How We Unwind

Here are some of our favorite (and most candid) ways of taking care of ourselves after enduring a day out and about in the world.

Just the Tip is a quick little column in which we share just a little bit of ourselves. (Even though it’s just a little bit, despite what you learned in health class, it still counts.)

We speak to you not as experts, but as regular ol’ humans here to share a bit of our own tips and tricks, be they relatable, weird, interesting, gross, or groundbreaking. (They probably won’t be groundbreaking.)


In honor of our upcoming chapter about the flesh bags we call our bodies, this Just the Tip delves into how we each interpret the ever-evolving idea of self-care. For some, self-care is a daily mantra, a necessary shield against the perils of a busy subway commute or a stressful meeting. For others, the term means nothing more than extravagant self-pampering, something to engage in when you have the time or money.

But although the idea of self-care may differ for each of us, engaging in it offers your body and mind a much-needed chance to heal and recharge. Here are some of our favorite (and most candid) ways of taking care of ourselves after enduring a day out and about in the world.

Laura

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The concept of self-care is not new, however it seems as of late we are constantly bludgeoned with the commodification of self-care as a measure of self-love. If that is truly the case, then let me tell you, I love myself a lot.

In my day-to-day, I encounter a lot of people and thus a lot of energy–some good, some not so good. From the man jabbing his elbow into my head on the subway, to the young artist who hugs me because I helped her sell her first piece, the energies I absorb ebb and flow. Therefore it should come as no surprise that my self-care involves beautiful, blissful solitude. Alone, I escape and sink into the familiar, whether it’s cracking open a well-worn book of sudoku puzzles or watching Marissa Cooper die in Ryan Atwood’s working-class arms for the 5th time (SPOILER SORRY! You were never gonna watch “The OC” anyway).

I am also a retail-therapy truther. Where many encounter anger and anxiety scouring the racks of over-crowded New York flagships and boutiques, I find peace. It may seem superficial, but in a city where people don’t talk to each other, a stranger telling me that they like my pants or asking me where I got my purse does a lot to counteract the man on the street explicitly letting me know what he’d like to do to me.

I’m sure I don’t consume enough nutrients and the only time I’ve stepped into a gym in New York City was to cancel my membership (twice), but these other acts of mindful mindlessness help me avoid falling down existential-thought black-holes and keep me ready for what comes next. Oh, and did I mention watching “The Great British Baking Show”? It’s basically like taking a Xanax…

 

Saira

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I used to love watching tragic movies, sad documentaries, and reading heartbreaking books about injustice. Not anymore. I work in an industry that is rife with depressing news, and at a magazine that publishes beautiful and harrowing long-form stories; some are tear-jerkers, some are infuriating. And, because of the nature of my job, I have to read all of them. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself feeling deeply affected by these stories. So, I have chosen, on my own personal time, to turn away (and that, I know, is my privilege.) For me, self-care is a way to disconnect from the horrors of the world. I no longer watch sad fictional shows that seem a little too real and documentaries about grave injustices. Last season’s “Orange is the New Black” finale? Skipped it. “Making a Murderer”? No, thanks. Give me some Melissa McCarthy and Aziz Ansari any day.

Beyond censoring my TV habits, what do I do to free my mind? I run. I had stopped for a while, because, you know, men are disgusting. But I’ve decided my soul needs some serious healing post-election, so I’ve put my running shoes on again. With the right playlist and a cool summer evening, nothing works better clear my mind than a run across the Williamsburg Bridge. You should try it.

 Monica

sairablogportraits_2_72For me, self-care is learning how to pay attention to yourself and what moves you, your weirdness, your damage, the secret longings you don’t tell anyone but yourself. It’s learning to take care of the contradictory soul inside your shell of a body.

I’m still not very good at this, self-deflecting and seeking approval in things and people, but I’m working on it. I want to find balance with myself. So I go hold sweaty yoga poses at the gym because exercising makes me less anxious. I cook meals that take less than 30 minutes because I want to eat healthier but I’m realistic about how much I actually enjoy cooking. I read a self-help column that sees through me to the marrow. I do breathing exercises when it all piles up.

And yes, sometimes, I’m a shill for the self-care industrial complex because I’m a sucker for good packaging and pampering. I love manicures and massages. You don’t need to pay buttloads of cash for SoulCycle-kumbayah-quinoa self-care, but rituals help. We all need regular reminders that we are more than flesh and bone. I huff lavender oil, light candles, drink chamomile tea, and wear face masks, not because I believe they are actually making me a better (calmer?!) person, but because I like the repetitive ritual of it. Private offerings to the altar of me. 

