June 28, 2009


Sometimes I fall a little bit in love with parenthood. It's not mothers or babies or families that give me that "awh" feeling deep inside the recesses of my heart that I'm barely brave enough to admit exist - it's fathers. It's the father in the park with the little boy, or one like this man writing about his little girl in the New York Times. It's my father, who I know beyond a shadow of any doubt would make a wonderful grandpa.

I'm ambivalent about motherhood. It is one of those cultural expectations which has never found it's way onto my lifetime To Do List, but remains firmly on the That Would Be Nice Under the Right Circumstances List. I have never, ever doubted that if and when I have children I will love them with all the ooey-gooey, passionate, sentimentality of any parent. Yet, I have always admitted that the possibility of children would rest strongly on whether or not my partner wanted one or two. In a way that seems odd, considering I have never been someone to change herself in life-altering ways for her significant other, and motherhood definitely constitutes a dramatic change. But when I see the fathers and children, I think to myself "I would like to give that to someone. I would like to share that with someone."

June 27, 2009

Snake and Snake Falls

We went to visit my great-uncle Lavern and great-aunt Zelda this morning in there apartment at Cherry Hills Assisted Living. They sleep in their recliners, forgoing a bed entirely. Uncle Lavern has had several strokes and his speech is slurred, but his mind is still there.

"When we moved in here, she chucked the bed out on the curb," he complained to my Dad about his wife.

"You're lucky she didn't put you on the curb."

"She woulda done, but she's too little."

"Well, anybody here woulda helped her. You better be careful."

"You know what they call him here?" Zelda chimed in. "Ornery."

Lavern just laughed.

June 26, 2009


Sunset after the storm in Valentine, Nebraska.

June 25, 2009

Another Ode to Summer

How many odes have been written to summer?
Too many, I’m certain.
The winter is the cranky old man down the street
who just won’t die.
Spring is a flirt, tentative and unsure.
Then next we know, the pools are full
of pale-skinned, loose-limbed, screaming, little monsters.
The cicadas’ screeching drone fills the air
The fireflies wink in the twilight
Every evening show (reruns anyway) is broken
by the desperate, repetitive warnings of the weather man.
The nights are cracked with thunder.
How many days have we hidden in air conditioned rooms
and written metaphors about the wall of heat
and the woolen blanket of humidity?
Too many, I’m certain.
We memorialize baseball games and bad hotdogs,
family reunions and drunk uncles,
camping trips and whatever bit who this time.
As if all the long year we have waited,
impatiently tapping our foot for green, wild summer.
And now that it is here we fling ourselves upon it
determined play as hard as we work.
At least, until we notice how damned hot it is,
and hide indoors instead.
How many of us have forgotten what summer is?
Forgotten how live without chilled beer,
hot showers in cold rooms,
movies on cable and televised sports?
Too many, I’m certain.
Summer isn’t here for our amusement.
And it doesn’t care for odes or sonnets.
Summer is doing its job, ripening the earth,
Making the dogs lazy, the squirrels fat, and the bunnies multiply,
So old man winter can take pot shots at them
with his well-oiled twenty-two.

June 24, 2009

"Come the Plague or Democrats"

This morning Garison Kielor read:

"Here our fathers stopped their westward push,
Not, God knows, for love of scenery or soil,
But because an ox gave out, an axle broke,
Or a child took with cholera or chills.
Now, their sons cross the fields like roofwalkers,
Chucking dirtclods at the crows, while in the shade
The women mutter of lost limbs and hopes.
Like a periodic curse, a drought this month
Has once more settled on the western plains,
Thickening the creeks, working into wayside barns,
And famishing the stock. On kitchen radios
One hears again the pulpit-pounding talk
And familiar promises of punishment,
That we have ourselves to blame for this,
Who lusted, craved and coveted
But if sin lingers in these washed-up towns,
It could be only pride or stubbornness:
Each spring another crop of debt is sown,
And, though agencies attach the land,
Outbuildings, crops and unborn young, still
The beak-nosed men walk head-up and proud,
Convinced, against all evidence, that what
They've planted, built or reared is theirs,
And that, come the plague or Democrats,
They will die as they have lived, that is
In their good time, just when and how they choose."

By Norman Williams, from The Unlovely Child, 1985.

Emphasis mine.

June 23, 2009

Visit With An Old Friend

I hadn’t seen Paul in two years, maybe three. I think I saw him a time or two after Marilyn’s funeral, but I’m not sure. I was reading my blog from February 2007. I found Marilyn’s death. I had written: “Paul asked me if you were ready. He was worried that you sometimes seemed ambivalent about it. I told him I thought you were ready to go, but that you just weren’t ready for your children to lose their mother. I don’t know that anyone ever is, but that in the end, you were ready. I think this reassured him, though even I can’t say for sure that I was right.”

It struck me as funny, reading it again and remembering that time, that anyone should have asked me such a question. I was twenty-six. It strikes me as odd that anyone would ask me that now. I think the older I become the more ignorant I realize I am.

