Month: June 2016

Daily Rituals

Naomi_1As I begin my thesis, I also begin to think about process. I think about committing myself to sitting down to write every day, an action as essential to the day as is my morning routine of grinding the measured amount of coffee beans and brewing espresso on my stovetop moka pot, as pushing myself for that outdoor run.

There is a book titled “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” that describes the daily habits and work regiments of sculptors, composers, writers, filmmakers and other creators. The section on composer Igor Stravinsky describes how he would wake up at 8:00 a.m. to exercise, and then work on his music without a break from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. in solitude with all windows closed. These four hours were often all he could dedicate to his creations in the day, and he would sit down to work each day regardless of inspiration. In a section on Leo Tolstoy, he also describes writing every day from morning until dinner so as not to get out of the habit of daily writing.

Daily writing is essential to almost every writer. It requires diligence and focus, but also the power of schedule. During the school year, I am conscious of my wish to create a time for daily writing outside of classroom assignments. However, in midst of exams and homework and my appreciation of eight hours of sleep, I end up writing in bursts – a few consecutive days here, a few days there, and then perhaps radio silence for weeks.

This summer, I will form the habit of writing or researching for my writing every day. I look forward to acquiring a new daily ritual, and seeing what form my daily writing will take.


Part 2: Asking the Right Questions

Since I’ve started studying research design, I’ve never had to think in so much detail about asking questions. You would think you just put the questions you want to ask, but noooooo, there’s much more to it than that.

For my research, the basic question I want to explore is: what can lead to more authentic or genuine actions for people in relationships? So far, I think that affectionate touch between couple members can promote more authentic behaviors, such as sacrifices made for the partner. But it’s not enough to just ask whether A (touch) leads to B (authenticity); I need to also see how A leads to B. This link between A and B is called a mediator, and it basically explains the reason why A makes B occur.

To get all of the data I need for each part of this process, I will need to manipulate touch (so participants will either touch each other or not), have participants do a task where they have an opportunity to sacrifice for their partner and then ask them how authentic they felt about making that sacrifice. I would similarly do this with the mediator, but my issue is that I don’t know what my mediator(s) should be yet…

Wu Touch Mapping2

Mapping out what the mediator(s) can be

My adviser suggested that I map out what happens in this process to help brainstorm what kind(s) of mediator(s) I should look at. The main ones I’m interested in I’ve circled, so I’m thinking that touch leads to more authenticity because the touch receiver has higher security, empathy, commitment and responsiveness to their partner’s needs. All of these contribute to how salient one’s partner’s needs are to the person receiving the touch.

More specifically, I’m hypothesizing that when you receive touch from your partner, you feel more secure because touch conveys that the touch-provider (your partner) is there for you when you need them. You may also feel more empathetic because there is a physical connection between you and your partner, which makes you think of your partner more and can promote understanding. Touch can also lead to more commitment because now that you know your partner is there for you, you would feel more committed to your relationship at that moment. Responsiveness would also go up because touch would increase how attentive you are to your partner’s needs. Overall, your partner’s touch would make them and their needs more salient to you because touch is a physical indicator that you partner is there and cares for you, thus touch would make you more likely to reciprocate their feelings.

This is just my current, rambling train of thought, though, and I’m going to talk this over more with my adviser to sort out the kinks. Then I’m going to have to do more research (see, you do have to do background research forever!) about how people have measured these mediators, and then write out my questionnaires.

Side note: You know how sometimes you fill out questionnaires and it seems like the questions are asking you the same thing multiple times? That’s on purpose. That’s just how researchers make sure that they’re measuring the correct construct, or concept. In my case, I would want to ask multiple questions along the lines of “How true to yourself were you while doing this task?” to make sure that I’m measuring authenticity as completely as possible. So now you know, so don’t be too weirded out if you see this kind of thing in questionnaires.

Tuning Up

Krishna photo - post 1.jpeg

Music is the most powerful form of human expression.

Sure, that’s a bold claim but think about it – each of you reading this probably has a subconscious (or Spotify-curated) playlist of your life. Songs that can make you remember, that can make you forget, that can make you laugh, that can make you cry, all in just a two minute and thirty second snippet.

So I’ll say it again – music is the most powerful form of human expression.

Music has been my companion through breakups, new loves, mental struggles and more. Music gave me the ability to speak my mind and share my experiences with others. It let me connect, taught me how to empathize and keep an open mind. More than anything, music gave me a voice.

It’s with this same love for music that I approach my Dietrich Honors Research Fellowship.

If you haven’t read the summary of my project on the official Dietrich homepage, here’s a quick review: My project studies the changes in the Pittsburgh music scene over the last 10 years, and how cultural forces like gentrification and urbanization have pushed the scene underground and into different neighborhoods outside of college areas. In turn, I’m interested in looking how these changes, notably the rise of the “Do-It-Yourself” or DIY aesthetic are signs of larger changes within the music industry, particularly how music is distributed and heard by consumers.

Although the final shape my project will take is still tentative, I want to make sure I can capture the way music has transformed the lives of so many people in the city. I also want to capture how music itself is transforming, for better and for worse. To do so, I’m hoping to incorporate filmed interviews, audio clips, concert footage and more to curate an intimate experience demonstrating the power of music.

But why is this project so important?

Compared to other projects that may be more scientific or even  more ambitious (sorry, no Hyperloops or cancer cures here), I admit my project may seem a bit trivial. Yet, every day people are being displaced by large corporations that inherently change neighborhoods and the nature of our city. These cultural forces do more than just bring J. Crew and Apple to Walnut Street – they first repress, and then oppress, the disenfranchised, stripping them of their homes and then their voices.

