Visuals should take you with them

I had never heard of the drug ayahuasca until this week. I knew nothing about its origins or why people take it. But after reading Vox writer Sean Illing’s first person essay about the drug’s impact on him during a retreat in Costa Rica I understand more of what it’s like to be in his shoes. After seeing the illustrations that accompanied his story, I could almost feel what it was like to be in his shoes.

The psychedelic drug was originally concocted in Colombia and Peru and is used for its psychological healing powers. It turned Illing’s life upside down and he wanted it to, it’s the entire reason he went on the retreat.

“…dissolving the wall between my self and the world. I also stared into what I can only describe as the world’s most honest mirror.”

“Ayahuasca exposes the gap between who you think you are and who you actually are. In my case, the gap was immense, and the pain of seeing it for the first time was practically unbearable.”

 

 

This story drew me in through its use of graphic design to create still and moving illustrations of the writer. (Special shoutout to the photographer Kainaz Amaria and illustrator Javier Zarracina)

  • Illustrative: These photos don’t just accompany the story, they also tell the story. Because Illing is telling his narrative and helping create the pictures that accompany it, you can be certain that these images are the best way to visually represent what taking the drug Ayahuasca did to his psyche. He does an incredible job of expressing how he felt with words but the images bring the issue close to home (in fact right in front of your face). The above gif of Illing looking down while clouds of darkness and light fill his head precedes the section of the story about his first night at the Rythmia retreat. The images help readers see how Illing reacted to the drug, at first contemplating who he wanted to be and how the drug would help him realize it, and then his brain getting clouded with quickly changing thoughts.

“About 30 minutes pass, and I start to feel … strange. I can see colors, shapes, and shifting shadows on the wall. I’m nervous that something is about to happen, so I go outside and gather myself. I settle in one of the hammocks and stare at the stars.

Suddenly the stars start to spin in a clockwise direction. Then a little faster. Then, for reasons that escape me, I start yelling at the moon, saying over and over again, “Is there anyone up there? Is each other all we have?” (Don’t ask me why I did this.)

So it goes, for what feels like an hour or two. I keep hurling those two questions at the heavens but get no answers, no insights, just silence and spinning.”

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  • Story enhancement: The Rythmia retreat Illing went to sounds like one of those “you just had to be there” stories. Like a very strange out of this world experience but the photos help enhance the strangeness. This blurred photo of him with snakes coming out of his mouth precedes the section titled “Night 2: Don’t Fight the Medicine.” It conveys the strange experience he had on the second night of the retreat, when everyone was purging all the negativity out of their systems, when he hallucinated another participant throwing up snakes into his mouth. Reading that line was one thing but seeing this image, along with the yearning in Illing’s eyes, shows just how confused he was about who he had become. Illing recounts that while he can’t explain most of what he saw that night it was the most authentic experience of his life, and through this illustration we get a glimpse into that experience.

All of a sudden, Andrea has 40 or 50 yellow snakes gushing out of her mouth and into mine. And then I’m immediately racked with the worst nausea I’ve ever experienced. First I curl up in the fetal position and then I spring onto all fours and try to puke. But I can’t get it out. I stay on my knees for another five or 10 minutes waiting for something to happen. Nothing.

Then I lie back down, roll onto my left shoulder, and am flooded with a resounding message for the rest of the night: It’s not about you! Andrea’s pain and suffering — the snakes — had passed into me, and that was the whole point.

For the rest of the night, maybe another three hours or so, I lie there thinking about how selfish I often am, and about the symbolism of the snakes. The feeling was so powerful that I started to cry. (Side note: People cry a lot on ayahuasca.)

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  • This image appears above the “Night 3: making love to my wife for the first time — again” section. In the third ceremony of the retreat Illing finally experiences what he’s been waiting for: a confrontation of his past. On his third trip with the drug he sees his and his wife’s relationship and hyper analyzes every moment that he could’ve been better to her. The jumbled up image of him facing several different directions above a labyrinth conveys his yearning to go back and pick different paths.

