Monthly Archives: August 2013

Day 233: Leave behinds

Yesterday, throughout the day at work, I re-discovered that moods can switch for people. People feel better, then they feel worse.  Then they feel better again.

Et cetera, et cetera.

At the end of the therapy groups I do at work, I often invite people to leave behind anything they choose,  in “The Magic Wastepaper Basket” (which is whatever wastepaper basket is in the group room).

For example:

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I’m not sure whether people take me up on that invitation.  I just like giving it.

People who’ve read about The Worry Box may notice a similarity here. The Magic Wastepaper Basket is another way to let go of unhelpful things.

However, I’ve noticed that it can feel scary to throw something away, even if it’s something that’s definitely not helping.

Therefore, I’ve also made the suggestion that people leave Unhelpful Things (like worry, harsh self-criticism, paralyzing fears, etc.) outside the room — like a piece of baggage,  “which you can pick up, if you choose, on your way out.”

I do like the idea of throwing things away for good, though.  Wouldn’t that be nice?

For example:

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Wouldn’t it be great if one could just crumple up a fear like that …

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…. and throw it away!

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I think an important part of that “trick” would be this: to be non-judgmental and accepting, if the fear came back.

Here’s a thought, though:

Maybe every time we throw something away, it gets smaller.

Thanks so much for reading today.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Day 232: Triggers

When I returned to work yesterday, I noticed this:

My authentic happiness about returning was NOT marred by feelings of anxiety, worry, or fear. I felt comfortable and safe.

I remark on this because I’ve been working at a hospital for the past two years and — while I love the work I’m getting to do there — hospitals can “trigger” old and unpleasant memories for me.  (As I’ve mentioned in my About page and in several posts during this year, I spent a lot of time in hospitals as a kid, because of my unusual heart.)

To help with the writing of this post, I just googled “stress trigger,” to see what would come up.

Here’s the first thing that came up:

11 Common Stress Triggers, at the Whole Living website. This website, apparently, has  something to do with Martha Stewart, who seems to have a lot more time than I do, because I see her and her products constantly, including these kinds of things at pet stores.

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Anyway, where was I, before the picture of the dog dressed up as a dragon?

Oh, yes, the “Whole Living” article that came up, in response to googling “stress triggers.”  I looked at other articles, too, and several of them made similar points.

For example, it’s helpful to be aware of your personal stress triggers.

Also, there are common kinds of stress triggers. That Whole Living article listed the following ones:

  1. Money issues.
  2. A job that never ends.
  3. A job you don’t like.
  4. Your relationship.
  5. Constant caregiving.
  6. Holiday pressures.
  7. Taking on too much.
  8. Not enough quality time.
  9. Striving to be perfect.
  10. A lack of passion.
  11. Disorganized clutter.

Here are my thoughts, looking at that list:

  1. It can be helpful to “consider the source,” whenever other people tell you their opinions (about you, or about the world).  For example, if my thoughts went in the direction of imagining — and bringing to market —  lots of Halloween costumes for pets, I would likely be stressed out by holidays pressures, taking on too much, and disorganized clutter, too.
  2. You can learn from everybody.  For example, I am stressed out by holiday pressures and taking on too much (although I seem to have quite the tolerance for disorganized clutter).

Okay. At this point in this blog post I would like to ask myself something.

What did I hope to communicate, when I started this blog post this morning?

I actually wanted to say this:

When I am not being “triggered” by old memories, I can be more present. As a result, worries, anxieties, and cognitive distortions are reduced.

Then, I have the space and time to think about priorities, and to realize what seems to be “missing” or under-represented in my life.

Here are two things I would like to be doing more of, at this phase of my life:

  1. Music, specifically performing.
  2. Spending time with my sister (who is the surviving person of my family of origin and whom I’ve definitely seen less frequently, the past two years).

That helps, to write those things down today.

Are there achievable next steps I can identify,  right now, to work towards those two goals?

Yes.

Will I do those?

Yes, I will take those identified steps today. (Psssttt!  The magic word, above, was “achievable.”)

Well, everybody, that concludes today’s blog post.

