Category: culture

Do Less, Be More.


My beautiful and talented friend Sienna Creasy.

My beautiful and talented friend Sienna Creasy.

The yoga teachers I know have a certain way about them. They carry themselves with a practiced calmness, entering the warm studio with beatific smiles. They greet their students generously, like cult leaders, or with a laid back hippie vibe. “Welcome, yogis!” Their exclamation points land softly, and we practitioners gather our focus and close our eyes, before we have even begun to practice, feeling nurtured by the sunset colored walls, the solidity of the floor, the faint air of incense, and most of all, the fact that we are here, sitting still, doing apparently nothing. Ninety minutes of vinyasa later, we leave physically and spiritually refreshed, having reaffirmed the capability of our bodies and experienced the blessing that is turning off one’s otherwise incessant mental chatter. We’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, and we’re happier for it.

One of my favorite teachers is Zak, a handsome and guileless man who balances laughter with eager seriousness as he demonstrates increasingly complex physical contortions. Like all good teachers, Zak seems to take real joy in his class’ success; his appreciative and drawn out “Yeahs” are directed at individuals and at everyone. He’s also got the best playlists.

A typical class at my studio, Shakti Vinyasa, begins with a few minutes of meditation or setting an intention. An intention might be a single word or small phrase to guide one’s practice, such as “creativity,” or “open heart,” or it might be more directed toward a personal goal, such as improved relationships, in which case the intention might be something like “accept others” or “be authentic.” In any case, setting an intention is a brief act of awareness of the mind that the yoga practitioner can somehow both continue to make use of and immediately let go, as class begins, and awareness leaves the mind and moves to the body and the breath. The teachers urge that when we notice our minds beginning to wander, for example, that we are suddenly trying very hard to achieve a pose or evaluating our success, we return to the breath, keeping our focus there for as long as possible. As Zak says, stop doing. Just be.

It may seem a contradiction in terms. Imagine you are balancing on your right foot, your hips rotated skyward, knee bent, clasping your left foot above and behind you while your right hand stretches toward the floor: this is ardha chandra chapasana, or the sugarcane variation of standing half moon pose. The instructions you hear are complex: root all four corners of your foot down; lift the center of your chest to open your heart; find space between your right ear and your shoulder. In other words, there’s a lot to do in this pose, and all poses; however, if you’re really doing yoga, you’re doing the poses with a focus on the ease of your mind, letting your body be what it is capable of in that moment, not judging yourself, even when you fall. Just come back in.

John Tierny seems to get at the the same idea today in his NYT piece, “A Meditation on the Art of Not Trying.” At first glance, the title might seem to smack of the sort of excuse-as-answer a projectless writer like myself might give in response to the question of “what are you working on?” I wish that, like others in my MFA graduating class, I were halfway into writing my second book of poetry, were working toward a self-imposed deadline of 75,000 words by March on my memoir, or even that I had some sense of direction as a writer; that there was somewhere I knew I wanted to go with my words. Maybe some day, those will be my answers. For now, I’m here, today, sitting at my desk, writing this. I’m taking notes in journals. I’m writing letters to friends, and meeting nearby friends at coffee shops to sit with warm mugs and laptops and to practice being a writer.

Though I haven’t seen the results of my writing practice yet, I do believe that eventually, if I keep it up, I’ll find that I write more words I like than words I don’t. Maybe some of those words will even be recognized by others as good or useful. I can believe this because I’ve seen the way getting up for 5:30 a.m. track practice yields greater endurance on the long runs and more power on the hills; how twelve hours with a guitar callouses my fingers enough to play B chords without muting the resonance of any one string; how yoga poses like arm balances and head stands, once seemingly outside the realm of possibility, are there for me, in the surprise of my newly capable body, after twenty, or forty, or ninety attempts.

Practice makes perfect, as they say. But Tierny’s article illustrates a more nuanced sensibility with regard to achieving goals. Tierney explains the work of University of British Columbia professor Edward Slingerland, who argues that since the dawn of civilization, humanity has been striving toward “effortless action,” such as that achieved today by top athletes and charismatic business professionals. According to Slingerland, central to the concept effortless action, or “wu wei” (“pronounced oo-way”), in Chinese, is its instinctive, or inherent quality. As Tierny explains, “You cannot try, but you also cannot not try.”

