October 28, 2009

No Victory

I had a mid-term critique on Tuesday before my entire thesis committee. I also invited three other members of the architecture faculty to contribute, though Jim Potter was the only one able to attend. His critiques were right on the mark and well delivered (aka minus the scathing tone favored by some professors). The others were likewise helpful in the comments and then entire critique went quite well. That is not what troubles me.

I presented two designs. The first was a concept of my choosing which I had then articulated in the manner prescribed to me by my guiding professors. Jim presciently pointed out that the resulting schematic building was “trapped by it’s geometry,” to which I wholeheartedly agreed. I had felt trapped by the process and the result it created throughout that entire design and had struggled against it to my and my professors discomfort, even going so far as to question them “Is this process supposed to be so constraining? So linear? Is there another way to do this?” to which they responded with puzzlement or frustration.

The second design was created more or less my own way. Again I had a concept of my choosing, but I decided not to articulate it diagrammatically but rather simply hold it in the back of my mind as I laid out the building spaces. The final result was something which, while I am not nearly satisfied with it, is much more promising. When I presented it to them, I even presented it without any concept diagrams (which I have been chastised for as a big no-no in the past) simply due to technical difficulties which prevented me from printing them in time for the review. Despite this, the critiquers had no trouble understanding my concept as I explained it, showed a few very early concept sketches, and then demonstrated it within the schematic design of the buildings. That is because this concept lived in the architecture, not in some random diagram.

As a result, they unanimously preferred my second design. Their comments for affecting its improvement were very useful to me. However, I do not feel like crowing. I was right all along. I should have just done it my way from the beginning. It all rings hollow. I don’t really feel like I learned anything. I wanted to be wrong, I guess.

I think I may learn something in the result. Rumiko’s talk about hierarchy was spot on and Jim’s references to Frank Lloyd Wright will be useful inspiration. But I didn’t learn much about the process other than the way some people evidently do it doesn’t work for me.

Perhaps I am selling my professors short. Perhaps the first attempt was constrained by a less than inspiring concept rather than the process itself. I don’t really believe that though.

Although I feel more comfortable moving forward, I am disquieted by what has been left behind.

Oh, Wanting, You Sly Devil

I think I am doing a difficult thing. I think I am falling in love with Ithaca. I am applying to four PhD programs, including Cornell. I have been looking at the cities as well as the schools. Ithaca, New York, looks particularly lovely. It is small, just around thirty-thousand people, not including most of the university students, I assume. It has gorges and hills, waterfalls and lakes, trees and rolling greens. And it's only a few hours drive from many of my favorite cities and all their lovely architecture. Today I looked to see how many bookstores it had, the true measure of a healthy city.

As the results popped up on Google, I thought to myself "Uh oh, this could be trouble." What if I don't get into Cornell? What if the mentor I find best is at Berkeley? What if Penn is the one that offers finacial support? What if I visit and it's not half as lovely as I find it from a few thousand miles away?

But the truth is, I want to get in to Cornell. I want to go to Ithaca. I want to study planning and visit Namgyal Monastery and the Institute of Buddhist Studies there. I want to find a cute little apartment in an old brick building with leaky windows and burbling radiators where my cat and I can put down new roots. I want to make space in my life for another person to join me there (though who that might be is less than specific). I want to write a book, or two or three.

I've been making lots of plans, but I haven't particularly wanted any of them over the other. They all have the same ingredients, but the place is less specific.

But now I want Ithaca and that troubles me perhaps more than it should.

October 27, 2009

Uncaring Night

I peeled back the curtain that night, for some unknown reason. Even as I lay in bed and pulled the covers around me tight, I reached out one bare arm into the cold and looked out into the night. The black sky surprised me, I don’t know why. For some reason I expected it not to be black, despite the lateness of the hour. I live in the city, so even the slightest wisp of cloud taints the sky with pink city-glow. The moon casts silver light, or the starts move. But there was no moon this night and without my glasses I could not glimpse the stars. It all melded into a seamless matte black, stark contrast against the spot-lit stone of the Capitol tower.

