5 Things I Have Learned About DC Thus Far

With only four weeks left of my internship to go (!!!), I thought I might share with everyone some knowledge I have gathered about how to survive in DC. Cities are very similar in many ways, but in others, they are extremely different, and this is a post that compiles some of the things one should know about how to blend in in DC.

 

1. Wear a lanyard

If you’re going to be a true DC-er, you need to wear a lanyard. Constantly. This is indeed one of the ways you can inject a little bit of personality and differentiate yourself from the pack of other professionals in the constant stream of the Metro during peak hours – colors and styles may differ (many proudly representing the company they work for, or the college they went to most frequently), but everyone in this city wears a lanyard. If you’re not working here, you’re a tourist.

 

2. Get business-y

On a similar note, DC is the most professional city I’ve ever been in. Chicago, for the most part, has a mix of all kinds of people – students, homeless people on the train, odd-looking hipsters, you name it. DC has people in suits. No lies. Every morning when you see people walking around, they’re either in suits or in sandals and socks. You get one guess as to what people are doing here.

 

3. Carry an umbrella

It doesn’t actually rain that often (as least as far as I’ve been here) despite the constant oppressive dampness that hangs in the air, but more than any other place I’ve been to, people carry umbrellas to shield themselves from the heat. Also a great thing to have in case the sky does open up. You know, preparedness.

 

4. Jaywalk like a boss

Like in most cities, jaywalking is pretty much a way of life. So is crossing the street with as little time as possible left on the walk signal (just so you know, you can’t cross Independence Ave in under 7 seconds unless you want people honking at you and threatening to run you over … definitely did not learn this from personal experience). And it’s no different in DC. There’s no point in waiting for the walk signal if there are no cars coming – we’re young professionals with places to go and people to see.

 

5. Measure things in Washington Monuments

Everything here is measured in comparison to the Washington monument. Get used to it.

 

There are also many more things that, in all honesty, I am just too lazy to write out here. But the summer is almost over, which is insane, and in exactly a month, I’ll be flying to the UK.

 

Here’s to adventures!

How To: Learning

Detail of a mural at the National Air and Space Museum.

I’ve always been a really passionate learner. I think this is somewhat due to my educational experience, since I was essentially allowed to study things I was interested in. I know it’s also partially because it’s something that comes easily to me – especially in a classically American educational system, I can easily excel because I know how to play the game. I memorize quickly, read fast and retain information.

I also love talking about all the random stuff I know. My brain is like a sponge of random facts, mostly because I love being right. This sounds really obnoxious (which it is), and it’s definitely a trait that I’ve been trying to improve upon. In the past (my younger, foolish self), I would argue things I had started even if I believed my opponent was right – and I always loved having an opinion about everything.

Luckily, (I believe) I have been growing out of this. I’ve had to force myself to listen, especially this past year.

The reason I’m writing about this now is because my internship has made me do this even more. I’ve never been a science-y person and I never would have seen myself working at a science-centered museum. I’ve always been self-proclaimed “right-brained.”

Hangin out at the installation of the X-43 Technology Demonstrator model.

And I’m here, at the National Air & Space Museum.

Why, you might ask. Why would you choose to work there if you have very little knowledge of the materials in the collection or background of all the information?

That’s exactly why. I always aim to challenge myself in my learning patterns and my knowledge. Did I know much more than the fact that stars were gaseous balls, the Wright brothers invented the first airplane and how to locate Orion’s belt when I first started here? Yeah, no.

Early morning planetarium photo shoots are the bomb.

So it’s very difficult for me to be right in a place where I know very little about the subject matter. Which means that I’ve had to change gears a little bit and put myself in the passenger seat. There are so many intelligent interns, researchers, curators and staff members here who know so much more than I do – there are interns studying gender roles in aviation, geology on Mars, galaxies that I’ve never even been aware of.

And that means I have a lot to learn from them and not a lot to contribute.

So it’s been a process of sitting back and absorbing all the knowledge I can – thank goodness for planetarium shows that dumb everything down for me and blow my mind more than a little bit. For conversations at lunch that show me that there are so many things I don’t know about. For casual bits of information that keep my intellectual ego in check.

6am at the Udvar-Hazy Center.

