Four hundred and twenty-two

Date Month

I’m writing about the dreaded date month right now – the month that had me so exhausted by the end I almost fell asleep on an escalator going to see a movie, with my date holding me up.  It’s interesting reliving those dates now that I’m in a relationship and looking back on them.  I’m trying to put myself in the place I was in then and that was a crazy place!  It’s also hard to pick which dates I want to go into more detail about for the book.  They were all unique and had a great story to them, I could almost write a whole book just about that.

When I get frustrated I take a break and do something different to refresh my brain for more writing.  Unfortunately (and sometimes fortunately), my favourite couple from Caledonia told me all about the virtues of Netflix, which has turned into countless hours of watching full seasons of whichever television show I’m in the mood for at the time.  On the plus side, though, as I don’t have cable, I always felt out of the loop when people talked about Dexter or Breaking Bad.  Now I can join in on the conversation.

Recently, I’ve tried to watch educational films or shows to keep my brain working – there are some great documentaries – and came across a series of TEDTalks about Love and Relationships.  I’m researching and being entertained!  They were all fascinating, but one in particular really fits into the topic I’m writing about this month, so I thought I would share with you all what I learned.  This is a talk by anthropologist Helen Fisher about love’s evolution, biochemical foundation, and social importance.  Here are a few points and opinions I found interesting:

TEDTalk – Helen Fisher: Why We Love and Cheat

  • Being madly in love is the same part of brain that reacts as when someone is high on cocaine
  • We have three brain systems: sex drive (to look for love), romantic love (to focus your love), attachment (to be able to tolerate this person long enough to raise a child together).
  • There has been a rise of romantic love: 91% of American women and 86% of men will not marry someone that has every single quality they are looking for in a partner if they’re not “in love” with them.  (No wonder dating in the city is so hard!)
  • Casual sex is not always so casual.  With orgasm you get a spike in dopamine.  Dopamine is associated with romantic love, then you get a real rush of oxytocin associated with attachment.  There is a sense of cosmic union after you make love.
  • Helen Fisher believes we’re not meant to be happy, we’re meant to reproduce, so the happiness we do find we make ourselves.
  • Why do you fall in love with one person rather than another?  Timing; proximity; mystery – you fall in love with somebody who’s somewhat mysterious in part because mystery elevates dopamine in the brain, which could push you over that threshold to fall in love; he/she fits in to your “love map” – an unconscious list of traits you build in childhood as you grow up; you gravitate to complimentary brain systems.

I find the whole concept of how are brains and emotions interact fascinating.  Is love something magical, or is it just a series of brain systems and chemical reactions?  Or maybe it can be both?  How do we find love in the city if there are always a hundred other choices out there that will create different reactions in our brain?  It’s probably why many of my friends have a hard time finding a partner.

TMI Award

I want to start off with a short story.  During my vegan month I posted a list of vegan travel websites and blogs that I found useful, with a short commentary on what to expect from each site.  For one of the sites, I made a comment about how that particular site had great information, but to beware that it was hard to navigate and ugly to look at.  The owner of the site sent me a very long e-mail saying, among many other comments:

I’ve never seen a blogger criticize the layout of other people’s sites. That goes outside the scope of what bloggers do…
Bloggers should promote positivity!

She goes on to say “I feel really hurt that you would post such a negative comment about my site when you do not even know me” and “bloggers usually just post comments about helpful info or their own experiences.”

I agree bloggers promoting positivity should be valued, but I also agree that being honest is just as valuable.  Constructive criticism and  talking about topics openly and critically are important.  I’ve never been one to shy away from the truth of how I feel, and people can either love me or hate me for that.  My blog is also structured to be read by everyone – not just vegans or bloggers, and I was offering advice of other useful websites to use to find out more information, with the pros and cons of the sites.  (We left the whole exchange on good terms after a couple of e-mails, by the way)

Before I get into my concerns with the TMI Award, I want to say specifically to Pink that I am not ungrateful for your mention of me –  I just think it’s important that these things are not just accepted as what is in the “scope of what bloggers do” and are critically discussed.  Pink Ninjabi you are an amazing, supportive person and blogger.  Your comments (among a couple of other people, including the eloquent Barry Sullivan) have helped push me forward while writing this book and I appreciate it more than you know.