It seemed a black more dark, metaphorically, this night than I had ever perceived before. I have always reveled in the untamable places – the mountains, the sky, the sea, the Sandhills. I have loved the uncaring nature of their beauty, that indifference that makes all my plans and schemes and fears come to naught. But tonight the dark universe seemed different – not malevolent, just apathetic.

I realized that the stone, the night, the wind really don’t care. They don’t care about our paltry attempts to tame them. They don’t care about my own anxious ambition or my gnawing doubt. They don’t care if I am a serial killer.

Always before their stoic faces were a relief from the always unraveling expectations of my day to day life. I have to be this person or that person, a student, a writer, a worker, a friend. But in the presence of the unseeing trees I had to be no one. I could be anyone and thus I could be myself.

But I could be anyone. I could be evil incarnate and the sun would rise and set, the moon and the tide would continue their dance, the mountains would shrug their mighty shoulders.

I shivered and closed the curtain and curled into my deep bed, reassured by the warm weight of my cat on the blankets. She cares. I realized then how truly special we are in all the universe – not just human beings, but dogs and cats and perhaps even the unseeing trees, for who knows what they perceive and whether or not they think slow thoughts – life, as it were. We care.

The miracle is not that the stone endures of the fusion engines still burn in the sky, but that we manage to care enough for one another that we are still here. We – are – still – here. The miracle is that we continue to care for one another, as best we can – not just the human beings, but dogs and cats and even the unseeing trees.

Those of us godless heathens like to explain the universe by saying that what exists exists because it can exist. If the laws of physics had worked out even a microt differently, if gravity or the speed of light or any of a number of variables had shaken out into a different constancy, than the stars would never have formed, nor the planets, nor life, nor us. But existence is the way it is because that was the only way it could be. Those with more faith like to say god made it so. The truth is, I believe, unknowable. After all, we weren’t there.

We are here now and that is the true miracle of existence, because gravity and light don’t care. The stars don’t care whether or not they burn or the planets whether or not they form. We care and that is beautiful.

Why we care is a question for another night.

DN Column - Innovation Campus Part Duex

More of the same. I am perhaps being more harsh than is strictly merrited, forseeing more problems than may result, but I am trying to push here. I want them to do it right and I want to provoke a response from the designers and the powers that be to walk the walk rather than just talk the talk. We'll see.

Innovation Campus plans are all show, little substance


October 25, 2009

An Anchor With Fur

My cat is my anchor. It seems strange to say that, although perhaps not so strange to we animal people. If I didn’t have her, I would have no reason to go home.

Today I bought groceries for studio, not groceries for home, but meals and snacks, a new coffee mug and a box of tissue to take up to my studio, my workspace in the Attic of Arch Hall. I have my desk there, shelves with books and my printer, a little set of plastic drawers to hold my groceries and coffee maker, and a comfy chair in the corner, turned to face out the south windows where I can prop my feet up on the radiator as I read. I don’t use it much. I’m usually at my desk. And I keep thinking I have room to lay out my feather bed, folded over into a twin, and my sleeping bag.

I wouldn’t be the only one. A kid on the other side as a full sized air mattress. Others have blankets, pillows, foam pads, and misappropriated couch cushions. I have no doubt that if Arch Hall had a shower, they would never leave. They still don’t have to go far, just to the Rec to shower. We forage for food in the few surrounding blocks and keep refrigerators, microwaves, toasters, and, of course, coffee pots close at hand.

I could live there. Or at the Daily Nebraskan in the basement of the Union. They do have a shower, and lockers, and a “fainting couch” in what was the women’s lounge back when designers felt women needed places of retreat to manage their tender sensibilities. There are several of these quiet spaces in the older buildings on campus. They are quite amusing in their foolishness. This one is particularly well suited, in a secure area, little used, and with plenty of stashable space.

But I have to go home and feed my cat. More than that, she is a demanding little creature. She needs love and attention, petting and rubbing and playing and a lap to sleep on. She is quite vocal in her discontent and finds four o’clock in the morning the idea time for voicing her grievances.