That’s one of the biggest things I love about this internship – being in a social media role, that means I get to learn a little bit about everything, which was the main reason I started in journalism in the first place. When I first walked into the Air and Space Museum, I didn’t know the difference between the Apollo and Gemini missions. I can now point out command modules from every Apollo mission. I can identify different types of aircraft and the stories behind them (Vin Fiz? SpaceShipOne? Spirit of St. Louis? I got you).

It’s a new way of absorbing information for me, and I can’t do anything but sit back, shut up and be grateful.

image

Aircraft at Become a Pilot Day 2014.

Stop.

No, seriously. Stop what you’re doing. Stop it.

Does that mean stop reading this blog post? Yeah, for a minute.

Bear with me. Close your eyes. Breathe.

Take five deep breaths.

Now, continue.

Especially in America, I feel like doing things quickly has a lot of value. We’re a country of immediacy – of fast food, Quik Marts, speedy service. But in all that time we spend trying to pressure ourselves or others just to get things done, we miss a lot.

And I’ll be the first to admit that I am one of the worst perpetrators of this. I love getting things out of the way, getting tasks over with, getting on to other things.

But this has also contributed to a lot of the high anxiety and depression I’ve had over the past . . . well, I mean, my entire life. And I’ve been walked through a lot of tactics – but it’s taken me 20 years to figure out ones that are actually starting to work for me (which, along with medication, is pretty awesomely miraculous).

Riding the Wave

We often don’t take the time for ourselves we need to be human – we try and push away a lot of our issues. Many tactics I’ve been told over the years involve just covering up the problems, thinking of “happy places,” imagining stop signs, “rewriting tapes,” or pushing the thoughts away, replaced by other, pleasant thoughts. But the thing that I’ve been running into constantly with those is that the feelings always come back, often overwhelmingly so.

And I’ve been terrified of drowning in those feelings for a long time. One of my biggest fears is of fainting. This was a discovery I had while meditating the other day. I’m actually afraid of passing out. This stems from the fact that every time I’ve passed out, it’s a full day spent vomiting, sleeping and generally feeling awful – and always caused by high anxiety situations. So, there’s a vicious cycle that goes on in my brain of anxiety, then immediate pressure from myself to calm down which therefore makes me more anxious.

But my first experience with anti-depressants was actually really good, in many ways. For those of you who don’t know, starting new medication can often be bumpy. And for me, my first experience was pretty rough. The first week or so, every morning about an hour after popping my pills, waves would crash over me. And I mean crash. I could barely stand, focus, or breathe. It felt like a panic attack – and anyone who’s ever experience panic attacks knows how awful that uncontrollable feeling can be.

And my mother told me just to “ride the wave.” It was a way that I had never thought about dealing with my feelings before, but these waves were un-ignorable. They were too powerful. These ones weren’t being “rewritten.” So I had to sit and drown for a little while.

And one of the successful things I’ve found are some of these tactics that don’t push those feelings away – they actually accept them. But it requires stopping. It requires taking time to actively be you.

Yoga

If you know me, you know I’m kind of obsessed with yoga. And yes, you can say I’m completely a white girl hopping on the “yoga craze” train. But hear me out.

Yoga does a lot for you. Yoga isn’t just about the poses, which took a lot for me to start to understand. It’s not just a workout – it’s not just being weirdly touchy-feely, but it is about connecting with yourself.

The thing I really like about yoga is that you can push yourself and push yourself, but you won’t be successful unless you are connecting your mind to your body within the pose. There’s a lot of control in your body, and even more in your mind. Of course, there’s always the physical control as well of a rhythmic breathing pattern (similar to swimming, which is one of the reasons I love that as well) – and it’s extremely rewarding to be able to breathe into tight stretches, complicated balancing, long practices.

I’ve been trying to complete a sun salutation (or the Hindi name, surya namaskar, as a close friend of mine once corrected me) at the very least every day, if not a half hour to hour yoga video. And that’s a lot of time out of my day to take for myself, especially after taking absolutely zero time for me. This is partially inspired by the amazing yogis I follow on Instagram because I just feel so inferior – but the thing about yoga is it’s one exercise that you won’t be successful at if you’re just trying to be competitive.

It’s a deeply personal practice and that’s a very new thing to come to terms with.

Meditation

The thing that really inspired this post is my recent delve into meditation. I’ve always had a really hard time with meditation because I never really understood what to do. I always liked the idea of it – take some time just to relax, calm yourself, breathe. But I didn’t like the idea of just falling into the recesses of my mind – that’s a dangerous place.

