Uninterrupted Eye Contact

If anyone has ever gone to a meditation group you will likely do a guided meditation and afterwards hear the other people in the group share how much they enjoyed the meditation or explain how they saw images of unicorns and rainbows. It is my opinion that there is always once person in this group who is quietly nodding along, but really found each minute of the meditation excruciating. This person is convinced she isn’t doing it right, isn’t cut out for meditation, and is trying to figure out what the other people in the group were smoking that made them visualize unicorns and rainbows.

Yup you guessed it this person is me and I have decided it is my duty to not to lie about these experiences and instead I need to disrupt the “meditation myth” and acknowledge that sometimes meditation is beyond painful.

At first in yoga teacher training I enjoyed the meditations. I think this is possibly because it was period of time in between hours of yoga in which I did not have to exert myself. Recently they have started to get more intense for me and I have a special kind of anxiety associated with them. We did one this weekend in which we had to hold our legs and arms up in different positions (which seems easy the first ten seconds but is actually exhausting) and do intensive breathing techniques. When asked what we thought of this afterwards I equated it with torture.

 The one saving grace for me in the meditations has been getting to sing (or chant is the technical term). Since I have always loved signing I feel like this is my second chance to get into singing again. I realize to an outsider a group of people chanting in Sanskrit must sound totally bizarre, but when I know I have another two minutes of holding my legs in the air I sing these songs with gusto. I think this song is especially fun and this dude seems pretty cool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHsSPFJTUEE&feature=youtu.be (song starts about 1 min and 47 secs into the video).

This past weekend was our hardest meditation exercise yet. We were told we were going to sit cross-legged across from our partner with our knees almost touching. We were supposed to stare into each other’s eye and each have our hands in a specific position and held up at our sides with our pointer fingers touching our partner’s. 

Our teacher told us she was not going to tell us how long the meditation was going to be which immediately to me did not seem like a good sign.

The whole thing reminded me of this scene with Steve Martin from the underrated movie Baby Mamma.

Luckily, I felt especially comfortable with the partner I was paired with and we had both expressed that we were having difficulty with meditation. In the beginning it was definitely a little awkward staring into each other’s eyes, but after a few minutes that awkwardness disappeared and you kind of almost forgot you were looking at someone. We were chanting to a song so that gave us something to distract ourselves.

After a little while my back started aching and my feet fell asleep. Every time I moved a little to get more comfortable it forced my partner to move a little. I could tell she was starting to get uncomfortable too. I continued to chant and would in certain moments really throw myself into the chanting and try to send my partner signals through my eyes that expressed the, “we can do this” sentiment.

 The track we were chanting to had a few points where it seemed to be winding down so I felt a moment of relief thinking it was ending, but then it would start back up again and anxiety would wash over me. I started to loose it and felt like I was going to be sitting there chanting and staring at my partner for the rest of my life. 

All of the sudden my partner burst out laughing. As someone who gets “the giggles” frequently, of course I was going to start laughing.  We broke our hand lock and were giggling to ourselves uncontrollably while the rest of the groups continued chanting. Tears streaming down our cheeks we tried several times to pull ourselves together, but every time we would make eye contact again the giggles would hit. Finally, I decided we had to avoid eye contact in order to stop laughing so I stared at the ground and resumed chanting, trying to pull myself together. After a minute, we locked eyes again and got back into chanting and I was feeling slightly better after the laughing outburst.  

While I was writing this it brought back a memory to me of going to a meditation class with my Grandma. I have absolutely no idea why we would have done this or where it was, but I just remember going to a meditation group and sitting in the back and all of the sudden my Grandma and I were giggling uncontrollably and I think we had to leave because we could not pull ourselves together. Perhaps this giggling during meditation is hereditary. It seems like I made this up as I don’t think my Grandma or anyone else in my family would know about this, but I have this distinct memory of this experience.