So I have to go home and spend a good half an hour cat-fishing with a piece of decorative and now much frayed rope, another half an hour actively smoothing fur and ruffing whiskers, and at least as long sitting still while she purrs in her sleep and kneads her imaginary claws into my legs.

I did the math. I have to work from nine to nine to keep up. That’s my motto for the semester: “just keep working.” I have to just keep working for nine every morning to nine every night, either at my job with rural health, in the Attic, in class, at the Daily Nebraskan, working on projects with classmates and friends, or on my thesis – mostly on my thesis. After that, I can rest. That’s eighty-four hours a week, around sixteen spend at rural health and eight or so with the DN on Sunday nights. So I spend sixty hours a week in class, doing coursework, or thesisizing.

I’m not complaining. It’s really not that bad. I have enough different things to work on that there is variety. I get to see and talk to lots of people every day. I get to watch my favorite shows via the internet while I’m drawing a section diagram or rendering a model. I take a half an hour each for lunch and dinner to goof off and take a walk or play solitaire. Otherwise, I just keep working.

But after nine I get to go home. I get to lay on my couch and watch the talking picture box and do nothing for a couple of hours before bed – except of course, pet my cat. For some reason, being able to go home and sit with her and run my hand across her smooth fur every night makes all the work seem worthwhile. Which is strange, because she doesn't care about the work or its outcomes. I like that.

It’s odd, but it makes me realize how truly little we ‘need’ to be happy. I don’t feel sorry for myself, even though the math says I should. A fellow architecture student called it “the saddest math ever” when I posted it on Facebook. He told me that from where he was sitting on the other side of the Attic. But I didn’t find it sad. It was just a “huh” moment for me.

Because at the end of the night, I get to go home and pet my cat.

Self Labelling

“So I heard something about you the other day,” Kim tells me. I had taken advantage of her unexpected presence in her office to stick my head in and ask about a class duplication.

“Oh,” I replied warily. “Good or bad?” People rarely have neutral opinions of me, if they notice me at all.

“Well, interesting. I heard you’re Buddhist.”

“Oh.” Relieved – is that all? “Well, yes, I am.”

It had come up this week in planning studio class. Of all my classmates, only Anne was an unknown quantity on the registration roles. The rest of us have all had class and worked on projects together before. She wanted to know about my thesis project and that led to the inevitable questions of why and wherefore. Andrea upped the ante by asking how I had become Buddhist. The grapevine performed its sacred and mysterious duty and so I found myself explaining the Four Noble Truths to our new department chair on the odd Sunday afternoon.

Buddhism has become part of my identity within the college. Classmates and faculty alike know I’m Buddhist. I don’t preach it from the mountaintop (we don’t have any in Nebraska) but my choice of thesis project and client was deliberate, so it comes up. Plus, it’s my baseball, my muscle car, my home built motherboard, in other words, my personal geek-dom.

Now Kim has added this little fact to my identity, that puzzle picture of me she is building in her head. And I in turn, have added this facet to my identity with her. Kim knows I’m Buddhist. She expects me to act in Buddhist ways. Of course, I don’t know what those expectations are, but it doesn’t really matter. Even if she has no expectations of “Buddhist” behavior, I do, whether I ought to or not.

Of course, it now means that bridge is crossed, with no undue effect thus far, which is also liberating. It’s a topic I can reference without fear of recrimination, however unlikely, or even the inevitable first questions. The first questions have already been asked.

I love the Four Noble Truths. When Kim asked me what I found in Buddhist that naturally resonated with me, the Buddha’s first teaching was naturally my first thought, but I never got to my second thought – egolessness, non-self, emptiness. I love the fact that “I” don’t exist. It’s hilariously ironic.

Yet even as I indentify myself and allow myself to be labeled a Buddhist (a convenient categorization for all parties involved), I reinforce that very thing that Buddhism teaches does not exist – ironic that.

