February 26, 2009

DN Column - The Great Hypnotist

I was stumbling through a really unconvincing column about how climate change is happening now, not waiting for a children and grandchildren, and we need to take our heads out of the sand and do something about it before we ruin the world (so more) blah, blah, blah. Then the President came on television and isn't he such a helpful soul? He gave me something to write about. One job down - 8,999,999 to go.

Oh, and check out the first comment. I really hope that is a joke, in which case it's a pretty damn good bit of satire. But I suspect it's not and I feel really bad for the person who holds that much hate and delusion inside. I will hold them in my heart during meditation, right next to the Westboro Baptist Church, and send them all my best karma and I hope everyone else will do the same.

Obama’s speech makes another believer

Also, read Kyle's Liberal professors don’t make left-leaning students and Sarah's Lifestyle changes reveal true friends. What a talented bunch!


February 25, 2009

Bedtime Stories

I can lay down in bed, but I know I won’t sleep. I can turn out the light and draw the heavy curtains close against the city glow, but I know I won’t sleep. I can feel the warm blankets against the bare skin of my legs and the soft, sweet-smelling hair against my neck. It is still slightly damp from washing this morning. The center of the thick braid I wore all day never dried. I can feel the small, pleasing weight curl up against my back, only faintly purring. I can close my eyes and even dream, but I know I won’t sleep.

So I simply lay still in my safe bed and dream. I dream of places never been, people never met, conversations never held, lives never saved. Never dreams that could come true. Well, rarely anyway. No, only dreams that would never be - fantastic dreams, fanciful dreams, and horrible dreams. Often dreams that don’t even include me. These are stories of lives never lived, worlds that never were.

I have held entire movies in my head, entire novels, entire trilogies. I have worked out plots night after night, some year after year, refining characters and details and emotions. Sometimes I see it as if on a television screen, sometimes as if I am running in the midst of it, sometimes only in words. Sometimes scenes start to blur, loose coherency, and I realize I am asleep. Sometimes I let it go and remain in sleep and sometimes I throw myself back into the fray, finding the best solutions in my lucid mind.

I have always done this. For as long as I can remember, which is back to the time when we lived in Trip. We moved from there when I was four, so as far as I am concerned, that is always, my entire life. I wonder if I did this in my last one too. They gave me a keyboard in eighth grade and I started writing them down. Most of them I let go. Some of them my mother kept. A few I am still working on. One or two are finished, if only in my head.

It is one of the two things I have always done, aside for breathing and eating and sleeping, of course. I have always told myself stories and I have always drawn myself buildings. Really, I think they are the same. Building is just another way of storytelling.

Sometimes, most times, this is escapism, the drawing and the telling. I want the emotional high I cannot find in my rather ordinary life. I want to escape the emotional lows I fear to feel in my ordinary life. I would like to claim I escape less now that I know what it is, but in truth, I just know what it is and that is all the further I have gotten. But sometimes, every once in a while, it is exploration, it is learning, it is understanding.

Have you ever had an imaginary conversation? I have and do. I have described modern physics to Leonardo Da Vinci and democratic government to Queen Elizabeth the First. I have told Martin Luther King Jr. that a black man was elected president of the United States and Katsumoto that Japan fought a war with America and gained a great friend. I have explained to The Doctor that he has no self, and who should understand this better than he who is currently on his tenth self, and failed to explain how the internet works to Legolas. I also told Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius that they were all idiots who managed to set architecture back fifty years at least. Trying to explain how something works, even to someone who is not really there, is a wonderful way of figuring it out for oneself.

Other times they are just stories, but stories through which greater problems can be explored. Why would someone fight? Why would someone kill or die or go to war? Is there ever a reason? How can we cure hate? What will happen when humankind moves among the stars? If we could change the world with a thought, would we? How do we deal with power? How do we deal with love? Can we forgive even the greatest of atrocities? If a person could live to be a thousand years old, would they be crazy or would they get over it?

These are the “when did time begin?” kind of questions – the “not useful for one’s edification” questions. In other words, thinking about them too much will only serve to drive one mad because there are no real answers to be found.

Oh, but it will be a fun drive – goodnight.

February 24, 2009

Open Letter to Garrison Keillor

This morning on A Writer's Almanac, you mentioned the poet Weldon Kees born in Beatrice, Nebraska, in 1914. For future reference, it is pronounced Be-A-trice, not the classic BEA-trice. I know this never would have occurred to you. That, of course, is why we like it.

For future reference.

February 22, 2009


So, well, ya see, I’ve sorta been sitting lately. Not a lot. And not every day. And yeah, I know, I don’t sit. I hate meditation. Well, yeah, maybe it ain’t that bad. I guess it’s okay. Sorta.

[Stuffs hands in pockets. Scuffs toe in the dirt. Looks down.]

See, I like didn’t want to say nothin’ ‘bout it ‘cause I don’t know if it’s gonna last. Ya know, never has before. I know I keep makin’ promises. I keep gettin’ let down. By myself. So I didn’t say nothin.’ But, ya know, it’s been a couple weeks now. It’s goin’ okay.

