Poses and Prose: The Writing Flow


I unroll my mat, flatten out the corners, and fold my legs into a seated position. My head throbs, crushed by the amount of work I must accomplish tonight. I unfold a piece of paper, flatten out the corners, and curl up in bed. 

I convince myself to find a purpose and set an intention, perhaps to release frustration, to master a technique, or to strengthen my mind. I remind myself that the practice is relieving and soothing. By reflecting on the bad, I can reveal the good.  

I begin my yoga flow by arching my spine up into Cat Pose then down into Cow Pose. I write the date on my paper, stretch a little, and prepare myself mentally. My energy rises as I shift into Downward Dog, and my body becomes a bridge with the mat billowing underneath. My mind forms a bridge with thoughts flowing rapidly below, blended together and in such quantity that many escape before I can capture them on paper. I am barely able to hold the weight of my body and my thoughts. I try not to collapse.

I concentrate without thinking, a seemingly impossible endeavor, yet I succeed by concentrating on the breath rather than perfecting the poses. When I write, I focus initially on telling my story without agonizing over the perfect way to write it. I push all other thoughts away because a wandering mind lacks clarity, and when my thoughts wander during yoga, my practice lacks purpose. If all else fails, if I cannot keep going, I return to the breath. I concentrate on the content before fixing the grammar. 

I continue to breathe and move into the first standing position, Tadasana, the Mountain Pose. I am looming and powerful. My writing becomes stronger. I perform a Sun Salutation, stretching my arms up, opening them to the sky and falling down to touch the ground. I fall into my writing as it becomes vivacious, rapid, yet inconsistent. The sentences are choppy. My breath is scattered. Sometimes I forget to breathe altogether and confuse myself. When I rush my writing, I neglect important details and confuse the reader. I return to Child’s Pose, resting in my vulnerable state. I go back to the breath, to the message, and remember my intention.

I sink down toward my knees and shoot my legs backward, jumping down into Chaturanga Dandasana as my body forms a plank. I bend my triceps, slowly, tensely, and swoop into Upward Facing Dog. The sequence is demanding. Deliberation prevents the fall as passion ignites the strength, much like trying to write truthfully about a sensitive subject. Sometimes I force myself to try a new pose or hold one for longer, but mostly I remain comfortable. I know, however, that if I do not challenge myself, I cannot improve. When a pose seems too difficult, I remember to go back to the breath because it keeps me grounded.  

As the flow continues and repeats, quickening, it becomes familiar. As my story develops, finding the words comes naturally. I look for possibilities as I flow continuously through the poses. Like Warrior I, a forward lunge with my arms raised above my head, I find balance in my writing. I am focused. Like Warrior II, where the lunge is opened up and focused on the center, I expose myself in my writing, seeking the truth and following my intention. My writing is intense, challenging, and pushes me until I am exhausted. I write courageously with purpose, like a warrior fighting for his life.

After the fight, I struggle to keep the story moving. My muscles tremble as I sit in the invisible chair of Utkatasana. I must not overexert myself otherwise my practice will suffer. I must not overthink otherwise my writing will suffer. But I must not give up.

I fold into Half Moon Pose, balancing on one leg with the other raised to the sky, unstable and vulnerable. During the writing process, I often doubt my topic or writing abilities. I feel unsure, wondering if I should start over. I seek approval, yet I prefer to write where others cannot read over my shoulder and ask questions before I have found the answers for myself. I prefer practicing yoga at home where I will not compare myself to others in a classroom. Half Moon pose, however, reminds me of the moon’s guidance through darkness, how I need a yoga instructor to adjust my positioning to avoid injury, or how I need feedback on my writing to develop an idea further. I must let myself be critiqued.

After doubting myself, I realize there is no turning back. I enter Tree Pose, rooting one foot to the ground as the other foot rests on my shin to form a triangle. My best writing comes when I fall in love with an idea, as the flow becomes wild and fervent like a fox chasing a rabbit through the forest.

I keep flowing, keep writing. I stand strong, like Salamba Sirsasana, Supported Headstand, which took months to achieve. I practiced in stages, learning how to cushion my head with my hands, concentrating on balance, and maintaining focus. Eventually I will stand on my head without swaying, or move my hands to the sides of my head instead of underneath, but only if I keep practicing. I must write frequently, always striving to compose a better piece than the last. Improvement is infinite. 

