October 31, 2008

Top Three "I Want"

Okay, so “want” is kinda a dirty word in dharmic circles. But this post by one of my favorite blogger, Colin Beavan, the No Impact Man, got me to thinking:

“Do you dream of a life that's simply ‘sustainable?’ Or do you hope for something better, say, a happy life? One that's full of meaning?”

Do I want a sustainable life? Hell, no! I want something better than that. Do I want to design sustainable architecture? Sustainable communities? Hell, no! I want to design regenerative architecture and regenerative communities. That is, buildings and communities that go beyond no net impact to actively enhancing vitality. These are buildings and communities that produce rather than consume. They produce a surplus of energy, food, biodiversity, clean water, air, and soils, creativity – a surplus of happiness even.

Many Buddhist authors have written about the complex connections between desire, motivation, right action, speech, livelihood, intention, the cultivation of compassion and wisdom, and the traps of attachment and clinging. Judith Simmer-Brown wrote about that connection:

“[A]ccording to the view of vajrayana Buddhism, desire is also the working basis of compassion. Desire’s very eagerness to please carries intelligence, which when liberated from self-centered preoccupations, resonates with the emotional experience of others.”

Colin gave us the challenge “to create a new reality; a new way of living with fewer resources while providing a prosperous life for every member of our growing population – [it] is going to require more than even the best technology that money can buy. It's going to require imagination, open-mindedness, a willingness to live and to understand life differently.”

That got me to thinking about the things I want, just plain old want, just for me, and whether or not those things lend themselves to a sustainable or regenerative lifestyle, one which “every member of our growing population” could enjoy. So I searched for my Top Three. I wanted to know where my priorities are and what motivates me. What is at the root of my desire? What goal can create eagerness and harness intelligence? Turns out I want:

1) Time. I don’t want to be so busy. I don’t want to always feel so rushed. I don’t want to roll out of bed and out the door twenty minutes later. I want to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee and read a magazine article to begin my day. I don’t want to feel guilty about taking half an hour out of study time to watch a television show. I don’t want to spend weeks contemplating whether or not I should drop a class to make time for work. I don’t want to turn down fulfilling work in order to take boring required classes.

2) Good food, good coffee, good wine, and good friends to share it with. I don’t like to cook. I like to eat. I like to give good tips to the wait staff. I like four-hour long dinners.

3) Comprehensive health, dental, and eye care. I don’t want to wait two weeks for my cold to turn out to be pneumonia which now requires hospitalization instead of just antibiotics. I don’t want to have to wait six months to get a cavity filled. I want to have these questionable moles removed soon. I don’t want to wear my contacts three times longer than recommended because I can’t afford to replace them.

Gosh. I (don’t) want rather a lot, huh? All of these things seem to require a certain level of affluence that I do not currently posses. But that’s just me and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that things change. The median household income in the United States was over $50,000 in 2007. Of course, the median income for a single female was only $24,000, compared to the $36,000 earned by a single male. (Yes, gender inequality is alive and well folks!) Even so, $24,000 doesn’t sound too shabby right about now. I could manage on that. I could fulfill my top three desires on $12 an hour.

It strikes me that I didn’t put fulfilling career, world peace, or helping others on that list. It’s a given. It’s what I do. I know no matter what else I want for myself, I will keep doing what I’m doing, which I find very fulfilling, believe supports world peace, and know helps others. Am I super lucky or what?

What’s in your Top Three? What three things do you most want for yourself, for your lifestyle?

What I want for myself tells me that it is possible for me to live a sustainable or regenerative life without an undue amount of fuss. I need to find or create a job at which I can be effective and productive without being a workaholic. (Of course, I think this particular 'want' also reveals a need to better cultivate right diligence/effort and fix a skewed mindset, but that's not the point right now...) It needs to pay enough that I can afford to eat at that lovely little organic restaurant down in the Haymarket, travel a little, and have good health care. I can continue to support efforts to revamp this country’s health care system to bring cost down and offer universal coverage to people who are worse off than I am now. I don’t need to consume or pollute to be content. I don’t need a new Hummer and a hundred pairs of shoes and a house in the suburbs with a pool. I don’t need the stereotypical American dream.

