Stepping away from my blog gave me time to do something else I love: read, and connect some dots.
(If you are wondering what happened with my 40 day meditation practice, I was more inconsistent than I’ve been with any 40 day asana practice, and while I learned a lot, the details still feel like something worth considering, but not worth yapping about).
I finished Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; read parts of Malcolm Muggeridge’s Something Beautiful for God; finished a book I had put on hold called The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. And started Susan Sontag’s On Photography.
My escape from yoga and yoga-alignment is to read theory on photography. When photography became a quicker and more accessible form of communication, and painting became less accessible and less dominant, photography seemed to hold a special card for truth because most images were seen as actual glimpses of reality.
i.e. The difference between the edited sentence, “I don’t want to live,” and the original sentence, “I don’t want to live like this.” I think audiences were slower to realize how much context played a big part in photography. Just as a “Fake photograph falsifies reality[i],” a well-read-quotation-improperly-citied on the web falsifies reality too.
And well-read catchy quotes, and catchy headlines seem to be the quickest way to get someone to read anything at all.
In the debate between what changed when photography began to dominate over painting, there are lessons for what is changing as social media becomes dominant over slower forms of communication like paper newspapers and monthly-distributed magazines.
Something twists in my gut every time I’m on twitter and I read a very serious statistic about Presidential debt increases with no citations. Or, perhaps well-meaning, a very well read blog cites something that the Dalai Lama has said with no clear proof that this is true. Or someone that I respect tells me that it is the Republicans in the middle of the country that are responsible for all homophobia. This one causes nausea, a “deer in the headlights” reaction, and more because I just don’t know what to do.
It feels as if people have become more stuck on not talking to people who eat differently, dress differently, breath differently, or dare I say think differently. And it feels like it’s only worsening with my generation.
This need to simplify and homogenize facts has become more problematic with Twitter, Facebook, blogging, and other forms of social media.
I want to know where my information is coming from. Just like the slow food movement insists that we know where our cows grow-up, where our tomatoes are harvested, and how our olive oil comes to be packaged, I want to know where my facts come from.
As someone who blogs, trust me, I’ve had the thought, maybe I should just post pictures of celebrities attending yoga classes? Then someone would read this. I notice that popular blogs like YogaDork regularly post Lady GaGa citings, and it seems to work. People read, or at least skim Yoga Dork. But I guess that’s the nature of popular culture.
And then I hear my young friend, the nihilist saying to me, “It doesn’t really matter because everything has been done before.” Get me in the room with an imbalanced-vata-pseudo-intellectual-nihilist and please watch the spit fly. I’m an exhausted optimist. Nothing depresses me more than someone who is clearly smart enough to be responsible for initiating change, saying things like that, “It doesn’t really matter because everything has been done before.” When I was in high school, I got into a fight with some guy because he insisted that he was a realist, and as spit flew off the top of his palate, he screamed, insultingly that I was just an “idealist.”
And that song from Grease comes to mind, ‘There are worse things I can do, than go with an [idealist] or two, even though the neighborhood thinks I’m crazy and no good.”
So back to the point, there is the nihilist that has basically given up, and there’s the yoga practitioner who just loves those clouds.
She seems convinced that a clean, well-lit, yoga studio selling oodles of plastic wrapped products such as mats, mat bags, wipes to wipe the mats, wipes to wipe the mat bags, water (once free), coconut water, and the opportunity to pay to practice yoga is world peace. World peace isn’t packaged in plastic honey, and dare I say, it ain’t something you can buy.
Let’s get back on track, or at least try to.
Right now, as in the last week, I’m researching why it’s better to eat locally and one day I may decide to put my gut where my mouth is. I want to believe that, when the brilliant author who has put in the work of explaining ‘why’ we should all be locavores, she is citing real facts. I have a feeling that in this case, Barbara Kingsolver is citing facts.
That’s why I don’t want to support blogs that talk tough politics but take their fact-finding and reporting lightly.
So to continue the discussion of modern truth-telling, I come to another example. The American author Greg Mortenson wrote a book called Three Cups of Tea that was, firstly, wildly praised for bringing education to girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then later found to distort the facts. (For the complete article, please see my citations).
The debate may rage on, but one reader, I quote directly from the New York Times comments section wrote:
“…truth matters. Honesty matters. There is a way to let readers know that your recollections may be a little fuzzy, if that’s the case. There is a way to account for inaccuracies while still trying to be truthful. No, it’s not okay to misrepresent yourself and your accomplishments, whether you are James Frey or Greg Mortenson or anyone else. It gives memoirists who may write honestly a bad name.
And as for the allegations about improper used of funds for self-promotion: this is unquestionably unethical, if not illegal. We have to stop excusing dishonesty, deceptiveness, greed, conflicts of interest and other vices. We have to stop celebrating and “honoring” those who dishonor themselves. We’ll have a much smaller Pantheon, but maybe that would be a good thing[ii].”
In talking about truth and non-truth here as Sontag does, there are lessons perhaps for the blogging and the yoga culture of today.
In the chapter The Heroism of Vision, Susan Sontag explains:
“The consequences of lying have to be more central for photography than they can ever be for painting, because the flat, usually rectangular images which are photographs make a claim to be true that paintings can never make. A fake painting (one whose attribution is false) falsifies the history of art. A fake photograph (one which has been retouched or tampered with, or whose caption is false) falsifies reality. The history of photography could be recapitulated as the struggle between two different imperatives; beautification, which comes from the fine arts, and truth-telling, which is measured not only by a notion of value-free truth, a legacy from the sciences, but by a moralized idea of truth-telling, adapted from nineteenth-century literary models and from (then) new profession of independent journalism.[iii]”
Being thoughtful often doesn’t come from a blog these days. Being thoughtful is a courageous and sometimes slow act.
I also want to say that I respect my audience, you, more than you may think. I think that part of respecting your audience is leaving citations, where appropriate, and checking your facts.
[i] Please see footnote iii for full reference.
[ii] Please see comment 57 as written by farhorizons, Philadelphia. April 18th, 2011. 10:58 am..http://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2011/04/18/business/media/18mortenson.html. Original article, ‘Three Cups of Tea’ Author Defends Book. April 17, 2011. Julie Bosman and Stephanie Strom.
[iii] Sontag, Susan. On Photography. 86. “ ’’