A Sixth Sense That Makes Sense

body sense

If released in 2020, the 1999 movie The Sixth Sense would require a different title. You may recall that this movie featured a young boy who had an extrasensory perception in the form of dead people appearing to him seeking his help. (For the record, this is one of my favorite movies.)

You and I might say something like, “I just had a sixth sense about (whatever) that warned me off.” We refer to our intuition or gut feeling as a sixth sense.

But about ten years ago scientists actually identified a gene, Piezo2, that is responsible for our true sixth sense of proprioception (pronounced pro pree oh cep shun). It’s an awareness of our own body and where the various parts of our body are and what they’re doing.

Without thinking about it, this sixth sense is always on.

For instance, if you’re seated at a table and you can’t see your legs, you still know where those legs are and how they’re positioned. You don’t have to check on them to make sure they’re still there and behaving.

Or if you’re wearing a soft shirt you may forget about how the shirt feels as it touches your skin…until a loose thread tickles at your back.

Take a minute, sit back, and think about how your body and skin feel right now. How’s your left big toe doing? How about your right earlobe? You forget about them until you stub your big toe into a table leg or a mosquito takes a nip from your earlobe.

According to an article on Vox.com and the NIH website, there are just eighteen documented cases of people who have a mutation of their Piezo2 gene.

The people with this gene mutation are affected in various ways. One cannot walk without looking at her feet. Some can’t feel gentle touches on their arms and hands. Others have posture issues typically related to scoliosis patients; their back muscles don’t communicate with their brains to set their spines in alignment.

One woman noted that if a storm knocks out the electricity after dark, she falls to the floor; without the visual connection to where her body is, she is unable to stay standing.

People who have this disability end up compensating by making greater use of their other senses. One patient was quoted as saying, “You get used to your own body. You learn to cope with the materials you have access to.”

Consider proprioception when doing dynamic stretching or dancing or practicing yoga without a mirror. You and I may not be able to see how our arms, legs, torso, and head are moving, but there’s this sense that each one is performing just as we think they are.

Even if we’re a little creaky or a tad uncoordinated, we can imagine that we move just like the dancer in this underwater video I’ve linked below.

~~~~~

Beautiful underwater dance titled Ama

Video on the filming of Ama

Movie trailer from The Sixth Sense, 1999

The article from Vox.com

One Hundred Words

one hundred words

What if you were limited to speak just one hundred words each day? A non-removable metal counter on your wrist tracks the number of words you utter, resetting to zero each midnight. If you dare speak word #101 within each monitored 24-hour period, you are delivered an electric shock. Word #102 earns you a stronger zap, and well, you’d better shut up before the thing gets serious.

This is the opening of VOX, a novel by Christina Dalcher. Oh, and only females are required to wear the “bracelets” which is what the marketers in the book term the shockingly restrictive counters.

The story takes place in the near future; the US President (basically a puppet run by a maniacal religious zealot) has created an “earlier times” culture in America. Women are expected to obey men; women are not permitted to work, they have no access to any reading or writing materials or electronics, and they have no money of their own.

This audiobook fell under the category of thriller which is how I found myself listening to its first five minutes as a sample. Otherwise, I would never have found it as this type of story isn’t something I’d normally listen to for entertainment. It did, however, qualify as a thriller.

VOX (all caps) is a telecommunications term for “voice operated switch.” In Latin, vox popoli translates as “the voice of the people.” In music journalism, it means vocals or simply voice.

I ended up enjoying the audiobook in part because the main character, Dr. Jean McClellan, works (or worked) in the field of neurolinguistics as a cognitive linguist in the DC area. Her specialty had been working for a cure for stroke-induced aphasia. I’ve always found the topic of neurolinguistics (and words themselves) fascinating.

The author Dalcher herself earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University, so the book had the feel of “she knows her stuff.” And also, narrator Julia Whelan gives a true voice to each of the characters.

But the story also poked at me to consider this question: If I had just one hundred words allotted to speak each day, how would I choose to use them?

Well, I assume I’d stop talking to the dog. And surely I’d have to relinquish talking to myself. And say goodbye to singing in the shower since the first three lines of I Could Have Danced All Night take up eighteen words. There goes (thankfully) complaining about trivial circumstances.

Perhaps I would begin to hoard my words, being frugal earlier in the day in order to say them all at once in some (albeit short) conversation.

The average number of words Americans speak in a day depends on which study you agree with. Linked In refers to a 2003 study that says the average person uses around 7000 words each day. A University of Arizona professor’s study found that both men and women speak around 16,000 words each day. While that’s a huge differential, either one is still a long way from one hundred.

So now YOU can ponder what you would say in a day’s time if you were limited to just one hundred words. I know this much is true; I would save three words each day to say I love you.