But some people do – or at least they think they do. They’re never gonna listen to some little hippie girl tell them she knows better. So how do we as a society go about rewriting the American dream? Because I bet when it comes right down to it, the car, the shoes, and the house with the pool won’t be in anyone else’s Top Three either. I’m betting family and friends will be there a lot. I’m betting people want to have good jobs which are also fulfilling. I’m betting, all other things being equal, people would rather work for a company which makes equipment to ensure we all have clean drinking water than one that makes plastic disposable anything. I guess I’m betting that, when people actually sit down and think about it, when we actually look at what we want, that we really do know what makes us happy. And that it’s already in line with what is best for the planet as a whole.

I guess I’m betting we’re all really already enlightened.

October 30, 2008

DN Article - Republicans: Fear-Mongering or Factual?

This is my first point-counterpoint article, writen in honor of the upcoming elections, with a wonderful new columnist Emily Nohr. Even though Emily and I obviously strongly disagree on each and every point, we had a wonderful time writing this column together. The Opinion staff is, by and large, rather liberal, so Emily is a welcome addition. I think it was very brave of her to step up and do a column like this as her debut in the Daily Nebraska. I wish her all the luck in the world.

Debate over fear-mongering: sleazy tactic or just the facts?

Enjoy!

PS - Emily is worried about strong negative feedback, so if you feel the need to comment, please be nice! I know all of you are, but please make an extra effort!

October 29, 2008

Authenticity and Art

"I actually think that writing was my first spiritual practice (though I would never have called it that when I was younger), and the only one I had for many years. It was through writing that I accessed the deep part of myself that we see in meditation. For that reason I was a compulsive writer; I felt I had to do it, and had to succeed at it, to justify all the time I was spending. Now that I have meditation as a practice, I no longer have the same desperation about writing. I like to do it, but don’t have to. It makes the whole activity much lighter, and more enjoyable." -- Writer David Guy on Shambhala Sun Space

Is a starving artist more authentic than a "successful" one? Is the successful artist just lucky? Is success the same as justification? Do we need really either?

I'm thinking not really.

October 28, 2008

Ohhhh!

CRPL 820 on Thursday from 3:00 to 5:40 pm or PHIL 814 on Thursday from 4:00 to 6:30....Grant Writing or Philosophy of Mind....Ahhhh!

It's just not fair! (falling to my knees, pulling my hair out dramatically and weeping)

October 25, 2008

That Place

Yesterday, I wondered where that place would be. Today I realized that's a silly question.

I bet you it's right here.