Thanks to my sister, Martha Stewart, tolerant pets everywhere, and to you, for reading today.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Day 231: Back to work

I feel ready to go back to work, although I continue to have some trouble sleeping The Night Before Something Important.

Of course, every day is important, but my brain seems to think that some days are more important than others. (For a great joke about the human brain, by Emo Philips, see this short post.) (And while we’re at it,  here‘s another great Emo Philips joke, in another end-of-vacation post, no less.)

Before I went to sleep, a few hours ago, I tried taking a half-dose of  an over-the-counter, “traditional” herbal sleep aid I bought in the UK last week.  Usually I avoid any kind of sleep aid medicine, just because I haven’t had good experiences with them. And it’s not working (yet).

So I’m going to try another sleep aid, which HAS worked for me before: doing a quick blog post in the middle of the night.

Yesterday afternoon, on my Last Day Before Returning to Work After My Unusually Long, Two-Week Vacation, I went for a long walk, listening to lots of favorite tunes.

As I often do, I found that a joyful experience.

Here are some shots I snapped along the way:

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The weather, on that walk yesterday, was “gloomier” than it had been days before, when I took these photos, nearby:

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The point I wanted to make, right now, was there was beauty to be seen, no matter what the weather, no matter where I was walking.

I saw beauty in London and Edinburgh, of course, last week.  In those places, it was impossible to miss.

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But beauty is everywhere, if I’m open to it.

When I return to work tomorrow, there’ll be beauty there, too. My own worries, tiredness, expectations, and “cognitive distortions” might obscure that beauty, for moments.  But it’s always there.

I look forward to seeing it, in the days ahead.

Thanks for reading, everybody.

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Day 230: Random thoughts (on a non-random Sunday)

Fact.  I am returning to work tomorrow, after taking a two-week vacation which included a trip to London and Edinburgh with my son.

Past-focused thinking.  When I’ve returned to work after time off, I’ve previously experienced:

  1. A helpful sense of perspective.
  2. Feeling overwhelmed as I’ve tried to catch up with things I’ve missed.
  3. All sorts of assumptions about people’s reactions to my being gone and my being back.

Future-focused thinking. I hope that #1, above, will be with me when I return to work tomorrow, and that it will linger, a welcomed guest.*  I fear that #2 and #3 might be with me, in unhelpful ways.**

Wishful thinking. I’m looking forward to returning to work for many reasons, including seeing this in my office.

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Yes, that’s a magic wand, for making wishes (when wishes might be helpful).

Here are my three wishes, for today:

  1.  I wish that I can be in the moment, as best I can.
  2. I wish that I can accept where I am.
  3. I wish that everything that people have ever said about how if one shares a wish it won’t come true is …. rubbish.***

Okay!  Time for a wishing sound (and feel free to join in with your own wishes for today):

Thanks to Jojikiba (for the YouTube sound effect), to The Princess Spinning Light Up Wand, to wishers everywhere, and to you, for reading today.


*  See the Rumi poem “Guest House”, which is at the end of this post.

** Come to think of it, look at that Rumi poem again.

*** I thought of many possible words for what I wanted to express here, and settled on one I enjoyed hearing during our recent time in the UK.

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Day 229: Unsolved Mysteries

I’ve never seen the show “Unsolved Mysteries,” but what better way to start off this identically-named blog post, than this:

(If there is a better way, I have no idea what it is.)

I like to think about mysteries, as I’ve mentioned before.  Skilled detectives — who pay attention in the moment and who use all their resources to solve puzzles and sometimes even right wrongs —  have definitely been heroes of mine, throughout my life.

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For this blog post, I would like to share a personal, recently experienced mystery.

THE SPECKLED SHIRT

by Ann Koplow

On our penultimate day in Scotland, my son and I were in our hotel room, when I heard him cry …

What’s this??

I looked over,  to see him standing by his open and yet unpacked suitcase,  holding up one of his favorite shirts. Safe in the assumption that my son knew what a shirt was, I waited for him to say more. And he did.

What the heck??? 

And then,

Look at these red marks, all over my shirt!!!

