April 23, 2007

Castles In The Sky

I have started another blog. This one is for my many projects, ongoing and in completion. I recently completed my semester project, an addition to Cranbrook Museum & Library originally by Eliel Saarinen. (Though my 'addition' is more of a second building, the only connection being in the sub-basement.) This descibes the concept behind the work. To see a sketch, check out Castles In The Sky.

“In all intellectual debates, both sides tend to be correct in what they affirm, and wrong in what they deny.” John Stuart Mill.

April 20, 2007

What Do You Think?

I love that blogger is free. I don't pay anything to blog and you don't pay anything to read. I can control the way my page looks, though I am perfectly happy to remain with the minimalistic template blogger provides, but I could customize it to a fair thee well.

Ever since I've started blogging, I've noted the little side bar that pops up unobtrusively in the corner when I log in. "Earn money from your blog with Google AdSense. "

I've looked into it and though Google never tells you how much you'll earn because it depends on how much their advertisers pay them to start with, I've found a number of positive reviews on the internet. Plus, I just generally like Google as a company. (They build good buildings.)

So here's the rub - it seems kinda unfair to you who might read my blog to bombard you with ads. Though it seems like I can limit it to one or two per page, and they will be relevant to my content, things you might like. I wouldn't earn any money unless someone actually clicked on an ad anyway, so they'd be easy enough to ignore. Still.....it just doesn't seem right somehow.

On the other hand, I am a poor college student and can use any penny I can get. Even if it's $10 a month, it would be welcome. I'll admit I am tempted.

What do you think?

Chess With Dogs

I have looked back over my work of the past few years with general dissatisfaction, a sense of gnawing unease, a lack of fulfillment. I have always told myself, as a salve to my sense of worth, that this was only because I had learned so much since then. This is true, but not, I think, the root.

I often say I am a ‘fixer.’ I am happiest when I have a problem to chew on. I like puzzles and complex games. After four years of study, only now is my work becoming truly satisfying. I always loved it, or I would not have lasted this long, but before I loved the idea of it, having not experienced the truth of it.

Today I went to a design charette for the new multicultural center with a group of architects from Moody Nolan and DLR Group. It started at 8:00 am and finished after 6:00 pm. At the end of the morning session, I was excited. By the middle of the afternoon I had an adrenalin high. Here, at last, was a problem I could sink my teeth into!

Input came flying from all directions. Problems previously un-contemplated were identified. Initial design directions and programmatic decisions were stood on their heads. Many factors, each influencing the other, all had to come together. Many voices had to be heard - and were. Much credit goes to the design team, who were open, positive, and energetic for the entire day. These were not theoretical abstracts, like how does one embody the concept of music in architecture. These were real problems, like how does one handle the grade change from the union’s main level to the multicultural center’s main level to the street level.

I realize now my previous projects were like playing chess with a dog. It is still chess, but no matter how you move the pieces, you are virtually guaranteed success. In such a situation, would you really play your best game?

I look back on the years I spent fencing. When I fenced with those at a higher level than myself, I fenced my best. I did better than I had any right to expect, better than my opponent often expected as well. When I fenced those below me, though I still won, I fenced poorly and was often confused and frustrated. So I always wanted to fence those who were better than myself. I wanted to ‘play with the big boys.’

As a child and a teen, I never wanted to spend time with people my own age. I always made friends with people older than myself, wiser. Occasionally people have come to believe this was because I thought of myself as their peer, their equal in skill or knowledge, or even that I thought myself better than them. I do not believe I am equal to those skilled and gifted people, only that in the challenge of their presence I may somehow become better than I am.

Only when the going gets rough, do I find it worth going.

April 16, 2007


Has anyone noticed that my writing gets worse and worse, more and more disjointed, as the semester progresses? Or is it just my dissatisfaction grows as my stress level rises?

I just want to go to sleep and wake up when they hand me my diploma.

April 14, 2007

Off the Strip

“Those practices [yoga poses] are intended to help draw together (think of the word “yoke” – it’s from the same root as “yoga”) one horse – the body – to another horse –the mind –that otherwise tend to go their separate ways, leaving us pretty disconnected, distracted, and stressed.

“In yoga practice, think about whether and how your yoga practice has affected your life off the mat. Maybe not at all? Maybe a little?” – greenfrog asked in inlimine.blogspot.com

I think I have approach yoga from two different standpoints – 1) that looks like it could be good, I think I’ll try it and 2) look at me, I’m a good little person, I’m doing yoga. However, I have not maintained any ongoing form of the practice. It never really grabbed my attention the way other physical practices have. That now makes me think about those physical practices which have impacted my life, which I have fallen in love with, for lack of a better term.

The first was fencing (yes, with a sword). I fenced for five years, even taught at one point. I still miss it terribly, but have no time for it any longer. Fencing did make me more aware of my body, but I believe any form of physical activity would have done likewise I was so unfamiliar with athletics. However, fencing does not attempt to ‘yoke’ the mind to the body, but it does enhance the ability to concentrate on the present moment.

