Category Archives: Health

The Tidal Pool Treasures of Thailand

There is a place in Thailand that, to me, is the most magical place on Earth. I found it by accident, but I think I’d like to die there someday. I won’t say where it is, but if you ever want to go, tell me and if you’ve been kind to me over the years I will hand-draw you a map. In the mean while, I think we could all use a little magic during these tough times, so I’ll show you what I found there.

It all began when I woke up in my cliff-side bungalow the morning after I arrived, and looked out the window. By the first light of dawn, I saw something interesting outside:

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It looked like the entrance to a cave off in the distance. I’d stayed here once before but this was a new bungalow—two years ago the jungle was covering this particular view and I didn’t know the cave existed.

While eating  breakfast I chatted with an adventurous Slovakian couple. After finishing, the man hopped over a low rail partitioning off the dining area from the rocky cliff, and waved goodbye. I turned to his partner, and asked where he was going. She pointed to the rocks below. I was amazed they were going down there, because not once had the idea occurred to me last time I was there. I assumed it was too dangerous and stuck to the several sandy beaches, each offering its own slice of nature that was more than fulfilling for me. Minutes later, she finished her yogurt and prepared to walk down to find her mate. Knowing nothing about them I thought perhaps they were the rock-climbing type, and asked about the decent. “Yeah the path is kind of treacherous but it’s worth it,” she said, climbing down in flip flops.

Surely if she was wearing flip flops, I could do it in sneakers. But she wasn’t lying about it being treacherous. When I climbed down later there was barely a path through the jungle overgrowth, and I crabwalked and bouldered down most of the way. When I finally reached the bottom though, it was magnificent peaceful rocky heaven.

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100 days not smoking

It’s true! I was going to reward myself with something, but I can’t think of anything I want. Everything about manufacturing pretty much disgusts me these days. I think I have reached the end of Capitalism. All I want now is to write, travel, and eventually to come back and get a companion parrot. I guess I’ll just calculate how much money I would have spent on cigarettes and put it in a parrot fund or something.

Since you’re definitely wondering what kind of parrot I would get, I’ll tell you the options:

1) African Gray

parrot-africangrayThey are the smartest of the bunch from a human perspective. They require a lot of attention and can get quite sassy if they are displeased. But their ability to communicate astounds me and I would love to be able to be able to provide an engaging environment for one of these creatures that require so much intellectual stimulation. Most famously, Alex the African Gray demonstrated that parrots aren’t just mimics, and that they think critically to use words in context and apply referential meaning to objects just like humans do. Anyone who’s ever had a parrot knows they do that, but Alex scientifically validated it. And he could do fucking math. He didn’t get nearly as much YouTube fame as he should have in his short life, so I’ll be sure to teach my parrot to do math and make him a YouTube celeb in memory of Alex.

2) Amazon

parrot-amazonThere are lots of variations of Amazons. This one is a yellow-crested Amazon, and it looks exactly like the parrot that first enchanted me in Puerto Rico when I was 8 or so. There was one in a cage in a hotel near where I was playing at the beach, and I went over to look at it. It looked at me, and I don’t think I left the cage for an hour. One of the hotel workers came over to say, “watch out kid, that parrot will take your finger off,” and kind of teased it by flicking the cage. I knew the parrot just didn’t like that particular worker and that he really wanted me to scratch his neck. So I did, and the workers were amazed to find that an animal they assumed was aggressive by nature actually just had standards.

Amazons have a pretty big capacity for human language as well. I used to parrot-sit for an Amazon named Jake when I was in college. Jake’s owner had rescued him from a man who had no idea what he was getting into with parrot ownership, and grew so worn of Jake’s noisy demands that he kept him locked in a dark closet with only sunflower seeds (not at all the kind of balanced diet any kind of parrot needs) for years. Jake was too traumatized to be handled in his new home, but he still delighted in interaction. One time late at night, I got quite a startle to hear a man’s low voice in the house and thought someone was breaking in. Then I realized it was just Jake imitating his previous owner’s voice.