We finished the meditation and found out we had been doing it for 31 minutes (I could have watched an entire episode of Sex and the City and have time to spare)! When we apologized for laughing uncontrollably, surprisingly the teacher did not scold us for not taking this seriously, but instead deemed it an authentic reaction. In fact, she said she was worried I was going to walk out during the meditation and was planning on having to talk me back into it. I am not sure if she thought this by watching my face during this meditation or if it was because I said I thought the meditation the previous day was torture.   

I can’t remember a more difficult 31 minutes of my life, but it seemed to really bond the group to have gone through something like this together. I am so proud I did it, but I can’t imagine ever having to do that again. 

The next day we had “The Boston Buddha” give us a meditation workshop. He presented a less awkward more relatable form of meditation and after the eye contact exercise I figured I could handle anything. He took us through an easy-guided meditation and asked if anyone was restless the entire time. I proudly raised my hand and his response was, “good.” He counts this as a good experience during a meditation (the other “good” experiences include falling asleep, being overly aware of yourself repeating the mantra, and seeing an image – those damn unicorn and rainbow people).

Despite his lofty name the “Boston Buddha” made meditation relatable even cracking jokes about how people can be judgey in the yoga/meditation/wellness world even though we are not supposed to be. He admitted that he struggled with meditation a lot and would have meditations when he would ask himself why he was doing it and just struggle through the whole thing. What I found encouraging was his conclusion that even if you struggle through the whole meditation it is still worth doing because it forces you to really feel these feelings and to at least take time out to be with yourself. He framed meditation as work or “mental push-ups” for the rest of your day that will start to benefit you (and therefore make it easier to commit to doing it) the more frequently you meditate. He also cited an interesting study out of Harvard studies about how meditation can change your brain in just eight weeks.

After this weekend of training I learned that it might be worth it to commit to this whole meditation thing, eye contact is not that awkward, and most importantly sometimes you just need a good giggle fit to survive a painful situation.  

The beginning of the end

It is almost the end of TB Phoebe (although technically since I will always have the TB virus I guess I can’t get rid of the nickname that quickly). I only have one month left of meds! 

I was so excited to pick-up my last prescription last week I had such a big smile I think the CVS pharmacist thought I was an even bigger wacko than she did when she asked me why I was taking my TB drugs. I proudly yelled across the counter, “Oh I have latent tuberculosis!”  

This week I had my last appointment with Dr. G! I strolled into the infectious disease center and the woman at the front desk stopped me to ask if I was there for the travel clinic. I guess I don’t look like the infectious disease type. I wanted to take a picture of the scary pictures in the bathroom, but I decided I would have to take a mental picture because I could just see myself getting walking in on taking pictures in the bathroom. The posters included: “HIV lifecycle,” “Disease of the month,” and lots of advertisements to be part of medical tests. 

The one thing I will miss about this experience is Dr. G. I didn’t know such kind and attentive doctors existed and it is wonderful that someone like that is helping the people who really need her, people with actual infectious diseases.

 I had my last list of questions and starting with asking whether I could get infected ever again. That is when I realized Dr. G is not exactly an optimist and told me that it definitely could happen and that there might be another dose of these drugs in my future. She cheerily told me to, “watch my symptoms.” I told her she had to be a doctor here forever then. When I asked if there was a chance I could ever get the full-blown TB she said it was 90% unlikely, but possibly, like say for example if I had lymphoma and had rounds of chemo therapy. I wonder if at this point she saw my face drop.

I am definitely looking forward to being “normal” again and being able to have a drink at a social event if I want to. I must admit that it has been kind of positive being absolutely not able to drink and having to figure out how to navigate that situation. I am hoping that it will make it easier to decide not to drink some nights or to only have one drink when out with friends. I guess I am also pretty proud of my willpower and am partly expecting that to disappear once off the meds.

Perhaps I have learned some skills through this experience that will last with me as long as I still have TB (forever, baby!).  I have learned that I can cope after a bad day when all I want is a glass of wine to take the edge off. I can snap out of it and change my mood without malbec. I have learned to be somewhat comfortable in social situations even if I don’t have the social lubricant of alcohol. I am fine (despite a few jealous glances at the other patrons) going out to dinner without ordering red wine or having a virgin mary at brunch. As soon as the food gets to the table that is all I am thinking about anyway.