~~~

An overview of the novel by the publisher with an opportunity to listen to the first five minutes of the audiobook

University of Arizona study on word usage

An interesting behind-the-scenes peek at Lauren Ambrose and orchestra at Lincoln Center theater recording I Could Have Danced All Night

 

Say It Again, Sam

word laziness

image by Timothy Paule II on Pexels

I received my weekly report card from Grammarly yesterday. If you don’t already know, Grammarly is (according to their own website) “an online grammar checking, spell checking, and plagiarism detection platform for the English language developed by Grammarly, Inc.”

Even though I consider myself above average in spelling, punctuation, and word usage, I use Grammarly as a second set of eyes.

But you know that little dog that you just can’t trust NOT to nip your fingers or ankles? That’s how I feel about Grammarly. I use it, but don’t trust it 100% since sometimes the suggestions it makes are flat out wrong.

My recent report card (which compares my writing to every other person who uses the program) stated I was:

92% more productive, 82% more accurate, and that I used a whopping 95% more “unique words.”

I’m most happy to see the percentage of unique words. Why? Like many people, I can slip into being a word-lazy person in my writing and speaking.

As I wrote in my June 2018 post Searching for Just the Right Word, it’s oh-so-easy to slip into our own private reservoir of words we’re comfortable using. (Did you notice how the phrase reservoir of words was more entertaining than if I had said group of words?)

Some years back there was an article called Is Google Making Us Stupid? The jury is still out on that one, but I believe the Google keyboard for Android (called Gboard) is adding to our word laziness. This is due to its predictive nature. It remembers phrases you’ve used before and offers them up for you to choose instead of typing the actual words.

As an example, if I am texting someone and type “I hope that you are” it offers a choice of next word(s) of “having” or “doing well” or “well.” When I choose “having” and add “a” then it offers the adjectives “great” or “good” or “wonderful.”

No wonder our messages sound like blah-blah-blah.

With the recent back-to-back mass shootings, some people were upset with those who posted the phrase “thoughts and prayers” in response to social media articles about the horror. While thoughts and prayers is a sincere response from many, the rampant overuse of the phrase has made its online response seem meaningless.

You don’t need to be a professional writer or speaker to pepper your spoken or written words with out-of-the-ordinary ones. There are some how-to suggestions in my former post I’ve linked below.

I’m going to issue a challenge to my readers: The next time you want to wish someone a happy birthday (whether in person, or on social media, or by an actual birthday card sent in the mail), say or write something other than the words Happy Birthday. And no, the happiest of birthdays is not an alternative.

Even if you say or write just one sentence, make it personable; say something fantastic.

And by the way, did you know the original late 14th century meaning of the word fantastic was this: existing only in imagination.

So yes…make it fantastic!

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Lifted Up post “Searching for Just the Right Word” from June 26, 2018

Understanding predictive keyboards

Grammarly’s post on the top ten overused adjectives

Graphic from GrammarCheck.net

A Legacy Revisited

legacy

Image courtesy of David Zydd on Pixabay.com

I often hear people talk about “leaving a legacy.”  And I believe they mean what important accomplishment of theirs will stand the test of time. In other words, they want to identify what individual success they will be remembered for long after they’re gone.

The word didn’t start out with that meaning. The legal meaning is property or money bequeathed to someone in a will. Another meaning is that of heritage which is defined on Wiktionary as “a tradition; a practice or set of values that is passed down from preceding generations through families or through institutional memory. ” And in university-speak, legacy means a person who is the descendant of an alumnus.

I’m surprised that the more contemporary definition of individual legacy hasn’t been officially accepted since it’s so widely used.