October 21, 2009

Lessons in Sharing

We think sharing is something we learned in kindergarten. Yet if we do not practice it, we quickly forget. We build new habits and patterns around our own wants, needs, preferences, and we forget to ask or consider.

He likes it when I give him a goodbye kiss and a hug and say my farewells on the way out. I keep forgetting. My usual goodbye consists of telling my cat to “be good and guard the house,” which made more sense when I was saying it to my dogs, but it is now a habit nevertheless. He has to remind me with a “hey, come ‘ere,” and a hand held out. I wonder where he picked up this habit. I’m certain he doesn’t ask the guys he lives with for a kiss on the way out the door.

We’ve done things I would never do. For one night only George Wilson was in concert at the Lied Performing Arts Center. I would never go see a piano soloist on my own. I’ve never been to a performance that didn’t have a visual element. I’m a visual person; most architects are. The performance was lovely and I had a good time. Of course, he would never go visit the goats in the petting zoo, but he waited patiently while I rubbed their heads and backs and soft little noses. I like goats. He likes music.

I’m trying not to be too bossy. I still have places to go and people to see and work to do, while he’s on vacation and reveling in being lazy and making no decisions. I have a certain time and place I can be for lunch or dinner, so I try to ask, but it always comes out more like “I’m doing this and you can join me if you want,” which doesn’t sound very gracious, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

There is something about sitting on the couch holding hands that is more intimate than almost anything two people can do together. I’m trying to figure out what it is, but I may never know. He’s not good at sharing the bed, but neither am I. I like my own space and he likes all the space, especially the space I’m in. I keep nudging him back over to his side, but cuddling in the morning is nice.

He doesn’t like the Midwest. He doesn’t like how the people just roll over the landscape and shape it how they want it, without regard to nature, one endless tapestry of highways, crop rows, and strip malls. He prefers seafood to steak and doesn’t like how insular and close-minded the people can be sometimes. I don’t disagree on any particular point (except about the steak), but I like it here and I’ve had a good life in the Midwest. I suppose I could say similar things about other parts of the country, but it still makes me sad. I guess most people feel that way when they can’t share something they enjoy with someone they enjoy.

One week ago, I brought him home and introduced him to my cat. He likes my cat, which makes me happy, and he fills up my little house, which has it’s ups and downs. He cooked for me – shrimp pasta and Caesar salad with homemade dressing and lots of garlic in both. He kept looking up from my little kitchen to say I don’t have to sit there and watch him, but I was having a good time, sitting and thinking, listening to Mexican guitar and sipping whiskey. He likes to cook and moves with surety. Isis turned up her little nose at offerings of anchovies, shrimp, and brie, but she ate the pasta and the soft French bread crumbs. I guess she’s about as good at sharing as I – hit or miss.

We’re all learning.

October 13, 2009

DN Column - Food

Shame on Casey for the aweful headline. I hope that's not what the print version says.

Looking for a change in food system despite not giving a damn


October 11, 2009

Change - Maybe

I was writing an entry about the closest thing I have to a relationship, my long-distance, steady, on-and-off, friendship with benefits, when he happens to appear on Google chat. Big changes may become bigger.

He is coming to visit. We talk about it quite frequently, but I never believe he’s actually coming until he buys the tickets. A while ago I received an itinerary confirmation from Frontier airlines for an arrival in Omaha on the fourteens and a departure on the twenty-fourth. He’s going to be here for ten days. We’re going to kill each other.

Well, probably not, but we’re both used to spending a lot of our time along and being very independent, so this will be … interesting. I’ll have work and school for much of that time, so we’ll still have our own space. We’ve neither of us lived with the other (or anyone else, I think) for more than five days, and this time it’s on my turf, not his and not neutral ground. But that’s not the most interesting thing.

Last Friday we were chatting over the internet. I mentioned I was looked at PhD programs at Cornell, U Penn, U British Columbia, and CU Denver.

“Denver? That’s really close. It would be nice to have you in Denver, not that I think little old me might have anything to do with your decision.”

