Why I Stopped Teaching Group Exercise

My creative writing professor told me the best time to write creatively about something that’s happened is when you’ve gotten some distance from it. Two years and a few months after I effectively “retired” from teaching group exercise, I think it’s time to write about the end of an era especially since I’ve determined I have no interest in returning to that job.  Read more

The Aging Millennial Goes to a Rally

I have gone to protest rallies only twice in my life.

The first time was in 2001. I was 17 years old, in my third year at the University of the Philippines. I had not had the opportunity to vote in the recent election, having been too young. Yet President Joseph “Erap” Estrada in his two years had attempted to bury the disgraced deceased dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, then committed flagrant corruption. At that point, he was in the midst of impeachment hearings, but with senators voting not to open a second envelope of evidence against him it looked like he was about to get away with impunity.

We weren’t about to let that happen. And so I trooped with my batchmates and other fellow students from Diliman on foot to the EDSA Shrine to join what would be dubbed as People Power 2 or EDSA Dos. That evening, my parents, sister, and I rejoined the rally. The next day, Erap resigned and his vice-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in to replace him.

This rally was an object lesson to me about the power of peaceful uprisings, a gift that the Filipino people had shown the world was possible during the first EDSA People Power.

(Of course, several years hence we see that Arroyo was in her own way corrupt. Politics is dirty business, after all.)

The second time I joined a protest rally was last Wednesday, fittingly on Bonifacio Day commemorating the birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio, a national hero who led the revolution against Spanish oppression. I am now 33 years old, university a distant memory. I’ve had opportunity to vote in three presidential elections. The last one was the most contentious and most toxic one, given the extremist rhetoric of the man who was eventually elected president, Rodrigo Duterte. I have since distanced myself from friends who supported him, given his favoring of summary executions and his unholy alliance with Ferdinang “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. who lost the vice-presidential election to Leni Robredo.

November 30

“Andres would have been here.”

This rally was not a call to oust Duterte; rather, it protested his collusion with attempts to rehabilitate the Marcos name and image, revise history, and depict the Marcos dictatorship as the golden years of this country. The end result the Marcoses seek is their return to the highest seat of power in the land so they can rule with impunity once more.

November 30

Millennials taking up the cudgels

November 30

“Temperamental brats”

November 30

Lighters now replaced with smartphone lights

Truth be told, I found it bittersweet that those who had once been student activists back in the 70’s to 80’s were now saying they were passing the torch of resistance on to the millennials. “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” it is said — and apparently we have not been vigilant enough with the Marcoses once again knocking on the doors of Malacanang.

The first rally I went to, I was the age of those who now populated the second rally. I’m still what they call a “millennial” albeit one of the older ones. (Market segmentation would call me an “aging millennial”.) Still young enough to rock a funny sign that formed part of news coverage montages about youth involvement in the rallies, but old enough to remember the decades of recovery and unrest that followed after toppling Martial Law.

I grew up enjoying the human freedoms and rights enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, which was crafted as a safeguard against dictatorship. Yet now we’re on the precipice of losing those once again because the propaganda goes, “EDSA wasn’t effective in changing Philippine society so maybe we should just go back to the Marcoses.”

I attended the rally because I still believe in the legitimacy of People Power in deposing a dictator. Whatever happened in the years after, the freedoms and rights that People Power returned to us must be defended. Oppression must be resisted.

I just can’t believe we’re still rallying against this shit.

Don’t Panic: My Quest for Coldplay Tickets

I don’t normally write about music because I am not as much of an aficionado as music bloggers out there. I also don’t really have a diverse range of artists I listen to. But when I do listen to an artist, you can bet I have listened to most of their back catalogue of songs and would love to see them perform live.

Coldplay is one of those bands I’ve listened to over the years. While I can’t say I’ve grown up with their music (I was already in my late teens when they broke out with their album “Parachutes”), their songs were the soundtrack to much of my adult life. So when they finally announced dates for the Asian leg of their “A Head Full of Dreams” tour, I knew I had to get on the ticket train.

coldplay-ahfod

In the same vein that I listen just to music, I don’t follow music industry news nor gossip columns — which is why I failed to pick up on the fact that “A Head Full of Dreams” is said to be Coldplay’s last album and this could be the last time the band goes on tour. This, aside from the Coldplay drought in the region for so many years, has driven demand for tickets sky-high.  Read more

Hi, I’m Noelle and I write for a living.

Today, someone told me I had no right to call that someone out for writing something that may or may not be factual but had no official statement to back it up, just because I don’t write for anything more professional than my blog. (That someone also sent a few ad hominem attacks my way, but let’s stick to the merits of the argument.)

Whenever I receive any sort of criticism, I try to see if it has merit. Is there anything in my words or deeds that deserve such censure? It’s very much part of my personality to self-analyze and so I take comments to heart.

