25. Information Integration and the Ability to Change Our Habits

I’m coming to believe more and more that our choices each and every day are affected greatly by the availability of information and our ability to process it. At least for me personally, the more specific information I have on issues that are important to me, the more likely I am to act on that information.

I was just reading an article about seafood and this one man’s attempt to start a technology revolution that would actually track where your seafood comes from. Seafood sourcing and labelling is infamously terrible. Estimates show that potentially 1/3 – 33% – of the seafood we eat is mislabeled. Much of the time, this is no accident. Business flows to where the money is. If people are paying for fish, then importers will provide it. These importers might not include with the fish information about where that fish comes from, what species of fish it actually is (there is a lot of fish forgery), or the conditions of the fishermen who caught the fish (human trafficking is leading to fishermen essentially enslaved on their ships is a substantial and growing problem).

Now, would you eat quite so much seafood if you knew about this? Would you eat quite so much seafood if you knew how the oceans are increasingly depleted of fish and how many high-demand species are getting driven towards extinction? Or that fisheries are killing sea turtles, dolphins, and other well-loved marine species simply because those animals get caught in their fishing nets and then are simply disposed of and labelled as bycatch? I haven’t been able to. I love seafood as much as the next person, but the more information I attain about the current sate of the oceans, the less seafood I consciously consume. I have now mostly avoided seafood altogether. I say mostly because I will still order a seafood plate if it seems to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so. (See: ordering lobster ravioli in Malta during one of my two nights there.)

I think this same type of reasoning and information availability applies to just about any issue you can think of. At first, we aren’t aware of the effects we, as consumers, cause. We aren’t aware of the full range of implications of our choices. Then, maybe, at some point, we slowly start gathering information about that issue. If we choose to, we can then begin to assimilate that information into our stream of consciousness. This is the point where we can then begin to consciously analyze our decisions before we make them because we are finally aware that the true implications of our individual actions are far larger than we ever imagined they could be.

Of course, if we all thought this way about every issue of every moment of every day, it would be completely and fundamentally overwhelming. Instead, I think the trick is to incorporate small decisions over time. That conscious thinking about, say, not ordering fish starts getting built into neurological muscle memory. Give it enough thought and enough practice, and eventually you won’t even have to think about avoiding seafood, or whatever activity you are focused on. Eventually, you will consciously have to override what has become habit in your thinking if you want to go back to your old ways of thinking and doing.

Once that one conscious thing you have decided to focus on becomes habit, your brain and consciousness become open again to new sets of information and another opportunity for changing thinking habits. Give it enough time, and you can integrate all the information you choose to integrate into your life.

Yes, you have to to work at it. Yes, you are going to struggle at first. No matter if it’s adopting certain diets, walking or taking public transportation to work more often, buying less non-recyclable goods, or reading a little more on your given topic every day, it will become easier. I promise. Changing our habits with information little by little is not the easiest thing to do, but it will be worth it. If enough of us engage in this direct grappling with issues and topics near and dear to us, I believe this is how we can save the world.

22. Multiple Lives Syndrome

Do you ever feel like one life is too little to live? Do you ever have the desire to live a completely different life than the one you have? Or to live multiple lives all at one time, branching out in an infinity of possibilities towards all the outer reaches of the universe? I feel it all the time.

Most of the time, I’m pretty darn content to live this life I have. I have so much to live for and I love it all. Between teaching ballet, dancing, and performing on one hand and all my academic experiences leading into legal experiences all subsidized by anything to work on conservation, I do live a wide and varied life and am very grateful for that. But nonetheless, there are certain times like tonight when all I want to do is run away from everything (or almost everything), move somewhere completely different, and do something with my life so completely different than what I am doing now.

Of course one of those lives would be dancing in a professional company. If you know me at all, you know I would absolutely love the chance to do so. But that’s a different life that is still close enough to my own reality that it doesn’t have quite the same amount of wanderlust yearning that other lives do.

For example, I would absolutely love the chance to go travel and be a National Geographic photographer or reporter, especially if the work was on wildlife. I would adore being able to view these amazing creatures in their natural habitats up close. Then again, I know people who do so for their careers face every kind of hardship, from braving sub-zero temperatures at the polar regions to facing down deadly predators. Still, they get to see things that hardly anyone else on this planet gets to see.

I believe we each start off with unlimited potential. That’s not to say that everyone is born with the same privileges or internal or external factors. But I think the more you grow, the more you cultivate yourself in one direction. Those other branches of interest don’t get quite the same amount of nourishment as the ones you focus on. So over time, those branches don’t give you quite as many opportunities as they might have done previously had you taken the time to nurture those branches as well. However, the branches that you have cultivated and cared for over time continue to branch out in possibilities within that specific field or area of interest or passion.

