Punxsutawney Phil certainly got it right this year. He saw his shadow on February 2, and as predicted, six-plus gloomy and record-breaking cold weeks of winter ensued.
Days Without Sunlight
Sunshine eluded us for days—even weeks—at a time in the Midwest where I live and elsewhere in landlocked areas of the United States. In Chicago from February through March, The National Weather Service clocked only 11 days of full sunshine. What the Hell?!
Panic in the Garden
And on top of that, record-breaking cold brought multiple bouts of frost and snow that stemmed Spring blooms and pushed landscaping schedules back like dominos falling. Gardeners are still in a tizzy.
Since ringing in the New Year, the water-cooler talk among my fellow exercisers at my health club has been a lot about the seemingly endless days without sun and warmth and how much it adversely affects our motivation and happiness. I often skipped workouts to stay in bed or stream hours of shows from my couch, while sulking in the grey.
Lack of sunshine results in sadness, depression and anxiety for many individuals, according to Healthline.
“Without enough sun exposure, your serotonin levels can dip. Low levels of serotonin are associated with a higher risk of major depression with seasonal pattern (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD). This is a form of depression triggered by the changing seasons.“
Cleveland Clinic suggests getting 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight each day to boost serotonin levels.
Can you imagine the sight of us deprived of our biggest star for long periods, seeking out slivers of yellow rays like zombies emerging from caves?
During our sunshine apocalypse, the amount of diagnosis and treatments of depression by mental health practitioners continues increase, according to Forbes HEALTH.
Pyschotherapy Remedies During the Dark Days
According to Greta Nielsen, MA, LCPC and co-owner and Pyschotherapist at Illuminate Therapy & Wellness, “One of the best predictors for your ability to maintain your emotional, mental, and physical wellness during the winter months is to keep the routines and habits you have for the rest of the seasons. Exercise, healthy eating, sleep hygiene, staying connected and engaged in your relationships and roles; be it paid or volunteer work, and having a relaxation practice all contribute to one’s overall wellness.”
Mental Health Month
Fittingly, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has declared May 1-31 as Mental Health Awareness Month. Visit their website for resources, including a toolkit that sheds light on mental health issues and how to spread the word.
My friends, we’re in the final stretch of our lingering winter and abysmal Spring. With May here, we’re inching closer to the summer season and more daily sunlight!
Barely half-way through January, and I’ve reneged on most of my commitments for 2022.
I even tried to simplify the ritual by carrying over some from the previous year, adding one or two new ones, just to be legitimate. What were they? Who knows; who now cares? I didn’t even write them down. They were swirling in my head divided between the parts of the brain that record short- and long-term memories, standing by to be extracted at the right intervals.
Yet I find myself in a state of guilty inertia—dejected, disappointed, depressed and demoralized—my intentions officially retracted.
So how do I move forward?
The universe is filled with signs. Some may call them coincidences; others may see them as unconscious acts of willpower; still others may accept them for what they are in the moment and open their hearts and minds to receive bundles of goodness, inspiration and knowledge.
Just when you think you’re all alone, help is around the corner and often at no cost
Recently, I attended a virtual “Ask & Give” program hosted generously for FREE by a national women’s networking and empowerment organization: Together Digital. The hour-long exchange, titled, “Ready, Set, Manifest,” featured sassy and feisty Lucrecer Braxton, award-winning photographer, digital marketer and founder of SoulSista Plants, who zealously and compassionately woke us up from our New Year’s stupor. Her message: You are not defeated; you should not feel ashamed or weak or inferior; YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE! Instead, go forth and purge more of the tasks and “to dos” you know are doomed, then replace them with true intentions. Additionally, be satisfied with doing nothing.
Reinforcing that idea, journalist Jessica Yellin, founder and host of her “News Not Noise” podcast dropped an episode presenting Eve Rodsky, lawyer and NYT best-selling author, discussing her new book, Unicorn Space. Eve “defines it as the active and open pursuit of creative self-expression in any form that is fulfilling.”