This can feel too much and self-indulgent sometimes, but part of my adulthood is realizing that I am fundamentally not a chill person. I am extra! I’m a sensitive marshmallow who journals her feelings in vague Tumblr posts and channels her heart through the lyrics of indie female singers. Self-care is being kinder to my embarrassingly soft center. It’s taking up space. It’s asking for what I want, without qualifying it, or compromising it, or apologizing for it. I’m working on it.

Gabrielle

sairablogportraits_1_72Sometimes I listen to old episodes of “Friends” while showering. It used to be “The Office,” before that it was “30 Rock.” I’ll bring my laptop into the bathroom and set it up on the hamper, allowing the jokes about pivoting and ham and staplers in jello to fill the room as I soap up and let the tension drop out of my shoulders. I enjoy the comfort of listening to jokes I have heard a thousand times before, funny lines I have memorized and can recite (and do, often) when the mood strikes (it does, often).

As an arts journalist, I love listening to and discovering new music, but that tends to stimulate my mind and not lull it into a clay ball of relaxed submission. SoulCycle is probably my one true self-care indulgence as I am well aware of how overpriced the classes are and I just don’t care. I will happily scrape the bottom of my bank account in order to cycle my heart out in the dark, enjoying any opportunity to dance and move with an equally devoted group of strangers. Lastly, I love getting manicures but sometimes they are stressful because I have a hard time telling the manicurist when something is smudged because I know she is working hard and I leave the nail salon feeling guilty and disappointed which is basically the opposite of the feeling I had intended to achieve.

Also, therapy.


Frida

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Like many millennials and millennial-adjacents, I’m pretty good at relaxing. I go to bars, sleep in, peruse the weekend paper, binge-watch TV, make the couch into a bed. My style is more teenage boy on summer break than 30-year-old womanI’ve never had a facial or a massage and my last manicure was probably 10 years ago. I tried a face mask I bought in Japan because the ingredients included horse placenta, but it didn’t really do it for me. I fully acknowledge that part of the reason I avoid more conventional self-care practices like meditation or quiet “me-time” is problematic in itself. I’d rather flood my ears with a podcast or do a crossword than let my over-thinking brain think over the Big Stuff like our ultimate mortality, the fate of our planet, and whether season 5 of “Arrested Development” will return it to its former glory or only be so-so like Season 4?

Outside of the non-productive (re: lazy) ways I drive off the spleen and regulate my circulation, making dinner is my most pleasurable ritual. For breakfast I might go to the bodega, lunch I can forget, but dinner is my queen. I clear off my counter, pop on a mindless re-run, and start slicing. I realize “cooking” is something people say they like to do when they want to impress you, but I don’t entertain any illusions that I’m a great cook. I’m not inherently creative in the kitchen, and my joy doesn’t necessarily stem from discovering a new flavor pairing, or “taking a risk” like they do on “Top Chef.” I like to put things together to make a complete meal, that’s all. And sometimes I even eat it, but that’s not really the point.

Sara

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My job requires me to be connected to the online news world 24/7, so the calm of self-care comes with shutting out everything digital. So that means placing my iPhone face down or throwing it deep inside of my purse. This will guard me from checking the many notifications bombarding my screen, from news alerts to emoji-filled texts. Once that’s set, I can decompress. These days, the kind of self-care I find most important is both active and creative. In New York City, taking long walks with my DSLR and observing the many urban scenes ready for a photo is my new favorite pastime. I can’t even take naps so being productive creatively with photography makes me feel balanced.

When not out and about, my go-to is pampering. Yes, mani-pedis, facials, massages, plucking untamed Iranian eyebrows, and other do-it-at-home body maintenance. My favorite right now is lathering up in a face mask. I really recommend Aesop’s chamomile masque since the anti-blemish formula works its magic during breakouts. In full ghost face, I lay down and relax knowing my mug is about to undergo pure rejuvenation. Before washing it off, I obviously send my friends a wide-eyed mask selfie!

But I think the most crucial tip to self-care in NYC is alone time. In a place as stimulating and overcrowded as it is here, the moments spent in solitude are the most peaceful. Whether writing in a journal, re-watching “Sex and the City” for the millionth time, or cleaning the house blasting David Bowie, solo time will have you ready to step back into the hustle and bustle of the city–and not be overwhelmed by it all.

 

Watching My Father Lose His Sight

For most of my life, books and my father went hand-in-hand. Then, about six years ago, he began losing his eyesight.

By Saira Khan

I was 13 years old when I first read something from my father’s book shelf. “Blasphemy,” by Tehmina Durrani, is a novel about the abuse and brutalization of Heer, a young Muslim woman, at the hands of her cleric husband, Pir Sain. At one point, Heer is forced into getting an abortion. It was my first literary encounter with abortion and Durrani’s words about Heer losing control over her body have stayed with me ever since.  She helped shape who I am and what I believe in.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t see a book or a newspaper in my father’s hands. When I was a child, and we lived in New Jersey, his Sunday morning ritual included sitting on our stoop with a warm cup of chai to read The New York Times beginning to end. He encouraged me to read from his collection. Often, the books were about women: “A God of Small Things,” by Arundhati Roy, Benzair Bhutto’s biography, and Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’urbervilles.” Books and my father went hand-in-hand. Then, about six years ago, he began losing his eyesight.

