Friday, April 28, 2017

the devil in the white city

One night (during a particularly long Netflix binge) I decided to watch H.H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer. This is a documentary about Herman Webster Mudgett who went on a secretive killing spree under his alias, Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. The entire time I watched this documentary, I was riveted. I had never heard of Holmes before. Which was travesty since I was grew in the Chicagoland area and posited myself as an authority on local bizarre histories.

So when I happened onto the book The Devil in the White City, I picked it up right away. And boy am I glad I did!

Photo Courtesy: brockpress.com
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson is really two narratives happening at the same time. Written in a style that feels authentic for the timeline. At moments his embellishments can feel contrived and stretched. However, much of what he has written was extracted, not just from news reports but from diaries and journals.

One narrative follows the inner workings and details that surrounding the 1893 World's Fair (The White City). The other follows the killings that were happening simultaneously less than five miles away in H.H. Holmes's "Murder Castle".

This book is somewhere in-between nonfiction and great story telling. A weaving of joyous haunting that seems to encapsulate all the "shock and awe"of the time. But, I think that this is both a blessing and a curse. A reader who likes their history "cut and dry" might not like the peppering of fiction. Whereas. the reader that isn't into history might feel a put off by all the insertions and fun-facts. 

For me, this is what made the book. The mashing of characters (Buffalo Bill, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, Thomas Edison and others) and flavors of the past (the Gilded age's steel and steam with a touch of electricity).  I LOVED it! 

If I had to (and I do for the purposes of writing this blog), I would pick one excerpt from the book that somehow encapsulates it was written. It shows the underlining juxtaposition that Larson was seemingly going for when writing his two narratives. It connects the White City on the edge of Lake Michigan and the ambiance of thematic death.
“Beneath the stars the lake lay dark and sombre," Stead wrote, "but on its shores gleamed and glowed in golden radiance the ivory city, beautiful as a poet's dream, silent as a city of the dead.”  
― Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
If you liked that quote, then I do believe you'll like the book. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

9 steps to happiness

We all want to be happy right? That's a thing we strive for, search for, binge eat for, go to comedy shows for, take long naps for, etc. I suppose that is why self-help and inspirational quotes are so popular. And yet, I often see a problem with this. We are share a recipe for happiness that is incomplete. Then we turn around and ask, "Why aren't you happy already? I gave you tips bro!"

Let's examine the following image.
Photo Courtesy: redfairyproject
This list is beneficial. I can't argue with that. But, it's not that easy if you struggle with something on this list. Therefor, I have decided to share some helpful ways to do each thing.

1.) Stop Complaining
Complaining is something we all do and often it is a way for us to address what we feel. A person might go home and complain to a loved one after a bad day of work. This practice can in some ways actually rewire your brain to be negative.
Now, I am not saying that a person should never vent. That is a form of repression and will (in most cases) turn a person into a pressure cooker. I am saying that if something bothers you there are many things to do about it to make complaining obsolete. Such as, turning a complaint into a conversation about solutions. Also, for every negative concept think of a positive concept for that same thing. Even re-framing a chore into something fun can help. You don't like doing dishes? Start giving those dishes a bubble bath including the rubber ducky. 
2.) Do Not Limit Your Beliefs
Just because you believe something doesn't mean it's true. The crazy cat-lady down the street can think all her cats are shapeshifters-from-space-destined-to-save-the-world, but is that true?  
A good way to understand this is the diagram below. Belief must intersect truth to be useful to us. Otherwise, our beliefs are open to criticism, harassment, bullying, insecurity, ignorance, etc. Ultimately, this can hurt our happiness.
Photo Courtesy: basicgrowth.com
Now, this might seem like I am telling you to limit your beliefs. I am not. I'm telling you that you should always be open to thinking critically of belief in general. 
A good way of doing this is as follows:

