Category Archives: goals

facebook free february

For the month of February, an Irish NGO issued a challenge to quit Facebook. Just for the month (though you can go longer if you’d like). The idea behind it is to examine your connection with social media (vs the real world). The hope is that, for the month, a person can reframe their relationship with online and outside, and maybe fill those now-vacant hours with other activities (going for a walk, a show, dinner; learning a new hobby; writing?).

I’m not one of the people who think Facebook (and other forms of social media) is a menace, though I can certainly see how it can be addictive for some, or a replacement for “in person” interaction for others. I can also see how it can create a skewed perspective of the world (a la internet trolldom). Of course, the things we see in others are often the last things we see in ourselves, so I could be fooling myself when I say I think my relationship with social media, although very deep, is healthy. Nevertheless, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, are useful tools for me to stay in touch with friends from around the world. They are also great sources of information – either through links posted, or through status updates/tweets/photos from people “on the ground”, as it were.

Of course, social media’s big drawback in all of this is that you curate your feeds. You only see what you wish to see, and if you don’t wish to see it, you can unfriend, unfollow, block, mute, etc. In some ways, I can see how this can polarize further our societies, and also how it can translate to “real life” in the sense that people can find it so easy to turn away from things they find unpleasant or distasteful. Of course, we do this all the time, turning off the TV or not reading the newspaper, but the difference with social media is the social aspect – it is a conversation with others that is being turned off, not a one-way push of news.

I do think social media can be a means by which “offline” life could be bettered. For example, social media could be a place to learn to skillfully manage conflict such that could be applicable in real life, but unfortunately, it becomes a way to tune out. It also becomes a way to hide behind anonymity or firewalls and not have to take responsibility for, or face the consequences of, hateful or offensive speech. People say things on the internet that they would be unlikely to say to another person’s face. The internet free-for-all, while a great equalizer for free speech, also becomes a breeding ground for hate. I suspect that in coming decades, we will learn to harness the strengths of social media for better in-person interaction, but for now we’re just children with new toys and we’re still trying to figure out the rules.

So, I’m 8 days in now on my own social media experiment. I’ve stayed off Facebook this time, though I’ve been tempted to log on and see what my friends are up to. One thing I realized is that I can use this time away to have some more personal interactions with people, so I’ve started reaching out to people to set up skype calls. Another thing I’ve noticed is that I seem to have a lot more time to watch Netflix and read. For the former, I’ve made a queue of interesting documentaries that I hope to check out in the coming weeks. But on the reading front, I managed to read 2 books since late Jan to now, and I’ve got a whole list in my Nook app to still check out. I also bought a book recently (actual tangible pages to touch!) and I’m excited to read it too.

I do miss talking to friends, and there are a few who I know are going through difficult times and I regret not being there to see how they are doing. I could do it on email, but sometimes the collective approach of the group is more comforting. Of course, this “ban” on Facebook is not absolute, and I could always go back if I wanted to. But for now, I’m exploring the possibility of taking this time for myself, and seeing to some personal needs.

One thing I thought would happen though – I thought I would have more time for writing. I do seem to be getting more work done, so maybe I’ve filled some hours with that, and I am spending more time on Twitter (something that should be addressed too, though Twitter fills a different niche for me). But I haven’t been blogging more, so I think it’s time I turned my attention to that.

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book review: brain on fire

Whenever I consume media based on true stories, I end up googling a lot to fill in the blanks (or to verify certain events). Wikipedia says that last year, Charlize Theron optioned Brain on Fire, to be made into a movie starring Dakota Fanning. It’ll be interesting to see how she manages to adapt this “memoir” to a more visual medium, given that the book is essentially a recollection (pieced together from other people’s recollections), and its strength lies in the insight you get from peering inside Susannah Cahalan’s head (as a journalist, she has a wonderful way with words). She refers to CCTV footage from her hospital stay, so if that could be worked into the film, it could be a very poignant and haunting production.