3) Eclectus

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Eclectus are just the most beautiful birds in the world, I think. They are a sexually dimorphic species, meaning the males and females look different. Above is a female, and the males are bright green with a candy corn beak. I once knew an eclectus female named Girdy, also a rescue that I parrot-sat. She had also lost trust of humans due to a traumatic past, but she really tried and it was cute. She would sit on her stand and when I would try to pick her up she would have a neurotic breakdown, part of her wanting to step up and be a carefree parrot again, but the abused part of her holding her back. Her eyes would turn frantic and she would start panting a little bit. I succeeded in picking her up a few times, but felt bad stressing her out by the process, so I decided to just admire her from afar.

Someone once asked me why I liked parrots so much. It’s because parrots only care about three things: play time, snack time, and mischief. What better companion animal is there than that? Don’t get me wrong, I love all animals, but parrots are just the best.

My ideal future parrot is one I would raise from an egg, like I did my childhood parrot. That way you become their BFF automatically. The ethical thing to do though would be to adopt a parrot, since there are so many adult parrots out there in need of good homes. Chances are an adopted parrot probably wouldn’t be as nice as one I raised, or have the learning aptitude and vocabulary, but as long as it would let me scratch it’s neck every now and then, I would be happy.

The first mention of “vagina” in a film

…was by Disney!

From Oddee:

As strange as it may seem, Walt Disney was on the forefront of women talking about their vaginae (plural of vagina). In 1946, Disney was commissioned by the Cello-Cotton company (who made Kotex feminine napkins) to make a film called The Story of Menstruation, which mentioned the V-word for the very first time on celluloid. The film was never released theatrically, but was shown to 105 million American students, along with advertisements for girls to make sure to use their brand when it came to “that time of the month.” The film was hardly pornographic – in fact, menstrual blood is shown as white instead of red. It is now in the public domain and can be watched below!

It’s actually pretty awesome, but pretty sad to notice how not far sex ed has come since the 40s. My kids will have 3D hologram diagrams of ovaries if I have anything to say about it.

Via Ira Cashewnutskya

The I Ching For Dummies

I was over at my Belarusian friend’s apartment after doing yoga, drinking kale smoothies and talking about self-improvement, and we started talking about our childhoods. I told her some of the highlights of mine, about my fractured relationship with my mom, and she looked at me and said: “You say that Americans complain a lot even though they don’t have real problems, but I don’t know what’s worse — living next to Chernobyl or growing up like that.”

ichingSo she started telling me about the I Ching, AKA the Book of Changes, a text based on ancient Chinese teaching which I guess is the equivalent of the bible in terms of how people study it and use it to guide their lives, though it has nothing to with a god. She said that perhaps it could help my mom shed some of her negativity if she read it. I told her I didn’t think she would be receptive to anything that wasn’t Tea Party propaganda, but she brought it out and started flipping through it to show me. It was thicker than the DSM and had so many lessons in it that you were supposed to roll dice to determine which lesson you would read daily. I don’t know what kind of face I made when I saw it but she’s very perceptive, so she went and retrieved a much smaller book. She handed it to me with a smirk and said in her thick Eastern European accent, “Ok how about this? This is like the I Ching for dummies version.” Now we were talking. I flipped it over and read the back of it:

Universal laws govern everything. Several of the laws form a path that leads to the achievement of goals. In every case, those who follow the path to the end achieve their goals, overcome their fears and get what they want. Most importantly, they discover who they are in relationship to the Universe. The perceive a brand new Universe – a treasure chest. Whatever you do now, whatever you now believe, whatever your current circumstance may be, you are perfectly equipped and fully capable of fulfilling your needs and desires. You can have what you want. This book will direct you along the path and create within you a new self image.

I told her I was still skeptical that my mom could be helped by anything or anyone, but she told me to take it and read it myself because maybe it would help me. I opened it and felt better after reading the author Wu Wei’s comment before the book even started: “Because you are reading this, be aware that the Universe, in its complete awareness, has brought you together with what you need. It means you are ready.” So when I packed my bag to go into the city that night, I opted for the I Ching over the The Bell Jar.

