Category Archives: Communications

Deeper Into Yoga, part 4: Mission

I will be conducting a yoga class this Friday in Rogers Park, hosted by the folks at the Solarium. I have my final in teacher training–to teach a demo class to my classmates–on Saturday morning, so I was a bit unsure of putting another source of nervousness on my plate the night before. But then I thought, why not? I might as well get two for the price of one nervous day.

I wrote this to help me prepare for teaching, and to aid me in grounding the practice in the  basic alignment principles that will allow my students to build a personal practice of their own. This is important in yoga, the path of change (in the body, in the mind) runs gradually, over time and with regular practice.

Mission Statement

We escape into our minds every day, constantly ruminating about issues in our personal and professional lives. This way of being often leaves us feeling anxious and exhausted, yet we repeat the cycle on a nearly daily basis. So distracted from what we really need to do, change seems inaccessible.

Yoga is a way to rebuild the pathways between our external senses with our internal experience of life. It reconnects us to the body, from the skin on down to the very cells. Yoga allows us to achieve centering, focus, self-care, and a healthy relationship with the body. It promotes health in the circulatory system, better digestion, cardiovascular health, calm and focused awareness. Even more, it supports transformation in the body and courage in everyday life. The healthier we feel, and the more we take care of the basics in our life, the more we have a stable base from which to perform great feats in life.

Yoga is for everyone, and you do not need to be super physically fit to take part. We begin where we are. This class will acquaint both new and more seasoned practitioners with the building blocks that support a personal daily practice.

Read on

Personal Cliché

It is interesting tendency I notice that when I come to some profound change in life, I often resort to cliché in talking about it. Even when I make it up, finding the right way to say something, it has the force and compact quality of cliché.

“You can do a lot of things in life, but you can only do them one at a time.” This was a lesson I needed to learn, as I flitted from one thing to another and had grown frustrated with having so little sense of accomplishment. This single sentence boils it down to the essential point, though the story’s colors are lost along the way.

I have an impatient need to just move onto the next thing. But this also reflects the nature of our minds, showing the structure we necessarily impose on our thinking and memory.

After we’ve learned, the whole story is compacted, filed away. But, there’s a short liminal period when for a time we can see what has happened, how the changes took place.

This is why, incidentally, in business research it’s been found that it is better for someone who just learned something to teach others, than someone who mastered it long ago. Because you forget how you got there.

After the change is complete, in other words, we no longer have access to the mind that solved the problem. We may not even have much insight into the change, really. (It’s not necessary to understand change in order to progress.)

I’m reminded not only of Einstein’s inspiring quote, “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.” But also of a corollary, this time from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.”

After that window is closed, explaining it to someone else can be an exercise in futility. We usually end up with a lifeless cliché, like that most despised by young people—Be yourself. I remember thinking, when well-meaning adults would say this to me, it seemed almost perversely naive. As if it’s so easy.

But at a certain point in life you just become more yourself, mostly because you can no longer put the energy into being something else. It’s pretty simple. Your self is actually an aggregate of all your choices, habits, and opinions, that reaches a sort of density that has more momentum than any of your projects to be something different, better, more enlightened, more glamorous, or whatever. This is why history seems inexorable in hindsight.

So, “be yourself” is just a conceptual marker of accomplishment, an acknowledgement rather than an injunction. Having found the circuitous path to it in our lives, we’ve earned that shorthand. But, each person must earn it themselves. This is why it is so hard to talk about this stuff with other people. You use tedious abstractions, trying to get at whatever it is. Conversation is a way of reaching for something, finding the words for something is like summoning it to you. And once you’ve reached it, it seems almost beside the point to talk about it with others who understand you. You just look at each other and say, “Yeah.” “Yeah.” And move on.

A goal of writing is to to preserve a moment in time, so that by some magic we can convey the richness of life to those reading it. It becomes an experience in and of itself. This is way beyond cliche, it is communication. It can help forge connections and lead you on the right path.

This makes me think of an old story. One night years ago I was hanging out with my friend Sarah. We were sitting right next to the stereo speakers, in our very first apartment, in Portland, Maine, listening to Pink Floyd’s Wish U Were Here.

How I wish you were here.
We’re just two lost souls
swimming in a fish bowl
year after year.
Running over the same old ground
What have we found
The same old fears?
Wish u were here

We looked at each other, stoned, all of nineteen, and said, “So true.”

Cliché Romance & Exorcism

As a writer, I have fought long and hard to remove cliche’d words and phrases from my writing. It’s an uphill battle, as you will see if you ever take up the challenge. One of my first writing teachers handed out a mimeographed, crooked old piece of paper with a list of a daunting number of phrases and word combinations considered cliché. Besides the tried and true, old stand-bys, the subtler examples (rock hard, steely-eyed, slippery slope) showed me how such ready-made phraseology is a hallmark of lazy thinking.

Writing is hard. There are so many cheats and short cuts, but they all add up to hackneyed writing. Readers can tell. Readers eyes glaze over, and that response is never the reader’s fault.

