April 27, 2010

DN Column - West Haymarket Arena

This is a local, Lincoln, Nebraska, issue, but still pertinent. Most of my sources came from the Journal Star, the local paper. The rest I just made up. Um, wait, no. I applied my education and expertise as a planner. Yeah, that's it!

Planned Haymarket arena’s benefits outweigh possible faults


April 23, 2010


It was not equanimity that kept my tongue between my teeth at my thesis committee meeting on Thursday. No, it was pure dissociative self-preservation. They took a good half hour dithering amongst themselves before they invited me in. While waiting, I tried to meditate, but after a few minutes thought “screw that,” and went to get something to work on. When they finally called me in, I sat quietly while they offered their opinions. It must have surprised them, because they kept looking at me as though expecting a response. When they finally ran down, I only wanted to know one thing:

“Do you want me to make these revisions and graduate in August?”

They dithered some more. They kicked me out and came up with a schedule. If I’d been in the room, I could have told them not to bother. When I was allowed back in, they went through this schedule that, so far as I can tell, had no basis in reality and then asked me what I thought.

“If you want me to make the revisions, I’ll have to graduate in August.”

More dithering. A few half-hearted recriminations I quickly sought to diffuse. Then and there they served no purpose.

“At this point, I’m not invested in the outcome,” I told them. “I just want to know if you want me to make the revisions and graduate in August?” I tried to lighten the mood.

Yes, they finally agreed. So be it. We parted with an appointment in a little over a week to discuss the schedule.

Yet as the day wore on and continues into today, I must admit to myself: I am angry. Specifically, I am angry with them. Normally, I am angry at situations, frustrated with circumstances in the knowledge I have contributed to them as much as anyone else. But this time, I’m just angry at them for failing me.

“It’s their fault for not ensuring you were on track and understood their expectations,” another faculty member confirmed. I don’t know if this validation helps or hurts.

In the end, it came down to a complete lack of communication from my committee regarding their expectations for the final thesis book.

“Normally we get these four weeks in advance,” they stated.

“Four weeks!? I don’t recall ever reading or being told that.”

“Well, it’s in the information packet.”

I checked. I found no reference to this deadline in any of the information I have or any of the pamphlets and memos kept in the office. I sought to lay down the facts – I didn’t know, it doesn’t matter how, and we need to move forward. When in truth I wanted to demand: “So why didn’t you mention this four weeks ago when you oh-so-obviously did not receive a draft to review or any of the every-single-days you’ve seen me in between now and then? How hard would it have been two months ago to say ‘Oh, Monica, you know we need your book draft four weeks in advance, right?’” That could have saved us this most recent drama.

But there was no communication regarding such deadlines. Likewise there was no communication regarding their expectations for the final product. Early on I looked at the two books of the graduates from the year before and mine is comparable.

“Did you really think two days was long enough for us to review the final document?” they asked.

“Well, considering everything in it, with the exception of four or five pages, is all documents you should have already read, images you should have already seen, and in some cases have had months or years to comment on - Yes. That’s really not a good question, because if I didn’t think it was okay, I wouldn’t have done it.”

In the end they determined my thesis narrative was not developed to their satisfaction. I fear even after another several weeks work, it will not be, because my definition of satisfactory is somewhat different from their definition. They have already pointed out several things they believe the document lacks that I know for a fact it contains. I am only willing to compromise so much of my own judgment on what is, essentially, my project.

Yet now I am left with this anger – an emotion I have always abhorred as useless and destructive. Worse, I feel entirely justified in my anger. I do not see this as my failure. I see it very clearly as theirs, yet I am to be punished for it and must now work to rectify the error.

I try to move beyond this frustration, let go of the past, dwell in the present, and prepare for the future. But let’s face it – I’m pissed off. I don’t feel like yelling or throwing things, but I do feel the muscles of my face constantly trying to pull down into a scowl.

I once read in a book by Gehlek Rinpoche that patience is the antidote for anger. So, I can only sit around and wait for this emotion to subside, all the while trying to ensure it doesn’t splash onto some unwitting bystander. At the moment, that seems to be an entirely unsatisfactory solution. Yet I don’t feel particularly like medicating with alcohol or chocolate or shopping or any one of the other neurotic coping mechanisms our culture commonly pursues.

