December 30, 2012

Getting Rid of the Storylines

“Whatever you hold in your mind on a consistent basis is exactly what you will experience in life.” - Tony Robbins 

As someone who is sometimes plagued with overthinking and worrying, Robbins’s quote resonated with me.  And I know I am not the only one who has these struggles, especially with all the recent events in the world.  Though being “in our head” is not always a bad thing since it helps us process life’s experiences on a deeper level and to reflect and make difficult decisions, excessive overthinking and worrying is problematic, particularly since it is not only counterproductive to do so but is also both mentally and physically exhausting.  Why lose sleep over things that we can't control?

In a recent conversation with my good friend about this subject she pointed me to Pema Chodron’s new book, Living Beautifully in Uncertainty and Change, in which Chodron speaks about this subject, but from a different perspective.  Chodron writes that how we relate and regard our present experience shapes our future – the next minute, day, month, and year.  While we create our own possibilities we are also in control of strengthening our preexisting fears and prejudices, which she calls the storylines that we develop inside our heads.  As a result, we try to sidestep uncertainty and insecurity (often the root of our frequent worries).   Chodron urges us to “drop the storyline” and focus instead on “making friends with the whole picture” – the salty and the sweet, the rough and the smooth – as part of the natural fabric of life rather than the pages of a book we're writing in our head. 

I love Chodron’s storyline metaphor; only problem is, I LOVE STORYLINES!  I sometimes think my inner world is more interesting than the outer world, which is precisely why I studied creative writing as an undergrad.  As a child and even now, my mom will sometimes say to me when I tell her a thought/joke/idea, “Sarah, where do you come up with this stuff?”  But fiction and real life are two very different things, the latter of which should not be paired with a storyline in our head, or so I’m learning. 

For many of us, overthinking and worrying comes from a desire to control what’s inherently uncontrollable.  We are only in control of our lives to a certain extent – our habits, our decisions, our actions – but beyond that, and especially in the outside world, everything else is uncertain and impermanent.   We cannot write a story or a map to shape the future because we will either be continually disappointed and/or continually frustrated.  Instead, it’s how we deal with that uncertainty and impermanence by being in the present (something I try to remind myself to do everyday) that will dictate whether we lead a life of worry or acceptance and openness of the unknown and therefore the possibilities that life has to offer.  After all, everything beyond the present is unknown anyway. 

As I enter this New Year, I plan to work on letting go of my storylines and my predilection for worry and overthinking and to focus instead on accepting life as uncertain and impermanent – that which includes both the sour and the sweet – which is not something that needs to be fixed, but that which just is

With that said, Happy New Year, Friends!  I wish you the very best in 2013.

December 23, 2012

The Private Dancer

One of my favorite downtime activities is turning on some tunes and breaking out in a little private dancing.  The beauty of private dancing is that (a) you can do it in your PJs (or anything for that matter); (b) you can be in charge of the playlist; and (c) you can be as crazy as you want and no one’s watching, or well, just the person/people you want to be watching are watching.

I love to dance because it allows me to feel music through my body, something you can't quite experience by simply listening to music.  For this reason, it doesn’t matter if I’m tired -- if I turn on some music that happens to have a good groove I’ll break into dance.  Unsurprisingly, this not only happens at home; I do this in the car too.  And sometimes in an elevator or a hotel lobby if I know no one else is around.  A breakout of spontaneous, private dancing is some of the best.

But while I love dancing, I am often too shy to dance in a crowded room of people, save for my prom, the last time I remember getting down and dirty on the dance floor with a kid I had known since nursery school.  That was a few years ago.  For this reason, private dance parties are usually way more fun for me.  You get to pick the music; you get to dance as nasty or as not nasty as you want; and you can wear anything you want.  Besides, dancing barefoot is always much easier than dancing in heels. 

While private dancing is a great pastime, I’ve always wanted to dance at a wedding because that’s what you do at weddings.   What else is the point of a wedding?  :)  I've always thought it was a bit of a shame that I felt too shy to get down in public, particularly since I happen to have some decent rhythm.   This past weekend I went to a wedding where a great deal of dancing was involved.  Listening to the music I got that feeling, that desire to start moving to the beat.  And then I just couldn’t help myself.  My inhibition melted away and I rolled up to the floor and just danced, not caring whatsoever who was watching or who was not watching.  And it was freaking awesome! 

Some people have no problem with inhibition in a crowded room of people, something that I have always admired.  Other people love to be the center of attention, to the point that they need to be the center of attention.  I am not that person.  Don't get me wrong: I like attention, but not in a public way.  I prefer attention from one person or from a very small, intimate group of people, not  from a sea of people, which is why being a private dancer is really fun.  But what I’ve learned is that in a crowded room of people no one is concerned about you since everyone is concerned about themselves.  No one cares if you are dancing or not dancing.  And, for that reason, it is only you missing out if you want to be grooving to the music.  Since I love to dance, it’s only been me who's been missing out on the action, and that's no fun.

Now that I’ve lost my wedding-dancing virginity I feel like a new woman, like I’ve finally unleashed a part of me to the world that I haven’t been able to unleash before.  Oftentimes, it takes just one time to do something to overcome our fears for us to no longer feel paralyzed by them.  I will forever be a private dancer, but now I may take it to the dance floor a little more often.  

December 9, 2012

The Power of Scent

The fact is that as with all things beautiful and sensorial, I have a love affair with perfume.   Like music, fragrances transport us to the time period when we initially smelled them.  As a child, I remember my first perfumes in perfect chronological order: Tinkerbell, Love’s Baby Soft, Charlie White, and CK1.  In high school, I wore (and still wear) body spray, predominantly from The Body Shop (White Musk is still a constant standby), and then later in high school I gravitated toward deeper, sexier scents, like Calvin Klein’s Obsession and Gucci Rush.  Of all these, Gucci Rush is still one of my most favorite scents of all time. 

