Category Archives: Conversation Starters

19 Seconds to Tell Your Story

Reimagining Global Health_cover

I was rushing because it was 7 past the hour and that meant the standard allotment of “Harvard time” had been used up. And sure enough, as I walked into the first floor Boylston hall classroom, I was met with a room just shy of overcrowded and plenty of pizza boxes that had been discarded in one corner, their contents distributed on plates throughout the room. The evening dinner discussion with Professor Arthur Kleinman, a well known physician-anthropologist and Harvard Professor, was still missing its guest of honor. Good, I thought. I’m not that late. Soon enough though, just as I had finished saying Hi to a few friends and grabbed one of the few remaining seats, Professor Kleinman ambled in with his characteristic corduroy jacket, sauntering gait, and hat tilted slightly to the side atop his crop of graying hair. He had as much the air of a university professor as he did the quintessential grandfather. Taking his seat at the front of the room, he surveyed the crowd and the dull roar of chatter quickly died down. I could sense the audience leaning in ever so slightly, a few stragglers still chewing quietly on their pizza slices–all were eager to hear what the Professor had to say about tonight’s discussion topic: Ethics in Caregiving.

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“You have 19 seconds to tell your story.”

It was clear that he wanted us to let that figure sink in. The discussion had gotten underway and the Professor was talking about the patient-physician dynamic within the hospital setting today. 19 seconds was the average amount of time that a patient had to explain his or her story and symptoms before the doctor would jump in with a diagnosis and prescription, he told us. This was the time allotted despite the fact that studies show that it’s the latter part of a patient’s story that matters most to his diagnosis. And what’s the rush? Well, a patient only has an average of 17 minutes to see his doctor, so by all reasonable logic, the imperative is on both parties to talk quickly.

The Professor threw out a few more figures before he got to the meat of tonight’s talk:

“My contention is that medicine has little to do with caregiving today.”

It was a depressing statement to say the least. Caregiving, after all, is the reason why so many of the eagerly listening pre-meds in the room aspired to enter the medical profession. Caregiving, Professor Kleinman explained, consists of the emotional and moral components of the human response (i.e. acknowledging, affirming, etc.) whereas medicine is often defined purely in terms of the practical aspects of healthcare delivery (i.e. drugs, equipment, physician hours logged, etc.).

So, how do we restore the connection between these two–medicine & caregiving? This was the challenge that Professor Kleinman said he frequently presents to every class of medical students that he speaks to across the country. It’s our very own crisis in caregiving and certainly most medical schools in the country are trying to address it, he explained. “Find for me a medical school that is not undergoing curriculum reform?” he asked skeptically. No one in the audience said a word. “Exactly; everyone is trying to address this.”

That doesn’t mean that we have found success yet, though. Certainly the delivery of health and care depend on the availability of both time and resources. Where either or both are constrained, financial implications come into play that often place hospitals in the position of either turning away patients or seeing more of them in less time–many have chosen the latter. And still, costs have skyrocketed across the country. Especially in light of the current debates surrounding the Affordable Care Act, there is increased discussion about costs and the fact that the American health care system is one of the most expensive in the world despite providing poorer quality of care than systems that are far more economical. This is a problem that many, including surgeon and journalist Atul Gawande, have tried to tackle.

I think that Gawande’s writing has been particularly effective in communicating some of the finer nuances of the debate. Despite the many instances of disjunction between cost and quality of care, Gawande’s writing has presented examples of health centers and systems that seem to have achieved the allusive balance between the two. One such example is the Mayo Clinic. In his 2009 article The Cost Conundrum, Gawande demonstrates that the goals of keeping costs down and increasing doctors’ latitude to spend more time with patients are two ideas that need not be antithetical. He writes:

“I talked to Denis Cortese, the C.E.O. of the Mayo Clinic, which is among the highest-quality, lowest-cost health-care systems in the country. A couple of years ago, I spent several days there as a visiting surgeon. Among the things that stand out from that visit was how much time the doctors spent with patients. There was no churn—no shuttling patients in and out of rooms while the doctor bounces from one to the other. I accompanied a colleague while he saw patients. Most of the patients, like those in my clinic, required about twenty minutes. But one patient had colon cancer and a number of other complex issues, including heart disease. The physician spent an hour with her, sorting things out.”