What is the definition of professional? According to Merriam-Webster:

  1. relating to a job that requires special education, training, or skill
  2. done or given by a person who works in a particular profession
  3. paid to participate in a sport or activity

Anyone can set up a blog with all the publishing tools now available — you don’t even need to go into the source code of your pages these days. So you don’t really need any special education, training, or skill to start a blog…

…Ah, but to write a blog that helps you make a living is a different matter entirely. What if your blog is a showcase of your skill in creating that turn of phrase that is just so, that pulls on the heartstrings, that calls to action? That is something someone somewhere is willing to pay for. I know I have that because I have been paid to write in the past. I stopped writing for magazines because I was writing mechanically — you know how magazines are: they cover the same topics year after year with just a tiny change in spin. With other jobs occupying my time I decided I only wanted to write about what I was passionate about and truly interested me. Instead of chasing the freelance writing jobs, I began creating content for my own blog.

And you know what? People visit my blog because what they find there is compelling and takes them on a journey they could not otherwise have gone on. They read my blog to get informed about our shared passion, and they know if I tout something it’s not because I was paid to say so, but because I have used it or tried it out and believe in it. That’s a reputation I have worked hard at building and sustaining. (It’s really up to them if they trust what I write and pull the trigger on a purchase.)

And now the writing jobs — which pay money! — come to me. Because of my blog I have been able to travel, clothe myself, participate in an expensive sport. I get paid to write. You know what I write on my travel documents as an occupation or profession? WRITER.

I do not consider myself a journalist; most of what I write opinionated and based on personal experience. But I do pride myself in the training I received while earning my graduate degree in Media Studies (Journalism), which taught me how to write the difference between statements of fact and statements based on assumption. And that’s what I called that someone out on.

Really, at this point when print magazines are losing readership and circulation (and they are all coming out with online editions to get people to read them again), someone wants to say I’m less of a professional because I self-publish on a blog?

The reason I’m writing this is because I have to let all this word vomit out before it causes me writer’s block. Now that it’s off my chest, I’m going to go back to writing some commissioned work and earn my keep doing it.

Ghostwriter

As a writer, the byline is important because it’s what formally tells the reader who authored the work they are reading. When you create something and are especially proud of it, you want people to know that it was you who created it that work of art — because as a writer you know it takes just as much creativity and passion to weave words as it does to craft sculptures or paintings.

As a writer, though, you know writing isn’t a highly-lucrative profession especially if you’re working freelance or per assignment or project. For some of us, we give up our right to a byline in exchange for a regular writing gig that pays out.

Yep, I’ve gone and turned ghostwriter, like many of my peers who love writing and express ourselves best through the pen but aren’t famous enough to be granted a column in a major broadsheet or glossy magazine. It feels just like any writing project: you write the outline, you fill it in and get creative. But someone else takes the credit for what you’ve done.

I thought it would be much harder to let go of that byline because I know that’s how big my ego is, and that’s how proud I am of what I write. But after a few months of it, I’ve learned to take pride in how well-crafted my work is, byline or no byline. I also believe in what I’m writing for, which is why it’s no big deal when someone else gets the credit. And whenever I see the impact of what I’ve written on another person, it gives me a strange sense of fulfillment.

Of course I can’t tell you who or what I’m writing for; that would take away some of the magic and mystique. But let’s just say I’m glad I have places like this where I can still write as myself. =)

Of Cruelty and Kindness

“That’s a nasty rumor,” she said quietly.

He replied matter-of-factly, “Didn’t really put much stock in it when I heard others talking.” He shrugged, “I mean, I’ve always liked you as a person.”

If there’s one thing I have experienced all my life, it’s that people are cruel. Unconscious cruelty I can take, when they’re just not self-aware enough to know that what they say or do hurts others. It’s when they gleefully and wilfully engage in behavior and talk that tears another person down that I wish the earth would swallow them up whole.

I’ve been on this planet 30 years and I still am amazed at our rapacious appetite for gossip, whether it’s about a celebrity or a nobody who just happens to be in our social circle. “Did you hear about…?” is a surefire conversational kickstarter. So who cares if what we talk about happens to paint someone in a bad light? As a matter of fact, bad news is even more enjoyable to share with others. It sticks longer in our memories, too.

Maybe it’s because we want to feel better about our own lives — that’s why we tell stories of other people failing at theirs. In an effort to make ourselves feel more significant, we attempt to make others look insignificant. Cruelty is a sign that there’s a deficit. When we are cruel, we are attempting to take from others what we feel we lack.

Notice that I’ve used “our” and “we”; I see this capacity for cruelty in myself, too.