While I love to wear perfume and to smell good for myself – and hopefully for others – what’s most powerful is the smell of the opposite sex.  I remember going on a first date when I was 13 with an older high school boy, which was way too young to be going on a first date, let alone with an older boy, but I digress.  He drove a Jeep, smoked pot, and had curly gelled hair, and wasn’t much for words, but his smell, oh his smell.  The fact that he wasn’t my type didn’t matter, because he smelled amazing.  His signature scent was Drakkar Noir, a scent that, according to advertisers Ron Beasley and Marcel Danesi “obviously appeals to the dark, macabre, sinister side of masculine sexual fantasies.”  A few years ago, I took a whiff of the fragrance at a department store, and was surprised that it didn’t smell anything the way I remembered my date had smelled.
Since then, I’ve learned about the anatomy of a fragrance:  the top, middle, and base notes; the dry down; and sillage.  Most likely, what was so memorable to me about this my date's cologne was the dry down – the revealing of the base note – rather than the initial top note that I had smelled straight from the bottle a few years ago.  Perfumes have depth the way that people do, the top note being the initial impression; the middle note (also known as the heart) being one’s personality; and the base note being the final, long-lasting impression, the component that brings depth to the perfume or person.  My date may not have had the greatest depth of personality, but he certainly smelled like he did. 

Aside from how fragrances make us feel about ourselves or about the opposite sex, scents create mood, atmosphere, a feeling.  Growing up, Estee Lauder was my mom’s go-to cosmetic line, and she often wore Beautiful.  While I still consider it to be a lovely scent, I myself could never wear it because it is her scent, even if she no longer wears it.  Whenever she got free samples she would shell out the ones she didn’t want to me, usually peacock blue eye shadow or candy apple red lipstick, and sometimes fragrance samples, that I could only play with at home. 

White Linen was one fragrance sample that she passed along to me, and since it was too adult for me to wear at the time, I used it to create a maternal atmosphere in my playhouse (which was really just a shed with a tiny, single-paned window) by spraying clouds of it everywhere.  Every spring when I opened my miniature house, it smelled as motherly as a shed-cum-playhouse should smell: like cedar, honey, and amber, or, in my mind, like a real woman’s house.  Now that I have a big-girl house to call my own, I love to burn candles, the melted wax emitting the scent of fresh balsam or cinnamon.  I also enjoy creating an atmosphere of natural scents at home, like the savory scent of a pot roast cooking in the oven or the smell of clean clothes pulled straight from the dryer.

I think what makes life most pleasurable is exploring and experiencing our senses to the fullest – the art of smelling and listening are such beautiful gifts, especially when taken to a deeper level.  Do you enjoy fragrance?  If so, what are your favorites? 

December 2, 2012

A Year in Review: Favorite Albums of 2012

With December here, 2012 is almost over.  What better reason to cap the year off with a review of my personal favorite albums of the year?  Herewith is the run-down:

Amy Winehouse - Amy Winehouse at the BBC. Live recordings of the late Amy and her magnificent band. Mostly the same tunes from her albums, but a few new tracks as well. Possibly my favorite release of 2012, but that could be because I’m still high on its recent release.  Well, I thought about it, and it's still my favorite of the year.

Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society. Oh, what’s not to say about Esperanza? Girl’s got it all, in my humble opinion. I discovered her a few years ago, and still can’t get enough of her sweet, jazz slash R&B sound. A little more R&B influenced than her last album, which had a gentle classical flavor, this album is the perfect French macaron: sweet, tender, and complex.

John Mayer - Born and Raised. Admittedly, I was a little hesitant at first about this release (it could’ve just been the hair – who knows?), but the album, which sounded single-faceted upon a first listen, unfolded with surprising complexity as I played it over a few times. It’s also a great lazy day album.

Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE. If this is the direction R&B is going, I think I’m okay with it. It’s modern, sleek, and perhaps a bit hollow instrumentally, but the result is a deep, dark, sexy, and moody sound. Favorite tracks are "Thinkin Bout You," "Sweet Life," and Benny and the Jets'-inspired "Super Rich Kids."

Joss Stone - The Soul Sessions, Volume 2. A fan from day 1, Joss is R&B’s Susan Tedeschi. This album covers some lesser known soul hits from the 1960s and 1970s. All the tracks are great, but if I had to pick one “Teardrops” is five-star.

R. Kelly - Write Me Back. Yes, really. Some good old-fashioned baby-making music here, and this sister knows: I have an ear for this stuff. “When a Man Lies”, “Fallin’ from the Sky,” and “Feeling Single” are top-shelf in my book.

Donald Fagen - Sunken Condos. A new Steely Dan album would’ve been preferred, but I’ll take Donald any way I can get him. Not a huge departure from his other more recent solo albums, which is a good thing, because there’s nothing out there that sounds quite like him.

The Weeknd – Trilogy. A collection of modern R&B in a similar vein as Ocean’s channel ORANGE, except that this album is even darker, deeper, and more melancholy, with strong sexual and drug-infused undertones. The three-disc collection does not have the smoothest sequencing, but if you’re willing to dig, there are standouts that make the album a remarkable timepiece for 2012. Or, I can do the work for you and suggest “Wicked Games,” “Valerie,” and “Twenty Eight.”

Rihanna - Unapologetic (Deluxe version). I don’t know what it is about her, but I scoop everything that she puts out right up. Though not quite as fun as last year's release (Talk That Talk), this is nevertheless some good, bad-girl pop. I don't know about you, but I need a regular Rihanna buzz in my ear when I’m workin' it on the treadmill. Favorite track: “Nobody’s Business.”