Just Have Fun Out There

I performed in an improv show at a comedy festival in Greenville, SC last weekend that went so well I thought afterward I might make it my last.

The six people I played with were drawn from other Southeastern improv troupes, and together we formed a festival supergroup. The other improvisers varied in closeness to me from perfect stranger to loose acquaintance. We performed on a stage I’ve never considered mine and one I’ve never spent time managing. We got good laughs from the audience, and afterward, just enough people told me I was smart and funny.

It was an emotionally unencumbered high, and one that tempted me to walk away. Because I love creating with other people, but I hate wanting things from them. And when I’m in a group I find myself wanting things: commitment, shared vision, similar ambitions.

With the festival group, it was good time casual improv. Afterward there would be no one to miss or be disappointed with or regret leaving. As a result, during the show I was able to “just have fun out there” which is the advice that improv teachers and coaches always give their students and teams.

What comes next for me in improv has been weighing heavily on me during the last few shows I’ve done in Atlanta. I have another show in a couple weeks, and I’m going to try to channel my improv supergroup attitude and just have fun. Because that’s one of the lovely things about improv that can easily get lost.

Vicarious Memories

I love to go running by rivers, and when I do, a line from the refrain of the song “Proud Mary” always pops into my head:

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river

This in turn brings up a memory that’s vivid in my mind but one I’m not sure is my own.

When I was in grade school, my mom would help organize parent dances that would take place in my school’s gymnasium. They’d decorate the gym with paper streamers suspended from the middle of the ceiling in two arcs that repeated down the length of the room. Copious amounts of canned beer would be served (presumably), and a DJ would spin the hits from a stage at the front of the gym.

From my mom’s telling, there was a lot of wild dancing culminating in the parents lying down on the ground and rolling around on the floor while “Proud Mary” played. This was my mom’s favorite part of the evening, and her joyous descriptions of it have sealed the image of this rollicking dance by the parents I knew at the time into my mind.

It’s possible I did see it happen at some point because I have a vague memory of working a coat check at an evening event at my school. But regardless of whether I actually saw it or not, the memory is there.


*I’ve lived in Atlanta eight years and have only recently discovered the joy of running next to the Chattahoochee River. A super view from a recent run is pictured above.

Grief Set in Stone

“We’re in a cemetery so I’m going to be sharing some sad stories today.”

I give this disclaimer early on in the cemetery tours I lead–usually right before I talk about four sisters, ages 2 to 8, who died within 10 days of each other in January 1863. Their names, ages, and dates of death are engraved into the side of the family’s monument–their passing on display for all to witness over 150 years later.

I make my statement about the sad stories in part to prepare my audience–to let them know we’ll be dealing with death head on. I also say it to remind myself how to approach the subject. Having spent eight years studying mortality as a demography student and then a postdoc, I have a tendency to focus on death as a process that shapes populations (and fills cemeteries) rather than as one of the primary sources of human grief.

On graves, demographic information is standard: name, date of birth, date of death, and perhaps a relationship (husband, wife, father, mother, sister, brother, etc.). Some stones go beyond these basics to share more about the deceased: who they were or in some cases who they could have been.

For example, at the Louvre this summer, in the Ancient Greek section, I came across a funerary stele (i.e., grave marker) for a young unmarried man. It depicted a large decorative vase symbolic of the type of vessel that would have been used to fill a nuptial bath in a marriage ceremony he would never have. The piece dated to 330BC, and seeing it nearly 2,350 years later, I could still feel the loss of that potential–the grief the young man’s family felt at what could have been set into stone.

Conditional Bucket List Items

The thought of visiting a major museum in its entirety had occurred to me before I undertook the challenge at the Louvre. But I’d never considered it a bucket list item because I didn’t have regular access to such a museum. That is, until I spent two months living in Paris this past summer.

Buying the membership was easy. I did it in person–80 euros and I was officially an Amis du Louvre with a membership card and a free plus one on Wednesday and Friday nights (which I used twice to share my findings).