I start to see every moment of our relationship in which she reached out to me and I missed it. I see her asking me to go to a meditation class, and I decline. I see her pause to ask me to connect at the peak of a mountain after a long hike in Boulder, Colorado, and I shrug it off. I see her ask me to go dancing at a show near our apartment, and I watch myself mindlessly decline.

I see myself stuck in my own head, my own thoughts, my own impulses. And I see the disappointment on her face. I see her see me miss an opportunity to reconnect.

Then I relive all those moments again, and this time I see myself do or say what I should have done or said. And I see the joy on her face. I see it so clearly that it hurts. I see how much time I wasted, how much love I withheld.

I’m crying again, this time even louder, and the smile on my face is so big that my jaw hurt the next day. And I think about how I’m going to look at my wife when I get back home, and how she’ll know I’m seeing her — really seeing her — for the first time all over again.

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Night 4: the most honest mirror you’ll ever see

I cared too much about what other people thought.

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This story doesn’t include any actual photographs from the retreat, but instead photos that have been modified by illustrations. I would argue these illustrations would help the reader connect more to the subject than actual photographs would, especially since Illing probably partnered with the illustrator and explained all of his feelings after the retreat.


This story, on the other hand, about Trump voters who actually believe in universal healthcare could’ve benefitted from portraits of each of the voters who were interviewed.

The writer essentially had a round table discussion with a handful of voters, and names each of them in the piece, but photos of each person would’ve been more impactful. It would help us understand that yes these people are real and this what they think.


Vox’s written explainer stories don’t often have a lot of visuals, occasionally there are charts and graphs. But their video section is informative and visually pleasing. They make explainer videos about everything you may want to: how to understand a new tax bill, as represented by cereal, where babies in movies come from and why there are more concussions in women’s ice hockey than in football. The videos are edited to be engaging with their graphics. Vox should definitely try to bring more of those elements to their written stories.

The Week Explained on Instagram:

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“Boston is a State of Mind”

I found this quote among a plethora of quotes about Boston with a simple google image search. Thomas Gold Appleton, who was a writer and artist born in 1812, spent most of his life here which led him to make this statement. While I’ve only been in Boston for a few years I still believe it rings true. Before this semester, I was away from the city for 8 months, I spent the summer at home in Chicago and the fall semester abroad in London. Coming back this year strangely felt like coming to a new place that was still familiar. It took a little while for me to get over not being in London, but being reunited with friends and doing this project helped me to truly feel happy to be back in Boston again. The people, the energy, the accents, the sports, the spirit; it’s all truly a state of mind.

1. City Snapshot

I ventured over to the musically inclined part of the city in Back Bay where the Berklee College of Music, Huntington Theater, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and more places can be found. I also went near Northeastern University and Newbury Street where the city was bustling with shoppers and students. – Taken from 360 Huntington Ave., 1140 Boylston St., and 361 Newbury St.

2. Food/Drink

Valentine’s Day was a night to remember, mainly because I helped surprise my best friend with a dinner planned entirely by her fiancé (who unfortunately is studying abroad and couldn’t be with her). We ate at Tiger Mama in Fenway, known for its Southeast asian food. The restaurant prides itself on shareable dishes and suggests that two people order around 4/5 dishes to share. It’s a bit on the expensive side so I was glad I wasn’t paying. – Taken from 1363 Boylston St.

3. Person on the Street

I talked to Michael Cocolla about what he enjoys about Boston and he loves that the city is small but still has everything you need. – Taken on Snapchat right in front of Kenmore Station

4. Student on the Street

Candice Lim (COM ’19) loves the hustle and bustle of the city. As an up and coming journalist she thrives off of Boston’s energy. – Taken at 640 Commonwealth Ave.