“Embrace all the unlikely, surprising, and delightful places where [our] own unicorn space may be found. Creativity is not optional. It’s essential.”
— eve rodsky
Eve goes on to talk about manifesting our own Unicorn Space in a too-busy life. And guess what that requires: The ability to make room for us to ponder, think, empty our minds by getting rid of the unnecessaries, non-essentials and unwinnable activities and misplaced desires.
Put Yourself in the Present
Then there’s mindfulness guru Tara Brach, whose podcast I listen to regularly and whose books, True Refuge and Radical Compassion, are nestled dog-eared in my bookshelf. Tara invented the practice of RAIN: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Non-identification. It’s a process to break old habits, like making new year’s resolutions then breaking them! Her recent broadcast with Trisha Stotler, meditation teacher for IMCW, focuses on, “Resilience and Wisdom in an Uncertain World.”
The takeaway is that we can recover from a deeply stressful and troubling time in our world by taking time to live in the moment. I apply this idea to helping me toss aside my resolutions and replace that space with what I can do presently, even if it’s just emptying my mind, flipping through a magazine, listening to music or browsing through online shopping. In other words, I can forget about my resolutions – past and future – and instead refocus my energy on what’s happening around me and how I can make things happen in real time that are more productive and satisfying.
It’s Alright Now
So today, I’m resolved to accept my abandonment of resolutions without guilt or remorse. It’ll take some work to rewire my brain with this new perspective. And I think I’m going to be okay!
The universe is filled with signs. Some may call them coincidences; others may see them as unconscious acts of willpower; still others may accept them for what they are in the moment.
Heads Up: This blog post is co-authored with ChatGPT
Since ChatGPT is being served up in the middle of a smorgasbord of shoulds or should nots, why not give my piece of the pie and dish a little.
At the crux of most of the concern over the use of ChatGPT is its threat to original, creative and authentic output from “authors,” whether they be professional writers, students and pretty much anyone who puts pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
In the spirit of full disclosure and transparency, I’m gonna let the technology speaks for itself by answering the question, “What is ChatGPT.” Here’s what it had to say:
“Hello! I am ChatGPT, a large language model created by OpenAI. I am based on the GPT-3.5 architecture and designed to generate human-like responses to natural language inputs. I have been trained on a diverse corpus of text, including books, articles, and websites, and can answer a wide range of questions on various topics. My goal is to assist users in finding information and engaging in conversation.”—generated by ChatGPT, Mar 22, 2023 from OpenAI.com
And here’s what some pundits are musing about this new member of the AI family:
“Around three-quarters of teachers say that ChatGPT can help their students learn more and help them grow as teachers. Among students, 68 percent believe the program can help them become better students and 75 percent think it helps them learn faster.” – Education Week, By Arianna Prothero, Mar 3, 2023.
“ChatGPT can’t replace reasoning or critical thinking. While AI tools can make essays read better, they can’t replace knowing how to form thoughts into careful arguments.” – Daniel Fahm, University of Oklahoma, a medical student in the Wall Street Journal, Opinion, Jan 23, 2023.
“The adjustment period will come as a shock to the education system. This is normal for major changes throughout history, such as the Gutenberg Press, the internet or the personal computer. We can remain optimistic, however, that the good faith of most students and faculty will make this technological advancement a net positive.” —Rafael Arbex-Murut, University of California, Berkeley, information and data science, in the Wall Street Journal, Opinion, Jan 23, 2023.
“I think schools should have ChatGPT blocked because it ruins the whole idea of schools.” –Tim, Hinsdale Central High School.
“…it is extremely useful for assignments. Not just because it answers all of your questions that you ask, but it completely destroys the use of tutors.” – Kaden, VSN [High School] in The New York Times, by The Learning Network, Feb 2, 2023.