At the start of the summer, I wasn’t even sure if I liked the Louvre. I’m not a fan of large crowds, and I’m also nervous around precious objects. With every visit, I confronted these fears.

And with every visit, I became more comfortable. With the layout. With all the people experiencing the art alongside me. And with the objects–some ancient, some Medieval, some more contemporary but still pretty old (most of the items in the Louvre date before the 1850s).

I started the summer in the Antiquities sections: Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman. I covered Decorative Arts, Islamic Arts, and the Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas (one of my favorite sections). My last few visits were dedicated to European sculpture and painting–with the Italian painting wing (and the Mona Lisa, the biggest celebrity in the Louvre) coming near the end.

Over the course of ~15 visits (I should have kept track), I came to know the Louvre. I understood the wings–Sully, Denon, and Richelieu. I learned about its long history as a palace in the Medieval Louvre section. And I came to understand that experiencing the Louvre meant experiencing it with others.

I may have started the summer unsure of how I felt about the Louvre, but I ended the summer loving it. Walking around the museum’s corridors examining 16th century tapestries in wonder–discovering the history of the world with people from all parts of the world alongside me.

As a conditional item (conditional on proximity to a major museum), visiting all the departments in the Louvre was an incredible undertaking to check off my bucket list. And it’s inspired more bucket list items for me. The funerary art I saw at the Louvre–the mummies and coffins and gravestones–have made me eager to visit museums and ancient burial sites in Italy, Greece, and Egypt.

It’s also made me think about what other items I should put on my bucket list given my current conditions–living the Southeastern US. I haven’t visited Savannah or Charleston or any major Civil War sights. I’ve been to the King Center in Atlanta but there’s a lot more I’d like to see connected to the Civil Rights movement.

Learning to love the Louvre has renewed my love for learning, and I’m excited to keep adding items to my bucket list and hopefully checking them off.

Habits for Effectiveness

When I was a graduate student at Berkeley, there were nights that I would take the BART into San Francisco to hang out in the city. On one of these nights early in my time there, I found myself sitting next to a guy around my age who was reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I was trying to make friends and meet a romantic partner at the time, so I leaned over to him and said, “you look highly effective in that suit.”

As awesome as that line was, we did not become friends or romantic partners.

I’ve never read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People even though I’ve been intrigued by its contents since this encounter. Recently, though, I have been creating daily habits of my own that have helped me become more effective so I thought I’d share seven of them.

  1. Wake Up at 7am
    This was one of my resolutions for 2018, and I’ve done it all but two days so far this year. I don’t have a consistent bedtime, but it’s been great getting up at the same time every morning. It’s taken a huge question mark out of my day. I learned this sleeping tip and others by reading W. Chris Winter’s The Sleep Solution.
  2. Meditation
    A friend recommended Headspace, and it’s awesome! I use it in the morning right after I wake up and in the evening before I go to sleep. Lots of research on the usefulness of meditation out there. I’ve found in the four months since I started doing it that it’s helped me better handle stress and stressful situations.
  3. Morning Pages
    Still haven’t made it the entire way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, but I try to do the morning pages she recommends. Every morning I write three pages about what’s going on in my life. It’s helped me process things and clarify my priorities. You don’t need a fancy journal to do this, but I love these layflat softcover notebooks by Denik (cool company–they build schools and support artists).
  4. Exercise
    I’ve recently recognized that exercise is my preferred leisure activity, which has made me feel better about investing a lot of time in it. I try to run or go to the gym every day. Like meditation this helps me deal with stress and stay healthy.
  5. No Social Media Before Noon
    This has been the habit that’s been hardest to keep for sure. But when I do it, it’s great. Keeps me focused on my work and what’s important to me in the morning. Also, limiting myself in the morning helps me to limit myself later in the day. I forget exactly where I picked up this tip, but I’m grateful for it.
  6. Budgeting
    A friend recommended YNAB. It took awhile to set up and get comfortable with the software, but now that I am I feel more in control of my finances than I ever have before.
  7. Productivity Journal 
    There are a lot of productivity journals out there. I use Best Self. Like the morning pages, it’s helped me to clarify my priorities and work much more effectively.