But recently I discovered this awesome app called HeadSpace. And HeadSpace is amazing. It starts you out with 10 minutes for 10 days. You have 10 minutes. I promise. I’ve been doing them right before sleeping and they’ve been really awesome. The great thing about HeadSpace is they really encourage not pushing your thoughts away – you just have to let yourself experience them. It’s not about “clearing your mind” or thinking about a blank room – it’s about being with yourself and your own thoughts.

Get some.

EBT

Emotional Brain Training – yes, it sounds like some weird hippie psychological mind stuff. And yeah, it kind of is. But it’s also really helpful for gauging and identifying your own feelings, which can be really difficult in the midst of everything.

EBT (which also has a really cool app) identifies the emotional state that you’re in – 1 of 5, from least to most stressed. It then gives you steps based on your emotional state to help yourself accept those feelings - and it’s as simple as repeating that you accept your feelings as they are.

tl;dr

Take some time for yourself. It’s important to be able to allow yourself to have feelings.

10 Ways to Pass the Time on your Commute

It’s been an entire week that I’ve been in DC, and a completed work week at the National Air and Space Museum. Yesterday we had an intern morning at the Museum of Natural History which was a grand old time, seeing the giant Hope Diamond and getting butterflies to land on me in the butterfly pavilion. Lunch hours have been on the employee terrace enjoying the not yet stifling June weather with some other interns or on the national mall, solo on a bench, watching tourists try and take pictures of them “holding” or “leaning against” or “poking” the Washington Monument (this is a hilarious escapade, and I highly recommend you do this at some point if you happen to find some free time where you can hang out on the mall in DC). Work hours have been spent with many, many Google spreadsheets cataloging data for social media posts, exploring the Air and Space Museum’s social media platforms and looking at different analytics tools.

 

But I’ve also spent about two hours of each day commuting from Manassas, VA to the mall in DC. This has been a pretty rough schedule for me to adjust to as such a night owl (6am alarms…), but tea and happy puppies to greet me in the morning help. I’ve always loved trains and as much as everyone pulls a face when I say I’m commuting from Manassas, I really don’t think it’s that bad. You have plenty of time to get other things done, especially in summer, when there’s not homework or other responsibilities to worry about. So, I have compiled a list of ways to maybe make your morning commute a little better, inspired by many different corners of the internet.

1. Sleep

 This may seem obvious, but this is a great way to get a few extra minutes (or hours) of shuteye. Unless, like me, you are paranoid about missing your stop and/or can’t seem to be able to actually sleep unless you’re all the way supine. But, if you are blessed with a body that will allow you to take a few breaths and knock out, feel free to stay up that extra hour binge-watching “Orange is the New Black.” You’ve earned it. And, obviously, you can just catch up on the train tomorrow.

 

2. Read

Though this tactic has made the conductor actually have to yell “ma’am?!” in my face to get me to show him my ticket twice this week already, reading is an awesome way to pass the time. I’m on my fourth book of break already – pleasure reading? I haven’t done that probably in years! Unfortunately, motion sickness is a big issue with this guy. I feel you, I really do. I’ve been training myself to not get carsick for years. Start slowly and try and build up a tolerance to it (unless you get nauseous as soon as you look at words. Then don’t do that). Audiobooks are another awesome alternative. I’ve had friends who said listening to music helps, as does eating – which leads us to our next activity…

 

3. Eat

(I don’t know who these people are but I admire them because they are awesome and I want to do this sometime)

Again, maybe obvious… but I don’t think enough people take advantage of this activity. Don’t be gross, but this is a great opportunity to sleep an extra few minutes and grab yourself a smoothie for breakfast on the way out the door or a sandwich on your way home from work. Saves time and who doesn’t love food (unless, of course, it’s not allowed on your preferred choice of transport)?

 

4. Relax

Especially with a normal 9-to-5 schedule, it can get hectic and stressful. Commuting time forces you to not do something for a while, and that’s a perfect time to sit back and think about you. Meditating is a really easy activity that you can do while on the way to or from work. You can even get apps to guide you through the meditation process, or you can just plug in your music and go into yourself. Again, don’t miss your stop, but take this time for you. You can also relax your eyes, which can be strained after lots of staring at a bright screen. So put your little smartphone in your pocket and let your body recover.