Part of me wants to run away, go to the Sand Hills or the mountains. I feel like if I could just sit in the sun and listen to the wind and look out on a vista utterly devoid of human intervention for even so much as an hour, somehow, magically, things would be better. Maybe they would, or maybe not.

I took last night off, stayed in, and watched television. The thing that cheered me up the most is my cat. She’s such a funny little thing. She doesn’t care if I had a bad day. She still wants affection and lap-time and fighting. I wish I had a dog. We could have gone for a long, exhausting walk.

I think that’s the common thing. It helps to be somewhere or with something that simply doesn’t care how pissed off I am. The Sand Hills don’t care. The cat doesn’t care. And somehow that makes me feel immeasurably better. I don’t need someone or something that validates or reinforces this emotion. Attention, feeling big or important, doesn’t help. Being ignored, feeling insignificant, helps.

Which is ironic, because being ignored is precisely where this started. No one considered that as a student who’s never done this before I might not psychically know how things should be done.

I lied when I told them I wasn’t invested in the outcome. I am, but I was trying very hard not to be because I knew I couldn’t afford it. Getting into a fight then and there would have served no purpose. Just like there’s no real purpose to being angry now.

This anger is storyline I keep trying to cut, but in the end, I guess all I can do is put it down and hope it’ll fade away.

April 20, 2010

DN Column - Religious Identity at University

Thanks very much to my friend and editor Jake who took the time out of his day to put one of our chats on paper.

A Buddhist and Christian reflect on religion, the university


April 16, 2010


Her white teeth make clacking sounds against the dark wood beads of my mala. She sits squarely in front of me, purring softly, determinedly, directly between me and the computer monitor.

When I hold out my finger, she rubs her head against it, starting with her whiskers, moving up the hard bone of her cheek, around her ear, and back down her forehead and along the bridge of her nose, taking advantage of my hard fingernail. Then the other side.

When I wave my mala for her, she bats at it with a paw, then bites it gently. When I let it fall back, she sits there, paw hanging in space.

I reach out and grab the paw. She looks at my hand, affronted, and delicately tries to pull her paw away with an annoyed grump. When that doesn’t work, she applies her teeth, which always makes me laugh. She disapproves of me laughing at her indignity, and finally turns to leave.

But she is still purring.

The Long Downhill

My final design review was held Wednesday. This was not the event it is for most of my contemporaries. The other architecture thesis students held their reviews back to back over the course of two days at the beginning of the month with the majority of the faculty of architecture and many of the undergraduate and graduate students in attendance. I did not go to any of them. I was still working.

As a dual degree student, I was not held to their deadlines, though I think perhaps I should have been. But I took advantage of my standout status to spend two further weeks on my project. Those two weeks were spent in production, not design, simply making the plans, elevations, sections, maps, and models necessary to demonstrate the final design outcome.

When I pinned up it was before my committee only. I had suggested inviting other architecture faculty, but each time I mentioned it, I was met with a curious reluctance, my mentors hemming and hawing. (“Well, you can if you want to…”) In the end, only my friends Bret and Andrea came to see all my hard work and lend both moral support and a fresh take on the design. I can’t say how much I appreciate them. Among other things it proved, once again, that Bret actually is a savvy designer and expert (future) in his field, not just the lazy, cynical asshole he purports to be.

In any case, I was understandable stressed, but the review went well enough. Criticisms were technical in nature and focused mostly on small errors in my plans and sections. This caused a bit of anxiety as I don’t want to fail on a technicality, but the fact that there was little criticism of the design itself leads me to believe it was successful. The faculty retreated to the dean’s conference room to discuss while I took down my boards. Duncan emerged later to ask me to make the technical corrections to the drawings and have the book ready to be reviewed by the committee on Tuesday. My final defense is Thursday, which is also the deadline to turn in the book (and the check) for binding into a thesis. He said my presentation was well done.

So now, I still have a scary to-do list, but it seems I just might (MIGHT!) actually pull this off. The book is on page 135 already and I haven’t even begun the second section. Mind you, ninety percent is compiling what has been done these past two years, and only ten percent will be creating new material, which I will tackle on Monday. I will send it to my faculty on Tuesday, make corrections, defend and submit it on Wednesday.