If you’re looking to better understand habits and how they can reshape your life, check out Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.


Thoughts on Improvement from a Most Improved Award Winner

2017 was a year of change for me. I had some minor setbacks (like being hit and run by an ice cream truck), but I also developed a lot of new habits that helped me become more healthy and productive. The easiest place to identify these gains has been the gym. I’ve been at my gym, FitWit, since October 2015, but 2017 was when I mastered the toe pushup, did my first double under, ran a mile in under seven minutes, lost 5% of my body fat, and did my first chin up (maybe–I’m pretty sure it counted).

For these efforts, I was named the Most Improved at my gym for 2017. I received the award at our annual banquet in December and accepting it I felt a mixture of pride, happiness, and embarrassment. That’s right. I was embarrassed for being the Most Improved. In the weeks since the banquet, I’ve been trying to understand why being recognized for improvement made me feel this way. Here’s what I’ve learned:

I would have preferred to accept the Best to Begin With award. Being recognized for improvement meant I had room to grow, which of course I did, I wasn’t fit before I joined FitWit. Still, acknowledging this need for growth wounded my inner perfectionist that clings to the fixed mindset approach (i.e., if I’m not good enough to begin with, why bother). I’ve been able to make gains because I’ve adopted a growth mindset, but it’s still a challenge for me to be okay with my need for growth.

I want to live my life differently than I did in the past so I must have been doing things wrong before now. I’ve found that another reason it’s hard for me to want to improve is the challenge of coming to terms with how I’m living currently. I’ve found in some cases it’s better to think of the changes I want to make as shifting preferences (e.g., I want to become a person who wakes up at 7am which means it’s hard for me to remain a person who stays out till 1am). In other cases, I’ve had to let myself experience the pain of acknowledging the fact that I’ve made choices in the past that were not optimal for me (e.g., not having a consistent exercise routine in my late twenties/early thirties). Again, my inner perfectionist wants to avoid the pain of recognizing possible flaws.

The award is just proof of my narcissism. In a world where one can dedicate time to many issues and accomplish much on behalf of others, I was being recognized for spending a lot of time on myself at a gym. This is a tough one because helping other people is important to me and my time is limited, but I know I’m in a better position to help others when I’m taking care of myself. Also, it’s okay to want to take care of myself (as painful as that is for me to write).

I’m dumb for caring so much about this award. My pride at receiving the award embarrassed me because it meant I cared. I love going to my gym. I love working out. It’s hard for me to admit these things because as much as our culture idolizes certain body types it also often dismisses those that pursue fitness as vain, self-obsessed airheads. More generally, it’s cool not to care in our culture. Caring about something makes you vulnerable. At the same awards banquet I received the award, I also performed in a short improv set with other improvisers who go to my gym. I rarely get nervous before improv shows, but I was before this one. I didn’t want to do or say something spontaneously in the moment that would get me kicked out of the gym or make people look at me differently. My gym is super important to me.

In 2017, I acknowledged my need for growth and change. I cared. I improved and was recognized for it. In 2018, I’m going to continue to nurture the growth mindset I’ve cultivated so I can continue to grow. If you’re also looking to make improvements, here are some resources I’d recommend that have guided my thinking about growth:

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
The Influential Mind by Tali Sharot
The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame by Brené Brown

And here’s my sweet award that I’m oh so proud of and only a little bit embarrassed by: IMG-0478

Who am I improving for?

I recently started meditating daily using the Headspace app. I love the approach the app takes to meditation because it’s all about training your mind. And like any good training program, they regularly ask you to recall your motivation for pursuing the training. In particular, they encourage you to ask yourself how other people in your life might benefit.