Attention

Have you ever really paid attention, just paid attention to the way your fingers fly across the keyboard? To the way the words just appear upon the screen, crawling across letter by letter from left to right? Have you ever felt the depression of key after key beneath your finger pads and the swift pressure of the space bar on the edge of your thumb? I always press the spacebar with my right thumb, never my left. Why is that? Is it because I’m right handed? Or is it just some fluke? Is it genetic? The same way some people can role their tongue and others can’t without ever knowing why – only that it is something that can be neither taught nor learned? Have you ever listened to the soothing tap tap tap of the keys? The soft sounds they make, the rhythm in time with your thoughts, the same rhythm of language? I wonder if when people type in other languages if the rhythm of their hands on the keyboard conforms to the rhythm of their spoken words. I would assume it does. Have you ever been picky about your keyboard? Have you ever discarded this one because the tactile sensation wasn’t just right? Because the keys required too much or too little pressure? Have you ever chosen this other one because you liked the clicking noise it makes? Have you ever enjoyed the simplicity of a paired down keyboard over the complication of those fancy ergonomic ones with the tilted keeps and thumb ball mice and squishy wrist pad? Have you ever taken sensual pleasure in using one you like and disdained all others? Have you ever derided the handheld writing device as crude and far too slow? Far too slow to keep up with swiftly flowing thoughts. Far too slow to move at the speed of the mind, to move at the speed of language, of speech, of conversation? Have you ever lamented the invention of the mouse? Keyboard shortcuts are so much faster. The mouse wastes unnecessary time by forcing the hand to move from the keyboard to the mouse and back again. All of six inches. Have you ever derided GUI interfaces and wished for the simplicity of DOS based codes which let your fingers fly? Have you ever felt the ache in the tendons of the index finger of your right hand from click after click of that inefficient mouse? Have you ever worked your keyboard until certain keys come unglued and pop off, to go flying into the dark recesses beneath the desk, breaking your concentration with a moment of startling humorous irony? I’m always loosing the letter V. Have you ever figured out the little trick and wiggle to put the keys in place again? Have you ever missed the rattle of a trusty old dot matrix printer? Which would never send you nasty little messages to change the toner when the printing looked perfect? The kind of printer that would keep printing even when the ribbon had run dry just because you told it to and for no other reason? Do you keep and old word processor in your closet because you like the tactile sensation and the satisfying thwap thwap thwap of the typewriter keys striking paper, actual paper, as you scrawl word after word? Do you like winding that paper in and pulling it out again and seeing your words stark black on the white paper which you can hold in your hand? Which you can crumple up and throw? Which you can light on fire and watch burn and smell the ink as it melts? And then start all over again? Do you like knowing your words have a physical presence, that they can be created or destroyed, that they aren’t just some nebulous bit of zero’s and one’s floating in a computer monitor and disappearing into cyberspace? I do, which is why I save my word processor for special occasions. I like to type letters on it. It feels like a gift. Like I am making something tangible, something of myself, something special and wrapping it up in a little bit of paper and sending it off. Like a child drawing a picture or making a bad pottery bowl for their grandma because they know she’ll like it. I even pick pretty stamps which I think they’d like. Have you ever read your own words over and over? Fallen in love with them? Hated them? Forgotten them? Rediscovered them? Cried for them? Laughed for them? Gotten angry at them? Gotten turned on by them? Have you ever looked at the words on paper and have them look like chicken scratches? Like Greek? Like nothing intelligible at all and wondered how these marks on paper can have so much power? Can convey so much meaning? Have you ever looked down at the marks on the keyboard, which spell no words, which come in no order that our eyes can discern, which have no meaning and seen the entirety of human history summed up in this apparatus which we have created for no other reason than to write the summation of human history? This bizarre little contraption which feels so good beneath our flying fingers which we use to talk to one another when spoken words will not do? When distance and context separates us? When we can’t bear to see the other’s face? Bear to hear the other’s voice? Bear to know the other’s opinion? But when we desperately feel the need to spread our own? To record it for posterity? To know that it was there? Have you ever felt the bones and joints in your fingers flexing and taken that as proof of your existence? Proof that you’re alive? Proof that you matter and that you have something to say even if you don’t know what that something is? Have you ever sat down to type with nothing on your mind and let everything pour out through your hands all the while concentrating on nothing but the feeling of your fingers moving? No guidance. No preplanning. Just observation. Watching all the myriad twists and turns without hope or judgement. It is meditation this. My cushion is a desk chair. My shrine is a glowing screen. My meditation room is a darkened office, lit by streetlights from outside. My bell is the rhythmic click. My breath is the flexing of those fingers, and my thoughts, my never ending, never minding, always flowing, always watching, always being watched thoughts are pouring out on to the paper which has no more substance than they do. Which is no more real than they are. Which will exist both infinitely longer and infinitely less time than they do. The words on the paper may stop. My concentration on the flexing of my fingers may waver, then return, then wander, then return again. The words on the paper will stop, but my thoughts will go on and the words will remain fixed, while my thoughts never will. The words are not me, because I changed, and I am not them because they remained the same. The same words, different meanings, because they aren’t my words anymore. They belong to the person on the other side of the glowing screen, reading them now. A person who may just go off and find an actual cushion and feel their actual breath and watch their own thoughts flow, like words across paper as imaginary as this. Have you ever really paid attention to the sensation of typing?

October 24, 2008

Places & Reasons

Bits and pieces are lots, falling away like a crumbling bit of clay within the first few hours. Other parts remain vivid. Those will continue to remain vivid. Like showing our wedding pictures to friends and family. I remember the dress I wore. It was more like a skirt suit of cream, ivory, and gold. Quite unlike me, as a matter of fact. He wore a dark blue suit. I remember looking into his face, dark eyes so wide, and hearing clear as day, he telling me he loved me. I remember holding our baby. I remember waking up, that startling clarity of being awake, totally and completely awake, as awake as I felt just a moment before when I was asleep. Awake from a dream that was too real, remembering every moment, every color, every nuance. I remember lying in the dark at 4:23 in the morning on the third of the bed I’d carved out for myself and feeling the heat of the big body beside me. I remember lying there and waiting to go back to sleep. I remember carrying these memories with me for days now and saying nothing, waiting for them to fade.