I moved closer to son’s outstretched arms and the shirt, dangling lifeless and forlorn — perhaps as the unknown but deliciously fresh fish I had just eaten at a nearby restaurant had recently dangled from a Scottish fishhook.

As I inspected the shirt — my son’s continuing cries of “What the heck?” ringing in my ears — I noticed these:

Tiny splashes of red, covering his shirt. The more I looked at the shirt, the more of these I saw.

What were they?

Could they be ….

BLOOD?

Nope. Wrong color red.

Could they be …

RED LIQUID HE HAD SPILLED WHILE WEARING THIS SHIRT?

Nope. He hadn’t worn that shirt in days.  And he had seen that shirt, unspeckled, lying on top of his opened suitcase, yesterday, in the bonny town of Edinburgh.

Could the speckles be …..

THE BLEEDINGS OF ANOTHER GARMENT, ONTO THE SHIRT?

Nope.  He had only one piece of red-colored clothing in his suitcase, which was (1) the wrong color and (2) had not been packed anywhere near the now-speckled shirt.

My son and I used the best parts of our inquiring brains, exploring different possibilities.

We were stumped.

So we decided to  reach out for help and consult with experts who might

  1. solve the mystery and/or
  2. save the shirt.

First, we spoke to the people at the front desk at the hotel.

The helpful woman at the front desk looked at the shirt and, like us, was mystified.  She immediately ruled out foul play by the hotel staff.  While cleaners had been in our room since the the last time the shirt had been seen unspeckled … all cleaning fluids at this hotel were colored clear, not red.

While she would have been happy to clean the shirt for us, all laundry had already gone out for the day. Waiting for the next pick-up would mean the shirt could not return in time to leave with us on our return passage to the United States.

What to do?

She sent us on our way to consult with other experts, a little ways down the street, who might be able to help:

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The two laundresses there inspected the shirt carefully, as we told them all we knew about The Speckled Shirt.  I watched as confusion, concern, and other emotions flickered across their fresh, young faces.

This must have been caused by some kind of spray!  Look at that pattern!

I suspect the cleaning staff at the hotel.  Even if their cleaning liquid aren’t red, this could definitely be a chemical reaction.

We would be happy to clean this for you, but I’m afraid we might not get these out.  Look at all of them!


Following the advice of these two laundry experts, we trudged back to the hotel, speckled shirt in tow. I recited, unemotionally, just the facts of what we had been told, in the tradition of another famous American detective.

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A manager was summarily called, who assured us the hotel would take care of the Speckled Shirt, in time for our departure, as best they could.

Wondering about all the confusing and conflicting evidence we had heard, recognizing we could not sort it all out, we put shirts and speckles out of our mind, and enjoyed another day in beautiful Edinburgh.

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Several hours later, after we returned to our hotel and got off the lift onto our floor, I was surprised to see, at that precise moment, a dapperly dressed gentleman rushing towards us, holding a hanger with a beautifully pressed shirt.

At first, of course, I leapt to this conclusion:

It’s the return of the shirt, speckled no longer!

However, this hope was quickly dashed by the gentleman moving swiftly by us and leaping onto the lift, apparently in pursuit of urgent business on other floors.

I said to my son, marveling at the coincidence. “Did you see that man?  There are other people in this hotel with Shirt Issues today.”

Minutes after we returned to our room, there came an urgent knock on the door.

As I opened the door, I discovered that same rushing man with shirt, now standing quite still. Said he,

Here is your shirt.  I had the wrong room number. My apologies.

And just like that, he was gone, leaving behind my son’s shirt, pressed and virtually speckle-free.

Let me ask you this, dear readers: Is that a mystery to you, that we did not recognize that shirt, rushing by us, as we left the lift?

Well,  I guess that speaks to many things, including the sometimes dubious nature of eyewitness testimony.

Now, as I bring this humble tale of The Speckled Shirt to an end, perhaps you may have noticed something else.

While the shirt was restored, with almost all tell-tale evidence removed ….

The mystery was never solved.

It now enters the realm of other unsolved mysteries I’ve experienced, including the first one I can remember.*

It’s difficult to tolerate the unknown, especially for important things.

In the meantime,  I will do my best, trying to solve mysteries and accepting that, for some, I may never know.