As I come to the end of my practice, I rest in Pigeon Pose, an uncomfortable but satisfying hip opener. A good pain. My darkest feelings have been uncovered, but I must dig deeper as I revise, even if it is uncomfortable. There will always be tautness.

I lie on my back and twist one leg over to the side to stretch out my muscles before they fully relax. I iron out the kinks in my writing before I conclude. As I collapse into Savasana, Corpse Pose, my muscles loosen. The warrior relaxes. I think nothing. I write nothing.

After five minutes, I begin to wiggle my toes and fingers as I arouse myself from the stillness. My head begins to throb from the thoughts that ailed me before I began my practice. After I finish writing, I worry that there is more I can say, so I read it over and over until words lose their meaning.

Only at the end of my yoga practice, when I say Namaste and bow to the ground, am I grateful for what I have accomplished. Only after I submit my paper or close my journal do I reflect on what the process has taught me. The end always feels pleasantly unfamiliar because a single yoga session, with its vast styles and poses, will never be repeated, just as the writing process and its creation will never be duplicated. I bow my head and give thanks for the practice and the process. I continue to flow.

Pintervention

Lanterns hang from the branches of an elm tree, glowing like fireflies. A bride and groom kiss under the tree for a wedding photo, the camera focusing between the forced space of their bodies to capture the smiles of their bridesmaids and bridegrooms behind them. Soon, this couple is expecting a child. Their pregnancy is documented with a photo of the husband placing his hands in a heart-shape on his wife’s stomach. When the baby is born, they capture a picture of the little one’s feet cupped in the mother’s hands. The baby grows up in a home decorated with candlelit mason jars, and the sweet smell of cupcakes often wafts around the kitchen as the parents share a passion for baking. They write each other inspirational notes and leave them in unexpected places around the house. Tomorrow, he’ll leave her one that says, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Before they retire, they will kiss in front of the Eiffel Tower, ride atop an elephant in Thailand, and take pictures of the brightly colored houses in Cinque Terre.

I do not know this couple. They actually do not exist. But I see them every day. When I wake, I know what their plans are. I see how she braided her hair and painted her nails with gold tips. I see he chose to wear a flannel shirt – it must be cold outside. They are planning a dinner party for tonight. A dinner party I’m invited to but cannot attend because this couple lives in a fictional place, one you might have heard of: Pinterest.

This virtual pinboard shows me the splendors of other people’s lives, as if I’m flipping through an endless photo album of life’s most thrilling moments. The photo album beckons for me to turn the page, or in actuality, press a button to scroll down the screen. As I browse these online inspiration boards, I become a wedding guest, a party planner, a babysitter, a baker, a painter, an architect, and a philosopher. I am under the spell of the users who posted these pictures, the people who supposedly share my same interests. I take the images and place them onto my own inspiration board. They become my pins. The pins become me.

Any picture pinned to Pinterest is sorted into a category, from weddings to humor to quotes. In the travel category, I find a photograph of the Taj Mahal cloaked in a purple sunset. I would like to travel to India someday, so I take the image and repin it onto a board I’ve created called ‘sightseeing’. I can look at the photograph whenever I please or until I can take one of my own.

Pinterest is intended to be a source of inspiration, and I need this inspiration to avoid trudging idly through life. I can’t write unless I’m inspired with an idea otherwise my writing will be careless and uninterested. I can’t start a project until I’m struck with a creative thought or else I’ll be uncommitted to my work – and attempting to complete anything without commitment is effort wasted.

I look for book recommendations, hairstyle ideas, running tips, and on-the-go snack ideas. I have a décor board in preparation for when I actually live in an apartment of my own.  I look for organizational tips. I look for productivity tips. I spend more time looking for productivity tips than actually being productive. My friends use my ‘wishlist’ board to buy me gifts. Because I pinned a picture of a tribal-print shirt, my best friend knew I was guaranteed to like it as a birthday present.

