Love your beauty rest? You can thank these brain cells

Researchers report the unexpected presence of a type of neuron in the brains of mice that appears to play a central role in promoting sleep by turning ‘off’ wake-promoting neurons. The newly identified brain cells, located in a part of the hypothalamus called the zona incerta, they say, could offer novel drug targets to treat sleep disorders, such as insomnia and narcolepsy, caused by the dysfunction of sleep-regulating neurons.

Senator Barbara Boxer: Don’t Compromise in Love

Intent on making 2017 your Best Year Ever? We can help with that, thanks to our 2017 Coach of the Month series. For August, Senator Barbara Boxer, author of The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life, shares lessons learned over a lifetime in public service. This week, she reveals an early heartbreak and the lesson it taught her.

My mother taught me that it wasn’t important to have a huge number of “friends” around you.

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“If you have only one friend, and she or he is truly a friend, count yourself lucky,” she said. “What’s important is to make sure those you confide in, those you spend your time with, those you care about, truly care about you too.”

I remember a particular case in point. In high school I was stuck on this guy named Oscar. He was an unusual choice for me: a foreign-born student from Eastern Europe. I knew that he had a very troubled life and that somehow was appealing to me. So I asked my parents if I could invite my new “boyfriend” over for dinner.

“Mom,” I said, “I don’t think he’s ever eaten steak in his life!”

Food was always a way to show affection for my family and my mother was pleased to share our bounty. My father was less enthusiastic, but he always was when I told him I had a boyfriend.

Let me be clear: we were far from rich or even in the middle of the middle class. Anyway, Oscar started to come over on a regular basis and began eating us out of house and home. I loved it until he started acting weird. He became jealous if I even talked to another boy and made fun of the fact that I was co-chairman of the Boosters, a group that cheered on our not-so-winning high school basketball team.

“Why do you care about this silliness?” he said. “You are spoiled rotten by your parents.”

Now maybe he was right, but my life was warm and I was surrounded by love, and I didn’t understand why he felt that I was being spoiled. I began to doubt myself and was having a very hard time dealing with his criticism and cynicism. Through it all I still liked him, but wound up confused and mad at myself. So, you guessed it, I took it to my mom.

She had a simple solution.

“If any person in your life doesn’t really care about you, hurts you, especially if you have shown them love, then walk away and walk away fast,” she said. “Why do you need it? What good does it do you? I know you feel bad for Oscar because his life isn’t as good as yours, but if your warm family life makes him jealous, well, that’s his problem. He doesn’t understand that there’s a big difference between being spoiled and being loved.”

There she was again: giving me advice I would have had to pay an analyst thousands for if I couldn’t follow her wisdom. I told Oscar we should break up because I was too young to have just one boyfriend. He didn’t argue, just looked sullen, as if he expected it. He walked away. As he did, I felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted from me. Maybe it was lifted from him too.

So, yes, find good people who truly care about you, give them your love and support, give them respect, but expect it back. Otherwise, take a hike. Get away. Find real love, real friendship.

No wonder when I was eleven I wrote the following rhyme to my mother. I found it in her jewel box after she died:

Ill always love my mother. She is so dear to me.

And when a good thing happens

Shesalwaysthere to see.

She makesdelicioussuppers

That I just love to eat

And when she tucks me in at night

It really is a treat.

And so when you give out medals

My mom deservesthe prize. She is a wonderful person

In everybody’s eyes.

Excerpted from The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life (Hachette Books), by Barbara Boxer.

Can You Find Love Online?

Dear E. Jean: I have a Craigslist etiquette question. I met the man of my dreams—Stanford grad, modern-art collector, brilliant—on the Casual Encounters section. He was sweet and attentive, and for months I was able to indulge every erotic fantasy I could think of. But then he moved 70 miles away, and we stopped seeing each other. I recently checked Casual Encounters for his new city, and there he was, looking for a partner. I cannot tell you the pain I felt, E. Jean! I posed as someone new and busted him. He apologized, and we met again. It was incredibly hot. But now I’m at a loss for how to proceed. Shouldn’t he come right out and make me his girlfriend? Or does his actively searching for playmates mean he’s never going to be serious?—Hopeless Romantic

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Hopeless, Dear, Dear, Dear Girl: It means “he’s never going to be serious” with you. I’m sorry to hurt your feelings. It stings my heart that you’ve got it so bad, but Casual Encounters won’t bring you love—it will bring you sex. Get that straight, sweetheart, or men will play you for a dunce the rest of your life.

