Fast food judgement or whole grain positivity?

commuters

We all do it, at least occasionally, I’m sure.

On the MRT, in a taxi, walking down the street. Looking up and down at passers-by, thinking,

‘Look at those shoes. Some people have no taste.’

‘That blouse does nothing for her.’

‘What a sour look on her face, I bet she’s a real dragon lady.’

‘Look at him in his fancy suit, who does he think he is?’

‘Rich housewife.’

‘Wanker banker.’

‘Airhead.’

Sometimes these thoughts swim into our heads automatically; we don’t mean to sound so awful. We don’t even realise how awful we sound.

Some days are definitely better than others. Some days we are in our own world and don’t notice anyone, let alone care what people are wearing or what they look like.

Some days, we are tired, feeling down on ourselves perhaps. It can feel good to know your taste is better than everyone else’s. To know you make better choices, have better style, a better outlook on life, right?

Really?

Do you think it feels better in the long run though?

These thoughts are like fast food for the brain: a quick fix, a cheap thrill, a quick spike in blood sugar, short term happiness.   But what about the long term effect?   Like fast food, these thoughts do nothing for us in the long term. Quite the opposite, they pollute our body, our brain and cloud our intentions.

Imagine though, if we reversed things.

Can we think good thoughts for long term happiness?

The power of positive thinking is well researched. Barbara Fredrickson’s study found that effects of positive thinking can be: increased mindfulness and purpose in life and decreased illness symptoms, which in turn can increase life satisfaction and reduce depressive symptoms.

Positivity has also been linked to a longer life span.

Sonia Lyubomirsky’s research shows that happiness leads to success, which leads to more happiness. An upward spiral of positivity! How great is that?

So how can we kick-start this spiral?

Think good thoughts.

Or, more specifically, think good things about people. About everyone.

When you are sitting on the MRT today, or waiting at a red light in your car, those strangers you see in front of you:

Appreciate their beautiful hair or their kind eyes.

Imagine the hard day they have had and silently wish them a good sleep tonight.

Imagine a tough family situation they are heading home to, and wish them strength and courage.

Think about how those hands have held their children’s hand, cradled their grandchild’s head, or stroked their wife’s cheek.

Think about how those shoes or that bag may have been a reward for six months of careful saving.

Smile when they look at you and wish them a happy weekend, or a good day ahead.

hulahoop

Start with stranger, and move on to those you love.

Remind them of their beauty, their value and their importance.

Think good thoughts.

See the humanity in people.

See the good.

It’s good for you.

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A Day in the Life

A Day in My Life  – pre-Woolf Works

6.30am: Alarm goes off with message ’30mins early morning writing time!’. I try to extricate myself from Baby T sleeping on my arm but fail. Lie awake for fifteen minutes thinking brilliant things I could have been writing about which I will instantly forget as soon as I stand up.

6.45am: Big sister comes storming into the room, throwing the door wide with a shout of ‘IT’S MORNING’. Baby T is now definitely awake.

8.45am: Right. Big Sister is at school. Baby T is playing quietly. NOW IS MY TIME. I slink into the home office with a cup of tea and straight away notice the giant pile of random papers that need filing away. I really must have a clean desk before I can get into writing.

9.30am: Baby T is crying and I’ve been lost in a wormhole of filing / working out if I paid last months phone bill / re-labeling the folders since we changed banks AND phone companies last month.

10.45: Baby T is happily napping. My mother skypes from New Zealand and wants me to sneak in to his room so she can watch him sleep.

11.15am: Right. Lets get into this. No more mucking around. Fresh page. Nice pen. I’m free writing to find an angle for my next short story.

11.25am:Baby T is awake.

11.30am: He is well rested and fed so surely he will play nicely just there next to me and I can get some work done.

11.32am: What’s that smell?

11.33am: Nappy change

11.40am: Baby T shuts his finger in the drawer and screams like banshee.

11.45am: Time to go for a walk, I need some fresh air.

1pm: Baby is in the safe hands of our helper, Siony. Time to get to work. I write a power list of three things I need to get done. One. Reply to five emails. check. Two. Back into free writing. I’m feeling the flow.

1.45pm: Doorbells rings and the Singapore Dengue Police want to have a serious discussion about the state of my flowerpots. I’m also under strict instructions to remove a banana tree which is apparently a mosquito paradise.

2pm: Back to my desk, spend twenty minutes googling Dengue symptoms and trying to alleviate mother-guilt.