I have one major challenge left: being sober at a bachelorette party. This will be my final days of sobriety and I imagine the toughest yet. At first I considered treating it as anthropological study and observing bachelorette parties and drunk girls.  However, I realized my friends wont like that and I would turn into Judgy MacJudgerson. I wonder instead if I can try to jump right in and be silly and fun without drinking. Maybe I will feel less icky because I am sober and fit and can do yoga the next morning at 8am and then put on a bikini without wanting to vomit. Or maybe I will whine about it and try to smile anyway. 

I no longer feel mad about the TB situation because I know without it I never would have done the yoga teacher training. I bet they haven’t heard that one before…maybe they will want to put the quote on their website. I am also proud that I showed myself I could actually live my life (well I was somewhat of a homebody) sober for four months.

Luckily, I can drink again in time for frozen margarita season…

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Does everybody’s CVS have these ads or are they just because of me? Maybe I am starting a trend with this whole TB thing…

Am I in a Cult and Why Can’t I Stop Buying Accessories for it?

I have been on a two-week break from yoga training and I seriously miss it. During the weekends we have training I feel like a completely healthy and amazing person, but as soon as a few days pass since the training I just feel like regular old TB Phoebe.

 In an effort to keep the good feelings going from yoga teacher training I spent a Saturday afternoon doing our assigned reading. As I read Iyengar share yogis feelings on the afterlife I realized how much more open I was to considering this and realized I would probably consider seriously most things I read in this book or learned in training. If I was told that standing outside naked for five minutes a day could transform my spiritual well-being I think I would consider it. It was at this moment where I seriously questioned whether I had joined a cult.

 I do not mean this at all in a negative way about yoga teachings (obviously because I am obsessed), but it is more about my receptiveness to changing my behaviors and believing the things I am learning. After reviewing the definition of a cult I think I am safe, but I am still wondering whether there is a need to remain critical about things you are learning or whether it is okay to accept with enthusiasm and jump right in.

What it is it about me that makes me find something I like and immediately want to immerse myself into it whole-heartedly? Is it just that I am always hoping to grow and change? Another slight problem with my new lifestyle approach is the amount of money I have spent buying things that I think are important to this transformation.

Here is a short list of things I have bought:

  • Natural deodorant until I decided to make my own
  • Natural dishwasher tabs
  • Natural dish soap
  • Natural hand soap
  • Epsom Salts
  • Argan oil
  • Mason Jars
  • A lot of yoga clothes
  • Then when I found out I had golfer’s elbow that involved buying: an arm band, ice pack that could stay on my arm, heating pad, and wrist stabilizer (listening to advice from websites, yoga teachers, friends, and a massage therapist).

This is not even counting groceries (stocking up on chia seeds, products to make green juices, etc.). I think of all the things I would like to buy to fully immerse myself in this lifestyle and I am actually pretty impressed with my restraint (or maybe I just haven’t totaled how much I have already bought). I follow wellness people on instragram like this wellness coach and people like this woman who uses this spiralizer my mom bought me for healthy recipes. I am constantly wondering when I will feel like I am really a part of the wellness/yogi bubble or if I will always be striving for that next step. Does it require me to start posting pictures on instagram of me heading to yoga or of inspirational quotes? Wont that annoy my friends and my mom (who follows me on instagram and would think my pictures are getting weird or boring)?

I am currently drinking hot water with lemon and cayenne pepper despite the fact that I have gagged several times because one wellness expert said it would help with my cold. Yesterday I took a shot of apple cider vinegar with honey at the advice of that same expert. 

Perhaps it is time for me to recognize how far I have already come and enjoy that for a minute rather than trying to reach this next level of pure yogi crunchiness. I have yoga this weekend and we shall see what new habits or products I decide I need to adopt. Should I just decide to accept that there are worse addictions to have? 