It would seem that the Mayo clinic, then, has managed to reconnect medicine and caregiving so as to effectively address the crisis that Professor Kleinman was talking to us about while also responding to the financial considerations that dominate our national healthcare debate. How does Mayo’s model make this possible? Gawande asked Cortese to explain. In Gawande’s words:

“It’s not easy,” he [Cortese] said. But decades ago Mayo recognized that the first thing it needed to do was eliminate the financial barriers. It pooled all the money the doctors and the hospital system received and began paying everyone a salary, so that the doctors’ goal in patient care couldn’t be increasing their income. Mayo promoted leaders who focussed first on what was best for patients, and then on how to make this financially possible.”

Replicability and scalability are key issues of concern with regard to the Mayo model–but the clinic has successfully expanded to places such as Florida where the costs of healthcare are traditionally among the highest in the country. Recruiting physicians who are willing to work for a salary remains a challenge, however, and goes against the “culture of money” that has long been ingrained in some of the places that are plagued by the worst disparities between cost and patient satisfaction. Still, though, Mayo’s ability to achieve a semblance of balance between costs, medicine, and caregiving is promising and suggests that many healthcare systems around our country have much to learn from their model. As medical schools continue to restructure and reshape their curricula in order to re-infuse medicine with the caregiving that is so essential to it, perhaps they would do well to look at examples like the Mayo Clinic which have managed to address the financial considerations that underlie every debate of this nature.

“19 seconds to tell your story.” That was still the fact that stuck with me most as our dinner discussion wrapped up and people began gathering their things to venture back out into the cold night beyond the classroom. I kept thinking about how many words I thought I could get out in 19 seconds, especially if I were meeting someone for the first time. Not many, I decided. Standing in line at Starbucks afterwards, I knew that it would take more than 19 seconds just to give my coffee order. Walking home, I felt fortunate that coffee could help lift the weight of the caregiving crisis from my mind at least temporarily–but I felt determination and encouragement too, in knowing that facing that crisis and working to combat it is something that I hope to one day devote my life’s work to.

Seeing 25 years into the future

Inesha and I are back on Harvard’s campus for a relatively laid back reunions week–a week filled with almost tangible excitement as a new class of Harvard grads exits the Yard for the last time (and celebrates plenty in the days and nights leading up to it) and many classes of years past re-enter for their 5th, 10th, 15th, 25th, 35th, and 50th reunions.

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Harvard President Drew Faust and recipients of Harvard honorary degrees, Commencement 2013

Being a part of all of this–and yet, not being a part of it (since we are, after all, still current students)–has been a a real “looking glass experience” if I’ve ever had one. These have been days when we walk through the Yard at a time when the green has practically turned Crimson with  unmistakable gusto as regalia adorn every signpost and t-shirt. At night we work as “night counselors” (an unbelievably pleasant job) since it requires only that we sit inside one of the residential colleges and ensure that no 9-17 year-old children of alumni slip out of the doors while their parents are out late into the night (alumni delight in staying inside their old college dorm while attending their reunion). Fortunately, this job has also afforded me time to pick up a book that I had only just glanced through when all the hubbub around it began–that widely critiqued, widely praised tome of Mrs. Sandberg’s: Lean In.

Just last night, as I waved  slightly inebriated alumni through the gates of the college and towards various nightcap events, I was reading Lean In and doing my best to lodge in my memory the small nuggets of wisdom that Sandberg was imparting on me. The book was a pleasant read and by the end of the night, I was feeling inspired and, as you might imagine, the alumni were quite happy as well as they left their cocktail parties and trickled back into the dorms for the night.

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George Barner ’29, the alumnus from the oldest class year (104 years old!)

Fast forward to this afternoon, a Saturday, when the hot temperatures were  accompanied by only a few light festivities and little in the way of personal commitments or work to attend to. Thinking we could beat the heat, Inesha and I stumbled into one of the lecture halls in the Science Center. There we found air conditioning and also, serendipitously, an alumni panel that had drawn a sizable crowd to the rows of bright red chairs that I will probably forever associate with my morning Chemistry lectures. Inesha and I sat in the far left corner of the cavernous hall, hoping not to be a disturbance, though surely the other attendees wouldn’t mind the presence of two much younger (and more naive) students. At the front of the room sat a panel consisting of four women and one man. “Come on everyone, don’t be afraid to lean in and sit closer to the stage,” said one of the panelists into her microphone. She was a tall blonde woman wearing a patterned sheath dress and a pleasant smile as she beckoned to the audience. Her choice of words elicited a chuckle from those around us. It all made sense a few seconds later.