[Shrugs. Hands still in pockets.]

I couldn’t figure it out for a long time, ya know? I’m soooo NOT a morning person, so that whole sitting in the morning thing was soooo NEVER GONNA HAPPEN. But everybody said to make it like a habit, like brushing your teeth, like a routine. But see, I never really keep a routine. I get up, I brush my teeth, I get dressed, and I go. Fifteen tops, maybe. That’s like my whole routine. Everything else changes. I gotta go a different place, a different time every day. That changes every four months. Meetings are crazy. I always get in at a different time. Sometimes I gotta go out again. I never know when I’m gonna shower, so I couldn’t figure when I’d sit.

[Looks up. Takes hand out of pocket to rub chin.]

See, then I figured it out. There IS somethin’ I do every day. I come home. Sometimes it’s early and sometimes it’s late, but I always gotta go out somewhere. I always got meetings and classes and stuff. So, well, when I get home, I’ve been sitting, see? I just dump my bag, take off my coat, my boots, set my keys and wallet in the dish, got to the bathroom (‘cause I figure Mom’s advice about car trips applies), then go sit. New routine. And, it’s kinda nice. It’s like decompressing, detoxing my head.

[Makes eye contact. Smiles sheepishly.]

Well, sometimes it ain’t so great. Sometimes the wheels just can’t stop spinning. But other times, well, it’s like this relief, ya know? Like I don’t have to do anything, be anyone, go anywhere. I can just sorta...sit.

[Stuffs hands back in pockets. Looks down. Shift weight to one hip.]

Mostly it ain’t nothin’ much. And it’s no big deal. Nothin’ to get worked up about. Who knows how long it’ll last, ya know? Maybe a bit. That’d be nice. Maybe not. I suppose that’d be okay too. I mean, some nights, when it’s actually in the morning, I just don’t wanna bother. That’s okay. But other days it’s like, come on, how hard is it to sit for ten minutes? And sometimes my cat, she like gives me a hand by tryin’ to hack up a hairball right behind me. What can ya do? Nothin.’ Not unless she actually hacks up, an’ then ya can clean it up. So ya just sit there some more.

So, well, I guess I’ll keep sitting.

February 20, 2009

Let's Talk About Sex

Those of you who are Facebook savvy may have seen this chain posting “Twenty-five Random Facts” in which a person will post a list of things about themselves and then “tag” twenty-five other people. The tagged then have to make a similar post. This chain has been more successful than others and I have even enjoyed reading about my friends and acquaintances. When my turn came around, I posted my random facts, some of which were fairly ordinary and some of which were a bit out there, such as:

“8. If my significant other asked me to have a threesome, I would say yes as long as I personally liked the third party.”

I did not post this random fact to titillate, but I can’t say I didn’t want to shock anyone. I did. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself specifically, but I did want to shock people into reevaluating their own understanding of a subject which we discuss both far too often and far too little in this culture – sex. I don’t discuss it very often myself for two reasons: 1) I not out to titillate and 2) it doesn’t play a big role in my life. The second is not because I’m celibate by any means, but simply because I don’t place a high level of importance on it.

However, a close friend of mine who is on Facebook did read this fact and wanted to know more. This has made me reevaluate my own reasons for posting it and in so doing rethink and rearticulate my stance on the matter. These kinds of questions and challenges help me learn and understand the issues of life better. Reading this blog for a while, might give one a fairly good understanding of my ideas about romantic love and my own struggles with loneliness (one & two), and certain biological imperatives, but I’ve never actually articulated my stance on sex. I’ve been thinking about it a bit lately, partly in response to my fellow columnists at the Daily Nebraskan who have been writing frequently about the issue. I often disagree in whole in or in part, and the need to write a refutation sometimes burns within me, yet I’ve so far withheld. I didn’t want should it from the mountain top, but rather to let the fire simmer low and give it some thought. Well, here it is.

I believe that this culture/country has a fundamentally unhealthy view of sex (part and parcel of an unhealthy view of love) – a view that creates unhealthy relationships and inhibits honesty and trust. Naturally, I see it from a woman’s point of view, even if I don’t share the majority of women’s opinions on the matter. I see couples in which monogamy is placed on a golden thrown of idealism to the point that partners can’t even discuss the very thought of sexual intimacy outside of that relationship without it throwing a cloud of despair over both of them. I see women getting angry and hurt when their partner’s head turns when a hot chick in a tight skirt walks by. (And I don’t mean to generalize here, men get hurt for the same reasons and same sex couples suffer from the same problems, but let’s face it, where I live, this is the typical example.) It is as if they believe that a relationship suddenly alters lifelong habitual patterns, personalities, and biology overnight. This is a particularly destructive delusion.