Canadian Customs

Last week I went to an academic conference in Toronto and forgive my dramatic word choice, but I would say it was rather life changing. For some reason this has been the year of the conference as I recently attended an educational conference with my mom. This conference felt different because it was supposed to be “my people.”

To be honest I am not quite sure how to fit in with “my people.” On the plane ride despite recently buying a brand new In Style I could not read it because I was surrounded by academics and did not want to reduce my credibility. I instead underlined academic articles and glanced longingly at the glossy pages in my bag.

As soon as I began to wonder whether I was the only non-robot in the group the woman next to me (a professor at a nearby University) grabbed both arm rests abruptly when the plane got bumpy. I looked at her tense face and she forced a smile saying how she really hates flying. I get a sick amount of happiness from being around scared flyers. I am anxious about everything from birds to the subway, but I am not generally a nervous flyer (although sure for the occasional bumps and take offs I like to hold a hand, but not too bad). I responded to my seatmate, “Don’t worry, I am nervous about most things,” and continued calmly reading my article with a smug smile on my face.

Arriving at the hotel was a real “culture-shock.”  I walked into a place with 5,000 other nerds like me. I felt like an anthropologist the entire time constantly studying and watching people there. For some reason something like a casual breakfast buffet feels to me like a really intimate non-professional experience so watching people in their own morning routines was especially enjoyable.

Luckily I was traveling with one of my closest friends who has similar academic interests and is equal parts nerd and cool girl as me (I will let you decide what those proportions are). During my entire time there we did not leave the hotel much and I felt like I had to play “serious academic” non-stop even in the cramped elevators. I tried to hide my resemblance to the woman on the plane with every pause in service on the elevator, especially after my friend telling me the elevators broke when she was coming up to meet me in our room and one person panicked.

On one lunch break I decided to explore the city alone and felt like I got to stop playing academic and could just be TB Phoebe. I walked in and out of shops smiling to myself as I discovered the funky side of Toronto. Shopkeepers even assumed I was a local and one person stopped me on the street to ask for directions! I guess I gave off a cool Toronto chick vibe. I had a fun lunch at this adorable café by myself and was just starting to relax when a group of people from the conference swarmed the cafe. When they walked in I felt like I had been spotted and slumped in my seat and tried to look serious again.

The next day I spoke on a panel and felt a little more like the serious academic I was pretending to be. To be honest after the panel I was gloating. I felt smart and confident and was ready to leave Canada with a feeling of success. I should know better than to think something humiliating wont happen to me and if it didn’t what would I blog about?

When I get to the airport I said goodbye to my friend and went to check-in. After being guided by someone as smart and soothing as my friend I must have forgot to pay attention and take care of myself. After check-in I went to the “bag drop” area where the woman tagging my bag was busily chatting to her friend. I stared at my bag, “Is my bag all set?” “Yes,” she said, “just go to customs.”

To customs I went and was happy to leave my embarrassingly large bag behind. I was stressing about traveling with two laptops (one personal and one for work) because I pride myself on the speed I can go through the security line. My bags felt extra heavy and painful to carry so I just wanted to get to the to a café for a snack. After customs and being slow in the security line I went to a café and took my time going to the gate, even stopping to buy smarties to really feel like I had left America. When I was sitting at the gate about a half an hour before the boarding time they announce my name. I figured there was a seat change or something so I marched up to the gate relaxed.

An official looking man is waiting for me and told me I left my bag at check-in. When I reply of course I did because the woman said I was all set he looks at me like an idiot and says “no you are supposed to take your bag through customs with you.” (I guess “all set” was not the most clear of questions on my end). My stomach drops and he asks me to come with him. I am speechless and just stare down as he escorts me in an elevator back up to security and we parade through security the wrong way. He is on his walky-talky explaining the situation and I am officially humiliated. He takes me to a screening area where there are a few other people. I have to explain to another customs officer with little commentary that I thought the woman at check-in said I should leave my bag. I can’t remember another situation where I have really been at such a loss of words. What do you say when being oblivious has made you appear like a security threat?

