In So Many Words: Spirituality, Faith, and the Brain

Hello all,

At the conclusion of a challenging period of finals and final projects, I thought I’d tackle a challenging blog topic: spirituality, faith, and the brain. As an openly Christian scientist, I am often asked (to put it nicely) about my faith. As such, I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about and defending my faith to others, while hashing out my testimony along the way. The beautiful thing about such discussions is that I get to learn along the way, whether or not I manage to change the other person’s mind.

Usually, such conversations begin with the idea that there is a difference between spirituality and faith to a god (any god), but the end result is the same, thereby eliminating the need for a god at all. Truthfully, for a long time, I felt spirituality, but not necessarily faith, as a connection with nature. Walking in the woods alone, observing the textured trees, feeling the crunch of leaves beneath my feet, I’d feel most at peace. My “spirituality” was defined by its fleeting appearances, always in the presence of nature and away from other people. Even now, though I’ve shifted to “faith,” I love to watch the sunrise, swift or slow, and I do so nearly every morning. The shift from starry night to pale morning, with a vibrant dawn between, never fails to inspire my awe and admiration. The common factors between my former spirituality and my current faith are feelings of solace and connectedness, while the differences are intentionality and constancy. Faith, to me, requires discipline because it is constant, while spirituality was purely organic, occurring on a whim. In my experience, the latter will always be the lesser because it never sticks around.

The second point is often that such feelings have been proven to be created by chemical signals in the body, and therefore, do not represent a connection with God. I cannot argue with the data. Many studies have been conducted, and found that feelings of solace, peace, or communication “with a greater being” are strongly correlated with time spent in prayer and meditation. According to Andrew Newburg, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania, “untold hours of prayer and meditation may rewrite neural connections in the brain – and how you see the world.”In the science, Newburg hasn’t proved an actual connection between God and these feelings, but, at the very least, he has shown that the more you focus on something, the more that thing becomes your reality. Another neuroscientist, Dr. Richard Davidson, has done similar corroborating work suggesting the benefit of meditation and meditative prayer to the body (including an increase in antibody production for those who meditate or pray on a daily basis).

Interestingly, these two bodies of work, and many others, suggest that disciplined practice of prayer or meditation induce physiological responses that increase health, both physical and mental. Given the suggestion that chemistry drives feelings associated with faith, this may seem to overturn the idea that we’re connecting with a higher being. However, I think this data asks another very interesting question: What if we are, indeed, wired to develop a relationship with God?

And with that, I’ll leave the subject to pick up at another time. Hope you all are having a great Wednesday, and thanks for reading!

In So Many Words: An Open Love Letter To College Students

Hello all,

I’ve been sitting in Anschutz Library at KU for several hours today, and in this time, have seen a variety of breakdowns, unintentional sleeping, and general frustration. Welcome to Finals Week. Given this atmosphere, I think it’s time for an open love letter to college students:

This is my 11th finals week as a college student (my 19th, if you count high school). Still, like you, my books are piled up in a stack beside me. I have, indeed, nodded off to the glow of my computer screen lately (most recently, on the couch with a cup of coffee precariously perched on my leg). I have also woken up with red, black, and green stripes of pen on my face, not from falling asleep with my shoes on (and the drawing, which often follows), but from an all-nighter of carefully memorizing lines of poetry, or mineral formulas, or the history of Iran (depending on the semester).

I have spent (and am spending) those mind-rattling moments working through material, learning to make connections, simply trying to pass or maintain my GPA. Right now,  I know that some of you are halfway through, knee-deep in the mud of paper writing, stammering your final speech in the mirror, or muddling through the difference between Nosotros and Vosotros. Others may be stocking up on caffeine fixes before the furious storm of finals and papers that will have you crawling into the light of the morning. Resist the urge to turn your study guide into a waving white flag of surrender.

You’ll make it. I know it.