***

My father, Afzal, was born in the town of Lucknow, in India, in 1948, shortly after the partition. His family—including four siblings and two parentsrelocated to Karachi, Pakistan, when he was still a baby. His father (my grandfather) was a schoolteacher by passion and by trade. Literature was a big part of their lives. “It wasn’t just reading the books that we enjoyed. We needed to talk about them. We debated them all the time,” my father told me. This is a ritual he carried on with his own family. When I was younger, and still lived at home, conversations about what we read would ultimately lead to conversations and politics and religion. It wasn’t uncommon for us to be at the table for two hours.

Much of the literature my father consumed was from progressive Pakistani and Indian writers, from the prose of Saadat Hasan Manto to the poetry of Mirza Ghalib to the early feminist works of Ismat Chugtai and Qurratulain Hyder. “There’s one writer we talked about a lot at home,” my father told me about his adolescence. “Noon Meem Rashid, he was always a prickly subject. We’d have so many debates about him! It was great.”

“Before I ever considered moving to America, I found so much of the world in these books,” he told me. “There was a time when I was obsessed with Russian literature and poetry.  ‘And Quiet Flows the Don’ was one of my favorites. Which, by the way, I read in Urdu. That’s a lost art, reading in Urdu. No one does it anymore. That’s a story for another day, I suppose.” He always preferred reading in Urdu. “It’s my mothertongue, I understand it much better than I do English. And there’s a poetry in Urdu words that you just can’t find in English.”

When I asked my father if he actively chose feminist literature to stock his bookshelves with, after we were born, as a way of imparting wisdom on his three daughters, he laughed. “I couldn’t even fathom your existence when I first started these!” Literature opened a window into a world that he says people didn’t, and still don’t, talk about. “Take Chugtai, for example, she was writing about what life for women was like, socially and sexually. And Manto, he wrote about the rape of women and children during the Partition,” he said. “This is why it’s such a shame that you can’t read Urdu,” he said addressing me. “These books in English had an effect on you, imagine what Chugtai’s words could have done!”

“I guess you could say reading was a big, big part of my life,” he said. “I guess you could say I wouldn’t be who I am if I hadn’t read what I did.”

***

My father is an insulin-using diabetic. So I can’t say we were truly surprised when, in 2010, he started losing his vision: macular edema, the loss of sight due to a buildup of fluid in the retina, is a common complication stemming from the disease. He underwent cataract surgery to correct it, but it barely helped. “Apparently the surgery wasn’t a success. I don’t remember what exactly happened but my eyesight was still poor. ” Over the years, he has sought all forms of treatment: another surgery and various types of glasses. “Sometimes I’d think it was getting better but then my vision would just get progressively worse,” he said.

Since then, his vision has only gotten worse. By 2011, he could no longer read regular print books. When it became apparent that he would no longer be able to consume the words he wanted to, we turned to audiobooks. I got him Walter Isaacson’s book about Steve Jobs on tape. “There is no fun in it,” he told me back then and again when I asked him about it this week. “I like to see and read. What’s the point if someone else is putting the images in your head? I’d rather watch a movie.” But even that has become cumbersome. Much of the images he sees are blurry and disrupts the flow of the film or show. And while he never complains to us directly, when he asks one of us to explain what’s going on in the movie because “I can’t see it properly,” my heart aches for him. To lose such an important part of yourself, something we all take for granted, that has been there since many of us were born, must feel debilitating. But I don’t know how it effects my father  because he refuses to talk about it. Though  I’ve pressed him on it many times, he brushes it off as a natural part of growing old.

***

Before he started losing his sight, my father amassed a large book collection, the same collection I’d peruse as a teen. Bookshelves were always a staple in our home. These books had long and healthy lives. The ones in Urdu had been acquired in Pakistan in the 1960s and  travelled with him to Chicago, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland. During this time, the collection grew to include books in English. Geoffrey Chaucer. Khalil Gibran. Leo Tolstoy. And many more that I can’t recall. My parents moved back to Pakistan in 2014 and when I went to visit in early 2015, there was no book shelf to be found in their home. “We donated them to a mosque before we left,” my father told me. “What’s the point anymore of lugging them around from one corner of the world to another? They’re better off actually being read. There they’ll be cared for.”

