Taking Lower Manhattan by Cell Phone Camera

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I have been meaning to post these pictures for a while now, but then I went on spring break and gradually forgot. So now, for this installment of Breaking New Work, is a series of cell phone camera pictures from my lower Manhattan escapades.

Display advertising the play The Rover.

There are trees in there!

Hedge maze.

Statues! And the one on the right is *gasp* a Chinese man!

Intricate wall mural.

DIY Interlude: Small Pieces, Big Results

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I have recently been drawing on note cards. And I have heard that some really talented writers use the method of writing a sentence on a note card (or sticky note) as a way to keep trucking on through a difficult scene. And story-boarding has been a technique in the television/movie/video game business for quite some time. So what's the craze with all these little blank squares?

Well, for one, they aren't really that intimidating. They're not infinite capacity (like a Word document) and they're not larger than your head. You don't have to feel like you're going to succumb to madness if you tell yourself that all you have to finish is writing the next sentence, drawing the next panel, or making the next study flash card for your social psychology class. They are just bite-sized enough that you can get them done in a limited amount of time, and easily carried on the go.

Besides these benefits, I think the appeal of note cards or sticky notes is just the fact that you can rearrange them. Drawing from my own experience, I find that editing a paper makes me really nervous if I don't make little annotations in between sentences such as "EDIT!" or "USE DIFFERENT WORD" or "WRITE TOPIC SENTENCE, DANGIT!" I have come to the conclusion that it is less my own madness and more the fact that when a paper is written out on a computer screen, it looks complete. Done. Presto. There's absolutely no more work that has to be done on it. Right?

I think that generalizing the usefulness of note cards and sticky notes can be really helpful. Even if you are not literally sitting down with a bunch of 3x5" cards and proceeding to draw your next masterpiece, you can use the same logic. How about writing a sentence per day in a notebook so that you can get to your ultimate writing goal? Or drawing a picture section by section (or stage by stage: contour, color, shading, background)? Taking small pieces can make a really great whole. And you won't be freaked out by the monolithic "done-ness" of a particular thing - it's always easily editable, easily moved around, and never set in stone.

Give the note card thing a try and see if you like it, and be sure to leave a comment about what you think of doing things in small chunks!

Project x Project: To Slump or Not to Slump?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sometimes I feel like productivity is the only way to go for me. I have to be seriously working on something, giving it my all, making plans, and working through them as steadfastly as possible. But, as you can imagine, it is pretty difficult to keep up that level of productivity all the time - especially when juggling being a full-time student and part-time worker. So it can feel sometimes like I'm in a bit of a slump.

This week, for example, I have taken off some time from work to spend with my boyfriend as he visits me for his spring break. I have done a lot of my homework in advance so that we can spend time together but, as you might imagine, there is still some downtime when we are enjoying each others' company without necessarily having a plan to structure the day. And that's when I get antsy. Shouldn't I be working on something? Should I read ahead in my book for the week after next? Should I start working on that collage project that I have been meaning to start? The questions keep on coming, and yet I don't actually enact any of these things. Is it a slump?

I have always wondered if this is really and truly the attitude of a perfectionist. Feeling slump-y just because I haven't started working on my "next big thing?" Sounds like it. But the feelings are there all the same, making me feel like a little kid squirming around at the opera.

So, I am going to open up the question to you. What do you do when you start to feel like you're in a slump? Is there anything that remedies these feelings? How do you spend your time? Let me know!

Living in the Moment

Monday, March 28, 2011

I realized quite a bit late that most of my posts from last week were food-related, which was not necessarily a bad thing, but a little repetitive! So, this week I am going to avoid food and talk about something completely different.

I have had one problem for pretty much my entire teenage and adult life: not living in the moment.

At first, I did not identify this as the root of my problem. I would get depressed easily in my youth and believe that it was because of all the problems that were weighing down on me from the outside. And, although there were some times when that was truly the case, most of the time I suspect that my bigger problem was the fact that I was dwelling on something that was either in the unchanging past or the unknowable future.

Have you ever had the experience of playing back an embarrassing memory over and over again and cringing each time you do it? I did that on repeat for so long that I started to believe that I was the most awkward middle school or high school student in existence. And sometimes I still get hung up on the little peculiarities that happen in my daily life, the ones that stand out as not-quite-right or just plain ridiculous. The major difference, however, between my middle/high school self and my current one is that I no longer let those feelings overtake my life.