I can promise that finals week ends, and that the long awaited break is a wonderful reprieve. Perhaps this love letter won’t get you through, but the grace you’ll gain from the sound of the last book shutting or the sound of the last pages shuffling out from the printer and into your professor’s mailbox might do the trick.

In the meantime, as you struggle to swallow 800 slides of material for that exam on Monday, remember to breathe, deeply if necessary. To eat, to shower, to sleep (curled up on the couch in your current academic building, if that’s the only option). Listen to Taylor Swift, or Walk the Moon (or whatever your jam is), while you pound sugar-filled drinks and random junk food, which you totally deserve. String up festive lights in your office or dorm room, or simply stand up and stretch, nudge the person beside you, propose a coffee break, and treat them. And when 1am comes too quickly, take 2am trips to Taco Bell with your friends. These are the golden moments of finals week, when everyone is laughing because you’re all so tired, and also because you enjoy each other’s company.

In short, definitely study hard, but always remember: It’s only a book, a test, a paper. That’s it. And you know what? Everyone who has been there before, we’re all pulling for you.

 

.

In So Many Words: Science and Creativity

Hello all,

Traditionally, creativity is considered to be restricted to artistic pursuits (painting, sculpting, photography, and the like). Yet, in the midst of the #100daycreativechallenge, I find myself reflecting on the nature of my scientific work, and the creative challenges such work imposes.

When I think of other professions,  lawyers, doctors, or teachers, for example, I see professionals who dedicate their lives to the details and facts of their work (a difficult task in its own right). For example, lawyers memorize the convoluted processes and application of laws, on the various levels at which they can be applied. Doctors, similarly, study the latest knowledge on the human body and how to cure or treat various ailments. Teachers are experts in the subjects and age groups they teach.

Scientists…well, we take a somewhat different approach. We don’t concentrate on what we know, which can be considerable, because it is  ultimately, and frustratingly, only a tiny slice of what we could know. Instead, we focus on the spot where facts end and the rabbit hole of unknowing begins. Our job, as a whole, is to look beyond the facts to the ignorance they highlight, and selectively choose questions to “fill in the gaps,” of knowledge.

Often, my initial questions involve how to re-establish a natural system or how to measure specific processes in existing systems. Along the road of answering those questions, other questions appear, such as “how do you make super glue?” and “is it possible to solder on a train?” (yes, these actually happened). Often, I laughingly say that “field work never goes according to plan,” and this holds true for science in general. Adaptation is the name of the game because scientists never know how things will turn out (in fact, “knowing” the result is the surest way to screw up). Therefore, every time a new device is designed, or an experiment begins, the scientist is taking a risk because of the inherent uncertainty of the scientific process. What if it doesn’t work? What does it mean if it doesn’t work? Are my ideas not strong enough? Am I completely wrong?

Art and science are very much alike in this way. Both are adaptive, risk-taking ventures, involving translation of the world. Both also operate in the unknown, and therefore, require a significant amount of creativity to be done well. The defining characteristics of scientists include: having faith in uncertainty, finding pleasure in mystery, and learning to cultivate doubt. While this might seem a bit daunting as a profession, mucking about in the unknown, with the freedom to creatively solve problems, is an adventure; doing it for a living is something most scientists consider a privilege.

And with that, I challenge you all to ponder (and would love to hear from you, also): how does creativity play a role in your work?

In So Many Words: Blood is Thicker Than Water

Hello all,

As many of you know, I love idiomatic phrases, puns, and all kinds of word play. Occasionally though, I come across a phrase that strikes me as odd. Most recently, the phrase “blood is thicker than water,” fell into that category, so obviously, I had to check it out.

I started with the interpretation I learned as a child, which was that the proverb conveys the superior strength of familial bonds (the blood) over the bonds of friendship (the water). In practice, this means that one should value and stand by family over everything else when making decisions or picking sides in a disagreement.