It’s even played out in the media. How long did that Ross and Rachel argument (“We were on a break!”) on Friends last? Seven years? Rachel’s character reflects a flawed cultural belief that sex is the end all be all of a relationship and that one’s sexual activities are the sole basis for that relationship. She couldn’t forgive Ross for sleeping with the copy girl (admittedly a poor decision on his part) when she felt they were still in a relationship and Ross couldn’t forgive her for holding over his head something that he had done when he thought they were no longer in a relationship. Granted, I’m sure the writers dragged it out for comedic effect, but how many women completely agreed with Rachel and how many men secretly sympathized with Ross even though they would never admit it to their girlfriends? This repression is unhealthy.

I believe sex can and does serve three purposes: 1) procreation, 2) a powerful expression of intimacy, and 3) a recreational activity. With modern technology, we can forego number one, but two and three remain and exist simultaneously. Calling sex a recreational activity makes it sound casual, but I tend to believe it is anything but. I wouldn’t go skydiving with just anyone. It’s a somewhat risky behavior with inherent trust issues that must be addressed. I wouldn’t agree to take a cross-country road trip with just anyone. Such proximity leads to a high degree of intimacy, vulnerability, and honesty that I may not be comfortably sharing with certain individuals. On the other hand, I don’t think sex means anything (or implies anything about one’s relationship status) beyond the activity itself.

So if my significant other asked me to have a threesome, I wouldn’t do it simply because he/she wanted me to. To be honest, I might be the one suggesting the threesome, or it could be the other party. My decision would depend on the third party. Is this someone I genuinely like and would like to explore a deeper level of intimacy with? And is this someone with whom I believe sex would be fun? The other half of that equation is why someone may be suggesting the activity. Is it because they are interested in one person and see this as their only way to explore that with them? I think all three parties need to be interested in each other equally with no hidden agendas, before I would consider it. In the end, the most important factor is honesty. Being open to a frank discussion and complete understanding would be very important.

I think a lot of partners get talked into this kind of activity when they are not truly comfortable with it. They think that if they don’t agree, their partner may cheat. They see this as an alternative and after the fact end up regretting it.

A large segment of society has begun to believe that you don’t have to marry everyone you have sex with, but we still secretly hold the ideal that we should at least want to marry this person. People think there is no point in exploring a relationship that couldn’t “go all the way.” (For another Friends analogy, think of Pheobe’s relationship in Season 10. I always wanted to smack her for breaking up with him just because he didn’t want to get officially married.) I hold the opposite opinion. I believe having relationships, regardless of sex, with people we know or suspect we aren’t going to spend the rest of our lives with can be very beneficial. Humans are social creates and benefit enormously from intimate relationships. These relationships help us learn about others and about ourselves, as we all work together to mature into better human beings. Nor do these relationships necessarily have to be romantic in nature. Friendship is very important. I am also a strong believer in friends with benefits and I absolutely disprove the Harry Met Sally stereotype of male-female partnerships, as do many other people I know.

I also believe that people have to be open to a little heartbreak in all of their relationships. People aren’t perfect and in any relationship, be it romantic or friendship or even professional, feelings will get bruised and we’ll all be a little heartbroken. That’s an important learning opportunity and can help cultivate wisdom, compassion, and kindness. When we place our relationships on a pedestal – believing the perfect partner is someone who would never hurt us – we set ourselves up for a fall. Sex only complicates the matter when we add it to the list of unrealistic expectations.

I know that in my partners, I value honesty, kindness, and willingness above all things. I want them to want to be in a relationship with me. I want them to be a kind and genuine person, not only to me, but to others – someone who is willing to help, lend a strong arm or a sympathetic shoulder. And I want them to be honest. That includes honesty about sex and their own sexual desires. If they feel sexually attracted to someone other than me, I don’t want them to feel they have to hide that. (And I would never feel personally insulted if they thought Porche di Rossi was hot.) If they feel a strong urge to act on that attraction, I want to know so we can work with it as partners. I don’t want to be kept out of the loop or find myself stunned by an unexpected confession of unfaithfulness someday. All that being said, it’s not that I would not expect monogamy, but that’s a mutual decision, it can’t be enforced one-sidedly. I’m not willing to sacrifice honesty for it, or for the illusion of it.

For all my liberal ideas on sex (friends with benefits, comprehensive sex education in schools, free or subsidized birth control, legalized prostitution, ménage et trios, homosexuality, etc.) I’m very discriminating and quite choosy. I prefer partners I’ve known for a good period of time, months if not years, am already good friends with, have an understanding of their own views on relationships and sex, and know that I can have a frank discussion with regarding such things as well as safety measures and health issues. That tends to significantly narrow the pool, but leads to qualitatively better relationships.

In the end, I recognize the risks of sex, not just health wise, but also from a Buddhist perspective. David Loy wrote a wonder summary of it in his book Money Sex War Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution. He writes:

“Obviously sexual desire is a good example – the ‘best’ example? – of tanha, ‘craving,’ which according to the four ennobling truths is the cause of dukkha [suffering]….If craving is the cause of dukkha, however, isn’t sexual desire incompatible with the deep serenity of nirvana?

