be sad with Chopin when you need it

If you’ve never listened to Chopin, I highly suggest it. His music is moody, dramatic, and that sort of stunningly beautiful that Romanticism brings out in all of us. Part of what makes Chopin as influential as he is is how in love he was with using the piano in his pieces. Unlike most classical music whose melody become entangled and (in my opinion) frequently too complex, his work clings to a sense of singular focus. Although he worked in an orchestral setting, my personal favorite pieces are the nocturnes with the solo piano. I doubt I’m alone in this preference, considering his Nocturne in E# Major is one of his most popular pieces.

My reason for bringing all of this up is that nocturnes, in a musical setting, mean “a short composition of a romantic or dreamy character suggestive of night, typically for piano”, as Dictionary.com helpfully puts it. Of the same thread is Clair De Lune by Debussy and of course, Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. The night is a muse for so many musicians, and so many piano pieces in particular because. Well, it just seems to fit. Part of what makes nocturnes so lovely is that they are sad. Contrary to popular media, we don’t always have to be happy. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, and that is deeper, further down, is contentment. However, we can’t even be content all the time. It is almost certain we won’t be. Depression is a problem because of the extended period of time it takes up, how it drags into the rest of our life. Sadness, on the other hand, is necessary. It’s needed, even when we hate it. We have to let ourselves be sad sometimes. We have to be moody, dramatic, and “emotional” by realizing that we have other emotions than happiness and contentment.

If we hold ourselves to an unachievable standard of happiness, we will most certainly become miserable. Part of life is the parts where we feel like trash. That doesn’t mean that we are useless or defective or wrong. It means we’re human. Sometimes we need the time to listen to sad music, curl up, and be alone until we feel okay. If it happens every day, or often enough that you feel like you can’t live your life, seek help. But for most people, for the one-off days that hit us, it’s okay to be sad. We are allowed to have our emotions.

Halloween isn’t about death in practice, but you can use it to kill off the problems between you and those you care about

Happy Halloween! For a holiday associated with death, dark creatures, and general wickedness, the majority of people have a fondness for halloween. It’s like horror movies- you don’t like the vicious creature that’s slowly hunting everyone down, you like the thrill. And Halloween is a thrill! Operating at night, talking strangers out of their candy, masking your identity: these are all pleasurable activites because they are customs that we take part in as a community. 

For some, Halloween is just an excuse to party. However, the importance of the holiday isn’t that it’s celebrating creatures of darkness, but that we are celebrating a time together with people we care about in a light hearted manner. The features of the holiday are creepy, but sometimes creepy is fun! It’s an aesthetic that marks it apart from the rest of the year. It has a sort of childlike glee compared to Valentine’s day or Thanksgiving. 

Whatever your views on Halloween, just remember that it’s a holiday. At the end of the day,  it’s not about some costume or summoning demons, but about having an excuse to be with the people you love, sharing in traditions you care about. Even if you hate everything about this night, don’t close yourself off! Sometimes you need to shake things up from the routine.

Make your life your novel

 

Almost everyone has tried to write a book at some point in their life. It might be three pages long and half developed or it might be a full three page novel they can’t stop editing. If you ask someone what they would like to write a book about, practically every single person can think of something they’ve secretly been working on mentally. However, there obviously isn’t a book on the shelves for every person who wants to write one because they usually don’t even find their way onto paper.

There’s lots of reasons why a book doesn’t come into fruition. The person forgets the idea, they discard it, life gets in the way and they don’t work on it, they complete it and never get it published, they try to get it published and no one wants it; there’s so many things that can sway a book from publication. The big factor, though, is the individual who wants to write it. We don’t write books because we usually don’t have the self-control to do so. It’s not that the idea isn’t big enough, or that the plot isn’t developed enough. It’s the fact that we have to put our heads in the game on a daily basis and work on it until we make the idea big enough and the plot developed enough.

Not everyone is a writer, and not all writers are good at what they do. Writing is an incredibly difficult task, trying to get at the barest bones of communication. You don’t have to work on a book in order to feel successful in life, but we could all improve our self-discipline. It doesn’t matter what you want if you don’t do anything to get it. In some areas, writing a book is easier than other tasks because you can measure how much you’ve done through page number, word count, or chapters completed. So give yourself a measure! Make a checklist and fill out your goals. Don’t let your ambitions be unrealized, but seek them out every day, because every day is a gift.