Now I think the trick is finding out how to cultivate as many of these branches as possible by entwining them with your other branches of passions. If you can successfully do so, you will grow all the stronger for it. You will have more options within those passions than you did before.

But still, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to have infinite possibilities at all times?

I suppose limitations are a large part of being human. If we didn’t have limitations and we could be infinite, what could we create and accomplish? What whole worlds would open up to us that we didn’t have access to before? I would love to explore some of those other worlds that currently are not being cultivated. I would love to live in some of those branches as well. I’ve never heard of a name for this, but I think it should be called Multiple Lives Syndrome.

The desire to live many lives is deep within us all, I think. All of us at one time or another feels trapped by the path we have laid out for ourselves. And that’s not to say that that path is insufficient or lacking in any way. No, hopefully that path is a wonderful path that you do really and truly care about following and going down. I feel that way about my own path. But still, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to live multiple lives at one time?

21. Updates on a New Academic Year

Law school classes, externships at the EPA, ballet classes, and teaching have all finally started up and I finally feel like the semester has officially started. So here’s an update on what this semester is looking like for me!

Law School
Today technically marks the end of the second week of law school classes for the semester, but since we didn’t have Monday classes for labor day, it doesn’t quite feel like two full weeks have passed. This semester, I only have classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. Most of my classes are late afternoon or evening classes and my earliest class starts at 11:10am.

I’m taking Environmental Law, Maritime Law, International Law, International Trade and Regulations, and an Externship Seminar. I really like all of my classes this semester because these are all subjects I am actually interested in and feel are very important for hopefully doing some kind of law relating to ocean conservation in the future. I think Environmental Law might be my favorite class, although to be honest it is hard to choose between my different classes.

On Mondays, I have Environmental Law in the morning and then a break from 12:30-3:30. Then, if I’m unlucky, I have three classes in a row from 3:30-9:55pm at night. If I’m lucky and don’t have my externship seminar (it’s only every other week), then I have class from 3:30-7:45. Those will be very nice Mondays. On Wednesdays, I just have Environmental Law in the mornings and then International Law from 5:45-8:45. Luckily I have lots of time to go home and eat and study between my classes in the afternoon.

Externship
So this semester I’m externing (it’s the exact same thing as interning, just during the semester) at the Environmental Protection Agency, more colloquially as the EPA. I have to work there 15 hours a week to get three credits for it and am working 9-5 there Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ve only gone for two days so far, but the place is great. I’m nervous to work there just because I don’t really know what kinds of tasks or projects I’ll get assigned every day. But it will be a very good experience and I’m glad I get the opportunity to work there.

Bonus points: the main staircase at the EPA looks like something right out of the wizarding world. There’s even a time-turner-like chandelier hanging down in the middle of the staircase.

Teaching
Last night was my first night back teaching at Adagio Ballet and the first day of classes for the school year. I missed being there. It’s such a wonderful group of teachings and students. The girls are all so sweet and hard working. Last year I was only teaching two nights a week – Tuesdays and Thursdays – there, but this year I’m teaching those two nights at the same time and then also two additional classes Friday evenings. I feel like I really lucked out with finding an amazing place to teach and I really am thrilled to be back.

In past years, Adagio’s Nutcracker was essentially their winter recital for all the classes. So my class last year was Spanish, the class next door was Chinese, etc. This year, they completely redid the structure of it so everyone who wanted to dance in the Nutcracker had to audition back during the summer. They also needed some party parents from the faculty and interested adults, so Ricardo and I will both be party parents this year! I’m so excited. I’ve never gotten to dance on stage with my significant other before. He’s going to be just fantastic. I’ll also be rehearsing another role I’ll be performing for their Nutcracker. Hint: there will most likely be a tutu involved.

Ballet Class
I haven’t been able to go take ballet class since I got back into town because my car decided to die on me two days after we got back. Thus, I haven’t had a way to actually drive to ballet class and it’s a bit too far away by public transportation or uber. My car finally got fixed two days ago, though, so this morning was my first morning back in ballet class. I actually get to take class every weekend now, as well as Fridays and possibly on Monday and Wednesday mornings before darting off to Environmental Law. Either way, it feels so great to be back. There are some things that I feel rusty with, but overall I’m amazed that I haven’t gotten too out of shape over the course of the summer. I feel good and motivated now and being back in the school context just helped me get back into ballet class mood as well.

Other
So I think those are my main responsibilities that occur every week! On top of that, all I have to worry about are job applications and interviews for a legal job next summer, possibly auditioning for and rehearsing for the upcoming Georgetown Gilbert & Sullivan Society musical, and other items that may or may not pop up.

But every night I am lucky enough to get to go home to my amazing boyfriend and amazing little cloud being of a cat. My life would not be the same without them and I am so infinitely grateful for their places in my life. Neither Ricardo nor I would know what do without Rumple. He’s such a sweet, crazy little cat. He loves playing. He’s become so vocal that he will just meow and meowl at us for apparently no reason whatsoever sometimes. But we love him and I’m pretty darn sure he loves us back.