I’ve never, ever been religious. I dismissed the idea of Santa flat out as soon as I heard the notion that he was watching me all the time, along with the other supernatural entities. I’ve also never considered myself “spiritual”. To me this word was associated with those southern baptist churches where the people pretend to have seizures because the “spirit” is inside of them and hallelujah and what not. After a few pages of this book though, I finally realized what all the new-agey hipsters in Brooklyn meant when they talked about “The Path” aka “The Path to Spiritual Enlightenment”. Upon this realization, I supposed I was alright with being “on it”.

Not to get too existential about all of this, but reflecting about this in terms of authoritarian symbolism where God is a mentally contained father figure, it’s not surprising I didn’t take well to monotheistic religion with all of its baked-in paternalism, not having a father and all. Now being 26 and considering this Taoist idea of the Universe being an all-seeing, all-knowing entity that produces us and constantly surrounds us, comforting us and steering our destiny for our personal benefit if we are obedient to the teachings of the human sentinels that deliver its messages — it kind of feels like how I would imagine it feels when loving parents hug you.

It’s always been logic and rationalism and reason in my mind, and ultimately, solitude. I’ve always been sort of jealous of people who can delude themselves into thinking that some supreme being is watching over them, taking care of them and making their decisions for them about how to live. But I’ve always said I’d rather be uncomfortable than deluded. Is it delusional to think that the universe cares about me? The author of this I Ching reader basically admits that it is, and says things like “think about a task you failed to complete in the past and imagine yourself completing it. Then imagine yourself completing it and think about it again, knowing you completed it. Even though you didn’t, if you tell yourself you did enough you’ll have peace of mind.” Is delusion the path to happiness, and if so can it be learned? Should it be?

Ok ok, so I’m on-board with making peace with the past. But here’s the thing that will take some serious concentration. This book tries to teach you to not be phased by upsetting things by telling yourself that everything is perfect because you’re here now, on this path leading you to better things despite the seemingly unpleasant things that happened in the past, because it couldn’t have happened any other way. This was the universe’s plan for you all along, so why get upset when bad things happen in the future, because the universe has your back like it always has?

I see what they’re doing here. I get it. It’s unproductive to be mad and dwell on fucked up things because it will only make things cascade into worseness. But like, the guy playing some stupid Zynga game at full volume next to me in the coffee shop today while I was trying to work? I suppose Wu Wei would look at him and think he was perfect! He’d probably thank him and then thank the universe for putting him on the stool right next to him. My first thought? “Excuse me, but I’m trying to follow the path to spiritual enlightenment here and you’re in my fucking way, so please move.”

Am I doing this right?

Not yet, but hugs from the universe feel nice so I guess I’ll keep trying.

Content

Contentedness is not a feeling I know well. Typically when I’m happy, I get scared wondering when it will end. But I’m just pretty content now that I’m feeling healthier than ever. My yogi, Ira, believes all ailments come from a lack of love. I have been very sick for the last 10 years, propagated by the fact that I’m a pro at acting like I’m ok when I’m not. I’m strong, but I have my limits. If there’s one thing that reiki is good for, it’s acknowledging that the sick should not treat the healthy — they have to recover before you can level up and heal others.

I’ve been thinking about this metaphor lately, which I kind of hate because it involves a Disney movie. But there’s this scene in The Little Mermaid where Ariel is heading down into Ursula’s lair to sign her voice away in an act of dumb sacrificial romance or whatever. She swims over Ursula’s garden where there’s all these things that look like seaweed but are really just shriveled up mer-people:

ursulasgardenAs Ariel swims over, they kind of extend out to her. At one point I think one tries to grab her fin and she shakes it off with this spooked expression. And that’s kind of what it’s like sometimes in New York. It’s not like Ariel doesn’t want to help all the “poor unfortunate souls,” it just takes her a while to understand how they came to be that way, why they can’t be blamed for their condition, and how to help them. The plan ultimately means swimming past them for the time being and coming back to help them later.

On helping yourself so you can help other people

The night I heard the news of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, I did what I used to do to cope with stress — dissociate using any kind of chemical I could find. I went to the store and bought a pack of cigarettes after not smoking for two months, and went to my local bar where I proceeded to get wasted. I always liked going to this bar alone because on any given day it was inevitable that some interesting person would come along and strike up a conversation.

