Samara O'Shea

Archive for May, 2009

It’s in the Air

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Another day, another article about happiness. This one is in the June issue of The Atlantic. It’s actually very different than the one I referenced from Psychology Today a while back. Not different in conclusion, but different in approach. This article is the result of a 72-year study that has been going on at Harvard. The study has followed the same group of men from their college years until now (retirement age), and draws conclusions on the hows and whys some of them ended up where they did—whether that be a good place or bad. The study is called The Grant Study and has been directed by a man named George Valliant since 1967 (the study began in the 1930s). I’m not finished reading it yet, but here are some of the gems I’ve pulled from the article thus far:

~Block [founder of the study] declared that medical research paid too much attention to sick people; that dicing the body up into symptoms and diseases—and viewing it through the lenses of a hundred micro-specialties—could never she light on the urgent question of how to, on the whole, to live well.

~ Vaillant . . . had predicted seven major factors that predict healthy aging, both physically, and psychologically. Employing mature adaptations was one. The others were education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise, and healthy weight.

~ Regular exercise in college predicted late-life mental health better than it did physical.

~ “What have you learned from the Grant study?” Vaillant’s response: “That this only thing in life that matters is your relationships with people.”

~ “What we do,” Vaillant concluded, “affects how we feel as much as how we feel affects what we do.”

I’m going to take Monday off from blogging due to the holiday. Let’s all stay far away from our computers for the next few days shall we? Enjoy! Enjoy! Enjoy!

Someone Else’s Superstition

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

So . . .my agent and I are working on something—I don’t dare say what. The reason I don’t say is because his last e-mail to me was: Oh and don’t jinx it by telling anyone. I immediately zipped my lip and swore mum’s the word. I understand why he said that because, once upon a time, I was big into that type of superstition. The don’t saying anything until you really have something to say, kind—motivated by the fear that the universe will work against you if you speak too soon. It makes a certain amount if sense. If you don’t tell people what might happen then you don’t have to explain anything if it doesn’t happen.

Earlier this year, I took a bold step away from the notion of jinxing and admitted that there was (is!) a grant I really really want. I openly blogged about it, and I openly tell people about it when they ask. I know the odds are slim (last year 323 people applied and there are 12 recipients), but telling people has done more good than harm. When I told my cousin Kate she said, “The Wall St. Journal did a story on Michael Phelps about how it was really impossible for him to win all eight metals. But the starts lined up for him. Maybe they’ll line up for you, too.” And one of my readers e-mails me often and ends with this: I’ll continue praying for a favorable outcome for your grant.

That type of support is priceless, and it warms my heart regularly. I’ve taught myself—just in these past few months—to replace superstition with hope. So the question I’m asking myself is, “Do I stick with my new anti-superstitious ways and talk about what’s going on or honor my agent’s superstition?” For now, I’m sticking with the latter—in the name of loyalty.

All this being said, I do recognize the art and importance of being patient and perhaps silent about certain things. It is an important skill to have and isn’t always superstitious. I wrote a funny dedication to my agent in Note to Self, and the hardest part was keeping quiet about it for months. It was so worth it in the end though! Agent was so impressed that I kept my mouth shut for so long—made the gift more worthwhile. The grant I’m applying for is rare in that they want to know who you are—your name has to be on every page of the application. Most grants like to keep their applicants completely anonymous—even to the judges. If this were that type of grant, then I’d seal my lips.

The grant recipients will be announced in early June. I remain ever hopeful and anxious. Whether I am a recipient or not, I do not think my being open and honest about it has swayed the universe in one way or another.

The Recession-Proof Artist

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

I wish I could embed this, but I’ll have to link to it instead. I’ve never been so inspired and encouraged by a 22-year-old. Watch it if you have a chance!

Pursuing Happiness in a Parking Lot

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Yesterday a friend of mine e-mailed me. He was having a downer of a day because he was waiting for a check that didn’t arrive, and his Internet was out (can’t that make us all feel totally abandoned?). I’m posting my response to him below. It was a strange story / analogy that came to me. This is one of those e-mails you hesitate to send because you fear it makes you come off as . . . weird. But after I sent it I felt no self-consciousness (which always seems to increase once you hit send), and thus I post it here, too. A heads-up: I write fairly informally on this blog, but this e-mail is very informal (and it includes obscene language):

from Samara O’Shea
to [Redacted]
date Tue, May 19, 2009 at 2:27 PM
subject Re: Oh Yeah

I don’t mean to get all Eckhart Tolle on your ass, but don’t let these things determine your mood.

I’m about to tell you a random story and then you’ll know what a real whack job I am. Ah well, it was going to come out sooner or later. . .

There was a Fashion Bug in Gibbstown, NJ where my mother used to take me shopping. I HATED going. We only went on Sundays, (and there’s always something about Sunday afternoon / evening that makes you want to kill yourself especially when you’re in Jr. High). It was a dreadful experience because my mother and I would fight (she’d hold up clothes that I hated and she’d take it personally when I told her I hated them). Plus I hated the way I looked, walked . . . I was all wrong. I was a young teenager. You know how that goes.

Anyway, in recent years, anytime I feel bad, I imagine myself in the parking lot of this fucking Fashion Bug—the parking lot itself is gross and the experience standing in front of me is the 7th circle of Hell—and I tell myself that I’m not allowed to leave until I find happiness. I challenge myself to find happiness (or at least hope) in a place where it does not exist, which means I have to find it inside myself. I know that if I can find a way to love myself and be happy in this godforsaken parking lot then I can find it anywhere. Then I will have the ability to give reassurance to myself when no one and no thing are willing to give it to me.