2.20pm: Start to put together a framework for a short story. Vaguely remember a brilliant twist I’d thought of this morning when a courier rings the doorbell.

3pm: Think about putting together a website for my work but feel lost about where to start. What is a domain host anyway?

3.15pm: Big sister is home from school with two grazed knees and lots of tears.

4pm: Baby T throws Big Sister’s favourite My Little Pony into the toilet. World War Three commences. I give up on getting anything else written for the day.

8pm: Kids are sleeping. I’m exhausted. Still haven’t been for a run. I go to bed with my laptop, Netflix and a glass of wine and set my alarm for 6am with the note ‘Must get up! 30mins quiet writing time!’

A day in my life – post-Woolf Works

6am: Wake up – have perfected the art of extricating myself from Toddler T’s arm so I stealthily escape, throw on running clothes and head out the door.

7.30am: Breakfast with kids, shower, dress.

8.30am: Drop Big Sister at school, Toddler T at Play School, head into Woolf Works.

9am – 11.30am: Work quietly and productively on current projects with a  coffee break and chat to a fellow member about which CRM systems are best.

12noon – Pick up Toddler T from play school, have some cuddle time.

1 – 3pm: Back into Woolf Works, have amazing Vietnamese Pho from a local restaurant while writing and editing.

4pm – 4.30pm: Meet some potential new members and show them around the space.

4.30pm: Meet a local business owner who wants to collaborate

6pm: Home for dinner, bath and bed for kids.

8pm: Glass of wine and chat with my husband

9pm: In bed with a book to read.

Woolf Works is a shared work space for women located on Joo Chiat Rd, Singapore. The concept came as a direct result of my years of of frustration, distraction  and loneliness as a stay-at-home mum / student / amateur writer / entrepreneur dreamer from 2008 to 2013. Woolf Works is a quiet, calm, distraction-free space for women to work productively and find community. Email info@woolfworks.sg for more information.

Herstory: Frida Kahlo, A Stunning Portrait of Perseverance

Frida Kahlo was not well known to the public, not until the latter part of 1970s, which was decades after her death. After people discovered her rich artworks, which tackle diverse physical and emotional pain, sexuality, death, strength and perseverance, Frida Kahlo became an icon that is the center of numerous studies and analysis. “Fridamania” even entered the movie and fashion scenes as people started appreciating her colorful life and vibrant style.

frida_Maria de Oro Flickr

Image courtesy of Maria de Oro on Flickr

Mention Frida Kahlo today, and the first image that comes to most people’s minds is her signature bushy eyebrows, impressive stare and a chin that is held high in defiance. Such an image is one of strength, and of a woman who has gone through a lifetime of challenges.

Frida Kahlo’s life is as colorful as her numerous paintings. She was born on July 6, 1907 to a Mexican mother and a European father – a combination that has resulted in her unique beauty. Growing up in Mexico, she was the embodiment of her culture’s love for color and festivity as seen through her love of wearing the classic Tehuana costume. Frida loved beauty and sought to live it on a day to day basis, both in her manner of dress as well as her gift for painting.

While her talent in painting is exceptional, her works are also deep and compelling stories of her life, her loves, and the painful moments that add a splash of darkness to her vivacity. Her most popular works are her own self-portraits, and it can be said that Frida was very much in touch with herself and painted her feelings and emotions for the world to see, with no worry of criticism nor judgment. Painting was her outlet that allowed her to endure, to see herself from one point in life to another, whether it was a challenge or a triumph.

Painting came to be Frida’s tool for persevering in a world filled with physical and emotional pain. In 1925, at the young age of eighteen, she sustained permanent injuries from a bus accident, injuries that totally changed the course of her life. Her spinal column and pelvis broke into several places. A metal rail pierced her body and went out through her vagina. Her condition was such that doctors did not expect her to live at all, but she did. The nature of her accident meant that she would suffer pains in her spinal column and worse, the pain of not being able to bear any children.

Instead of giving in, Frida painted her feelings throughout the entire time she was recuperating from the tragic accident. Painting gave her something to do during those long weeks, but also became a means to express what she felt inside, both good and bad.

Frida continued to live life to the fullest despite of her accident. In 1929, she married an artist just like herself: Diego Rivera, a famed Mexican muralist. As many people know, the beautiful Frida was fiercely in love with the stout and unpleasant-looking Diego with a passion. However, this was not enough to keep Diego from straying; he had numerous affairs with other women including Frida’s younger sister Cristina. This pained her deeply, and may have been the cause for her to also engage in affairs of her own. Frida had many lovers soon after, both men and women – including the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, whom she and husband Diego had gotten close to during his time of exile in Mexico as the couple too were Communists.