The idea that family is blood makes total sense to me. There are numerous examples of family bonds being referred to as “blood ties” or “kinship blood.” But…if family is blood, then why are friends water? As a former literature major, I’ve written a lot of papers about water as a symbol for purification,  washing away guilt or sin, the origin of life, or birth/regeneration, but never as a symbol of friendship. As a PhD student who studies the behavior of water, I’m at an even bigger loss for a tie from water to friendship. Is it presumed that all people only meet their friends at the bathhouse or the pool?

Aside from the disconnect in imagery, the idea of “family over all”  has always seemed a little bit rotten to me. To explain: The idea isn’t so bad if you’re born into a reasonable, loving, intentional family. However, if you’re born into the opposite kind of family, remaining by their side can be devastating to your life and health. In the latter case, this phrase seems to perpetuate the negative results of living in an unhealthy family environment by encouraging you to stay in that cycle, regardless of what madness may ensue, and that could never end well.

With those two ideas in mind, I decided to take on a little research project to find the proverb’s origin, and found that “blood is thicker than water,” is actually a shortened version of “blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” (Jack, Pustelniak, Radic). And so, it would seem that the conventional “meaning” of the idiom is actually 180 degrees away from the original meaning: covenant ties are stronger than family ties.

When you consider that this proverb was coined before the time of Christ, when nations were constantly warring and alliances were made in blood pacts, or covenants, this prioritization makes total sense. For the leaders of the past, the “blood of the covenant,” was only breakable by death, while the “water of the womb,” (presumably, amniotic fluid, as shared by siblings or family, was far easier to break because it did not have death attached to an agreement. Therefore, the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb. While etymology is never ironclad, this explanation makes a lot more sense to me, and is certainly food for thought 🙂

And with that, I’m off for the day. Hope you all have a great week!

 

In So Many Words: Fear, Love, and France

Hello all,

In the midst of worldwide violence, brutal attacks, and senseless killing, fear is growing. Paris was attacked yesterday, Beirut was bombed two days ago, and Baghdad suffered severe attacks last week. These are only the most recent of a long list of other cities, countries and ultimately, people who have suffered at the hands of ISIS-based (and other extremist) attacks.

Undeniably, such attacks are terrifying and traumatizing. Yet, while they’ve resulted in the deaths of many innocent people (and the physical/psychological damage of many more), murdering innocents was not the primary goal. If we’re honest, there are more effective (and likely, easier) ways to achieve that end. Given that, the primary goal of these attacks was likely to incite a particular kind of fear, one that is divisively designed to make us forget that other people run from the same things we do.

With that in mind, I turn to the news coverage I watched this morning, which bluntly blamed the Syrian refugees for the Paris attacks. If, for a moment, all political affiliations were set aside, I think we’d find that such an assertion doesn’t make practical sense. Consider that Syrian refugees are running from the very same waking nightmare Parisians experienced yesterday, a nightmare that many of us (myself, included) cannot fully fathom. They are not terrorists. They are not the fanatics walking around with bombs strapped to their chests, wielding military grade automatics in the direction of restaurants and theaters. They are mothers, fathers, children, and grandparents. They are people who have fled their homes, which is no small thing.  No one leaves home unless/home is the mouth of a shark/you only run for the border/when you see the whole city running as well/…/you have to understand,/that no one puts their children in a boat/unless the water is safer than the land. The last lines come from Wasan Shire, and to me, they ring true.

Now, I am not a refugee, I am not a Parisian, I haven’t ever been to Beirut or Baghdad, but I am a human and I understand how it feels when home and safety are shaken. I was a third-grader on 9/11/01. The first plane hit when I was in math class with Mrs. Shanks, and the first tower fell as I watched over another teacher’s shoulder during library time. At the time, I had just started reading The Fellowship of the Ring and a few days later would come across the iconic Tolkien quote: The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater. For me, that quote has always described 9/11: the intense grief, the unsettling anxiety, and the graceful way the world reacted to such jarring violence as viewed from across an ocean. I recall that many countries, and people all around the world, stood with the United States as we mourned and began picking up the pieces. They acknowledged our wounds, and in some ways, helped us to heal them. This reaction of active acknowledgement and collaboration in the face of a disaster,  shows that we are so much better together.