Unbeknownst to us, we had just walked into a panel on none other than Sheryl Sandberg’s, Lean In.

Now, to be sure this book had already been the cause of much conversation on campus. But also, the book (along with Mrs. Sandberg herself) arrived at Harvard at a time when classes and seemingly everything else were in full swing. Thus, even though I was eager to join the discussion, I had quietly planned to read the book in the first few weeks of my summer and tucked it away in my mind for the time being. But even if I wasn’t jumping to join the discussion, I wasn’t impervious to it going on all around me. I can distinctly remember how positive the reaction seemed to be from the many young women around me–after all, Sheryl Sandberg was fighting the good fight, and she was speaking up and leaning in to start a conversation that simply needed to be had. I, tempering my own comments with the caveat that I had not yet read the book, tended to feel the same way: yes, this was a book that was trying to move mountains and change entrenched norms in the workplace. Careers should not be thought of as a ladder, Sandberg writes.  Because then it seems that there is only one way up and most of the time you just end up staring at the butt of the person above you. Too true.

Fast forward a few weeks and I am sitting in an alumni panel feeling sheltered from the merciless heat, and yet pelted by a hard-hitting reality that certainly wasn’t shared on Commencement Day. Surrounding me in this Harvard lecture hall were graduates who presumably represented the reality that I would be facing in 25 years. They had kids, careers, health insurance. They had divorces, disabilities, and memories. But most of all, they had nuggets of wisdom that I found far more telling than those that I had read just the night before in Sandberg’s book. Now this was a conversation that had to be had.

One woman shared her story of going from earning a six figure salary at Oliver Wyman to applying for a job at a local Starbucks in a time of hardship. Her husband had been laid off and she had left her job in order to take care of her children. And of course, health insurance is tied to one’s job. The problem was, Starbucks paid $8/hr and daycare was $10/hr. What followed were many tough choices.

Another man shared a story about working at a dream career but then going through a terrible divorce that left him feeling detached from his children and miserable from the hardship. Years later he is remarried and, fortunately, has managed to find happiness again.

The stories were uplifting too, explaining the empowerment that comes from making choices and staying true to yourself in the worlds of both career and family.

Another mom took the mic and said, “I want to talk about the terminology a little bit. Why is it that deciding to stay home with your kid is leaning out? I may have had a corporate job that had me working overtime every week, but I have to say that staying home with a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old was the hardest job I ever had.” Applause erupted in the hall as she sat down.

Some women spoke about finally telling their bosses “no” to that request to work overtime when they had to leave work in order to watch their kid make the winning shot at his basketball game. They spoke about demanding a pumping room on the trading floor of an investment banking firm and encouraging their male and female colleagues alike to leave work when they had to be there for their families (and to explain to their coworkers where it was they were going). “By talking about it we make it ok,” explained one woman. More than anything, the message that resonated with me is that these alumni who had been through all stages of hardship with children and careers didn’t necessarily believe that Sheryl Sandberg’s message was as well positioned as myself and many other 20-somethings might think. What they called for was not a change in the behavior of women, but rather changes in the cultural and structural factors that can often prevent them from leaning in. I am aware that the people who sat around me in the lecture hall today are also privileged in their own way. They are by no means representative of the average American family, but simultaneously demonstrate that hardship cannot be defined by any one experience and hits at all levels of the economic spectrum. We may not be able to predict the challenges that we will face later in life, but we do control our response to it. One man’s words remained with me throughout the session:

Life is more stressful than any one of us thought, but it’s more beautiful too–a Harvard alum, 25th reunion

His words reminded me of many similar ones that my father would share with Inesha and me when we were even shorter and (if possible) more of a handful than we are now. Even though he never put it in a single statement, this was exactly what he was trying to tell us every time we rolled up to the gas station and he reminded us that a car–like life–doesn’t just run on fuel and energy. There are also the car inspections and vehicle registration payments and unanticipated visits to the mechanic. The groceries, too, wouldn’t just find themselves in our kitchen. We would need to choose carefully and shop for them, and generally, it’s just a good idea to know what the cost of bread is these days. What might have seemed like mundane advice on the surface, was an implicit appeal to always appreciate what we have and work for what we want, all the while remembering that no one does it alone.