Oprah Winfrey tells the story of the time she was reprimanded by her long-time friend and mentor Maya Angelou. Oprah was over-the-top ecstatic about having established a girls’ school in South Africa. She was enthusiastically sharing the details with Maya and concluded with, “This school will be my greatest legacy.”

But Oprah said that Maya stopped her right there and said: You have no idea what your legacy will be. Because your legacy is every life you touch. It’s not one thing; it’s everything.

When we are feeling less than (and I believe we each go through times like that), we need to remember Maya Angelou’s words. We may not be rich or famous or have a world-class education or run international companies, but my gosh, think for just a moment. Really, I want you to think about the lives you yourself have touched with kindness or encouragement or gratitude or generosity or any of the dozens of other positive traits that exist.

Trust me on this: Your legacy will be absolutely amazing.

~~~~~~~~

Oprah’s commencement speech on legacy

Oprah Winfrey sharing the legacy story

Welcoming the Sun

welcome the sun

Woman Welcoming The Sun (stained glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany)

One of my favorite wall calendars of all time featured photos of some of the stained glass works of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933). As Macklow Gallery eloquently states on their website, Tiffany “forged a unique style that combined superb craftsmanship with a love of natural forms and brilliant color. His luminous glass designs combined technical innovations with the highest artistry, infusing everyday objects with beauty inspired by nature.”

I am most fond of the Tiffany work called Woman Welcomes the Sun, pictured above.  A few years ago, in going through some old files, I came across a beautiful piece of writing about welcoming the sun. I immediately knew I had to combine the two. The framed combo hangs directly above my writing desk.

Being unable to cite the source of the writing, I have hesitated about sharing it with you. If you’ve been a reader very long, you know I go to great lengths to avoid plagiarism. I have no idea where I first read the passage because it’s been many years.

I have searched online using the first line, bits of its phrasing, and even the word “verities” because how many times do you come across that word in a year? Note: Grammarly refuses to recognize it as a word. I even searched a quartet of words (verities, solace, realities, serenity) that are contained within the writing. And no, it didn’t even pop up on “Quote Investigator.”

(By the way, according to an online dictionary, a verity is “a true principle or belief, especially one of fundamental importance.” The peak period for the word being used was between 1850-1950, so perhaps the quote or essay is beyond the copyright period anyhow.)

So with those acknowledgments of my efforts and my statement that I am NOT the author, here is the bit of literary inspiration I read every day.

As the sun is rising on this new day, look to it well.

Today alone is life.

In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of existence…

the stimulus of thought, the glory of action, the awareness of beauty,

the serenity of meditation, the impulse to achieve,

the healing power of laughter, the warmth of gratitude,

the solace of loving and being loved.

Yesterday has passed on and is now but a memory.

Tomorrow has yet to be born and is only a formless vision.

But today, lived to its fullest in our relationship to our faith, makes yesterday a memory of happiness and tomorrow a vision of hope.

I hope you have a magnificent tomorrow.

~~~~~

Macklowe Gallery biographical information on Tiffany

 

Don’t Be Ranunculus!

Ranunculus

Photo courtesy of Daniel Wanke on Pixabay.com

Somehow I became a fan and collector of Marjolein Bastin’s work without knowing it and without intention.

Marjolein is a 75-year-old Dutch artist. As a very young girl, she fell in love with nature. Every walk or venture outside found her collecting flower petals, pinecones, feathers, and seeds. To this day, she follows the same routine. Every afternoon she walks outside in nature to soak it all in. She has an uncanny knack for ferreting out the tiniest interesting detail of a scene. She collects items from nature on her walks and then arranges them into scrapbooks for future inspiration.

Rising at six and working on her art until evening is a clear indication that she loves what she does and doesn’t consider it labor at all.

Her work is found worldwide since she and Hallmark have a partnership. Actually, I think the first piece depicting her art I ever bought was at a Hallmark store. It’s a small, short table with metal legs and a garden scene on top. Then at a consignment store, I found a dozen salad plates, half of them with the same scene as on the table. Then I was given a candle with a winter scene etched on the glass and top; later I found a free-standing ornament that repeated the same scene. Through the years I’ve bought her planner calendars. There are another half-dozen items with the famous MB stamp on them around my home, many of them bought without my realizing it was her work.