Tierney describes how the tension in this concept played out, in ancient China, between the Confucians and the Taoists, the former of whom, according to Tierny, followed a “practice makes perfect” model while the latter eschewed striving as evidence of a lack of authenticity. To illustrate, Tierny quotes the Tao Te Ching, taking, as he says, “a direct shot at Confucius”: “The worst kind of Virtue never stops striving for Virtue, and so never achieves Virtue.”

Sixteen centuries later, in my tiny bedroom office, both versions of wu wei seem true. If you don’t try, you’ll never succeed. Eighty percent of success is showing up. Practice makes perfect. But also: runners run. Writers write. And the breath, as long as you live, will always be there, a reminder of how possible it is both to do and not do, and an invitation simply to be.

How to Talk about Sexual Harassment in the Workplace


I wrote a letter that I can’t seem to send.

Recently, a friend and coworker asked whether she could post my letter on Facebook. I had sent the letter to her in a moment of hesitation following the moment of frustration in which I wrote the letter.

I was sitting at my desk that day, anxious and unable to work, feeling the weight of someone’s presence – an older man, a coworker and mentor, and a friend, who I respected, and who, I had thought, respected me.

There had been an incident. The incident was preceded by weeks of increasing discomfort on my part, following a year of mentoring, productive collaboration, and increasingly close friendship. Now, all that seemed to be over: the mentoring, the collaboration, and the friendship – it couldn’t continue. It had been wrecked. Worse: it had been devalued. I was angry, disappointed, offended, and unsure how to proceed.

After an hour of staring at the screen, stewing with negative emotion under the faint blue of the office fluorescence, I hammered out the letter, but I couldn’t send it. Here it is – the version that my friend posted.


Hi (omitted),

Regrettably, as you intuited, I am not okay. In fact, I feel really disturbed. After our conversation over dinner on (date omitted), I feel a lot of anxiety around you, and I am not prone to anxiety. I want to keep collaborating with you, especially as we look forward to an (omitted, work-related); however, I feel that in order to keep working together closely, we are going to have to have a conversation. But, it can be difficult to be direct, and to communicate accurately, in person. I’m writing today with the intention of communicating well.

The way I see it: we have a good friendship. Our friendship has been compromised by the fact that I feel objectified by you at times. This is not new as of (date omitted); however, on (date omitted), you verbalized it very clearly. In response, I asked whether it would surprise you to know that I routinely feel objectified by you. This was very direct on my part, and I expected a response, yet you seemed not to notice. I let it go; however, I find that my negative feelings about it remain.

I’m a grown up. I can deal with negative feelings, as unpleasant as they are when they affect a friendship. As well, I can work with people who don’t care for me or who don’t respect me. It is not my job to be well liked, and it is not our burden to make sure that our colleagues know we respect them. Nor do I intend to be accusatory on those points. Clearly, we enjoy each other’s company, and I think we share a mutual respect.

So. What am I saying? What I am saying is that I don’t want to come to work nervous about whether my coworkers – you – will be evaluating my physical presence: not my wardrobe, not my makeup or lack thereof, not my body. I don’t want to be referred to as “sweetie,” or be touched — not because friends and coworkers can’t speak to each other using terms of endearment or touch each other, but because you have fundamentally changed the way that those things feel. Once, they felt harmless. Increasingly, they don’t.

On (date omitted), you told me that I “walk a line” – a line between sexiness and masculinity, between submissiveness and dominance. You should know: our culture, like so many, tells women that we must choose which part of ourselves to embrace: sexual, or intellectual? This is a false dichotomy. Women, like men, are complex individuals, despite the way in which we are characterized in popular culture. We are encouraged to believe that our power lies within our sexuality, as well as that embracing intellect must be at the expense of being attractive. I reject this dichotomy, as I reject the insinuation that masculinity, as you stated, is equal to intellectual superiority. There is no question that the line you are referring to exists; however, I want you to realize:

I did not create the line. And I do not walk it for you.

