Category Archives: Self-improvement

How to have more fun than everyone else at Mardi Gras

I think at this point everyone who knows me well has heard that I traveled to New Orleans last week. It was my first Mardi Gras, and I had the time of my life. If you missed it, that’s ok. There’s always next year.

Since I can’t share Team Creep’s personal stories, here’s what you should do when you go to New Orleans for Carnival:

1. Find a friend from New Orleans. You get instant street cred just by saying “I’m with my friend Brandon; he’s a local.” People won’t try as hard to rip you off. You will know you can’t walk around the neighborhood near the bar you’re in because you will get shot. Also, you’ll be able to visit all the good bars where the locals hang out, instead of being subjected to the mass of teeming flesh that is Bourbon Street night after night. We saw an awesome, free concert by DJ Mannie Fresh on Lundi Gras because we were with a local who knew to take us to Maison on Frenchmen on that night.

B-train taking us to our first parade

After you find a local friend, make more friends. Almost everyone in New Orleans over the Carnival season is looking to have a good time. All the people who aren’t up for it either don’t come or clear out for the week. You’ll meet some great people. Exchange numbers and ‘friend’ each other on Facebook so you can see them again next year.

2. Drink Hurricanes at Pat O’Briens. This was one of my favorite moments during my week in New Orleans. Pat O’Briens has a beautiful outdoor courtyard and lovely, relaxing restrooms with supportive attendants. And did I mention the Hurricanes? They’re dangerous, so start with one. Go from there.

Hurricanes in geaux-cups

3. Dress in costume. Our local host made us dress up in costume on Saturday, and we had more fun than everyone else. Even though someone screamed, “IT’S NOT HALLOWEEN!!” at one girl in our party. Dressing up (especially on Mardi Gras Day) is part of the fun. And if you get weird looks, just say, “I’m going to a costume party in the Quarter later.”

What should you wear? Get weird in something French Colonial (think: Marie Antoinette), marine-related (mermaids, pirates, sea creatures), revealing (you’ll fit right in), or creative (I saw a homemade Homer Simpson, Nightman, and some excellent political commentary). Compliment people on their costumes and take pictures.

4. Watch some parades. Not all of them. You’ll get tired of them around the 10th time you’re pelted in the head with a bag of beads or a really heavy throw. But the first (and second) time will be magical! Go to Bacchus and Endymion and, if you can wake up early enough on Tuesday, go to Zulu and try to catch a hand-painted coconut (if you make it to Zulu and into Mardi Gras night, I applaud you). When you get something cool, give it to one of the kids nearby. They especially like the plush animals and light-up stuff.

Don’t take too many pictures; take mental pictures, instead, and don’t miss out on potential eye-contact with the celebrity guests on the floats. We were feet from Will Ferrell, Adam Levine, and Andy Garcia. Secure a place to use the restroom nearby, and you’re set.

Keep an eye out for your host’s favorite high school bands. When the chaperones or the cops tell you to back up to the curb, BACK UP. I saw a woman get slammed in the face with a trombone slide. They are not messing around. And for God’s sake, wear layers. And bring a poncho (Yes, really. You’ll thank me when the two-hour rainstorm is preventing you from leaving the bar at 10am in the French Quarter). People are not lying when they say the weather changes quickly and constantly in New Orleans.

5. Stay calm. You will see an inebriated 40-year-old yank plastic beads away from a sad-looking child. You’ll be shocked how quickly 10-cent plastic beads become the bane of every drunk adult’s existence. Someone will shove you as you’re trying to walk down Bourbon Street. Some lady will almost choke you out trying to snatch the boa you got from a float. These are ridiculous things for adults to do, but it’s Mardi Gras, and you can’t let the little things harsh your buzz. Take it all in stride and let the good times roll!

Someone knocked over my adorable parade buddy's ladder about ten seconds after I took this picture, but I caught him!

6. Wake up early on Mardi Gras Day and stay out late, no matter how crap you feel. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’re going to hate yourself if you miss out on all the music and awesome costumes people bust out on Fat Tuesday. Caffeine is your friend; you can worry about recovering later. Walk around, take in the scene, start drinking.

Group shot 11:30am Mardi Gras Day

7. At least once, throw some beads from a balcony. You may be apprehensive (I was), but it’s an experience you won’t forget. Again, don’t underestimate how much 10-cent plastic beads can change the life/mood of every adult walking on the street below you.