“Who’s to say you’ll even be in Colorado next year? You’ve been talking about leaving the mountain center. You could always come with me to Ithaca.”

“Hmmm…that’s an option.”

Uh. Okay. While it is a sincere offer on my part, I tossed it out without very little expectation. So I laid all the cards on the table and told him what my three after graduation tracks were and the five schools I’m looking at, including the Buddhist chaplaincy program at U West in Los Angeles.

“If you want to relocate sometime next summer, you’re welcome to come with me. Either as a couple or just as roommates. Ball’s in your court.”

“That’s a big ball.”

“So did I scare you off then?”

“Pfft. Hardly.”

“Well, I failed GUY 101 and all the romantic comedies say men are supposed to be freaked out by these things.”

“I’m not one for average-man type reactions.”

“Ditto. But for women.”

“I’d noticed.”

“Don’t worry about it too much. I’ll land where I land and you can make your decision then.”

We chatted for a while longer and then said goodbye. He’s always struck me as the kind of person who in the absence of a plan will do nothing. However, I’ve always thought that if he can just get out of there, he’ll land on his feet, even if that just means getting a job to tide him over until he knows what he wants to do. If he wants to use me as momentum or an anchor (and I him) while we’re both trying out something new, that’s okay by me. But that’s not the most interesting thing. Today, even as I was writing this, he popped up again on Google chat.


“Hi. How ‘er ya?”

“Off. The announced today that SMC can only afford to keep 30 year round staff. The rest are going to be let go.”

“Wow. I’m sorry. How soon will you know?”

“Eh. ‘Sokay. Probably while I’m on vacation.”

“Do you have a Plan B or is it still just sinking in? What about your family in Fort Collins?”

“I have no idea what I’ll do. But I think I’d want to get out of here. I really wish I had a car.”

I chewed on my lip and then typed fast. “Well, this is a big if and if you shoot it down I won’t be upset, but what about living in Lincoln for a while? I’m not saying you can move in with me (my place is kinda small), but I’ll help you get situated and you can use my car. Lincoln has the seventh lowest unemployment, so we’ve got jobs.”

“That’s a very generous offer and I’ve actually been thinking about it, but I’m glad you brought it up first. The thing is, I’d be in the Midwest again. But still…hmmm…”

He was raised in North Dakota, much to his displeasure, so he has a prejudice against all places Midwestern. “Lincoln is very progressive. More like Fort Collins than like other Midwest cities. You can make up your own mind when you’re here.”

“Yeah, it’s definitely something to think about.”

So. Wow. I could shortly be in a relationship (loosely defined) with someone who isn’t at least five hundred miles away. That could be good. On the other hand, I could end up being a stressed out thesis bitch for the foreseeable future, which could be bad. In other words, I really don’t know. But the offer has been made and it is sincere. We’ll just have to wait and see.

The truth is I’m uncertain and insecure. I have fantasies, both realistic or not, and I struggle to let them go. I’m worried about emotional intimacy and physical proximity and stress, on both of us. I haven’t even had a best friend in years, a person who knows “what’s up with me” and who I know just as well on a day to day basis. I’ve gotten used to that. I don’t want to invite him here with unrealistic expectations that he could or would want to fill that gap in my life. At the same time, I don’t want to be distant and stand-offish because I don’t know how to be close to anyone anymore or because I’m trying too hard to give him some space. And I don’t want to be disappointed if he decides to follow some path that doesn’t include me.

Admitting all of that – well, even that is scary. It’s easier to pass, to hide behind a detached blasé attitude. It’s the wheel. Damn you, samsara, I shake my fist at you! I want to be able to let go of my expectations and dwell in a place free from fear and uncertainty. At the same time I want to let go of the idea of letting go, of all the should, would, could scenarios, of all the “If I were better, then I would/wouldn’t…” I want to give myself permission to feel things I don’t want to feel. That’s the hardest part, I expect – feeling.