Once you experience the thrill of ‘repinning’ your first image and seeing it appear on your inspiration board, it’ll take some willpower to stop at just one. You can be stuck in a pinning cycle that lasts for hours. I have been pinning since the creative geniuses started the website in 2010, back when membership was invite-only. Receiving an invitation from a friend made me feel superior, as if I had just learned the secret handshake of an exclusive club. It took only a few pictures of teacup kittens and celebrities in glamorous dresses before I was hooked.

Part of the excitement is how often new pins appear on the newsfeed. There is always something new to look at, like a picture of an exotic island you never knew existed or a delicious slice of red velvet cake to entice your taste buds. I’ve found tips that make my life that much easier, such as how to break-in my shoes in less than two minutes using a hairdryer.  And you can search for anything your heart desires because I guarantee you will find it.

A pin can say what I’m thinking; it can explain exactly what I want to say without words. Pinterest reassures me that I am normal because others like what I like. Acquaintances have told me I have great taste simply because of the images I pin, and I secretly revel in the fact that they are praising me for my interests.

Before I go to bed, I plan out my outfit for the next day by scrolling through the fashion and style category to see what fashionable people are wearing. After scrolling to the end of the page and pinning multiple outfit ideas, I involuntarily begin looking at other people’s fashion boards. Thirty minutes later, I am nowhere closer to finding an outfit. I get distracted by memes. Oh look, a cute baby wearing a pumpkin outfit. Two hours later I realize I don’t actually own anything that resembles the clothes in these photographs. I end up wearing yoga pants the next day, exhausted from the lack of sleep from my unintentional escapade on Pinterest.

I have made efforts to stop going on Pinterest. I think that’s a sign you’re dependent on something, when you have to force yourself stay away. I tell myself I’ll be more productive without it, and I feel accomplished when I don’t pin anything during my work shift. I’ve never really felt withdrawal symptoms because I rarely spend a day without pinning.

Even my friends who use Pinterest tell me I use it too much. I have pinned over 4100 images and have almost 400 followers, most are people I don’t even know. Instead of writing about my addiction, I spent 20 minutes pinning 68 images. I need to find a new way to entertain myself.

This is a trivial addiction. I know it cannot be compared to a drug addiction, but it is time consuming. Pinterest also has a way of manipulating my feelings. Health and fitness boards make me feel self-conscious about my body. Wedding boards make me anxious that I should be planning my own big day already.

Pinterest makes me jealous. I see how creative other people are through spectacular photographs and intricate artwork. And the person who created the recipe for maple bacon cupcakes is the culinary genius I will never be. I assume the cupcakes taste good, but I wouldn’t know because I never make anything I pin. That’s the problem with Pinterest, it doesn’t inspire me to step away from the computer.

Though it hurts my eyes to keep scrolling and scrolling through images, I scroll until I reach the end of the page. I see the same images over and over as they re-circulate from user to user. I need something new, so I keep scrolling and pinning, scrolling and pinning. I feel like my brain is slowly shriveling up.

Pinterest is supposed to inspire me by connecting me to others with the same interests.  But if I am constantly exposed to my own interests, how will I ever expand my perspective? Looking through pictures of places I’ll never visit, the yoga poses I’ll never master, the craft projects I’ll never start, and the body I’ll never have only makes me realize that these pictures do not encourage me to take any form of action. Instead, I stay sitting at my computer and stare at pictures as my eyes go in and out of focus. I am given a false sense of inspiration because I am never more inspired at the end than when I started.

I am searching for innovation, fascination, something that makes me question. I realize now that my addiction is not to Pinterest, but to inspiration itself. Pinterest is simply the drug, an online dosage of psychostimulation, that nurtures my incessant need for inspiration and provides an escape from my fear of unoriginality.

But like a drug, Pinterest is the enemy. It divests me of creativity and shatters any fragment of innovation I have. To actually be inspired, I must be willing to inspire myself. Instead of sitting at my desk looking at photographs of a perfectly green forest, I must remove myself from the virtual and wade through the deep, blissful reality of my own nature to receive the inspiration I crave.