“Sexual intimacy is a source of pleasure and gratification, and a very nice one it can be; it can also help create and sustain deeper, more meaningful relationships. Nevertheless, the sex drive is basically biological. Sex is an appetite. We do not use our sexual organs; they use us. That is why there is ultimately something delusive about the myths of romantic love and sexual fulfillment. Sex is nature’s way, and marriage is society’s way, to reproduce the species. Genuine happiness – that is, the end of dukkha – for any of the parties involved has little if anything to do with it.

“…We should recognize the uncomfortable truth that sex and romance cannot provide the long-term fulfillment – the end of dukkha – that we usually hope for from them. Sex is always nature’s trick, and romance an emotional gloss on it. We anticipate that our partner will somehow make us feel complete, but that never happens, because no one else can ever do that for us.”

Because our sexual desire is so very basic and so very strong, it can be dangerous in a sense, and lead to unskillful action which can bring suffering to ourselves and others. This makes and honest and frank understanding of sex and relationships even more important.

My stance on sex in a nutshell is like my stance on life in general: have fun, but don’t expect too much from it.

February 19, 2009

DN Staff Ed & Column - Because Panties Are Forever

I felt I went a bit out on a limb for this one. Gender issues always get plenty of feedback, especially when you mix them with the evolution/creation debate. We'll see.

Culture needs to evolve past violence

Modern worldwide protest makes difference


February 17, 2009

How Do You Love a Self that Doesn't Exist?

My past is coming back to haunt me, or, at least, Facebook stalk me. Recently, several of my old high school classmates have friended me on Facebook. Not wanting to be rude, I returned the friending. It's somewhat surreal considering I never stayed in touch with any of them after high school. I don't really know why they'd want to be friends with me, Facebook or otherwise. We all went our separate ways. Well, I did anyway. As far as I can tell, most of them are still in touch. They're getting married, getting divorced, having babies. Most of them are still in the same small town we went to high school in, or they've moved ten miles down the road to the big city of Omaha.

One of them caught me on chat the other night. "Married? Children?" she asked. "Nope and nope," I answered, then promptly turned the conversation to something I knew she'd be able to keep up on her own, her five year old son. Parents do seem to like to talk about their kids. I get it. I like to talk about my pets. I figure I'll be completely incorrigible if I ever do have a kid. When she wound down on her little boy, she asked where I was and what I was doing. You would have thought grad school was synonymous with the federal penitentiary (which I sometimes wonder about, myself). She then had to let me know which of our former posse were married, getting married, or having/had kids.

So here's the questions: Am I sublimating to think she (all of them really) would judge me a failure for my lack of a husband (ex or otherwise) or kid to my name? Is it her, society a large, or just me? And please what can I do to get rid of this niggling sense of superiority for actually doing something with my life? It's the kind of feeling I don't even want to admit to having - that completely unbalanced, ego-centric, prejudiced, false, absolutely undeniable sense of superiority that simultaneously makes me feel about has worthy of the stuff my cat leaves behind in her litter box. Sometimes I marvel at the ability for contradiction that can be found in the human nature. It gives us irony, satire, idealism and realism together, but sometimes, apparently, it just kicks our ass.

I'm scowling at my computer right now like it's a suspect sitting across the dimly-lit, metal table from me in some top-rated cop drama and if I just look at it dirty enough it will spit out the answers. Like it's some miscreant kid who will admit it was all a joke, a put on, and absolve me of my sins. Not bloody likely.

Oh, let it go, Monica, just let it go. I scrub my face with my hands. Enough with the storyline. No more thinking of all the ways you're better than them or all the ways you've failed as a woman. But that doesn't make those feelings go away. That's just denial, right? But if I think about, it buy into the storyline, right?

Present moment, present moment. No self, no self. In the present moment I'm not a failure or a success. There is no self to be a failure, no self to be a success. Oh, hey, "I Need Your Love So Bad" (B.B. King & Sheryl Crow), I love this song - and I do need my love so bad. No success, no failure, no self. Just love, maybe? Nothing to love, nothing not to love.

Can love just be without subject or object?

February 16, 2009

DN Staff Ed - Free Love Only 9-5

And check out Jake and Luke's columns, both on the dimensions of love.

Be prepared for safer sex


February 15, 2009

Dharma Cowgirl - Ch 2: Being Nebraska - My Suburban Hell

“Can we move to a farm?” I asked my mother for probably the hundredth time, leaning forward to stick my little blonde head between the front seats. “And have horses?”

“We’ll see,” she responded.

We were on our way to look at a house. After having spent the last year in a sprawling apartment complex in the middle of Papillion, a small city attached to the south side of Omaha, the cornfields on either side of the two lane highway looked promising.

“Are we going to look at a farm?” I persisted. All my cousins lived on farms. They had horses. I desperately wanted to live on a farm and have horses. At that time, I didn’t make any connection between a farm as a place to live and a farm as a business.

“Sort of. It’s not in the city,” Mom said.

That was enough to make my six-year-old self more than a little excited. Even then, I liked going to see new places, exploring new buildings. The realtor lady wore fancy suites and had a talking car that told us to buckle our seat belts, like Kit, the car on Night Rider, me and my brother’s favorite television show. This was an adventure, something new.

