Can you love yourself too much? Ask Narcissus.

"Be Your Own Goddess art bus (1967 VW Kombi) IMG 0136" by User Montrose Patriot on en.wikipedia -

Be Your Own Goddess art bus (1967 VW Kombi) “IMG 0136″ by User Montrose Patriot on en.wikipedia –                     (photo suggests that narcissism is not new to present-day  culture)

Remember Narcissus? In Greek mythology, he fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water, and died when he found he couldn’t grasp it.

In the course of looking for trends in naming children (my last blog), I came upon the book “The Narcissism Epidemic, Living in the Age of Entitlement.”  Contemporary narcissists, according to the psychologist authors, are everywhere, from the operating rooms of plastic surgeons, to birthday parties that involve chauffeuring seven-year-olds to spa makeovers.

In case you were wondering, you can now hire fake paparazzi to follow you around and take your picture.

Below are some of the reasons the authors argue that our culture is becoming “all-about-me,” and less about community.

*More and more women  — and men — are undergoing cosmetic surgeries so they can “look better than others or look younger…The number of plastic surgeons has tripled since the mid-1970’s while the number of physicians has doubled.” Apparently you need Botox treatments before you can upload your image to and have it rated by strangers.

*Many more opportunities exist for personalized products, such as tee shirts emblazoned with your own photo, Elmo CD’s in which Elmo sings your name, and M&M’s with your photo and name printed on each candy. Yesterday I saw bottles of Coke in the grocery store labeled with different first names.

*Personal You Tube videos are ubiquitous, many produced with the hopes of achieving fame. Example: By 2007, “264,244 people had viewed a video of someone singing the phone book”…and by 2008, “210,353 had watched a video with the…title, ‘My Love Secrets to Seduce Me.'”

Based on survey responses, college age students seem to understand that they are narcissistic and believe this is important for their future success. However, the authors shared studies of students and employers, which showed that school achievement and work success normally belong to those who focus on others as much as they do on themselves. Lawyers specializing in divorce work should spend time with narcissists, since the latter rarely keep up long-term relationships.

What’s the antidote to a culture obsessed with fame and wealth? The writers have much advice for parents, teachers, TV programmers and advertisers, too much to repeat here.  They also reported on one group of researchers that identified “humility, self-compassion, and mindfulness” as ways to combat the “noisy ego,” (another way to describe narcissism), but warned that many would brush these off as old-fashioned.

For those of us who are more observers of this culture than participants, we can always change the mantra of the sixties — “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out” — to Turn off (the TV), Tune in (to others) and Drop in (to our communities and the life taking place around us).

Regrettably, narcissism isn’t only a quality of youth. The older I get the more I think I’d like a chin lift, nose job and tummy tuck.




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“What’s in a Name?”

My full name in four kinds of Persian and Arabic script

My full name in four kinds of Persian and Arabic script

“What’s in a name?” asked Shakespeare’s Romeo.

What prompted my research into this question was a story I heard from a Buddhist minister. When he became ordained, the first Buddhist name he chose combined two Japanese words, one meaning the teachings of the Buddha and the other the sea. It was a name he hoped would inspire him in his work. What a surprise when he shared the name with his wife and she burst out laughing. In her native Samoan tongue one of the Japanese words meant sewage. He chose a different name.

But what about the rest of us who were given our names? If you were picking a name for yourself today, would you keep the one you have or would you change it?

Names come with all kinds of expectations, good and bad.

Historically, certain names have been considered desirable in our culture and other names undesirable. For many years, parents stuck to traditional names. William, for example, was in the top ten in 1890, 1940 and 2007.  Elizabeth also lasted through these hundred plus years. Which is not to say that there aren’t still traditionalists among us. In 2012, only 27% of parents chose a name not found in the top 1,000 for that year.

In the last ten years the most popular names list has already changed. Only Emma, a top girls’ name in 2004 made it to the 2014 list.  For boys, Aiden remained constant.

These days, unusual names are in vogue. Fruits, vegetables, flowers and seasons are big with the Hollywood set: Apple, Fuchsia, and Poppy Honey. Then there are Blue, Pax, Peaches Honeyblossom, Bear Blaze and Summer.

In a class of its own is Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles Conley. He says he like his name. Whatever the length or popularity of our name, there’s a link between liking or disliking it and our self-esteem.

Children of wealthy parents who have unusual names are better able to escape name-related problems than poorer children.

Kids with names associated with parents’ low-socioeconomic status… “do worse in school and are less likely to be recommended for gifted [classes] and more likely to be classified as learning disabled.”

*In a poll of teachers from the United Kingdom, “More than one-in-three of the teachers surveyed “expect” children with certain names to cause more trouble than others.”

Another case of name discrimination occurred when a group of employers was given a collection of resumes with names sounding like they belonged to Caucasians and those that sounded like the job applicant was African American. Those in the former group had a 50% higher callback rate than the latter.