Oh, I know that our relative ages didn’t have a thing to do with Paul's question. I had seen more of Marilyn in those recent weeks than Paul had, but looking back, I sometimes wonder how up front with me Marilyn was. Was she strong for me like she was for her children? I remember once, after she had been diagnosed but before she had gone to hospice, I told her not to cry. We were standing in her kitchen talking and I was getting ready to go. She started to cry and I hugged her and said “Don’t cry. Oh, don’t cry.” She sucked it up, because Marilyn was nothing if not a hard ass.

That request had been for my benefit. My dog had just passed. It had been a rough week. I didn’t want to cry anymore and I knew that if she started I would be off, too. It had nothing to do with whether or not she wanted, or needed, to cry. I was entirely selfish in that. I tried to explain later, to tell her it was okay to cry and that I would be there for her when she needed me. She got a little teary and sad from time to time, but I never did see her cry.

I dug Paul’s email out of my inbox archives and shot him a note. He comes down to Lincoln from time to time as part of a new clinic Children’s Hospital has set up. Paul is a pediatric pulmonologist attached to the University Medical Center and also sees patients of Children’s Hospital, both in Omaha. He met me downtown for a drink. I smiled as we exchanged hugs.

We talked about life, what I’m doing, what he’s doing, where his kids are now. He was driving a pretty new white Volkswagen SUV instead of his beautiful forest green Jaguar. “Broke my heart,” he told me, “but since we got the place in Colorado, I needed something that could haul stuff and handle better. A Jag doesn’t exactly handle well in the snow, especially a supercharged one.” His daughter is married and his son graduated from a university in California and has come back to go to graduate school in Omaha. He said he thought I’d run off with some guy and was living in Utah or Colorado now, which made me laugh.

We talked about death. He got a call and I took a moment to find the ladies’ room. When I returned he was still detailing the pros and cons of treatment options. When he finished, I just looked at him and said “I’m glad you do your job and I don’t.” I would like to be stronger and more compassionate than I am. I would like to actually be able to save people’s lives. And I don’t know how much of that is just “not me” and how much is me simply telling myself it’s “not me” out of fear.

“She’s gonna die,” he said. “Eleven years old and she’s gonna die.” He looked so sad.

We continued to talk, covering religion, or lack thereof, and pets and motorcycles and travel and why they put out these horrible little snack mixes in bars and why in hell do we keep eating them. It was nice to see him again. I hope he’ll look me up again next time he’s in town. And next time, I won’t let him coax me into that second drink. A second is all well and good when you’re drinking beer (Paul claims he’s a “featherweight,” but he’s also British, so I think that’s an oxymoron), but I was drinking martinis. Two in two hours (instead of my normal four or six hours) left me quite sloshed, which is not a sensation I enjoy. However, he had his lovely new SUV with the seats already down, so he gave me, and my bicycle, a lift home before heading back to Omaha.

Earlier, we had spoken about Marilyn and her death and who has spoken with whom from the old fencing club lately, which is where we had all met. “That always was a ragtag assortment, wasn’t it? It always revolved around Ian and once he was gone, well it fell apart,” he observed, taking a drink of his beer.

“As maybe it should have. I miss it though.”

“Me too.”

June 22, 2009

DN Column - Poverty

Crap! They've started putting out mugshots online. I hate my mug and it's bad enough when it's itty bitty in the paper, but now it's big and in color, not to mention several months out of day. Now I'll have to do something about it. O, Vanity, you sneaky devil!

‘New Poor’ need to buck up and face facts


June 19, 2009

Box in the Closet

I cleaned my closet today and found a box of old files. In these old files were three folders, one full of cards, pictures, photos, and drawings, and the other two full of old writing. I suppose ten to fifteen years isn’t that old, but I’m talking about high school here, which seems to be an entirely different life. I found photos of my dogs, Jordon my scruffy old man, and Bejamin that neurotic little spaz, and my Mom’s cat Spook. They were all taken in the house in Gretna from the time when my parent’s still lived there. I also found a few photos of myself fencing at the first Cornhusker State Games I attended. Then there was a stack of the little billfold portraits it was the thing to hand out to all your friends in high school just before graduation, with little personalized notes on the back. I didn’t have a lot of actual friends in high school, but by graduation day I at least had equal parts fear and respect from the student body.

“Well, I can never say class is boring with you in my class! You managed to spice up any class! It’s been fun getting to know you! Good luck with everything! –Nancy.”

“Don’t listen to what people say, you are unique and yourself and that’s all that matters. Never change. – Shawna”

“Well, we made it! We’re finally SENIORS!! It’s been great getting to know you. I admire your individuality. Never lose that quality. I wish you luck in all you do. You are a very smart girl, and I know you’re destined for greatness! Take care and keep smiling!! Your Friend, Melissa.”