The suburb we ended up in was just like every other suburb - split level houses painted dull beige on long, isolating blocks, with small trees planted in the yards. The house we saw was marginally better. The developer had managed to leave a grove of mature birches when they had built this house and the one right beside it. The trees would be tall enough to support a tire swing. A few of the lots on our block hadn’t been built on yet (meaning they‘d make good places for games of tag and baseball), but this house was already several years old. The previous had built a sand box in the back yard and painted one of the bedrooms pink, something I loved for exactly two days.

This was Westmont, a tiny subdivision on Highway 370 about ten miles west of Papillion, ten miles east of Gretna, ten miles north of Springfield, and ten miles south of Millard, the western suburb of Omaha. In other words, smack in the middle of nowhere. It had an elementary school, a gas station, and a bar above the gas station. That was all.

I didn’t get my farm or my horses, but I did get the tire swing. Dad threw a hammer tied to the end of a rope over a tall branch the day after we moved in, and that kept Brandon and I out of their hair for the rest of the week. We had moved three times in the last two years, ever since the business up in South Dakota had folded. I figured I’d try again for a farm and horses the next time around. I figured if I was persistent, I would get to be a cowgirl, like my mom.

The next ten years would be awfully disappointing.

The Theist Lens

Micheal Powell of the New York Times needs to get out his dictionary.

"China seems inclined to tighten its grip and wait out the aging leader, insisting, a bit improbably for a government that is officially atheist, that it has the legal right to designate the Dalai Lama’s next reincarnation." - January 31, 2009.

Reincarnation not tied to theism. Just one of those little things that I find amusing when Western (read: non-Buddhist) commentators try to express opinions about Buddhist traditions. Everything is seen through a theistic lens.

I caught a bit of The King and I on television last night, in which Yule Brenner's King was singing about confusion "Buddha in Heaven show the way!" This strikes me as a very Christian thing to do, to get down on one's knees and pray for divine guidance. Maybe that's what it looked like to Westerners visiting Siam a couple centuries ago.

We never can escape our preconceived notions, huh?

February 12, 2009

You Know When....

You know you've been in college too long when...you recall a book you want from the library that you have sitting at home on your desk.

You know you've been in college too long when...your high school underclassmen start showing up in your graduate program.

You know you've been in college too long when...you don't even remember which doors the keys on your key chain marked as University property open.

You know you've been in college too long when...you know the combinations to all the combination door locks in your building.

You know you've been in college too long when...you can guess the new combinations of the combination door locks each semester without being given the new codes.

You know you've been in college too long when...the department secretary/tenured professor/program chair says "Hey, here's Monica! She'll know!" when you walk into the office.

You know you've been in college too long when...all the bartenders and waitstaff of the restaurant/grill/bar nearest to your college know you by name and order.

You know you've been in college too long when...you know the names of all the custodians, maintenance staff, computer technicians, delivery people, parking lot attendants, garbage people, landscape crew, and postal carriers who come with a hundred feet of your college...and they know you.

You know you've been in college too long when...your transcript takes ten pages.

You know you've been in college too long when...you University employment history takes ten pages.

You know you've been in college too long when...Financial Aid threatens to cut off your funding if you don't graduate soon.

You know you've been in college too long when...you've named all the campus cats...and the squirrels.

You know you've been in college too long when...you know to which professor each car in the faculty lot belongs.

You know you've been in college too long when...you've memorized the phone number of every place that delivers to campus or your apartment.

You know you've been in college too long when...you get mad at them for locking you out of the GIS lab on Christmas so they can run server maintenance.

You know you've been in college too long when...you glare menacingly at the 85,000 rabid fans walking below your studio window because they're disturbing your concentration.

You know you've been in college too long when...an hour after 85,000 rabid fans walked by below your window you lift your head up and ask "Hey, wasn't there a football game today?"

You know you've been in college too long when...you desk chair is nicer than the dean's.

You know you've been in college too long when...the only dog you could consider having is a helping dog in training because they can go everywhere with you.

You know you've been in college too long when...there are more library books in your car than your studio...and some of them have been there for years.

You know you've been in college too long when...you're on your fourth laptop...and you still have the other three...and you still use them...sometimes simultaneously.

You know you've been in college too long when...you've actually managed to kill one of those over-engineered, totally indestructible, Swiss-brand backpacks.

You know you've been in college too long when...you make the "undo" motion with your left hand (CTRL+Z on your keyboard) when you drop something in the hall.

You know you've been in college too long when...you've actually begun to rub the enamel off your laptop case where your wrists rest against it.

You know you've been in college too long when...you think cold, greasy cheese pizza and espresso is the best meal ever.

You know you've been in college too long when...you don't even read the totals on the bottom of the student loan statement anymore.

And finally, you know you've been in college too long when...no one has asked you how your thesis project is going for at least year.