This letter is from the E. Jean archive.

How Can I Help My Teen Daughter Love Life Again?

My daughter is having the worst time in high school. She’s 15, and has lost a lot of friends this year. You’ve been through some hard stuff, but you love your life. How do I make her fall in love with her life again? Yes, she’s in therapy.

Do you remember high school? I mean, really remember it, not just in a nostalgia-drenched longing for the days when you were rich in collagen and could look gorgeous and dewy even on three hours of sleep.

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My own recollection was a little hazy, so I dipped back into my yearbooks and my diaries from age 15 and all I could think was HOLY CRAP WHY DIDN’T MY PARENTS PUT ME IN THERAPY? By the way, you are an excellent parent for making sure she has mental health care access. +5000 Parenting Points to you!

Back to my diaries: some days, I had it all. Friends! Good grades! A spot on the volleyball team! And some days, everything was the absolute pits. My crush kissed my friend, and not me (jerks). My friends all went to the mall without me (also jerks). I forgot the extra credit assignment in history and I was going to get an A, not an A plus (tragic).

I am currently 34 and some days, I have it all. Friends! Lots of social media likes (the adult equivalent of good grades). A great family! A mini-van! And some days, everything is the absolute pits: online trolls, a four-year-old who refuses bedtime, the constant feeling that I am failing at everything.

To borrow a phrase from terrible boyfriends everywhere, I love my life, but I am not always IN LOVE WITH my life. I don’t have to be, and neither does your daughter.

To borrow a phrase from terrible boyfriends everywhere, I love my life, but I am not always IN LOVE WITH my life.

It feels great to be in love with your life, but it’s not always possible. Hard things are hard, and sometimes the very best we can do is just get through it. That’s no small feat, but when the standard is to be in love with your life? Well, that’s a lot of pressure to put on a person. Should you be in love with your life when all your friends ditch you at your most physically awkward and emotionally vulnerable? Should you be in love with your life when the people you love die and everything falls apart?

Yes, I love my life. I know that I am damn lucky to have two arms, two legs, people who love me and work that fulfills me. I know that even my worst days are better than some people’s best days. And I know that sometimes everything just sucks and I’m grateful for my therapist and my generic Zoloft.

We tend to want to rush each other through the hard stuff—find the silver lining! Make some lemonade!—which makes our difficulties all the more burdensome. How can we be grateful, gracious humans if we are also grappling with regrets and sorrow and jealousies? By remembering that we are all allowed the full spectrum of human emotions, especially the uncomfortable ones. They’re not a distraction from your life, they are a part of life.

This is something you should talk to your daughter about now, because those highs and lows will never stop. As crappy as high school can be, we’re not all guaranteed an upward trajectory once we get that diploma.

For those of us who came of age in the late 90s, Vitamin C and her infamous Graduation Song are full of lies. Some friendships last forever, but others unravel faster than a Forever 21 dress. And even though we all want to always think the very best of ourselves, there is a minimum of two sides to every story, especially when the story is about a friendship ending. Friend breakups are harder when you are forced to see these former friends of yours in the hallways for the next few years, but 15 is a fantastic age to start the process of self-examination, to take stock of what is and isn’t important in your life, and to start to be particular about where you direct your limited emotional energy.

It’s natural for us to want a magic wand to wave over our loved ones and protect them from any unhappiness. My kids are a decade away from high school and I’m already upset about the unpleasant things they have yet to experience. I get it. Fixers gotta fix. But even the very best fixer in the world can’t make anyone fall in love with their life, and that is okay. Life is not just a highlight reel of our best and brightest moments. Life is shitty days and brilliant ones. Life is laughing until you cry and crying until you puke. Life is high school and everything that comes after.