“Hey smartie! I’m glad I can joke with you and you won’t take it seriously. You’re a pretty cool person. I really like your unique personality, hold on to it. I know you’ll do find in life. Just don’t forget me. –Stacie”

“It’s been great getting to know you! It is good to have someone who isn’t afraid to say what they think. I respect that! You will go far in life! I wish you the best of luck! –Ann”

“Way to go in Ac-Dec [Academic Decathlon] Sis! You are very smart and very unique! Be proud! More people should be as independent as you! Take care! Love, Katie.”

I sat and sorted through the writing. I think some of it must have been things my mother kept. Much had notes from my teachers on it. There were several cases of “Interesting!” and “Bizarre!” There were journal entries about things that were going on my life, dreams I had had, the beginnings of several novels, an eleventh grade paper about the planet Venus, criticism of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, lots of bad poetry, and a whole bunch of scenes, little excerpts of imagined things that were probably part of some kind of assigned writing exercise. I took creative writing twice, there being no other good classes in my high school. I had no idea I had saved this much.

of all the dreams I’ve dreamed thus far

they’ve been filled with visions of the stars
i dream thru alien skies to glide
yet only in my mind confide
that never will i do these things
I’ll never visit saturn’s rings
Yet i will continue to dream of space
where dreams exist of untold grace

--Stargazer’s Dream, date unknown

She wouldn’t let go, she wouldn’t. Her fingers ached from her perilous hold on the rock face. She could feel the skin being scrapped off as she slid just a little farther. Sweat dripped off her forehead and into her eyes. Janet fought panic, she couldn’t afford to panic now, not now, she told herself. She screamed again in desperation, even though she knew there was no one to hear her. She was going to die. She knew she was. Tears trickled down her cheeks, carving trails in the dirt on her cheeks. She didn’t want to die yet. Her feet scrabbled vainly beneath her, trying yet again to find some sort of toe hold. She felt herself slip a little farther and she screamed. The rock face slipped out from her fingers and she was left grasping air.

A gloved hand show out from the edge of the cliff to catch her fingers just as they let go. The scream lodged itself in her throat. Thomas looked down over the cliff at her, his mouth set in a grim like as he gripped her bleeding fingers with all his might. Janet swung her other hand up to latch onto his wrist. Thomas began slowly pulling her up over the cliff. Small rocks rained down on her. One struck her in the eye and she screamed again as she lost her grip on his hand, but Thomas didn’t let go. Slowly he moved back for the cliff edge, pulling her with him. When she could, Janet levered her leg up over the cliff edge and pushed herself up, right into Thomas’ arms. He caught her and she clung to him as she sobbed her relief.

--Creative Writing Activity #98, April 29, 1998

Sarcasm is a bandage

Once stung you rap yourself up in it
It cover the wound but doesn’t heal it
That must be done from within
It protects you from the outside world
For those unfortunate one the stings are sharp and close together
With no time for healing before another wound is rent
Until at last all one sees is the bandage
Hideous and ugly
Like a long dead Egyptian king
Like that dead king that person was too once alive to the outside world
Now she is separated by the bandage
Until the bandage become one with the flesh
Too painful to remove
A new one is applied at the tiniest prick
Or none at all
Until at last the person suffocates
To die by suffocation for those few who walk too far down that trail
Is Mercy incarnate

--Sarcasm, Journal, April 11, 1996

Black roses and white dresses

at my funeral shall be
No one weeping, no one wailing
no crying when they bury me
I want a marble headstone
With a message for all to see
A curious strange inscription
that tells all a bit of me
I wish for no one to grieve
for my spirit is now free
No dark and somber faces
at my funeral shall be

--At My Funeral Shall Be, date unknown [Note: these are not my current wishes, so if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, do me a favor and forgo the burial and tombstone and just scatter me somewhere pretty.]

misery is a blade of ice

stabbed through the heart of a man
when a friend dies, when a love flies
when a man finds himself alone

misery is pain in the core

when a woman is left alone
by those thought near, friends held dear
who stabbed her in the back

misery is befuddling fear

to a child huddled in the dark
who calls and cries, fearing night’s eyes
to parents who do not come

misery is all of these things

to a soul solitary
searching for the joy love brings
and always coming up empty

--Misery Is, date unknown

And perhaps, funniest of all, what appears to be a short journal I wrote shortly after loosing my virginity. I do not remember writing this at all and it took me a moment to even figure out what it was.

6.6.2001 - Now that I'm getting it, I realize I'm not getting it nearly enough.

6.7.2001 - Kinda gives a "To Do" list a whole new meaning, doesn't it?

6.8.2001 - It's kind of like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. Only it's not you you're rubbing and you have to keep track of your hands as well as your mouth all at the same time with trying to gauge how much he likes it. Practice makes perfect. Good think I don't mind.

6.11.2001 - It's like watching a man who's won the lottery and is dying at the same time and can't seem to decide which feeling is greater.

6.12.2001 - Truly unique: a room, one man, two of his lovers, full knowledge of each's activities with the other, no one trying to scratch another's eyes out. Truly unique.

6.13.2001 - What's 26 years here or there?

Who was that person?

June 16, 2009


I saw a pretty girl
in a red mini skirt
and thought to myself
"I wish I had the balls
to wear a skirt that way."