Frida_Kahlo,_by_Guillermo_Kahlo

By Guillermo Kahlo (1871-1941) (Sotheby’s) Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Frida’s ability to paint and immortalize her emotions into portraits gained a following and she soon rose to fame as an artist. She opened exhibitions in Paris and New York City, became friends with and gained admirers in famous Surrealist painters, with the most notable of all being Pablo Picasso himself. Her beauty and charm won her many admirers and allowed her a warm welcome in numerous high society gatherings in America. In such formal occasions, Frida was a breath of fresh air, thanks to her somewhat shocking sense of humor and proclivity for swearing and sharing dirty jokes.

Busy as she was, this lifestyle likely hid the anguish she felt for not being able to bear children and for suffering a miscarriage in 1932 as a result of her accident. This is best seen in her painting entitled Henry Ford Hospital, from the same year as the miscarriage, which depicts a bleeding Frida lying on a bed. From this work onwards, her self-portraits became more macabre, thereby earning her a reputation for being one of the few, original visual artists of her time. Another work entitled My Birth was a portrayal of her anguish, with her bloodied head posing at the entryway of her vagina. Rivera, in his autobiography, described how she “exalted the feminine qualities of endurance of truth, reality, cruelty, and suffering. Never before had a woman put such agonized poetry on canvas as Frida did at this time…”

Frida_mybirth

My Birth (1932) Image courtesy of The Based Blog

If one were to look beyond the many cats, monkeys, dogs, birds and even plants that accompany her self-portraits and other paintings, these recurring details are but a replacement for the children that she could not have nor depict as her own in portraits. An even closer look at these would be telling of her yearning to assume a part in the life cycle.

Her most popular painting entitled The Two Fridas became a representation of the time when she and Diego divorced, with dark-skinned Mexican Frida celebrating the love she felt for Diego alongside pale-skinned European Frida hurting from an exposed and broken heart. A faint silver lining in her tumultuous life came in her remarriage to Diego only a year after their divorce. But by this time in the 1940s, she has had close to 35 operations and needed to sustain the burden of having to wear a steel corset to support her ailing spinal column. This was very taxing, and months were spent in bed in attempts to restore her worsening health. Still, she painted on and drew enough strength to make a masterpiece entitled Tree of Hope, again depicting two Fridas but this time the Mexican one standing guard for the injured Frida who is shown lying down on a gurney. Though her health continued to deteriorate to the point that she was hospitalized for a year and had to have her leg amputated, she still found ways to keep her spirit afloat through painting.

frida_Playing Futures  Applied Nomadology Flickr

Two Fridas (1939) Image courtesy of Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology on Flickr

In her final days, thoughts of death preoccupied her as she came to terms with her impending departure from this world. Paintings done by Frida at this time reflected her depression through a number of grim images. Her husband Diego recounts her day of passing on July 13, 1954 as the most tragic one in his entire life, having lost the love of his life.

Kahlo’s artworks appeal to many. She is considered one of the brilliant female multicultural artists, amidst the flaws and obscurities of her life and works. We may celebrate her creativity, originality and colour but we also may celebrate the fact that a woman can now be remembered as both a fine artist and a person grounded in the realities of the human condition.

With her passing comes a gift to women: a collection of paintings that are meant to show the triumphs and tribulations of life, the realness of human frailty through physical and emotional anguish, and most importantly, the importance of persevering through pain that sought to put one down. Frida Kahlo was and will always be a woman to be admired for her talent, strength and absolute uniqueness.

For an interesting view on ‘Fridamania’ and Frida’s role as portraying herself as the ‘suffering victim’, see Stephanie Mencimer’s article in The Washington Post:
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0206.mencimer.html

To read the interview of the filmmaker, Amy Stechler and Kahlo biographer, Hayden Herrera, check:
http://www.pbs.org/weta/fridakahlo/today/herrera.html

Read more about Frida Kahlo’s life and works here:
http://www.fridakahlo.com
http://www.frida-kahlo-foundation.org/biography.html
http://www.solidarity-us.org/node/2782
http://www.fridakahlofans.com

This post is part of a new weekly series  entitles ‘Herstory’ in which we highlight Inspiring Women from the past and tell their story.