about a few changes. It’s 2:30 am on Christmas Eve and Santa has already visited. Of course, I can’t sleep. These things are no different than any other year. Katie and I have gotten to spend the last two days baking with Aunt Susanne and Skyler, laughing at Uncle Matt’s goofiness, continually getting surprised by the amount of growth Clayton has had over the last 6 months, watching movies with the whole crew, decorating gingerbread houses at the Glowatz’s. I even got to go on a walk with Kebo, Susanne and the kids. Where the hell are you?

When I crawled into bed ten minutes ago, my stomach turned. All the muscles in my legs were activated, and I couldn’t tell if they were moving or not. My eyes wouldn’t stay shut. I’m not excited about Santa.

We made breakfast cocaine, pumpkin cheesecake and cheesy potatoes. Don’t be mad if we eat them without you. I think you’d be mad that you didn’t get to tease me about my inability to properly melt chocolate for the peppermint patties. I just blobbed semi-soft chocolate on top of each white patty. They taste the same.

I’ve decided that I want to give you a Christmas present, but what do you want? I’m not ready to have children, and there aren’t too many charities that would really benefit from the 20 bucks I could offer. There is one thing that you asked of the family. When you went into hospice care, the only vivacity left in your body was exhibited through your eyes. Your big sparkling blue eyes showed fear, happiness and exhaustion. You took shallow breaths and paused after saying a few words. “Continue to love each other.” That’s it. That’s all you want for your family. In my best way possible, I can do that.
I did this in a fit. The board includes ghosts and chemistry.

Merry Christmas,

I don't think she'd be mad.

In addition, I've been enjoying spending time with my dad, my stepmom and brother in Doylestown. At my mother's funeral my dad made it very clear that he was taking this opportunity to set up and be a bigger part of my life. I was apprehensive at first but it has been so nice to hear his words of wisdom and have his support. Little did I know, I've been missing it all along.

Finally, I have been considering a career change. I have been contemplating it for awhile and the holidays became the catalyst that I needed. Initially I thought I'd be in Philly/NJ, then back to Indy, and finally in DC. I drove back to Indianapolis and spent some time processing all these emotions through crying, creativity and conversation. This weekend my good friends helped me pack up my apartment, donate most of it and toss the rest. Somehow I was able to fit my bike, a croquet set, and my golf clubs in my two-door Sunfire. I also have Aunt Mary's singing cow, a small suitcase of clothes, about 20 books too good to sell and a box of memories. At present, I am visiting with Alex at Penn State. He has been generous to let me stay at his place to break up the drive to Aunt Mary's. 

This came out of the same fit. I'm so glad my friend
Hannah recognized the beauty in the breakdown.
Yesterday I made announcements on my Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts about my move and asked for contacts. No, I don't have a job but making friends and knowing people in the city is the first step. Catching wind of this update, JP offered, "Have fun, hope you find what you are looking for." The obvious response would be that I'm looking to be an adult without my mother but right now I would like something better. I'd like to find a life where I'm happier, more successful and healthier. I understand I'm in this for the long haul. Wish me luck.