The salad plates have the botanical names of the flowers written around the outside edge of the plates. One of the flowers pictured and named is ranunculus. When my children were teens, we thought that was a perfectly good word to use in place of ridiculous. “He said what? Oh, that is absolutely ranunculus!”

We still say it today.

And in fact, my daughter chose ranunculus as one of the flowers in her wedding bouquet.

That made me smile.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Three-minute interview

Her calendars

And It’s Not Even My Birthday

Be loved. Be lifted. Believe. Photo by Norma Thatcher

Aren’t unexpected gifts just the best? On birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas or Hanukkah, and other holidays, we are conditioned to be in the receiving mode. On those special days, we are not surprised to find a brightly wrapped package with a big bow or a festive gift bag, tissue paper popping up as if to beckon us, “Open me!”

So on Saturday when my husband brought in the mail on a non-special day and said, “You have a package,” my face lit up.

The package contained an unexpected gift from my friend Jenn. I knew that she had been having a rough summer. Her family had owned some retail shops including Hallmark stores. Sadly, with online shopping overshadowing sales at brick and mortar retail stores, coupled with the next generation of the family living out of the area, they made the difficult decision to close the stores this summer.

In a note accompanying my gift, Jenn wrote that the last purchase she made from her store was chosen from among the 2018 Hallmark ornaments, and it was for me. As you can see in the photo attached to this post, my gift is a white porcelain feather inscribed with these words:   Be loved. Be lifted. Believe.

Say those words out loud with me. The phrasing is a tad unusual, right? Usually we hear the admonition TO love one another and TO lift up others.

But these words are more of a request. This is grace-filled phrasing.

No matter what we’ve done or not done, or said, or accomplished…we are loved.

One response to “be loved” is, “No, I just can’t accept the gift of love. I don’t deserve to be loved because I’m not _____ enough.” (You can fill in the blank for yourself.)

The other response is to say Thank you and accept the gift; to be willing to be loved even if we feel we fall short of being our best.

The same concept applies to “be lifted.” There is much tragedy, injustice, and sorrow in our world. We may not want to give up our piece of whatever has broken us. In fact, we may have held on to it for so long that we’re comfortable with it. Not happy, but comfortable because it’s what we know.

But allowing ourselves, permitting ourselves, to be lifted from the brokenness can be life-changing.

As the late Mr. Rogers shared his mother’s advice for coping in difficult times, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Yes, others will help us; will lift us up if we will be lifted.

And then finally, “believe.” It’s out there on its own. There is no request to “be” something but simply believe. Believe what?

My gift-giving friend Jenn and I are linked in love by the loss of our sons to drug overdoses. Our daughters are brotherless; our grandchildren are without sweet and funny loving uncles.

But Jenn and I believe in the never-ending power of love. And together we are lifted up.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mr. Rogers advice

The old hymn Love Lifted Me

Your Words Are The Best Words

journal words

Photograph by Norma Thatcher

I have terrible handwriting. Even my printing is bad. Sometimes I can’t read my own writing. In the past, it was frustrating for me to come across a scrap of paper with a name or idea that I’d jotted down and that I could not decipher.

I’ve learned to stop with the scraps of paper. I keep notebooks or tablets handy so that if I have trouble figuring out my hieroglyphics, at least the notes around the mystery words may provide some context.

My dad used to carry around a teeny notebook in his shirt pocket. He’d record the weather, the shifts he was working at the steel mill, and any noteworthy events that may have happened on that day. I actually have one of his books that includes the date September 16, 1950, where he wrote, “Baby was born.” Happy birthday to me!

Journaling is an activity that many experts recommend. Maud Purcell, writing on PsychCentral.com, identified health benefits of keeping a journal. One of them is the strengthening of immune cells and another is decreasing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis!

Along with bodily health benefits, journaling can also help our brains work better and more creatively. A link to the full article follows below this post.

There are no hard and fast rules for keeping a journal. Write about whatever you want, at whichever time you want, as often as you want. You don’t need an expensive Moleskine notebook or a Montblanc pen.

I go by the advice of “big paper, big ideas.” No shirt-pocket-sized versions for me. I also prefer wide-lined paper, which isn’t always easy to find in a grown-up notebook.