First, challenge the truth of the belief
Second, look for dependable proof. 
This does not mean looking towards your own information vacuums for answers or accosting others when they, do not have "dependable proof". This means being a person that allows themselves the openness to look at ANY belief without bias and review it from a place of truth. 
Remember, sometimes belief comes from a "personal truth" or experience. This is outside the researchable field. Perhaps the crazy cat-lady has went on a number of intergalactic space missions with her cat friends and there is no way to prove her wrong. You don't know for sure that she hasn't. You can only use dependable proof to show how improbable it is. 
Understanding this can make your more tolerant of others beliefs and challenge your own beliefs. This allows you to explore the world outside of your limitations and generally live in a happier, more accepting place.
3.) Stop Blaming Others
Blame is full of bitterness and resentment. Often, it is the direct reflection of what a person doesn’t like about themselves. It can also leave a person with a feeling of guilt later. Regardless if they are the person giving or receiving the blame. 
I believe blame is lazy. It means that a person is upset about something, but doesn’t want to make changes.

So, stop blaming and make those changes. True, that blame might be well placed. That coworker might have eaten your work snacks, yet again! My advice is to make a change that solves that problem. Buy a toy-safe to store your snacks in. Buy extra snacks for the thief. Change your snacks to something only you can love! Mmmmmm chocolate covered pickles, yum. Problem solved!
Photo Courtesy: delish.com
4.) Do Not Practice Negative Self-talk
If you aren’t blaming others, then you certainly shouldn’t be doing that do yourself. There is a difference between self reflection and punching yourself in the soul. 
My first advice is to give that asshole-you a name. That may sound stupid and like a stepping stone to multiple personalities, but it’s not. My asshole-me is named Marge. Usually when she is being negative (or mean) I put a stop to it by addressing her. It might sound something like this, “Can it Marge! You are such a buzz kill!”

If that doesn’t work, I like to imagine what my best friend would say about the situation. This is only useful if you truly have a bestfriend and not a best-frenemy. When that is not working, I literally contact the people who care for me to get a realistic frame of reference. 
If all else fails, know this -- There is no such thing as perfection. So stop trying to reach it, go for what makes you happy instead.
5.) Stop Dwelling on the Past
My mother is a chronic past dweller. The kind that is still bringing up things that happened forty years ago. Yes, it's true those things shaped her but they aren't her or her current life. 
It's easy to say, "Stop thinking about it." But when the past is either substantially better or horrifyingly worse than the now, it is really difficult to get out of the past-dwelling pattern.
One of the first ways that can help is seeking out the closure to the past. This does not mean looking for answers or outcomes that aren't there. This is simply finding ways to close that chapter. This can be done through letter writing, talking it out, or even a representational ceremony. If you can't find the elusive feeling of closure that means you will have to find other ways to address the past.
This can be done by finding new adventures, trying to make your now better than the then, and/or celebrating your past by making new chapters to it. 
Often all of this will not help past dwellers, especially if it involves pain or repetitive thinking. In that case designate not only a time but a space to address the past. Its better in these cases to use a neutral party or a therapist as a sounding board. This can help you see that you are much more important than the past.
Or as the Buddhist would say, "The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly."
6.) Be Less Resistant to Change
I believe strongly that most change happens slowly. It happens in a way that we don't even notice. It's the fast change we are unprepared for. This is the kind of change we fear.
Interestingly, the resistance to change can be mapped in almost the same way we look the five stages of grief. A person who resists change often goes through; denial. anger, confusion, depression, and crisis.
Photo Courtesy: torbenrick.eu

