Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A rose by any other name

As I prepared to write my next blog, this one on the powerful effect of various smells on my mood, I happened upon an article on Yahoo! Health that beat me to the punch. The article was 7 tips to get you out of a bad mood (I’m always looking for advice on this one) and number 6 begins: “Research has shown that smell has a definite impact on our bodies and minds. When you stimulate the olfactory nerves inside your nose, you activate the limbic system of your brain, which is associated with moods and memory.” Now, it’s common knowledge (or my knowledge) that smell is the sense most capable of evoking memory. But I decided today that it is also the sense most capable of changing my mood in an instant. Less than an instant. Before I even know what has happened, I’m either full of joy and peace and warmth or I’m fighting anger, despair and frustration. I have several examples of scents that bring me to a good mood and one particular conglomeration that evokes the bad.

Smells of joy:

  • The air during and right after the rain. If you are lucky, this smell even appears before the rain begins. I’ve found that this scent is not the same in every city and it seems to be especially lacking at my new house. There is a sort of dank, moldy smell after the rain here. But in Colorado, this smell (along with most things) is perfect.
  • The smell of baking. It typically doesn’t matter what is baking—crescent rolls, scones, brownies, cookies, pecan pie, any pie really, cake, bread…you get the idea. It just has a way of lifting my mood. It could be a Pavlovian effect; I do love eating the baked goods as much as I enjoy smelling them. But not eating doesn’t take away the power that the smell has over my mood.
  • Flowers. I love flowers. And I especially love the smell of roses. That sweet scent that has so many different nuances depending on the type of rose. Other flowers are pleasing to my olfaction (is that a word?), but none so much as the rose. I love to look at them too, double whammy! (This is a hint for any who would debate the wisdom of buying me flowers)
  • Horses. I know that this is starting to look like the same top five scents that I posted on my 10-second interview, which actually took a lot more of my time than ten seconds. But they are my top five for a reason. I don’t know what it is about horses that smells pleasing to me. I do know that I enjoy the scent of the grain feed (the corn/oat/barley type mixture), and I like the smell of hay, but I also think there is something about the horses themselves that smells like cowboys and long days in the sun and dusty trail rides and hard work and gorgeous sunsets. It’s no wonder that smell could immediately lift my spirits.

I can’t remember my fifth favorite scent right now, but it really isn’t necessary to grasp my point. Each one of these smells has an incredible ability to make me feel right at home. They are comfortable, familiar, all associated with many positive memories. And it may not improve my mood for very long (especially if I’m already in the dumps), but it does cause immediate joy.
On the other hand, and I won’t spend too much time on this because I don’t want to be in a bad mood just thinking about it, I’ve noticed that pretty much every smell at a hospital is enough to keep me depressed and angry for much of the day. I could be excited about getting to leave early, or fulfilled by a fruitful conversation with a patient, or comforted by a friend I wasn’t expecting to see that day, and it’s all wiped off the slate with one whiff of illness/bodily fluids/hospital food/industrial-grade cleaner/etc. It is different every day and so much exactly the same everyday that I feel my mood plummet when I step onto 5200 or 4100 (usually one of these is my first unit of the day and first after lunch). It’s sad, really, how much I let it affect me. But I decided today that it’s not completely my fault. The sense of smell is just that powerful. I shouldn’t be surprised to find that if it can raise my mood so instantaneously, it could also send it spiraling downward.
That’s all the energy and time I’m giving bad smells. Oh, my fifth happy smell was coffee. And it’s ironic that it’s the one I forgot given that I’m drinking some right now. It’s cold after 30 minutes of typing and has lost the invasive aroma. I’m gonna go nuke the last few sips and savor the smell (not quite as potent the second time around, but it will do).
Happy smelling!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Chaos Sequitur Esse