Don’t starve yourself from people

For social beings who by nature need communication and contact, we have a really bad habit of isolating ourselves. We would prefer to hide behind social media, small talk, and our own self-doubts rather than try and make connections. Socialization is hard work, even for extroverts. You are a bubble of experiences, ideas, thoughts, temperament, and genetics and you meet another bubble that has all its own experiences and beliefs. Who knows if youre bubbles overlap? Trying to find similarities is frightening because people don’t always click right away.

Making friends means being vulnerable, and vulnerability is uncomfortable because it means not being able to predict the future as well. Even something as minor as revealing you love dogs: what if they hate dogs and have had traumatic experiences with them? It’s unlikely, but the more personal the topics get, the more risky it is to share them because you don’t know how they’ll react. As much as social anxiety is seen as over reacting in our culture, it’s actually not that unreasonable when you consider how socialization puts identity and sense of self at risk.

We like focusing on the ‘good stuff’, especially in American culture. We like feeling good, looking good, and being happy 100% of the time. When we talk and risk oursleves, we demand and expect payback for that socialization risk. Yet sometimes the result is awkward and embarrassing. It’s not required to be pretty and it usually isn’t  smooth at all. In fact, it can be uncomfortable and unsatisfying.  Talking to other people is hard, that’s proven by how entire college majors are dedicated to simple communication.

It’s okay to be socially awkward, everything gets better with practice. It’s okay to miscommunicate something, you’ll keep at it and they’ll eventually catch on. It’s okay to not know what to say, you’re not a mind-reader. It’s natural to have some difficulties when bridging the gap between two entirely different lives. Keep at it! Keep taking risks and communicating with people. Closing ourselves off socially is starving ourselves of a basic pyschological desire, so stay fed! It might not always seem worth it in the moment but it is in the long run.

 

Asking questions 

What does it mean to be human? Are we a sum of memories? Is there some sort of innate seed of a soul we can’t ever get rid of? Are we simply a brain? Scientists, philosophers, and anyone else who has ever taken a really long shower have debated this with themselves. It’s good to ask these questions, it helps us define what we believe and who we are. However it can be a toil to really try and figure that sort of thing out; a trouble we don’t really want to deal with all the time. Some people do everything in their power to avoid thinking about existence, others spend all their time doing it. Overthinking can get you into a dark spiral, but ignoring the big questions can make it hard to find meaning. The real question is how do we find the balance between the two? Where is the perfect level of cognition?

The first time I had chocolate soymilk I was disgusted. The second time I thought it was alright. The third time was pretty good, and today it was absolutely delicious.  We might never get a clear answer when it comes to philosophical questions because even the small things like our opinions about a drink can be impacted by time, location, mood, etc. However by asking them, we force oursleves to take a hard look at the world we perceive, and surprisingly at the world within oursleves. It would be handy to have some sort of meter that guided you to the “perfect” level of cognition, or some sort of algorithm for life. Yet it is the nature of this ambiguity that gives us meaning and maybe a clue as to what makes us human. 

Life is more trial and error than a systematic procedure. We operate on general concepts and broad ideas. We can be cruel or kind but we exist. So exist! Overthink, underthink, make mistakes, feel terrible, feel terrific! Ask the big questions and do your best to answer them. Then watch some mindless TV because it’s fun. If you don’t know what you’re doing, try and figure it out! The greatest mistake we can make is tricking ourselves into thinking we don’t have a choice and stagnating. You can do this. 

It’s okay to be afraid

Fear is a part of our lives. As Americans, we don’t like thinking about that: “We’re free independent people! We do what we want because we want to do it!” But even if we say the only thing to fear is fear itself, we don’t apply that to our everyday lives. We fear being judged, failing, being embarrassed, and more. Then it stops us, freezes us up from taking risks.

However, fear is also a powerful motivator, if you’ve heard any villian-monologue. True in a lot of cases, fear is an influential emotion. It can even be a healthy motivator. Everyone experiences fear at some time or another, but it’s a matter of what scares you that drives your actions. If we fear remaining the same, we can strive to make a change. If we teach ourselves to fear the risk of doing nothing, we can convince ourselves to take risks that help us in the long run. 

And it’s okay to be afraid! Fear has such a negative connotation around it because it seems like only cowards get scared. However, fear is very real. It’s even a wise action to be afraid; it means you know the risks and are alert for your safety. Being afraid means being on guard in dangerous situations. If you are afraid, you can prepare yourself, it makes evolutionary sense. When we experience this fear, the key isn’t to try and ignore it, but push through it. Be afraid and take the jump anyways.