Finally, let me say that while I do not want to make you feel like an oppressor, I think, given my words here, you might recognize in your behavior the elements of oppression. I think that we reflect the world that taught us how to be; although as thinking adults, we hope to move toward reflecting the world we choose to create. The things you say and do – they have the power to reinforce the gender binary opposition that victimizes women, and they have the power to subvert it.

In short, I would like my workplace to be free from the weight of the male gaze. I hope that you see what I mean, and that you’re amenable to talking about this, so that we can hit the reset button on things and move forward.

All the best,



To me, the letter I’ve written feels excessively diplomatic. I hear myself trying to protect his feelings, to hedge the intensity of my disappointment. I feel like a cliché, like a victim, and I feel weak for not sending the letter, and for not being more forceful.

Before my friend posted the letter, what bothered me was the idea of sending the letter and ruining a relationship. But you didn’t ruin it, my friends say. He did.

I know they are right. What bothers me now is what’s been omitted. The end of the letter reads “All the best, (omitted).”

What’s been omitted is my name, and with it my voice. What’s embraced, what’s repeated, if I don’t send this letter, is the same old story.

Step Into the Mind of Your Favorite Iconic Author

Angela Davis annotated If They Come In the Morning

Image from PEN American Center’s First Edition/Second Thoughts Auction catalog.

What if you could step into the mind of your favorite author while they wrote your favorite book? What if you could find out not only how they crafted that brilliant prose, but what inspired them in the first place? And what if you could find out how they would write the book differently if they wrote it today?

Guess what! Now you can. Well, if you have enough money.

Today, the PEN American Center’s First Edition/Second Thoughts auction takes place. If you don’t happen to be in New York, you can bid online or by phone.

More than 75 famous authors and artists annotated their most iconic work, including notes in the margins, whole essays, pictures, doodles, and in one case of a photographer, a whole new set of images added to the book. Participating authors include Alice Walker, Billy Collins, Tony Morrison, Jane Smiley, Amy Tan, Joyce Carol Oates and many, many more.

If not limited by funds, which book on the list would you bid on and why?

I’m torn between Barbara Kingsolver’s Poison Wood Bible, Sue Grafton’s A is For Alibi, and Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Each of those books showed me something new about reading, writing, and about myself. They are also books that have stayed with me longer–because of their characters, or story line, or plot twists–than some of the more established and more part-of-the-cannon literary works that I have read.

Here’s the PEN American center’s promotional video for the auction. It includes some of the writers reflecting back on what it was like revisiting their work.


Short Poem & Metamodernism


Have you read the three-word poem by Jesse Damiani, published by Seth Abramson at Ink Node?

Seth Abramson has more about the poem, metamodernism, and Shia LaBeouf at Huff Post.

Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker write in their article, “Notes on metamodernism”:

One of the most poignant metamodern practices is what the German theorist Raoul Eshelman has termed ‘‘performatism’’. Eshelman describes performatism as the willful self-deceit to believe in—or identify with, or solve—something in spite of itself.

They also discuss a reemergence of romanticism—a neoromanticism—and self realization and enthusiasm and irony.

Yesterday the weather turned freezing. Even though I had to scrape ice from my windshield before I could drive to work, I fondly imagined hot chocolate and snuggling with my family under a blanket, watching a movie. A romantic thought with some enthusiasm to it.

Yesterday evening, after I finished a long day of work, I stepped out of the elevator to the sight of an unkempt older man reclining in a chair in the lobby without pants or shirt, wearing a stocking cap, unzipped jacket and well-worn boots, stroking his genitals, staring straight at me. Even now I can’t unsee all of that flesh and that direct look that didn’t seem to hold any sort of message in it at all. The cold is the most likely reason why he chose the lobby of my building for his performatism, ironic in light of my earlier enthusiasm about activities related to the weather.