Sitting Around Taking A Stand

I had begun to feel that this year’s student government was a fluff fest. We weren’t dealing with any important issues. We were passing resolutions and bills with no discussion and unanimous votes, when we even had anything to vote on at all. Turns out, as usually, they were saving all the fun stuff, for second semester.

For the past two weeks we’ve had debates that simultaneously make me encouraged and despairing. If I were a dog, my ears would be perked and flattened at the same time. I enjoy a rousing debate, perhaps too much. I sometimes wonder if it’s rather un-Buddhist of me to like to argue, a strange flaw in my otherwise mellow personality. Then someone comes up to me after senate and tells me how much they appreciated my voice and how important it is to them that I am there to debate the issue. I am always surprised. For some reason I still never expect anyone to agree with me, even after all the debates in which I’ve joined other like-minded students to argue for or against issues.

I’m encouraged to know that I’m making a difference, but also discouraged to see how many people suffer from wrong views. Oh, I try to tell myself that they just have different opinions which may be well justified and founded in different, but perfectly valid, belief systems. I tell myself we all want the same things, we just disagree on how to achieve them and that this disagreement is healthy and even necessary. But let’s face it – most of the time I just think they are plain wrong. And I despair to see how wrongheaded they are and to think that others will suffer from their small mindedness. Maybe that’s small minded of me, but it’s the truth.

So I show up, and I pay attention, use to good effect my auditory memory, and I argue. I’ve learned a thing or two in the process and I’ve gotten better at it. I write down my points now as they come up, so as to be more coherent when my turn to speak comes around. I use my two allowed speaking rounds wisely, avoiding reactionary jumping on any single person or topic. I suppose I’m something of a passive-aggressive debater. I lay in wait, lurking. I excel at the rebuttal. I’ve learned (the hard way) to avoid over the top metaphors and rhetoric (most of the time) so that no one has anything to pick apart that could distract us from the topic at hand. I’m never afraid of a controversial issue and I never weigh the likelihood of my success against the worthiness of the cause, though perhaps that is not always wise.

Of course, I’m not fearless. But I’ve noticed, I’m not the only one whose hand shakes when reaching for her placard (setting it up on end indicates a desire to speak and laying it down indicates when your turn has come around). I’ve learned to keep an eye on the faces around me and read their expressions for agreement or disagreement, approval or dismissal, confusion or boredom.

It may seem like student government couldn’t possibly debate serious issues. Sometimes we aren’t. Sometimes we go on about the merits of trays or no trays in the dining halls until I want to scream. Then we move on to a rousing debate about birth control or election day registration, and I perk right up, ready to take up my sword and shield and do glorious battle. And to those who claim these issues are too divisive for student government to take a stand on, I say nay! We didn’t get elected to sit on our butts and not take a stand, even if the vote passes or fails by a margin of one. (Of course, I didn’t get elected at all, I got appointed. And we still sit on our butts because, let’s face it, this is America, not Britain where apparently they like to stand up and shout at each other. We stay calmly seated and pretend to be polite, instead.) That’s how democracy works, or fails, for that matter. We’re not there to represent every student. We’re there to represent the majority of students. And if they don’t like it, they can vote us out.

So, after a flurry of government bills, directing our government liaison committee to lobby for or against either federal or state legislation, we get to move on to fee setting season and argue over money instead.

I’m not sure if I should be sharpening my sword or using it to pry open my mind.

DN Column - No Expectations

Subversive dharma.

Lack of expectation aids personal relationships


February 10, 2009

Excerpt from Dharma Cowgirl, Chapter Two: Being Nebraska

I leaned against the metal rail of the corral and watched my great-uncle Vernon work the bay mare. He sat his saddle like most men sit their recliners, with complete ease. He listened with every nerve in his body. He controlled the horse with the most imperceptible movement of the reins in his hands, the shift of weight in his body. He made her dance, back and forth, side to side, in a tightly controlled circle. Below the brim of the silver-grey cowboy hat, his weathered face bore no expression; he was working. Yet, that no expression was familiar to me for I had seen it on people on the cushion.

Often the mind has been compared to a horse. Saykong Mipham is particularly fond of that metaphor, being a horseman himself. Our mind is a thousand-pound animal intent on going where it wants to go and we are just along for the journey, unless we learn to master it. Well here before me was a man who had mastered the horse, in the most literal sense of the word, and in so doing, mastered his own mind as well. The bay mare was young, not long trained to the saddle. To ride a horse like that requires the mind to be still, for there is no attention to spare for wandering thoughts. The horse would know. The horse would take advantage. And the resulting bruises would be a far stronger reminder than the gentle label of “thinking” that we apply while on a cushion.

No doubt Vernon learned this at an age when children today wouldn’t be allowed to drive. Then he spent sixty or more years to cultivate it. Vernon, like all the other members of his family, was born with his cowboy boots on. He is my grandfather’s older brother. He is a rangy man, not particularly tall, though in his hat and boots was he always a long drink of water.