I wait in the gate area for them to get my bag and I call my mom in tears because my plane was boarding in fifteen minutes. They call my name and then the woman who is about to search my bag yells at me and asks if I read the sign about cell phones (I didn’t see one and now I felt like a bigger oblivious idiot). The man who guided me to this area says he is going to leave me. I felt abandoned and asked how I was going to get back through security without waiting in line. He says to check-in with the lady at security when I check my bag and she will guide me to the front of the line.

After my entire checked bag and carry-ons are searched I struggle to carry all my luggage back to security and try to find someone to escort me to the front of the line. The woman who I thought I was supposed to see says that she can’t help me and tries to get me to leave her alone. Finally she tells me to just ask people in line to cut. Now I am in tears and asked to cut expecting a friendly Canadian to warmly say it was okay, but instead I get an annoyed, “Okay” from a middle-aged lady. I unpack both laptops and slowly go through security a second time and make it to my gate just in time for boarding. I immediately get on the plane and eat my smarties (that later of course empty into my entire bag) and read my In Style.

I officially dropped the act of trying to be a serious academic and realize I will always be ungracefully Phoebs. According to my mother it is part of my charm.

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Snowy view from the top floor of our hotel

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Yoga is on my brain!

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London fogs at a cute cafe we discovered

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The Truth About Sesame Oil

Two highlights of yoga teacher training last weekend:

1) Someone told me I was “easy-going.” This has never happened to me and may never happen again so I am going to savor every moment of this. Also, perhaps I became too easy-going in point number 2.

2) When your teacher tells you to try massaging sesame oil on yourself as an ayurvedic therapy tip and to help with sore muscles she does not mean to use toasted sesame oil that you find in the grocery aisle of whole foods.

Our teacher had brought up the tip several times of rubbing sesame oil on yourself and getting in an Epsom salt bath. Eager to try everything my teachers recommended, I ran to whole foods during our hour break and grabbed a bottle of sesame oil from the oil aisle. I thought to myself, “toasted sesame oil must be what she meant when she said sesame oil, how many sesame oils can there be?”

That night in my post-yoga daze I decided to try it out to really immerse myself in all I was learning and the yogi lifestyle. Perhaps this was a warning sign to take this transition slower. I opened the bottle and noticed that it smelled quite pungent, but I thought perhaps this is what yogis like to smell like.

After spilling the oil on the sink and haphazardly rubbing it on myself and jumping in the bath I started to doubt my initial instinct. As I am googling sesame oil on my phone in the bath Shaun gets home and walks in noting that it smells kind of odd in our apartment.

Our bathroom and my body officially smelled like an Asian restaurant. Shaun closed the bathroom door telling me he was getting hungry standing in there. I was getting extremely nauseous sitting in the bathtub and did not know what to do with my oily self so I waited for the bath to drain trying not to vomit. I proceeded to take a shower in which I scrubbed my skin raw and then disinfected our entire bathroom. As I was lighting various candles in the bathroom and bedroom I could not get over my stupidity and repeatedly smelled my skin and everything around me to make sure I no longer smelled like Asian food.

After dinner that night I finally was able to laugh at myself and Shaun commented that he understood my frustration after I “basically basted myself.”   

In my new yogi attitude I am trying to remember that there is a lesson in every situation. I learned my lesson to think carefully before rubbing cooking oil over your body and maybe think for a second before blindly following your teacher’s advice. Additionally while frantically trying to make my body not smell like sesame chicken at least I had the silver lining that my most ridiculous moments make the best stories. 

Eat, Pray, Love (Minus the Really Fun Parts)

I might get ridiculed for this, but Eat, Pray, Love is one of my favorite books. To me, the eat and love parts certainly sounded amazing and were probably the most fun to read, but the pray part appealed to my constant search for self-improvement. The pray section also seemed the farthest from my reach unless I was going to plan a trip to an ashram in India. This past weekend I realized I found my own type of ashram right in Boston.