We all need reminding that we will not always love our lives. Even if we aren’t the smiling, happy teens in an acne treatment commercial, or the serene Instagram models posing with their smoothie bowls (whatever the hell those even are), we can be—and are—still loved.

If you have a question you would like Nora to address, email [email protected]

How Red Lipstick Helped Me Learn to Love My Lips

It only took seconds to slick a coat of M.A.C’s Russian Red across my lips, but it took full minutes to contemplate how it looked. Lord have mercy, I silently critiqued, angling away from the mirror to take in the full perspective. This is a whole lot of color on a whole lot of mouth.

I wanted to love it. The optimist in me who regularly and intentionally affirms the beauty I see in so many other women hoped to see it, for once, in myself. In a moment of experiential boldness, I had picked the brightest shade of the brightest color. The resulting look was a lot to process. I puckered. I un-puckered. I pouted. I de-pouted. I forced a smile, licking away rogue smudges that had transposed onto my front teeth. I closed it back up. I stood millimeters from the glass, so close that my breath formed a foggy opaque circle on the surface as I analyzed how I’d negotiated the curve of my cupid’s bow and the rim of my lower lip.

I puckered. I un-puckered. I pouted. I de-pouted.

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I wanted to love it, but when I got to the car and re-checked my reflection in the honesty of natural light, I did not. It was jarring to see the flaw I’d spent most of my life minimizing and apologizing for emphasized. Suddenly, I was 11 years old again, making an enemy of the mirror because it was telling me a truth I’d prefer not to know. I couldn’t lean over fast enough to snatch a wad of napkins from the glove compartment and scour away my mistake. Out came my trusty tube of Carmex. I smoothed on the colorless balm as I choked back tears, feeling simultaneously homely and hopeless.

And that was the first—hugely overwhelming, quite abbreviated—time I wore red lipstick as an adult.

I don’t remember much about middle school except a white boy named Ashley, with his meticulously gelled Zack Morris bangs and an overbearing presence that hijacked the energy in every room. As far as I could tell, he woke up every day and pieced together a morning monologue, with me as his muse. When things got slow in class, he’d pull his lips apart and flip them backward to mimic the size and volume of mine. Then, to make things worse, on In Living Color, Jamie Foxx introduced Wanda, a sketch character with protruding lips, and black boys picked up the joke-making, even though some had physical attributes similar to mine. Whenever I sat through a Wanda segment at night, I knew the next school day was going to be a marathon of exhaustive reenactments. Jamie Foxx may owe me an apology.

To be fair, I did have more than my share of lips. They’re the first thing you notice in the awkward school pictures and goofy family photos my mama keeps. I’m pretty sure my lips existed first, and that my body just kind of developed around them. Later, their prominence was compounded by a set of chaotic teeth jutting into an overbite—eventually corrected by braces—that, in the meantime, only made matters worse. It took years for my face to accept my mouth into the fraternity of its other features.

My lips went from being the punchline of malicious jokes to the subject of unsolicited sexual innuendo

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But in my sophomore year of high school, comments about my lips started to change. One evening, as I was walking out of the movie theater with a group of friends, a boy passing by gushed, “Damn, girl. I know you give amazing head with those lips.” I wilted from embarrassment. My lips went from being the punchline of malicious jokes to the subject of unsolicited sexual innuendo—on the streets, in college, during dates. The shame I carried about them deepened because, as it turned out, they weren’t just a facial flaw, but now also a source of personal humiliation, and a magnet for a kind of attention I wasn’t prepared to navigate.

On occasion, I’m invited to appear on TV and web shows to discuss stories I’ve written, but I’ve never said yes. I get anxious about people looking at me for too long, afraid their gaze exposes my flaws. My therapist, God bless her, pressed me to unpack those hang-ups. “What else has your lack of worth kept you from doing?” she asked. Over the next few days, the answer came in several small epiphanies. I realized that I have never felt beautiful, much less been able to say that I was. I’d never even worn red lipstick because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself—specifically, my controversial mouth. “That’s good,” she said in our next session. “That’s where we’ll start.”