The view from the balcony is much better than the view from the street. See, look how much fun these people are having!

You’re going to have to go to Bourbon Street at least a couple times while you’re in New Orleans, so you might as well be up on a balcony and away from the crush of the crowd. When you get up on a balcony, be sure to say something positive like, “You look good, girl!” to make your subjects–uhh, I mean new acquaintances–feel extra special. People will throw you beads. Try to catch them, then throw those, too. Just remember:

8. You don’t need to do anything you don’t want to and you don’t need to feel bad about anything you did do. Seriously. I didn’t show my boobs. And you don’t have to, either. Or do show your boobs, and be merry! This is a time to cleanse yourself of sin before Lent (or just to be sinful if you’re not Catholic), so you’ll be in good company no matter what you decide to do. Unless you’re a man, and you want to take your pants off. Don’t do that; you’ll be arrested.

What do you have to do to collect this many throws from one parade? Just yell, "Throw me something, mister!" as the floats roll by!

9. Eat delicious food. Going along with the “it’s a marathon not a sprint idea,” you have to keep yourself nourished (kind of) to survive the week. Thank your host if she’s feeding you delicious jambalaya. Eat a Po-boy. Eat shrimp, eat gumbo, try turtle soup. We went to an awesome Jazz Brunch at The Court of Two Sisters. We drank a lot of champagne. If there’s a buffet, the answer is always “yes.”

Yes, I know this isn't a picture of "food."

10. Listen to some good music. My favorite night was the aforementioned Mannie Fresh concert on Lundi Gras. He was up on stage on the third floor three hours past closing time. Before he came on, we listened to two lovely jazz bands (Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses and Dirty Bourbon River Show; the latter’s lead singer  poured bourbon into the crowd at random). The music will be good, people will be dancing. Stay out late; that’s when all the fun stuff happens.

DJ Mannie Fresh!

11. Do something other people aren’t doing. Do those alcohol-infused ice-pops look delicious? Have one. Do you want to look at the water instead of going to a parade? Take a drive down to Lake Pontchartrain. Do you want to visit a museum? Don’t be ridiculous, it’s Carnival, there will be time for indoor art later. Once you’ve done something different, head to the Quarter and do what everyone else is doing. This isn’t the time to be an elitist.

The courtyard at Pat O'Brien's on Mardi Gras Day (you can see us in the bottom right corner :))

12. Have fun. This isn’t going to be a problem, but make sure you are prepared before you leave for New Orleans so you can have the best time possible. Prepare your body by eating well and getting lots of sleep. Once you arrive, be safe, be aware, take care of your people, meet new people, share your coffee. Have a Happy Mardi Gras and let the good times roll!

Thank you to everyone (Brandon, Angela, Irene, Jenny, Dave, Tara, and many others) for a fantastic week! See you next year!

Photo credit: Christine White, Jarrad Fontenot, and some dude on the roof of Pat O’Briens

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How to know when you’re ready to have children

If I had to choose one, I would say the most difficult moment in my life so far came right after I realized I would never be loved like a child is loved by his or her mother.

I heard that friends can be your new family, and that finding The One would pervade my being and fill all the gaps left by a multitude of emotional cuts and scrapes. I expected too much of my friends and hoped for the world in each new relationship. I held out hope for a long time, thinking the hole would fill as I concentrated on the love of friends, distracted myself with a variety of substances and activities. The right combination of love and life would make me feel whole.

It never happened. It was heartbreaking.

The reality is that nothing can replace the affection, kindness, and nurturing of a loving parent. I am never going to get that, because I have an emotionally limited parent who is incapable of giving that to me. I am the child of a narcissist who had a child for the wrong reasons. Do not be this person. Put in the work to learn how to help your child grow into a complete person AND a life-long companion.

This is how you know you’re ready to have children:

1. You have worked through your own emotional and psychological issues. Are you depressed? Are you a narcissist? Do you have a personality disorder? Are you excessively anxious? Do you lack close friends? Are you addicted to drugs (legal or illegal) or alcohol? If the answer to any of these question is “yes,” or “maybe” or “I don’t know,” you are not ready to have children. You need psychological counseling and you have a long journey ahead of you to fix yourself before you are ready to have children.