Fencing uses a main set of movements and repetition to build muscle memory. Eventually, these movements become so ingrained that no thinking is required for their execution. It becomes a trained response, like Pavlov’s dog. When he strikes to four, I parry four and riposte. Automatic, the mind is not involved. "Don't anticipate," I always told myself, "React!" The mind is busy trying to find patterns, watch for openings, analyze movements, and define weaknesses. “Physical chess” it has been called. It is wonderful. When you’re on the strip, the breath is fast and deep, your thighs ache, the moves come so fast even you can’t follow your own hand, and your mind is squirreling around madly trying to create victory out of sweat and will – this is fencing.

It’s a sport now, also an art, but at one time it was combat, violence. At one time it was life or death. At one time there was blood involved. This is not the only combat sport I have pursued. I took a semester each of karate and judo and enjoyed both. I also love the flowing eloquent movements of Tai Chi, which is the closest I have ever come to a true connection of mind and body. I was just starting to learn Tai Chi’s sword form when I had to give it up.

In fact, the only non-combative physical practice I have pursued with any diligence is pilates. I like it because it’s hard, so hard. It makes me hurt - in that good way that tells me I’ve accomplished something worthwhile.

So the question is: do I like combat sports because I have a violent nature (even a very small one) OR do combat sports make one violent OR is it just a natural affinity to mentally and physically challenging activity? Hmmmm....

Did I earn that nickname, “Vicious,” or was it purely facetious?

April 13, 2007

Saving the World

Today, this moment, if someone asked me to describe myself with one word, it would be “ambitious.” Not wealth-and-power ambitious, but save-the-world ambition. Can I save the world?

In sangha this week, we spoke of delusion. The First Noble Truth is the Truth of Suffering. The Second Noble Truth is the Truth of the Causes of Suffering, delusion or ignorance. Delusion, or ignorance, is the veil through which we see the world, distorting reality based on our preconceived notions. It is very personal. That is where our perception of self is strongest, where our base personality is rooted, in our delusions, for it is also a delusion.

I wonder now about my approach to the dharma. Long ago I resolved to become an extrovert because I felt in a world teeming with people, extroversion would ensure both my survival and success. I wanted to understand why people do the things they do. I have studied the dharma always with the thought, “Oh, so that’s why people do that.” People, not I, but people. Of course, I am part of people, but that is a small intellectual understanding. My delusionary (is that a word?) self, fueled by ego, insists in its own independence. I am I and everyone else is people.

The Second Noble Truth is personal, it strikes out directly at ‘I,’ that greatest delusion. I can explain away the actions of others as based on delusions, but without an intimate knowledge of these delusions, I still cannot really understand why they act. My delusions, on the other hand, become all too clear the more I study the dharma. Suddenly it is not the world to be saved, but myself.

Now I realize why the Theravadan traditions emphasize enlightenment for oneself and only oneself. That is not to say I have given up, only that I have refocused. I cannot get anywhere by deluding myself into believing I am only in this to gain understanding of all humanity’s ills and joys without stopping to notice that I am part of humanity. Thus the Mahayana pledge “May I gain enlightenment for the sake of all beings and may I remain until all beings gain enlightenment.”

Of course I can.

April 04, 2007


“We can only tell the truth when we cease to identify with the part of ourselves we think we have to protect. ... I can never be straight with you if I need something from you.”

I have returned to these words again and again in the last few weeks, tumbling them about in my mind like socks in the dryer, trying to wring every bit of meaning from them. I think my vent is plugged.

In the dharma we come to understand the nature of desire and attachment, the truth of no-self, and the myth of need. I recognize that I have attachments and desires and strong habitual patterns, but intellectually I tell myself I do not have needs. I do not need these things I am attached to, these habits I have developed, even the food and drink and air I breath. I do not need these things, no matter how I desire them. I can even say I do not need other people. I do not need attention or affection.

But do I mean it? I can talk the talk but cannot walk the walk. I act in whatever way seems most acceptable to the people around me. In this, I become many people. I am different with my family than my friends than my classmates than my coworkers. I can kid myself and say this is for their benefit, but it is for myself. I want them to like me. I want to fit in. I want affection and attention. I cannot practice truth because I need these things.

It seems a silly thing sometimes. If I were to act honestly, would I harm people? Probably not because that is not my nature. Yet in reality I do no posses a ‘nature.’ People spend years searching for their identity and I admit that lately I have done the same. I am wrapped up trying to be the person I want to be, the person I think I should be. Yet that is not ‘me’ either because ‘me’ does not truly exist. There is nothing to protect, nothing to harm. No-self.

But what about the ‘self’ that exists in the minds of others? That is the crux of the matter. What I believe my identity to be is a small thing compared to what others believe I am. I can revise my identity at my will, ever changing, ever reinventing itself by each choice I make. I cannot revise the person I am in the minds of others. Which makes it all the more important because of that very lack of control. I can influence their conceptions of me, but ultimately cannot change them.

We all see the world through a set of conceptual filters were have spent our entire lives constructing, our self imposed rose colored glasses. We all believe what we see to be the truth, reality. It’s just a dream. When a person’s conception of me is as I want it to be, I protect that without ever realizing it. When a person’s conception of me is not as I would have it, I feel anger or fear. Anger at being judged unfairly, treated too harshly, maligned. Fear that the pedestal is too high.

Fear is born of a need to escape the anger of others. It is the anger of others which can so easily shatter the conception of myself, my identity. “I need me” is the greatest lie ever told because we told it to ourselves.

I need truth.