It wasn’t the first dream I’ve had about a man. In point of fact, it wasn’t about just one man. Each scene, each moment, was a man with a different face. The first one, the face of the man lying in bed beside me. The second one, Barak Obama, which I blame on the media for plastering it everywhere. Not the first time I’ve dreamed of a celebrity (though usually they don’t talk) and probably not the last. The final one, a man with no face that I could recall. It wasn’t the first time I’ve dreamt I was pregnant, though it was the first time I actually had a baby to show for it.

I realized something the day before, as I walked alone on the trail from the house to the dining hall. I’ve stopped going to the mountains for the reason I started going. Now I go there to see him. I wouldn’t call it the wrong reason, though maybe it is, just a different reason. I wonder if this is what the Buddha would consider an unnecessary distraction on the road to enlightenment, or a good learning experience on how to be with someone without clinging. Is that what I’m doing?

He asked me once if I thought being with him prevented me from seeking other relationships. I answered no, swift and sure. After all, I wasn’t exactly playing the field before we met. I do feel something within me has changed. I feel like I’m more open to being in a relationship. I used to wonder if I gave off a vibe that just said “Don’t bother. This one’s difficult.” I am less wary now, less guarded. Yet nothing’s really come of it. We were apart nine months. And after nine months we picked up right where we had left off. This time we were only apart a few weeks.

I’m at ease with him. Like I’ve not been with any man. I can sleep in the same bed with him, which I can’t even manage with my relatives who I’ve known all my life. We can just sit together, being totally separate, him playing a video game and me reading a book, and neither one of us feels like we’re neglecting the other, but we’re pleased the other is there. I asked him the same question and he gave me the same answer.

Yes, I definitely went to the mountains for a different reason. He always asks when I’m coming back. He makes disappointed sounds when I tell him I don’t know. He makes happy sounds when I talk about maybe working for the same company in Boulder next summer. He doesn’t come to visit me. No car. Little money. Dislikes the MidWest. All good solid reasons which nonetheless leave things feeling a little lopsided. But lately he’s been talking about visiting his dad in Milwaukee sometime when I am also there to visit my thesis client.

I wonder about things. Not just nebulous possible future things. I wonder about the judgmental cultural stereotypes we are forced to operate under. I wonder why my mind resists when I try to drag up the courage to say “I love you.” Our society teaches us that there are three possible responses to that statement: the other doesn’t say it back and it hurts, the other says it back but doesn’t mean it and it hurts, the other says it back and means it. Two out of three ways to be hurt isn’t very good odds. It makes us afraid.

But you know what? They’re wrong. I told him that I loved him. He smiled. He said I’d never told him that before. He laughed and said he knew there was a reason I put up with him. The moment was good. It felt good and it made me happy. He didn’t say he loved me. I didn’t even care. I didn’t even realize until later that it didn’t bother me. It wasn’t until watching some sappy primetime drama that I realized that, according to society’s norms, it should bother me.

Well, society is stupid, but it’s strong too. I haven’t said it again and I kind of regret that. Our leave taking was hurried. He left for work an hour after I had woken from my dream, just as I was drifting off again. I stopped by later to give him a hug farewell, waving at his coworkers over his shoulder, then I walked away.

I feel like I’m always doing one of two things: waiting for that man or walking away. Of course, the waiting part isn’t unique to him. I’m a horribly punctual person and I generally feel like I’m waiting for everyone. I’ve noticed it with every friend I’ve ever had, male or female. It’s strong with him though, this impatience. As though the very idea that I’m waiting on a man somehow makes me weaker. As if it makes me into some desperate, simpering miss. I generally tell that feeling to shut the hell up or I’ll kick its damned ass through its frigging brainpan.

The other feeling, the walking way – is that just a different type of clinging? Do I stick with this relationship because I know it’s safe? Because I know I can walk away? Because I can always put him on a five-hundred mile stick if things get a little bumpy? Am I attached to being able to walk away?

It got a little bumpy summer before last. He felt crowded. I felt uncertain. He promised to come through and then blew me off three times in one day. I let him. He ignored me for a week. He once made me cry without even noticing; not that I help, the way I bottle things up inside and refuse to let anyone see, even myself. But that was early in the summer. There was nowhere to run to and we hung through. Now, I can see the changes in him. Everytime. He’s calmer, more patient, more understanding, and he pays more attention, takes less for granted, gets more excited about things, more engaged, doesn’t shut the world out. Not that I can take any credit, of course. I was gone for nine months, after all. I might be in the right place for the wrong reasons, but he’s definitely in the right place for the right reasons. Maybe sometime soon, I can be too.