Laura Ling Speaks at LMU

As Laura Ling walked up to the microphone, confident in her strides even with ridiculously high heels on, I could tell her she was fearless. It’s astonishing to me that someone who had been imprisoned in North Korea could have so much poise. I have always been fascinated with the Hermit Kingdom having done my fair share of research on this perplexing place, so I was extremely excited to hear Ling talk. She began by explaining what sparked her interest in journalism. She realized that through journalism, she could open people’s eyes to the events of the world that remain hidden from sight, and she wanted to fight for the freedom of people who had none.  She took us back to the day when her crew crossed the frozen river from China into North Korea after their ‘fixer’, or local guide,  took them there. What surprised me the most about her story was that they never planned on going to North Korea that day. They only followed because their fixer beckoned for them to cross the river. It was too late before they discovered that he owed something to the North Koreans, something which he gave to them in the form of American lives. Throughout this course, I have been made aware of the risks of journalism, such as copyright issues and the importance of protecting sources; but through Ling’s story, I could see there are risks even in trusting someone as unsuspecting as a tour guide.

Unfortunately, the Kony fiasco has led me to become the ultimate skeptic. I had to think, is there another side to this story? Is Ling all she’s cracked up to be? I watched a CBS interview with Ling, and someone with the username ActivistHumanRights commented saying:

Of course this person doesn’t back up his or her claim, but the comment had eight thumbs up; this led me to take a closer look at what others thought of Laura Ling.  In a New York Times piece by Choe Sang-Hun, the author explains how South Koreans accused Ling and Euna Lee of  “needlessly endangering the very people they tried to cover: North Korean refugees and the activists who help them.” Sang-Hun says the evidence fell into the hands of the authorities which compromised the identities of the refugees. The article raises concerns that many refugees are constantly being taken back to the North, but the “difference is that they don’t get the kind of attention the American journalists did.” While these are important matters to consider, Ling did inform us that she and Euna Lee attempted to destroy all the evidence they could before it was too late, and I don’t exactly think we can blame Ling for receiving the media attention she did. In my opinion, Ling is an inspiration and I’m looking forward to reading her book.

PS. Great job Sean for putting this event together!

Sampling Scandals

After watching Copyright Criminals, a documentary which examines music sampling and creative rights, I realized I was completely wrong in my assumptions about copyright laws. I always presumed that artists were required to ask permission and even paid for the use of other songs in their music. Copyright Criminals focuses on the legal issues related to sampling and how song snippets are indeed used without permission. The documentary especially brings attention to the case of  Clyde Stubblefield, James Brown’s drummer. Stubblefield’s  beats were used in numerous songs over the years without any recognition of his efforts. While some snippets of older songs may be unrecognizable in newer creations, I think if four or more counts are sampled, credit should be provided to the original artist. My personal policy is that if you use someone else’s work, you owe them recognition.

In Free Culture, Lessig affirms that the law’s role today supports less creativity and instead protects industries against competition. I remember the 2008 music scandal when Coldplay were sued by Joe Satriani for plagiarism accusations regarding their song ‘Viva La Vida‘. Satriani accused the band of ripping off his 2004 track ‘If I Could Fly‘, but the case was eventually dismissed because proving that Coldplay plagiarized was an impossible task. This demonstrates the law’s role in the music industry and the concerns artists have with plagiarism.

This copyright issue reminded me of one of my favorite mashup artists, DJ Earworm. If you have never heard of him, you can check out his ‘United States of Pop 2011’ here:

I think it is incredible that this DJ created a single song  by mixing 25 popular songs without making my ears bleed. He includes the original artist’s name and song title for each song he creates, but he does not pay them for their work. He does, however, allow free downloads of the songs he creates which means he is not profiting from the work of others. Unless artists specify that their work cannot be reproduced without payment, I think sampling should be fair game assuming credit is given.

I think some songs which sample others are highly enjoyable to listen to, although it really depends on the sample and the artist who uses it. A few songs I can think of which involve sampling are Rihanna’s ‘Drunk on Love’ and Ja Rule’s ‘Real Life Fantasy’. Rihanna samples from The xx’s song ‘Intro’, and Ja Rule samples from Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Rihanna gives credit to The xx for the original song,and ‘Drunk on Love’ appears on her latest album; however, Ja Rule, was denied use of the Queen sample and had to remake his song. Clearly, sampling is still popular today, but there are limits to the types of samples that can be used.