But I can deal. I can, I have, and I will continue. What happens will happen and I’ll feel what I feel. In the meantime the sun will rise and set because it doesn’t give a damn, which I always find reassuring. I can be the best person I can be, tap into that little bit of buddhanature I’ve got snuggled down somewhere deep inside, next to my heart. I can love and support and be a thesis bitch sometimes, too. Sometimes I have to write it down to make these things seem real, to remind myself of the potential I have in me – and the potential he has in him, too.

Things will change, but probably not in the ways I ever expect they would.

October 09, 2009

The Cat Returning

She was there all night

Curled tightly on my left side

Against my front or back

I rolled

She woke and squawked

Turned round and curled down again

Like a dog

Though I’d never tell her that

When I rose, she disappeared

To wherever cats disappear

In the gray minutes before dawn

But there she was again

When the food rattled into her dish

To rub against my arm

And squawk

She only has one tone

Pissed off

Even when she’s purring

I opened the door

She raced into the hall

Daring me to chase her

But I left her to her adventures

And I to my laundry

She sat in the window

Between the last two apartments

Who must live there

They never come out to investigate

The squawking

She raced back

Digging claws into orange 1970’s mistakes

Turning the corner towards home

I sit down for coffee

Feet propped up

She is there

Complaining that the lap is too small

Petting too slow


I rise again to shower


Sit to wait the minutes

Garrison Keilor reads

A poem about hitchhiking in Australia

She is there

Curled into the crevice of my lap

Chin pillowed on the back of my hand

Twitches an ear

Every time I exhale

Yellow eyes determinedly closed

I don’t know why

She likes my lap

It can’t be any softer

Or any bigger

It moves and wiggles

And leaves far too often

For her satisfaction

But I’m glad she likes it

I’m glad to have another heart

Beating in my bed

Making my home our home

I’m glad she keeps returning

October 06, 2009

DN Column - Belief

Went for a philosophical topic with this one and one I could be completely wrong about to boot!

Even reasonable beliefs are subjective


October 05, 2009

Memories of Autumn

Autumn arrive like the flip of a light switch this year. Summer had be gently clinging to the curves of September. Then the world shook itself, like a shaggy dog just waking up. Autumn is a great gray beast, with heavy lidded eyes and chill, huffing breath, and cool water dripping and puddling around its large feet, which rattle the earth and shake the leaves from the trees. It regards us all with keen disinterest, and waits until we have almost forgotten about us. Then it roars and sends scarves snapping and hats tumbling and rosebushes rattling while it chuffs a laugh at our expense.

I pulled my heavy leather coat out of my closet. It is deep maroon, almost brown, and at least twenty-five years out of date, which means it's in style again. I found it at a flee market and it fit just right. I borrowed ten dollars from my Dad to buy it and I've never paid him back.

I pulled my boots from under the rocking chair my mother bought me. They're ropers that I found at Young's Western Wear in Valentine, Nebraska, for half off last March. They're only just now beginning to be broken in, the stiff black leather loosening reluctantly. Some days I think I'm not actually breaking in my boots, but rather breaking in my feet.

I sorted through the hamper of winter clothes in my closet for my turtlenecks and sweaters and found my silk thermals again in the bottom of my underwear drawer. I even found some thigh-high knit socks, but they keep sliding down to my calves. I wonder where I stashed my garter belt? The irony of wearing a satin garter belt to hold up thick cotton socks makes me smile.

I took the ventilation fan out of my window and stuffed the cracks with foam so the old wood and glass doesn't rattle in its frame every time the wind blows. I've been checking on my pigeon chicks, hoping they're large enough to fly away so I can take out my air conditioner and clean up the window sill where they've been nesting. Some Saturday soon, I'll spend the afternoon putting plastic over my windows and shrinking it down tight with a hair dryer.

All these little preparations we go through become ritual for us now living in a culture divorced of it's traditions. We no longer have harvest festivals and canning parties and all the other little things people did together to acknowledge the sway of nature. We just have our individual habits, which are nonetheless ingrained in our psyches, but to a more dangerous degree because we're doing them all alone. They're all about us. We are no longer the community banding together to make it through another long winter. There's no sense of taking care of others. We'll just keep going to the supermarket on our own and buying bananas from the Caribbean all year round, like nothing has changed.