Young children cannot understand mental disorders, and they suffer under the care of someone who is unable to nurture, guide, and care for them appropriately. Infants born from an adverse prenatal environment (in the womb of a pregnant woman who is experiencing extreme stress or a mental disorder or who is unable to regulate her emotions), have more difficulty regulating their own emotions, are more likely to be unhappy, are more likely to express negative affect, and may be more likely to commit suicide later in life.

2. You know a lot about child development. Do you know how long you should breast feed your baby? The answer is: 2-5 years. Is your twelve-year-old capable of advanced moral reasoning (can he understand, in a complete way, why he shouldn’t do things)? No, and he won’t have a fully developed prefrontal cortex until he is in his mid twenties. How often should you touch your child as an infant? All the time, and you should keep up with the close, physical contact until your child is at least 2. You should be asking many questions like this and having them answered by science and scientists (not by your intuition).

You need to understand how your child’s mind is developing and what she needs at every stage of her life. Find out what developmentally appropriate games you can play with your child, learn about what issues she might be going through. This means being attentive and reading literature and understanding the science behind it. This means asking relevant questions (without prying) like: “Who are your close friends at school and what do you like about them (who are they drawn to and why)?” and “Has anyone ever been mean to you at school (are they being bullied)?” and “Do you have any questions about sexual health or how to have safe sex?”

If you do not know the answers to these questions (and especially if you have not even asked questions like this), you are not ready to have children.

3. If you didn’t have a good model for how to be a good parent, you found one. If you doubt your capabilities to be a parent (which every responsible adult should do), make sure you have a good model for what a parent should be. Find a spouse who has a warm, loving family. Look for friends who have healthy and happy children and do what they do.

If you don’t have any friends, having a child is going to be extremely difficult and your child will not have appropriate opportunities to develop social skills and close social relationships. If you don’t have friends, take a long, hard look at what you are doing and why you don’t have friends. Then fix it. If you need the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist, seek it out. Don’t assume you’ll learn as you go along. Positive social supports and scaffolding for building social relationships need to be in place before you have children.

If you do not have friends or if you do not have a clear idea of what kind of parent you want to be, you are not ready to have children.

4. You have grown the fuck up. You are not ready to have children unless you realize what goes into raising them. As in love, the process of growing with another human being is one of hard work and almost infinite patience. The work is often fun and rewarding, but it is still work.

If you are not adult enough to walk into a poop-smeared room and still pick up the child who did the smearing and hug and love him while calmly explaining why spreading poop all over our possessions may not be the right thing to do, you are not emotionally mature and you are not ready to have children.

Is your house filthy and unsafe for a child? Do you have dangerous pets? Do you and your spouse have a vitriolic or immature/shallow relationship? Are you financially unable to care for a child? Do you lack a clear understanding of the work required of a parent? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” or “maybe,” you are not ready to have children.

5. You realize a child is an autonomous creature. If you have control issues, you need to deal with them before you have a child. Your child is going to be independent. He is going to have ideas that are different than yours, he is going to have experiences that you have not had, he is going to see things that you do not want him to. Such is life. You can spend years fighting it, attempting to claim the moral high-ground, and/or arguing with your child, or you can give him autonomy to explore the world as a normal human being.

There is an internet meme going around that says something like, “I nag, pester, annoy, and bitch at you because I love you and I’m your mother. When you understand this, that’s when I know you’re a responsible adult.” That is bullshit, and a product of a poor understanding of how to mother a child. I shudder to think how many abusers and terrible mothers have that meme plastered on their digital or physical walls. A better way to approach a child is with patience, respect, love, and understanding and (always) a clear explanation of why things are happening. If you can’t do that, you are not ready to have children.

And finally…

6. You have empathy for others and you are a caring person. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be a complete, loving person before you start having children. You want to be (and to seek out a partner who is) fun, playful, attentive, loving, and accepting. Men, if you are going to be the breadwinner of the household, and your wife is going to be a stay-at-home mom, make sure she is a caring woman and will be a good mother to your children. Take as much time as you need to make sure.

Links on parenting:

-Darcia Narvaez’s thoughts on evolutionary parenting.

-Psychology Today’s parenting articles.

Information about postpartum depression.

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“Good” and “Sweet”

There is an important distinction between what is “good” and “sweet.”