In times such as these, we are given a great opportunity to show that our humanity is greater than our hate, and that love can triumph. I hope that, as our communities and nations, stand with France, Lebanon, Iraq, (and countless others), we would to prove that compassion overcomes hate, that we would choose love over fear. And in so doing, we could help to prove Tolkien right once again.

In So Many Words: An Argument for Grief

Hello all,

Wow, this month has been a whirlwind! You’ve heard from me about Spain, and the reason for traveling. Now, after doing some soul-searching, I thought I’d devote today’s post to a tough, but prevalent topic: loss and grieving.

As I’m sure is the case with most of you, I’ve witnessed or been a party to many moments of loss in my life. Most often, I feel the loss of ideas, the loss of opportunities, the loss of pens (ok, that last one was a joke…unless it’s my favorite pen). These are the everyday kinds of loss. Then, there are the not-so-everyday kinds of loss, those that are deeper and more wounding. The most recent example of that in my life, and the one that ultimately prompted this post, was a call I received in the wee hours of the morning informing me that there had been a suicide on campus. I was informed of this because of my role as an advisor to a group of KU students, and had no personal connection. However, my students grieved and I grieved with them.

A few years ago, I would have discounted grieving as unnecessary and suggested simply “moving on.” Now, I’d like to make the opposite argument, grieving is necessary because it allows growth after a loss, which is (in my opinion) a better definition of “moving on.” Let me explain:

During difficult seasons, I often hear the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.” That platitude has been said to me, and I, in turn, have uttered it to others. While, no doubt, the phrase was coined as a reassuring bit of wisdom, I’d argue that the sentiment is actually nothing less than emotional, spiritual, and psychological violence. It implies that our losses must happen in order for us to grow, for our gifts to develop, and for our lives to be whole and fulfilling. If you are a person of faith, it might imply to you that God ordains some people for life, and others for death by a seemingly random process of elimination. Notwithstanding the objections I have to that last statement, there’s another fundamental conflict to that logic: while the devastation of loss can lead to growth, more often the devastation only leads to more devastation. So, if loss equals growth, then why aren’t we growing?

We don’t inherently grow from loss because loss (in a vacuum) does not make someone a better person. Using myself as an example, it has, at times, made me a worse person by creating hardness, insularity, and cynicism in me, instead of growth. For me, the difference comes down to how I grieve.

Grieving losses becomes tricky when we try to “fix” the “unfixable” (the loss of a child or a close confidante, for example). Having suffered losses of this nature, I’ve come to know that such losses can only be carried, and having grown from those, I’ve learned that the philosophy really applies to all losses, big or small. The good news about grieving is you get to choose how to carry the loss, and that some ways lead to growth and an increased capacity to deal with this broken world in the aftermath (also known as wisdom). This is why the phrase “Everything happens for a reason,” and those like it, are so dangerous: they deny the right to grieve precisely at the intersection of greatest fragility and despair. Grieving, and ultimately healing, can’t happen if we’re surrounded by platitudes and “fixes” instead of people.

So, how do we grieve and stand by those who are grieving? Truthfully, I can’t say I know the whole story. Grieving is deeply personal, and therefore, different for everyone. However, I do know that those who chose to stand with me, to suffer with me, to listen to me, to do everything but “fixing” something are the ones who made the deepest impact on my seasons of grief. Personal strength aside, every grieving person on Earth needs these people to stand with them. Everyone who has suffered a loss (so, everyone) can be one of these people. Therefore, I urge everyone to be that person if needed, and when you are in need of such a person, find them. I guarantee they are there.