I don't know how
I feel about that,
except to think
that ain't it now
a damned funny world?

June 15, 2009

The Train

“Good morning.”

“Well, it’s morning.”

“I’m trying to be optimistic.”

“Never was an optimist. Always figured the light at the end of the tunnel was the train.”

“Least knowing that’s enough to keep you out of the tunnel.” Or for most people it would have been.

Something drives me out into the storm. Always has. Probably always will. I never get tired of it. I never get tired of writing about it. Tonight was no different. An hour after the sun went down, the storm crept in. I could hear it coming. Not the thunder, but the wind, and not so much the wind, but the trees. They whisper. And when the first flash of light slipped through my curtains, I slipped through the door and out into the night.

I was going to stand on the balcony and watch, as I’ve done before, but the storm was coming in from the southwest. So I walked down the stairs and around the corner of the building, then down the alley to the walk, then west along the walk to the street, and across the street and on until I stood on the south steps of the capitol, facing the wide, open boulevard of Fifteenth. It was raining. I could feel it on my cheek and see it in the beams of the spotlights shining up onto the stone tower, but I waited. The storm had not yet come.

I waited through the first spray of fat drops onto the limestone, like the temporary wash of a sprinkler. I waited until the spray became a torrent, running down my glasses and washing my vision, turning the world to Monet's night time dream. I tucked my glasses into my hand and ran for home, praying I’d make it before it decided to hail. That would be painful. I made it to the front door, then dashed around to the back, but didn’t go in. Lightning flashed, the kind that is right on top of you, lighting up your bones, washing the world in white. It doesn’t make the night into day. It makes the world into nothing, so bright it cannot be seen and all that fills your mind is the light and then the thunder that crashes after in the darkness before vision returns.

Have you ever stood in the storm? For no good reason let the rain wash down your face and soak your clothes, making your jeans and denim jacket cling to your skin, and soaking your underwear, filling up your shoes. And you wish only to be barefoot because anything is better than squelching shoes. And you watch the rain under the streetlights coming down in sheets and feel the wind from the east, pushing at your back, while the storm roles in from the west, rising before you. And the wind picks up and you start to get cold and for a moment you think you hear the train behind you and you turn to see, but only find more rain.

And you smile and think “Good morning.”

Telling Stories

What I Would Say If I Could Say Anything (on my Fulbright application)

Every building is a story. This story goes beyond dates and names and styles. That is the story every building has, but beyond that every building is itself a story, one that does not end when the final roof tile is laid or the occupants move in. We like to say “if walls could talk,” all the while forgetting that walls can talk, they do talk, if only to those who have been trained to listen. Archeologists know this. It is why they spend such time painstakingly excavating the ruins of ancient cities and rebuilding the crumbling walls from the merest fragments of sculpture and carved images. But architects have forgotten.

We do try to tell the stories of buildings. We fill our shelves with books of history and criticism. We buy monographs and portfolios. We compile case studies and typologies, anthologies and reviews. These books talk about the building and the builders, how they succeeded and failed, how they are alike and different. Yet so very rarely do we find the story itself, simply because a story cannot be told that way. Stories are experiential and narrative, but, most importantly, they are fascinating.

It is this fascination which makes stories endure. Long after the Tower of Babylon crumbled into ruin the stories remained. Historians still seek the lost Atlantis and the mythical Camelot. Excerpts of the science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin are included in anthologies of urban planning and the 1927 silent film Metropolis is studied in architecture history courses. Long after the history books are considered outdated, we are still studying these stories. Nor do I refer solely to architects and archeologists, the story is the main medium of communication in popular culture and has been ever since the advent of language itself. Every movie, novel, play, opera, ballet, mural, newspaper article, comic book, and song tells a story. It is even there in the answer to the simple question “What did you do today?”

I want to tell a story, or many stories, specific stories of specific buildings. I want to tell the stories of the Buddhist temples of Japan. Why? Because they are fascinating to me and I believe they will be fascinating to others. Yes, I want to know who built them, why and how, but I also want to know the story the building has to tell about those people and all the people who have dwelled in them since. I want to know the stories of sunlight, stone, wood, the sound rain makes on the roofs, daily chores in the kitchen, and the paths squirrels take through the gardens. And I want to tell these stories to Western audiences to whom they have yet to be told.

I want to tell these stories in written words and photographs. I have travelled throughout North America, from east coast to west and across the plains and mountains in between. Everywhere I go, I search for the story and write it down as best I can, and I take photographs. It is in these stories and photographs that I later find inspiration in my work as an architect. I find something in these sources that I can find nowhere else. It is that essential human experience that is missing from dry site analyses or detailed space descriptions, nor can it be found in technical drawings or three-dimensional models.

In three photographs and an essay about rain, I found the design for the Shambhala Mountain Center Dining Hall. I created a place for people gather and watch for the flow of water, the movement of the seasons, a their own relationships with each other and the natural world.