After looking at the research, I’m content to have ordinary first and middle names. I’m especially glad I wasn’t named after a fruit, flower, vegetable or season. Too risky to chance getting labeled Pineapple, Bleeding Heart, Radish or Fall.


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What does the internet say about you?

It turns out you don’t need to take a nude photo and post it on Facebook to earn a bad reputation.  You just need a presence on the internet.

I discovered this when I was looking for the phone number of an acquaintance, couldn’t find it in my local phone directory, and went on-line to continue the search.

Just because a search engine leads you to an innocent sounding link, such as “Click here. Have we got a ton of phone numbers for you,” doesn’t mean you’ll find what you’re seeking. The first clue that you’re going to waste a lot of time, and have to pay for the effort is, “Your search is 100% confidential. This person will never know what you’re up to.”

On my first try I reached a site that assured me I would find a phone number, but failed to mention that I would also be privileged to have access to the acquaintance’s marriage and/or divorce records, arrest records, traffic offenses, felonies within the county, state and country, and the same information about the rest of her family. All this for only a ten-minute wait followed by a request for $9.98.

On another site I found her address, the square footage and condition of her home, but no phone number.

Now I look back fondly to the days when my husband complained every time a phone book the size of a bus landed on our doorstep.  “They ought to put this information on-line,” he said.  Now that they have, I long for one of those hefty tomes of yesteryear.

Finally, I scrapped the phone number search, because I was curious as to what the internet said about me. Here’s what I learned from one site: I’m in my forties, have two arrest records, and once worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  All this was news to me. (read about the time Facebook told me I was at Bill Gates’ home.) I alerted my husband to come witness our miraculous return to near youth.  This time the site aged me by two decades and left him in his forties.

I also found five pages of my quotes in a random selection of newspaper and TV pieces from my years as a school district spokeswoman, and ages old insulting reader comments in response.

At this point, I can’t see any reason not to publish nude photos on Facebook.



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Collective memories and avoiding regrets

Psychologists say it’s important to stay connected to friends as we age. Recently, I figured out a good reason why.

kristi et al

Me with friends I made starting in kindergarten

I reconnected with friends I knew starting in kindergarten. We spent three days at a cabin in the woods reminiscing about our collective pasts. Often, to our dismay, each of us told entirely different stories about the same events.

When we separated, I continued to think about past experiences. Like streaming video, much of my life played back to me, experiences I’d filed away and left stored in my mental file cabinet, too busy to think about. When I realized how many opportunities had been given to me, I felt overwhelmed and then joyful. My life to this point hadn’t been nearly as dull as I’d thought.

This takes me to a topic that people think about at the end of their lives, namely, their regrets. None of us wants to leave this earth lamenting our lives. But is it possible we’re missing many details when we reflect on our pasts while we’re alone? Do we need to pull a group of friends together to help us remember?

The most well-known report on the things people regret near the end of their lives comes from a book by an Australian nurse named Bronnie Ware, who interviewed her patients in hospice care during the last twelve months of their lives. The list of regrets she captured from listening to their stories included making choices based on others’ wishes and not being true to themselves, losing touch with friends, and not giving themselves permission to be happier.

I don’t believe it’s possible to live without any regrets. Part of being human is wishing for what we don’t have. Knowing what most people who came before us wished they had done differently might inspire us to make some changes now, while there’s still time.

Even if we can’t change the past, something we can change now are the stories we tell ourselves about it. And maybe we shouldn’t rely only on our own stories. How much did those in the hospice care study really remember when they told themselves they’d missed out on something important or made terrible mistakes? I suspect that squeezed into their daily routines were many more kindnesses, challenges met, moments of connecting with others, happy times, and personal victories than they had recounted to themselves when they looked back. And maybe those close to them would have told a different story about them if they hadn’t waited until the memorial service to share them.



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“Fireworks in your brain”*

musical noteThis is the first and probably the last time I’ll ever quote Marilyn Manson, but since my topic is music, this one fits right in. “Music is the strongest form of magic.”

I’ve written about the positive effects of listening to music, based on other people’s studies. These include improving mood, reducing stress and enhancing immunity.

I started looking into the topic again, after attending a musical event in February called “Wintergrass,” in which I listened to nineteen bands or soloists playing bluegrass, folk, jazz and country music over the course of four days. An exhilarating experience, though hard on the behind.

Following this, a friend sent a TED-ED Original animated lesson called “How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain.”*

The lesson begins by saying that when people are doing math or reading, certain parts of their brains light up.  But when people listen to music, multiple parts of the brain light up, or, as the narrator says,  “Fireworks go off in their brains.” The activity in the brain gets more vigorous for musicians as they play music, and becomes “the brain equivalent of a full-body workout.” Sounds like magic to me.