Today I found these in an essay draft:

silver lining

grass is greener

expand my horizons

pretty theory


and the ones included in this blog post I have purposely left in to show you the depths of my cliché problem.

Fearing that perhaps my thinking is hackeyed, I cut most of them. But I confess I love clichés. They are slightly ridiculous and strangely apt. Today I told a friend, “You made your bed, now lie in it.” We both laughed, as it was literally relevant to her situation. This somehow elevated the usage to the meta-comical, provoking a self-satisfied giddiness, like any well-placed pun or other low-brow verbal effect. Sure, I’m a word nerd.

The sociological interest, however, goes deeper. I’m fascinated by these turns of phrase, and what they may reveal about our culture and way of thinking, making connections, and categorizing.

I often deconstruct common concepts in my writing. The cliché is similar to stereotype in that it exists as a kind of shorthand. There is a kernel of truth to it. It’s a good jumping-off place. It takes on the air of symbol, that we know at a glance, and ignore, but that which can show us the contours of our beliefs, our interests and motivations.

Cliché is like found meaning. It has existed in culture long enough to be understood implicitly. It’s part of the human condition. The human condition—another curious concept that is more like a rhetorical tag than a defined thing.

Knowing that clichés help us work as little as possible to understand each other, I suppose that’s why they exist. But taking all the little events, how do they add up to a life? How do our words add up to meaning, or alter it, as a pebble plunked into a pond? How do they affect us? and how can we make our expression of ourselves more original?


Feed Like Me

I have a theoretical bent of mind that turns basic things into thought experiments. I believe that almost anything in your life reflects everything in your life. So if that’s true, I like to look at more trivial aspects of my life to find balance. It’s easier to see the truth when you’re less invested.

The variety of blogs, for instance, that I subscribe to is a measure of my interests. It can also be a gigantic time suck. Since it will be technically feeding me information every day, I take seriously what I choose to put on there. (I got rid of Perez Hilton somewhere along the way, ‘m just sayin’.)

For one thing I know is true: to make yourself more well-rounded, read widely and variedly. That is as true online as off. So here I’ll share a few guiding principles and great examples of different genres of blogs.

Subscribe to at least one art/design blog, but not too many. Beware of  product-heavy blogs, they encourage endless consumption. Many design blogs just repeat each other, so find a fairly original and varied one. Swiss Miss is a Swiss designer based in NYC. A lot of other design blogs get ideas from her.

Colossal is a great art blog that has risen quickly—the cream rises to the top. Put one art blog in your feed, it will take you out of your everyday goal-oriented concerns for one well-earned minute.

If you’re going to subscribe to a fashion blog, choose carefully. The Sartorialist is solid, it’s the most consistent fashion blog I’ve found, but I lean toward sites that emphasize personal style and a less-is-more aesthetic, and haven’t found a good one lately.

Letters of Note posts various letters scanned from memorabilia collections from  famous, and notorious, people, and ends up reading a general purpose blog, a literary blog, a history blog, and a pop culture blog in one.

Maud Newton is a bonafied, Mark Twain lovin’ lit blog, but I have to admit that this slot is itching for an upheaval. Her posts are good, but sporadic. Any good lit blogs you would recommend?

Political blogs should help you get above the situation, see a perspective outside your own narrow knowledge. I like Fabius Maximus because it defies attempts to label it left- or right-wing. That is its genius. I have a theory that the silent middle would mostly agree with each other, and has the same interests, if we didn’t always talk in the abstract “capitalism vs. socialism,” and if we could avoid wedge issues like abortion that don’t actually effect us all as much as say, economic policy. This site is a bit of a downer, but has done much to grow up my thinking on politics (with just enough sociology to be enlightening about how things work).

Open Culture is my new go-to site for all things high culture. From Hitchcock interviews to full-length documentaries available on YouTube, and listing free courses and lectures available online, it is my desert island site, possibly my favorite site ever.

I periodically add and subtract blogs from my roll as my interests change. And, as I know I can only read so much per day before I am overwhelmed, when something new goes in, something old goes out. (If only my wardrobe additions were so non-negotiable.) But there’s always room for more: certain blogs act as spaceholders—not quite right but the best I’ve found. So what is missing? Any gaping holes? Do you have any hifalutin’ theories to back up your media consumption?

I’ll try do a follow-up post at some point with a run-down of natural living, yoga, and counterculture blogs.

Word of the Day: arch

As an adjective it means mischievous, or roguish. It is sadly never used anymore.

My favorite reference for it is from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

After playing some Italian songs, Miss Bingley varied the charm by a lively Scotch air; and soon afterwards Mr. Darcy, drawing near Elizabeth, said to her:

“Do not you feel a great inclination, Miss Bennet, to seize such an opportunity of dancing a reel?”

She smiled, but made no answer. He repeated the question, with some surprise at her silence.

“Oh!” said she, “I heard you before, but I could not immediately determine what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say Yes, that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their meditated contempt. I have, therefore, made up my mind to tell you, that I do not want to dance a reel at all–and now despise me if you dare.”