During my small life crisis during the TB diagnosis and treatment plan I decided that I needed to do something positive with this time. I felt sad like I was missing out on youthful activities of going out drinking or drinking during the first spring days, but someone pointed out to me that devoting full weekends and investing in a yoga training is also something you can only do during your youth. I had been intrigued by the signs and emails I get about teacher training at the yoga studio I go to, but it was only over time that I actually started to consider the possibility of signing up. I wanted to become more into yoga and I like teaching therein maybe teacher training was something I should do. However, I did have some serious questions about if I was even good enough at yoga or loved it enough to want to commit myself in this way.

 After debating it with several people I decided to invest and commit. For 8 weekends spread out across the next four months I will be doing yoga classes twice a week and in training from 7:30am-9:00pm on Saturdays and 7:30am-5:30pm on Sundays. Obviously this is only an activity I could do when I am not drinking or going out frequently.  

 I just completed my first weekend of teacher training and I am totally obsessed. We were told in gentle yogi terms that “what happens in teacher training stays in teacher training,” so I will do my best to just write about my experience so that I am not yogi shunned.

I n the first weekend I realized there are two parts of this teacher training that relate to other things I already know I love.

 1) Being a student

2) Connecting with people in an intensive experience

 I think being a student is the most fun job in the world and I seek to be a student in many other aspects of my life. I am always the nerd taking notes at any type of meeting simply because I really enjoy the process of taking notes. I give myself homework assignments and print out and highlight my reading even if it is just for my own knowledge. I am applying this attitude to my yoga teacher training and I feel like I get to be a different kind of student than ever before. We have a binder full of information and we take notes during the training sessions – obviously my notes are meticulous. An amazing part (for a nerd like me) is that we even get really fun homework that involves reading about yoga and journaling!

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Doing my homework at my desk

 Since I was an awkward nervous teenager I have enjoyed situations that involve extreme group bonding. Despite my extreme clumsiness (still got it), nerves, and general lack of athleticism I did two “outward bound type” summer trips. Even if I would not sleep for the entire month before, once I arrived I loved the experience of finding buddies to connect with. I think in these types of situations where you are in an entirely unique group experience you can form some of the best friendships. Although yoga teacher training is not exactly the same as backpacking in the mountains in Costa Rica I think the idea of engaging in an extreme physical challenge of doing hours of yoga and the vulnerability of admitting your flaws and discussing the spiritual side of yoga, will bring the group together and will lead to me finding some new “besties.”

 Finally, I love the content of what we are learning. The training is not just about how to do the poses right or teach them to people, but it is also about meditation, breathing, mindfulness, and adopting a healthier lifestyle. My excitement about transforming my lifestyle has been quite intense. I half-jokingly told my Mom I was going to get a Sanskrit tattoo. I see in this training the amazing opportunity to get to grow and be one of those crunchy yoga people. If I am the type of person who does yoga teacher training then can’t I be the type of person that believes in alternative healing, mindfulness, wears funky jewelry, and plans a trip to India?

 Some people might suggest I take this transformation one step at a time, which sounds a lot more rational than my desire to completely transform. So continue to follow my journey and see if I can pull off this blend of personalities – yogi, fashion/junky tv/trashy magazine lover, academic, giggler, anxious over-thinker – into one smoothie of a person (lately I have been on a juice kick). I think my blog title aptly fits this journey and hopefully I can incorporate a little more grace and a little less mindless klutz. 

Talking to Strangers

One day this past month I woke up and realized I have become someone who talks to strangers. I am not sure how or when this happened, but I must admit I am shocked.

Perhaps spending my college years in the Midwest has had a delayed effect on me. Maybe it is something about not living in the New York area and having lived in the same community of Boston for almost three years. Either way I am surprised to share that I really actually enjoy these chats.

Instead of pretending I don’t notice when I see someone in the gym at work and then am going to the same floor in the elevator I strike up a conversation with this woman. Soon we are new friends and I am being asked to stop by this staff member’s office to say hello. Or while waiting in a shop for the salesperson to ring me up I am chatting about what a beautiful day it is and how I had to talk a break from work to go for a walk.