So aspire to have a good afternoon anyway—with no money and no Internet.

The Winning Essay Blog Post is Live Now:

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

The formal announcement for the essay contest winner is now live. It’s not terribly different than what’s written below, it’s just more colorful with a slightly different introduction.

And the Winner Is . . .

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

I am excited to informally announce the winner of the essay contest I hosted with The formal announcement will be posted over there. But in the meantime, here is the winning essay by Don Blankenship of Ohio followed by a transcript of the letter that he’s held onto for so long. The letter seems simple at first, but the last two lines get me (and I imagine Don) every time I read it. I can see how those words of encouragement—especially written by someone you love—could move you again and again.

Letter from a Poignant Pen
By Don Blankenship

At the time, it didn’t seem like much, a handwritten note scribbled on rose colored stationary. Gripped with the excitement of my impending high school graduation, I nonchalantly tucked it into a shoe box in my closet. When things died down, I would make the time to send the obligatory thank-you note. After all, my grandmother would understand. She knew how I had worked for this moment, and she would want me to take the time to revel in my success. Her closing lines had summarized this fact so succinctly: “Remember to stop and enjoy the view, but never dally too long, there are other mountains to climb. You, dear one, are among the best of mountaineers.”

Characteristic of her lighthearted sense of humor, she had made a reference to my West Virginia heritage. In the Mountain State, I had grown-up surrounded by my large immediate family: two brothers, two sisters, and myself. My parents worked diligently to meet our necessities, and as the family’s self proclaimed teenage rebel, I hadn’t made their lives easy. I was constantly skipping school, falling in with the wrong crowd, and testing any authority figure that would muster the courage to produce a challenge. My younger years were driven by vain attempts for attention—a product of intense sibling rivalry. I craved the spotlight and was less than reticent in securing its glow.

My grandmother, who lived several hours away in Northern Ohio, had sensed this longing. Although our relationship had consisted of a few stolen moments during school breaks and on holidays, somehow, she had a special way of making me feel important. At times, it seemed as if I was the only person in her world. My success and happiness took precedent above her personal indulgences. Freely she offered devotion, and as a young egotist, I satiated myself in her attention. Of course, a milestone such as my graduation would warrant a written response. While the letter wasn’t particularly lengthy, I could almost feel the emotion emanate from its pages.

I never got around to writing that thank you letter. Grandma died that summer of cardiovascular disease; however, the letter she wrote is no longer relegated to the recesses of my closet. It sits neatly folded in a decorative glass jar on my nightstand. When the obstacles seem too multiple to bear or my heart is filled with bliss over life’s numerous joys, I remove the letter and savor its wisdom. It comforted me with the death of a close aunt, and I chuckled as I read it the day I graduated from college. Somewhere located in those few scrawled lines her spirit lives, continuing to reach out with so much consideration left to give.

Dear Grandson,

Congratulations on your graduation. I knew you could do it! Unfortunately, I cannot be there to watch you walk across the stage, but know that I am rooting for you. You have made me very proud.

It seems that only yesterday you were a baby, and now you are crossing one of life’s major milestones. Education is the stepping stone on the path to greatness, and you are well on your way. Remember to stop and enjoy the view, but never dally too long, there are mountains to climb. You, dear one, are among the best of mountaineers.

With much love,

A Friendly Facebook Reminder

Monday, May 18th, 2009

This blog is not more commentary on Facebook. I’ve been spouting a lot of that lately, and I’m glad to give us all a break. Rather, my heading refers to the fact that I received an e-mail through Facebook last week about a podcast I did a while back. At the end of the interview, Kimberly Wilson asked me if I could recommend any blogs that I follow. That’s the type of question that, when asked, the answers scatter out of your brain immediately. I fumbled through my answer and remembered this awesome blog where the bloggette (is that what we’re called?) posts her To-Do lists. (I’m not making it sound as interesting as it really is). I just couldn’t remember the exact URL of the blog while I was on air—it had something to do with writing a novel and buying eggs. And here it is: I said on the podcast that I’d post the URL on my blog—which I forgot to do. Then I got my friendly Facebook reminder from someone who had listened to the podcast recently and searched my blog (in vain) for the link.

Speaking of To-Do lists: I’ve been meaning to wax poetic about Sasha Cagen and her book To Do Lists: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us (book trailer below). I think lists—both practical and fanciful—are so important to keep, and this book is a hilarious celebration of that. I’ve come across several to-do lists that I’ve written and howled at the strange ways I’ve prioritized my tasks or simply the way I’ve worded my tasks. I lived with a girl a few years back and caught a glimpse of one of her lists. It went something like . . .

– Return movies
– Send Resume
– Budweiser Frogs

What? I, of course, couldn’t ask about that last one because then she’d know I read her list (which was in plain view anyway). So I say list away! Write the tasks you’d like to get done today and the big dreams you’d like to accomplish in your lifetime. Few things feel better than crossing items off your to-do list. Lately, I’ve taken to writing down topics of conversation. When I know I’m going to see someone—a cousin, an old friend—I write down some of the things I want to tell them, because I always seem to forget when I get there. These lists are funny because you’re not going to write down the whole conversation—you’ll pick a word or two that’ll remind you of what you have to say. Here’s a conversation list I made recently (I offer no explanation, only the list):

To Discuss

– Bachelor June 13th
– 7:39 Train
– Pulling it Off: I dared myself to pose nude, but I had more to shed than my clothes