Musings on language, images and life

Month: October, 2010


Myriad cultures and religions around the world maintain an intense connection to water. As a life source and ultimate cleanser, water plays a crucial role in rituals — whether spiritual or secular.

During the Wudu ritual, Muslims cleanse their feet, legs, hands and elbows before engaging in prayer. Their belief is that just as prayer cleanses the soul, the body must also be washed with water. Orthodox Jews practice Mikveh, or immersion in a ”gathering of water.”  This ritual is traditionally required before ceremonies of conversion, marriage and the Sabbath. Christians of every stripe use water in the ritual of Baptism, during which a person is committed to God and a Christian way of life. In addition to washing themselves before entering the temple, Hindus believe that water from the River Ganges (in India) is sacred, which is why they go there regularly to wash away their iniquities.

© Jen Westmoreland Bouchard 2010

Meaningful connections to water do not only manifest in religious practices. My good friends organized beautiful ceremonies for their children, dedicating them to nature with the use of water. My husband, an avid surfer, has always said: “The wave is a living, breathing thing.” Over the years, he has explained unbelievable things that happened to him in the water, events that made him realize more about who he was and his place in the world. I certainly can’t deny the relaxing effect of walking along a Caribbean beach or sitting on a rocky cliff above Lake Superior (thank you, negative ions). From Japanese bathhouses to Arab baths in the South of Spain, I have also engaged in my fare share of cleansing rituals in various cultures — each lovely and meaningful in its own way.

Given the importance of water in our lives and the lives of those around the globe, given the power with which it is imbued, it is horrifying that we have rendered toxic a large part of our world’s water supply. Though it’s definitely fair to point fingers at oil companies and foreign manufacturers, I am also complicit. Whether it’s an excessive use of water bottles, the (perhaps unknowing) support of companies who engage in unsafe water practices, or simply not staying informed about water issues around the world, I know I could do much better. Recognizing the international importance of water is a good first step, but now it’s time to take action.


Cultural Images

My journey as an amateur  photographer (emphasis on the amateur part) has made me acutely aware of my aesthetic preferences. As a student of contemporary art, it has long been obvious to me what types of pieces attract my eye when I visit a museum or gallery. As an observer of art, I tend to gravitate toward images that contain cultural elements, have striking (unexpected, anachronistically juxtaposed) compositional elements and that make me think about my existence or life practices in a different way. I like art to be challenging. I like to feel like I’ve stretched and absorbed after experiencing it.

© Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

Now that I am the one capturing my own photographic images, I am noticing these same tendencies in where I end up pointing my lens. As the photos load into my computer after a day of shooting, I see a (albeit rough) “collection” of cultural elements at play. I have not yet taken my new found passion for photography on a trip (though I am eagerly awaiting the chance to capture images of Los Angelino culture in a few weeks), so the photos I have taken up until this point have been of family/friend gatherings or objects/scenes/vignettes I stumble upon during my weekly photo walks.

As I skimmed through some of my photos this morning, I realized the images I have chosen to capture (well, “chosen” is a strong word…there’s been a lot of luck involved) give me new insights into the people, objects, events and practices that have comprised my culture(s) for years (at times unbeknownst to me).

Status Anxiety

Last night on The Colbert Report, writer Aaron Sorkin succinctly articulated a phenomenon that has interested me ever since I went over to the “dark side” and signed up for Facebook in 2008. When asked by Colbert why he wasn’t on Facebook (a fact that many consider odd, since he wrote the screenplay for the recently released film “The Social Network”) Sorkin responded “socializing is to socializing on the Internet as reality is to reality TV.” In essence, Facebook is a performance (rather than a reality) that many of us willingly participate in daily. Of course, one could argue (as Colbert did last night and I did in this post) that we are constantly performing (in our jobs, in front of our friends, etc.). However, Facebook takes this to a new and more intense level for several reasons.

1. A wider audience. It is both thrilling and daunting to think that anything we put on Facebook (or anything that is written about us on Facebook) is available in some cases not only to our “friends,” but to millions of viewers. I was recently contacted by a journalist from the Star Tribune. She was  requesting a quote regarding a Facebook page for which I was one of 20 administrators. Since I make most of my living by writing online, she was able to quickly locate my contact information and left me messages at various emails and my Facebook account. We don’t always have control (in fact, we have less than we may believe) over who views our performances. They are, for better or for worse, in the public sphere.

2. Time lapse allows for more control when crafting one’s image. Since one has to physically type something on Facebook for the message to appear, one’s “performance” can be carefully planned out or edited if need be. (Of course, those who are partial to drunk Facebooking willingly relinquish this control, which could also be part of their intentional “Facebook identity”). I’m not trying to suggest that every Facebooker thinks like a marketing MBA, crafting his or her message with razor-like precision and consistently defining him/herself throughout his/her page. However, we are all aware of how we want to appear to our “audience.” A certain level of pre-meditation goes in to planning and articulating one’s Facebook status updates and posts. The online buffer allows one time and space to define (or redefine) oneself.

On a related note, I have friends who experience performance anxiety when it comes to updating their statuses. Because they can be planned (and not just blurted out), they feel like each status has to be an ode, a stand-up comedy routine, or witty publicity statement in 420 characters. This pressure to perform is overwhelming, and keeps many of them from updating their statuses on a regular basis. The flip side of this, of course, is your “TMI” friends who share every single move (yet another version of performance).

3. More opportunities to advertise your “status.” Keeping up with the [insert names of friends who bring out your inner competitor] has never been easier than with Facebook. For most of us, the social status anxiety felt by our parents’ generation has given way to a variety of ways to define success (and anxieties to accompany each one). Whether your source of pride is your children, marriage, worldliness, job, athletic achievements, etc. for many, the “status update” has become the new “status symbol.”

I’m sure there are many more categories for analysis that I haven’t covered here, but I’m out of time… it’s already 11:05am and I haven’t updated my Facebook status yet.