I wonder where that will be?

October 23, 2008

October 20, 2008

Blogs I Love

This is probably as close to a chain letter as I will ever come. It humbles me and, I can’t deny, gives me a lovely little ego boost that I am assiduously trying to ignore. (Or, more accurately, be aware of without allowing to cloud my actions, thoughts, or speech.) I would like to pass on the favors of Rev. Danny Fisher and Dogo Barry, the Urban Monk, for listing my blog among their favorites and I would like to return the favor. Thus, in no particular order, my favorite blogs are: (drum roll please)

  • The Urban Monk – Beautiful, thought provoking, and a little edgy.
  • Rev. Danny Fisher – I don’t think he sleeps either and I must confess I cannot always keep up.
  • The Tricycle Blog – Which keeps me up to date on Buddhist news and also stirs my soul.
  • In Limine – A yoga blog with great wisdom and insight from a tradition separate, though strongly related, to Buddhism.
  • No Impact Man – My personal environmental guru and also a fabulous writer.
  • WorldChanging – A witty cadre of writers and thinkers who offer in-depth insight on a broad range of topics.
  • Radical Seeks Enlightenment – A blog that constantly makes me aware of things I had never bothered to consider. Also a close friend of mine and an up and coming writer/documentarian/activist.

What’s not to love?

Morning Walk

No golden sun rises this morning. The fog lies soft over the land. The day slowly lightens to a white-grey tint, all the fall colors seeming somehow more subdued. The many-hued grass, green, yellow, orange, red, and burgundy all on a single blade topped with a golden-white tassel, stands still. No hint of a breeze stirs. The fog is here to stay. It lays across the ridgelines, shrouding the rocky tops in its blue-grey fabric, like a shall across the shoulders of an old woman protecting herself against winter’s oncoming chill. The air smells like snow.

The blackened branches of a dead aspen tree rise above its golden children. There a lone dark bird sits, unmoving. A tap, tap, taping draws the ear to the right, where somewhere in the trees a woodpecker is about its day’s work. A bit of movement reveals the small black and white bird diligently making its way up an old ponderosa’s trunk.

Down the path my feet carry me, in search of warm tea and a bite of breakfast. I have woken late on this grey day. Others have long since been to breakfast and moved on, leaving my path empty and quite. Three dark horses stand still in the meadow. One raises is head, showing the stark white blaze that bisects his face, his ears swiveled forward to watch the black-clad, two legged creature crunching down the gravel trail. He returns to cropping the last of the dried grass.

I reach the fence line and whistle, a single, long, piercing note slicing through the still air, carrying far in the soft quiet. Three heads rise, three sets of ear swivel. I whistle again and a great dark shape begins to move. He walks forward purposely, but unhurried, legs moving, great body swaying. He looks even larger than when I saw him just yesterday. His shaggy winter coat is coming in. He reaches the fence and I hold out one bear hand to meet his muzzle, his hot breath blowing over my chilled skin, dark against pale. He stands quietly while I run my rand over his head, scratch under his forelock and behind his ears, softly rub the velvet of his chin, cup the hard bones of his jaw and cheeks. He permits all this, and watches me, drawing in my scent.

After a time, I move on, leaving him still standing by the fence, one back leg cocked, head drooping, dozing. I cross the boardwalks and pass the old log cabin. Here and there trees are down, their stumps bright and straight cut by a chainsaw. Humans are doing what was once left to fire, clearing the forest to give the healthiest trees a chance to grow large and stately with age.

A raven caws and then another. From the north come two dozen of the black birds, calling the each other, wheeling and diving and soaring. They settle in the tall pines sheltering the trail where I walk. To see one or two of the birds is a frequent thing, but so many gathered together is a sight to behold, and frightening to listen to with their raucous voices. They are the only movement, the only sound in this still, still world, where even the cheerful prayer flags hang limp and subdued and the Gesar banners do not wave.

The great mountains themselves wait patiently for winter to come.

October 15, 2008

Why I Like Barak

He has a cool name. Barak Obama. It’s just fun to say. He's not a million years old. I know that's agist, but I get so tired of decisions made by people who I fundamentally can't understand and who can't understand me because the generation gap is just too wide. He's not bad looking either.