Good: “Good” actions are those that lead to enlightenment, improvement, positivity, growth, and love. More often than not, “good” actions are not “fun” things. We may need to have an unpleasant conversation with a friend about her addiction, arrive late to an important meeting because a stranger ran out of gas on the freeway, or pick up our dog’s poop to keep the neighborhood beautiful.

Sweet:  “Sweet” actions are those that are pleasurable: they make us feel excitement, short-term happiness, or arousal.

Understanding the difference between these two concepts is critical to personal growth and genuine happiness. When we cannot tell the difference between these two concepts, we misdirect our energy and waste tremendous amounts of time.

Deep down, we know when we are using “sweet” things (shopping, sex, drugs, alcohol) to fill holes in our other aspects of our lives, but giving “sweet” things up is difficult, so we close the door to our thoughts and continue on a pattern of destructive, anxiety-provoking behavior.

We may overindulge in food, becoming compulsive eaters who are addicted to the dopamine-rush of a fatty meal. We may zone out for hours every night in front of the television, without leaving time for friends, family, or self-improvement. We may spend prodigally to repress something that is bothering us: “Ugh, I should really nurture my relationship with my husband/read that fascinating article I’ve been putting off/clean my home, but I’m going to buy this instead.”

We can use food, television, and shopping like emotion-numbing drugs or we can use them to bring people together and nourish ourselves. If there is a hole in your life created by emotional or physical trauma, the only thing that can fill the hole is hard work on yourself (individually or with a loving professional). Using people or things to procrastinate putting in work on ourselves may be “sweet” in the short-term, but it is not “good.”

There are, however, many things in life that are both good AND sweet: savoring a delicious fruit (taking joy in the taste and nourishing your body), smiling with a young child, engaging in random acts of kindness, having sex with a loving partner, petting a dog (I’m sure the dog would also find this “sweet,” even though he may have no concept of “good”).

When we fill our lives with things that are both good AND sweet, we maximize our capacity for joy and pleasure.

Ask yourself: What am I doing in my life today that is only “sweet” and not “good?” How can I find more joy my “good” actions? Am I too concentrated on aspects of my life that are “sweet” or am I moralizing excessively and obsessing only over what is “good?” If I cannot identify what I can improve about myself, how can I gain insight into who I want to be?

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A difficult but effective way to be a better person

Five years ago, I read a brilliant article on self-improvement by Rabbi Noah Weinberg. He explains an exciting personal exercise (here) for figuring out how you can be a better person and extolls the virtues of loving criticism.

I asked a close friend to do this exercise with me in 2008 and he came up with three big things:

1. “Try overlooking 3 things everyday.” In friendship and romance, overlooking things that do not really matter makes life happier and more joyful. I had to learn the hard way that I can’t make everything that annoys me a “hill to die on.”

2. “Try to not be so sensitive. I think people don’t think through things as much as you do.” I think all human traits are adaptive in a group context, but being sensitive is often a limiting, crazy-making, isolating trait in my life. Every time I see the humor in a ‘bad’ situation or respond thoughtfully to a rude comment, I feel myself growing.

3. “Be Bold.” This friend encouraged me to try out for a singing competition, start this blog, and apply to a competitive internship. I made it to the finals of Michigan Idol, gained an important outlet for my thoughts in my blog, and got the internship at the Human Rights Commission of Korea. Now, I don’t think I’m a total wiener; I enjoy new experiences and I take pleasure in risk-taking. But taking the steps to actually achieve all of my wild, unrealistic dreams is a challenge for me.

These are all things I am still working on, and I commend him for being so honest! I feel like my life-long task is self-improvement. Although hearing my flaws pointed out was jarring, I don’t think I could have articulated these personal goals myself.

What are your New Years Resolutions? What personal goals do you need to set today? Who can help you identify the things you need to work on?

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We are not meant to be perfect

“We are not meant to be perfect. God is perfect. We are meant to be whole.” -Jane Fonda

Forgiveness and acceptance are the hardest lessons for many of us to learn. But look what forgiveness has done for Jane Fonda; she is balanced, healthy, and beautiful at 74! Watch Jane Fonda talk about her childhood and the healing power of exercise and forgiveness.

How often do we hide parts of who we are because we are afraid that we will not be accepted as a “whole?” How many times have we devalued others for what we perceive as their flaws?

We are whole and complete and good as we are right now. Although we should always strive for self-improvement, that doesn’t mean we should be overly-critical and disapproving of who we are today!