So here’s the thing – I am a huge fan of the TV show House. I love the whole patient-presents-with-seemingly-unassociated-symptomology-but-it-turns-out-to-be-all-related bit. Someone almost dies, some organs might need transplanting, much drama ensues amongst the hospital staff (usually unrelated to the case at hand), and it all is tied up in a neat little bundle at the end.

But it’s a whole other thing when you’re reading the story of how this happens in real life. Brain on Fire is the story of Susannah Cahalan, a NY Post journalist who descends into a bizarre illness that takes a month, lots of tests, and half a dozen doctors to figure out. Due to her age and initial presentation, it might seem that she has had a psychotic break or otherwise is suffering from a mental illness. But with a few other symptoms (particularly seizures), her medical team and family persist in identifying the illness (essentially an inflamed brain) and treating it.

The book is less about the progress of the disease or its diagnosis, and more about the human element. Cahalan essentially lost a month of her life – a huge gap in her memory that she painfully reconstructs as if she were investigating a story for her paper. This results in lots of interviews with the medical staff as well as her family and friends, who are arguably suffering as much as she is. With the video footage from the hospital, she’s able to see what she was like during that time; with her dad’s journals, she was able to see how her condition deteriorated and how that affected loved ones; and with the medical records, she was able to see not only how her symptoms progressed but how they were able to finally identify her illness.

So, spoiler alert (not really, as this isn’t a mystery book): the disease is called anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. It is extremely rare, and just three years prior to her affliction, it was fairly unknown as a singular entity. It is essentially an autoimmune disorder- an inflammation of the brain caused by the body’s immune system attacking NMDA receptors in the brain. NMDA and its receptors are involved in the process of memory formation, so Cahalan’s loss of memory is characteristic. She suffers other symptoms as well, both psychiatric and physical.

But book is really about what it is like to live through this experience, and how one goes about filling in missing pieces. The journals are useful because, after the fact, it is of course easy enough to revise thoughts and emotions from that time period. Cahalan reflects significantly on the experience of her loved ones, as well as how those relationships change. But I think the most striking part is her own self-reflection during her recovery: how it feels to return to the hospital, be in public again, be reassessed for cognitive functioning, display flashes of her “old self”. That last part I think is the bit that sticks with you afterward (especially when you consider how the book was written by her “recovered self”) – those moments of lucidity being blocked by a “broken brain” or “broken body”. Her personally is there, intact, and struggling to get out, and the betrayal of her body is poignant and hard to bear witness to.

I found myself reflecting a lot on how much we don’t know about the brain and its functioning. And in fact, it’s usually only when things go wrong (and we can pinpoint where in the brain they go wrong) that we can learn about what the various parts of the brain do. I thought too about how little we know about how the phenomena of thought, emotion, and memory arise, particularly from what is essentially a system of electrical impulses and stop-and-go chemical reactions. How does it all work in such complex and fragile ways? The juxtaposition of Cahalan’s inability to form simple memories (such as drawing an image she was just shown) with her ability to make advanced leaps of logic highlights the wonderful and mysterious workings of the brain. With each of these cases (she mentions a few in the book, which of course, prompted another round of googling), we’ve inadvertently learned a little bit more, but still have a ways to go.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this book. It’s a fast read and very engaging. I hope that, when its translated to film, they can accurately capture the pre- and post-experience, particularly the changes to Cahalan’s personality and cognitive functioning, without just turning it into another feelgood “overcoming obstacles” type of story.

