camera

Advice beyond “focus” for academics

I’m an early-career academic and clinician. As such, I need– and receive– a lot of guidance. I have mentors, I have bosses, I have colleagues. Everyone says to focus. Which is nice, but is it helpful? Certainly focus is critical to build a solid and impactful program of scientific research. Does it capture the goals of a long career for someone like me, with varied interests and broad educational preparation? Does “focus” give me the opportunity for impact across different areas or on different levels? Does this idea of “focus” get me to a place where I want to be? The use of the term is so pervasive, it got me thinking. I’m not a photographer, so forgive any technical errors, but what if we thought about an academic career with a more nuanced set of variables?

  • Depth of field. Can you have multiple objects in focus, even if they aren’t right next to each other? If you adjust the aperature, you can let in more or less light, and along with changing the exposure, this can make your focus shallow or deep. Often in a PhD world, you are compelled to bring sharp focus to a tiny part of an image (big aperture) and blur the rest. This can be a good thing, but it’s not the only way. Say, hypothetically, that you want a career with research and clinical practice both, and you also want to be a policy voice. Change the aperture to a smaller size and see— multiple object can be in focus at once. It’s not better or worse, but it brings a different quality to the image.
  • Shutter speed. So you’ve adjusted the aperture— to keep the exposure right, you need to think about how long the shutter is open. A smaller aperture means you need more time. That’s OK, but you have to be aware of it. You want more things in focus? You need to spend a little longer letting light in.
  • Composition. What’s in your shot? How is it framed? Is it a close-up, or a landscape? Is your subject in the center, or are you more interested in a rule-of-thirds kind of thing? The key here is that THERE ISN’T A RIGHT WAY. It’s all about what you want to show and how you want to show it.  That said, some institutions like certain kinds of images more than others. Does your picture fit into their album?
  • Frame rate. Are you shooting a single, perfect image, or a series? Do you want a smooth, seamless progression through a moment, or do you want to capture discrete pieces over time?

varied interests

you want me to pick just one??

So, what’s the upshot? Should we just throw out the advice to “focus” when it doesn’t suit us? No. . . but I do think we should consider it in a broader context and check to see whether our goals are aligned. I may not want to get on a rocket ship to the moon– I might rather be on a cruise ship through different ports.  Well, now that I’ve thoroughly mixed my metaphors, I suspect it’s time to sign off. What are your thoughts on the ups and downs of focus?

France, Food, and Fat

Oh, the french. They smoke like chimneys, drink like poissons, and bread and cheese is practically a religion there. But I can count on one hand the number of obese people I encountered on my trip— and two of them were from Texas. Now, I’m not suggesting these habits are a path to health. Indeed, the idea of the “French Paradox”— that coronary heart disease death rates are low despite high consumption of saturated fat— has been pretty well put to bed (here,  and here). Yet still, obesity is not the problem there that it is here. Why are Americans fat and the French aren’t?

You’ve heard it before, but in my observation, it’s true:
  1. Meals are an event. They are eaten at a table, in good company and with plenty of time. Hardly ever on the go or in the car or at the desk.
  2. Food is high-quality. Organic, fresh, made in farms and shops and kitchens more than factories.
  3. Portions are much smaller than what you get in the U.S. It’s always enough, but it’s less that we’ve come to expect You don’t have to feel completely full to be nourished. Indeed, by lingering over the meal, you often realize you are, in fact, satisfied.
  4. They walk, bike, skate, and otherwise get around using their legs.

Nothing here is surprising, not even a little. But it’s powerful.


FROMAGE

hello, lover.

I just got back from a week in Paris, and despite my living the vacation life, wine,cheese, and croissants included, I don’t feel gross. I like this food, when I have it. BUT: I like it in small portions, when I’m walking six miles a day and enjoying the beautifully crafted and plated meals. And interspersed with beautiful veggies and fruits, of course.

I don’t have the same love for this rich food that I do for fresh vegetables, light flavors, greens and berries and flowers and fruits. Some of it is in the taste and the aesthetics, certainly, but most of it is in my body, my energy. Maybe my spirit too, if that isn’t too woo-woo (I know. I know. It is). I don’t live the French life all the time— sometimes I eat at my desk, or watching Netflix. Sometimes I’m in a rush. So eating a primarilty plant-based diet works for me, at home. But I sure enjoy the reminder to put that food on a pretty plate and sit down for a few minutes to enjoy it.

Pourquois Paris?

There are multiple modes of travel. And I mean vacation, leisure travel, not the business travel I wrote about last week. The kind where you get to take the wheel and plan (or not plan) a trip that’s just for you. What do you want, here, now? Why are you itching to escape?

Maybe. . .
  • You need to relax, and not think. You’re working like a dog. You’re stressed. You have a crazy sleep deficit. You want (need) a real vacation. An all-inclusive somewhere sunny, maybe? With a swim-up bar?
  • You need to shake it up. You are having an existential moment and are thinking of backpacking in Asia for a few months.
  • You have an adventure in the works! You’re doing Ragnar, or climbing Kilimanjaro, or some other big goal. Yay, you!
  • OR: You want to celebrate, revel, and explore. You want to go somwhere different, with a language that gets in your ears and a cuisine that you dream of and street style that makes you swoon. This, mes amis, is me at the moment, and the reason i’m in Paris (!!?!) with my sister.