For many of you, this may seem a bit political (#feelthebern). But music is political – it connects us and helps us communicate and understand things across cultures and times. When the music is pushed out and eventually begins to die, the implications are more than not being able to see Beyoncé at Heinz Field. It’s the death of creativity, the death of compassion and the death of what makes us human.

At the heart of my project, and why I believe it’s so important, is my firm belief that everyone should have access and be able to perform, see and have the same musical outlets that changed my life. Everyone should have a voice.


Walking in Someone Else’s Words

Kayla Lee photo 1

Classroom in Temuco, Chile

The first time I was alone and taking field notes for an independent research project was in rural Chile. I spent about a month observing and talking with students and teachers, many of whom spoke an endangered indigenous language as well as Spanish. The school that I worked with was a multicultural institution whose students were 99-percent indigenous. I remember feeling unprepared as I wandered onto the school grounds the first day, not knowing how I’d be perceived: a small Asian girl carrying a notebook and pen.

In addition to my notebook and pen, I had my phone which I used to record all of the conversations I shared with people. That was all I used for my interviews with students and teachers. As I asked a few questions that I had prepared, I took mental notes, because I discovered that the most organic conversations happened when the sound of a pen being scribbled on paper wasn’t creating a wall between the interviewee and me.

A year has gone by since that incredible experience where I learned a great deal about the preservation of a culture and language within an academic setting. Students and faculty shared their stories with me. I haven’t started the conversation with the refugees in Pittsburgh yet, but I’m already preparing myself for the moment I begin; the moment where I step into their lives and begin several months of conversation.

I enjoy reflecting on life experiences. I believe that reflection brings life back to the memories and creates a space where I can rediscover myself as well as those around me. Reading my field notes, listening to the hours of interviews on my phone and looking at photos that I’d taken in Chile, I’m hooked. I’m reliving each of those interviews as I hear my own voice becoming more confident with each interview. I hear silences where the interviewee takes a moment to really think about what they want to say, well aware of the fact that they are being recorded. The voices are the only things I have left, but they say so much.

I want to share one particular interview that struck me. He was a history teacher who spoke with me a few times. The first interaction felt stiff as he talked for an hour about the history of the school. The second, he sang for me. I didn’t include this encounter in the academic paper that I had written, because at the time, I didn’t see the content being relevant to the research question with which I was working. When I look back at my decision to ignore this interaction, I wonder if I chose to ignore it because I couldn’t understand where he was coming from. Beyond the words and the actual content, the man that shared with me the history of the school had suddenly taken on a new persona and performed an original piece for me. As he sang, he’d become a different part of himself; this wasn’t what I was looking for a year ago.

I was reminded of one of my inspirations, Anna Deavere Smith, a playwright and actress. She interviews individuals who will become characters in her plays and listens to them. Rather than learning to walk in those individuals’ shoes, Smith prefers to learn to walk in their words. I bring this up, because this resonates with me as I listened to the year-old recording of the singing historian and prepare to create more in the next few months as I begin my research this summer through the Dietrich Honors Fellowship. I will never completely understand a stranger’s position unless I am that stranger, but I shouldn’t shy away from that. As someone studying anthropology, I am learning to embrace that. I will always be an outsider doing research and the best that I can do is to listen and really listen to their words. After all, I am not asking them to share with me their shoes; I am asking them to share with me their words.

Learn more about my current research.

Second Week

Cox family .jpegI think that family often comes up when discussing separation. Children leave home and their family behind as they make a life for themselves. You have a bond with your family, given to you through your birth, yet you go away from them. It’s an interesting kind of separation, because the physical distance also becomes emotional distance that allows you to become your own person.

This poem that I’m working on brings up these themes of family and distance:


She describes the way she eats
with her parents as bolting
down food. She leaves the table
before they have finished slicing
up their dripping beef.

Her parents sit, eyes locked
on her empty chair. They feel
that she stabs them in their hearts
with her fork, rinses off the blood,
and places it in the dishwasher.

They pretend that their love
isn’t hardening into lumps of ice
as they shovel broccoli
into the maws of their mouths,
but they wonder if raising
a child is worth this pain.

First Week

Cox hummingbird.jpegHey there,

I’m Jordan and my project is about the separation between people and the lack thereof. I’m examining separation through essays, poetry and fiction. My fabulous adviser is Gerald Costanzo.

The essays are about people who live far away from me that I’m in regular contact with. The first essay will be about a friend who lives in Malaysia. He’s planning on joining the French Foreign Legion and is leaving his home to do so. The second essay will be about a friend who lives in Sweden. He’s shy and private, yet I who live thousands of miles away know him better than many people in his life. I specifically chose people that I don’t see in person because I have a different relationship with them than I do with people I see every day. I’m not able to do activities with these people; we just talk.

The poetry will be bracketing the essays and stories within my manuscript so that the poems have more weight individually. The poetry will examine separation on a more personal scale. One of the poems will be about the differences between walls.

I’ll be writing two stories. The first story will be about a group of girls who were sent away to school. The main character’s family is back in Korea and they’re unaware when she begins to act out. She and the other girls stop going to school and exclusively try to one-up each other in a game that they’ve created. I chose this idea because it shows what can happen when young people have minimal supervision and feel the effects of peer pressure.

The second story is about how every person in the world is part of a “pair.” This person is your other half. Most people never find the other half of their or realize that this is someone close to them already. The pair in this story realize who they are to each other at first sight. The main characters of this story are generally isolated in their environments and at first feel that this bond between the two of them is unnecessary. This story will be more about a lack of separation between two people.

That sums up my thesis. I’m excited to begin work!