I have always heard the phrase that life is too important to be taken so seriously; but, for many of us, the serious mode is the only way we know how to operate. The better way to approach it, at least for me, is to start living in the moment. Feel whatever you are feeling right this minute, this second, and don't let seriousness bleed into the other dimensions. That past and future will never be fully under your control. It's better to embrace the facts and not, as I have, allow the feelings of being less-than-perfect in the past affect your current life.

This philosophy, of course, is easier said than done. So here are some ways that I have found useful to start living in the moment:

1. Yoga. This is how I learned about living in the moment in the first place. When going to a yoga studio that focuses not just on your body, but you as a holistic being, they guide you through meditation and other important calming ways to live inside your body right at that moment. Doing yoga regularly builds up this discipline, and definitely helps take the edge off those past experiences and worries about the future.
2. Breathing exercises and mantras. Sometimes it can sound a little "out there" to have a personal mantra, but I think it should be treated more as a way to remind yourself to check in. I like to take them not from a prescribed list, but from articles and other inspirational writing, such as these pieces on Think Simple Now or from poetry on DeviantArt. When you recite a mantra in your head, take a moment to breathe and release any tension that you might feel when thinking about past or future events.
3. Taking a self-care moment. I find that when the worry or self-judgment gets too great, I have to really force myself to do this one. Often, I have to have someone remind me, in a loud voice, to calm down! It is much easier to take that advice when I step out of whatever the work is that I am doing to re-evaluate and do something for myself. Making tea is definitely a go-to for me, but you should find your own way of going about bringing your focus back into your body.

Please leave any suggestions you might have about living in the moment in the comments!

Check out some other lessons I've learned.

Musical Interlude (Part II)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Here are three more songs that I am currently enamored with. Can you think of a way that they are all similar?

Metric - Gimme Sympathy

Rilo Kiley - Close Call

La Roux - Bulletproof

Check out some more great music in the Musical Interlude series.

Caught My Eye: Mark Bittman's Opinion Column

Friday, March 25, 2011

Not that I need to plug the great Mark Bittman, of How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian fame, but I recently stumbled upon his opinion column in the New York Times. I must admit, his writing really makes me think about things related to food, culture, and our beliefs about things that I often believe as "commonsense" (but that my anthropology teacher might call hegemony).

Here are two pieces that I recently read and enjoyed:

The piece "Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others" is great if you want to learn about animal cruelty and feel depressed but enlightened.

Check out the "Sustainable Farming Can Feed the World?" piece to learn about the ways that I wish I could change the world.

You may also be interested in reading my post Why Eating Can Make Me Depressed.

DIY Interlude: Improvised Veggie Soup

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Last week, I made my first good homemade soup in the company of my significant other, Josh.
Interestingly enough, unlike most of my other creations, it has come without any use of a recipe. Being a baker, I am notoriously addicted to clear and simple recipes to follow (embellishing here and there as I see fit). But it turned out that just combining the key elements (vegetables... beef... kind of a no-brainer) can turn out a fabulous concoction.

The soup above is made with four carrots, four russet potatoes, 1lb. of beef, a small bag of pearl barley, half a small freezer bag of green beans, half a small freezer bag of peas, a box of beef stock, two cups of water, salt, and Johnny's meat seasoning.
Everything was cut into small pieces and we cooked the beef through in a pan and seasoned it before putting it to boil with the potatoes. Once the potatoes were semi-soft, we added the rest of the vegetables, and adjusted the seasoning as necessary. I garnished it with shredded cheddar cheese.

Two problems we found were 1. the barley soaked up the remaining liquid, so we might want to use more broth and/or water next time to make it more soup-like and 2. we needed to reduce the other ingredients to make it soup and not stew.
Next time I want to add tomato paste to add some low-light flavor and give it another added veggie boost.

Check out some more food-related posts.

Project Check-In: Finding Work

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Over spring break, I spent most of my days listening to podcasts, watching movies, eating junk food, and basically morphing into a typical suburban teenager for just a week. No work, no classes, nothing but self-managed time...
But, after all that amorphous time to do nothing, I have to get back to the real world. Especially at Barnard, we are constantly asked to be productive and forward-thinking. Right now, I am working on emailing people, sending applications, and basically hoofing it to get some work in Seattle for the summer and perhaps an internship for the fall. Will it work out? All I can do is hope. And, being without a ton of experience yet, it seems like hope is all I can ever do.

Anyone who has tips on being pro-active and staying motivated through the application process, please send them along in the comments. I would definitely appreciate it!

Read some of my own answers to the productivity question.
You may also be interested in some of my various lists of tips and tricks.