(note: this book is one of a list I’m planning on reading by end of June)

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january check-in

January was an up and down month. I had two big projects I needed to finish, and got both of those done, but to the detriment of other things I wanted to do this month (such as working out!). So it’s not been great with the goals, but here’s a check-in:

  • Run 1000 km in 2015: Well, I got in exactly 12 km for January. February is going to be killer.
  • get back to weight lifting (2x a week): Not a single weight.
  • yoga reboot (this one requires further exploration): I went to pilates a few times, but no yoga classes.
  • make some ice cream (with the ice cream maker): Well, it’s kind of cold now. 🙂
  • 2 week Spanish immersion: I will think about this a bit this month, I think.
  • learn something new (or maybe re-learn something from previously?): I’m thinking I’d like to learn how to knit and how to drive stick. I’ll tackle both in February.
  • get a job: I’ve started looking around a bit for this. Will update more in March, I think.
  • write a novel: I have half an idea. I’ve given up Facebook for February, so I hope this means I have more time for writing.
  • knock out the rest of the ones I haven’t seen on the Things Not to Miss Ireland list: Nope
  • accomplish one more activity on my 10-year plan: Learning to drive stick and learning to knit will clear this one out.

So for February, I’m going to focus on yoga, running, and getting back into weight lifting. I’m also going to look into knitting and learning to drive stick, as well as outline my novel idea.

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reading list

I didn’t set this as a new year’s resolution, but I’d like to read more well-written and engaging literature. I pulled up an old list, did a bit of research, and asked around a bit and selected the following:

  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers
  • A Girl is a Half Formed Thing
  • Fighting for Life
  • Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
  • A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard
  • A Wedding in Haiti
  • The Conference of the Birds
  • Wild
  • The Collected Works of Forugh Farrokhzad

The plan is to read these all in the first half of the year. Depending on how that goes, I’ll make a list for the second half of the year too.


365 days. 1000 km. 1 overly ambitious new years resolution

Somehow I let a friend convince me that running 1000 km in a year was doable. To be fair, she’s aiming for 1000 mi, but I have some small bit of sense about what my limits are. Plus, I measure my distance in km, anyway.

With about 52 weeks a year, that means about 20 km a week. And how am I doing so far, you might ask? Well as of 18 January, I had run a grand total of 0 km. But then there’s that moment where you say, ah feck it. Just do it. Or don’t do it. But then just shut up about it.

So suitably chastened, I gulped down my coffee, and got dressed. Since I have an iPhone, which only lets you upload music with iTunes, I used one of Spotify’s running playlists. I say “one of”, but as far as I can tell, they are all the same? Lots of Avicii, Not Avicii, David Guetta, and David Guetta remixing everyone else. But it all had a beat, so it worked well enough.

Shoes on, laces up, hoodie, legwarmers (which will fall down anyway, but that’s ok because I overheat when I exercise), and a huge deep breath before opening the door to the COLD.

My running app might be a bit inaccurate, as it logged me at a painful, and painfully slow, 5 km, when I’m fairly certain that route is only 4 km. But, as it’s the tracker, 5 km is what got recorded.

So. 5 km down. 995 km to go.

I’ll say this – it was hard, like it’s always hard when you do a thing you used to be somewhat decent at, but haven’t done in a while, and now you are not that great at it. But once you get over that and just get on with it, there’s a certain amount of peace you make with the discomfort and the pain and the oh-god-how-am-i-only-2-km-in??? Because you know, it’s just going to be like this the first few times, and it doesn’t matter how much you put it off. It’s just going to be like this. So either you just do it, or you just forget about the whole thing. But the worst is to just talk about how one day you’re just going to do this thing. Any day now. Seriously.

First run down. First run’s the hardest. 5 km at a time, slowly chipping away.

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on writing, motivation, and these cold and dark days

I woke up this morning to some snow on the ground. It’s only on the sidewalk and pavement, so the contrast between the startlingly green grass (it is called the Emerald Isle, you know!) and the bright white powder on deep black asphalt is striking. In a few hours it will be gone of course, but in the meantime, the sky is suitably grey, and it all just looks so cold.

Three days ago I posted that I would try to blog at least once a day. And then I went two days without posting anything. I have an excuse of course – I was trying to meet a deadline, and then we went out for dinner, and drinks (found a cute new pub), and a movie. And then I spent some time with a friend yesterday and you know, the days just get away from you. But in any case, excuses are excuses, and in the end I didn’t do what I said I would do.

