Monday, June 2, 2014

The Culture of BUSY

Thinking about recent events, I realized that our (Russian and American) education system is so focused on producing intellectually capable individuals, that often the most important foundation is forgotten - coping with stress, handling strong emotions, and time management.

Such a slew of problems in our society could be mitigated if everyone mastered these three skills, and yet only 2 hours (if that) are dedicated to this, compared to the tens of hours of DARE and other non-effective programs. Instead of telling kids to not drink, to not do drugs, give them an alternative way to handle stress, boredom, social situations, and they will be much happier and productive individuals.

Instead, children are taught that academic success is everything, that it doesn't matter how fulfilled you feel in life, only how much you have achieved. At about high school age, (earlier for some) there begins this culture of 'busy'. Must not be idle. Must not relax. If you are not stressed, it means you are not doing enough. This persists into adulthood and leads to burned-out, unhappy people, which leads to a big chunk of society's problems.

So I ask you: Why are these skills not taught earlier and not reviewed more often? Why is the focus strictly academic achievement and not a genuine happy life?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Meaningful gifts

The most meaningful gifts I have received were not fancy or expensive. They were gifts which made me think of the person fondly each time I saw them. 

A camper, drawing a picture for me, my grandmother putting strawberry candies on our strawberry plants to surprise me, a friend writing a note saying how much she appreciates me. Most times, these are much more meaningful than something expensive bought at a fancy store. 

The main component , to me, is that the gift is personal and is given genuinely by a person who cares.

What is the most meaningful gift you have received and what made it special?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Inconvenience of Nature, the Grand Canyon, and Navajo Dancers

We live in a time when we hardly notice nature, unless it causes us discomfort. I was recently on a trip the Grand Canyon, and every single day of the week we were there it rained. I realized that most of the time I take having nice weather for granted.

For most things I do, I do not need to go outside, and usually I hardly notice the rain. During weeks like that one, however, I was reminded just how much nature is still a force in our lives, how much it affects us. We had to wait until the rain stopped every day  to go hiking, and it was not quite as fun going around to the museums in the morning instead of seeing the breathtaking vistas, but it made me pay more attention to the whims of nature.

In between the rain and the hiking, I was able to see some wonderful Navajo performers. It was very unique, something I had not experienced before.

The canyon itself was amazingly beautiful. A camera cannot quite do it justice.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Fear can be a great motivator. It helps us to avoid perilous situations, and to be more alert when needed. All senses become keener, more oxygen is delivered to the blood. Many times, however, fear keeps us from taking chances which could be beneficial.

Trying out for a play, making a new friend, learning a new skill - these are all situations which could result in a richer life experience, but because they fear failure, many people do not take that risk.

In RAPP, the racial awareness program at UC, we learned that most meaningful learning takes place outside of our comfort zone. From personal experience, I can certainly agree with that. Most of my best learning involved some emotional/mental discomfort.

Unfortunately, people tend to stick to what is familiar and comfortable, especially as they become older. Continuous learning and new experiences are so important at all stages of life. Even if one has no extra money, there is always a new book to read, a new place to explore, a new person to have a conversation with, a new story to write.

Learn something new today!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

What Is To Be Done?

A while back I wrote about Anna Karenina. The other day I was reading "What is to be Done?" by Chernishevsky. In the book, a married woman falls in love with her husband's best friend. She comes to him and tells him about it. His reaction is different from Karenin's. He says "Honey, I love you and I want you to be happy, so if after a week has passed you still have feelings for him, then go, and I wish you both the best". The feelings for her husband's best friend do not go away and she goes to live with him. A short time later, the husband commits suicide.

So which is better? To be vengeful and angry against a loved one or to keep those feelings inside and let them fester? Neither are a good way to deal with the situation, obviously. I would say that the best thing to do is to let the person go - emotionally and physically, and if it is meant to be, they will return. But that is easier said than done.

Of course, another option is to say "You made a promise to me and it is your duty to keep that promise". But if the person's heart is truly in another place, they will be miserable staying in the relationship. They will start to resent the person who is holding them back from pursuing their passion.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Man Who Was Thursday

G K Chesterton was quite an astute observer and writer.

One of my favorite books is "The Man Who Was Thursday" . It is a metaphysical thriller, with a quite a lot of philosophical under tones, and ideas relevant to today. Read it here

Syme sprang to his feet, shaking from head to foot.
"I see everything," he cried, "everything that there is. Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? Why does a dandelion have to fight the whole universe? For the same reason that I had to be alone in the dreadful Council of the Days. So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan may be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, 'You lie!' No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, 'We also have suffered.""

Some of his essays are:

Heretics (1905)
"A man cannot be wise enough to be a great artist without being wise enough to wish to be a philosopher. A man cannot have the energy to produce good art without having the energy to wish to pass beyond it. A small artist is content with art; a great artist is content with nothing except everything"

"The modern world is filled with men who hold dogmas so strongly that they do not even know that they are dogmas. It may be said even that the modern world, as a corporate body, holds certain dogmas so strongly that it does not know that they are dogmas."

Charles Dickens (1906)
"When some English moralists write about the importance of having character, they appear to mean only the importance of having a dull character"

What's Wrong With The World (1910)
"“No man demands what he desires; each man demands what he fancies he can get. Soon people forget what the man really wanted first; and after a successful and vigorous political life, he forgets it himself. The whole is an extravagant riot of second bests, a pandemonium of pis-aller.”

Utopia of Usurers (1917)
"Employers will give time to eat, time to sleep; they are in terror of a time to think."