Photographs: Shambhala Mountain Center, Shambhala Lodge and Rigden Lodge, March 2007

“Rain shows me things unseen. It makes me long for good friends and steaming mugs. It makes me dream of days to come and of days long gone. That is why they say rainy days are sad days. As we long for that which is not while trying to go about with that which is. Life does not stop for the rain. Businesses and schools do not close so the people can gather in the coffee shops and living rooms and share with each other their dreams and memories or catch up with old friends. People still hurry when all the time they feel the urge to slow, to wait, to watch the rain.” October 17, 2007, http://nebuddhist.blogspot.com

In a single sentence, written months before the project began, I found the vision of my thesis design for Windhorse Retreat Center in Wisconsin. This is not Vajra land. This is Samadhi land. It holds its secrets close. Passing through, you might mistake it, think you know it, and never look into the smiling face of this land.” (May 11, 2008, http://nebuddhist.blogspot.com) I saw on that site a kinship between it and the moment of one-pointed concentration in meditation, samadhi, described in Buddhist literature. I now work to embody that in this final year of architectural design for my thesis project.

I do not want to tell these stories for myself. Stories only work when they are shared with others. I shared the stories of Shambhala Mountain Center, both written and photographic, with my graduate design studio and they created thirteen other dining halls, each of which told their own stories, of trees and stone, transitions and processes, adaptation and use. It is my hope that the stories I find in the Buddhist temples of Japan will be of use by both architects and laymen as they conduct their work and go about their daily lives. I believe these temples have something to teach us.

I will visit the temples and spend time in each, watching, listening, writing, and taking photographs. I will seek out their stories and learn what wisdom they have to impart. I will share these with others by creating a book suitable for publication, an exhibition which I will seek to display in museums and galleries (such as The Gallery at Architecture Hall, the Sheldon Art Museum, and the Lenz Center for Asian Art all at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, and elsewhere), and by continuously keeping a blog during my travels. The main purpose is the creation of this art, written and visual, but the larger goal is to inspire others in their designs and to share these experiences the best way I know how – by telling the story.

June 14, 2009

So Long Doing Without Knowing

I peeled back another layer and found decisiveness. It is a quality, like obstinacy and skepticism, which I have in abundance. It is something that I both elevate to the status of a virtue and use to build walls between myself and others. I make decisions without consulting anyone. This gets me several things: I don’t have to discuss anything sensitive with anyone; the decision is made quickly so I don’t have to worry over it and can move forward quickly; I don’t have to ignore anyone’s advice or accept the inevitable told-you-so’s; I get to feel like I am independent and don’t have to subsume myself to anyone else’s will; I don’t have to admit to ignorance or feel stupid; I get to take all the credit when things work; and I get to shoulder all the blame when they don’t thus confirming my humility and high level of personal responsibility. Mostly, it just means I don’t have to deal with people.

I let myself get away with it by reassuring myself that in the end it would be my decision anyway. The fact that I no longer have any close personal friends to just call up and ask for advice doesn’t makes it easier to not ask anyone. And this is how I've always been. I’ve always been decisive just like I’ve always been stubborn. I’ve always known what I wanted and I’ve only occasionally sought advice on how to get it. Sometimes, that has worked out and sometimes it hasn’t.

Last semester I was taken to task by my thesis co-chairs for making decisions without consulting them. “How can we advise you if you don’t ask for advice? Or even let us know that you’ve decided something that will affect the project?”

This week I was asking Rumiko what she thought of my idea for my Fulbright proposal. I had been kind of stumped for a while. I’m sure that I need more of a project description than “I want to study Japanese religious architecture because I think it’s cool and I think I could learn something from it, though I’m not sure what just yet.” Rumiko advised me not to try so hard to come up with some intricate research project on my own. I should ask the Fulbright adviser to help me find someone in Japan who already has a project and see if I could attach myself to that. I am skeptical of this, for reasons I won’t detail here, but I dutifully made the appointment.

These moments, combined with the fact that I’ve been stewing lately over any number of things, made me realize that I have been making decisions in a vacuum for a long time, intentionally, so that I don’t have to deal with other people and their possible approval or disapproval. I’ve been rethinking my vegetarianism given that I am so very bad at it and have been struggling with an unhealthy diet lately. I’ve been wondering what to do, if anything, about the fact that I’ve been spending a lot of time alone lately and that I really don’t have any close personal friends, especially here in Lincoln. I’ve been struggling with the idea of not becoming a licensed architect and seeking some alternative career path, like as a client advocate, development director, teacher, or writer.

I haven’t asked a single person about any of these things. I haven’t brought them up to anyone. I’ve just been stewing. I let things simmer and over time I can usually work out an answer, but these things have been on the stove for a long time and answer hasn’t occurred. I just keep going over and over them in my mind to no avail. I am wearing the track into a deep rut I’m struggling to escape. I pay attention to the world, ask oblique questions, look things up, read, do a little research, and basically just collate data hoping something will click. Nothing has.