In the 28+ hours since, I’ve considered the plight of the mentally ill and homeless, my own morals and need for feeling safe and respected, and the expectations and boundaries surrounding my day-to-day life. I am aware that my understanding of metamodernism barely exists. Can one be living and loving a metamodern life without knowing it?

Photo courtesy of LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner, copyright the artists.

Been Raped, Never Reported

HuffPostSomething amazing happened on Twitter this weekend and it all started in our neighboring country up north.

Jian Ghomeshi, host of a popular radio show, was fired when three women accused him of unwanted sexual violence. In the wake of the scandal, more women stepped forward to report the same thing, including Mr. Ghomeshi’s coworker Reva Seth and actress Lucy DeCoutere.

You can imagine what happened next: victim blaming, he-said-she-said doubts, and an all-out debate on what consent means.

And this is when the amazing thing happened. Cutting through all the noise and bullshit, Toronto Star writer Antonia Zerbisias and Montreal Gazette reporter Sue Montgomery shared their own stories of rape on Twitter, starting the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported and creating an instant trend.

By Sunday, the conversation was strong enough for the Huffington Post Canada to dedicate their front page and their Living page to an outpouring of courageous rape survivors sharing their stories.

Even with a 140 character limit, these words hold so much power. The conversation is still ongoing, join it.

Dreams, the Collective Unconscious, Joan Rivers and Andy Taylor

Joan Rivers circa 1967

Joan Rivers circa 1967 (Getty)

On the night Joan Rivers died, I dreamed of her, her and Andy Taylor of Duran Duran.

Well, this is something that happens. Us common folk dream of celebrities all the time.

Yes, yes. I agree. However in this instance, I had no idea Joan had had surgery, was in a coma and had died. The dream stuck with me for days because it was slightly bizarre and yet felt very based in reality. For me it took place mostly backstage. I haven’t worked backstage since my very early college years (read: before drinking age), and even then I never worked a show for anyone super famous. But my reality is that I’ve been all over stages and dressing rooms and green rooms.

The dream was also very persistent. The theater was sometimes an amphitheater, that was the only bit of inconsistency, which I’ll just call a quirk. The event lasted for hours in the way that dreams can compress and expand time at will. At the beginning, I was ushering Joan and Andy around backstage. Then I was trying to blend in with the stage crew and performers because it felt like I had snuck backstage or very seriously didn’t belong at least. There were chorus line dancers and circus performers. There was a nervous stage director lecturing everyone to do their best. I was terribly afraid I’d get caught, but then Joan and Andy were coming off stage, done with their onstage performance. They knew me! And I hadn’t “dreamed” that I was their escort! (Meta moment: being afraid I had imagined or “dreamed” something in the dream.) We walked out of the theater together. Joan was hilarious the whole time. Andy smiled a lot and was charismatic. It was mostly an enjoyable dream, and I thought about it for days.

Then three days later, I heard about Joan River’s death. And I did the math Read more »

What Makes You Feel Beautiful?

Two months ago, I posted about Esther Honig’s project where she sent out a picture of herself to graphic designers all over the world with the words “make me beautiful” as the only direction.

Today, I want examine internal validation of beauty, instead of looking at how external factors judge what makes us desirable.

How would you answer the question: What makes You Feel Beautiful?

In a recent social experiment aimed at capturing different visions of beauty and document participants’ own impressions of what makes them feel beautiful,  the eBay Fashion Blog team sent photographers Alizon Luntz and Viola Gaskell out on the streets of New York and Seattle to ask 80 random people just that question.



People listed family, exercise, the outdoors, and even brushing their teeth essentials to their feelings of being beautiful. One of my favorite answers comes from one of the Seattle people: “Life just makes me feel happy and beautiful–waking up every day and looking at all the beauty in the world.”

I wish I could wake up feeling like that every day.

Short and chunky, I’ve never measured up to the standard ideal of beauty. Something I came to terms with a long time ago. My own answer would probably be closer to another Seattleite’s answer: “What makes me feel beautiful is my accomplishments, big and small.

Accomplishments and challenges are linked to confidence for me. I like to challenge myself to do new things and accomplish hard goals, reaching those goals makes me feel confident. And when I’m confident, I feel beautiful.