 

5. Stretch

In the same vein, our bodies can get extremely tense, especially if you’re working at a computer all day, those shoulder and neck muscles are probably strained beyond belief. If you know me, you know I love yoga, and there are awesome resources out there for simple stretches to get the blood flowing (like an awesome sitting version of surya namaskar, or sun salutation). There are tons of great exercises you can do to not only stretch out those muscles, but help you wake up or relax after a rough day in the office.

6. Listen

Podcasts. I don’t think I will ever get over how awesome podcasts are. I posted on podcasts a while ago, but I’ll tell you again. They’re awesome. From narrative fiction tales like in Welcome to Night Vale, real life stories told by ordinary people like in The Moth, starting to learn a new language, discovering crazy new things in Brain Lab, listening to reviews … they’re a great way to expand your knowledge while just sitting on a train or a bus. Go. Listen. Absorb.

 

7. List

A lot of stress stems from the fact that we’re overwhelmed with things to do. Commuting can be a great time to make to-do lists (maybe with the help of crazy awesome apps like Habit HPG cough cough) or spend some time going over what you’re thankful for by making a gratitude list (which has shown can help with depression and other mental illnesses). Take some time to physically or mentally list out stuff.

 

8. Rehearse

A big tip a lot of people have when searching for good things to do while commuting is rehearse. A presentation, a speech, an important conversation… anything. But this is a great time to take advantage of the fact that it’s just you and your thoughts, and you can plan out anything you want to say – big talking points, ideas you want to hit on, questions you should be prepared for.

 

9. Watch

I honestly think people-watching is highly underrated. It’s one of my favorite activities to observe other people and see what they’re doing on the train – and part of me wanted to make this post much, much creepier by posting photos of random people doing things I saw on the train (aren’t you glad I didn’t?). But watching people can be an awesome way to pass the time – I saw a guy get really high scores in 2048 this morning. You can learn a lot from watching others – be it observations for a short story, a new way to use your phone, or anything else. Take your nose out of your technology and check out what the world looks like.

 

10. Create

This is by far, my favorite thing. Commuting is a perfect time to make all the things you didn’t have time for, allowing that they’re not too messy or annoying. But want to learn to knit? This is the perfect time. Refine your drawing skills (and hold them over other people’s faces)? No problem. Considered trying to make friendship bracelets? Flower crowns?  Jewelry? Cards? ART? Yeah, do it. You got this. You’re a hip, young professional and you got time on your hands.

Welcome Home.

“Home.”

It’s a concept I’ve been struggling a lot with lately, especially as I’m about to embark on some of the most challenging and exciting adventures I’ve had in my life so far – but the realization that I’ll be at an internship in DC for the summer, then straight to London for a semester abroad, then planning on spending my final summer in Ithaca (and then… graduation??) means that I’m not going to be living at this physical “home” anymore.

Even in my first year at Ithaca, home started to evolve into something more fluid. As a college student, campus pretty quickly develops into a second home. This is where the roadblock develops – when someone asks me where my home is, I almost always find myself having to ask, “what do you mean?”

Home is elusive.

The real concept of home is very different from the dictionary definition – “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household” (thanks, Google). This tells us very little about the feeling of home – of belonging, of safety. Homesickness can be a very real and crippling thing – but for me, it is often summertime when I feel most homesick. I love my family to death, but the distance between all of my friends is much more challenging for me, possibly because these are people I haven’t spent my whole life with, and may only get the chance to spend time with for a very short period of my life. There is a very large part of me that feels most at home just when I am with them, not in a physical space – but there is also a relief in being able to come back to a room or a house and collapsing into a bed that may or may not be “yours.” Is that feeling “home” just as much as the safety that comes with being with people you trust?

Home is where the heart is.

This is one that always catches me. Because my heart is in so many places. My heart is where I grew up in Chicago, but it’s also in Ithaca. It’s with my friends in New York and India and Vermont and Pennsylvania and Illinois. I know my heart will stay in London, at least for a bit. I started to run into this problem a lot my freshman year, of not really feeling like “home” was solidly in one place. This also meant that I felt like I didn’t really belong in one place, either, which is an existential crisis that I really didn’t need in my first semester of college, but there you have it. I’m not sure I really belong anywhere, to be honest, and that’s the thing I’ve settled on with the idea of home.