For those of you not in the blogging community, the TMI award is passed around between bloggers to honour those “blogs that discuss everything in detail and do it well. These bloggers aren’t afraid to discuss their most awkward, embarrassing and intimate experiences with honesty, humor and little to no filter.”  There are rules to it: thank and link back to the person who nominated you, share an awkward, embarrassing and intimate story in 250 words or less, and present the award to 5-10 other deserving blog.  It’s a way for bloggers to support each other within the community and direct readers to other blogs of interest.  I think this is great and important to help each other along.  And I am proof that I wouldn’t have been able to get through my year and the writing I’m doing now without the encouragement of my readers.

I am a little worried, though, that the TMI Award has become more of a blogger spam than a way to support each other.   It’s been around the blogging community so often, I think everyone has received it and I’m not sure it has value anymore.  I’m sorry to all you bloggers out there who like this award – I do sincerely love that you are brave and can really share your lives with the world.  And I do think promoting other like-minded blogs to your own is important.  But I’m not one for passing on things “just because” or for not sharing my honest opinion.  I worry that it excludes those readers who are not bloggers themselves, and makes blogging less inclusive and more elitist.  Perhaps it’s time for a revamp of the TMI chain?

I totally agree with promoting others bloggers, though, so below are a few blogs that I find interesting, exciting, informative, or just fun, and I recommend reading.  Those of you I’ve mentioned, continue the TMI Award trend or don’t – it’s up to you.  Those of you bloggers reading this, I’m pretty sure I’m going to get in trouble with you.  I’d love to hear your opinion and have an open discussion about the TMI Award system.  I am always up for hearing others people’s opinions and adapting my own.  Sometimes we all only see one side of the story and more knowledge helps open us up to see the other side of the coin.

The Traveling Waitress – love her!  So much information on traveling as a woman.  And she blogs too.

Personally Speaking – a personal blog by Marlo Van Mackelberg, who’s been through a lot and has come out on top.  She’s also a beautiful writer who openly shares her heart and often brings a tear to my eye.

What’s Past is Prologue – my favourite photography blog, sharing his life in New York City through photographs.

Oh She Glows – I can’t go without a mention of my favourite vegan food blog.  I know I mention this site way too often, but I just love the food, and I love that she shares her ups and downs of cooking and life along with it.

One Tiny Starfish – I also can’t go without mentioning my cousin’s blog.  She is the first person I knew personally to take blogging seriously, and now devotes her life to helping people in need around the world.  I remember my mother often telling me to read my cousin’s blog because she shared so many personal details about her life.  I always said I’d never be that open online, and look where I am now.  Thanks Nik.

Four hundred and fifteen

Why do people write and  read blogs?

I believe that a good writer is also an avid reader.  Especially with non-fiction writing.  The more knowledge you have on a topic, the better you can write about it.  So, I read a lot – mostly non-fiction books on specific topics (for example the few books I read on veganism while being vegan), but since starting writing this book, I’ve started to read more autobiographical works.  I’m really interested on how other people tell their story – specifically those who are also bloggers.  I read these not to copy those writers, but only to get a sense of how they incorporated their own voice into the information they wanted to share.

One of the most famous bloggers turned authors is Julie Powell of Julie and Julia – about how she cooked her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child.  I’m reading her book right now.  There is one section where she decides she’s going to “whine” on her blog about how she’s about to turn 30 and she doesn’t have any children, is a secretary at a government agency, and living in a small apartment in Long Island City, Queens, New York.  The comments she received from her post where fairly encouraging, but then one of her biggest “bleaders” (what she calls her blog readers – I thought that was cute and links back to my post last week, with a slightly different spelling) wrote:

Julie, on my 30th birthday I was living in a homeless shelter.  I made a homemade pizza for the other residents.  That was my 30th.  All I had to show for my life was that I didn’t have kids and hadn’t dragged them through the hell my life had become.