Later, I sat with a smattering or relatives on the shaded patio behind Vernon’s brown brick ranch house. My folks were there, along with Grandma Delmira, Cousin Ruthie and her husband Dale, and great-uncle Bob. Velma, Vernon’s wife, had gone into town with Alberta, Bob’s wife, to visit the western wear store. Bob, though shorter and rounder, was dressed identically to his brother – silver-grey cowboy hat, white cowboy-cut shirt with grey pinstripes and dull silver snaps, dark denim jeans, boots, and a belt with a large silver and gold buckle, the kind that is earned at a rodeo or competition, not bought.

Vernon came in from the barn and as I watched him walk across the perfectly trimmed lawn, I realized what I had always felt was wrong with his gate, an odd walk I had attributed to his broken hip a few years ago. He was missing the horse. He walked like a sailor just off the ship who still hadn’t found his land-legs.

“Guess I better be a host,” he grumbled in his gravel voice.

He went into the house and returned a few minutes later with a picture of ice water and stack of glasses, which he passed out. He returned to the house and this time emerged with a three-pie carrier.

Bob chuckled. “That’s Alberta’s pie carrier. We’s s’posed ta save that for supper,” he said, though he didn’t seem at all interested in complying with his wife’s instructions.

Vernon pulled his jackknife from his jeans pocket and flipped it open.

Cousin Ruthie leaned over to my mother, and in a carrying stage whisper, asked “Do we want to know where that jackknife has been?”

My mother leaned her shoulder against Ruthie’s, and in a similar whisper, replied, “Ruthie, we all know where that jackknife has been.”

Vernon cut the pie and levered each piece up with the blade of the knife. He didn’t ask who wanted any, he just laid a piece of Alberta’s pumpkin pie in each relatives hand, and set his own slice carefully down on the metal table. He wiped the blade of the jackknife on one denim-clad thigh, folded it, and slipped it back into his pocket. He then carefully removed the second pie, put the empty tin in the middle slot, the whole pie on top where it would be visible through the translucent cover, replaced the cover, and carried the pies back into the house. We all sat and quietly ate our pies and drank our ice water.

When Vernon returned, he took a seat and the visiting resumed. Misty, Vernon’s dog, an improbably small, but perfectly trained rat terrier, hopped up with Vernon and patiently waited for a piece of crust. By the time Velma and Alberta returned all evidence (there being no incriminating forks, napkins, or plates) was gone.

No one said a word about it.

February 08, 2009

Don't Let Ego Drive, Drunk or Otherwise

I’ve started a new trend. I write half a blog post, sometimes more, then I throw it away, which is quite a switch from posting almost every random thought. I do this when I realize I’m only writing to hear my own voice.

I’m not quite sure where this realization is taking me.

February 05, 2009

DN Column - Family Matters

Accept this! (Miming punch in the face.) Oh, and check out Kyle Citta's column from today. It's pretty funny.

Differences, similarities define family members


February 03, 2009

A Personality Test with Personality

I like personality tests. I find them interesting, though I take them all with a grain of salt. A close friend of mine who is really into Myers-Briggs swears I’m an INTP (Intellectual, iNtuitive, Thinking, Perceiving), which corresponds to the Architect Rational role variant on the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. I find both these descriptions to be fairly accurate, but I’m hardly a subjective judge. I figured it means I’m in the right line of work, though. Of course, there is an outside chance I'm actually an INTJ and a Mastermind, which is so pompous sounding it's silly. (Hmmm...if I am a Mastermind, maybe I should look into getting a sidekick and taking over the world.)

I once took a very extensive personality test as part of one of my positions for the university. It took me several hours to complete and in then end it said my results were too contradictory to be accurate and I should retake the test at a less stressful time in my life. I thought that was very funny.

I recently found the Advanced Personality Test on Facebook, so, of course, I took it. In one spot it asked me the accuracy of the statement “I seek out patterns in the universe.” That is misleading. I would rate it as very accurate, but I would also say that I don’t particularly expect to find any. However, in the end I thought it was fairly on the ball. I was not prepared for the snarky comments hidden in the detailed analysis. Whoever wrote this app has a good sense of humor. Just a sample:

“Low Mystical - you probably are not big on fantasy or new age material. You have a low risk of wasting money on Astrology.” – Which I don’t.

“Low Romantic - not very romantic, eh? :( for you! Researchers have found that romantic love can act like a powerful narcotic on the brain. That can't be all bad.” – Since when was narcotic addiction a good thing?

“Low Wealth - You're not rich. You're probably not even a fiscal conservative.” – I’m not even sure what a fiscal conservative is.

“Low Peter pan complex - you are very mature and probably may even be responsible. I hate you (sarcasm).” – Well, I love you anyway.

“Low Histrionic - you are not an attention whore. That's very un-American of you.” – Call me a global citizen.

“Humanitarian - you want to make the world a better place. I hope to hell you recycle.” – I do.

“Accountability - you admit when you're wrong / at fault. This is admirable unless you're just a masochist.” – I am.

“Low Extravagance - you are not into the bling-bling. Vapid attractive people might not want to sleep with you.” – Oh well.