I’m getting tired. Something my friend Barry told me about a few weeks ago keeps occurring to me. I’m getting tired of me. I’m tired of being stubborn, alone, decisive. And this feeling is familiar. It is the same as it was in 2004, when I sold the house in Gretna and moved in with my parents for the summer before coming here to Lincoln. I had been struggling, until everything came to a head, broke, and then my world shifted. I wrote about it recently for Dharma Cowgirl. I don’t know if I was reminded of it because that is how I’m feeling now or if that is how I’m feeling now because I finally wrote about it for the first time since then. I don’t suppose it matters all that much.

I don’t know what to do about it, any of it.

June 11, 2009

No Soul Mates

I do not believe in soul mates. This may be due to the fact that I do not believe in the existence of an immutable, metaphysical soul. But also, I simply do not believe that there is only one person on this earth with whom I could love and be happy. I mean, if that was the case, how screwed are we? There are close to seven billion people on this planet. Say I meet, not pass on the street but actually am introduced to, somewhere between a thousand and five thousand people in my lifetime. That's still far more than a million to one odds that I would ever meet my soul mate. (And that means, there are at the most, seven-thousand happy people on the planet, in which case, I think we're not just screwed, we're doomed as a species.)

Beyond that, if I posit that there is in fact one and only one person out there for me and likewise that I am the one and only one person for them, that seems to indicate that we were made as such. If this is the case, then would not whomsoever made us also ensure that we were placed in relative proximity to one another? That our feet were started out on a path that might someday lead us to meet, inevitably fall in love, have the beautiful wedding, lots of fat babies, and live happily ever after? Well, that posits the existence of God and/or predestination. I don't particularly believe in God or fate, so why would I believe in soul mates?

The entire idea is a dangerous concept which only leads to suffering. This process is as well understood as it is ignored. Even Georg Simmel, a sociologist commonly found in architecture and urban theory anthologies, writes of it in his 1908 essay "The Stranger:"

"A trace of strangeness in this sense easily enters even the most intimate relationships. In the stage of first passion, erotic relations strongly reject any thought of generalization. A love such as this has never existed before; there is nothing to compare either with the person one loves or with our feelings for that person. An estrangement is wont to set in (whether as cause or effect is hard to decide) at the moment when this feeling of uniqueness disappears from the relationship. A skepticism regarding the intrinsic value of the relationship and its value for us adheres to the very thought that in this relation, after all, one is only fulfilling a general human distiny [sic], that one has had an experience that has occurred a thousand time before, and that, if one had not accidentally met this precise person, someone else would have acquired the same meaning for us."

We find this idea unpalatable. It leads to jealousy - the thought that our loved one could just as easily be with another as with us. We want the reassurance that we are special, that our relationship is unique in its perfection, so that we will feel a false sense of security. Though it is the truth, that we are special and our relationship is unique in the sense that every person is somehow different and each two people relate somewhat differently to each other, it is also moot. It does not and cannot prevent the disintegration of a relationship or the formation of new ties with another. That is change, just simple change, one of the three marks of existence. And we sure as hell don't like it.

But a great deal of beauty can be found in this idea of no soul mates. Two people could be with a myriad of partners and yet they choose to be together. I find something very special and even romantic in that idea. I believe it is also healthy to recognize that often love is not enough to make a healthy relationship. The Beatles got that one wrong. People who have convinced themselves that love should be enough, that it will see them through difficulties or ingrained incompatibilities, are destined for heartache. They will ignore problems when they arise and trust love to see them through, rather than actively trying to work things out. Researchers tell us that the three topics married couples fight over most are money, housework, and children - not love.

Love is not enough. And I'm not out looking for a soul mate. But that doesn't mean I believe the world is a hard, cold place. Quite the opposite. I am very frequently astounded by the plenitude of kindness, compassion, and love. Because we don't merely share our love with that one destined person, we can share it with all kinds of people and spread it around like a beautiful song or a yummy pie. When we start to think of it as ours, only ours, and when we cling to our relationships and the solitary object of our love, we spread suffering instead.

No soul mates means there is more love in the world, not less.

June 10, 2009

DN Column - Pontification for the NSE

This is an advice column I wrote for the New Student Enrollment guide which will be distributed to incoming freshmen during their NSE campus visit. I tried not too be to patronizing, but I'm not sure how well I succeeded. I think I would have liked to spend more time on each topic, rather than cramming so much into one column, but there is only so much the paper can print and the reader would read.

Students should make use of their years in college


June 08, 2009

Dreaming in Third-Person

Of late, I have often been dreaming in the third person. That is, I am nowhere to be found in the dream, at least not the “I” which exists in my waking life. Monica disappears entirely. She is not the dream, the dreamed of, or even the dreamer. Sometimes I perceive things in first person, see through eyes, hear through ears, think thoughts, but in the way of the narrator in a novel. I am just along for the ride. The eyes, ears, and mind do not belong to me. Nor do I have any ideas of my own to add to the mix, anymore than a movie thinks thoughts about itself. I don’t see an event, know the thoughts of the perceiver and then think in response “That’s not what I would do.” No, none of that.

