Live Your Verb

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Tag: put your phone away

The Empty Container

There seems to be a trend happening lately in which I come across something while reading that directly addresses my concern at the time.

Recently, while I was in the throes of an oh-no-I’m-overwhelmed-and-I-need-to-simplify-my-life-a-bit spell, a post from the Zen Habits blog arrived in my inbox. Just like that, I had my answer.

Well, to be accurate, first there were a couple questions:

“What would you do if your life was a blank slate?

If it were an empty container, with limited space, what would you put in it?”

I suspect that you’ll agree with me here: I don’t usually think this way about my problems. I rarely start at Square One. I’m much more inclined to start at Where I Am Now, and then try to backtrack to figure out where I went astray or lost hold of the steering wheel.

This approach seems easier. It feels more manageable to try to solve my problems with small steps like committing to spending less time on social media, subscribing to fewer blogs or planning my errands ahead of time. But the problem with small steps is that often they aren’t enough to make a significant change; they’re difficult to track and sustain, and they’re typically less meaningful in the grand scheme of things because they revolve around the “extras,” which are the last things to go into my container anyway.

Thinking in reverse, however, leads me straight to the core. If I start with that empty container and I ask myself what I want to put in there, the Big Stuff goes in first. Health. Loved Ones. Work. Blog.

Those are my priorities, the few things that I won’t scale back. And starting with them ensures that I give each one the full time and attention required for me to continue growing and thriving in that particular area of my life.

Okay. That makes sense. So the lesson here is simple: in the immortal words of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, “begin at the beginning.” Empty out your container, start over, start with the Big Stuff. The rest is just filler.


Read The Empty Container, the Zen Habits post that prompted this.


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I Bought Socks and Went to Washington DC

Socks, and Other Travel Considerations (but Mainly Socks)

When I was told I was being sent to Washington, DC, my thought process went something like this:

Wait. I’m going to the cold part of America? In February?!? Isn’t that considered Winter in other states? Isn’t there snow?!?

Will this require socks???

What will I talk about with anyone in The Land of Politics? Those people aren’t into writing and ballet and, you know, California avocados, are they? I don’t want to debate anything. Conversation will be so awkward…

As the trip neared and the weather reports continued to mock me with their coverage of the snowstorm preparing to sweep through DC, it sunk in that I was going to have to bundle up and prepare for freezing temperatures. I was definitely going to have to buy some socks. Sigh.

Minnie, my one and only travel companion.

Minnie, my one and only travel companion.

But I also began to see the upside to this trip: I’d never been to D.C. before and I had heard it was brimming with beautiful art and architecture, not to mention the historic landmarks. Several people told me I could spend two weeks in DC and still wouldn’t be able to make it through all the museums. This was good. I like museums.

I also liked the Exciting Albeit a Little Scary idea of exploring the city on my own; I’d never actually been anywhere by myself before. This would be a good test. Me, alone, finding my way around a strange city. If I could successfully navigate DC, then maybe, just maybe, I’d be a little more prepared and confident for my trip to Italy later this year.

And so my thought process transitioned into something more like this:

Okay. I can do this.

It could be a nice break. And a mini-test. And a treat to myself for these past ten months of hard work.

So I bought some new socks, overpacked my carry-on and left for DC.

During the flight, I sat next to a 17-year-old boy. His grandfather lived in D.C. and he was going to apply to Georgetown. He drank apple juice. I drank ginger ale. He, being a fellow native Southern Californian, was nervous about the weather too. I wiggled my toes around inside my socks and hoped for mild temperatures…

I Arrived! Look at That Alley!

After a little wandering and question-asking in Dulles International Airport, I found the Supershuttle and survived the 40-minute ride to the overpriced hotel my boss had put me up in. I made it! I checked in! I found my room! There’s one of those fluffy white hotel robes in here! I was already feeling full of little accomplishments. Then I pulled back the curtains and saw the view from my 11th-floor room:


Well, there’s a reason to do as much sightseeing as possible. Right? Right.

And so I did.

Lost in the National Gallery of Art, Literally and Figuratively

Me in a city chock-full of museums means one thing: Lis. Sees. Art.

My first stop was the National Gallery of Art, which is large enough to get lost inside. Several times. It’s not even one building; it’s composed of two buildings and a 6-acre sculpture garden. Luckily for me and the other several disoriented visitors, the staff are armed with maps and directions and seem well-accustomed to directing turned-around tourists.

In between literally getting lost, though, I spent the rest of the day getting that other kind of lost. You know, the kind where you sort of wake up from reading a vivid novel or listening to Chopin’s Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor and realize you’ve lost all track of time. The good kind of lost.

One of my favorite paintings was View of Hoorn by Abraham de Verwer, a Dutch painter.


And I was intoxicated by Sunset at Scheveningen: A Fleet of Fishing Vessels at Anchor by Hendrik Willem Mesdag.