The bleader Chris goes on to say that things looked up for her, then offered some encouraging words to Julie.

I’ve had a few moments since starting blogging where I have whined about something and others have responded with times in their lives where it has been much worse.  I had a hard time dealing with this and fighting between whether I should share how I’m feeling or not.  Am I being narcissistic by doing this project?  Being a blogger means sharing your life and therefore being “all about me”.  But I also try to show my gratitude as much as possible for what I have and those who support me.

My uncle said to me the other day “why would I care?”  He was asking why anyone would care about the ups and downs of someone else’s life.  Why would anyone read that?  He has his own problems to deal with, why should he read about mine?  He was saying it in the most loving manner and as a serious topic of discussion, not as an insult.  It’s true, though, why do we care?  Why do we want to read about other people’s lives?

It’s a fascinating thing about this time of humanity that we are able to share our stories with each other so easily.  I think of it like if you meet someone new and you talk to them about their life and you learn and laugh and cry with them – it’s just with someone you’ve never met and is most likely in another part of the world than you.  It makes us all realize how alike we really are.  We all go through many of the same things, just with different circumstances.  And those who have completely different circumstances we can learn from and be more of a tolerant society.

I had a much shorter response for my uncle, though, when he asked me why people read blogs.  I answered him with a question: “why do people watch reality television?”

TMI Award

Sorry, it’s going to have to be another week before I talk about the blogger award Pink gave me.  I half wrote it, but am running late (as usual) to help my grandmother pack, so my thoughts on it and my dedications to other bloggers will be next week – I promise.

A photo

Finally, a photo, just for fun of the vegan tomato pasta sauce I made from scratch the other day.  Take that Julia Child! (ok, I know – completely different kind of cooking – maybe if I added some cream, lots and lots of butter and some calf liver I’d be getting closer to her style…):

Four hundred and eight

“There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  – Ernest Hemingway

When I read a book, I get so involved with how the characters are feeling I start to take that emotion out into my real life.  I feel so much for the character, I can’t shake it when I’m not reading the book, so I either have to abandon the book, or get it finished as quickly as possible so I can let it go.  Many years ago there was a book in Oprah’s book club that I won’t name, but it was about a girl who just had bad thing after bad thing happen to her (bullying, molestation, rape, painful relationships, people dying, etc) and she became a little crazy, ended up being mean to the people in her life, nothing ever got better and then it just ended.  I was given the book by a girl I met in a hostel in London when I first moved there because it was so much her favourite book in the world she brought two copies traveling with her just in case she lost one or wanted to give one away (who has that much extra luggage space?!).  I was the ‘lucky’ recipient.  I kept reading it because I figured the main character’s life had to get better – that there had to be some redeeming quality about her or that she would learn a lesson or any glimpse of something positive.  There was nothing.  It was just depressing all the way through.  So for the whole time I was a mess, trying really hard to break from the book when I wasn’t reading it.   However, no matter what I did, there was still this tiny depressing thought in the back of my mind of this horrible woman going through horrible things.

I have discovered recently that this also happens when I’m writing about depressing things – especially when it’s already happened to me.  I’m trying to get the book done for September, so I’m finishing a section (i.e. Extreme Couponing, 30 Days of Art, etc) every two weeks.  Right now I’m reliving the depressing time last year when it all began and I was trying to figure out my life.  It’s making me a little crazy!  My boyfriend was a little afraid of me the other day because I managed to flip through every emotion possible in the space of a half an hour.  Trying to reconcile how great I feel now with how confused I felt then has created this ever changing flood of emotions coming out of me.  I’m trying my best to not take it out on anyone and to channel it into my writing.  I’ve done ok so far (except that one moment of insanity with my boyfriend, but we just laughed about it afterwards), but I’m a little afraid of how I will react when I start writing about date month!  I’m apologizing in advanced to my family and friends.