It is when we accept change that we can grow, find new confidence, and nurture happiness.
To accept change a person must understand that it is inevitable. Life is like the waves of the ocean, constantly moving. It is easier to move with those waves then to resist them. Embrace your change and flow with it. Talk about it. Build on it. Make it your own.
Do you have move into a smaller place? Make it your own by getting into the Minimalist living lifestyle. Did everything change at your work? Make it your own by pretending you got a new job and what you knew about your work came from a former position. Did your favorite product discontinued? Make it your own by having a personal, "try it out" party. Gather all the things you never tried and see what becomes your new favorite.
7.) You Do Not Need to Impress Others
Anytime I talk about the need to impress, I talk about unicorns. Yup, you heard me. Unicorns. You'll see how it all comes together, I swear. 
First, I must point out that most people don't care enough to be impressed. It's true. These people are so stuck in the center of their own world that they wouldn't notice if a unicorn ran by them. How can you expect to impress them if they can't even notice that?
Next, there are the bullies in your life. These people can be coworkers, friends, family members, etc. Even if you are a unicorn and they won't care. They will always see you as imperfect and not as special as all the other unicorns. 
Note: You simply CANNOT impress a bully. So don't try. 
Then, there are the people that love you. They already see you as a unicorn. A perfect magical unicorn. These people are in a constant state of being impressed by you. You don't even have to do anything. You can just be standing there and they are like, "OH MY GOD!!!!!! SO IMPRESSIVE!"
Photo Courtesy: pinterest.com
This is why the only person who you need to impress is yourself. When you accomplish that, if someone else is impressed, it's a bonus.
8.) You Do Not Need to Always be Right
This is not just for those of us who are notoriously stubborn (me) or opinionated (also, me). This is also for those of us who want to “help” or “correct misconception” without invitation. I like to call this, “help-rape”. That is not to undermine the meaning of rape itself, it is to put more emphasis on how damaging and unhealthy help-rape is. Not only does help-rape undermine your own happiness, but it also hurts the happiness of those around you.

We’ve all overheard conversations that make us cringe. Where we want to turn around and correct the misguided fool speaking. We’ve all had a disagreements turn into a full blown, the world is ending fight. In both these scenarios there is an old adage that fits here, “Choose your battles wisely”.

The need to be right comes down to two things: choices and control.

The first choice comes when we find ourselves offended or angry. This is the moment where we can foster true happiness. By consciously making a different choice to be accepting, understanding, and patient. During this step, the simple action of not taking things personally and allowing others to have faults is mind-blowing. Cracking jokes, expressing opinions without needing to win and choosing to say nothing at all can all be part of the process.

The second choice comes when we find ourselves unable to resist controlling others. That is when we rip the dishes out of a family member's hand and tell them they are loading the dishwasher wrong. Slow down control freak, what is the worst that will happen? Your dishes will chip. Will you remember that chipped dish in thirty years? Is it that important? Was there a better way of approaching that?

Allowing yourself to ask these types of questions before you go into “help-rape-rage” is surprisingly useful. You’ll find that needing to chime in and losing your patience with others isn’t as consuming as it once was.

She says as she writes a blog, giving unwarranted advice.
9.) You Do Not Need Approval
You just don't. 
Why should you stop looking for approval? It causes a person to worry about what others think, it cause a person to fear any outside criticism, and it causes person to hold themselves back in life. That is no bueno.
How do you get away from this? Become self aware. Stop looking outside of yourself and look within. Acceptance you for you. Be kind. Think about what you say. Allow your truth to shine. Show the things you are most afraid of. If they react poorly, realize this means a form of incompatibility. It does NOT reflect poorly on you. Unless letting your freak-flag-fly means doing something illegal. Don't do anything illegal! Otherwise be you and be happy!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

whittier, alaska

I find unusual places interesting. Not, exotic places...but, unusual places. (Although, exotic places intrigue me on a different level.) Whittier, Alaska is one of these unusual non-exotic places that hold my interest.

Whittier is known for being the Alaskan town where almost everyone lives in the same building. A condominium tower built in World War II, that also houses; the local government offices, a clinic, the post office, a church, a laundromat and a grocery store. The town is accessible by boat in the summer, but in the winter the only way into Whittier is the tunnel.

This tunnel is about a two mile stretch that is one way for both trains and cars. It shifts direction every half hour and closes at night for security reasons. Most residence don't even bother leaving through the tunnel to make the trip to Anchorage, which is about an hour and a half away.

This self contained small-town-in-a-box is a place where people can wander in the halls in their PJs, grab some bread from the store, and socialize without having to leave.

I find the idea refreshing and have contemplated a move to Whittier more than a handful of times.