“Some worried that ChatGPT would rob them of their motivation, creativity and critical thinking; others that it would lead to widespread cheating. But several [high school] teenagers argued that A.I. is the future, and schools should embrace it rather than restrict it. At least one student thought all of this was an overreaction: ‘Everyone needs to chill out! she wrote. ‘ChatGPT is certainly not the end of the world, nor the eradication of writing as a whole.’” –The New York Times, by The Learning Network, Feb 2, 2023.
From the Tech Sector
“Never before has powerful new AI gone from lab to consumer-facing products so fast (referring to the latest iteration GPT4)… And yet large language models remain fundamentally flawed. GPT-4 can still generate biased, false, and hateful text; it can also still be hacked to bypass its guardrails —MIT Technology Review, Mar 14, 2023. This article also posed that the model could help us “understand the world better.” Yet it also cited that it is cost ineffective for small companies, including startups.
“Definitely a transformative technology.” – Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap, Davos, Switzerland, quoted in Business Insider, Jan 18, 2023
From Marketers, Content Strategists
“One of the biggest concerns in the whole debate about ChatGPT is that the tool will negatively affect marketers. There’s a fear it will replace specific roles, including writers, programmers, PPC experts, and SEO specialists. But there’s also a fear it will wipe out marketing agencies entirely.” – Digital Marketer, by Thomas von Ahn, Feb 27, 2023.
“My biggest concern with AI-generated content is that we’ll use it simply to create more, not better, content. More micro-copy, more emails, more tweets, more blog posts…more. We’re about to enter a world where we create robots to create more noise, which will require new robots to filter it out.” – Derek Philips, LinkedIn, Feb 6, 2023.
“Will AI eliminate a wide range of existing job roles? Even though AI capabilities will continue to grow, it seems far more likely that AI will change a wide range of existing job roles. AI-based programs have the potential to heavily automate tasks or produce unique insights, but they might never get past the point of needing some degree of oversight.” — CompTIA, by Seth Robinson, Feb 15, 2023.
“AI copywriting platforms’ primary audience, at least for now, is non-marketers and non-writers. Non-marketers who feel they don’t have the skills, budget, or resources to produce copy for their marketing needs now have an online option they can utilize (although the need for an editor still applies). Still, marketers shouldn’t underestimate the increasing role that AI could play in marketing in the future, especially as these platforms improve and evolve. In the meantime, these platforms are operating in the background, while established marketers continue to lead the industry forward.” – “What Marketers Need to Know About AI Copywriting,” AMA Chicago Blog, by Karolyn Raphael, March 2023.
“…everyone gets on the bandwagon. They’re like, ‘Look at me! I’m using it and now I’m an expert, and now my company is all about servicing people with AI, and blah blah blah.’ And people will call themselves experts before knowing what’s going to happen even a little way down the road. It’s also like a distraction for people as they ask themselves ‘should I use this shiny object?’t I wanted to wait until the hype died down. Some of these people have now forgotten about this product, and now the real people who are gonna use this long-term are gonna have a plan. Those are the people I wanna listen to.” Shaily Hakimian, Social Media Sherpa on LinkedIn, March 15, 2023
From Mindfulness, Dharma, Spiritual Practitioners
“ChatGPT is possibly the most fascinating new development in tech since the search engine…merging spirituality with cutting edge tech.” – Jack Kornfield, American Buddhist teacher and founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Mar 22, 2023
“The current generation of students has moved on from writing. Literally. Most students fail to see the relevance of writing in a world—their world—that is largely post-literate. They are at home in media not yet born when I began teaching, media that privilege images and sounds over written text. This does not spell the end of the world, but it does spell ‘tbh, dwbi.’ As New York Times Columnist Zeynep Tufekci explains, just as we adapted to earlier leaps in communications technology, we can do so with artificial intelligence and language models.” – Robert Zaretsky, The American Scholar, Jan 12, 2023
As it should be, the debate stretches across a wide spectrum of pros and cons, optimism and pessimism, along with a heavy dose of respectful thoughtfulness. And I say, “Bring it on!” I believe in the benefits of artificial intelligence and other technological advances that help us solve and evolve. At the same time, I firmly believe in the power of humanity to keep those advances in check and help shape them into extraordinary benefits and improvements.