I also have two essays and a term paper due for urban design, two essays and a research presentation due for professional planning practice, and a graphic presentation to finish up for an independent study from last summer which remains incomplete. The research presentation, book, and at least two essays are due next week, the rest the week after that, with the possibility of some of it being pushed back into the third week. But I feel unaccountably cheerful. I even cleaned my studio space yesterday.

Because exactly three weeks today, I’m going to walk across the stage at the Rococo Theater in downtown Lincoln twice and receive my Master in Architecture and Master in Community & Regional Planning. Scary, huh? I’m going to be a “master” of something twice over.

Before then, in two weeks, I’m flying to Burbank to visit University of the West about their Master of Divinity in Buddhist Chaplaincy program. I have spent this last month really questioning my motivation.

I was particularly concerned over the possibility that chaplaincy would be a consolation prize or simply a goal for the sake of having a goal, but my intention has crystallized in the past two stressful weeks. My relations with my faculty mentors have been particularly strained. Karen Maezan Miller wrote something over at Sunspace recently.

“We meditate because there is a six-foot flame dancing on top of our heads. It has made us mighty uncomfortable for quite some time up there. We try to pretend otherwise, but have you noticed? We have a fire on our heads! It keeps crossing the containment lines!...

“That’s how bad it has to get. If meditation is one of an array of self-improvement options you are considering, you probably won’t do it. By all means, try the ninety-minute massage first! Get the new wardrobe and the hair tint! Meditation is the option of having no other option, no higher goal, and no more righteous intention than saving your sorry ass from a living hell.”

Well, completing a thesis in the College of Architecture may not be a living hell, but there are many who will argue it is damned close. In particular, it is my interpersonal relations which became particularly strained as I constantly challenged Duncan (to his annoyance) in an effort to understand what he was advising and became frustrated with Rumiko’s flat out refusal to answer questions. I walked away in angry tears once last week (and I’m sure that conversation wasn’t fun on Rumiko’s side either), and thought there must be a more skillful way to handle such things. And I’m going to damn well figure out what it is! Suddenly chaplaincy seemed exactly the right thing to do.

The tickets were bought weeks ago, but I am looking forward to the trip now with a little less trepidation than before. I still don’t want to live in Los Angeles (shudder), but it might actually be pleasant to be warm on a regular basis. The very idea of attending a university with only two-hundred fifty students seems bizarre. The College of Architecture alone has over four-hundred enrolled students on a campus of over twenty thousand. It is downtown while UWest is suburban in one of the country’s most sprawling cities. It will be quite a change.

I am finishing out my job at the Office or Rural Health. They have promised to hire a replacement for me to train before I go. In a few short minutes I have a meeting with Dr. Nam, who has been brought in to consult, to familiarize him with the data we use for our studies. At this point I intend to finish up and polish off the literature review I’ve begun, but am unlikely to start any new projects. My last day should be May 13th.

My father has found me the coolest graduation present ever. On May 14th my folks and I are flying to Chicago for four days and a multi-building Frank Lloyd Wright tour. I can show them Millennial Park and we can all go explore Robie House and Unity Temple. I am greatly looking forward to it.

After that my summer is still a big blank spot. I’ll probably drive out and spend at least a week working at Shambhala Mountain Center. If I can find no more gainful employment, that week might turn into a summer. Dickie, who I worked for two summers ago, has assured me I am wanted. That will cover my room and board at least, so I can save my remaining pennies to move to LA in the fall, assuming my visit to UWest goes well. The financial commitment of such a long move is daunting and for that reason I hope my condo sells well this summer so I will not feel quite as guilty if I have to ask to borrow some money from my parents.

So, that is where I am. It’s spring and the sun is shining. I wore sandals for the first time yesterday. My windows are open, the grass and trees are green, and the flowers are blooming. My cat is happy to sit in the window sill and smell the rain.

It all feels like a long downhill slide, or perhaps a roller coaster with a few ups and downs, but basically moving on momentum alone for the next four weeks, and after that, who knows?

April 13, 2010

DN Column - Can Do Now

Thanks to Mark Lesser's post over at Shambhala Sunspace for coming at just the right time. This was an odd one. Didn't really know it would turn into a column when I started writing what was essentially a cathartic rant, but I know I'm not the only one feeling this way this time of year, so I hope I spun it to some benefit.