And then I experience kindness, and all is not lost. I store up these moments in my heart. Our capacity for kindness is determined by our own experience of it.

When you can choose to be kind instead of being cruel, you can count yourself blessed that someone cared for you, so you can care for others. You overflow, so instead of taking, you are able to give.

I remind myself of the greatest kindness I’ve received and continually receive every day: John 3:16.

Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. — John Watson

Braven BRV-1: A Wireless Speaker for the Klutzy

Just this morning, I dropped my new BlackBerry Z10 in a parking lot. On the hard, rough cement. It’s a little the worse for wear. Anyway, that story has almost nothing to do with the Braven BRV-1 I’m about to review — except to show you how clumsy I am, which is a bad thing when you’re as mobile and traveling around all the time like I am. Inevitably, you’ll drop something you shouldn’t. It’s why I’ve always bought protective cases and shockproof, waterproof stuff.

Well, the Braven BRV-1 wireless speaker is touted as a hardy little companion designed to play your music wherever you are. I have to tell you, getting this in the mail for review made me want to book a trip to the beach the very next day! It’s lightweight enough not to be a burden inside a backpack, and it looks so much like a pair of high-tech binoculars so it won’t stick out like a sore thumb among other travel essentials.

Braven Wireless HD Speaker

Braven BRV-01 Wireless HD Speaker

Braven Wireless HD Speaker

Slick packaging for this tough-as-mud piece of equipment.

The BRV-1 was a breeze to pair with my iPod Touch. All I needed to do was turn the unit on by a long press on the Power button, then a long press on the Play button so it could start searching for Bluetooth devices. Approve the connection on your music device, and it’s ready to go.

Braven Wireless HD Speaker

Power and Play buttons

Braven Wireless HD Speaker

volume control

There are also volume buttons on the side so you can turn it up or down without having to fiddle with your iPod. You can also pair the BRV-1 with a Bluetooth-enabled phone and use it as a speakerphone to answer calls.

It’s also not just a Bluetooth speaker. The rear compartment contains an audio-in jack for devices that don’t have Bluetooth capabilities, like the iPod Classic . There’s also a USB port which enables you to charge other devices from the BRV-1’s battery. Unfortunately it only has about 1400 mAh, which might be enough to give you a full charge on a BlackBerry 9360, but not on phones with higher-capacity batteries. Still, it could come in pretty useful in a wilderness survival situation, like running out of phone juice while camping.

Braven Wireless HD Speaker

rear compartment

Read more

Why I No Longer Use Creative Commons on My Blog

Recently, I’ve started to question the wisdom of offering my written works under Creative Commons. A long time ago I started using Creative Commons licenses for my blogs. I was inspired by my editing on Wikipedia (which asks you to license with Creative Commons everything you create on that website) and thought it was a great way to allow people to quote freely from my blog. “Hey, this will get the word out about my blog!” were my thoughts.

When I began optimizing my other blog Kikay Runner for better placement in search engine results, I also checked on the RSS feed I provide via FeedBurner and noticed that a website was listed under “Uncommon Uses”. RSS feeds are commonly used to bring your blog posts directly into email clients, web-based feed aggregators, news filters, and more. An Uncommon Use could be “a neat little news filter somebody wrote, a blog somebody assembled from feeds, or even blog spam.”

So I went and checked it out and found dozens of my posts from the RSS feed auto-reposted on another blog (what is called a “scraper site“). Worse, there were no links back to my blog and aside from the short footer appended by Feedburner to each post on the RSS feed, there was no attribution.

If there’s anything I could be thankful for, it’s that I had the foresight to offer only a summarized feed. Google penalizes websites with duplicate content, but sometimes it can’t distinguish between the original source and the copy (so both source and copy are punished by lower ranking in search results). Because I’d only put a portion of each blog post in the RSS feed, a large amount of my blog’s content remained unique. This means if people search on Google for a topic I’ve written about with my own spin, they’re still more likely to find my blog instead of the scraper site.

Aside from reporting the copyright infringement to Google so that the scraper site would not appear in search results, I also changed my RSS feed settings to be even more stringent. Instead of 400 characters in the summary I limited it to 200 characters, and worded the post footer more strongly by saying “If you see this on a website that is not KikayRunner.com, it may have been used without permission.”

Scraper sites have justified their actions in the past because of a notion that RSS feeds are free for syndication anywhere. The Creative Commons license also allows for copying with attribution (even without permission).

My words are precious to me; they’re an extension of how I express myself, so they’re an extension of me. So when another site reposts my blog posts without attribution, without my knowledge, without my permission, I feel violated.

I realized that I needed to retain more control of how my work is used online. People still have fair use rights when they want to quote me, but if they want to use my words for anything else (like creating an entirely new website!) they will need to get in touch with me.

I Love My Job!