 

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God is probably going to look like Morgan Freeman

Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?” -God (Morgan Freeman), in the film Evan Almighty

Sometimes we have to work hard to see the beauty and joy in a difficult situation when we are being tested.

Sometimes, the people we find the most unpleasant or obnoxious are the ones who most need to be loved and affirmed.

And sometimes when we think it couldn’t be worse, we are closest to discovering something new and incredible!

What “bad” situation did you work through today?

The Illusion of Good and Bad

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The Perfect Body

Dr. David Teplica—plastic surgeon, photographer, and philosopher—is in the business of beauty. He is living the dream, not just because he is pursuing two of his life-long passions (medicine and photography), but also because he is so damned likeable.

Dr. Teplica is unexpectedly tall. He emanates happiness and peace. He is funny. He absolutely does not fulfill the overworked, emotionally-immune doctor stereotype.

His clientele do not fulfill stereotypes, either. Dr. Teplica’s photography business draws in monoygotic twins, who have allowed him to develop a mirroring theory of dermatological development. In his plastic surgery practice, Dr. Teplica welcomes patients who are shunned by other plastic surgeons: HIV-positive clients on whom many surgeons are unwilling to operate, transsexuals seeking acceptance and understanding.

So why do people want to change themselves? Dr. Teplica posits that patients are often driven by a desire to align with their gender identity. Women want to be “smoother, leaner, more feminine.” Men often seek “definition, angular contours; they want to eliminate femininity. Pleasure, gender identity, gender preference all play a role in shape.”

Dr. Teplica also stresses the tremendous power that plastic surgeons possess. “Plastic surgeons are the only people who can cause positive permanent change,” he says in describing people’s post-surgical experiences.  Dr. Teplica’s passion is helping people match minds with bodies. If a transsexual man wants modest breast implants, he makes the effort to give the patient what he wants: “I’m not going to put bigger breasts in him and say ‘revel in breasts!’ My role is to fulfill wishes.”

His views on why people seek plastic surgeon present a gentle alternative to the common perception that those who have plastic surgery procedures have a shallow self-concept or that surgeries are driven by a need to feel desired or loved by others.

Almost all the time, Dr. Teplica’s expertise is employed in “trying to align what’s in [the patient’s] head with [his or her] body.” Plastic surgery seeking, then, is driven by a desire to align a person’s self-image or self-schema with what people see. With plastic surgery you “don’t make the body central; you put the body away so you can focus on other things in your life.”

This desire—to align our internal world with our external world—is a pull that finds parallels in many aspects of our lives. Fashion is an industry driven by our collective desire to present on the outside some small part of who we are. Cognitive dissonance is a much-studied psychological principle denoting our drive to maintain consistency in our mental world. Hypothetical Adam doesn’t want to be a hypocrite, even if the only person who knows Adam is a hypocrite is Adam.

In the computer age, what we are discovering is that we will use, often indiscriminately, platforms for exhibitionism to project an image of our internal world. Vacation photographs, our relationships with others, personal information that was previously closely guarded, are now publicly accessible for the approximately 500 million active users of facebook.com. The popularity of reality television has proved that exhibitionism is accepted, a quality to be tolerated, valued even, in others. If you have nothing to hide, why not disclose indiscriminately?

Many popular news outlets have derided this exhibitionism as low-brow, the lowest common denominator, low. But the exhibitionism continues unabated. Just as research has produced a more forgiving view of plastic surgery, there is a similarly kind explanation for our obsession with beauty and compulsive disclosure.

Aligning our internal and external worlds, matching our private thoughts with what other see, lessens feelings of loneliness and separation. Loneliness goes beyond the absence of romantic relationships and friendships. Our drive to disclose, to be known, is often not fulfilled by presenting our internal world through verbal communication. This drive exists in all of us, whether we were born into the ‘right’ body or not.

Our internal worlds—our minds—are so endlessly complex, that we are ultimately alone.

Beauty is compelling not only because it reflects what is beneath the surface, but because it is, inherently, on the surface. Beauty can be understood and known completely. Other people can appreciate the way we look more fully than they can appreciate anything else about us.

This doesn’t need to be depressing. It excuses our obsession with physical appearances to some degree. It means our appreciation of physical beauty extends beyond base tendencies and small-scale eugenics. Projecting and absorbing beauty closes the gap. And if you weren’t born into the perfect body, you can always go to the experts.

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