In So Many Words: A History of Wedding Rings

Hello all,

This weekend, I traveled up to Howe, Indiana to celebrate the marriage of a wonderful couple, Taylor and Nik. Their wedding is the first of a busy season of weddings. Given the upcoming schedule, I have been thinking about the Western world’s wedding traditions, and in particular, our tradition of ring-giving.

So, where did this tradition originate?

Some historians point to 3000 year old Egyptian rings, made of sedges, rushes, and reeds, as the first examples of wedding rings. In this case, the circle is considered to be a symbol of eternity, while the hole in the center is considered to be a gateway (leading to things known and unknown). The ancient Romans adopted a similar tradition, with rings that were attached to keys, signifying the husband’s ownership of his wife.The earliest recorded ring-giving in the Anglo-Saxon tradition occurred at or before 1000 AD (this is the age of the oldest surviving manuscript). In this instance, “ring-givers” were kings or overlords who awarded rings to their men for valiance in battle, or exceptional loyalty. These rings were made of metal, leather, or ivory, and inset with various gems and other materials. But, these are only a small piece of the history of ring-giving.

Ok, how did we get to the modern tradition? 

Well, following the Egyptian, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon traditions (and others from around the world), many types of rings have been adopted as symbols of status, as well as marriage throughout history. For “wedding rings” (a loose term), the Byzantine tradition was to give the woman a puzzle ring, gimmel and poesy rings were popular in 16th century Europe, and colonial women received thimbles (with the Puritan thought being that jewelry was frivolous).

Puzzle_ring_solved

Puzzle ring solved.

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Puzzle ring unsolved…looks complicated.

poesy

Poesy ring

gimmel

Gimmel ring

Puritan wedding thimble...practical, instead of frivolous.

Puritan wedding thimble…practical instead of frivolous.

In 1477, Archduke Maximillian of Austria commissioned the very first diamond engagement ring on record for his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy.

Mary-of-Burgundy-15th-Century-Engagement-Ring-31

On the left, Mary of Burgundy. On the right, the very first diamond engagement ring.

This sparked a trend for diamond rings among European aristocracy and nobility, but the trend did not become pervasive until after the De Beers company monopolized the diamond industry in the 1870s. The idea of exchanging rings (speaking only for American culture), as opposed to the man giving the woman a ring, didn’t rise into prominence until World War II.

But, this still leaves some unanswered questions…

For example, why are wedding rings worn on the fourth finger?

The accounts vary. Some say that the ancients believed this finger held a special vein directly connected to the heart (as surmised from the name for this vein in Latin, vena amoris or vein of love). Others say that the fourth finger was chosen because it is used about the same amount as the pinky (that is, not very much), and allows for a ring with more available surface area to decorate.

Ok, so then why the left hand?

One thought is as the man, facing his bride, reaches straight out with his right hand he naturally touches her left. Another is that the soft metal (traditionally gold) is less worn or injured on the finger of the left hand (because most people are right-handed).

With that as a conclusion, I hope you all had as much fun learning about the history of rings and ring-giving as I did learning about it! Have a stellar week!

In So Many Words: Why Do We Travel?

Hello all,

This morning, when I woke up to the orange glare of street lights (and absolutely zero hope of coffee), I made a feeble attempt to convince myself that I could safely go back to sleep. In reality, it was 4.15am and I had exactly 30 minutes to get in my car to head to the airport. When I really think about it, I don’t mind flying once I’m in the air (truthfully, I’ll always be fascinated by the physics that get a fat metal bird into the upper troposphere). Yet, even though I travel often, I dread the inevitably early wake-up calls, the late taxis and trains of early morning transit, the rush of running through the airport (only to stand in a long security line), and the inevitable leg-cramping multi-hour excursions. And so, as I drove to the airport, I wondered: Given its stressful nature, why do we travel?