Throughout the school year, I attend various panels that bring celebrities and politicians and true changemakers from around the world to rooms filled with millennials who want to soak in their wisdom. We hear about their first job out of college, the mistakes they made on their resume, and the hard times during graduate school. But sitting in that lecture hall this afternoon, one crucial factor was distinctly different–the makeup of the audience. Here, there were families in the room. Wives sat next to their husbands or partners and women and men alike shared stories about their struggle to balance work and home life, decisions to have kids or no kids, or fears about the future as their kids leave home for college and they are faced with the difficulty of jumpstarting their careers at age 50. Rather than feeling that the excitement and limitless energy of a room of college students had been unceremoniously sapped from the room, I felt fortunate to hear about a reality that I had never been exposed to in such a real way. I was given an opportunity to see 25 years into the future. Between the jubilation and ceremonies, nightcaps and reminiscing, these alums had real stories to share about their experiences post-Harvard and, on this afternoon in particular, how these related to Lean In.

I haven’t finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book yet, but when I do, I know I will set it down with a far more nuanced perspective. Leaning In assumes a different form for every person, and for some, it may be that taking a step back from work is their personal way of leaning in and doing something that they never thought they had permission to do. It’s true that Sheryl Sandberg had a powerful mentor in Larry Summers, and she is gracious in recognizing him and the many others who have helped her get to where she is today. But the reality is that sometimes we have to be our own best advocate. Discussion about the injustice of having no federally mandated paid maternity leave in the United States when it exists in many countries around the world or the fact that there are many explicit choices that we have to make but never talk about only supported that point.

No matter what your opinion of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, you can’t deny that she has started a national conversation. I still feel far removed from the problems that were discussed during the alumni panel today, but just hearing about them and hearing from families, and not just successful individuals, gave me a more than one-dimensional view of “what success looks like.”

Though I have dreams and hopes and plans for the future, I have to recognize that I don’t actually know where I will be in 25 years. But one thing is for sure: I sincerely hope that I find myself back here at Harvard during my own 25th reunion. As powerful as conversation is, it is made doubly so by the passage of time through which intangible ideas can be shaped into reality. Of course only time will tell, but having “seen through the looking glass,” I feel strength in knowing that I as much as any of my peers have the ability to change the tide with regard to many of the cultural and structural challenges that we face in the workplace. And for starting that conversation, I have to thank that famed management maven-turned author herself, the one and only Sheryl Sandberg.

Avoiding FOMO

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When we come to a new place, FOMO is the last thing that we expect to experience. After all, rather than a Fear OMissing Out, we expect to experience the exact opposite–shall we call it, the Fear OBeing Counted In (too much)? Now, I realize that this phrase isn’t going to be in Urban Dictionary anytime soon, but what I mean to say is that a new place means a host of new experiences–to the point that we are more likely to be overwhelmed  by a multiplicity of new emotions, feelings, and experiences than to be worried about not being involved enough, or gasp–missing out on one experience or another.

And yet, when I first came to Harvard, I became familiar with this term. First, when it was tossed around in casual conversations in the dhall or among roommates on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Somehow, FOMO existed–even if I wasn’t feeling it, there was sense that it had the power to seep into me at any moment and that therefore, it somehow would.

So, how can you evade FOMO? Community. Now, of course “community” is one of those buzz words and definitely the go-to answer for a lot of questions. How do we combat loneliness? How do we find more meaning in an activity that we really love or within a passion that we’ve cultivated? What is the alternate way to express the idea of a support system? Who are the people that surround us that make us who we are in ways implicit and explicit? 

But here, I provide community as an answer because if we do indeed feel FOMO, then the logical way to combat it is to find solace in the multiplicity of experiences that fill a room at the same time and in the same way that your community of people fills it.

In other words,

Live vicariously. Do it. It’s not scary or “cheating” or a second-hand way to have an experience, its a way to expand your experiences.