Now that things are settling down, I’m going to get back to regular blog writing. So thank you for reading!

9. Afraid of Shadows

Are you afraid of your own shadow? Or do you embrace it?

Are you afraid of the person you’ve become? Do you reflect the darkness or the light?

Our intentions shine through in a multitude of ways, but whether or not those intentions become our actions is another matter altogether.

I’m ridiculously happy with who I’ve become and what my life has become. The shadow I cast behind me is one I am happy to see because it reflects exactly what I want it to. I feel that in and of itself is an accomplishment. When the map of your life is how you want it to look, you know you have been following the right path.

I know of at least a few people in my life who are currently in the process of reshaping their shadows. I think it can be done. To begin with, it depends on your light source. What kind of light and knowledge and spirit you surround yourself by is going to affect the quality of your shadow and how clearly you are able to cast it. If you surround yourself in darkness, inevitably your shadow is going to be marred in its form by the very lack of definition that surrounds its penumbra on all sides. The strongest inner light will create the best and strongest shadows, where the outlines of your life are clear and bold.

Of course, external circumstances also affect shadows. What material your shadow dances upon can greatly help or hurt it. If you are confident in the people in your life and the places you call your surroundings, it can only help. That’s not to say that uncertain surrounds can be bad materials for shadow casting. Sometimes, the most unknown circumstances can lead to the best results because they push your boundaries and push you to the very extentent of you who are. Regardless of what your surroundings are, just be aware that they can change the quality of your light. And if you don’t like the way your surroundings are changing your inner light, then change your surroundings or else guard close those things that are dear.

Beyond all else, you are the one who creates your shadow though. You are the one who influences it by controlling, or at least being aware, of all the factors that go into its very creation. If you know what kind of shadow you want to cast, you are the one with the tools to create the shadow you want.

So are you afraid of your own shadow? And if you are, how do you change it?

 

8. When Intentions Aren’t Enough

It’s harder and harder for me to feel like I’m keeping up with ballet and not falling far behind. Every day I don’t go to ballet class (even if that means I’m teaching or otherwise working) feels like a bit more of a failure to me. I’ve managed to get to the point where I almost detest going to easier classes because I take so few as it is that it feels like a waste to only take easy classes that don’t challenge me.

I want to perform so badly. I want to be dancing in a company and working hard in a studio so badly. If I’m not doing that, I don’t feel whole. I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing everything I’m capable of or everything I have the potential to do. That’s the life I love and am used to living and it’s too difficult to simply give that up.

Between law school and teaching ballet, my life has been taken over. I don’t really have many spare chunks of hours these days to go drive half an hour to a studio (they’re all half an hour away; I live in the epicenter of D.C. dance studios). I have a few such chunks of time that line up for when classes are offered, but that isn’t enough.

At this point, I’ve looked into so many options for continuing to dance with a company. I’m out of luck for a full, every-day company for this upcoming year but I do have a potential place or two where I will definitely be auditioning next year for their season. Otherwise, there is one place a city over where I could audition for their two shows a year, and I will definitely be doing that. They only have rehearsals on sundays so that is doable for me.

In general I can still do most everything I could before. But I can sense the places where I am getting weaker or less technical. It might be a small slip-up from not quite closing fifth at the barre or less consistent pirouettes. It doesn’t matter what that weakness is. What matters is I know it exists and I do my best to correct it but there is only so much you can do when you’re taking one or two classes a week. So much is muscle memory and stamina. Intention can only go so far.

This life I’m living is completely wonderful in so many ways. Actually dancing ballet is the one thing I’m missing. I’m doing my best to figure out how to incorporate that into schedules of law school classes and teaching and internships. But what if that intention to dance isn’t enough? It doesn’t feel like it’s enough right now. I’m just going to keep trying until it is enough to make that part of my life happen.

6. Of Shadows and Substance

How many shadows can one person have?

A shadow is proof that one is made of matter and substance. A shadow is proof that one exists and that one creates a space in this world that would otherwise be a void, an empty place of air and nothingness. Shadows prove existence.

The problem with existence is that no one has just one single existence. We exist in various capacities and forms, with different dreams, and on different paths, all at once in a simultaneousness that combines to form our single essence of existence. Right at this very moment, I can think of at least three completely alternate futures for myself. The shadows each of these futures cast are weakened or strengthened form day to day, simply depending on how heavily that specific path weights on you on any given day.

Existence can be a funny thing. Sometimes, existence consists of boldly striving after your dreams – at least on a path or direction of dreams – while at other times existence is simply the mundane drudgery of spending your day at work. At the same time, who you are and what kind of shadow you cast can depend so much on something as simple and basic as your surrounding environment.