Last night I watched Frontline. It was a two-hour special on our “Choice 2008,” profiling Barak Obama and John McCain. They began with clips from Barak’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

“Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let's face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely,” he begins. “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

"Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy; our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

“…it's not enough for just some of us to prosper. For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people.

“If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandparent. If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

“It is that fundamental belief -- it is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: "E pluribus unum," out of many, one.

“Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.”

“We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?

“I'm not talking about blind optimism here, the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't think about it, or health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. That's not what I'm talking. I'm talking about something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker's son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.

“Hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope: In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation, a belief in things not seen, a belief that there are better days ahead.”

A few days later, John McCain was speaking at the Republican National Convention.

At a time of deep distress at home, as tyranny strangled the aspirations to liberty of millions, and as war clouds gathered in the East and West, Franklin Delano Roosevelt accepted his party's nomination by observing: ‘There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.’

“The awful events of September 11, 2001, declared a war we were vaguely aware of, but hadn't really comprehended how near the threat was and how terrible were the plans of our enemies. It's a big thing, this war. It's a fight between a just regard for human dignity and a malevolent force that defiles an honorable religion by disputing God's love for every soul on earth. It's a fight between right and wrong, good and evil.

“We are engaged in a hard struggle against a cruel and determined adversary. Our enemies have made clear the danger they pose to our security and the very essence of our culture: liberty.

“You remember how we felt when the serenity of a bright September morning was destroyed by a savage atrocity so hostile to all human virtue we could scarcely imagine any human being capable of it.

“We were united, first in sorrow and anger, then in recognition we were attacked not for a wrong we had done, but for who we are: a nation united in a kinship of ideals, committed to the notion that the people are sovereign, not governments, not armies, not a pitiless theocracy, not kings, mullahs or tyrants, but the people. In that moment ... in that moment, we were not different races. We were not poor or rich. We were not Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. We were not two countries. We were Americans. All of us, despite the differences that enliven our politics, are united in the one big idea that freedom is our birthright and its defense is always our first responsibility. All other responsibilities come second.

“We are Americans first, Americans last, and Americans always. Let us argue -- let us argue our differences, but remember we are not enemies, but comrades in a war against a real enemy, and take courage from the knowledge that our military superiority is matched only by the superiority of our ideals and our unconquerable love for them. Our adversaries are weaker than us in arms and men, but weaker still in causes. They fight to express -- they fight to express a hatred for all that is good in humanity. We fight for love of freedom and justice, a love that is invincible.

“Keep that faith. Keep your courage. Stick together. Stay strong. Do not yield. Do not flinch. Stand up. Stand up with our president and fight. We're Americans. We're Americans, and we'll never surrender. They will.”

Barak talks about unity in a way that makes us believe we truly can help each other, that makes us believe that wisdom, compassion, and dignity really can hold us together. McCain talks about unity in a way that makes us believe if we don’t hang together we’ll all hang separately. He sets up an a boogey man and then tells us how great we can be when we all fight on the same side. This is not unity. This is divisiveness and fear-mongering honey coated. This is the pig and John McCain’s calculated “We are united in sorrow and anger” is the lipstick.

Maybe I don’t want to be united with people who are grieving and angry, vengeful and miserable? That doesn’t sound like a pleasant car ride to me. Maybe I want to be united with people who are loving and compassionate, determined and realistic? In truth, I think those are all the same people, or they have the potential to be anyway. But I know which side I want to see, which side I feel can make a positive difference, and which leader can bring that out.

Besides, Barak has a sense of humor. One of his staffers told a story of a committee meeting in which Obama scribbled a note for his aid which read “SHOOT. ME. NOW.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve written something of a similar nature in the margins of my notebook during some endlessly boring meeting or lecture. It makes me laugh and it makes me feel good to know that he’s human. Even if we share nothing else, we both know what it’s like to be bored to tears and we both understand irony. I think a sense of humor is essential in a leader. Anyone who is serious all the time has lost that necessary perspective which a leader so desperately needs.

Plus, his mama’s from Kansas, which is right next door, so he’s practically family.

October 10, 2008

Hmmmm.....

Well, if anyone knows anything more about this digging thing than I, feel free to let me know. I wanted to put the little digg icon down by the 'comments' button, not in the main body of the test. And I wanted to be able to just digg a single post, not the entire blog.

But that's enough playtime for today!

