I found my mala. It was at the bottom of my laundry basket, wrapped up in one of my shirts. I must have forgotten to remove it before I took my shirt off.
I feel both happy and relieved to have it around my neck again.
So, I'm plugging for myself again. The experiment of Castles in the Sky continues. The three books, Dharma Cowgirl, Star Watcher, and Love is Blind, all have almost two full chapters. My main characters, Mike (Michelle), Lillian, and my "Dharma Cowgirl" (that would be me) are all coming along in their various journeys. Working on this project has become a great relief from the monstrous workload which always comes with the end of semester.
Of course, I worry about my attention span. I continue to have new ideas almost constantly. Aside from the three books featured on Castles in the Sky, I have two other projects in various written stages. Lightbringer is a trilogy for which I have a major plot for three full novels, background on characters and world, and first chapter written. The Fourth Race is something which has been rattling around in my brain for over a year now. Last night I finally sat down and, over the course of an hour, wrote out a three page, full plot and character synopsis for the first book of an as yet un-numbered series. There are at least three more books/series rattling around in my head.
Lest anyone thing these are recent things, I would correct that notion. It is only recently I have begun making what has always been a very private side of my life public. The concept behind Star Watcher has been a decade in the making. It makes me question myself - why has this come up now? Is it that I have finally become comfortable with myself as a writer? Has the blog and my work for the student paper brought me the validation necessary to move forward? Is this nothing more than an ego boost?
Oh, careful there, be wary, be wary. What is ego and what is confidence? What is attention seeking behavior and what is sharing? What is healthy self questioning and what is insecure self doubt? What is pride and what is creativity?
I suppose as the stories continue, Mike, Lillian, the I will work it out together.
I have this professor. He teaches Planning Theory. From the first week of class to the fourteenth week, now, he has constantly asked the question: “Is any of this relevant in the 21st Century?” He always says it while leaning forward, speaking in an enthusiastic Indian accent, and trying to nail us all to our seats with a piercing stare. “How can we say something written as long ago as 1990 is even relevant today?” he asks.
“Well, why in the world wouldn’t it be?” I always tend to think.
It puts my hackles up, being told that the past is obsolete. I’m not even sure why, but it always has. I always think time is an artificial distinction. If whoever it was who invented the BC/AD calendar system all those years ago had pinpointed Christ’s birth just a few year differently, it might still be the 1990’s. There wouldn’t be all this to-do about the 20th and 21st Centuries. But then I suppose my professor’s question would be “Is anything written in the 1980’s relevant in 1998 when so much has changed?”
Yes, much has changed. Major changes have occurred and are continuing to occur which have a significant impact on the field of urban and regional planning. Transportation has been the most profound change of the 20th Century and now communications is touted as having the most impact on the 21st Century. Great social changes have also occurred – the creation and subsequent breakdown of the nuclear family – civil rights and desegregation – immigration and diversity – etc. etc. All of these things have great influence on patterns of settlement.
Yet, when it comes right down to it, I can’t help but think “We’re all just people. Have people really changed that much?” I am reminded of the Four Noble Truths. We all suffer. We all seek relief from suffering. That seeking unifies us. The means by which we go about seeking relief from suffering, seeking happiness for simplicity sake, may change over time.
Two hundred years ago people immigrated in great droves from Europe. They settled hodgepodge into great cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and later Chicago, New Orleans, and St. Louis. When they didn’t like what they found there, they headed west, to found homestead farms and ranches, mine the mountains, or head all the way to the far coast and try their luck there. Our modern towns form lines across the country, following first rivers and then railroads and finally interstates. The means of travel have changed, but they all still follow the same lines, more or less.
I can think of a dozen examples of how things have changed in the last twenty years by drawing on the way we lived a hundred years ago – changed for the better, at that. We are all still seeking happiness. My great-grandparent’s generation tried to find it with a little shop in the city with a cute apartment above. My grandparent’s generation looked for it in a white picket fence. My parents tried to find it in a two-income, two-car home. My generation is seeking it in the urban lofts of lively downtowns. Maybe we even get to live above a little shop like the one our great-grandparents might have had.
I see the wheel turning in all of this, cycles within cycles. “Those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it,” they say. Well, if that’s the case, then what we thought in 1990 is certainly relevant to today if for no other reason than we know what to avoid. More than that, I think the past is always relevant. Looking at the past we can see what we have always been seeking and all the ways we have been seeking it. Only when we see the vast array of things we have already tried might we come to the conclusion that perhaps, just perhaps, the problem isn’t with what we have failed to find, but that we have been seeking in the first place.