Why Eating Can Make Me Depressed

Monday, March 21, 2011

I've returned to Barnard on a pretty dreary day, so I feel compelled to open up the week with a pretty dreary post. Yet, as with all dreariness, it's designed to make you think rather bring you further down in the doldrums. So, enjoy.

I consider myself a conscientious eater. I have made peace with my food issues, questioned the food fads put up in the media, and tried to separate eating from body image and make both of those more positive.
Yet I still get caught up on one particular eating paradigm: sustainable eating. This (admittedly very long) article by Michael Pollan opened up that can of worms again for me, the first time having been after I read his book The Omnivore's Dilemma. The article, and his book, tout the mantra "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." He goes on to debunk the myths of nutrient-based nutrition and favors whole foods for the reason that they are better both for the farmer and the eater. And I find all that wonderful, interesting, and something that I want to apply to my life - until I reach the grocery store or the restaurant.
Finding whole foods in the grocery store is easy enough if I stick to the right aisles (produce, meat, dairy), but the basic fact is that these foods need preparation. Which means equipment and time. For a college student that doesn't have an oven, that rules out a lot of possibilities. So, heading deep into the center aisles, I began to scour labels and decide what a whole food looks like when industrially prepared. Those foods I found that contained even something that remotely resembled a whole food were extremely expensive. Again, a college budget does not allow for much wiggle room. What I came out with wasn't nearly what Pollan intended when he sat down to write that article.
Thus I came out of the grocery store anxious and somewhat depressed at my gatherings, and with one key question: how can I possibly make sustainable eating work for me? Or for anyone else who has a low-budget and low-time lifestyle?

The answer is two-fold:
1. Giving yourself a darn break. I think sustainable eating has to come in small increments; on the one hand, because American culture hasn't caught on to it, on the other because you can't flip a switch and change your monetary situation, the amount of time you have, or your cultivated eating habits from childhood on up. Pollan presents some good ideas, but self-selecting the parts you can do and setting aside those you can't requires a personal evaluation.
2. Separating self-worth from eating. Thinking about the emotions that came up for me after I left the grocery store, they were very much akin to those I had when I was dieting. Sustainable eating presented an unrealistic set of goals that, when I failed to meet them, caused me to spiral down the ramp of low self-esteem in the exact same way. While this is not to say that sustainable eating is the same thing as dieting or that you do it for the same reasons, but the association between eating habits and self-worth is the same. The only way to make changes without those same negative thoughts is to recognize and recognize that the two are not parallel.
Pollan may include some really good ideas for a fulfilling sustainable eating pattern, but he doesn't address any of the other concerns (money, time, or emotion) surrounding what you put on your plate. It's up to everyone else to fill in those gaps with their own solutions.
What is your take? Should sustainable eating even be put in the same sentence as dieting? Does it exclude people? Should it be the norm? And how would you make it happen if that were your own goal?

You might also be interested in posts about eating at restaurants.

Ready for Vacation? You Bet I Am!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I am going to be heading out to Seattle tomorrow in the wee hours of the morning - I hope it's a good uneventful flight that I can sleep on! Hello spring break!

In the meantime, check out some of my creative projects to bridge the gap.

Happy Feminist Coming Out Day!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Today is International Women's Day and, as indicated, National Feminist Coming Out Day! The purpose of this day is to show that many people identify as feminists and that they do not come in any one "package." I was out in style wearing my "This is What a Feminist Looks Like" t-shirt (pictured above) and handing out stickers to the general masses. We also had a Buffy-watching party and knitting club in the Well Woman office to complement the day's festivities.

If you identify as a feminist, you should definitely check out the website and add your picture to the feminist portrait gallery!

You may also be interested in reading my opinion piece Single Sex Education for Women and Girls or my book review of Click: Moments When We Knew We Were Feminists.

Discrimination and Mixed Metaphors

Monday, March 7, 2011

In light of some intellectual talk over this weekend, I have been thinking a lot about how discrimination works in our society. I believe that it comes from mixed metaphors.

Have you ever thought about how stereotypes form? Typically, they come about because of a categorization projected from the majority group to the minority, regardless of how large that minority might actually be (i.e. these are women, these are Muslims, these are fat people). It doesn't matter how diverse this group is, their traits in the perception of the viewer are seen as generalized - a fat person is always unhealthy, a Muslim person is always religiously dogmatic, a woman is always a nurturer.
These stereotypes eventually get mixed up with our value judgments of the terms that the majority group has attached to them; since Americans view unhealthy as bad, religious dogmatism (other than in Christian sects) as a threat, and nurturing as a positive, but weak personality trait, we start churning out reductionist terms and mixed metaphors.

