I <3 Oxytocins

Yes, that’s right, oxytocins. This wonderful hormone does many things for me, as I’ve learned from my book club’s most recent pick, The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine.  Oxytocin is involved in many aspects of being a female, including giving birth, breast feeding, maternal brain circuitry, menopause, and many others. For the sake of avoiding too much information, though, I’ll share one of my favorite oxytocin facts with you all that applies to everyone, everyday.

Simple acts such as hugging release oxytocin in our brains and psychologists claim that it is this exact hormone release which causes us to trust people more.  So, if you’re spending time hugging or touching someone everyday and then they have to go away for a week, you literally go into a physical neurochemical withdrawal.  Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder, you really can be addicted to love, and on and on with all those other sayings and songs that we repeat.  It’s actual science.

Reading this portion of the book also reminded me of a pastor whose church I visited in Nashville who insisted that we all need at least seven significant touches a day to remain happy and stable.  Religious reasonings aside, I found this to be true.  The more my friends (not even boys) and I hugged, or I was touched while speaking with others, the more trust and comfort I felt towards them and about my life in general.

So, I am happy to find that a pastor and a psychologist can agree on this point: we all need significant touches.  Hopefully we received them as children often, and if we were to grow into adults who didn’t receive them often enough we would be in withdrawal.  And this withdrawal could be manifested in so many different and painful ways.

In short, hug and be hugged as much as you can every day of your life.  It has the potential to make this short time so wonderful.

Crafty Time

I wish I could claim that I’m actually a print-maker, but really I’m a childlike craft-time version of a print-maker.  Instead of wood I use little rubber squares from the craft store, and instead of finely tuned utensils I use interchangeable kid-friendly carving tools.

Nevertheless, I enjoy my craft time immensely.  It is Martha-time, music-listening time, relaxing time, and evokes a sense of handmade production that I truly enjoy.

My favorite part of making these crafts, though, is when I get to send them on to others.  I always photograph them for my own pleasure, but, as with these cards which I recently made, they will all disappear into the void of the mailing system, only to reemerge several days later into the hands of sweet friends and loved ones who will hopefully open them and smile.

Ultimately, I hope to create images for cards and other things that I could potentially sell on Etsy.  Not for the sheer profit of such a venture (because it would be extremely small), but  simply to extend my joy and more importantly to have an excuse to spend more time crafting.

(If you’d like to see more details on the photo for any reason, simply click on it!)

Shop local!…with Google?

Often I am asked the questions: “How do you feel about e-readers?” and “What kind of competition is the Kindle to your teeny, local bookstore?”

I am incredibly annoyed by these questions, namely because the answer is so obvious.  I’m not sure why they need to hear it from me.  We’ve all witnessed the changes in the music and film industries as the online domain has heavily challenged both mom-and-pop shops and the mega stores alike.

HOWEVER! I believe that there is more hope for little bookstores like mine and all the others across the county than there was for Hastings or Blockbuster.  A nice example may be, why is Borders having so much trouble but new independent shops are opening to happy crowds in several places across the country?  That is not to say that we aren’t struggling at all as local shops, but many of the numbers seem to be in our favor recently.

For example, a survey published several weeks ago showed that even though e-reader ownership has tripled in the last year there is still hope for us little guys.  Half of the population surveyed said that it was unlikely that they would purchase such a gadget, and around 90% of e-reader owners said that they would continue to buy tangible books as well (which I can prove, because I talk to these people fairly often–they still buy gifts!).

The most important statistic published in this survey, though, is that “80.7% of respondents said they were very likely or somewhat likely to buy e-books from independent booksellers if titles are priced competitively.”

WOOOHOOO!  Because I have good news folks: that is exactly what is going on in the independent bookstore realm.

Hundreds of stores are already operating through the American Booksellers Association to sell e-books on their websites.  Our very own Iconoclast Books in Ketchum (who pays my bills) will soon be operating in this way as well.  And who is it that is helping us little guys fight Amazon’s bargain basement prices you may ask?  Why, Google of course.

It may seem strange that one of the largest internet corporations in the country is aiding the indie bookstores, but we could not be more grateful.

So, whether you’re an e-reader or just a plain old-fashioned reader like myself, support your local bookstores.  They love your community just as much as you do, otherwise they wouldn’t be there, so please help to keep them there!

–Click here to view Verso’s 2010 Survey of Book-Buying Behavior–

–Click here to visit IndieBound.org–

An Immortal Life

Last year I read a book called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks which tells the story of a woman who died around age 30 from cancer, but whose cancerous cells were also taken from her body by scientists at Johns Hopkins Medical Center without her and her family’s knowledge.  The lack of consent was completely legal during the 1950s, and Henrietta’s cells (which were the first human cells to grow and reproduce at a rapid rate outside the body) have helped to develop cures and vaccines without which many would be suffering today.  However, Henrietta’s family never benefited from or was even aware of her strange contribution to cell research—an issue the book discusses as it alternates between Henrietta’s story and the scientific breakthroughs her cells made possible.

I enjoyed this book immensely as it weaved together the stories of a young Henrietta, her family’s trials throughout the past sixty years, and the developments arising out of experiments made possible by her cells (such as the polio vaccine and chemotherapy).  One of the author’s greatest undertakings in writing this story was to help Henrietta’s family fully understand what had happened with the cells over the years.  Many in the family developed a sense of peace as they came to view Henrietta’s cells as a sign of her unwillingness to die (or immortality).  A sort of comfort eventually arose out of feelings of anger and resentment toward those who had withheld knowledge from the family.

Rebecca Skloot became very close with the family as she worked on this book and made a promise to start a foundation for Henrietta’s family and for education more generally.

Feeling as connected as I did to the story from Skloot’s wonderful writing I was glad to come across an article in this week’s New York Times book section about the foundation’s efforts.  The article doesn’t mention book profits playing a large part in the foundation’s account, but speaks more about the donations that have been made since the book’s publication.  Donations for local Baltimore scholarships and community-related grants can also be credited to the knowledge made public by the book.  In effect, Henrietta’s descendants and their community at large have both benefited from Skloot’s extensive research and dedication to her project.

In all of this I am most drawn to the idea of what a book can do.  Tell a story, link one story to hundreds of others, educate us about important scientific as well as ethical issues, save a family, help several children go to college, challenge the way we think about health and research, create awareness in the public mind of an issue formerly reserved for scientists, and many more.  I’m happy to realize that such things can come from words, words that are written down to creatively record our history.

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