BODYJAM 46 Megamall launch

Let’s dance!

I used to post a lot about Les Mills group fitness classes here, but haven’t in the last few years. This is strange because they’re a huge part of what I do weekly and a huge part of who I am, too. I know thousands of people worldwide attend Les Mills programs in order to get fit and stay fit, and they’re passionate about it.

So I’m going to come out and say I LOVE MY JOB! I love being part of a life-changing experience for my participants — the calm serenity and strength of BODYBALANCE or the madness and euphoria of BODYJAM. I love that by delivering these two group fitness programs in their essence, I’m able to help my participants get the most from their time at the gym. Everyone knows the saying mens sana in corpore sano — a sound mind in a sound body. When someone takes care of their body, the benefits translate to other aspects of their lives. The mature find functional fitness, so they are able to fend for themselves even in their age. Parents have more energy and can give more attention to their children. Yuppies feel empowered and able, so they can make the most of their prime years. Etcetera, etcetera.

These two programs have also contributed to my personal development and I don’t think I’d be who I am without them. And in my effort to become a better instructor, last year I invested in the Advanced Instructor Modules for BODYBALANCE and BODYJAM. They’re meant to help us go deeper into what each program really is and how to give our participants a great experience more consistently.

BODYBALANCE AIM1 w/ trainer Riyo Fukunaga

BODYBALANCE AIM1 w/ trainer Riyo Fukunaga

BODYJAM AIM1 w/ trainer Arnold Warren

BODYJAM AIM1 w/ trainer Arnold Warren

This year I’m taking a big step. I’m going to Kuala Lumpur to attend my first international Les Mills Quarterly Workshop! Workshops are where instructors like myself experience the new choreography and music for the first time. It’s where we also see our trainers (who are kind of like our fitness rockstars) in action so that we can learn from their example.

If you think of group fitness programs as coffee shops, Les Mills is like Starbucks: you go anywhere in the world and the experience and taste are the same. Although the instructor may vary, you get the same high-quality music and choreography (that’s been vetted by movement experts) within a scientifically-designed class structure meant to build your cardiovascular and muscular fitness effectively and efficiently. Workshops and the quarterly instructor’s DVDs are a way to standardize our individual performance to meet that expectation.

In a few weeks I’ll be reporting back from KL on what you can expect next quarter from the Les Mills programs. I’m so excited!

Social Media Reporting on the #Megamall Robbery

My mom and I were just finishing up dinner that Saturday when I checked Twitter. I spotted a tweet from MMDA that said there was an ongoing situation at the mall.

Soon, my timeline was abuzz with retweets from supposed eyewitnesses about what was happening: that shots had been fired, people had stampeded, and shops had shut their roll-up doors for security. No one was allowed in or out of the mall.

Then I started seeing tweets about a hostage situation, but something felt off. It was like listening to a story becoming more elaborate the more it was told.

By that time we had tuned in to AM radio to see if they had gotten ahold of more concrete details. I was wary about trusting too much to Twitter because you never know if your source saw it with their own eyes or is relaying a story someone had in turn told to them.

Then DZMM tweeted that their reporter had interviewed someone who told him a woman told him the hold-up had happened at a jewelry store and the perpetrators were wearing cosplay costumes. Yes, you read that right: the reporter reported hearsay!

This hearsay started spreading as fact, and opinion turned ugly against cosplayers. There was really a cosplay event happening at the mall on the day, but I believed that had the perpetrators been in costume, they weren’t really participants at the event but had just taken advantage of it.

After an hour of us breathlessly awaiting more news, finally SM Megamall and the mayor of Mandaluyong released statements.

There was no hostage-taking.

Only two shots had been fired, not five and not repeatedly as tweets had reported.

The suspects were in plain clothes, not costumes. (Nakuryente ang DZMM dun.)

And the suspects had gotten away in the first two minutes during the initial panic and confusion. They’re still at large.

#Megamall trended, but the hashtag perpetuated a lot of the initial wrong reporting. It wasn’t just a Twitter problem, either: Philstar.com reported it too (and still hasn’t retracted the article). The next morning I found myself still reading reactions from people especially about what the suspects were wearing and whether there had been a hostage situation.

Yes, Twitter and Facebook provided a lot of real-time updates at a time when people were desperate for more information. It’s also during those times when it’s most important to discern what is factual and what is not. The nature of the internet and social media being what it is, wrong information sticks around longer (due to search engine caching of uncorrected articles and tweets). Because I’ve been an internet user for a long time, I’ve learned to turn a critical eye toward “news” I see spreading on social media. However, there are thousands of Filipinos who are new to this and don’t know how to fact-check for themselves.

I think it’s important for people to start educating themselves on how to use social media properly so they aren’t swept up and carried away by every trending topic.