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Human Parts
A publication about humanity from Medium: yours, mine, and ours.

Psychology

In Human Parts. More on Medium.

Lived Through This

Moments when ‘everything’s going to be ok’ isn’t true

Everything is going to be okay.

We whisper it to our children when they skin their knees or have a fight with a friend. We proclaim it to those who have lost their job, their partner, their health. We post it on Instagram, showcasing our optimism. We repeat it like a mantra to ease our own anxiety.

Everything is going to be okay.

We assert it to bolster our conviction that the pain is temporary or even inflated. …


Humans 101

There are so many ways we accidentally make ourselves feel bad

Do you remember that time something on your bike was broken, so the mudguard rubbed against the tire, creating a consistent and terribly obnoxious grinding noise whenever you pedaled? And then you thought, “Hey, I should fix this.” But then you thought, “Hey, I don’t know how to fix this.” And then you didn’t think about it anymore because you were preoccupied with life. Then you got back on your bike, and not only was it still making the grinding sound, but now it was impossible to shove backward, and the light fell off because the wire had been sanded…


Express Yourself

Language’s sordid history with words that contradict themselves

I’m not going to try to convince you that black is white, but…

Have you ever wondered why the words “black” and “blank” are so similar, despite having virtually opposite meanings? It’s not a coincidence. They actually derive from the same word: the Old Norse blakkr, which in turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European root bhleg-, meaning “to burn” or “to singe.”

It’s been suggested that the two contrasting descendants are simply different interpretations of the same concept: burning something turns it a bright color and then black. The same ancestor has given us other decidedly non-black words in English, like…


Lived Through This

Sometimes our bodies are best left alone

For several years in my twenties, the main thing I did was itch. And scratch.

The “itch cycle,” they call it. Irritants cross the skin barrier, causing the sensitization of immune cells. When you scratch, your nails damage the surface barrier of the skin, allowing more allergens to enter. And thus more itching. And scratching. And itching again. This is why it’s a cycle.

As an affliction, itching seems so trivial. A minor irritation to the skin. It isn’t a broken leg or cancer. Those are ailments you can deploy surgeons and research toward. No one calls 911 over an…


Humans 101

It’s one of our most innate and reliable guides

“Would you take a pill that removed your boredom forever?”

I almost said “yes.” Boredom is excruciating. Doing nothing — meditating, sunbathing, kicking down the cobblestones — is lovely. Boredom is an unscratchable itch layered on top of that glorious nothing. Who needs that?

I almost said “yes,” but I know the trickery of thought experiments. I hedged: “Yes, if it doesn’t change anything else about my life.”

“Oh, but that’s the point. What do you think it would change?”

Last summer, I wanted to paint this gorgeous view:

As usual before starting a landscape, I tallied the things I…


Express Yourself

A linguist explains how our “conversational style” changes the way we interact

Life in the pandemic would be very different without video calls. We are exceedingly lucky to have unbridled access to technology that even 20 years ago was only familiar to most people by way of NATO knockoffs in Hollywood movies. The convenience that the video call affords us, too, is not to be underestimated. [Insert customary joke about crunching numbers with a colleague while soaking your toes in a foot bath here.] But as a replacement for a face-to-face meeting? I think I speak for a lot of people when I say, ain’t nothing like the real thing.

Among other…


Lived Through This

Thanks to my dad’s profession, the unmentionables were part of regular conversation

Microscopic view of human cancer cells.
Microscopic view of human cancer cells.

I had to get used to unmentionable subjects as a kid, because body fluids and odd animal injuries were discussed over dinner the way some people talk about weather or distant relatives.

My dad is a country veterinarian and took emergency calls in the kitchen; pretty much everything was on the proverbial table. I have a distinct memory of my dad cutting his steak while assessing a client’s cow’s prolapsed uterus, the long, twisty phone cord draped around two of his children’s chair backs. We kids kept eating, kept up our chatter, but Mom put her fork down in disgust…


This Is Us

The year of ghosts and dreams

It is early in a year in which I can’t remember how to sleep at night. I do my job in between naps, so often pinned to the bed or the couch by fatigue and grief. Frequently, I find myself awake at 3 a.m. here in New Jersey, texting with friends in Los Angeles. When I do fall asleep, long after they’ve finally gone to bed, the sun is on its way up, the blue-gray light of morning slowly brightening the blanket of snow. Sometimes I can hear the first birds chirp as I drift off, wrapped in my warm…


Humans 101

How to share your experience without forcing it on someone else

There’s a lot to disagree about these days: politics, shutdowns, masks, travel restrictions, vaccines—you name it. And then there are the more mundane disagreements in everyday life, the little things, like setting the thermostat.

Someone wants to turn it down. You want it up. Someone says, “It’s too hot in here.” You say, “It’s not hot. It’s cold.” Before you know it, you’re in a silly argument. None of us need more aggravation, especially right now.

In order to express yourself respectfully and defuse arguments before they start, it’s important to understand the difference between facts, opinions, and toxic opinions.


Humans 101

How to feel less bummed and more grateful as you age

Blurry image of pedestrians walking against overlay of clock hours.
Blurry image of pedestrians walking against overlay of clock hours.

My husband and I went for our annual eye checkup, and I was told I needed reading glasses. My husband, who is 10 years older than me, smiled and said, “Darling, this is just the beginning.”

I glared at him. The beginning of what exactly? The end?

I turn 43 this year, and I am officially having a midlife crisis.

I’m in the middle. The beginning is over. The next stop is “the End.”

I am looking at my life — my wonderful life. I have loving husband, who is my best friend, personal masseur, and chef; a fulfilling career…

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