History tells us to remain open, optimistic, aware, knowledgeable, exploratory, investigative, and in my opinion, consistently challenging the status quo that can force improvements or disposal. Remember learning about the gasps with the invention of the Gutenberg press, the shock of electricity, the malaise over motor cars, the triteness of television, the irritation with the internet and more. Most if not all of these innovations were met with staunch resistance and protests. Yet, here we are, surviving and thriving with technological changes.
My conclusion is that technology like ChatGPT can benefit humanity in many ways, as long as we continue to push for the parameters to achieve them with authenticity and integrity on highest level.
So, I end this post giving my co-author the final words (unedited in highlighted blocks) about creative writing, the topic most apropos to the issue at hand:
“Creative writing is the art of expressing oneself through the written word. It is a form of artistic expression that involves imagination, storytelling, and the use of language to create a unique and original piece of literature. Whether you are an aspiring writer or simply looking to explore your creative side, there are a few tips and techniques that can help you improve your skills and develop your own style:
Start with an idea: The first step in creative writing is to come up with an idea. This could be a character, a setting, a theme, or a plot. Take some time to brainstorm and jot down any ideas that come to mind. Don’t worry about whether they are good or bad at this point – just get them down on paper.
Develop your characters: Once you have an idea, it’s time to start fleshing out your characters. Who are they? What do they want? What are their strengths and weaknesses? The more you know about your characters, the more real and believable they will become.
Set the scene: Your setting is just as important as your characters. Where does your story take place? What is the atmosphere like? Is it sunny and warm, or dark and foreboding? Use descriptive language to create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind.
Choose your perspective: Will you tell your story from a first-person point of view, or a third-person point of view? This will have a big impact on how your story is perceived by the reader.
Use figurative language: Metaphors, similes, and other forms of figurative language can add depth and complexity to your writing. They can also help to create a specific mood or tone.
Show, don’t tell: Instead of telling the reader what is happening, show them through action and dialogue. This will make your writing more engaging and immersive.
Edit and revise: Writing is a process, and the first draft is rarely perfect. Take the time to revise and edit your work until it is polished and ready to be shared with the world.
Creative writing is a rewarding and fulfilling form of self-expression. Whether you are writing for your own enjoyment or hoping to share your work with others, there is no limit to what you can create. So go ahead, let your imagination run wild, and see where your writing takes you.”
It’s serendipity. Perhaps the most beloved episode in television at this moment about an unexpected love story is broadcast only days before the month of love.
Intentional or not, Episode 3 of the newest HBO series, “The Last Of Us,” stands as a metaphor of what love truly means to all of us in this world and how it enraptures us to respect and preserve humanity, even in the face of global catastrophe and annihilation.
“Passion makes the world go ’round. Love just makes it a safer place.”
The broadcast brought viewers to their knees. On Twitter, the hashtags #LastOfUs and #LastOfUs3 blew up with posts on how epic the episode was. I personally tweeted that it is the GOAT of television writing, directing, cinematography, acting and the entire creative process. At the time of this writing, viewing soared to over 6 million watchers, a 12% increase over the series so far.
So why? I’m not a TV critic, but I never thought I would be waxing such passion and awe about a TV episode – well maybe besides the collective series of “This Is Us” – let alone comparing it to the essence of love and the potential of the human heart. It’s ludicrous to think that TV could be so moving, so touching and so poignant, wielding such power over the emotions of people everywhere.
Given the state of the world, I’d conjecture that we are thirsting for the core of our humanity. We have been searching for the very thing that fuels our will to live and steers us towards how we live. We’ve been deprived of validation, affection, compassion and spirit for so long that by engaging in two hours of watching true love unfold right before our eyes, we once again felt love filling our own hearts. And it was euphoric.
“All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”
We fell in love with the episode, and we fell back in love with humankind.