Researchers believe that early music training has lasting effects on the adult brain. But if you don’t play an instrument at an early age, is it too late to learn when you’re older and is there a reason to learn?  It may not make a difference in your brain health, but I guarantee it’s fun, especially if you play with others. In the past, a friend who played recorder, one who played the flute, and I — on the piano — got together regularly to play as a trio. Since then my husband and I joined a ukulele band.

I can testify that the ukulele is a relatively easy way to begin. Besides, it’s become the “hot” instrument now. You can play simple songs knowing three chords, more difficult ones with about six. Simply playing songs with the chords will only be entertaining for you.  If you want to share your music with others, you’re going to have to sing. My husband says that the more he studies and plays, the more he appreciates what he’s listening to.

If picking up an instrument sounds like too much work, you can still benefit by becoming a regular listener. That can be magic too.

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Is tourism ruining the planet?

Is tourism ruining the planet?

After a week of vacationing in Honolulu, that is the question that niggles.

What comes to mind when you think of Oahu?  An ocean warm enough to swim in? Tropical vegetation and flowers blooming year round? Surfers? Hula dancers? Ukuleles? Snorkeling? If that’s what you see when you shut your eyes and imagine it, Hawaii is all that and more. Think sandy white beaches, roaring waterfalls, jungles loaded with exotic trees and flowers, and tropical fish lagoons, all leaving you breathless and believing you have landed in paradise.

Then there’s the other face of Oahu:  traffic back-ups, haphazard development, homelessness, deforestation, a desperate push to offer tourists more and more thrills — anyone for swimming with the sharks? — and more stores stuffed within a few blocks selling every kind of luxury DSC01022good.  And speaking of luxury goods, who would travel to a place known for its natural beauty to spend hours in an unnatural setting? Zillions of people, as it turns out. They meander down Kalakaua Avenue, heads barely visible behind arms loaded with bags labeled Coach, Tiffany and Co., Chanel, Yves saint Laurent, and Chanel. A more casual, open-air International Market has been torn down to make room for a multi-story Sak’s 5th Avenue retail store.

Just about every retired American I know is on the move, cruising, flying, biking in all corners of the world. Our travel bucket lists are long. After we check off one city/country we add a new one. Pick one city, any city where tourists flock, and think about the garbage collected from its many hotels, the water needed to wash its sheets and towels, the fuel burning in every plane, taxi, tour bus, boat and rental car to get DSC01031us to this destination and around it.

Yet there are many good reasons to travel. If I hadn’t gone to Paris, I’d still believe the French were rude. If I hadn’t spent time in Mexico studying Spanish and living with Mexican families, I’d never know how kind and generous the Mexican people were. Also, I would have missed out on wonderful career opportunities that came from learning to speak Spanish. I wouldn’t have experienced different climates, customs, and traditions in Europe and Asia. Studying about D-Day in school didn’t have the impact that visiting Normandy Beaches did.

There’s no good way to save the planet from tourism other than staying home, and that means missing out on an abundance of rewarding experiences. It might help if travelers were aware of the giant footprint they were leaving and sought ways to diminish it, from using public transportation, to re-using hotel towels, to moving around on foot. There are no simple answers, but every solution begins with awareness.




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Why procrastinate?

Thinking or procrastinating?

Thinking or procrastinating?

Once a month, seconds after my piano lesson ends, I vow to practice daily before the next lesson. A few days later I realize I have an entire month to prepare.  Why practice now?

Recently, I watched an animated presentation by educators on TED-ED about what happens in your brain when you when you play a musical instrument.  When you play, brain scans have shown that all parts of your brain light up. The conclusion: “playing a musical instrument is like a full-body workout for the brain.”

You’d think that someone whose mother suffered from dementia would take that message to heart and set off the brain’s light shows every day.  But even that isn’t enough to get me to practice regularly, even though I enjoy it. It’s called procrastination. For me, it’s putting other pleasures first.

So why procrastinate? A counselor once told me that procrastination is a habit, which you can break the same way you stop biting your nails or quit smoking. But my procrastination isn’t about stopping a bad habit, it’s about extending a good one.

I found four articles in Daily Good  talking about how we might stop procrastinating. One study showed a link between lack of self-compassion and stress, and argued that procrastination might “increase levels of stress” particularly among people who are less kind to themselves. If I get any more self-compassionate, I’ll also be cutting out exercise and eating more chocolate.

Another psychologist says I’m not alone.  At least twenty percent of us are chronic procrastinators and the other eighty percent only procrastinate sometimes. Somehow that doesn’t help.

Among the articles was a piece on comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s strategies to end procrastination. He told a wannabe comedian to write jokes every day, to get a wall calendar that had a whole year on a page, and write an X over each day he wrote jokes. He predicted that soon the comedian would see a growing chain of X’s and he’d feel good seeing that chain.  It wasn’t about the quality of the jokes, but not “breaking the chain.” Not product, but persistence.

I’m not a wannabe professional pianist, but I do like the idea of seeing a string of X’s across a page. Maybe one color for practicing the piano and another for exercising.

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