Sometimes I jump from one person to another, as in a novel written from a third person omnipotent style. Sometimes I watch from without, though I am not aware of myself watching, only of what is occurring in that moment. There are full worlds, characters, plots, but they are not recognized as such at the time. It is simply what is, in the moment. It feels semi-lucid, but not in the way that one knows one is dreaming; in the way that one knows one is awake and capable of making choices. Although, it is not I who is choosing. Is this what the so-called experience of remembering past lives feels like?

When I wake, I can sometimes recall what I had dreamed, specifically. I can review it in my mind until it sticks or allow it to fade away, as dreams do. Often I see the mishmash from which the world is build – this bit from The Matrix, this from anime, this from Star Wars, this from Farscape, this from a novel, this from San Francisco, this from childhood, this for who the hell knows where. Once in a while, there is even a direct correlation in metaphor between my waking and sleeping mind-state, but not often.

I have dreamt in third person before, but not this frequently. Now, it is nearly nightly. This morning before waking was especially vivid, full of detail, plot cohesion, and lingered in my mind upon waking, begging to be fleshed out. There were many characters, a full post-apocalyptic world, cause, effect, and goal. It was a dark dream, bleak, but somehow not depressing. Anyone so concerned with survival as these people were doesn’t have time to become depressed.

Often in Buddhism, waking life is said to be no more than a dream, to have the illusory qualities of a dream. It is said that we need to wake up, like the Buddha, like he who is awake. We need to realize our own enlightened nature.

I have wondered, what would happen to a Buddhist in The Matrix? The red pill might have been a technological way to awakening, but what if someone did it on their own? What if someone sought to wake up and did, only to find themselves in a “real” world from which they had to “wake up” from all over again? Wouldn’t that kinda suck? Do you ever think the Wachowski brothers have a sick sense of humor?

Maybe we do have to wake up from dreaming, wake up from waking, and then wake up from a third, as of yet, undiscovered layer of delusion. In fact, I’m certain that we do, and I’m certain the layers of delusion are innumerably thick. That may sound very discouraging. Perhaps it is a byproduct of my dark dream seeping into my waking life. But like the person who I was in that dark dream, I’m not particularly depressed about the prospect. I find myself accepting of it. If that’s what the world is, then that’s what the world is. If I have to wake up a few hundred times, then I have to.

I often dream that I’ve woken, gotten up, dressed, gone about my day only to realize I am still dreaming and must struggle to wake up all over again. I go through this scenario a dozen times, start to feel the frustration, the struggle of pushing my way into full consciousness, like a physical weight on my chest. I imagine that I might spend the rest of my life doing just that.

Perhaps I am spiraling into nihilism. Perhaps that is what the post-apocalyptic dreaming is about. Yet oddly, I’ve always found post-apocalyptic stories to be rather hopeful. Awful shit happens and people survive, they get through it, bind together, help one another, struggle and go on struggling, but they do continue.

Maybe the post-apocalyptic world is a metaphor for the upcoming transition in my life. I’ll be graduating, but more important than that, I’ll be leaving Lincoln. I like it here. I’ll miss it here. Of course, comparing my own future to a dark, debris-strewn, deadly, nuclear wasteland is a little melodramatic, but it just goes to show I’ve read far too many books and watched far too many movies.

Besides, not all of these third-person dreams are dark and fraught with danger – some are bright and pretty and fraught with danger.

DN Column - Waxman-Markey

The first column of the summer. For whatever reason, the DN online is not being updated, but you can still access the PDF version of the paper via the website. The column is on page six. This was another research-intensive, issue-based column, so I have a lot of sources to cite. From the red corner, there is a somewhat bizarre article from a website calling itself Humanevents.com. A New York Times article also details the opposition. From the blue corner, we have the Environmental Defense Fund and Joe Romm's article(s) over at Climateprogress.org. The international perspective comes courtesy of the BBC World News. And the facts and figures were easy to access via the US Department of Energy, Energy Information Adiministration, and our trans-Atlantic counterpart, Eurostat.

Clean Energy bill needs to pass


June 07, 2009

Found on First Friday

During the First Friday Art Walk this weekend, I wandered into Gallery Nine and found the cute meets seriously deranged meets geek-gasm art of Meghan Stratman. My personal favorite was the Submarine Weasel, of which I sadly do not have a photograph. But trust me, whatever you are picturing when I say Submarine Weasel, it's so much cooler than that. Check her out at her website, Bunnypirates.com, and if you're in the Lincoln area, head to Gallery Nine sometime soon for her show "Intergalactic Mice and Other Curiosities."Also, as found via Meghan's links, check out the fantastic, antiquated whimsy of Amy Sol.

Photo above courtesy of Meghan's blog. Yes, that is the Tardis from Doctor Who, Batman, and a tiny, little Obi Wan Kenobi. In the end, I'm very glad I didn't let the fact that I didn't have anyone to go with prevent me from going on the art walk. I've been a bit bummed and lonely lately given that the very small number of folks I generally socialize with have all skipped out of town, either for summer or with their permanent get-out-of-jail-free card (aka diploma). At the last minute I threw off my jammies, showered, dressed, and trotted my ass downtown. And I'm glad, else I would have missed an artist who just makes me smile. Yay, courage!