Do I love my job and my routine and my gym and my husband? Sure do. Does a week with my best girl in the land of croissants sound like the best idea I ever had? Mais oui! So after walking (walking A LOT, according to my apple watch) through Paris for a week, I’m in love with my life again. This week was my favorite. There was art. There was shopping. There was coffee. There was wine (beaucoup de wine), and girl talk. I’m full of appreciation and fun and time outside of worrying. And I’m just about ready for my regular life back- but with un petit pen de panache that I didn’t have before.

Using the legs to settle the mind— travel edition

Sorry for the short break. I’ve been traveling. I do a reasonably large amount of traveling— I’m not George Clooney in Up in the Air, but I travel for work a few times a year and for fun whenever I get the chance. Sometimes you go to Barcelona, sometimes you go to Indianapolis. What can you do?
Traveling can be a little taxing on everyone, but for the hardcore introvert (TM), air travel is a special kind of torture. Robbed of personal space, forced into small talk, bombarded with the airport and airplane noise, too close for comfort with the sounds and smells of thousands of strangers, lacking an escape route. This is the stuff introvert nightmares are made of. But it’s part of the deal, if you want to get from point A to point B in a timely fashion, which I do.
I arrive with a disorienting and uncomfortable fog over me. Every. Single. Time. All the standard travel advice in the world doesn’t seem to fix it— not hydrating properly, not xanax, not the perfect chic travel outfit. But one thing does help: using my legs, as often as possible. If I’m not home, you better believe I am moving myself through space using my legs.
starve log

anything to brag about? no. immensely helpful to my state of mind? absolutely.

I schlepp my stuff around from terminal to terminal at the airport, rather than sit at the gate. I go outside when I get there and walk around the block. I go out for coffee instead of going to the Starbucks in the lobby.  I find a body of water (there’s always a body of water!) and go for a quick jog. And it settles me, a little bit. Enough, usually. That leg-brain connection that gives us our best ideas when we’re a few miles in? Same magic here, I think. Do you have any tricks to settle the restless mind when you’re traveling?

Hacks, Trends, and Distractions

There’s a new thing in the health and wellness space about every five minutes, no? A superfood, a supplement, a piece of equiment, some new game-changer. It’s usually expensive, weird-sounding, and above all, new. (And as always with the brand-new, lacking credible evidence). And they just seem so promising! Like this could be the solution— the things that’s finally going to help me get a PR, lose five pounds, be amazing. So sign me up, take my money!

And some of these things probably work. They do lead to some small improvement. But here’s the catch: the added benefit of a hack like this pales in comparison to just doing the work. You can’t add acai to your McDonalds diet and become a new person. There’s so much low-hanging fruit— and that’s where the real magic happens. Start with the tried-and-true basics. Figure out your movement. Your sleep. Your diet. Your stress. If you have those basics truly dialed in and you want to mess around with tweaks and bonuses here and there, you have my blessing. Those fun little gadgets and tonics might give you a tiny boost if you’re already at the pointy end of performance and an ounce or a millisecond is of the essence. But sorry–  you can’t buy health from a link on instagram.

IMG_4084

psst. want some of this? it’ll really help.

I see peeps at my gym fall into this trap– they just need the right creatine or BCAA supplement, and then they’ll get their butt in gear. Meanwhile, they’re hitting the drive through on the way home from class. Or they’re not at class at all. They get frustrated with their lack of immediate and complete transformation. . . and then they fall off the wagon. GUYS. Spend your hard-earned cash on veggies, not vitamins, and call me in a few months. I guarantee you’ll be better off. Also you will have more money, and lots of beneficial side effects. Win-win!

What’s on your keychain? What’s in your heart?

I listened to an interview the other day on the Outside Magazine podcast. It was Tim Ferris, of all people, talking with Cheryl Strayed.  And boy is she something! I knew this, of course, having read Wild and cried over Tiny Beautiful Things. But Tim Ferris? Not really my thing. But he was, and so was she. They talked about writing, among other things, and she mentioned a favorite writing prompt to be about an object, a talisman— beginning with something simple like your keychain.

My keychain has a long, shiny, neon-pink rod with a tapered end attatched. It’s ridged all the way down, with a flat bottom. It looks like something that might belong to Christain Grey . . but it’s acutally a self-defense keychain, or kubotan. A tool– or a weapon, depending on how you think about it. I have mixed feelings about it.  I’m not interested in weapons. I don’t like guns. I wish we could all just get along, hold hands, et cetera.
I’d never, ever initiate violence against someone— but I would defend myself or my loved one if it became necessary. That’s a powerful thing to learn about yourself— or decide about yourself. I decided that about myself in my first year of becoming UNFUCKWITHABLE (2017). Listen,  2016 felt disasterous to me in a lot of ways, and I felt so sad and defeated at the end of it. 2017 was the year I decided to get up and handle my shit. I started learning self-defense (krav maga), got stronger, focused on yoga and meditation, planned my priorities carefully. I met some amazing friends and teachers. I cried for a while, and then I started working to close the cracks in my life.
And now, I have this keychain. Sometimes, I hold this object in my hand, my thumb over its flat base, my fingers slotted into its grooves, as if ready— and it changes my fear and sadness into power.