I lolled before a collection of pointillism for quite some time. Pointillism is a technique in which small dots of color are applied to the canvas until an image is formed. That’s right, dots. Countless dots. That make up an entire work of art. What an impressive display of patience, diligence and, er, consistent dotting.


The Lighthouse at Honfleur by Georges Seurat


A closer look at that dotting technique.

By now you see a theme, right? I tend to like ocean scenes. Maybe it’s the California girl in me. Maybe it’s because it was about 12 degrees outside and I was yearning for some sunshine. Or maybe it’s because I was, quite literally, itching to get out of those socks…

I shrieked with surprise when I saw this Monet – because I had just seen it two weeks prior at The J. Paul Getty Museum. How could the same painting possible be here?!?

It wasn’t. Upon doing a little digging, I found that Monet painted over thirty images of Rouen Cathedral, some of which look almost identical to each other.


My favorite work of art was The Reading Girl by Pietro Magni. Not just because she was reading – though, yes, I like that about her. But also because of the detail she was carved with, the folds of fabric in her skirt and coat, the tendrils of hair falling out of place. At first I thought it was a disgrace that she was tucked away under a small window instead of being displayed with more grandeur – but then I realized that it suited her to be seated in a quiet spot with natural light, as any avid reader would prefer.


And a few rooms away from her, a striking arrangement of beauty:


Being a Kid (Not Hard)

My mom and I raised Painted Lady butterflies when I was a kid. She found a mail order service that shipped us caterpillars in big mesh contraptions modeled after birdcages. We planted flowers in the bottom and watched the caterpillars spin their cocoons and eventually hatch and emerge as butterflies. I was just as ecstatic to walk into the butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History as I was when I watched the butterflies emerge as a kid; some kinds of awe never go away.

I held this caterpillar but reluctantly gave it up when I saw a little boy eyeballing it.

I held this caterpillar but reluctantly gave it up when I saw a little boy eyeballing it.

Buckeye butterfly

Buckeye butterfly

Common Morpho butterfly

Common Morpho butterfly


Another childhood fascination was dinosaurs.


My favorite nature photograph was these three owls. I’m not sure if that owl is poking the other one in the eye or kissing it. Either way, I like it. Either way, I’m sure that owl was just showing his love.


And, especially for my friend Adam, an exquisite portrait of a giraffe.


A fairly accurate representation of my ex-boyfriends. (Couldn’t resist.)


History… and Snow

Despite the temptation to stay inside and wait out the 1-digit temperatures in my fluffy white hotel robe, I doubled up on my socks and did the only proper thing I could do on my last day in DC: I took a taxi to the monuments and walked the sights until I couldn’t feel my ears, fingers or toes.

My morning started with the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. I liked this statue, which was meant to represent American families listening to radio news during the Great Depression.


This guy also needs socks.

Apparently there was much debate about another statue at the Memorial, of Roosevelt in his wheelchair: many people thought a president should be represented as strong and capable. But I like the wheelchair version. It’s a very human take on a figure who isn’t thought of as being subject to vulnerability – and a reminder that none of us is immune to frailty.

There are no words to do the Lincoln Memorial justice. It was jaw-dropping, breathtaking at first sight. Actually, I’m sure it’s jaw-dropping and breathtaking at every sight. It was the most stunning part of the trip.

I’ve heard Lincoln is at his finest as the sun sets, so I’d like to return to DC someday and see it at dusk…


The World War II Memorial:


Even the grates are patriotic.


The US Capitol Building:


I had already returned to my hotel in the afternoon when snow began to fall. I’d been in the snow before, but always after the snowfall – I’d never actually seen it fall. It was beautiful. And icy cold. And it did look like little patterned flakes. Mesmerizing.

So I bundled up again, socks and all, bought a hot chocolate and walked the two blocks from my hotel to the White House in the snow. It was worth the walk, and worth the cold.



On the way back, this guy showed up. He was friendly until he realized I only had hot chocolate and nothing to feed him.


The Little Boy and the Map

On the flight home, a little boy and his mom sat behind me. He must have been about three and he was excited to fly for the first time. Once we were in the air, he peered studiously out the window and examined the curves and lines below. Finally he exclaimed, “Mom, look! It’s a map! It’s a really big map!”

His mom tried to explain that what he was seeing was what the map was based on, that the earth looks different from the air than it does when we’re standing on it. But he wasn’t listening, or he didn’t care. He was busy enjoying himself looking at the biggest map he’d ever seen.

What I Learned (Because By Now We All Know What I Wore)

Give strangers the benefit of the doubt; most people are friendly and don’t mind giving directions or suggesting a restaurant.

In cold climates, a hat that covers your ears is essential (in addition to, yes, plenty of socks). I managed to bundle up quite well but my ears were cold the whole trip. Next time: a hat with ear flaps. Just wait for the photos.