I hope you enjoy her as much as I do.

June 03, 2009

So Damn Easy

My friend Barry writes about the difference between altruistic and egocentric love - what we call love and love itself. He does it with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer, which is a good thing. He has far more courage than I. But as much as he's likely to piss people off, he's not wrong.

Here's the thing, in saying that what we think is love really isn't (usually it's just a self-centered addiction to feelings of pleasure brought about by the presence of another person) tends to further rarefy something that is already mistaken as a scarce commodity. It neglects the fact that love is easy. It is the easiest thing in the world, so easy that we overlook it and don't even notice it most of the time. Getting over those addictions, attachments, and selfishness, that is hard, but love isn't.

It's all over movies, television, music, books, classical literature, magazines - this fallacy that love is rare, or eternal, or that it can solve everything and make us happy. There is always the concerned best friend who asks if the hero/heroine if he/she is in love. "Well, I don't know. I think so." Or "I love him/her, but I'm not in love with him/her." Or the lovelorn fool asks, with teary eyes "Don't you love me?" I'll admit to watching and reading such lovestories and I'll probably enjoy many more in my lifetime, but that doesn't mean I get it. Sometimes I just want to stand up and shout that love is not the issue. They're not really even talking about love at all, no matter how many times the word is repeated.

Love is easy. Of course I love you. I love every person I've ever met and all of those out there I'll never get to know, even the ones I really don't like very much. Yes, even the serial killers. I love people I don't want to be with and people who don't want to be with me. Sometimes I even get attached to them, addicted, and I let selfishness sway my actions and my words, but I don't ever confuse that for love. I don't desire someone because I love them, or vice versa. Love doesn't need a reason at all. It just is.

People don't understand how I can say that, let alone how I can feel it. I don't understand how they can not. Others feel that that somehow cheapens love, makes it less powerful. Diamonds would be no less beautiful if they were as common as dirt. Of course, we wouldn't notice them or value them. Which is exactly what we do with love. We ignore it, forget about it, cover it over with other things that make us feel all tingly and electric before they make us hurt. That's not love.

Love is so damn easy because it never makes us hurt.

June 01, 2009

Wandering Wondering

I want to share the beauty that I find. I want to share the joy I take. I want to share the things I love. But do I want to share this beauty, joy, and love because it is beauty, joy, and love, or because it is “mine?” Can it even be "mine?"

I went for a walk in the rain this evening, while the sun set unnoticed behind the clouds. I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. In addition to the soft patter of drops on the hard ground, there was the bright chimes of each and every drop falling into already formed puddles. The water was cold around my ankles where it flowed, but the concrete was warm from sunny days past. Some of the clouds folded and flowed like smoke or cloth. The rain was cold on my skin, but I enjoyed the sensation and didn’t bother to go back in for a jacket.

I walked around the capitol, cutting one corner across the soft grass lawn. I normally abhor the wastefulness of high-maintenance lawns, but in certain public places, such as schools and parks, I believe they are essential. It was cool and spongy beneath my bare feet. Every time I circumambulate the capitol, I cannot help but not that the monument to Abraham Lincoln is in exactly the wrong place. Bertram Goodhue would shake his head in shame. I return to the paved paths, though rougher, they are also warmer.

The stone of the capitol is warm Indiana limestone and it holds its warmth even against the greyest and dreariest days. There is no rustication of the base, no need to make false claim to the glory of ages past by pretending to build upon the foundations of ancients. It is built upon the vast plain of the earth and that is enough. The main entry faces north and the bronze doors, though large, make no effort to fill their stone arch. Two simple doors are enough and above them the words “The salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen.”

On the corner the creamy, Gothic tower of the Catholic church is offset by the curved, Post-modernist Brutalism of the Baptists, while down the block, the nondenominational brick of First Christian is modest in comparison, but the most lovely of frames for the most beautiful stained glass. I turn towards home. The sky is lightening and the rain tapering off, thunder making one final grumble. The frisky north wind splits my wrap pants and places cold, wet kisses up the length of my leg as I cross the street.

I fetch the mail, for which I came down in the first place before becoming distracted. There is a golden tiger lily growing out of the small, pink rosebush by the front step. My skin is chilled and bumpy and the warmth of the thick, brick walls feels good. And I think about why I went for this walk and why I will write about this walk and why I will post it.

I have no answers, but I don’t mind.

"A Healthy Streak of Insanity"

From the fun that is WorldChanging, check out "The Rocketship Wonder of Earlier Decades is Gone." My favorite bit is the description of an architecture firm as "one of the world’s most valuable imaginative resources: technically accomplished, with a healthy streak of insanity. He would be the guy the evil genius would go to for the Volcano base plans. 'Ten billion in blood money, what can you build me?' 'A death-maze constructed from recycled local materials and plutonium!' Something like that."