Home is a nomad.

I’ve often described myself as having “aggressive wanderlust.” I think this stems from the fact that I can’t could never really sit still as a child. I just need to move. As I’ve grown older, this movement is not just in my chair or skipping across the room – it’s around the world. And that means you have to find home in everything – in a hug or a helpful local or a postmarked letter. Home is a feeling. Home is what you make it. Home is where you find safety and belonging and wonder. Home, for my summer and fall semester, is going to be very different than any home I’ve had – and that’s an adventure I’m not sure I’m ready for but I’m going to take on anyway.

10 Random Gifts From the Internet to Cheer You Up

Feeling stressed out about impending finals? Bummed out about weird weather patterns? Just having an off day? Try some of these great random things on the internet to make you smile.

 

1. Play this game where you make giraffes kiss

But seriously. It’s adorable and tons of fun. Grab the bonuses for extra points and easier kissing!

 

2. Watch cat gifs matched up with songs 
Procatinator is a wonderful site that takes random cat gifs and matches them up with random songs. It’s a beautiful and odd thing.

 

3. Play some cute roulette

Cute Roulette finds the cutest videos on the internet and plays them for you. What’s better than that? The answer is nothing.

 

4. Pretend you’re on LSD (kind of)

[Epilepsy warning] Staggering Beauty is a crazy site that compiles bright, colorful images and sounds as you move your mouse around really fast. Lots of flashing images and if you get nauseous easily, may not be the best place to go.

 

5. Watch people laugh

Gigglers.tv is a site dedicated to finding the best laughs on the internet. And we all know that laughing is contagious, so go get infected!

 

6. Get a virtual hug from a stranger

The nicest place on the internet. Literally. Users can upload hugs for strangers who need them. So get a hug, give a hug, pay it forward.

 

7. Check your emotional baggage

Emotional Baggage Check is a site that allows you to “check your baggage” – basically, you can unload anything that’s on your mind and it will be sent to someone to read. You can also carry other’s baggage and respond to them with a song that you think might help. It’s sometimes good just to get it off your chest, you know?

 

8. Read stories that’ll give you hope

Gives Me Hope is an oldie, but goodie. You can read and share stories that might convince you the world isn’t such an awful place.

 

9. Get calm

Calm.com offers a soothing nature backdrop, white noise, and guided meditation for those moments you just need to breathe.

 

10. Make Everything OK

Because it will be.

 

Spoiled Shows

Last Sunday, the second episode in the fourth season of Game of Thrones ran on HBO. The show has gathered fans from all corners of the globe, and its popularity is unparalleled. But with that popularity comes leaking secrets, especially with big news, like in the latest episode (which, for everyone’s sake, I won’t reveal here).

Also, just a heads up for everyone reading: I will not be spoiling anything in this post, but I can’t guarantee anything for other articles I link to.

GoT’s Purple Wedding episode caused explosions among fans. For those who read the books, this was pretty stellar – and many different sites compiled some of the public’s best reactions (like the 55 best Twitter reactions by Mashable). But many fans, who either watch episodes later in the week or are still catching up from previous seasons, quickly learned of the big event that occurred at the end of the episode.

Why We Watch

We like TV shows because they are essentially stories. Humans love to suspend their reality and immerse themselves in a different world. And for the most part, they like to move through that world at their own pace – or at the pace of the show. There are tons of different conversations surrounding why humans are drawn to TV,  but in its simplest form, it’s because we are naturally curious creatures. The storylines in television get our hearts pumping and adrenaline running in both exciting and stressful situations. ABC’s Sydney Lupkin wrote an article on why we watch stressful TV shows – and it’s because we’re drawn to that rush that comes with connecting with the characters we observe.

Why We Spoil

With the adrenaline and excitement that comes with watching a new episode, there’s also the excitement of talking to others about it. Friends, family, communities on the internet, total strangers … we love communication. We love analyzing those stories and why they affect us in the way they do. The internet has become the main hub for talking about TV shows, especially “live-tweeting” or “live-blogging” events or episodes right as they’re airing. Often, big events are just too good not to talk about.

And if you’re not sure how to NOT spoil shows for your friends and family, check out this handy dandy article on how to avoid spoiling TV shows for everyone around you.