Don’t let the big list overwhelm each task


April 09, 2010


I have been wrong an infinite number of times. I will be wrong an infinite number of times in the future. Yet I will keep trying because there is nothing to try for.

The Heart Sutra sounds like gibberish. “Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form.” Bah.

But it sinks in, like lotion into skin, and disappears. That doesn’t mean it is gone.

The koans sound like riddles with no greater purpose than either to drive one mad or to make one a fool for the amusement of others. “If you meet the Buddha, kill him.” Or “Mu.”

But we keep rolling them around in our minds. Like pebbles in our shoes, they irritate us, but we are too busy to stop and shake them out. Going about our lives, we just pick up more. Our feet become resilient.

“Zen is bunk,” a child told her mother, a Zen priest, and her mother agreed. The different sects all have their different rituals, symbols, songs, and chants.

Tradition is like trying to cross the lake in a leaky boat with no oars, never realizing we are all perfectly capable of swimming. They all have maps and they can all say where they are going even though none of them have been there, never realizing they have never left that place.

There are countless lists – four truths, eightfold paths, three hallmarks, three refuges, one-hundred and eight delusions, five precepts. As if the world can be broken down into such neat little categories.

Each book in the library may talk about many things and many books may talk about the same thing, but if there were no catalog, we would not know.

Our mind is a monkey, a horse, a rampaging elephant. Our qualities are those of tigers, lions, garudas, dragons. We are like water and waves in the ocean and we burn like fire, strike like lightning, move like clouds across the sky, and shine like diamonds.

Yet we are not even “I.” No such person exists. So what then do we describe?

Life is suffering. Life is nirvana. The world is broken and it is basically good. People are ignorant and they are enlightened. All these things are taught, and by the same people, no less, within the same cannon of teachings, within even the same breath.

They are all true and they are all just words on paper with no more meaning than chicken scratches in dirt. Indeed, at least the scratches in the dirt have a purpose, to bring forth lunch for the chicken. Thus even doing the dishes may have more meaning than reading the dharma. “Wash your bowl.”

Hate cannot be cured by hate alone. Only by love does hate cease. This I believe and I believe there is profound value in reading, hearing, seeing, knowing this teaching.

Yet I disbelieve so much else, or even, do not believe it matters to believe one way or the other. God does not matter. Reincarnation does not matter. Metaphysical workings of the universe do not matter. But only because I do not believe they matter.

So the wheel turns. And I have come full circle. Again.

I could be wrong. I have been wrong an infinite number of times. I will yet be wrong an infinite number of times. And I will not keep trying because I already have everything there ever was or will be to try for.

April 08, 2010

Bad Attitude

Yesterday I didn’t feel well. I went to work in the morning and the Attic in the afternoon, but after my video conference, I copied my working files onto my portable hard drive, and set out for home. The rainy day had turned sunny and it seemed to me absurdly early after such a short day of work. As I approached home, I wondered why the state parking lot seemed so deserted. It wasn’t a government holiday, so far as I knew (but then, there are so many of them I can scarcely keep track). Then I realized it was five thirty. This is when normal people get home. I haven’t arrived home in the daylight for weeks.

My mind spirals around with thoughts of the future. One plan gone, others are on the horizon, but have many doubts. I don’t want to think about the future, but I don’t want to stay in the present either. It’s that point in the semester, that inevitable moment when I just want to go to sleep and wake up when it’s over. Every time I approach this thinking I will handle it better. Maybe I even have over the years, but right now objectivity is hard to come by. As a friend of mine said earlier today “I have a bad attitude about the whole thing right now.” I can relate.

And, as always, I ask myself “Do I really want to keep doing this?”

April 06, 2010

DN Column - Internships

There were several good articles in the New York Times recently, here, here, and here. In addition, there is the federal memorandum with the legal criteria for having an unpaid "trainee" worker and the original report from the Economic Policy Institute on the growth and dangers of unpaid internships. I found some other interesting bits of research as well, but I don't have them with me, so I can't remember at the moment, but if you're interested, just let me know.

Internships should pay, have greater opportunities