A kind of battle cry

Today is a good day. Sometimes that doesn’t even have to be true, but you have to say it, and furthermore, you have to believe it. There’s this kind of advice: even if you feel bad, don’t look bad. Its this idea that if you feel aboslutely horrible, if you take the time to put effort into what you wear, you’ll feel better. It’s a battle cry of effort, I will not be defeated by my exhaustion! Even if it doesn’t come out through physical apperance it’s important to care about living your life, especially when it’s hard. 

One of my favorite songs is Nat King Cole’s “Smile”, and one of the lines is this, “when there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by”. As to say, sure. Life isn’t perfect. There are so many people who are hurting and struggling. However, if we give up when the going gets hard, we’re letting our true potential slip by. Our ability is not determined by talent alone. Honestly, at the end of the day, talent means very little. What you can change is the part that makes the most difference: your effort. 

You can’t live at 100% all the time, but we can usually give at least 5% more. And if we decide to not put in that effort, we find ourselves in a cycle of stagnancy. If it’s difficult, you’re getting somewhere, so keep fighting. Today is a good day.

Finding your optimum prime

Looking at bright happy things primes us to be happy.  Listening to sad music makes us sad. Of course what we see and hear and percieve affects our mood. Just saying it seems ridiculous, it’s common sense. However, we have a habit of forgetting this piece of “common sense”. We surround ourselves with people who make us angry, listen to angry music, which makes us remember all the times we’ve been angry, and then wonder why we’re angry all the time. It’s not just with anger either. As much as we would like to see oursleves as independent agents, the different parts of ourselves are brought out based on the situations we’re in. 

As much as we want to disown our flaws and take credit for the development of our positive attributes, both are a part of us. There will always be a weakness inside. However, what we can control is what parts we chose to grow and advance. A massive part of that is being a careful consumer of what you surround yourself with.

If you want an attitude change, you can’t do it while repeating all the same behaviors as before. If you feel unproductive, you’re going to need to turn off the phone that’s distracting you. Thoughts and actions are intimately related. You can’t do one without the other. We are primed by our context, influenced by basically everything around us. There’s only so much we can do to control that, but we aren’t powerless either. Don’t let things just be, this is your life. 

From where you’re at 

Intelligence is actually incredibly hard to pin down with a solid definition. Academic success depends on the class, past knowledge, family situations, even who you sit by. IQ can only predict success to a certain degree, and it judges only how good people are at finding new patterns and solving problems. Some argue only looking at academic intelligence cuts out creative or practical intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a term for how well people know and understand their own and other’s emotions; it’s been shown to strongly predict interpersonal success. Even from culture to culture, intelligence can be seen as something focused around how you deal with people, or how you deal with information. It is multifaceted and the line between intelligence and talent is slimmer than most people realize. 

However, we are obbsessed with intelligence. We want to believe it’s something you are naturally born with, that you can’t escape, but that’s not necessarily true. A person can actually raise their IQ to a certain degree, more effort can increase one’s grade and success in the workplace, and happiness isn’t even correlated with IQ! Pyschologists have been trying to pin it down for forever because it’s not as simple as “If you are intelligent, you will succeed in life.” 

I have my own little theory about intelligence, and it is this: intelligence is how well a person can adapt and solve problems, while wisdom is how well a person can apply things they’ve learned to the “real world” ane real relationships. There’s overlap between the two. People have different amounts of each. It’s hard to judge something as complex as intelligence in something as small as a single number. When you go out and about your day, just remember that you can improve from wherever you’re at. 

Friendships and art deco

There are so many different kinds of art, all with such variety in every sense of the word. I’ve met people who love lineless animation, art deco, impressionism, vintage storybook art and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Whatever people like, however, it’s important to remember that our senses of what’s attractive and good are in tune to what others think too. Its an interesting concept, but consider fashion fads. The big 80s hair was the height of fashion, but if you tried to mimick it today you might find yourself isolated in social situations. That’s why it’s so important to surround yourself people who respect and love you.

We want to think of ourselves as independent agents, but we are swayed and primed for all sorts of things depending on the situation. The people we surround ourselves with bring out the parts of us that they value. We are affected and effect others in how we live and interact. 

Our sensibilites are highly impacted by what other people care about. That’s why we should try to surround ourselves with people who may be very different from us but who value the core things we care about. When we chose to be friends with certain people, let’s do it intentionally, knowing you will affect each other. It’s okay to start out liking art deco and find yourself loving impressionism because of someone else. Just make sure who you change to be is someone you can be proud of.