Who is this person? I remember being shocked during my time at college in Wisconsin when you would be browsing in a store and the salesperson would simply want to chat with you. They were not doing it so you would buy something or because they were crazy (East Coast mindset), but they actually wanted to hear what you had to say.

I think there is real pleasure to be gained from just connecting with another person. However, small or pointless the conversation, we all deep down want to be acknowledged. No matter who we are we all can recognize certain shared emotions and experiences like waiting in a long line together, enjoying a beautiful day, or being lost trying to find an office in a large building.

Community has been something I have noticed a lot lately and seems like something so underrated we barely think about it. I so treasure the neighborhood I live in because it is such a community. One day last week became my neighborhood day and I made a point to notice this community I was a part of.

In the morning, I took my laundry to the Laundromat with the slightly crazy worker (lets call him Vince) who will chat your ear off. He knows every regular and their wife, husband, kids, or dogs. He will tell you about his life experience and you cannot leave even if your laundry is done. Shaun finds my relationship with Vince humorous because in addition to being slightly crazy he is also sexist. I decided there is absolutely no point explaining to him that this attitude he learned where he grew up (abroad) is sexist, yet I will not give into his sexist assumptions about me cooking dinner or doing the laundry. I try to politely make a stern comment with a smile, but he just doesn’t seem to notice. Even though there are days I will go to the farther Laundromat that does not have anyone working to avoid being trapped into a conversation I still realize Vince makes up our community. On snowy days, cold days, or warm sunny days you can frequently find him standing in front of the Laundromat greeting people on their way to work.

On this same day I noticed neighbors talking on the street. I have two favorite dogs that live in my neighborhood that I have noticed after living here for three years and am always keeping an eye out for them on the street. One used to live in the apartment across from us and I swear he recognizes me when we are on the same block.

While waiting for my laundry I stopped in a coffee shop for a tea and to read my newspaper. This activity that felt quant and appropriate on a simple neighborhood weekday morning. A rabbi and and a lawyer were sitting there (no this is not the start of a joke) and the person working at the counter asked where the rabbi had been because she hadn’t seen him in awhile. They were talking about what all good local Boston rabbis and lawyers chat about – Whitey Bulger. They seemed to be two individuals who just frequented this coffee shop at the same time and were keeping tabs on each other’s work.

How nice to know that if you veered from your normal morning routine someone would notice and miss you. When I studied abroad in Buenos Aires I went to the same “kiosko” everyday for water and snacks. The owner and I never really spoke – mainly because small talk is much harder in a different language and I was an insecure twenty year old – but I wondered if the man working there ever thought about what happened to me when I never showed up again.

My reputation for being someone who could “talk to anyone” and immediately become friends preceded me actually recognizing that this was a part of my personality. Can our personalities really change this much? I imagine if you asked each member of my family whether I would like to talk to strangers 99% would say I would be more likely to give a reflex eye roll than partake in random small talk. I didn’t think I was someone who really enjoyed people and when I lived in NYC would often groan about “hating everyone.”

Some of my favorite people in the world are Midwesterners who are just so truly loving and kind in their ability to see each individual as someone they could chat with or maybe become friends with. I guess I thought I liked this so much previously because it seemed so different than who I was. Instead I must have always had an appreciation for their ability to connect with others.

I would suggest that everyone, even people who would claim they do not like people  embrace this sense of community (warning label for those people living in New York City where you will look like a lunatic for making small talk with some person in a rush).  I am sure there are studies on how we need community, etc. which I never would have taken seriously until I realized that being a part of a community and connecting with people has actually brought me joy. These little sources of happiness are so important in a long winter when I imagine three quarters of the people living here are struggling with depression.

In my job we frequently hold events with lots of random people from the community. I was trying to explain to the ten interns I supervise about the importance of talking to strangers and how it is a wonderful skill to have in their careers. One of them laughed and pointed out that I had just erased the most frequent advice one receives as a child to not talk to strangers. While I would like to stick with the concept of never accepting candy from strangers, perhaps it is time we all unlearned this childhood advice.