In the first few months after I arrived at Harvard, I began hearing “FOMO” as a term associated with the feeling of deprivation and sadness that one feels because that are just so many opportunities that college has to offer and participating in one automatically means leaving behind another. But as I’ve found in this incredibly dynamic, engaged, and diverse community, everyone has “missed out” on something and therefore no one has to really miss out on anything. When my roommate who has worked on organizing an event for many months–all the while typing furiously at her computer and holding meetings and conferences while I stood on the periphery–finally holds that event, I can attend. Or at least ask her about it afterward. I didn’t miss out; in fact, I’ve experienced her experience in a way that was already made richer simply by the fact that she related it to me. Our friendship grew stronger and I learned yet another thing about a precious member of my community.

I became acutely aware of this possibility to experience the experiences of others as I was siting in one of the private dining rooms in my undergraduate house this afternoon, convening a meeting with a group of fabulously talented, motivated, and inspirational young women who will serve as the first class of Women’s Leadership Ambassadors at an inaugural women’s mentorship event that I am directing next Friday. We will bring together a community of upperclassmen with freshmen and sophomores to share their experiences and experience mentorship in a way that most of us don’t on this campus. We often look to that professional, that relative, that teacher who is 25 years older in experience and age because we assume that surely they must know something that we don’t. But we all know something that others who are our age don’t. While we are here–still undergraduates–we have learned things that we can pass on even if we are a just a year or two older than our mentees. Mentorship doesn’t have to be a protracted experience in the sense that decades must separate those who are seeking and delivering guidance, because truly I think mentorship ought to be a partnership and the relationship is as much about reciprocity as it is about paying it forward.

The Next Step is an event that seeks to connect female undergraduates from different class years, extracurricular groups, and academic concentrations in one room to not only look forward and reflect back, but also to develop a new understanding of the concept of “mentorship”–which can seem so amorphous to many–and ground it in a firmer understanding of how the group  and one-on-one mentorship models can be blended into something is truly  tangible. Everyone has something to learn and something that they can teach. You were there once and now she is.

When we don’t feel FOMO, we can appreciate just how valuable our community is–not only for the physical people who fill the room but also for their experiences, which are so much a part of who they are and can be a part of who you become.

If I had any piece of advice in my ripe old 19 years, it would be to be open to that sharing of experiences and the opportunity to live vicariously through someone else. You can’t experience it all, so why not share with the hundreds of people around you who do?

‘Don’t Strive to be like me.’

Cameron Russell is tall, beautiful, and looks magazine ready as she steps onto the stage at a recent TED conference. She’s also a Victoria’s Secret model. But as she proceeds to do a “wardrobe change” in front of the crowded room, she also discusses how miraculous it is that she can change what people think of her in just a few minutes. And just how powerful that is.

But Cameron’s entire talk is about perception, and how even careers like modeling, which may seem to many a young girl to be the epitome of a glamorous, comfortable lifestyle, are not always all that appears on a glossy, photoshopped fashion spread in the pages of Elle.

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Cameron’s message is refreshing, honest, and surprising in a way that puts the mantra of female empowerment and body image conflicts in an entirely new light.

The next thing people always ask me is, ‘can I be a model when I grow up?’ And, my first answer is ‘I don’t know, they don’t put me in charge of that.’ But the second answer, and what I really want to say to these little girls is, ‘Why? You know, you could be anything.’

I venture to say that not many people–especially those in Cameron’s position–would tell another to not strive to be like them. And yet this (role) model does. But more than that, for all the women and young girls listening she opens up a window into a world full of possibilities that are not based on a “genetic lottery,” as she calls it. That message means more by virtue of coming from a model’s mouth. At the very least, Cameron says something that catches most of us off guard, but at the most–and in reality–what she has done is caught one of our engrained perceptions by the tail, held it tightly, and challenged it to swim upstream in a different direction.

You could be anything.

–Or–

If you still want to be a model, Cameron says, “Be my Boss.”

Take a few minutes to watch her inspiring talk here!

Let’s talk. My Sri Lanka lessons: on teamwork, frustration, and sisterhood

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School, after all, is a selfish endeavor.

Recently, I watched Eat, Pray, Love for the first time, the fan working furiously above my head all the while as it circulated the hot Sri Lankan air. The movie was good, but god, how I love the sound of that fan. It reminds me of being here, which is really fascinating if you think about it–because, after all, I’m still here.