“Low Family drive - you are against or not particularly driven to have a family. No big deal, the third world will have enough kids for everyone.” – If Angelina Jolie can collect third world babies, so can I.

“Low Cautiousness - you appear to be reckless. Until you become reasonably more cautious consider befriending someone that is, to keep you alive.” – I’ve done okay so far.

If you’re on Facebook and absolutely need a half hour break from spreadsheet world, I recommend it.

DN Staff Ed - Don't Forget the People

My first ever staff editorial. Staff eds represent the position of the newspaper. The subject and opinion are decided by the staff ed board and then one member writes the column. I'll probably get to write about one a week. It's kinda cool.

‘Too little, too late’ done to improve health center


February 02, 2009

Brothers In Arms

The sky was just beginning to lighten in the east, but was pitch black in the west. The War Room called a truce. Keith had to go home to get his two-year old son up, dressed, and off to nursery school before he himself headed to work. Bret and I went home to sleep. Jay was staying to finish laying out the boards before heading to TA the 8:30 Vis Lit class, after which Chris would take over, take the boards to the media center to print and the post office to mail. With a postage stamp, we would send out peace treaty off to the competition jurors. With any luck, they would reject our offer and we would surrender. We a little more luck, they would accept us as a finalist, send us some money, and several more week's worth of work. We hadn't decided which outcome we would prefer, though we knew which one we expected.

The custodians had settled in for a little gossip before heading off. The undergrads in The Link were still fighting with the fifth tower, whose top lay on the fourth floor balcony, ready to be placed, but not quite fitting with the three stories constructed below. The Barn was empty. The next day's buses had begun to run. My car was not the only one in the parking lot, but it did have the thickest layer of hoar frost. I turned onto my street behind the garbage men, a reminder that it is, in fact, Monday. I'm glad as a single person, I don't generate much garbage, so it won't be a problem to miss a week. The clock on my dash ticked over to 7:00 just before I pulled the key from the ignition.

I wondered if I would be able to sleep. I tried to remember my last cup of coffee. Around midnight, I think it was. I pulled the curtains closed and turned off the alarm. About two hours later I woke to very vivid, and very corny, dreams and an urge to relieve my bladder. I don't remember sleeping much after crawling back into bed, where I lay until noon.

The night wasn't as difficult as I had anticipated. The closest I had ever come to an all-nighter before was staying up until 3:00 and rising again at 6:00 to go back to work. (I still don't consider this an all-nighter since I didn't go directly from studio into crit. It doesn't count if you don't go straight to crit with your sleep deprivation intact. So my record is intact. Sort of.) It was different being surrounded by a group of people, teammates, comrades, brothers in arms, no matter how ill-mannered. The energy was different from the last late night I had, which I spent working by myself at home. It begins to explain the strange vibe that permeates studio during the end days of a project. On my own, I would never pull an all-nighter, but when it was for others, others who were willing to give just as much, it was easy.

And I don't feel bad for leaving Jay and Chris. Jay is a veteran of many all-nighters. I think that is how he prefers to work. Chris is a bartender and inveterate party boy, used to late nights and odd hours. Keith is just a work-aholic, and a dad. I can't imagine dealing with a two-year old first thing in the morning on no sleep. Me, I'm a lightweight, I called in to work today, swapped for Tuesday, which is usually a day off.

I usually don't like team projects, but these last two, the Douglas project last semester and now the ULI project with the boys. I've enjoyed these. I wonder if it was the project, the people, or maybe something else has changed. Whatever it is, it is dissolving my prejudice against teams and that is always a good thing. Maybe I'll figure it out with more precision when I'm had a little real sleep.

And on that note - goodnight.

O'Dark Thirty

It's 5:30 in the morning. The two girls are gone from the balcony. The Attic and The Stacks are quiet. The cleaning crew has changed shifts. The Barn is still lit up and the undergrads in The Link, its floor littered with construction debris, are busy with their fourth and fifth paper towers. The War Room is still inhabited, but the energy is winding down (and trash talk winding up) as each person completes their assigned tasks starts asking what else needs to be done, or waiting for their teammates to finish.

Bed before dawn might just be possible.

Situation Normal in Architecture Hall

It is 2:30 in the morning and Architecture Hall is lit up like a Christmas tree. Out in The Link, groups of undergrads are taking advantage of the multi-story atrium to construct two, three, and four story towers out of nothing other than paper and masking tape (in various coordinated colors). Two girls are studying on the third level, east, balcony. The custodians are cleaning the floors in The Gallery. The Barn is bright and cheerful with industrious freshmen. The Corral still displays the fruits of Friday's crit. The Attic is a gloomy and quiet, but for the rhythmic tapping of keyboards and clicking of mice, the faint strains of music filtering out of headsets attached to thesis students. The Stacks show sporadic movement and occasional chatter. The printer in the GIS Lab hums as it works. And in the War Room, five graduate students are plotting the subjugation of Denver by one giant, endless, big box store gone mad.

So, in other words, everything is normal.