That particular night I found myself seated next to a man from Sierra Leone. After a few martinis, I wound up confiding in him that I felt like the scum of the universe that night because an earthquake had just struck Haiti, the bodies were piling up, it was possible that my family there was hurt or worse, and all I could do was sit in the comfort of my life in New York, in this bar, and worry about it. I told him I wanted to be on a plane there doing something to help, but instead I was sitting there not helping anyone, especially not myself.

He sort of chuckled and in a very wise old man way (even though he was only 25) took me to look here: he was from fucking Sierra Leone. Most of the people there live in poverty, there are civil wars and violence all the time and people generally live in fear. It wasn’t until the Blood Diamond came out that most people in the US even heard of the place, which is an indication of how little foreign intervention they get there. He told me wants to do so much to help his family and friends there all time, but he was sitting right with me and not feeling guilty about it at all. Why? “Because that’s all anyone wants, is the ability to because to just sit somewhere and not have to worry about anything in that moment. It’s all my family wanted for me,” he said. And then he told me something for the first time that I would hear many times over the next few years, which is that you have to help yourself first if you want to have any hope of helping other people.

I struggled with this concept at first because on the one hand it sounds like rationalization for laziness and selfishness. But when it comes down to it, it’s just accurate at a very basic level. That’s not to say that you can’t always be helping people. I help people when I can and love doing so. But in the past few years I have found myself overextending. I tend to attract people who try to take advantage of my compassion, who perhaps haven’t quite figured out how to sever the parental ties and look for mothers and fathers in other people. They look for it in me because they see me as independent, someone who “has her shit together,” and they cling for dear life hoping I can help them be the same way. And I want to, and part of the reason I work so hard is so that someday I will be able to, but sometimes I just can’t. But I’m terrible at saying no to people when they ask for help, so sometimes I try and try and it drains all my energy from my very core, and I turn into this listless shell who can’t even walk to the corner store let alone address an international crisis. I am independent and I probably do have my shit together more than the average 26-year-old living in New York City, but I am that way because I have to be. I don’t have a safety net like so many of my peers, so when I fall, it really hurts. I can’t afford to fall anymore.

So don’t worry if you hear me going on about raw food and meditation. I’m not joining a hippie cult or something, although the yoga studio across the street could pass for one. I really just want to try everything that crosses my path to be healthy, so I help other people in the biggest way possible while I’m still able, and I’m really grateful for the people who are able to help me do that right now.

New Health Regime

Tomorrow will mark the 50th day since I quit smoking. I am virtually withdrawal symptom free now, although I still secretly love second-hand smoke. One of my friends suggested that I reward myself on cessation milestones and buy myself something with the money I would have spent on cigarettes, so I am buying a flute! I found a nice silver-plated used one on Craigslist and am picking it up tomorrow. I’m super stoked, I used to love playing the flute when I was in 5th and 6th grade and won a few competitions playing Mozart, but quit because I had a mean teacher. Getting back into it seemed  thing where I’d always be playing catch-up, so I never picked it back up. Furthermore, an activity that requires blowing for extended periods of time is not that feasible for a smoker.

Go ahead with the flute jokes.

Anyway, that’s just phase one of my new health kick. The second phase involves joining my favorite Belarusian refugee’s sticker club where we set daily goals in a spreadsheet and get stickers if we meet them. On Friday she asked me to edit her scholarship essay to knock the “Russian propaganda vibe” out of it and make it sound more colloquially American, and after reading about what a productive and disciplined life she leads I was amazed! I asked her if she thought being in a daily goals club could work for me, and she invited me to join. My goals include waking up at 9, morning papers, eating breakfast, meditation, eating one raw meal a day, doing yoga or cardio 4 times a week, blogging, and not bringing my phone/laptop/tablet into bed because it disrupts my sleep.

It’s funny how rudimentary this all seems, but I’ve realized recently that I really do need to start from square 1 when it comes to learning how to take care of myself. I’ve been skirting by on coffee, cigarettes, take-out, drunkorexia, and cheap thrills, so it’s really no wonder I get stressed out sometimes. My self-discipline is pretty abysmal, and I’m skeptical that I can stick to this regimen. But if anything is going to teach me discipline, it’s an Eastern European health guru.