But I’m saving the sound of that fan and the feeling of all that it circulates, and I’ll take it with me for when I’m far away from here and need it most.

My uncle, aunt, Inesha, and I all went out to dinner the other night at the Dutch Hospital here in Colombo. Fantastic name for a place that was transformed from a historic hospital into a light, ebullient, warm-weather dinner arena. We enjoyed Indonesian Nasi goreng, a roasted chicken sandwich, Chinese spring roles, and baby back ribs. And we talked. We are all travelers who are at parellel stages in our life, and we sat around a table and shared experiences as diverse as the food upon it. It was also the first frank look that Inesha and I had taken at our relationship in a long time–as seen by two older, wiser family members who had observed us for a short time in our 19-year-old states.

You see, I realized that this relationship has changed. This bond between Inesha and I had shifted, and negatively so. We’d been fighting more and worrying our parents more and really just doing everything bad for this relationship, more.

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School, after all, is a selfish endeavor.

But motherhood is not.

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Inesha and I are still students, certainly, but I had given up on being her sister and decided to be her mother of late. Being here in Sri Lanka has been as much of a team effort as a test of individual follow through and dedication, but working on GrowLanka has also given me a chance to learn something about what it means to work on a team and see your teammates as just that–people whom you can trust and whom you hold accountable.

Both Inesha and I have our faults, but for me, it was that dinner conversation with my uncle and aunt that made me realize that there are different kinds of teamwork. There’s the teamwork that two sisters share as they travel to foreign countries and leave home for college in a community foreign to their own, and then there’s the teamwork that colleagues share when they have to be able to wholly and unequivocally rely on one another.

I learned many valuable things during my time in Sri Lanka. But I also learned that I can’t be Inesha’s mother when I have been her sister since I was born. I can’t tell her what to do when there is so much that she can do on her own. I have to trust her and remember that there’s nothing wrong with a healthy amount of doubt–that way, you’re ready to let the other person surprise you :)

One day when we enter the workforce, Inesha, myself, and most of our friends will have to shift our mentality from “me-centered student life” to become a part of a team that is working for and towards something other than ourselves. This was one of the insights that Inesha shared with me since finishing her internship at the White House, and I think its a valuable realization for all of us who have been so consumed in the pursuit of knowledge for so long.

I can’t help but feel that the day when I stop checking the “student” box on all those federal forms is still a long way off. But still, I think it’s valuable to prepare myself for what that shift might be like whenever it does happen. I hope to never stop learning, but I do believe that there is a day when I will stop being simply, a student. Working with Inesha has helped open my eyes to the possibilities of service for others and made me appreciate just how fulfilling it is. In working with Inesha, I have to stumble, fall, scream, and smile my way to the compromises that colleagues might work out in half the time that it takes two sisters who decided to join the same team. But we’re working on it and part of that process has to begin with me stepping back, and realizing that I shouldn’t and can’t tell her what to do. Anyway, with time I know we’ll get there–I’ll let you know how it goes :)

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School, after all, is a selfish endeavor.

But sisterhood is not–most of the time.

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Being a sister means caring for the people who call you sister, but it also means caring for yourself.


Good luck to everyone who is heading back to school or may already have started their spring semesters! Inesha and I are leaving Sri Lanka soon and will be back stateside before we know it :)

A Dash of Cinnamon

At school things tend to move fast–the people, the cars, the little colored blocks on my Gcal. But as I was walking back to my room this afternoon, across the bridge and past the beautiful Charles, I heard music before I saw the man behind it. Sitting on the bridge with a guitar in his hand, this stranger shared his melody with the world around him–

without a care in the world whether anyone was listening.

Well, he had at least one listener :)

Needless to say, I felt fortunate that I had decided to walk that way, and at that moment. Seeing that sight on a beautiful Friday afternoon also inspired me to do some thinking–especially about the two crazy weeks that have gone by without my having realized it, and the fact that I am here, a sophomore in College, learning in far more ways than one.