"A fairly clear line separated advertisement from art. ... The first effect of the triumph of the capitalist (if we allow him to triumph) will be that that line of demarcation will entirely disappear. There will be no art that might not just as well be advertisement."

The Superstition of Divorce (1920)
“The obvious effect of frivolous divorce will be frivolous marriage. If people can be separated for no reason they will feel it all the easier to be united for no reason.”

What I Saw in America (1922)
"The truth is that prohibitions might have done far less harm as prohibitions, if a vague association had not arisen, on some dark day of human unreason, between prohibition and progress. And it was the progress that did the harm, not the prohibition. Men can enjoy life under considerable limitations, if they can be sure of their limited enjoyments; but under Progressive Puritanism we can never be sure of anything. The curse of it is not limitation; it is unlimited limitation. The evil is not in the restriction; but in the fact that nothing can ever restrict the restriction. The prohibitions are bound to progress point by point; more and more human rights and pleasures must of necessity be taken away;"

The Everlasting Man (1925)
"Indeed the Book of Job avowedly only answers mystery with mystery. Job is comforted with riddles; but he is comforted. Herein is indeed a type, in the sense of a prophecy, of things speaking with authority. For when he who doubts can only say 'I do not understand,' it is true that he who knows can only reply or repeat 'You do not understand.' And under that rebuke there is always a sudden hope in the heart; and the sense of something that would be worth understanding."

Sunday, July 28, 2013


"It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something." - The movie Crash

Many people will do almost anything to avoid feeling lonely - that gnawing feeling that humanity doesn't love you, doesn't embrace you as one of its own. One can  be just as lonely in a crowded room as on a deserted island. It is being connected, being a part of something bigger, which we seek, or at least an imitation of such a connection.

Sometimes this feeling can cause negative consequences - people do things they normally would not do when they are craving connection, love, and do not receive it. Peer pressure thrives on being afraid of loneliness. 

So how to cope with loneliness in a positive and constructive way?

Take Time to Work on Friendships/Relationships
Feeling a real connection with someone means allowing oneself to be vulnerable. One cannot have a real conversation if the topics are limited to sports, food, and the weather. It also means being willing to do something for that person, being kind and honest, being a good friend, and a good listener.

Meet New People
The more people one meets, the greater the chance that one will make a real friend, or at least have a moment of genuine connection with another person. Volunteering. Joining a photography club. Something positive which will allow one to meet people with common interests.

I find that when I am out in nature, even by myself, I am never lonely. There are birds, animals, trees ... immeasurable beauty. 

New Skills/Hobbies
When I am learning something new, I am happy that I am bettering myself, that I will have a new skill to my name, and there is no room to be lonely.

When spending time with a pet, I see how genuinely they love life, how excited they are about every single minute of the day, and that makes me appreciate life even more than I do already. They give unconditional love and can be a great comfort in any situation. One can talk to them and they will listen patiently and not judge.

Working Out
This helps one to accomplish three goals at once - occupy one's time with a positive and enjoyable activity, release positive brain chemicals, and become healthier.

What do you do when feeling lonely? What can we do to create a better sense of community where we live?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cincinnati the Beautiful

Recently, when going for a walk I once again realized - Cincinnati has so many beautiful places.
Here are some of those wonderful vistas.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Greener Than You Think

I recently read this book, which is a wacky story of a young man who waters a lawn with a certain chemical. Suddenly, the grass is growing ferociously and is out of control. Before anyone can stop it, the grass has taken over a whole house, then a street, then a city.

There is quite a bit of comic relief, and it is interesting to see how stereotypes about different countries have stayed the same over the past 50 years. I would definitely recommend it, though at times it is a bit drawn out. The characters are colorful, and there were times when I was laughing out loud.

Even though the material was written in the 1940's, it did not feel dated at all, except for a couple moments, when telegraph wires were used.

This book is in the public domain and for the audiobook the reader is quite good.

Dowload Links
Text for Kindle/Printing

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Being Original Challenge

One of my favorite songs says
"It is easy to count stars which have already been discovered
But to discover just one new star is not at all easy...
It is easy to to be very similar to someone else
But to keep your own voice [individuality] is not that simple"

Having a completely original idea, something which has never been voiced before, is not something which is easy to achieve. All the time there are millions of people in the world, who are probably thinking about the same basic things. School often discourages originality, creativity, and stifles curiosity, which is so often found in young children. Society encourages us to conform. People who have positive, truly original, powerful ideas, and the perseverance to put them into action are very few.

The other day I was listening to the radio and realized how unoriginal songs are.
Most fit in about four categories:
1) A person likes someone romantically
2) A person has been hurt by someone they like(d) romantically
3) A person talking about how rich they are
4) About partying and how much fun it is

Yes love songs can be wonderful, but there are so many other things to sing about. Why not write a song about friendship? About parent-child relationships? About nightmares or books or bravery? Just ANYTHING but the same old tired recycled songs.

The same can be said for movies:
1) Superhero [Someone saves the world]
2) Romantic Comedy [Couple fall in love in spite of everything]
3) Horror [Some gross creature comes after you/Person with a saw/knife]
4) Drama [Lots of shooting and running]

The internet is such a great place for sharing ideas - one can publish for free and have a million readers - and it should encourage us to be more creative, more original, less conformist, to break the mold. Unfortunately, it seems like there are only a small percentage of people who are actually striving towards that. There is so much inspiration, so many resources out there. Go out and be ORIGINAL today!