Friday, April 15, 2011

Food for thought

I rarely buy magazines these days (because the magazines that come with the weekend papers generally satisfy my need for them), but last month I must have bought about four, which I think is an indication of how unsettled I was feeling. When I am low, when my concentration is poor and I get to the bottom of the page of a book without having absorbed any of the words, I go to magazines for comfort. I know I shouldn't feel guilty about it, but I do. Mostly because I don't like the overload of advertising and how damaging magazines are to body image, and how 3/4 of the content is encouraging mindless consumerism.
When I was in the "big city", after a day-long panic attack (brought on by the big city) that manifested in strong chest pains, I bought the American Elle

It weighed a ton. When I got home, I tore out all the advertising pages, which reduced it to about half its weight (I didn't tear out any pages that had advertising on only one side, so a lot of the remainder is still ads):

Culling the ads made it so much easier to go through it (annoyingly, articles are often interrupted by pages and pages of ads and you have to look for the rest of the piece).  
Rant over. All this to say that I was pleasantly surprised. This issue contained several well-written, thought-provoking articles, among them the following (click on the links to read them online):

"The Rebirth" by Louisa Kamps is about dressing the way you want, regardless of the local standards of fashion, and not feeling bad about it. When she moved from New York to a low-key university town, the author suddenly felt awkward and overexposed when she dressed fancicully, thinking she would "fit in better in clothes that implied through their lack of adornment that I am a modest, hardworking person of substance -undistracted by spangley things that don't matter a whit". But that phase didn't last long and she soon felt herself drawn again to the place where "I [...] dress to make myself feel fine and brighten for others an often-bleak world stage [...] [W]earing clothes that speak a message of humor, strength, respect, or glamour is the act of love -of self and others- I never want to abandon again".
I love dressing in clothes that make me feel good, and an outfit can influence my mood for the day. It makes me happy when I see people who have made an effort; it adds beauty to the world amid the grey sea of tracksuit bottoms, sweaters and jeans. I sometimes have a problem with the vanity and consumerism aspects of it all, but I think it is about balance. I don't buy tons of clothes every season, I buy second-hand a lot, and I try and buy quality that will last.

Another great article was "Anger Management" by Rachael Combe, which seemed to explain the panic attack I had just experienced. I am very sensitive to other people's energy (in a test for The Hypersensitive Person, I ticked all the boxes... It can make life difficult). The author was prone to anxiety and getting into a rage and was told she needed to learn to block people's energy. One thing that helped her was to move to the seaside (from New York). I have never lived in a huge city, but moving from the centre of town to where I am now has definitely helped with my anxiety levels. Combe's research led her to Srinivasan S. Pillay, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who writes that continual activation of the amygdala -an ancient part of our brain that registers fear and is reactive, picking up the panic of others- can lead to stress, anxiety and fatigue. Combe was shocked by the noise and crowding in New York when she first moved there, but thought she had adapted. However, her amygdala might have continued reacting to her environment. She visited an energy healer, and, though sceptical at first, she concludes that the healer's approach and that of Pillay weren't that different. Apparently we have mirror neurons in our brain that are the basis of empathy, reflecting other people's emotions. Whether the healer was working with her spirit guides or it was a case of the mirror neutrons responding to the healer's warm presence, it worked. Combe needed to learn to distinguish between "what's ours and what's not ours" when we absorb all the energy around us.

Finally, there was a piece about Joyce Carol Oates and her new memoir, A Widow's Story. I'd already read a few reviews of it and it is on my to-read list. A few years ago I attended a reading she gave here; her voice is mesmerising. This article goes into the implications of Oates's assertion that art isn't that important compared to life. She writes about the day-to-day life with her husband: "The happiness of  a domestic life, without which the small - even colossal - triumphs of a 'career' are shallow, mocking". While a lot of male writers see art as superior to life and compensatory for the disappointments of life, she regards this as futile: "...most women would say human relations are more important than one's work". I often think about the relationship between life and art, so I'm curious to read more about what she has to say.

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