So here is my dilemma:
Two very distinct ideas of how to handle the challenge of spiritual growth were presented to me last summer during the flood that was Totus Tuus. First, Agere Sequitur Esse. Action follows being. The theory behind this clever Latin phrase is that if your soul is being where it needs to be, your body will do what it needs to do. If your heart is truly resting in Christ and your will is truly existing alongside His, then your actions cannot help but bring you closer to God. I have met people that embody this concept, whose entire being is so consumed with perfect love that they cannot act against God. Now, this isn't to say I have met people without sin, but I know that when they are truly being their true self, their actions naturally follow. I follow this theory up with a more crude statement of my own: you cannot act your way into holiness. I have tried to do this many times when I felt my faith slipping or my prayer life dwindled to a mere hint of what it once was. I thought if I forced myself to finish the rosary, I might begin to mean the prayers that I was reciting. It doesn't work, at least not in the long run. You have to be before you can do.
However, I contradict this whole sequence with the second idea that stands out from a year ago. Once I finished with my chemistry courses, I never thought I'd need to remember entropy again, but alas, the second law of thermodynamics comes back to haunt me. All things tend toward disorder. Without the exertion of energy, everything moves slowly toward chaos. Some things move very rapidly to chaos, but everything will get there eventually. I demonstrated entropy to a class of third graders by throwing up an entire stack of paper with the Angelus prayer printed on it. It took a lot more energy to clean it up than it took to throw it. This concept of entropy can be applied to my faith life. It will tend toward chaos (and with a stretch, toward evil) if effort is not taken to prevent this downward slide. You must constantly be expending energy to grow in your spiritual life.
You see how easily these two concepts come to be at war. On the one hand, you must get your soul in the right place, simply be like Mary listening at the feet of Jesus, before your actions can ever hope to show God's love to others. On the other hand, you must constantly be working to keep the devil at bay, slaving away like Martha to gain the upper hand in the fight to be Christ-like. I've always been a little more of a Martha myself. I find I'm most like Mary when I pay attention to the details. God is in the details and when I take time to notice them, my heart leaps closer to Him. The five minutes, if that, when the sunrise is just perfect, offering consolation when my body has to function that early in the morning. I don't need to do anything to feel close to God in that moment; I just am. The way the rain sounds against the sky light late at night, the way that my day ends with just enough time to make it to evening Mass, the way a massive storm and multiple tornados catch me stuck with friends rather than at home alone, the way a stranger says good morning; all of these typically find me thinking of God's hand in the little things, comforted that He would touch my day in such a little way. It is when I get carried away with the big picture of how stagnant I've seemed lately that I fall into trouble. It is then that I think my being is so far from God that no amount of doing could possible bring me back. So I try to see the details, especially the ones that matter. For example, the detail of one little vowel could mean the difference between "Viva La Papa" and "Viva El Papa." (for those who need a little help with that one, it's 'Long live the potato' vs. 'Long live the pope')

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Rightly-named Romance

I was listening to Under the Tuscan Sun book on tape yesterday, and Frances Mayes read a line that struck me. She was talking about different stages in life and how whenever she tries to go back to something or somewhere that she loved in the past and walk again in her own footsteps, it's never quite the same, never quite as lovable. "Though I'm susceptible to the pull to the known, I'm just slightly more susceptible to surprise." The reason it struck me so much was that I find exactly the opposite in myself and I'm not sure how much I like that about me. Don't get me wrong; I love that I still feel home at home. I dread the day when all of the things that I love about home aren't enough to offer me guaranteed peace and a sense of homecomimng. It's always amazed me that after an 8-hour drive alone through some of the most monotonous terrain, 5 minutes at home makes me feel like I've been there for days, comfortably settled in to the wonderfully familiar. This desire to be surrounded by what I know has affected so many decisions throughout my life--my college choice, my summer jobs (most notably my summer jobs), my pharmacy rotations, my school vacation plans, etc.
People who know me even the slightest bit well know my deep affinity for Orthodoxy. One of my favorite parts is Chesterton's story about the sailor who sails from England in exploration and plants the British flag on a new island in the South Seas only to discover that he is not actually in the South Seas, but in fact back in England. Chesterton does not deny that he would look like a fool, but he argues adamantly that he would not have felt like one. "What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combine with all the humane security of coming home again?" He describes this mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar as romance. I worry that I am far too attached to the familiar to ever grasp that romance. Not necessarily in the traditional sense of romance, although as my previous blogs will attest, I'm not opposed to rapidly discovering my future husband. But I fear that romance in the sense of adventure mixed with the comforts of the familiar will be just out of reach until I am ready to loosen my grip slightly on that which I know and love. There are amazing things out there in the world and I am so determined not to lose the wonderful things that I already have that I may have missed out on my own great adventure.
That's a morbid thought. And I'm not too worried about it because I know I have a lot of living to do, a lot of my story still in which to be the leading lady as Laura would say. I just need to suck it up and take the plunge. I'm convinced that fear is the most paralyzing emotion, more than anger, hatred, apathy, depression. It's a good thing that I have the most wonderful friends and family in the whole world to help me move beyond that and into my great adventure.
On a side note for Michael and Coco, in the movies when people exchange something rapidly and at the same time, not letting go of their bargaining chip until they've got a good hold on their new acquisition, it doesn't always involve cake. Except maybe in weird British movies.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Hey nonny nonny

To one thing constant example of men's capriciousness as lovingly told by Shakespeare through Benedick (and through the silver screen by Kenneth Brannaugh):