As the weekend commences, I thought I’d share just a few of the things that I’ve learned about myself this past week. Inspired in part by Michi’s (my lovely blockmate) “wall of thanks” and phone conversations with my mom, here goes:

The Spice of the Week

  • Classes have started, and that means the corresponding homework has been assigned. And while I have honestly convinced myself that I can get all that reading done while sitting with friends in a crowded dhall…the evidence speaks for itself (the mountains of evidence).
  • Sleep schedules will never be perfect, but gosh darn it, I can try.
  • I’ve probably known this for a while, but I’m definitely a multi-tasking kind of girl. That’s probably why I always have a million tabs open on my browser or send myself reminders probably a bit too frequently (either that or I’m rather forgetful). Regardless, when a thought comes to mind, I’ve realized it’s just better to put it to paper (or iPhone) right then and there.
  • Phone = lifesaver. Now, I’ll admit that this might be more of a testament to overuse rather than useful use. I now have to take my phone charger out of the dorm with me because, undoubtedly, between texting, gcal, and hyperactive email checking, my phone will be screaming for juice by late afternoon.
  • Have a meeting halfway across campus in an hour? Or in a building you’ve never heard of before? Go early! I’ve learned that–especially for a time-challenged person like myself–going early can be a life savior. That way, even if you’ve underestimated walking time/distance, gotten lost, or forgotten something that you were supposed to take with you, there is no need to worry. The worst that could happen is that you get there so early that you have time to enjoy a new reading spot :)
  • And my final “spice of the week” for this week–and the inspiration for that title–is cinnamon! In the past week, I’ve gained a new appreciation for how incredibly delicious and versatile it is. It can spice up your life, you oatmeal, you coffee…and yes, I said coffee. See, as a certified non-coffee drinker, I wouldn’t know whether adding cinnamon to a café latté is strange or not. But what I do know is that on those days when you absolutely need that caffeine jolt, there’s nothing wrong with putting a dash of cinnamon into your café latté for a little autumn spice.

Have a great weekend!

The lightest most valuable thing

Through a series of most unfortunate events, I lost all of the contacts in my phone during the course of the summer. And after mulling over this fact glumly while sitting on airplanes or staring with a flickering glimmer of hope into the blank face of the Apple Care guy, I finally mustered up the energy to sit down and manually re-enter them. A task to fill the long car ride between Richmond and Cambridge, I figure.

But funny enough, as I drive back to campus—surrounded by my family and an inordinate number of boxes—I find that manually inputting contacts into my iPhone is a surprisingly poignant thing to be doing in this particular place and time.

First of all, I freely admit that there is (in all likelihood) someone who is far more tech savvy than myself who could save me the time and monotony of doing such a thing. On the other hand, I am reluctant to find that person as I sit comfortably in a family van and realize that, well, I have nothing better to do.

But here’s the thing—putting these contacts in my phone has actually been enjoyable. I’ve always been one for scrapbooks and preserving memories, but with each (804) and (617) that I input, I am given a pleasantly colorful reminder of the face that lies at the other end of the unassuming 7-digit number that follows the two area codes of my life.

So, number after number, I dutifully plug away, happily enjoying the most unlikely scrapbook I’ve ever come across. I laugh to myself as I see the number of an old Driver’s Ed instructor and the labels that were attached to contacts as earnest attempts to remind myself of faces and names during the crazy frenzy of Freshmen Orientation weekend. Many of those labels are completely unnecessary in the present place and time, now that a grand collection of numbers and names that were input during that fateful weekend have come to represent dear friends.

This is Year 2.

Though I can’t believe how quickly freshman year and the summer after have flown by, I utter silent thanks as I look at the phone numbers which speak volumes about newly sown relationships, those that have already blossomed, and those which have so much potential for the future.

And alhough it is perfectly irrational, I also re-input the numbers of the friends who have long moved out of the country, the people whom I knew in brief instances and flashes of my life, and those whom I’ve quietly fallen out of touch with. As I look through the long list of numbers, collected over years and experiences a plenty, I revel in a monotonous task because it gives me a chance to give a moment to all those people who have filled my life from near and far.

Isn’t it funny that you can carry an entire community in your pocket—from Dar es Salaam to Shanghai to Cambridge? And believe me, I’m unapologetically taking this entire community back to college with me as my second year begins.

After all, that phone directory—

it is the lightest, most valuable thing that I have the pleasure of carrying with me every single day.