A tube of red lipstick is a tool of self-expression a woman can use to make a statement about who she is and the artistry she can create with her face. She’s silently stating that she’s confident and that she owns her beauty. If only for the moments that her lips are crimson, she’s not playing small or demure—the very place where her words come out exemplify that. I’d always worn glosses in pretty pinks and subdued corals, but when I bought red lipstick, I was buying it to get free. In fact, I picked up three, each a subtly different shade, all lying together inside my makeup drawer while I gathered the courage to actually wear even one.

Courtesy Janelle Harris

As you know, the first attempt was a fail. But the second effort went a bit more smoothly. It was a Wednesday. I remember because I’d skipped my usual Bible study class to go to a film screening along Washington, DC’s dynamic U Street—an ambitious place for an attempt at personal liberation. Before I left the house, I’d applied a candy apple red by Black Radiance, which I’d picked out at Rite Aid. The shade didn’t have a catchy name but it was cheery and spirited, the color equivalent of my personality. I traced the edges of each lip with precision and filled them in. Uncertainty immediately gnawed at my gut. Fear told me to grab a tissue and blot the vibrancy of the red. Yet as I dabbed, the color refused to be denied. It was making its own statement and, despite my hesitation, I let it.

When I went outside, I was convinced my lips were walking two feet ahead of me like a set of bright red heralds. Passersby were staring, I was sure of it. Men nodded their greetings. Some smiled. Somebody’s creepy uncle sidled up as I waited to cross the street and said, “You got some pretty lips, gorgeous.” But I refused to own his lasciviousness. It wasn’t my shame to carry. I power walked away, grateful for that tiny victory and inspired to keep pushing myself—no matter how uncomfortable I felt—to beat back my self-doubts.

I didn’t feel beautiful that day, but that wasn’t disappointing. I knew I wasn’t going to eviscerate 25 years of internal narrative with one tentative stroll down the street. But in that moment, I allowed myself to feel pretty badass for attempting it, for meeting the challenge and confronting scripts I hadn’t written but still kept on mental loop since I was a kid. I didn’t feel beautiful, but I didn’t feel ugly either. And that was as significant and meaningful a step as the one I took outside the house, with my big, red—and quite possibly gorgeous—lips.

Should I Be Worried My Successful Career Is Costing Me a Love Life?

Dear E. Jean: I’m at a very exciting time in my life—the most exciting! I’m 25 and have just started my own business. Opportunities are pouring in. I’m driven! I’m inspired! I’m finally where I’ve always wanted to be, so this is a strange career question: I adore living alone, doing things my way—just for me, just as I like. But I worry I’ll miss out on meeting an intelligent and sexy man if I keep up this kind of pace. If I’m embracing my business plan and solitary homestead, will I miss out on love? —Eyes for All

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Eyes, My Eaglet: Come on. You’re just ridiculously modest. I’ve read about your little start-up. Stop wasting time writing me e-mails. Go! Plunge in up to your eyebrows! The fire in your gut is stronger than sex. A moment occurs at the nativity of a company—a long, fabulous flash, a magical Bang!—when everything aligns and all your ideas are working and all your energies come to a head, and this is the moment. Worry about the chaps later. Seize it!

And when things slow down—and things always slow down, because life is a teeter-totter—you’ll drop into days of hellish sluggishness with nothing to do but sit around sucking the Saran Wrap off your lunch. Which is good. Because this is when you’ll throw one of those posh, evil New York cocktail parties, so delightful for business and so divine for meeting men.

If I mention the up-down-up-down- up-down-up of life, it’s because I’m in awe of any lifestyle guru who can talk about “balance” without laughing herself sick. My advice to entrepreneurs, female and male, is to not obsess too much about work…or love. Obsession turns people into catatonic gimps. So always leave Sunday afternoons open.

This letter is from the E. Jean archive.