Check out all the pictures and answers from the experiment and then share what makes you feel beautiful in the comments below.

You can follow the Tweets that started with this experiment by searching for #MakesMeFeelBeautiful.

The Neighbors

Today is the seventeenth day. I didn’t mean to begin counting but after the tenth day, I couldn’t help but notice. It’s been seventeen days since I saw any of my neighbors. In theory, there should be five humans, one for each of the five doors besides ours in this building on the second floor, but of course,  it could be more. It might not seem all the strange to you, that I haven’t seen a single soul in the hallway outside of our apartment for seventeen days, but as an unemployed person who spends most of her days going in and out, it’s becoming more and more bizarre. When we first moved in, I saw the man across the hall at least once a day as he was taking his small dog for a walk. He always spoke, or least nodded, and he seemed like a good omen.

But I haven’t seen him or anyone else for seventeen days. I know that I’m hypersensitive to neighbors. A few months ago I was living in the motel my boyfriend was renovating. Our neighbors changed daily; it was important to take note of who was gone and who was still there for personal safety reasons. And yet the upstairs neighbors at the motel, who apparently practiced their WWE wrestling moves before bed each night never left. Even before living in the motel, I was working and residing on a college campus. Read more »

Boyhood: The Power of Generalities in Storytelling


Watching a boy grow up on screen with his fictional family is genuinely moving.

Yes. This movie is as good as they say, and yes, you should go see it if you haven’t already. Here’s the thing to know before you go: It’s best to view this movie as an ethnography of the American childhood, specifically the childhood of this boy, Mason, who we get to watch grow up before our eyes from age six to eighteen, but also that of his older sister, Samantha (Richard Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei) who is lovely and provides an important female counterweight to her brother in this family that is so American-generic that any of us can likely place ourselves within it.

This isn’t a romantic comedy or an action flick or a psychological thriller. It’s a straight forward coming-of-age story, and if you remember anything about growing up, you’ll remember that there’s a lot of small shit-happening-to-you kinds of events (school, weekends with dad) and a little of you-making-decisions-and-screwing-up stuff happening (not doing homework, lost virginity), but in general, most of the time, life for most people is pretty undramatic, and that’s the case in Boyhood, too. No one dies or gets cancer or goes on a great big adventure. No one has a disability or is abused or is a beautiful genius, shaping the character in extraordinary ways. But through the lack of drama, and I’d argue because of it, we’re delivered a “story” (albeit without the typical story arc) that is dramatically, emotionally honest and emblematic of what it feels like to discover ourselves incrementally as we do in real life. We also get to see the adults in this movie “come of age,” if you will. They, like most of us, are lost most of the time, and their lack of wisdom is refreshing.

I was most impressed by Linklater’s ability to provide us with moments that could be from any family in America, even though this family is indeed white and middle class, which obviously doesn’t represent all American families in a literal sense. However, most of us can relate to annoying siblings, neighborhood friends, divorce, road trips, homework, teachers who rat you out to your parents, teachers who badger you to be better, step-parents who fuck with your head, first loves, peer pressure, crappy food service jobs, heartbreak, imperfect parents, and a little marijuana smoking. In his low-key way, Linklater uses these moments to question (and kind of answer) the meaning of life. He takes these generalities, makes them just generic enough to fit your own life, and invites you in. This movie doesn’t wrap its characters’ lives up in neat packages, ending with a message of grace and understanding. No. This movie leaves everything a mess, as it should be, as it really is. For that reason, this movie is brilliant and beautiful.


Storytelling as Community, as Healing

After Asa’s great post about how storytelling affects our decision making, I started thinking about how storytelling could play a role in the careers of people who aren’t writers. I found this great video from, the website for the Center for Digital Storytelling, about forensic nurses and digital storytelling. The mission of the Center for Digital Storytelling is “to promote the value of story as a means for compassionate community action.”


I know many of the contributors to this blog have taught, or currently teach, creative writing. My question for those with this type of experience is: In what ways has being a promoter of storytelling brought about change in your life or the life of someone else?

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