On a side note, I’ve been mentioned on the fabulous and supportive blogger Pink Ninjabi‘s blog.  It has to do with blogger awards to support each other within the community and direct readers to other blogs of interest.  Very fun, but there’s lots of rules and it will take some work to prepare a response, so Pink – thank you so much and I will be posting about it more next week.

Now I’m off to the doctor’s office to have my yearly physical.  It’ll be interesting to see how changing my eating habits (originally vegan, now just without red meat, pork and dairy) has affected my health.  I had blood work done two weeks ago, so we should be discussing the results today.

Four hundred and one

Happiness

I sent off my Extreme Couponing section of the book to my agent today and am working on the edits she suggested for the prologue.  As I’m writing about how this journey got started right now and my first couple of months, I’m analyzing more and more what happiness is and why I am so much happier now than the beginning of last year.  It’s very fitting then, that the first ever World Happiness Report was released yesterday in time for the UN’s Conference on Happiness.  The report is a fascinating read and if you have time I would recommend taking a look.  Here are a few excerpts:

We live in an age of stark contradictions. The world enjoys technologies of unimaginable sophistication; yet has at least one billion people without enough to eat each day. The world economy is propelled to soaring new heights of productivity through ongoing technological and organizational advance; yet is relentlessly destroying the natural environment in the process. Countries achieve great progress in economic development as conventionally measured; yet along the way succumb to new crises of obesity, smoking, diabetes, depression, and other ills of modern life…

…happiness differs systematically across societies and over time, for reasons that are identifiable, and even alterable through the ways in which public policies are designed and delivered. It makes sense, in other words, to pursue policies to raise the public’s happiness as much as it does to raise the public’s national income….

A household’s income counts for life satisfaction, but only in a limited way. Other things matter more: community trust, mental and physical health, and the quality of governance and rule of law. Raising incomes can raise happiness, especially in poor societies, but fostering cooperation and community can do even more, especially in rich societies that have a low marginal utility of income. It is no accident that the happiest countries in the world tend to be high-income countries that also have a high degree of social equality, trust, and quality of governance. In recent years, Denmark has been topping the list. And it’s no accident that the U.S. has experienced no rise of life satisfaction for half a century, a period in which inequality has soared, social trust has declined, and the public has lost faith in its government….

The report recommends Sustainable Development Goals with four pillars: to end extreme poverty by 2030; environmental sustainability; social inclusion; good governance.  The top ten happiest countries the report found are (in order): Denmark, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland.  United States is eleventh.

The report found happiness is determined by “external” factors such as: income; work; community and governance; and values and religion, and “personal” factors such as: mental health; physical health; family experience; education; and gender and age.  It’s no wonder I’m happier, having changed many of these factors in my life, including my values, physical and mental health, and my community.

The ramifications of TLC’s Extreme Couponing

Speaking of happiness, there are some not-so-happy couponers out there because of TLC’s Extreme Couponing show.  I was checking sources and statistics for my book and came across a lot of articles and comments saying how that television show has made it harder for them to save money now.

MommySavers.com “Spaving” Gone Wild: The Hidden Costs of Extreme Couponing is just one example, but take a look at the comments on the article.  One lady comments: “BECAUSE OF THIS STUPID SHOW many grocery stores have changed their coupon policies! This makes it hard for those us that just want to save a few bucks on a shopping order.”  Another says: “it’s those type of customers that clean store shelves for the thrill of it and leave the rest of us driving all over town for the item we DO want/need/will use!  I HATE EC on TLC with a passion!”  Another: “I’ve noticed stores that used to stack coupons have changed their policies and have started to discourage usage. Items are often missing. It seems like an innocent way to save money for a family has turned into something more…not innocent.”  There’s lots more.

It’s interesting because when I did my extreme couponing experiment it was before the whole season of TLC’s Extreme Couponing came out (they had only run one special I believe at the time).  I wonder if Canadian couponing was affected.  I haven’t noticed it, but I don’t use coupons nearly as much as I did during that month.