When we stop seeking “new” solutions, when we stop chasing “progress,” and trying to “create” the future, then we start to realize that all of the problems we are now facing are in fact workable. It’s not as complicated as all that. After all, people are still people. People, either individually or as a society, change. But as my architecture theory professor would say, “so what?” So things have changed since 1990; so what? Change does not automatically lead to irrelevance. They are not synonyms. Change is actually what makes the past extremely relevant. When we look at the past we can see how change happened. We cannot see future change. We can only guess
But then, guessing, is what planners (and meteorologists) do best.
Family really is an amazing thing. Parents especially. Saturday I trotted out to my car to find my front passenger-side tire flat. It was already past five o’clock. I was strapped for cash, saving my last few pennies for a project I was planning to build on Sunday at my parents’ house in Omaha using my mother’s power tools. I called my folks to lament and ask if they knew of any tire places which might be open past five on a Saturday. Sears was, as it turned out, but were too busy to be able to do anything about my flat until Monday. The conundrum was – if I fixed the flat, I could get to Omaha, but couldn’t afford the materials for the project – if I saved my money for the project, I couldn’t get to Omaha to build it, let alone transport the lumber home.
My father called me the next morning to see how I was. “So, what are you doing today?” he asked.
“I’ll probably put the donut on so I can take that tire up to get fixed first thing tomorrow. Otherwise, not much, I guess. Unless you and Mom want to come pick me up, take me to Lowe’s, pay for my stuff, let me build my project, and then take me home again?” I laughed.
“Let me talk to your mom and I’ll call you back.”
An hour later they pulled on to J Street while I was still struggling with the tire. After twenty minutes and a trip back up to my tool box, I’d finally managed to get the tire cover off. After standing on the tire iron and jumping up and down with little progress, my Dad took over getting the tire off while I fought with the jack. Fifteen minutes later, the donut was on, the flat safely stowed in my trunk, and we were on our way back to Omaha.
My mother took me to Lowe’s and didn’t complain once about the time it took me to find all my materials or the hundred bucks she shelled out for lumber and assorted hardware or that I was going to take over their garage and drag out her very impressive and expensive array of perfectly organized power tools. I filled them in on the subletting situation and when I would get my first paycheck from my new job, which wouldn’t be until after my first month’s rent was due. My Dad just stated he could move some money around and cover the rent until I could pay him back. I don’t even remember asking if he would (though I probably would have worked up my courage sooner or later due to lack of other options).
My brother, Brandon, came into town for lunch, to celebrate my new jobs. Then he and Dad ran down to pick up an absolutely monstrous new plasma television. They arrived with the television about the same time Mom and I arrived with the lumber. Brandon helped Dad clear out the basement, demolish the old entertainment center, hook up the new television, and basically made himself useful despite the fact he was missing out on picking up some extra hours at work. It was a rare day when my family worked together without cajoling or grumbling either. We always help each other out, but sometimes it takes some effort. This week, it hardly took any at all.
Families are great and amazing things. It makes me wonder what we could accomplish as a community, a world, if we could all just work together. If when someone asked for help, the question was not whether to give it, but simply how it could best be accomplished. I know that my family’s willingness to help me without guilt-trip or grumble made me happy to do the same. Happy to crawl under the kitchen sink with the jig saw and put a hole in the cabinet where my mother wanted it. (Though I did complain about the sawdust in my underwear after the fact, but I think sawdust in the underwear is always justification for a little complaining.) As I cleaned and swept the garage when I was finished, I did so with a greater diligence, attention to detail, and a much lighter heart than I might normally have been prone to.
Even flat wheels keep turning.
Everything changes. People so often fear change. I find solace in it. No matter how badly things are going - that too will change. Bad will change to good and good will change to bad. It's all transient.
The wheel turned, my karma came back around, and bad turned to good. A funeral turned into a reunion where we all had a good time.
I came back to find a teaching assistantship for the fall waiting for me. I persevered when my original rejection letter came and held out hope for the one remaining option, even going so far as to send my portfolio to the professor. My tuition, health insurance, and living expenses are taken care of, so I can focus on my studies.
I was turned down for job after job by firm after firm, so I kept looking high and low. I applied somewhere I normally might not have looked, the Rocky Mountain Institute in Boulder. I interviewed on Wednesday and this morning they offered me the job. I jumped up and down. My studio-mates said I was "glowing." I get a good paycheck and a housing allowance suitable to high-rent Boulder. And I get to spend the entire summer close to some dear friends while helping to write a book on how buildings impact climate change.
My studio professor unexpectedly changed the final review date for our project from Friday to the following Monday, the day I was supposed to fly out to visit my thesis clients in Wisconsin. The airline website tried to charge me $100 dollars to change the booking. I called the toll free line and asked them to simply not do that and low and behold they said okay.