Rihanna’s ‘Drunk on Love’


Ja Rule’s ‘Real Life Fantasy’

Creating the Wikipedia Article

Before I traveled to Guatemala for spring break, I checked Wikipedia to see if there was any information about the school I was going to volunteer at. To my dismay, there was nothing (I think I rely on Wikipedia too much these days). As I now know more about the school and its history from what I was taught while in Guatemala, I thought it would be a good idea to create my own Wikipedia article about it.

The article creating process was more time-consuming than I anticipated. I had to visit numerous different pages to figure out how to add headings, references, photos, etc. Personally, I don’t think Wikipedia’s directions are very efficient, but maybe their strategy is to prevent amateurs from creating useless pages.

My Picture-less Wikipedia Entry

To add a photograph (taken with my own camera), I had to fill out a lengthy form which inquired as to where and when the picture was taken, what I wanted to name the photo, how the picture follows Wikipedia’s rules, etc., only to find at the end of the form that I had to visit Wikimedia Commons and fill it out all over again. If you are uploading a file that is 100% your own, go straight to the Commons instead of trying to upload directly to Wikipedia. I also wanted to add a table of contents, and eventually I figured out that at least three subheadings are required before a table of contents is automatically generated. Here are some other tips for adding a Wikipedia article:

  1. Add a heading: ==Header Text Here==
  2. Add a link to another article: [[Name of Wikipedia Article]]
  3. Add a reference: After the text you wish to cite, click Cite > Templates > Cite Web (or other source). You have to include the Title, URL, and Ref Name for the citation to generate. Then add a References header (==References==) to the end of your article and paste {{reflist}} right below it.
  4. Add a photo: Go to Toolbox > Upload File. Once uploaded, add [[File:FileName.jpg|size|caption]] where you want the picture to go. Replace FileName.jpg with the name of the file you just uploaded. You can adjust the size and add a caption.

My Published Wikipedia Article

Check out my published article here: Centro Educativo Pavarotti

Henry Jenkins: Promoting Engagement

Seeing Henry Jenkins in person with his bushy beard and signature suspenders allowed me to gain a further understanding of civic ecology. Reading his blog posts and the introduction to Convergence Culture was interesting, but his discussion with our class was more passionate, and I felt as though I was able to connect with the information more easily. His view of citizen journalism and how we need to maximize the availability of credible information was fascinating to me. I was talking with one of my mom’s friends about how I’m working toward my journalism certificate, and she thought it was a great idea because too many journalists are “writing total crap these days”. I thought it was hilarious when Jenkins mentioned how an undergraduate research project turned into a highly quoted source because no one bothered to fact-check where the information came from. These days, it is difficult to know who or what to trust because of the ease of providing false information through Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Jenkins also elaborated on the need to promote engagement. If someone publishes an article composed of nothing but statistics and complaints without a tentative solution, no one is going to feel obliged to provide assistance. Over spring break, I went to Guatemala and a group of us were told by the indigenous people that Canadian miners are diminishing the country’s resources. They urged us to warn Americans and make them aware of this terrible occurrence. But so far, none of us have been able to assist; we have no idea what measures to take. The reality is that the Guatemalans probably do not know how to remedy the situation either.

The Kony 2012 video, however, definitely provides specific instructions that promote citizen engagement: on 4/20/2012, cover every surface with posters of Kony’s face. I remember everyone was really adamant about participating after watching the video, and multiple Facebook events were being created to ‘Cover the Town’. On Jenkins’ blog, he notes that the “part of the critique around the Kony 2012 campaign is that it promotes Slacktivism: a genre of social action that is easy (done with a click of the mouse), comfortable, and thus meaningless” (Why youth are drawn to Invisible Children: Prefiguring Kony 2012). Many young people signed the online pledge and bought action kits as soon as they watched the video. But how many are willing to get up from their computer and help? I also think with the backlash against IC, people quickly changed their opinions about the whole ordeal and decided it was probably not worth getting involved after all. While a lot of people are dedicated to what they sign up for, a great majority of others are not. I agree with Jenkins that IC is resonating with young people because it asks them to participate, but I have to be skeptical and wonder how many people will actually participate on April 20th.