A few days ago, while speaking with him for this story, I asked him if he misses his books, and more importantly, misses reading them. He told me all was not lost. “I can read some short news article on my laptop if I adjust the font enough. If it’s something short it doesn’t hurt my eyes,” he said. “Listen, this is just something I have to live with now,” he said when I asked more pointedly if he misses consuming  literature the way he knew how to. “I don’t miss it anymore. Not now. Not anymore. Now, I know I cannot read them, so I don’t even miss them.” I don’t know if he was trying to convince himself or me but I don’t think either of us believe him.

 

 

7 Media-Inspired Suggestions for Not Losing Your Mind in 2017

Advice from an amateur but avid media consumer struggling to stay informed with staying afloat.

By Fríða Óskarsdóttir

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You may have read in any of the 30,000 think pieces published in 2016 that the media landscape is changing. We – as readers, consumers, and citizens – have changed along with it. Compulsively trying keep up with current events in a tense climate can come at a cost. I wake up and refresh local and national news apps, listen to one of 20 or so podcasts in my rotation on the train to work, and receive  long-form recommendations daily from friends that I then plan to read later. By the time the weekend edition of the paper arrives I’m in a daze from tweetstorms and clapbacks, fake news and the people who fake it.

Being constantly plugged into the Matrix leaves me at times feeling like my brain is burnt and others that I remain woefully under-informed. As I’m sure is true for many who don’t work in journalism, social media was a prominent factor in spurring my interest in the news over the last few years. But in the current climate, the volatile mixture of online activism, fake news, and hostile comment threads makes me wary of what I share. In spite of this, I think that learning how to navigate the personal and political in a time of great divide should be at the forefront of our lives. It’s impossible to keep up with it all, but in a time of alternative facts, I hope to stay vigilant.

I decided to examine my relationship with the media and how I use it as a source of information, reflection, and connection. The following points are the ways I’ve found to try to keep myself awake, in check, and inspired.

1. Hold yourself accountable.

In uncertain times, I like to remind myself that I’m in control of the information I take in and put out. Sometimes it’s all too easy to paraphrase and misremember statistics and while acknowledging your sources is important, it isn’t always enough. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow urged being a critical reader of the media on the post-election episode of their podcast “Call Your Girlfriend” (full episode here):

“Ask questions as you’re reading something. Even from [the most reputable] news sources, you can say ‘Who am I not hearing from in this article?’ ‘So this is ostensibly about how people are feeling after the election – but who’s really quoted here? What sorts of ‘experts’ am I hearing from? Is this news source trading access to give people anonymity?’ There is a whole skill set of being a critical reader and thinking about how the news that gets to you is constructed. A good tell is: did this writer call people? Did this writer go somewhere? Or is this piggy-backing off something else?”

2. Focus on lived experiences of others.

Studies and statistics are important, but they shouldn’t completely discount people’s varied personal experiences.  A recent New Inquiry piece from David A. Banks explores the tendency of some of the most popular podcasts to gloss over sociology for more abstract neurological phenomena, leading to “a sense of obnoxious explainerism.” This is particularly helpful to remember as someone who all too often responds to an anecdote with, “You know, I just heard on…”

3. Broaden your scope.

News and politics are so much more than the day to day, but the immediate often takes precedence over all else. Instead of sharing every breaking news item or those pieces that reinforce your point of view into the echo chamber, I find it’s helpful to reach out individually to the people close to you who may think differently than you do. Sharing art, movies, books, podcasts, or articles that you think they might like may lead to common ground in other areas. Not everything has to be political, and that makes it political.

4. Find the sweet spot.

The most powerful movements combine symbolism with action. This was embodied by the viral push to donate to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name. As highlighted in this New York Magazine piece by Lisa Ryan, the campaign was both brilliant and effective: of the over 315,000 donations the organization has received since the election, 82,000 were made in Pence’s name.  

5. Listen.

One of the first pieces of media that brought me out of my post-election stupor was an episode of “This American Life” entitled The Sun Comes Up, which laid out conversations between people in the days after November 8th. The dialogue spanned mothers and children, recent and long-naturalized immigrants, police officers and veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. To me these offered solace in the reminder that America will always be home to vastly different ideologies, regardless of how helpless I feel in mine at any given moment.

6. Do the damn thing.

While making your voice heard is vital to broad cultural shifts, sometimes just the smallest action is what it takes to chip away at the despair that crops up from one too many deep-dives on Google. I can rant as many times as I want about Betsy Devos’ terrifying lack of experience in public education, but it makes more sense to volunteer at READ 718 instead. There, I spend a few hours a week reading with one of my many fourth-grade friends, covertly indoctrinating him with feminism and witchcraft. Also, when you tell people you volunteer they automatically feel inferior to you, so, bonus!

7. Write your own story.

The first thing I did on November 9th was sit down with my friends and plan the revolution this newsletter. Meeting, organizing, scheming, and dreaming has absorbed so much of my dread and focused my rage into art, community, and laughter. No one else can create what you do, so get started. And don’t forget to sign your friends up for our newsletter!