“Indeed I do not dare.”

Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.

Miss Bingley saw, or suspected enough to be jealous; and her great anxiety for the recovery of her dear friend Jane received some assistance from her desire of getting rid of Elizabeth.

And now I have tricked you into reading a bit of Pride and Prejudice. My good deed for the day.

SlutWalk Chicago: By Any Other Name?

In Guernica, a piece about the march I participated in, SlutWalk Chicago, on June 4, 2011. For me, the march was all about how our attitudes about women’s behavior play into victim-blaming and shaming. But people walked for many reasons, and it was great to be a part of this sex-positive, man-friendly solidarity for sexual rights and freedom.

Read it here: SlutWalk Chicago

And here is a little audio collage I put together from mini interviews I did, asking people to why they were marching.
SlutWalk Chicago

The article reprinted here in its entirety:

The first thing I saw when I got off the train at Clark and Lake in Chicago was a beautiful young woman in a tiny black skirt and a black bikini halter-top. She looked like a streetwalker, and I got a little thrill. She was walking beside a short, boyish dyke. The tourists behind them smiled and pointed, but I knew where they were going.

On Facebook some critics denounced the name. “Slutwalk just cheapens and dilutes the cause.” “I support the idea behind this but not the title or people encouraging other people to dress sleazy.”

But they don’t say whose cause.

So as I walked, not that sluttily dressed myself, I asked people why they were walking.

SlutWalk Chicago is minimally defined as a march in support of women’s rights, but it is strongly anti-victim blaming and shaming. It is a spinoff of SlutWalk Toronto, which was initiated when a representative of the Toronto Police Service was quoted saying, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized.” It’s a march in support of education and against intolerance.

Here’s the official line, from the website of SlutWalk Chicago:

“SlutWalk Chicago aims to combat the myth of ‘the slut’ and the culture of victim blaming that prevails the world over. Our mission is to enforce the truth that those who experience sexual assault are never at fault-no exceptions. We seek to combat a culture that teaches ‘don’t get raped,’ as opposed to ‘don’t rape’.”

While the name must have deterred some, by taking a provocative stand it attracted more devotion from those who did participate.

If it hadn’t been called Slutwalk, it would have not attracted SWOP, Sexual Workers Outreach Project, a sex-worker advocacy group. They said as much, and that made me very happy. I ended the walk, which according to some guesstimates numbered around 2,000 people, with that group.

“I’m glad I decided not to wear my stripper heels,” one woman told me. Very sensible, I agreed. A young man walked in front of us alone, wearing his stilettos proudly. Someone yelled out “Free Porn”! And the spokesman of SWOP told me, “No! We’re not for free porn. We’re for people getting paid for porn!” “All I want is a raise!” one sex worker (not sure which kind) told me. I began to see how the Marxists dotted amongst the crowd also fit in here.

Workers rights aside, the essential point is that people must possess their own sexuality, proudly, unreservedly. To be the subject and not the object in their own lives. To see the difference between that, and fear-based behaviors—avoiding becoming a target, making women responsible for “holding out” or “giving in,” being ready to say yes as well as no.

That Toronto police officer must be eating his words by now.

And for all the people who found the terminology off-putting, I talked to many young women who said something like, “I heard about this thing called SlutWalk, and I just said, ‘Yep, I’m going.’” While the name must have deterred some, by taking a provocative stand it attracted more devotion from those who did participate.

“I like it because ‘Yes means yes’ is just as important as ‘No means no’!”

“I was called a slut and that I’d asked for it when my boyfriend forced me in high school.”

One polyamorist told me, “I’m for the idea of ethical slutdom, that sex feels good, so we must question why the dominant culture dislikes the idea of a slut.”

A kind of take-back-the-term empowerment crackled in the air, and the girls in fishnets and boys in heels all seemed to blossom for this cause.

If there was any fear of a stale feminist rally, the term slut practically, easily guaranteed that this wasn’t the case.

Truckers beeped, and one guy joked, “I know they’re honking because they like sluts, but also I like to think it’s a little bit of solidarity with our cause.”

Action Is Hope

“Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”

Ray Bradbury, Paris Review Interview

Strange word of the day: "blandishments"

I have a habit of trying out words. I’ve done this since I was a kid, using a word I don’t know the meaning of but that I think sounds like what I’m trying to say. Sometimes it is felicitous, becomes a creative and interesting new use of a word, but other times it has comical effects. I once told my dad, who was wearing a wife-beater and had a mustache—it was the 80s—that he looked like a “homo.” “What?” he said. “You know, one of those guys who lives on trains and wears rags?” “Ohhh, you mean ‘hobo’.” Right.

So I was trying to make “blandishment” mean something like shields, or the defense walls of a castle, or something. Doesn’t it sound like that?

Turns out, it is excessive flattery or attention used to ingratiate oneself with someone or to persuade someone to do something. Using blandishments with your parents to get out of doing housework, say. Or at work, complimenting someone on how they do a particular thing to get out of it yourself: “Oh, but you are so good at unjamming the copy machine!”