Still Playing With Digg

Okay, so I inserted the javascripting into the template under the 'post' section. And I fixed the background color. Let's see how this works.

Playing with Digg

I like Digg. I just signed up for it and I like it for no other reason than the gender selection options on the registration page. They are "Guy, Girl, Dude, Lady, Fellow, Bird, Chap, grrrl, Gentleman, Damsel, Beau, Belle, Male, Female, Transgender, and None of the Above." Do they all have unique meanings or were the folks over at Digg just being cute?

Anyway, I'm also trying to figure out how to add the "digg it" button to my webpage. I'm trying to get a little more with some of these internet trends, like subscribing to feeds. I'm really enjoying Google Reader. It's like my own personal newspaper. So let's see how this works.

Hope this works!

October 08, 2008

The Struggle of Struggling

Nothing is ever exactly the way we want it, is it? Things can even go according to plan, and it’s still not the way we want it. Even when they don’t disappoint, even when they surpass, it’s still not the way we want it. Even when I have every reason to be happy, to be satisfied, it’s still not the way I want it. That’s when I become discouraged. When I start to think I’m really not making any progress, or not enough progress.

Because, damn it, I have no earthly reason to be unhappy and yet I am. And I don’t want to write about it and I don’t want to think about it and I just mope around the house struggling with this blocked energy and becoming frustrated and thinking "soon." Soon I’ll be able to push past this and get back to work and everything will be fine. I just need a good night’s sleep, a good cup of coffee, a little bit of downtime, a nap, a nice afternoon snack, a little break from class or meetings or commitments. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have a little more perspective. Soon. Then I make myself buckle down, get a little work done. I wonder if maybe I just start to work, be productive, I’ll get caught up in it and forget this ridiculous malaise.

Then I start questioning myself. It shouldn’t be this hard, should it? What am I struggling against? Am I trying to do something that isn’t really in my nature? Trying to mold myself into being the person I think I should be? Is that the source of this stress? I wonder that I’ve been faking it for so long, even I have begun to forget that it was never something I was comfortable with. I begin to think of the importance I first placed on this thing. It was a survival mechanism and now it has become my whole life. I have based my worth on it and gauged my progress by it. I have planned my whole career around it, and my spiritual life too. It has become the cornerstone of my ethos, but it is that which I struggle with the most. I always have.

It is people. Other people.

The statement in my professional portfolio begins “Architecture exists to improve the lives of human beings.” My whole life, since the age of fourteen when I watched the cool kids in the lunch room appearing to be happy, has revolved around improving the lives of human beings. As if that could somehow validate my own life. As if that could prove I was worth something. As if I could be as happy as those cool kids. As if…

Intellectually, I know there is no “as if.” My life is valid. My life is worth something. I can be happy. Easy to say. Easy to type into an unresponsive and uncriticizing computer. Yet the blocked feeling remains. The struggle remains and it only adds fuel to the fire of the nagging question. Have I wasted the last ten years of my life?

No. It took me four years to drag up the gumption to go back to the University after dropping out the first time. Those four years were not wasted. I spent an extra year trying to learn Japanese and I can barely remember a few phrases and haven’t gotten to Japan yet. That year was not wasted. I’m going to spend an extra year getting a second graduate degree. That extra year isn’t wasted. I have years of internship, years of study, and years of exams to look forward to in order to become licensed, registered, and certified. And if, at the end of all this, I decide that a career which revolves around people, around human beings, isn’t for me, then will it be wasted?

No. Despite that assurance, I’ve barely even breathed a whisper within my own mind. I tried to write it out several times, hoping that as often happens, I’ll write myself to some sort of conclusion, but I’ve always abandoned the effort. What if I’ve changed my mind? Does that make me a quitter? What if I tell all my friends and family and classmates and coworkers I don’t want to be an architect after all? I don’t want to be a planner? I don’t want to “improve the lives of human beings?” At least not that way. And what will it mean for me? Will I regret it? I cannot deny I love my work. I’ve considered alternate paths before, but they’ve always been parallel. I’ve wondered if I should try construction management, architectural engineering, or interior design, but architecture was always the most suited. And the most difficult.