The wheel keeps turning. Next week I'll be stressed about something else. And then something good will happen to cheer me up. So on and so forth.
Whoever said change was bad must live in a very boring world.
Family is a many wondered thing. Five generations of mine descended on the small towns of Chadron and Hay Springs, Nebraska, on Monday. A lady named Rachel Peterson had five children, one of which was Delmira, who had four children, one of which was Dayle, who had two children, one of which was me. She was my mother’s mother’s mother and she passed away at the age of ninety-six. She was ready to go, just waiting for God to take her home, or so she had told us a few weeks ago. She seemed delighted by the prospect.
It was not a sad occasion. The five branches of her family, along with numerous of her nieces and nephews and their descendants, easily filled the United Methodist Church of Hay Springs to overflowing. Then her friends began to arrive and chairs were brought in to the back. The visitation at the funeral home the eve before the service was full of laughter and shared memories. Gold toe socks. A person knew when they were considered an adult when Grandma Pete sent them gold toe socks for Christmas. They were treasured gifts we all looked forward to, far more than ordinary socks should merit.
Even those of us who had never met already knew each other. Grandma wrote wonderful letters, tying together the far-flung branches of her tree. She knew where everyone of her over fifty descendants was living, what they were doing, and who they were married to. She greatly loved her five great-great-grandbabies, the eldest of whom is seven and the youngest just turned one.
My great-aunts, Vonnie and Neva are a hoot, always up to something and causing trouble. Their children are no different. Great-uncle Bud somehow managed to raise three perfect gentlemen, all of whom work in the family business – providing equipment for poultry processing plants. My own branch of the family is down to earth and companionable. Everyone was interested in what everyone else was doing, where they were in their lives, their careers. We shared and laughed and teased.
I would walk out across the grass and just look upon the rolling expanse of the Sand Hills. When I was in San Francisco, I looked out across the ocean and saw this vast, unending, unconquerable thing. Now, looking toward the horizon, I saw the root of that feeling and remembered the first time I had felt it was in this place.
The voices behind me would fade away, replaced by the whippoorwill, the crunch of dry grass beneath my boots, and the ever present sound of the wind. The wind never stops blowing. The grass never stops flowing, like a rippling sea. I drowns out everything, even thought, and leave blessed silence.
Snow still lay in the southern lee of the dunes, pushed there by the wind. Two days before, a late spring storm had dropped a foot or more on these hills. It will be counted a blessing as the grass turns swiftly green. The sun shown bright and warm, not even calling for a jacket even with the wind. I stopped my walk at the barbed wire fence. I could easily have stepped over it and continued. I could simply keep walking, pushed by the swift sound wind. In time, I might even reach Canada. Instead I stopped, and looked out across the hills, counting three windmills turning in the wind, pulling up water for cattle who appeared as tiny black dots upon the burnished hills.
I listened to the whippoorwill and after a time, I turned around and headed back towards the ramshackle collection of buildings which made up my Great-Aunt Vonnie’s homestead. I heard the voices of my family, where they gathered around the bear cooler in the barn, and on the front porch, and leaning against the back of their cars.
“What did you find out there?” Vonnie asked me.
“Whippoorwill,” I told her. That was not all I had found, but it was enough.
She smiled Great-Grandma’s smile. “Yeah, they’re good.”
I think she was speaking about more than just the bird.
Subhuti asked the Buddha: “What should one who wants to travel the Bodhisattva path keep in mind?”
The Buddha answered, “A Bodhisattva should keep this in mind: All creatures, whether they are born from the womb or hatched from the egg, whether they transform like butterflies or arise miraculously, whether they have a body or are purely spirits, whether they are capable of thought or not capable of thought: All of these I vow to help enter nirvana before I rest there myself!"
During the game Lighting Fill In The Blank on NPR’s weekly news mockery show “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” the host Peter Sagle stumped guest comedian Tom Bodette with the following question:
Peter Sagle: “A British Star Wars fan who calls himself Jedi Master Jon Ba’hehole was attacked in his own backyard by a blank?”
Tom Bodette: “A storm trooper.”
PS: “Close. A guy dressed as Dark Vader.”
TB: “Well, no, I think I get a ding [point], he’s actually a storm trooper, uber storm trooper. Close, he’s got the helmet….”Laughter dwindles into silence.
In a serious tone, PS: “Darth Vader is a fallen Jedi. Where storm troopers are clones. And It’s – Just – Not – The – Same. Moving on…”
It’s good to know that the people at NPR understand what’s truly important.