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Thanks to broox09, who posted that first “Unsolved Mystery” video on Youtube; detectives everywhere; the shows, books, movies, and people who have helped me get through some difficult times; and to you, for participating in this mystery today.

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* Who killed President John F. Kennedy?

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Day 228: Self soothing (decisions, decisions)

As I’ve blogged about previously, I tend to look at the Friday of a vacation before I return to work as … The Last Real Vacation Day.

As I’ve blogged about previously, I have trouble making decisions, some times.

So how to spend this day?

I know this: I want to focus on self-care and self-soothing.

Okay!  So now I know what question to ask.

Which self-care option should I choose, on this fine summer day?

  1. Try out my new meditation chair.Image
  2. Go for a walk, somewhere nearby.Image
  3. Take a bath, with something I brought back with me from Edinburgh:Image
  4. Go back to sleep.

So what’s the correct answer?

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 1 and 2
  6. 1 and 3
  7. 1 and 4
  8. 2 and 3
  9. 2 and 4
  10. 3 and 4
  11. 1, 2, and 3
  12. 1, 3 and 4
  13. 2, 3, and 4
  14. All of the above
  15. None of the above
  16. Some of the above and others not listed
  17. There is no right or wrong answer

I just realized something. 17 is my lucky number.

Okay!

Thanks to self-soothers, decision-makers, mathematicians, jet-laggers, and test-takers everywhere, and to you, of course, for reading today.

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Day 227: Pros and Cons of Returning Home (from Edinburgh)

Last night, my son and I arrived at Logan Airport in Boston, one hour later than expected, after flights from Edinburgh and London. Speaking for myself (which is always a good idea, I think), I was exhausted, done with flying (at least for the day), and relieved to be home safely.

In the grand tradition that I’ve established whilst blogging on vacation, I will try to write a short post before venturing out to enjoy what looks like a beautiful day in these local parts.

The structure for today’s post?  It’s a list of Pros and Cons (which many people find to be a helpful technique for decision-making and moving forward).

Returning Home to Boston from London and Edinburgh

(An Exceedingly Brief List of Pros and Cons)

Con (for returning home):  People in the Boston area, in comparison to people we’ve seen during the last week, seem a tad more conventional and a little less colorful.

I will illustrate this with some photos I took yesterday in Edinburgh, shortly before we left for the airport:

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However, as with any kind of judgmental comparison, my assumption here might be unhelpful and erroneous.

For example, some of the people in the photos above might actually BE from the Boston area.

Also, that last photo? That’s a troupe of people performing Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Assassins.”  As I told one of the troupe members yesterday, while I regretted that we had to miss their performance, we had just seen — within the last month — a wonderful production of that same musical.

Where?  In Watertown, MA.

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Pro (for returning home):  There are creatures here at home, who seem really glad that I’ve returned.

Here’s an example of just one of those creatures, right now:

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While this “Pro” might involve some mind reading on my part, I will end this post by speaking for myself, once more.

I’m really glad to see them, too.

Thanks to all the lovely and interesting creatures in Edinburgh and in the greater Boston area, to Stephen Sondheim, to my favorite kind of egg (whether it’s called “sunny-side up” or “fried”), and to you, for reading today.

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Day 226: Parting is such sweet sorrow.

I’m writing this on the morning of the last day of my son’s and my trip to London and Edinburgh.

To honor the wonderfulness of this trip, and to allow myself more time to enjoy our last day here, I’m going to include just one photo, which some short comments.

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I took this snapshot of the Greyfriars Bobby statue very quickly last night, as my son and I were on our way to one of the venues of the Festival Fringe in Edinburgh. We were going to see Greg Proops, from one of our favorite TV shows, the American version of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” Before the show, we also wanted to stop at a Patisserie recommended by somebody at our hotel before the show. Because we’d had a stressful 10 minues in London, earlier during this vacation, when we were late for our third show in 28 hours (“Phantom of the Opera”) after stopping at a Patisserie and having difficulty finding that show’s venue, I didn’t want to linger on our way to the show last night.

So I noticed the statue and the little girl, but I barely aimed my iPhone while I took that photo. I didn’t stop and think, at all.