This question intrigues me. Who exactly might benefit from me meditating regularly?  There’s one obvious answer–my husband since we live together and he provides me with emotional support. It’s likely that my coworkers will also benefit since we spend a lot of time together and have to deal with stressful situations on occasion. I’d like to believe my meditation training will also benefit other people in my life–friends, family, students, fellow artists, other people at my gym, etc. But this seems to be claiming a pretty wide sphere of influence and the mechanism is less clear.

Still, I’d like to believe it’s true. Recently I’ve been engaging in a lot of behaviors designed at self improvement (like meditation). I’ve undertaken most of these changes with the goal of making myself happier and more productive. But it’s nice to think that these changes I’m making might benefit others too.

I saw this sign on a hotel while I was on vacation this past weekend and thought YES! I am WE, and while I’m not quite sure who YOU is, I’m not just making these improvements for myself.


Wait. You can’t eat that on Whole30?

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been trying to eat according to the Whole30 plan. For me, haphazardly embarking on the Whole30 has become a daily exercise in discovering how I’m not in fact in compliance with Whole30.

There were days I made straight up violations: eating peanut butter, soy sauce, bacon, salami, and drinking a probiotic drink (the last three having added sugars that are prohibited according to the plan).

I’ve violated the spirit of the Whole30 on a daily basis: drinking fruit smoothies that taste like milk shakes in the morning and devouring bowls of fruits, nuts, and almond milk that are acting as a substitute for the nightly granola snack I crave.

Interestingly, failing at Whole30 has made me want to do the Whole30. I love the idea of figuring out how different food groups affect my energy, mood, digestion, etc., and I understand now how a full out elimination and reintroduction would test that.

Ultimately, I’m looking to find a nutritional framework that’s stable for me. I’ve found that abstinence based plans work well because it’s easy to just say no to dairy, beans, grains, alcohol, etc. Sugar is another issue because that stuff is hidden everywhere!

It’s easy in some ways to categorically eliminate certain types of foods, and I love the results I’ve seen on these types of plans. But it also leaves me feeling like a jerk sometimes when everyone I’m with is eating cookies or pizza and I have to decline. This generally turns into a discussion of my nutritional plan and who wants to talk about diets while they’re eating cookies?

You see, I don’t want to hinder others enjoyment of cookies. And, ultimately, I want to be able to enjoy cookies too. I don’t want to be so restrictive that it becomes an obsession. But at the same time I struggle with moderation.

It’s Tuesday afternoon, and I want a cookie. Should I have a cookie? What’s behind my desire for a cookie? Will this cookie make me happy? Too many questions! I want my relationship with cookies to be easy, not complicated.

I don’t have the answers. But I do have an obligatory diet-related-blog-post photo of a fabulous salad I ate yesterday with fruit on the side:


With This Ring

David and I are celebrating our sixth wedding anniversary today. We met in November 2005 and married in July 2011, so we’ve been married now for a little bit longer than we dated. I took a photo featuring our wedding rings for my game piece series to commemorate our anniversary.

These rings originally belonged to my grandmother and grandfather who were married in 1948. Sometimes I look down at my finger and feel the weight both my commitment and theirs. My grandparents were married close to 39 years when my grandfather passed away, and my grandmother remained committed to him even after he was gone. For her it wasn’t till death do us part, it was forever.



Mom’s Bling

I spent the weekend at home in Cincinnati visiting friends and family. I thought about taking my game pieces with me to take photos of them in a new environment, but I wanted to minimize things that would distract me from spending time with my family and friends. Also, I was trying to relax! I’m not great at that.

I ended up being inspired by all the cool stuff my mom has around her house. So for a short while my Instagram became devoted to capturing my Mom’s art, gardens, and cool collections.

Here are some of my favorites of her “bling” as my Mom would describe it.