I pedalled home late last night, breathing in the crisp dark air. An idea came to me. It wasn't a Eureka! It was just a hmmm...I wonder if? I passed O Street. How would I set that up? I passed N Street. I'd have to have a payment option. I passed M Street. I wonder how much that would cost? I passed L Street, headlights flashed. Would people really care? I turned onto K street, signaling my turn to an empty street. If it didn't cost me much, I could do it. I flowed slowly past the gleaming night-lit tower of stone, the buffalo watching me stoicly from their carved resting places. Yes, I just might be able to. I turned onto 16th Street. I'm practically doing it anyway. I pulled up the driveway to home. Yes, I'll try!
Either it's the most brilliant idea I've ever had or the most hair brained scheme yet, but either way it shoud be fun!
Ok, so, it’s not a great day. In fact, it’s kinda lousy. I rarely admit that, even to myself. So often it sounds like whining – insignificant compared to the trauma seem all around the world every day. Oh well, it’s still kind lousy.
So I got turned down for a Teaching Assistantship this coming fall. That’s a big blow. Being a TA is the best job I’ve had since starting college. It’s the only one which actually pays me enough to live on. I’ve got one last shot. They are still looking for a Visual Literacy TA for the UNO class, which means driving to Omaha three days a week. (Lots of gas and miles on a rundown car, but the professor lives in Lincoln too, so there may be carpooling opportunities.) I emailed the professor, and now sit with fingers crossed. The fact that I never actually took Viz Lit may work against me, but hey, I’m TAing right now for three classes I’ve never taken, so who knows?
The summer job boards are looking more and more grim. It’s raining and dreary outside. My studio project is barely stumbling along. But the worse thing is I’ve lost my mala.
I’ve lost the mala I’ve worn every day since getting it over two years ago. I’ve lost the simple rosewood mala with the yellow tassle I bought for myself at Shambhala Mountain Center with the money I’d saved particularly for that purpose. I’ve searched my home, all the usual places. I cleaned this weekend – just another reason why that was a bad idea – but I can’t imagine I would have moved it from the places I usually set it, on my dresser or on the coffee table. I looked under furniture and couch cushions, books, papers, laundry, bedding, everywhere. I keep reassuring myself it will turn up. I never take it off anywhere beside home. I keep reaching for it, but it’s not there around my neck, laying hard against my sternum today.
Is it not the end of irony that I’ve lost that thing which is supposed to remind me to be mindful and that I’m so attached to that things which is supposed to prompt me to be non-attached?
This is my latest attempt at op ed writing, from Tuesday. Today the staff editorial was on the poor placement of the bike lanes on 14th & 11th, hopes that the newly proposed bike lanes on M and N, and a thought for bike racks on the busses. Yahoo.
So time passes. I’m practicing waiting, non-grasping, non-attachment to possible future outcomes. I think I’m getting better at this. At this same time last year I was starting to panic. But is it really equanimity or just resignation? Is it patience or apathy?
I had thirteen interviews during the Thursday, Friday, Monday, Tuesday of the College of Architecture Job fair at the end of February. On Tuesday, I had six interviews in a two hour period. I dressed up. I wore a bra. And skirts. And suits. And makeup, and my glasses because at my very first interview my makeup irritated my eyes and I had to turn around and take my contact out – in the middle of the interview. I smiled and shook hands and made small talk. I sold myself (or tried to anyway) and made sure every company knew how wonderful I thought they were and how I would love to work for them and yes, I like to see knew places, so I’d love to spend the summer in Atlanta.
I sent follow up emails thanking them for seeing me and here is my portfolio again and please feel free to ask for references. I’ve applied to other firms, near and far, both paper mailing and emailing my portfolio. So far, I’ve six rejections, one wait and see, and at least a dozen no answers. The only salve is the fact that several of the firms which came to our fair have ended up not hiring anyway. The economic downturn has finally climbed back up the change and even MBH, a huge California based firm who was planning to hire 6-10 interns, has cut out all summer staff possibilities. I don’t know of anyone who was looking for a summer job who actually found one. A few who had internships last summer have been retained, but that is all.
So now I’m on plan B and coming up empty. I really don’t want to supervise cricket mating in the entomology labs. I have absolutely no patience for hordes of screaming children, so that rules out summer camp. Personal tutoring for the SAT, ACT, or GRE might be a possibility, but it’s not full time. I can’t afford another summer in Colorado at the mountain center. I’m seriously considering sending one of the dozen or so novel synopsis I have sitting around to a publisher and begging them to pay me to finish it. That would be the perfect summer alternative. But I’m not getting my hopes up.
Still, I’m not too worried yet, just mildly disappointed. So I’ll keep looking. I have a feeling things will work out. They generally do.
Oh, and I’ve finally started sitting again.