Later that night, after we returned to our hotel room (by the way, after we WERE about the same amount late for the Greg Proops show as we were for “Phantom of the Opera” in London), I took a closer look at that photo.

And since then, I’ve looked at it again. And each time, I’ve noticed something new.

This is what I’m noticing on this last morning in the lovely UK, as I look at that quickly-snapped photo of a statue commemorating the loyalty of a dog to its owner after death:

  1. That little girl looks so happy and secure, perched on high.
  2. One of the creatures in that photo seems like it’s looking right at me.
  3. The sign in the background reads “Established in 1772,” which brings to mind one of the first things I said to my son when we decided to visit London and Edinburgh this summer, “You may think that buildings in Boston are old…wait until you see the buildings in London and Scotland!”
  4. Directly above that sign, there’s an olde-fashioned bicycle on the wall, which reminds me of another one of my (much earlier) favorite TV shows:

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I’m sure if I look again, I’ll see something else in that photo.

For now, though, I’m going to finish this post, so I can bid a proper adieu to the United Kingdom.

Thanks to Patrick McGoohan, Greg Proops, the little girl in that photo, improvisers everywhere, loyal pets, and to you, for reading today.

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Day 225: Reasons why I should move to Edinburgh, Scotland

Reason #1:  Because humor is really important to me.

After spending just one full day in Edinburgh, I saw lots of evidence that this place would be a good match for my personal sense of humor.

For example, I like a good pun:

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I really appreciate visual humor, too:

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Also, my son and I went to several comedy shows yesterday, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, (and we plan to go to more today).  By far, the funniest person we saw yesterday was Tom Joyce, apparently a non-professional comic and student at Edinburgh University.

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I want to say these things about Tom, after seeing him perform yesterday:

  1. Tom’s humor appeals to many ages. My 15-year-old son and I both started laughing as soon as Tom started his set and we didn’t stop until he did.
  2. Tom was very smart.
  3. I’ve never seen anybody quite like him, and I’ve seen a lot of comedy shows.
  4. Another time I had a thought like #3, above, was after seeing Steven Wright in a local Boston comedy club, when he was starting out in the late 1970s.
  5. People in Edinburgh must be REALLY funny, because Tom tied for 1st place as Edinburgh University Stand Up of The Year, 2013.

Reason #2: People in Edinburgh seem to be very modest.

After the comedy review show where we saw Tom yesterday, which included comics performing on their own during the festival, Tom was very gracious as he told us the disappointing news that he did not have his own show at the Fringe. When we asked Tom his last name, and told him how much we admired his act, he was kind and appreciative, but also wanted us to know, “I’m not really famous.”

And, nobody mentioned Tom’s recent stand-up award; we had to find that out by googling him.

I’ve seen other evidence, in Edinburgh, that the people can be quite humble here. And even though I’ve written, previously, about how bragging can be a good thing to practice (especially if you are working on self-esteem issues), I still value authentic humility and modesty.

Here’s more evidence of that, in Edinburgh, where people recognize the value of the little things:

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Reason #3:  There are so many amazing things to look at.

I wrote about photo opportunities in London, a few days ago. And while London is a truly beautiful city,  in Edinburgh every moment is a photo opportunity.  Here are just a few of the ones I was able to capture yesterday (in reverse chronological order):

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I wanted to end with that last image, above, because of my final reason, this morning:

Reason # 4: If you look more closely at anything in Edinburgh, you’re likely to see something else.

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Thanks to Tom Joyce, to the other wonderful people who live in Edinburgh, and to you, for looking today.

Categories: humor, personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Day 224: Reasons why I shouldn’t spend too much time in our hotel room blogging this morning

Reason #1:  What’s outside the room.

Edinburgh and the Festival Fringe!

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Reason #2:  What’s inside the room.

This might be yet another example of the Cognitive Distortion of mind reading, but I think this creature, which I discovered in our hotel bathroom, is trying to tell me something:

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You may read something else into that expression, but I see this:

Ann!  Go out and enjoy Edinburgh, as soon as you can!

And who am I to argue with a purple duck?

Thanks for reading, everybody.

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