Never hesitate to ask the concierge anything. It’s his job to answer your oddball questions.

DC security is very heavy in comparison to other cities, so resist the urge to take everything with you or you’ll be spending quite a bit of time at the security desk each time you enter a building. Take what you need for the day. Really. Leave those eight extra protein bars in the hotel room. You won’t starve to death. You can always buy an $8 bagel in the museum cafeteria.

If you need some inspiration, get out in the snow. Or watch the butterflies. Or learn about dinosaurs. Or read up on a hero and find out why he’s such a hero. Or try to see everything around you with the eyes of a tourist; notice the details, colors, textures the way you did the very first time, when you were still paying enough attention to really see and appreciate. If you can’t get lost somewhere new, get lost somewhere old. Remember the little boy that saw a map? What can you see?


Wish you were here,



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“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”

- Catherine M. Wallace


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Where is Home?

Writer Pico Iyer talks about finding a sense of home in the modern world.



Home. Such a delicious word. I’ve been rolling it around on my tongue as long as I can remember, romanticizing the idea of it someday holding an intimate truth for me instead of just being an idea. Even as a small child, I was hyper-aware of everyone else having a Home and of me not really having one. I was shuffled around a lot. I always had a bag packed. I slept on other people’s couches and in their guest beds, in hospital lobbies and patient room chairs. I didn’t reach a place of thinking, ‘I can settle here. This is mine.’ Because soon I would be somewhere else.

I still haven’t reached that place of Here, Mine. The nomadic shuffle of my early years has carried on through adulthood as I have moved through a series of roommates and boyfriends and more roommates. There are places that have felt familiar, yes, but never Here, Mine. Never Home.

I have tasted little bits of Home, tried it on for size when I could – mostly in dance studios. I grew up taking ballet classes six days a week, and the studio became the closest thing to a home that I have ever had. What I have always loved most about ballet is that it is a universal language; I can walk into a ballet studio anywhere in the world and the steps will be the same, the basis of technical requirements will be the same.  There will be cold floors, smooth barres running along the walls, huddles of dancers stretching and pulling on knit legwarmers before class, the tinkering of a pianist warming up his hands. No matter where I am, there can always be a ballet class. What a lovely idea. It is always the same. It is a sort of home.

In the TED Talk above, Pico Iyer talks of finding oneself – and realizing one’s home – through a balance of stillness and movement. I have mastered the movement to some extent; I am accustomed to living in a flux state, ebbing and flowing with the tides. But I have always longed to be still, to feel still. Maybe this is why I became a dancer in the first place – by doing so, I found a way to create some consistency in all that movement, a way to stay upright in the currents.

It took me a very long time to realize I had the option to control this life of perpetual motion. That I could speed it up, slow it down, surrender and let myself be carried along, or learn how to navigate and steer it all in the direction I want to go. I am learning when to hold tighter and when to simply open my palms and be carried. It’s a fine art of having faith in my center, even when I am off-balance – which is, of course, another lesson from ballet class. There is more to it than creating my own momentum; I also have to be able to harness that momentum, make it work for me instead of being led by it.

Iyer says, “Movement was only as good as the sense of stillness you could bring to it to put it in perspective.” Even in movement, the center is necessary. Even in flight, the idea of Home is steady ground.

I haven’t found my sense of stillness; I haven’t found my Home. But I have faith that I will find it eventually, buried amongst all the other things in the center of my being.

I realize now that maybe Home will never be a place for me to settle and plant roots, or a person to come back to at the end of the day. Maybe Home will just be the sweet calm that I feel when I learn how to let the strongest currents wash over me without eroding any of my faith. Maybe finding Home will be nothing more than finding a stronger sense of myself – learning to create roots the same way I have created wings, learning to find and hold onto faith the same way I find and hold onto my center, learning to ignite an internal stillness the same way I propel my body into motion. Learning the balance. Because that’s what Home really is: the balancing point.

“And home, we know, is not just the place where you happen to be born; it’s the place where you become yourself.”

- Pico Iyer

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The Time You Have (In JellyBeans)

“So what are you gonna do with this time? How much of it do you think you’ve already used up? If you only had half of it, what would you do differently? What about half of that?

How much time have you already spent worrying instead of doing something that you love?”

- Ze Frank, American online performance artist, composer, humorist and public speaker

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The Innovation of Loneliness

“Loneliness has become the most common ailment of the modern world,” says Shimi Cohen, creator of this video. He’s right. We are more connected now than ever before, and yet there is a very real phenomenon emerging: more people are complaining of depression, loneliness, loss of humanity and lack of intimacy. Is Cohen right about “the connection between social networks and being lonely?” Watch and decide. And maybe consider putting your phone down.

The Innovation of Loneliness from Shimi Cohen on Vimeo.

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