The obvious answers are: to see new places, to gain new experiences, to learn about other cultures. We go because we’re curious, and in some way, we want to broaden our horizons, increase our spheres of influence, or simply, to get away from home for awhile. My travel over the past year has been a mixture of these reasons. Some trips have been work-related, and therefore, non-negotiable, while others have been purely because I was nearby and had a desire to go.

Nyhavn

Nyhavn, in Copenhagen…a culture of ports and sailing.

CityofArtsAndSciences

The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain

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The Washington Monument in Washington D.C.

Rushmore

Mount Rushmore in Keystone, South Dakota

Abbey

Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh, Scotland (built in 1128).

Scotland

Seacliff Beach in North Berwick, with Tantallon Castle in the distance

However, for me, the ultimate reason to travel is the inevitable change of perspective. When problems feel “close” (physically, temporally, or emotionally), I tend contemplate them within a small set of constraints (usually based on where I am at the time). My tendency to do this, I’ve realized, restricts the amount and kind of solutions that I think are possible. While some limits are helpful, I find that the “closer” problems are, the more inhibited my creativity is in solving them. Conversely, moving to different spaces (sometimes just from my office to a local coffee shop) tends to stimulate my creativity, even when working on the same problems within the same day.

To give an example: Imagine a cornfield. If you’re standing in the middle of the field, smelling the fertilizer, surrounded by the tall stalks and fraying husks, your mind will be drawn to the idea that corn is a plant, a farming staple, and a crucial part of the agricultural economy. But, if you physically remove yourself from the field and instead, recall it on a dense city street (I know this is weird…bear with me), your thoughts will likely drift in other directions, say glucose-fructose syrup, ethanol production, and popcorn. Given a change in location, corn goes from a simple noun to a web of remotely connected tangents­­.

Iowa cornfield, in drought

Iowa cornfield, in drought

It would seem that the brain (or, at least, my brain), with near-infinite possibilities of neural tangles, is overwhelmed by possibility, and therefore, spends the most time choosing what to ignore. In this way, creativity is traded for efficiency; we think in literal prose, not symbolist poetry. Distance can loosen those shackles of cognition, highlighting something new in the old by transforming the mundane into the abstract. A great expression of this idea comes from T.S. Eliot in the Four Quartets: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

And so, I return to the question: Why do we travel? Because new spaces provide new challenges, and those challenges present a web of shifting possibilities and perspectives that allow us to grow in ways that we might not be able to achieve otherwise.

Do you have any places that you have yet to see for the first time?

In So Many Words: On Spain

Hello all,

I’m sure many of you have surmised from the title of this post that I am, yet again, off traveling. This time, presentations of my research have taken me to Spain, where I have been since Saturday. From the outset, this trip was daunting because I speak very little Spanish. But, on the positive side, being immersed in the language means that I have learned a ton over the course of only a few days. Luckily, my presentations were in English, which relieved much of the pressure, and reduced my “to learn” vocabulary list substantially.

To begin my trip, I flew from Kansas City to Dallas, and from Dallas to Madrid. My layover in Madrid was long, about 9 hours, and I arrived just before sunrise (which was awesome, but does not hold a candle to the big Kansas sky).

MadridSunrise

In order to get on a new sleep schedule, I decided to hit the city for about 7 of those hours. So, I bought a transportation pass and headed into the city via the metro. Several changes later, I made it to the city center, the royal palace, the cathedral, and many charming squares. I saw an intense bike race (and a few crashes), a brass band, and many beautiful examples of Spanish architecture. Often, I found myself surrounded by nuns (though this is likely because it was Sunday). Before I knew it, my time was up and I needed to head back to the airport for the final leg of my journey.