I know I have multiple shadows. Some of these shadows are short enough that they really barely seem to exist at all, while others are long enough to cause quite a swatch of space to be covered.  These shadows correspond directly with how much my being and presence in any given place matters or gives weight to both the place and to how important and how much bearing that environment has to me personally.

Shadows are strange. Sometimes they look exactly the way you would expect them to appear. Other times, you wouldn’t even recognize it as your own shadow. Outlines blur and become more distinct, depending on the time of day. Appearances waver as you seamlessly slide into another personality for another experience. Your shadow even changes depending on the people you’re around and what shadow they’re used to seeing. That is sometimes the most challenging: when you have to adapt yourself to casting a specific shadow for the benefit of people around you.

Honestly I think that was the most refreshing thing about moving to D.C. and starting all over again. I was able to see with fresh eyes what people actually saw of my shadow. I was no longer bound by my former shadows’ appearances. Instead, I was free to make my shadows with complete freedom and see the truth of who I have become over the years. I really like the person I’ve become. I like the shadows I cast. And I think that’s as much as anyone can strive for.

3. Being Present

“Do external things distract you? Then make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile; stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions.” – Marcus Aurelius

Distractions are prevalent in this world. They come in all forms. They distract from all things. Lately, the internet and the myriad of ways you can connect with people has been distracting me more than I would like. I’m tired of being pulled in all directions. I’m happy here, right here in my life. I want to focus my attention on the here and now. And I will.

I’ve come across more than one book lately that essentially say that in order to live a happy life you should cut out all the extraneous things. Whether those things be obligations, people, whatever, those are distractions that take your time away from the things that really matter to you. It’s somewhat difficult to cut out things while in law school – since most of my obligations are in fact required to graduate – but I am trying to keep a more careful mental inventory of what is truly important to me in my life.

Whenever I find myself becoming distracted again, whether it’s with games on my phone or browsing on Facebook, I don’t realize it until it’s been going on for a few days. However, I think (and I hope) that I am becoming better at recognizing when I am growing distracted in my life. I realize that I’m simply waiting impatiently for the next moment to get away to my phone… for what? So I can go check Instagram or look on Snapchat to see if anyone has added to their stories. But in realizing so, I’m getting better and better at pulling myself away from all those extraneous distractions and back into the present.

Currently, I’m sitting in the library with my love while he studies for an exam tomorrow and I’m taking a break from studying for my last exam in a few days. I’ve been on Facebook all evening. Honestly, I don’t really care about what’s going on through Facebook. A superficial part of me cares, but deeper down I know that when I look back on this evening, I’d much rather have read more of the three books sitting here next to me or have written a blog post. I want to have done so much more than simply being another anonymous face on this anonymous, soul-sucking social media existence that we have all embraced.

Whenever I think about or hear people talking about the great geniuses through history, the people who accomplished great things, the great thinkers,  and the great artists, I marvel at their ability to dedicate themselves so fully to their passions. But then my mind turns a corner and I stop marveling. These Greats throughout history didn’t have social media. They didn’t have the distractions of the internet; we have every bit of information and every connection with another individual we could possibly want at the tips of our fingers as our fingers lay poised over a keyboard.

But what if we stopped being online so much? What if we only used the internet when really necessary? These days, I feel like whenever I start paying more attention to Facebook there are so many voices from so many people that I somewhat know that they start crowding out the few voices that really do matter to me. My in-person relationships mean to much more to me than this or that random friend on Facebook. The relationships that matter to me are the ones I should actually focus on. There’s absolutely no excuse for me to ignore the people that matter the most to me just because I’m distracted by all the many other faces I scroll past every day.

This doesn’t mean I don’t value people. I do. I value other people a great deal. But you have to choose your priorities, and I want my priorities to be where my heart is. We can’t all be torn every which way at every moment of the day.

I guess I really have multiple points here all related to distractions.
(1) Prioritize your time.
(2) Prioritize the people in your life that really matter to you.
(3) Prioritize what accomplishments you want to have achieved at the end of the day.

In the end, we all have a limited amount of time. While it seems like this time could go on forever, if we look back on the past day, week, month, or year, there is so much or so little we can accomplish in that time, just depending on our choices. If I choose to really accomplish something with my life and truly make the most out of my life, I have to prioritize my time and fill it with the actions I want and the people I love. I want to be able to look back at the end of the day and really feel like each day was worth living.

The past five months have been some of the best months of my life, and that because I felt like I’ve been actually achieving something every day. No, I haven’t made leaps and bounds in single days, even though some days have held a lot. But if every day I accomplish a little less of the extraneous and accomplish a little more of actually living life, looking back, those bits and pieces of time really add up to something so much more than it would seem.

So here’s to trying to live online a little less and live a little more.

P.S. Yes, I see the irony of posting this as a blog post.  No, I don’t regret it one bit.