- A fat person is bad. A fat person can be compared to someone who is stupid because they don't have the capacity to maintain their health.
- A Muslim will support terrorism because of their religious dogmatism. That is bad. We are threatened by all Muslims.
- Women are weak and therefore are relegated to their role in the house because that's the only place they will be safe.

See the logic here? Even if you are not in the majority group, you are exposed to these mixed metaphors and internalize them. These ideas of what is "bad" and "good" are then projected onto situations where they make absolutely no sense. We start to run wild with our metaphors and they ultimately have us making claims that we ourselves don't agree with. For instance, I am all three of these categories: an overweight (fat), Muslim woman. Would you make the leap in logic when talking to me that I am a domestic nurturer who is religiously dogmatic, supports terrorism, and am too stupid to take care of my health?

Even if you have not met me, these conclusions seem a little harsh to be drawn from a first encounter. But these ideas are rooted so deep that they envelop us everywhere, and when we make general statements even pointing towards them, we are hurting people. Think of how many times you see fatness compared to stupidity in the media, for example, and you will understand how prevalent it is. Even if we may not see ourselves making those connections, they are there and they influence us.

So, am I saying that we need to rid ourselves of metaphors entirely? No, of course not. Metaphors can be a helpful tool in explaining complex social situations. But I believe that people do not monitor themselves nearly as much as they should when their construction of these metaphors is at hand. Essentially, they play into the stereotypes that surround us and hurt certain groups. I ask that everyone try to watch their metaphors and logical conclusions before putting them out there.

What do you think? Does discrimination come from mixing metaphors or is there another factor involved here? How would you check metaphors? Would you? Let me know.

You may also be interested in reading my opinion articles The South Asian Question and Oops, Your Islamophobia is Showing.

DIY Interlude: La Photographie? Pas Moi!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I think that a lot of people find photography intimidating or feel that they don't have a good enough camera/supplies. Well, I'm here to tell you it's all in your head (as does this blog, this blog, and even this blog).
As point-and-shoot cameras are becoming more and more sophisticated, they can be used in a variety of ways to produce great creative shots. I'm not going to tell you that they are the exact same as the DSLRs out there, but if you can manipulate your camera settings and learn on the fly, you can use your point and shoot just as creatively! Also, if you're worried about megapixels, I'll let you in on a little secret: my point and shoot has more megapixels than my DSLR! Kooky, right?
Anyway, I think there are many blogs that can tell you how to do photography tips and tricks, so I am just going to outline some of the things I find really helpful to improve your skills:

1. Make a goal and stick to it!
   - My goal for all of September through December was to take 1 photograph of what I wore per day at minimum. Were all those photographs good? No. Did they help me learn how to position things and work with inadequate lighting/color issues? Yes!
2. Explore your surroundings.
   - Whether that means that you are hitting the pavement in suburban Bellevue or are strutting your stuff on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh, you should definitely have your camera on you at all times.
3. Take pictures of small things first.
   - This teaches you how to make a composition and work with limited space and lighting.
4. Look back at your old photographs and look for patterns.
   - If you see that most of your shots are landscapes (like mine were when I started out), start thinking of ways to branch out. My outfits photography session was very much about being able to capture people, and it involved my most reliable subject: me!
5. Engage with the photography community.
   - This is where DeviantArt, Photojojo, and other photography websites come in - through seeing how other people do their work, you can learn more about how to do your own!

I can come up with many many more tips, but I think that those are the top five for me. Check out some of my photography or shoot me an email if you want a little bit more.

Project x Project: Drawing as Stress Relief

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

As all college students know, you can get in over your head pretty easily with the reading, essays, and exams required of you in your collegiate life. And sometimes you need a break.
Crashing for a couple extra hours doesn't usually fit into my schedule, so to take time off yesterday, I zoned out and used a different part of my brain to draw the pictures above. I have been working a lot on shading and trying to figure out the "appropriate" uses for colored pencils - I'm still not quite comfortable with them, but they're getting easier!
I eventually want to take more drawing classes and use them as an outlet for the rest of my intense work schedule - for now, it's just a nice mini-project to be done in my break time.
How do you relieve stress? And what do you do in your "down time" usually? Let me know!

(by the way, late post tonight, so sorry if they all smoosh into one this week!)

Take a look at some other drawings that I've done.