5. Academic Excellence

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, a reckoning of sexual assault allegations coming to light in nearly every industry, BU held a faculty-student forum to discuss the movement and how the faculty are contributing to the research of this movement and of sexual assault. The fact that BU held such a forum and has faculty contributing to such a groundbreaking research shows it is a leader in excellence and innovation. -Taken at 775 Commonwealth Ave.

MIT is another school that displayed Academic Excellence this month. This photo features a student project made for Black History Month. – Taken at 77 Massachusetts Ave.

6. Weather

We had some unexpectedly beautiful weather in Boston this week and many people, and animals, were taking advantage. I met Joseph on the Charles River Esplanade while he was sketching the skyline. – Taken at the Charles River Esplanade

7. Scenic Spot

Back Bay is definitely scenic with its historical buildings, shopping and dining. Some of the Churches even have gorgeous stain glass windows that are decades old. – Taken near 180 Berkeley St.

8. Sports Talk

Siblings Issac and Bertha Borin couldn’t stop raving about their love for David “Big Papi” Ortiz, who retired from the Red Sox in 2016 but not before becoming a Boston Icon. I asked them if they thought the team could ever get back what they had or ever be the same without him. Check out their answer below. – Taken on Bay State Road

9. Fashion Shot

There was no way I could walk past Sage Holloway without asking her about her purple hair and her colorful jacket. She was happy to talk to me about her colorful 80’s style and explain to me how she picks her hair colors. Spoiler Alert: She doesn’t actually pick them. – Taken at 115 Cummington Mall

10. An Olympic Moment

Nikki Havens (COM ’20) isn’t letting her lack of cable keep her from staying caught up with the Winter Olympics. Watch this video to learn more about how she will stay updated. – Taken at 736 Commonwealth Ave.

11. Off the Beaten Path

I saw a glimmer of blue and yellow peeking out behind a building in Allston and when I went to check it out I discovered a whole lot more. This mural exemplifies everything Boston is all about. – Taken behind 136 Harvard Ave.

12. Freestyle

Boston is known for a lot of things, but having soul isn’t usually one of them. However, Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen in the South End has as much as soul as you would find anywhere in the South. It serves delicious soul food like Chicken and Waffles, and if you go there on the right night there will be live jazz performances! (You have to pay extra on any night where there is a performance but I say it’s worth it). – Taken at 604 Columbus Ave.

My Favorite Tweets

This was hard to narrow down because my classmates did a lot of cool things this week but here are the ones that stood out to me:

1. Natasha Mascarenhas’ pictures of the skyline are amazing. I’m definitely inspired to leave campus more often now.

2. Pamela Fourtounis captured a beautiful aspect of Boston: its inclusivity.

3. I love that Morgan Cheung actually talked to a student who dreams of going to the Olympics one day. Really cool interview!

My Replies

  1. I replied to Yasmine Ghanem’s interview with Julia because we both love the amount of students in the area!

 

2. I also replied to Aleah Floyd’s interview with a student on the street because I also enjoy that I’ve met and made friends with people of different cultures all because I came to Boston for college. (Can you tell that I love meeting people in Boston yet?)

3. Watching Morgan’s interview with Ravi was pretty cool, for reasons I mentioned above, so I just to had to reply.

4. I’ve been in a Black Panther mood for essentially two years, so now that the movie is out and Black people all over the world are feeling inspired to be themselves, I reply to and share images of outfits from the movie showings any chance I get.

5. Laura Guerriero ate at Sweet Cheeks, a place I’ve been eyeing lately but haven’t yet been to. I was happy to see that the food looked tasty.

There are a lot of people and things I miss from London but I think I’m finally in that Boston State of Mind.

Who’s got spirit?

VP Mike Pence may have refused to stand when the unified Korean team entered the floor for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, but that didn’t matter since they had an entourage of more than 200 cheerleaders on their side.

The fact that North and South Korea decided to compete in the games under one flag was originally the big news, but once people saw the North Korean cheerleaders doing over-the-top choreography with over-the-top outfits, the conversation took a big turn.