No. I want to be an architect. In most ways I already consider myself one, though I’m not legally entitled to the term just yet. I think it, live it, breath it, so I figure I can call myself it, if only in my own mind. But what if I’m not suited to it? At least, what if I’m not suited to the version of what I think it is? There are plenty of architects out there who don’t give a damn for people (though they may give it lip service), plenty who are artists in search of a perfect form, or a novel expression, or technological innovation. Yet, that’s not what architecture is for me. Architecture is a tool, a means to an end. That end is improving the lives of human beings. And when it comes down to human beings, I’m really not terribly suited for dealing with them, despite all the trouble I've gone to to acquire the skill. Despite all the fake confidence.

Even I forget that sometimes. So I plan a weekend workshop, full of disparate personalities, conflict, energy, synergy, ideas, enthusiasm, inspiration, fun, and trial. But mostly full of other people. And I think somehow I’m going to be able to lead all this, to facilitate, to manage it, enjoy it, survive it.

And I do. I pull it off. I do all that and more. Yet somehow I am deeply and fundamentally unhappy. It’s been two days and I’m still moping around. I’m still “recovering.” It shouldn’t be this hard, right? Why am I making this so hard?

There is an easier way. I can see it. I can imagine it. I am even managing to live it a little bit every now and then. I could write. I could find myself a cozy little hideaway, a cabin in the woods, an old farmhouse, a tenth floor apartment in the city, a cute fixer-up in some pre-war neighborhood. I could just…write. I’ve always written. It’s only one of two I’ve always done. (Okay, three, if you count climbing trees.) I’ve filled graph paper notebooks full of building plans and hard drives full of stories. My favorite toys were Legos and, as soon as I learned to type, my computer.

I could still “improve the lives of human beings.” Couldn’t I? I know how much reading has touched my life. I could do “research,” travel, learn all sorts of things. I’ve been wondering about a scene I’ve been planning which involves rock climbing. I’ve never been rock climbing.

So instead of doing my work, going to my classes, my meetings, I just do enough to scrape by, mope around the house, and struggle. My mind is filled with “if” and “maybe.” What if I do decide to take my life in another direction? What if it doesn’t work out? What if I decide I miss architecture too much? What if I stay on this path and realize far too late that it really isn’t for me? What if I don’t get out while I’m still ahead? What if (my greatest fear, the one that almost overwhelms me) I screw up and instead of managing to help people, actually do the opposite? What if this is all just a bad case of “grass is greener?”

I’ve given myself time to think about it. It’s been a year now and these whispers haven’t subsided. I’ve been telling myself I still have time to decide. I have two more years in college. I’ve been so looking forward to these two years, to these great classes, to this final, wonderful project. I can pursue my other joys. I can write. Maybe in two years I could even get published. That would broaden my options. Maybe in two years I’ll find the confidence I’ve been looking for. Maybe I’ll just realize this is a case of pre-graduation jitters. Maybe I’ll get over it. Maybe I don’t want to.

I get so tired of this struggle. Angst isn’t my thing. I don’t even want to commit it to paper. I don’t want to give it substance, make it real. I’ve never really given much credence to catharsis. Ironically, feeling shitty makes me feel shittier because I feel like I shouldn’t feel shitty at all. This is the suffering of suffering. Maybe there is something to this whole catharsis thing, to getting it out, getting it down on paper. Or maybe I’m just letting the boogey man out of the box. After all, there’s really no decision to be made, no conclusion to come to. Not this time. I just have to let things work out as a they work out.

I can always keep telling myself soon I’ll feel better. I might. But what’s wrong with feeling the way I feel now? I guess it’s just time to stop struggling against the struggle.

I did always enjoy the most difficult path, didn’t I?

October 01, 2008

Ridiculous Me

So this morning I got up, had my coffee, showered, and dressed. I packed my bags and rolled up my jeans hems. I pulled on my coat and gloves, grabbed my helmet, and headed out the back door down the fire escape. I hopped on my bicycle and got half a block. I passed my car sitting quietly under an oak tree on the block behind my house. I was stopped by the fluorescent orange envelope under my windshield wiper. Expired registration. So I parked my bike, locked it up, snatched the envelope from the windshield and hopped in the car which hadn't been driven for at least twelve days. I drove the 53 blocks to the DMV, walked to the ATM next door, got the cash, walked back, got the stickers, put them on my plates and drove home. I parked under an oak tree on the block in front of my house. I unlocked my bicycle and headed for campus. I stopped on the way to get lunch before walking into the student union, setting down my bags, opening my laptop and my salad, in that order, so I could blog about how ridiculous life has become.

Is it just me or what?