I do wonder that one man, seeing how much other men are fools when they dedicate themselves to love, will, after he hath laugh’d at such shallow follies in others, become he subject of his own scorn by falling in love. And such a man is Claudio. I have known then there was no music with him but the drum and the fife of war; and now he’d rather hear the tabour and the pipe of peace. I have known when he would have walk’d ten mile a-foot to see good armour; and now will he lie ten nights awake, drawing the fashion of a new doublet. He was wont to speak plain and to the purpose, like an honest man and a soldier; and now is he turn’d poet: his words are a very fanciful banquet, just so many strange dishes. Could I be so transform’d and see with these eyes? I cannot tell; I think not. I will not be sworn, but though love may transform me into an oyster, I'll take my oath on it, that till he have made an oyster of me, he shall never make me such a fool. One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another virtuous, yet I am well; but till all favours be in one woman, one woman shall not earn my favour. Rich she shall be, that's certain; wise, or I'll none of her; virtuous, or I'll never speak for her; fair, or I'll never look on her; noble, or come not near me; of good conversation, an excellent musician, and her hair shall be of what colour it please God. Ha! The Prince and Monsieur Love! I will hide me in the arbour.

And later:
This can be no trick: their conference was serious. They have the truth of this from Hero. They seem to pity the lady that her affections have conquer’d her. Love me! Why, it must be requited. I hear how I am censur’d: they say I will bear myself proudly, if I perceive the love come from her; they say too that she will rather die than give any sign of affection. I did never think to marry. I must not seem proud: happy are they who hear their faults and then mend them. They say the lady is fair; 'tis a truth, I can bear them witness; and virtuous; 'tis so, I cannot deny it; and wise, but for loving me; by my troth, it is no addition to her wit, nor no great argument of her folly, for I will be horribly in love with her. I may perchance have some witty jests toss’d at me, because I have rail’d so long against marriage: but doth not the appetite alter? A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age. Shall witty quips frighten a man from following his fancy? No, the world must be peopled. When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A Scattered Farewell

So much going on in my head now. We're going to do a few bullet points until it calms down.
  • Healing is a strange process. Letting go of something that has held you captive, dominated every waking thought, should be painful. But I find that most times it isn't. Since I have very little recent healing to draw from, I take my examples from No Reservations and Harry Potter. A strange dichotomy I know. But in No Reservations, grief and fear control both Zoe and Kate without them realizing exactly how much pain they are in. And yet letting go of that brings so much joy. It was a gem of a movie and a gem of a story--a glimpse of the little things I dream of. And Harry had to let go of all the rage, mostly the rage at Snape, which evaporated with a few key memories and resulted instead with honoring him as one of the bravest men he had ever met. Again, a change which resulted in much less pain that it should have.
  • I really hate nothing more than feeling like I don't belong compounded with the feeling that others are really sure I don't belong and look down upon me. I make more of it than I need to because of my unhealthy bottom-dwelling self-confidence, but I'm up on the floors doing these tedious chart audits and drawing unwelcome glances from most of the nurses and more of the same from my "boss" when I report on my progress. I don't understand why you would precept someone if you have no intention of monitoring their growth, mentoring them, answering their questions, making time to ensure that they are learning. There is a reason that some people don't teach. And those who shouldn't teach shouldn't try to do so in any capacity.
  • I'm wondering at my lack of nostalgia and sadness at closing the book on the house. It was the largest part of my life for three years, not a paltry chunk of time. And yet, the memories there will last whether or not I live within the walls. I was sadder to say goodbye to the original six than I was saying goodbye to the bricks and wood. Never will I find such a unique, challenging, blessing-filled group of people to grace my home. And yet, I'm not really sad per se. Certainly none of the tears present last night belonged to me. I walked out without a backward glance. Is it a sign of hope for something brighter in the future or simply a sign that I never allowed myself to attach to something I knew to be temporary? I'm sadder at my lack of emotion than I am to be moving on.
  • Another protestant wedding has me more grateful for the rich tradition and doctrine and truth of the Catholic Church. I try not to let my pride and love turn to condescension but I walk a fine line. Still more ideas for my own wedding which seems further away than ever. I'm trying to pray for trust. When my fourteen-year-old sister has more of her wedding planned out than I do, it seems to sap the hope for my own perfect day, perfect marriage, perfect vocation. I don't know why it should, why other people planning for their own marriage should make me fear the reality of my own. Again, I pray for trust.

The bullet points got longer than I thought, as my thoughts always tend to do. But that's why this is here. To allow me to get it said and let it go. And as I let it go, my thoughts turn to cheesecake awaiting me in the fridge and to tomorrow which brings more chart audits and other tasks void of learning. I'll have to make my own learning then. And on that ambitious note, I bid farewell.

I reserve the right to make this blog as worthless to read as I feel like, and also to write as infrequently as I deem necessary. Just thought I'd let you know since I finally decided to share my blog.