So then of course, I’m spending some time this morning making up for it with two posts. I love to write. I do. I have so many thoughts in my head, and most of them aren’t worth the time it takes to put them down, but every so often, there’s that one clear thought that needs to be expressed, but it hasn’t quite crystallized, and I think – write. this. down. Even just in the act of writing, thoughts can become clearer. Ideas can deepen. And maybe even new thoughts and ideas can emerge.

But I never do. Or maybe I put a piece of it on Facebook or Twitter, and then leave it there, like some half-formed thing, thinking I’ll take it up again at some distant point, clean it and polish it, or take it apart piece by piece to examine and perhaps reassemble into something that more closely resembles the seed from which the idea sprung. But mostly, it just dangles there, like that time you wanted to try sprouting lentils, and you put them in water in to soak, but you did something wrong (are you supposed to change the water every so often? refrigerate? add salt?), and they sprouted, but then kind of got stuck between the seed and sprout stages. Cute, and tasty, and it worked well enough, but not quite what you were going for. And ultimately they disappointed, because you just didn’t do what you should have done.

You’d think winter would be a good time for writing. If you’re lucky enough to live in a place where the snow comes down regularly and cleanly, I suppose you’d spend more time outside. But when the days get shorter, the nights darker, the sun struggles to break through the clouds, and the wind, oh man, the wind is just cold here. Well, then you find it a bit cozier to be inside, turn on the heating, snuggle into a blanket, make some soup…. and write? Or not.

But it’s 2015 now, so time for new beginnings. Time to re-dedicate ourselves to all those things we meant to do last year, or five years ago, or maybe one day in the future, only the future is now, so this is it, this year I’m going. to. do. that. thing. And I’m going to start today.

Well, tomorrow, anyway. There’s still a small smattering of snow on the ground yet.

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new year, new you

Maybe I’m a masochist, but I’ve decided to re-new my commitment to this blog. I’ve a whole host of travel posts to get up, plus I’d like to post more creative writings, as well as some reflections on current events, particularly in public health.

Since it’s still early in the year, I’ll consider this one of my new year’s resolutions: one post a day, even if some (oh who am I kidding – most!) days it is just a quote, or a picture. I’m leaving my old posts up too.

Some other new years’ resolutions:

  • run 1000 km in 2015
  • get back to weight lifting (2x a week)
  • yoga reboot (this one requires further exploration)
  • make some ice cream (with the ice cream maker)
  • 2 week Spanish immersion
  • learn something new (or maybe re-learn something from previously?)
  • get a job
  • write a novel
  • knock out the rest of the ones I haven’t seen:
  • accomplish one more activity on my 10-year plan

I’ve made a small amount of progress on one of these goals, but will be revisiting them more next week.

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Turning 35

I’ve come to terms with not being a blogger. But I’ve also realized that I have a lot to say. While the posting might not be too frequent, but it’s still important to get the words out when I can. So, reboot. Again.

I turn 35 in 5 weeks. 5 is a nice number – one that resonates well with me. 35 is something of a turning point too. So, in anticipation of the auspicious occasion, I’m hoping to bring 35 with a full embodiment of my dreams, values, and goals, and spending the next 5 weeks in doing so.

Step One: Resurrect the daily sadhana. In the past, this was waking up at a decent hour, taking a few moments to tidy up my space, brew coffee, and then meditate or yoga (or both). In the evenings, usually I sit and sometimes incorporate some mindful movement (or all out dance). Lately, this has been less than daily. And lack of routine has found its way into other parts of my life. Bringing this back, even in the smallest form, will help re-center and re-focus.

Step Two: Get serious about health. I’m working to make boxing 2-3 times a week, and personal training 2 times a week. I’ve also gotten a pedometer, and trying to reach 10,000 steps a day. Next up will be to clean up the diet. In mid-late October, I’ll undertake a 2 week detox to jumpstart that process.

Step Three: Declutter. I’ve been accumulating a lot of papers, and other stuff lately. Time to start cleaning house.

More steps to follow, but I’ll allow them to arrive organically.

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