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Valencia, my final destination, comes and goes in shifts. I’ve been awake and outside in nearly all hours of the day due to transportation, jet lag, and general exploring. In the early morning hours, say 6.30-7am, Valencia is a mixture of just waking up and just getting in. Delivery trucks arrive at the mercado bearing the day’s fresh fruit and vegetables. As the men unload crates, they are passed by grandmothers taking children to school and a handful of teenagers/early twenty-somethings returning to their flats from (undoubtedly) a great night out. As the day progresses, the older professionals come out first, then the young professionals. Then, suddenly, right around 11am, everyone is on the street and the place bustles until after dinner (which is late…9pm or so). After which, the families go to bed, the night life begins, and the streets remain full of people.

If I had to describe the city itself, in one word, I’d choose “colorful.” The closest analog to describe colorful (in my mind) is a crayon box. So, if Valencia were a crayon box, that box would contain pastel greens, oranges, and reds of the buildings, the off-white of the city center facades, the brilliant white of the futuristic Ciudads de las Artes y las Ciencias, the deep blue of the Mediterranean, and the equally deep green of the city canals. It would have startling yellows tinged with deep red, buttercup with orange veins, bright greens, the textured brown of palm tree trunks, the patchy green-brown of sycamore trunks, and the multicolored nature of the fresh produce, seafood, meat, and bread at the local outdoor markets. The liveliness in appearance alone is enough to inspire the idea that the city breathes.

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Every time I come to Europe, I am always struck by the change of pace from helter-skelter, breakneck speed to the more relaxed, almost leisurely, approach to the day. Spain is no exception to this rule. In Valencia (and Madrid), I’ve found a lot of beauty (not everything is beautiful, but many things are). The small pasteleria(s) offer art in the form of food, with tiny marzipan fruit and cakes decorated in small-scale extravagance, flaky pastries filled with rich creams, and of course, caffe con leche and espresso to round out the dessert experience. The wine and olives are fantastic, offering excellent flavor pairings. All are visually appealing as well as tasty, and meant to be enjoyed over the course of several hours among the carved facades and interestingly patterned stones, the sleek modern and old world designs of the buildings. The craftsmanship evident in the buildings is also present in the sidewalks, the door knobs, and the street lamps. Form and function are both emphasized, though it seems as though aesthetic beauty has the dominant position.

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What separates Valencia from the other places I have been, at least surficially, is the appreciation for small detail that the place inspires. It seems more modernist than Madrid, with a flair for less traditional architecture and great street art (for those of you who do not know, I am obsessed).

Street Art 2 Street Art 3 Street Art 4 Street Art 5 Street Art 6 Street Art 7 Street Art 8 Street Art 9 Street Art 10 Street Art

I would assume that being constantly surrounded by such aesthetics would desensitize you to the beauty of your surroundings, but that assumption does not apply to Valencia. As I’ve wandered the city, I’ve seen people genuinely stop to smell the proverbial roses, to gaze at sky, to enjoy a slowly cooked and well-constructed meal. Valencia refuses to be stuck exclusively in past tradition, and also, takes care and time to enjoy tradition, old and new.

Until next time!

In So Many Words: On Kindness

Hello all,

Today, I opened a Coke on my way to class and, in typical Murphy’s Law style, it exploded everywhere. By everywhere, I mean all over me, all over the hallway, all over my notes (which were tucked under my arm…everywhere. As I was cleaning up the coke explosion (cokesplosion?), a girl stopped to ask if I needed help. I told her I was fine, but she stopped anyway and helped me wipe down the floor. As it turns out, she was also on her way to class, and stopping to help me made her a few minutes late. This made her act of kindness stick out even more in my mind and I thought about it all through class.

From time to time, I wonder: what would the world be like if we were all a bit kinder and loving than society dictates we should be? What if, instead of flying off the handle, instead of shoving people away (or out of the way), we embraced them with genuine care? What if we went out of our way to do so? After all, if such a tiny instance of kindness can have such an impact, imagine the power of many tiny instances. Imagine the augmentation of that impact if we all contributed those acts with intention as part of our every day lives.

So, shall we make a new life rule? I’m voting for: Always try to be a little kinder than necessary.