I like to have my mom come over and help me put the plastic up on my windows. It's silly. I don't really need the help and she has things she'd rather do, but I still like it. We usually do it on a game day Saturday and Dad comes too, but he goes to the game when I can get him tickets and to the sports bar when I can't while Mom and I putter around my little apartment. Before he goes, he'll help me move anything I need to move (for whatever reason) that was too heavy for me alone. When Mom and I get done, I make us hot chocolate and cookies and then we go down to my mom's favorite antique store, just a few blocks from my house. After a while we pick up Dad and they go home to Omaha. It's a silly tradition, but at least it's something.

When I had the house in Gretna, I used to have an apple party every fall to harvest the two apple trees and lone pear tree in my backyard. In the afternoon, we'd fill bag after bag from my all organic, totally wild, completely unpruned apple trees. We'd make pies and apple butter and cider. My coworkers would bring their kids. In the evening, we'd sear meat on my little charcoal grill, drink, talk, and inevitably devolve into giggling innuendo once the kids were gone. My dogs and cats would run around underfoot until they were petted to death, exhausted, and happy. I miss that.

This weekend I'm going to make potato soup, my one and only culinary accomplishment. I'm inviting one and all to come, make soup with me, bring their own jars and take some home. It tastes better when it's shared. I start with a roue, use real butter, whole cream and whole milk, diced potatoes with their skins still on, corn, cheese, and spice to taste with lots of pepper, sage, rosemary, and thyme. It takes hours to cook down, but it keeps in the freezer for weeks.

We need more things like this, more things to remind us how friends and family used to take care of each other in a physical sense, before we became a culture obsessed with independence and self-centered ladder-climbing. Humans are social creatures and prior to this past century we lived in groups because it was necessary for survival. We still depend on others, but those others are faceless, anonymous, unseen, unmet, and unnoticed.

I think we need to remember, and I can't think of a better time of year to do that than in the autumn, when life starts to get hard.

October 04, 2009

Giving Up

"It's the little things." People say that, but I don't think anyone really understands what it means. It's one of those aphorism that we have been repeating for so long that we don't know its origin or meaning. It is nonetheless true. After all, it stuck around for a reason.

So I'm giving up, not on the grand cosmic scale, but just one of those little things. I'm giving up cooking. For years I've bullied and guilted myself into it. "It's healthier, cheaper, better for the environment. If you learned to do it, you might actually learn to like it. Oh, come on, it's not that hard. Don't be so lazy." Blah. Blah. Blah. But you know, in all these years, it's never been anything but a headache. I enjoy cooking exactly one thing - potato soup, and that's only because I get to share it with half a dozen other people. (You never make a small batch of potato soup.) What few other things I do in the kitchen without grumbling (coffee, ramen, toast, frozen pizza) don't actually qualify as cooking, in my opinion.

Therefore, I am no longer going to struggle against my nature. I shall henceforth become a takeout queen. I am cleaning out my kitchen, tossing the already too old to use produce left over from my last attempt (which never got off the ground), clearing out my spice rack of all but the bare essentials, even ditching my bulk items (bought over a year ago and scarcely used). I am washing my dishes, scrubbing my sink and stove, and clearing my cupboards one last time. In the future, the edibles in my household shall consist of milk, cereal, yogurt, and baked goods (which I did not bake). Whatever lingering guilt I may feel about disposable containers and individual packaging will be offset by the overripe bananas, moldy bread, and rotting leftovers which in the future shall not go to waste.

I already know how to eat on a budget, and healthier than I do at home. I know that a family sized pasta order from Pizza Hut is six to eight meals for me. The day old bagel bin at Brueggar's plus a tub of cream cheese can feed me for three days. A container of fruit from the Coffee House and a mocha are enough calories and caffeine to keep me working through a late night at the paper. The yogurt, fruit, and granola parfait at Panera makes a much more healthy breakfast than my coffee only staple. The pesto cavatapi and Caesar salad at Noodles and Company are a good balance of veggies and grains and the Brueggar's spinach omelet bagel with cheese is high in protein.

