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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Poor Historians, by Suzanne Koven, The Virginia Quarterly Review

Writing makes people feel better. This may sound strange to anyone who’s struggled with a class assignment, or to many professional writers. But research begun in the 1970s, much of it done by James W. Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, has shown that writing as little as thirty minutes a day for four days in a row can ease anxiety and depression and help people recover from illness and trauma. In one study of what Pennebaker named “expressive writing,” participants who wrote about stressful experiences were less likely to require urgent medical care than students who wrote about more mundane subjects, like their dorm rooms or their shoes. In another study, people with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis who wrote about the most traumatic events of their lives had fewer flare-ups of their diseases. Writing can boost immunity, relieve pain, improve liver and lung function, and lower blood pressure.

No one is really sure how this works, but it may be similar to how psychotherapy does. In ways which elude our full understanding, putting emotions into words changes brain chemistry and brain architecture, which, in turn, affects the rest of the body. Writing rather than speaking or thinking those words seems to have a particularly profound influence on the brain. If I’d had a way to jot down my thoughts in the mammography room that day, I might have felt even calmer. And there’s some evidence that putting pen or pencil to paper is even more helpful than typing.

The Incredible Thing We Do During Conversations, by Ed Yong, The Atlantic

One of the greatest human skills becomes evident during conversations. It’s there, not in what we say but in what we don’t. It’s there in the pauses, the silences, the gaps between the end of my words and the start of yours.

Amateur Sleuths On The Dinosaur Trail, by David Mark Simpson, New York Times

The National Historic Preservation Act requires strict protection of human structures built 50 or more years ago on federal lands. With the requirement comes funding for archaeologists. While Dr. Schumacher and his Forest Service counterpart do team with academic researchers and museums, which provide some outside funding for protection of bones, there is no law that protects paleontological resources to the same degree.

So to get dinosaur bones from Picketwire Canyon to museums and scientists, Dr. Schumacher has developed a creative strategy. Twice a year, for a week at a time, these bones and footprints are uncovered by a group of about two dozen volunteers, many in their 70s and 80s, whom Dr. Schumacher has been training for the last 15 years.

10 Reasons People Are Lonely? It’s More Complicated Than That, by Sue Bourne, The Guardian

The problem I think is that we’re all a bit scared of loneliness – of being alone. Of being left. Of not being loved. Or needed. Or cared about. “Lonely” hits a spot of fear in all of us even if we don’t acknowledge it. So a year ago, I set out to find people who were brave enough to admit and talk about how lonely they were. But I wanted to find people whose stories offered hope – either because they’d found a way of dealing with loneliness or because they had something in their lives that, even in a small way, alleviated their loneliness.

A Healthy Diet’s Main Ingredients? Best Guesses, by Clyde Haberman, New York Times

How many times have Americans read about a study damning this or that food, only to then hear the revisionist opposite? Avoid eggs, we were told; they clog your arteries. Wait, we then heard, eggs have nutritional value. Coffee can give you cancer. Hold on, coffee can improve brain function. Butter is terrible. Well, not really. Again and again, yesterday’s verity becomes today’s punch line.

Self-Portrait, by Tina Escaja (translated by Kristin Dykstra)