In case your brain is saying that keeping a journal is too similar to when you kept a sappy teenage diary, tell your brain to chill. Remind it that many famous people over the years have kept diaries and journals.

Just start writing. Buy a blank journal from the dollar store. Use an old Bic pen. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you write the first word.

What influenced me to write on this topic tonight? Why, thanks for asking.

I had bought two Penman Paper Company wide-lined large journals over twenty years ago. Sadly, I think the company may be out of business because their website domain name is up for sale. These are beautiful, sturdy spiral-bound journals. I had saved them for special occasions. I’m now using them because I’ve decided my life is a special occasion.

The photo at the top of this post is my favorite journal. Today I discovered that in the back of that book, I had hand-written a quote by Frances Mayes from her 1996 book Under the Tuscan Sun.

I do believe it’s just for you:  “A Chinese poet many centuries ago noted that to recreate something in words is like being alive twice.”

Go write the first word. Please.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Maud Purcell article

Link to images of Penman Paper Company journals just because I’m a geek about paper.

 

It’s On The Tip Of My, uhh….

Tongue

Photo by Mona Eendra on Unsplash

Last Thursday my brain couldn’t come up with the phrase “scavenger hunt.” I was telling a story to friends in which this fun game played a role, but I just couldn’t pull out the phrase.

It’s likely that you’ve had this happen to you as well; you know what you want to say – you can describe it – but you just can’t produce it. It’s on the tip of your tongue but refuses to come out. It’s frustrating.

I have noticed that the older I get, the more I start to panic when this happens. It’s as though the roller coaster of aging fears creeps nearer the top, about to crest over and race down toward a destination of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

But then I wisely apply the roller coaster’s brakes and remind myself that this is a common occurrence. According to a 2017 New York Times article, a “tip of the tongue” state is VERY common.

“You can’t talk to anybody, in any culture, in any language, in any age group, that doesn’t know what you’re talking about” when you describe a tip-of-the-tongue state, said Lise Abrams, a psychology professor at the University of Florida who has studied the phenomenon for 20 years. Researchers have even found occurrences among sign language users. (Those they call tip-of-the-finger states.)

The article also noted that it’s more common for words we use less frequently to be the ones we can’t spit out. I do believe scavenger hunt falls into that category.

If you happen to Google “how common is forgetting a word or phrase,” you will be met with nearly one billion results.

What a relief to know I’m not the only one thinking about this tonight.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

New York Times article about tip of the tongue state

Alzheimer’s link  because no way is this disease a laughing matter.

Internal Bleeding

Words can cause internal bleeding

Photo courtesy of Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Vetigel is a miracle product used on wounds with severe bleeding. It’s an algae-based polymer that’s injected directly into the wound. When it meets tissue, the gel forms a mesh-like material with an adhesive component that holds the wound together.

Currently, it’s a veterinary product only. Joe Landolina was just 17 years old when he invented this product that causes blood to clot in as little as twelve seconds.

A similar product (TraumaGel) for human use is under FDA testing.

Can you just imagine its use on the battlefield or in emergency medicine? How many lives might be saved if “bleeding out” can be stopped almost immediately?

A similar product called XStat is a syringe filled with tiny sponges. They are injected directly into a bleeding wound to compress it from the inside. A femoral artery wound can be sealed in about twenty seconds.

Amazing.

It’s too bad that we can’t create a product to instantly heal the wounds we create by using careless, thoughtless, or even deliberately mean words.

Once spoken or written, we can’t take ugly words back. They are part of our permanent record. An “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t mean it” will not undo the damage. While the wound may not be visible to others, it causes internal bleeding of our soul.

Even though many of us want to think that we are strong people and that we simply won’t let other people bring us down by what they say, the truth is that words can hurt. My calendar-a-day page for yesterday was a quote from Oprah. “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” That is an inspiring sentiment, but in the moment of raw hurt, it does not feel like any kind of wisdom.

Words from others have an amazing array of power over us. They can make us laugh or make us cry. Lift us up or tear us down. Inspire us to do better or convince us to give up. Fill us with hope or add to our despair.

Yes, they’re only words. But they have deep meaning beyond what we can possibly imagine.