Vox compiled the best, and weirdest, photos of the cheerleaders in action. Win or lose, North Korea has great team spirit to fall back on.

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North Korea wants to make sure we don’t forget them this olympics, and it would be hard to do with their cheerleaders, taekwondo demonstration team and 140-member orchestra.

If you ask social media users, the cheerleaders were the team that stole the show.

But others say this is Kim Jong Un’s way of waving something shiny in our faces to distract us from the potential threat of his nuclear weapons.

WWMLKD

What would MLK do? When a tragedy or triumph occurs many people wonder what Martin Luther King Jr. would say if he was still here with us. And in regard to that Dodge Ram commercial that aired during the Super Bowl featuring sections of his “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, many believe the visionary leader would not be pleased.

The commercial included quotes from the sermon that had to do with serving one another, but it left out the parts of his sermon condemning advertising and capitalism. “The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism…Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car.”

Twitter exploded with responses, most were critical of Dodge and wanted to uphold MLK’s legacy.

The twist is, Dodge made the ad with the blessing of the King Estate. Dexter King, MLK’s son, said the ad “Embodies” MLK’s philosophy about service as the ad is promoting Dodge’s Ram Nation Volunteer Program.

Vox wrote about how someone remade the ad and overlaid it with what MLK actually said about advertising.

Do you guys think Dodge messed up and started off Black History Month the wrong way or are they embodying King’s philosophy?

Read more here.

Vox – Understand the news

Vox’s mission is no mystery; it’s placed directly next to the title when you google the organization. They don’t want their readers to get lost in the news cycle or become so overwhelmed with jargon that they stop reading and watching news altogether. They want to make the news digestible for all, by explaining things in simple terms and giving necessary context.

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Their goal isn’t to get the news out first or to sound the smartest, it’s to help you and I decipher what’s going on in this ever-changing world we live in. They cover not only what’s new but what’s important, through writing, video and social media stories. You can find them anywhere: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, email and iTunes. They have sections dedicated to food science, technology, first person narratives, politics and more. Their “Explainers” section is what exemplifies their mission. Here, they take a large topic and break it down to what it means for the average citizen.

For example, when the government shut down there were countless stories about the disagreements between specific members of congress and the president, and while those articles got people’s attention they didn’t bring the topic close to home. But Vox wanted to do just that.

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Informing people there was a shutdown is important, but explaining what it means and how it will actually impact people is crucial. This story explained that food and nutrition programs for poor families would only be able to operate through March without additional funding, that services for veterans and military families are hit the hardest, that more than 1,300 low-wage federal workers were unable to work, but also that Social Security and Medicare are not at all affected.

The story’s organization made it easy to follow; each time a new group who would be impacted was brought up, it was noted with a new title.

The story is followed by a “Storystream” of all the other stories written about the topic in the order they were written so readers can follow the timeline easily.

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Their process isn’t something they want to hide; they have an entire section dedicated to explaining “How we make Vox” and they want readers to be part of it. On this page they celebrate milestones in readership, they reached over 60 million on Facebook alone last year,  explain website updates, how they aggregate, how they’ve connected with sources and more. This page has articles from this month and ones dating all the way back to when the website was launched in 2014. In an article posted in March 2014 explaining the then new organization’s purpose, Vox did what they do best and they made it simple.

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But by simple, they do NOT mean boring. They believe that any topic that is important to readers, that impacts their lives, should not be boring and if that’s the case then they see it as failure on their part.

In the four years since its launch, Vox has continually delivered on its promise of explaining the news, in an engaging way, whether it be through an in-depth article or a podcast or even just a video explaining where the babies in movies come from.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Vox’s move to curry favor with advertisers through their explainer videos and mentioned that Vox “quickly won attention” for its success at explainers.

With a mission statement as broad as “explain the news” one would think the news site would easily lose focus, but it seems that they’ve stayed on course. I’m excited to track them to see how they will stay with this goal throughout the semester.