I am at peace with my decision, however, I will continue to look favorably on boyfriend applicants who list cooking as one of their hobbies and I am prepared to tip generously.

October 01, 2009

THE Question

How does one deal with anxiety and confusion? I know what a Buddhist would say – “Sit more.” Yeah, like that’s going to happen. I don’t sit. I try in fits and starts, but it never sticks. Others might suggest going for a jog, working it off, taking up kickboxing. That isn’t a bad idea, but it implies there is time and money to be had. Likewise, a little sex can be great at stress relief, but again there are certain logistical issues. There are always drugs, but I don’t have a chemical imbalance in my brain (that I know of) in need of correcting and I’ve never much cared for recreational use.

And those are all excuses, things I tell myself so I can fall back into my habitual pattern, my old standby – talking to myself. Or writing to myself, which is basically the same thing. I like talking to myself. I like thinking. I like to believe and I can think my way through anything. When that fails, there’s always just the hang in there until it goes away option. In the meanwhile, I can think to pass the time. I like thinking so much that I don’t like sitting much at all. It invalidates my entire concept of self worth, or tries to. Sitting threatens my ego. Of course, it’s also damned boring, uncomfortable crossing the border into downright painful, time consuming, and of dubious value. Again with the excuses.

I know, I know. So many thousands of years of buddhas and lamas and Rinpoche and sensei’s and roshi’s can’t be wrong. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t even disagree with them. I received hours upon hours of meditation instruction. I’ve experienced the value of it for myself. I know exercise is good for me too, but I don’t do that either. Of course, I’m not obese or unhealthy. I don’t have high blood pressure or bad cholesterol or anything else that exercise might significantly impact. Sure, I’d feel better. It’d be nice to be fit and toned, capable of leaping tall bushes in a single bound, and have a nice, flat tummy. But the trade off doesn’t seem to be worth it – all that effort to marginally improve something I’m not terribly dissatisfied with in the first place.

I went to psychological services today. I filled out some forms and made an appointment for tomorrow. Drug abuse – no, sexual abuse – no, depression – no, suicidal thoughts – no, feelings of worthlessness – no, eating disorder – no, on and on down the line. Of course, I did stop and stare at the “I feel that there is something wrong with my mind” for quite some time before checking the box marked “Frequently,” but I was smiling when I did it. I really hope they aren’t overbooked, because I’d hate to take the spot of someone in more desperate need than I, but the fact that they could get me in under twenty-four hours later makes me think they have the time to help me figure some things out.

Like the stereotypical actor, I want to know “What’s my motivation?” It seems rather hypocritical to complain that I’ve got it too good. But in the end, how do you work up the motivation to put in the work to seek the end of suffering when you’ve got yourself convinced that this whole samsara thing ain’t so bad?

That’s the question, isn’t it. That is THE question. I think the answer is going to have to lie with others. Maybe I don’t have it so bad, but others do. If I am truly, genuinely sincere in my desire to alleviate the suffering of others, then I need to practice, I need to get a handle on my own mind so that I can put it to use towards their benefit. Yet right here right now the suffering of others is a distant, nebulous thing. There is nothing pressing and immediate about it. Maybe there should be.

In the books I’m reading (the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher) the characters briefly discuss that at a certain point, no one can teach you anything more and the only way to continue learning is to teach others. Now, these novels may be fiction (and good fiction) but I believe this is a true thing. I think this is why I have always liked to argue and to teach. In explaining things to others, I learn more about them myself. Of course, I'm not in a position to help others in that way yet, but I could be, and I know what the path to get there looks like.

Maybe that’s the question. I made this appointment with psychological services thinking that maybe if I talk out my career path confusion with someone else, they’ll be able to find the question, THE question I’ve been missing, the one with the obvious answer that sheds light on everything else.

Maybe THE question really is the first question – how do we become free from suffering?