“Love is such a powerful force. It’s there for everyone to embrace-that kind of unconditional love for all of humankind. That is the kind of love that impels people to go into the community and try to change conditions for others, to take risks for what they believe in.”
CORETTA SCOTT KING
If you’re willing, watch episode 3 or invest in viewing the series from the beginning. There are so many stunning scenes, memorable quotes and a delightfully giddy encounter with strawberries that should warm your hearts and get you in the mood for Valentine’s Day. Of note, the episode was anchored with the song, “Long Long Time,”sung by Linda Ronstadt, written by Gary B. White, from 1979, now streaming at a rate of a rate of 4900%:
“Love will abide, take things in stride Sounds like good advice But there’s no one at my side And time washes clean Love’s wounds unseen That’s what someone told me But I don’t know what it means ‘Cause I’ve done everything I know to try and make you mine And I’m gonna love you for a long, long time”
LINDA RONSTADT and Gary b. white
I’m disheartened that this exquisite moment in time will be fleeting, but maybe it’s enough to sustain us until the next one comes along.
“Where there is great love, there are always miracles.”
It’s concerning that the height of the mainstream holiday season—traditionally a boon for celebration and good cheer—is becoming a stage for mental, emotional and physical health.
Do you notice an increasing narrative on combating stress, anxiety and depression, and a steady stream of content calling out warning signs, remedies and support resources related to “holiday distress?” In my neighborhood, The Chicago Department of Public Health posted a resource on “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay During the Holidays” on Facebook.
And then there’s the tragic news of the sudden loss of beloved celebrity, husband and father Stephen tWitch Boss from death by suicide that has generated countless tributes of shock and sadness and sparked conversations on the urgency to address the mental health crisis.
The CDC reports that in 2020, 45,979 people died by suicide in the United States. That’s 1 person every 11 minutes. Further, the agency notes that 12.2M adults seriously thought about suicide; 3.2M made a plan; and 1.2M attempted suicide. There’s also a disproportionate rate of suicide among certain ethnic groups with the highest suicide rates among non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Natives and non-Hispanic Whites. The suicide rate among males in 2020 was 4 times higher than the rate among females. And people ages 85 and older have the highest rates of suicide.1
Suicide can touch anyone, anywhere, and at any time. But it is not inevitable. There is hope.
U.S. Department of Health and human services
I applaud the loud and persistent voice giving attention to an ongoing untreated epidemic wreaking havoc on joy and happiness year-round let alone during the end of year holidays. But are we listening to the cries for help, seeing the warning signs of distress and taking the prescribed action to protect those in need, including ourselves. How can we make time and create room to deal with mental health issues with ourselves and others when we’re busy with holiday shopping, parties and the clock ticking on finishing projects and resolving unattended goals before the yearend? The causes and solutions become intertwined and blurred.
The scope of this condition ranges from the overwhelming pressure of additional socializing, increased spending—oftentimes unbudgeted and spending more time with family—sometimes estranged, to the extreme pain of fear, fatigue, conflict, depression, anxiety and ultimately the feeling of inescapable gloom.
For most of my life, I’ve been dealing with the struggles of my own mental and emotional health. From overlooked childhood anxiety and self-esteem difficulties and young adult imposter syndrome to disregarded postpartum depression and now diagnosed chronic depression, I’ve been combatting my illness through therapy, medication and sheer self-preservation. Yet it’s exhausting and often times hopeless. And there it is: hopelessness. The state of plummeting into despair and the doom of surrender.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Suicide can touch anyone, anywhere, and at any time. But it is not inevitable. There is hope.”2 The Department runs SAMSA: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
What can we do? I’m no expert, so I’ll offer some of the ways I cope and resources I rely on:
Say it out loud; no one needs to be listening, but try to find someone who will, too.
Write it down, journal, make a private video or recording.
Consult your medical professionals.
Keep an eye out on social media for content and conversations. Many users do post credible resources and messages. Make sure to vet these. Here are a few I found: