Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thin-slicing, or Why I Like Favorites

Thin-slicing is the art of reading people.  It's about recognizing patterns and qualities with very small pieces, or "thin slices," of information.  Perhaps it's the natural consequence of growing up in a psychologist's home or perhaps it's because we are innately fascinated by people, but I think my siblings and I are excellent at thin-slicing.  I also think English lit. majors are generally better than average at thin-slicing; after all, literary criticism is all about expounding on a thin slice of poetry or prose.

I think this is why I like favorites.  With a simple list, you can get to know someone very quickly and fairly thoroughly.  So if I ask, "What are your top three favorite bands?" and you answer, "The Grateful Dead, The Allman Bros., and  Bob Marley," I'll be able to tell a few things about you: 1) You were probably born in the 70s, 2) You like jam bands, and 3) You have probably smoked pot at some point in your youth.  And 4) If you're a guy, you probably spent some time growing a beard.  And 5) You are super chill and easygoing.

Let's try it again.  I ask you to describe your perfect day, and you say, "It starts at 7:00 in the morning.  I'd go for a run, and . . ."  Immediately, I know some important things about you:  1) You are a morning person.  2) You are an Achiever, as psychologist Donald O. Clifton would say.  That is, being productive is important to you.  The day is not a success unless you've accomplished at least one measurable goal.  If you had said, "I'd get up around 10:00 or 11:00," I'd know that you are most definitely not a morning person.  And I'd know that we'd be really good friends.

Now, some of you are probably rolling your eyes about all of this.  You're thinking to yourself, "You can't categorize me!  I don't fit neatly into one personality type!"  But lookit: Thin-slicing is crucial to survival.  People have to make judgements and assumptions in order to avoid danger in a dark alleyway, for example.  But people use the same skills to determine whether they will be compatible with others.  On the first day of a semester-long class, you may drop the course, if you can sense that you won't like the professor's teaching style.  Or you may decide you're interested in asking a girl on a date because she referenced an NPR story she recently heard.  Or you may decide you don't want to put much effort into getting to know an acquaintance because he mentioned he's really into World of Warcraft.

People thin-slice all the time.  Some of us just happen to be more aware of it than others.  Or to like it more than others.  For my part, I like it.  I think it makes the world seem smaller and more manageable somehow, and yet, it simultaneously makes it vast and interesting.


Thing I'm thankful for: chocolate mousse cake

Movie Review: The Impossible


Going into a movie about one of the deadliest natural disasters in history* . . .  Well, you know it's not going to being an easy thing to sit through.  So why did I want to see it?  Because it's based on the true story of a family of survivors.  I thought it was going to be a touching family drama.  I expected to cry a few tears of joy and leave the theater feeling good about the triumph of the human spirit -- that sort of thing.

It was the hardest movie I've ever sat through.

Perhaps it was so difficult because my expectations were low.  That is, I envisioned a movie like Twister or maybe even Earthquake, in which you see people falling to the ground, but nothing too graphic.  Plus, I've only experienced tornadoes, a very small earthquake, a couple of snow storms, and heavy rain; I had no concept of what a tsunami might look like.

This movie, however, did not leave a lot to the imagination.  By the end of it, I felt exhausted and sore.  I also felt guilty and ungrateful and foolish.  Movies such as these remind me of the absolutely incredible life I have and of the people and things and moments I take for granted.  It's the sort of movie that opens my eyes to a world far-removed from my own, and it is precisely for this reason that I think people should watch it.  In fact, I might go so far as to say that people have a social obligation to watch it.


*The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake is the third largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph and resulted in a series of devastating tsunamis throughout Southeast Asia.  It is estimated that over 230,000 people were killed during the disaster, and thousands upon thousands more were injured or missing.


Thing I'm thankful for: a family

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Favorite Author

Can you guess who it is?  I'll give you a hint: She's perhaps the most well-known female novelist of all time and in my opinion, the most misunderstood writer.  To the general public, anyway.

I am speaking of none other than the great Jane Austen.  She was the cleverest.  Her novels are smart, funny, and thoughtful.  Contrary to what Hollywood might have you believe, she didn't just write empty stories about the romantic intrigues of handsome English men and women.  She used those stories to comment on societal problems and cultural mores -- and she did it with flare!  I defy anyone who says they didn't laugh out loud at least once while reading one of her novels -- women and men alike!

I could go on and on about this, but you'll never quite get what I'm saying until you just read one of her works.  Or watch a truly incredible adaptation of one of them.  So I'm making a list for you, so it'll be easy for you to get to know Jane Austen's work without being overwhelmed with seven novels all at once or an abundance of movie adaptations and fan fiction.

Read
  • Pride and Prejudice
    In a letter to her sister Cassandra, Austen called this her "light and bright and sparkling novel."  And so it is.  Everything ends happily, so if you want a good laugh and perhaps the best dialogue you'll ever read, pick this book up.
  • Sense and Sensibility
    Perhaps the complete opposite of Pride and Prejudice, this novel is about the depressing effects of primogeniture.  Still, there are some silver linings that keep you from sobbing outright at the end.
  • Persuasion
    One of her last novels, this one was published posthumously.  I'm not sure how it fared at the time, but I think it's gained much popularity since BBC adapted it in 1995.  It's a touching story of a woman who was once persuaded not to marry the man she loved.

Watch
  • Sense and Sensibility (Directed by Ang Lee, 1995)
    This is, without a doubt, the best adaptation of an Austen novel.  It's also in my top 10 favorite movies of all-time.  From the cinematography to the casting to the screenplay, this movie is excellent.  It conveys perfectly the tone of Austen's novel, which is for me, sort of sad and happy all at once.

If you read and watch what I told you to and still want more, I would suggest taking a course devoted entirely to Jane Austen, which is what I did in college.  :)  If that's not feasible, then read all seven of her works, and let's talk about them together!  My personal favorite is Mansfield Park, but for some reason, it's not one that lots of people are drawn to . . .  Actually, I think it's because it's not very clear-cut.  It can be interpreted in so many different ways, which in my opinion, is the fun part!  Ah, well.  If you read Mansfield Park, then I'll invite you over to watch the movie (directed by Patricia Rozema, 1999), and we will analyze it to our hearts' content.


Thing I'm thankful for: York Peppermint Patties

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Austin: The Fastest-Growing City in the U.S.

According to Forbes, anyway: 10 Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities of 2013

Pretty cool, huh?  Who knew I'd be such a trendsetter when I moved here two years ago?  ;)


But seriously, despite the regrets I may have had and the anxiety I went through in deciding to move here, Austin really is a fun place.  I've listed things I like about it before,* but let me share some more with you:
  • It's close to other big and interesting cities, such as San Antonio and Houston, which are also on the fastest-growing cities list.
  • There are plenty of hike and bike trails all over the place; one of them follows the perimeter of Town Lake, which offers a great view of the cityscape.
  • People here are all about recycling.
  • People here are all about exercise.
  • People here are all about comfortable clothing.  You can wear your All-Stars to pretty much anything but church.
  • There's lots of facial hair goin' on.
  • It's so windy!
  • Sometimes the UT campus has an inexplicable syrup smell that wafts through the air.  (It's not just me, folks.  This is apparently an Austin phenomenon.)

*See Thing I'm Thankful for: Austin.


Thing I'm thankful for: my gray flared cords.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Singing Time

In church this afternoon, I sat behind a guy and a girl who are dating.  I think they've been a couple for a while, too, so I assume they're fairly comfortable with each other, especially when it comes to sitting next to each other in church.  They must be more than happy to share personal space, right?  Imagine my surprise, then, when during the closing hymn, I noticed that they both picked up a hymnal and did not share!  There they sat, singing alone -- next to each other.

Is it just me, readers, or is that kinda odd?  This is what I expect when I'm sitting next to anyone in church: sharing hymnbooks during singing time.  Either one or both of you can hold the hymnal, but while you sing, you sing from the same book.  Period.  Sometimes -- and I think it's rare -- you can tell that people don't really want to share, and in that case, you just move on and share with the person on the other side of you or sing without having to share at all.  Still, if you are dating the person sitting next to you, it seems like sharing hymnals is a given.

Please, weigh in on this, guys and gals.  What do you think?


Thing I'm thankful for: playful teasing and laughing

Friday, January 25, 2013

Movies!

Sometimes people play movies for background noise.  My roommate does this.  She'll put a movie on when she's studying, working, or cooking -- any number of things, really.  I've tried to do the same, but movies . . .  Movies never fail to captivate me.  It could be the dumbest movie on the planet, and I will always get distracted from the task at hand.

For example, tonight I had to bake lots and lots of cake balls (well, Oreo balls, to be exact).  I put "Pirates of the Caribbean" in the DVD player and genuinely thought I'd be safe.  I'd just bake, bake, bake in the kitchen, listen to Johnny Depp work that pirate magic, and glance at the TV every once in a while.  It was not to be so.

I spent more time in the living room than I did in the kitchen.  And I watched it in a string of those "oh-I'll-just-sit-on-the-armrest-of-the-couch-to-catch-this-part-'cause-it'll-only-be-for-a-minute" deals.  So I half-sat, half-reclined on the armrest during most of the movie, and I was riveted.  Just riveted.  I had forgotten so many lines!  I had forgotten how fun action movies can be!  I had forgotten how great Johnny Depp looks in eyeliner!

After the movie was over, I put another one in: "Pocahontas."  This time I was better.  (But also I fast-forwarded through the less interesting scenes and songs.)  I admitted to myself that I'm addicted to movies, and I think that helped.  After all, the first step is recognizing I have a problem, right?

:/


Thing I'm thankful for: items on clearance!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Regrets

For the last few months, I have been thinking and re-thinking about regrets.  Two, in particular.  One regret was not going on a mission, and the other was turning down a scholarship to Indiana University.  I tend to live in the past, so it's really no surprise that I go back to other times and places in my mind and think about how I should've done things differently.*  Lately, though, I have been going back to those times with more frequency than is probably healthy.  I think -- I hope -- I'm done with it now, however, because just this week, two things occurred that helped me out tremendously:

The first was a discussion with my great friends Brooke and Rachel.  I don't think they realized it, but as they spoke about why they did or didn't decide to serve a mission, I realized that my decision not to go was acceptable to the Lord and just as good for me as going.  I'm positive I would've learned necessary habits and important social lessons more quickly had I served a mission, but what is time, anyway?  What's the rush?  I learned in perhaps three or four years what I could have learned in a year and a half, but maybe that's not so bad.  There are people I didn't meet on a mission, but people I did meet because I skipped it.  In the end, I don't think Heavenly Father cares whether I served a mission or not -- just that I learned what I needed to know.  And I finally feel confident that I did.

The second helpful thing was a reminder of an article I read a few weeks ago: Was Malcolm Gladwell Right?  Can you trust your intuition?  In the article, the author makes a few interesting points, but I'll highlight only one:
For simple decisions without many factors involved (What soda should I buy?), be rational.  For very complex or weighty decisions (What career should I pursue?), trust your gut.
I know people could get into serious arguments about this idea (How do you operationalize "simple," "complex," and "weighty?"  How does revelation fit in with this?  What is "your gut?"), but I'm not going to indulge in that intellectualization.  Instead, I'll just say that the idea is meaningful to me.  That in some inexplicable way, it diminished a possibly paralyzing fear that I had used my agency incorrectly.  When faced with the decision to move to one of two very good schools, I paid attention to a feeling, rather than to the facts and figures swirling around in my head.  Clearly, the decision to attend UT was the hardest decision I've ever had to make; after all, it plagues me on a somewhat regular basis.  I think I write about it every few months -- in my journal or on my blog -- to remind myself that I did what I needed to do.

*I once heard it as "should-ing all over yourself."  Ha


Thing I'm thankful for: dinner with dad

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

All My Fault

Sometimes when my mom and I are talking to each other via cell phone, the call is dropped.  Maybe someone can explain this to me someday.  I mean, even when both parties have a full signal, something goes awry.  Mysterious . . .

Still, when my mom calls back after such an occurrence, she always says something like this:  "All of my bars are full.  It wasn't my phone; it was yours."  Ha!  Attaching blame to someone for a dropped call is totally ridiculous, mom!

It's not just my momma, though.  A lot of people seem to think similarly.  I just don't understand why it's necessary to have a conversation about whose service is the poorer one.  Ah, well.  It makes for a good laugh, usually.

:)


Thing I'm thankful for: good advice

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Brain on Fire

After reading my signed copy of Brain on Fire (Thanks, Lexi and Adam!), what impresses me more than anything is the work of a scientist.

Dr. Souhel Najjar, a Syrian-born neurologist, is now famous for identifying the disease that plagued Susannah Cahalan, a young reporter for the New York Post.  In the late winter of 2009, Cahalan began experiencing insomnia, headaches, and the onset of psychosis.  A few weeks and seizures later, she was admitted to NYU Medical Center's Epilepsy Unit.  It is there that Cahalan experiences a "month of madness," as she calls it, and she has no distinct memories from that period.  With symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and a severe decrease in basic cognitive functions, doctors -- all kinds of talented doctors -- consistently misdiagnose her.  In the beginning, they think she has Schizophrenia.  Then Schizoaffective disorder.  Then encephalitis.  And on and on.  Doctors identified her with a range of diseases, but the test results for each disease were repeatedly shown to be negative.  As her condition worsened, it seemed that she would eventually retain that ambiguous label: "psychosis not otherwise identified."

But something happened to change the young reporter's fate.  An attentive doctor noticed details that others didn't.  Dr. Najjar listened to Cahalan recount her medical history and by connecting her symptoms to those of his Alzheimer's patients, he had the idea to administer the clock test.  With this simple test, Dr. Najjar determined that Cahalan was suffering from an autoimmune disease.  Specifically, he remembered a journal article he had read months earlier about anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis and suspected that it was the cause of Cahalan's symptoms.  It turns out that he was right.

I marvel at this doctor's ability to think better than all the other doctors put together.  But maybe it's not that he thinks better.  Maybe it's that he thinks differently.  Or maybe he listens differently.

His example has been on my mind several times this week.  I think of him and other game changers:  Louis Pasteur, et al., who supported the germ theory of disease; Aristotle and Pythagoras, who knew the world could not be flat; Marie Curie, who hypothesized that radioactivity was a property of atoms, not interacting molecules.  These people impress me not because they are iconoclasts, attacking institutions or beliefs for the sake of subversion, but because they noticed details that others didn't.  Or as in the case of Pasteur, they couldn't see something small, but had an idea that it nevertheless existed.

Why?  Were they naturally brilliant?  Supremely confident?  I think the answer to both is no.  Dr. Najjar said, "Just because it seems like schizophrenia doesn't mean that it is.  We have to keep humble and keep our eyes open" (Cahalan, 226).  Pasteur stated that hard work is somewhere in the mix, too:  "In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind" (1854 lecture, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Louis_Pasteur).

So perhaps there is hope for us all to change the world.  To leave it better than we found it.  I think that's part of why we exist -- to leave something beautiful or useful in our earthly wake.


(Cahalan, Susannah.  Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.  New York: Free Press, 2012.)


Thing I'm thankful for: immediate answers to prayer

Monday, January 07, 2013

The Chorus

Because of my friend Rachel, tonight I watched one of the best movies I've ever seen.  It's a wonderful French film about a school for "problem" children, and it's called "The Chorus."  I won't tell you any more than that because then your expectations will go all over the place.  So I'll just post this clip:



Just watch it, people.  Watch it and love it.  You won't regret the 97 minutes you spend on it.

(You might have to check it out from Netflix.  Or maybe it's on iTunes; I don't know.  Just find a way to watch it!)


Thing I'm thankful for: Night drives to the airport

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Paradise

As I checked my e-mail and dawdled on the Internet, my not-quite-two-year-old nephew raised his arms toward me, silently communicating that he wanted to do what I was doing.  I picked him up and got him situated.  He watched me click around on the screen for maybe half a minute before he said, "pauwa."  He repeated this sound over and over again, and still I could not understand.  I was about to give up on the poor guy, when my sister-in-law walked by.

"Jacki!  What does 'pauwa' mean?"

"Oh, he wants to watch the Coldplay video 'Paradise.'"

Of course.  Why didn't I think of that?  So together we watched "Paradise."  He sang along to the chorus as I stared at what seemed to be one of the most bizarre videos I've seen in a while.  (I barely watch TV anymore, and I rarely check out music videos.  Internet killed the video star?)  By the end of the video, though, I wanted to give a high-five to Coldplay.  In just over four minutes, they expressed what I think so many of us feel.  What I feel.

That is, paradise is being with people who understand you.  It's being with people you understand.  When Chris Martin saw the hazy outline of his elephant comrades and dropped his unicycle, I thought, "This is the feeling I'm searching for in a spouse."  But it's also the feeling I already experience with some of my family members and friends.  Sure, I love to meet people different from myself, but there might be no other feeling better than the one experienced when I am in the company of someone I can be myself around.

I get a similar feeling when I watch The Ugly Duckling.  Or when I watched this Kishi Bashi video today: Bright Whites.

Here's Coldplay's "Paradise."



Thing I'm thankful for: unpacking

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Keep Your Head Up, Keep Your Love

I've been listening to The Lumineers for most of the day.  "Stubborn Love" is a favorite.  I think it's because they offer some pretty good advice in the chorus:  Keep your head up, keep your love.  It's something to remember for the year, I guess.  As good as any resolution, anyway.

So keep your head up, folks.  And keep your love.
Head up.  Love.




Thing I'm thankful for: being safe