January 30, 2010

Fries and a Malt

I'm missing things in advance again. Like going to Goldberg's on a Friday afternoon for chocolate malts and chili cheese fries with my Dad. Goldberg's is one of the few honest places left in this world, owned by the same folks as long as mine have been married. They replaced their front windows and put in a new patio seating area this year, but the inside has remained the same since the early Eighties. They still make their malts in those frosted metal cups, and chili cheese fries with homemade chili and unnaturally orange cheese. It's awful and wonderful and where will I find it again? But it's the fact that I go there with my Dad, usually when we ought not to, like this Friday when he took the afternoon off early just because I was in town.

My Dad is a big bear of a man. He's also a twelve-year old girl. He likes football and basketball and action movies. He also owns all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls. I am a Daddy's Girl, but I was never a girly girl, except for one short year when I was in ninth grade. We had a Ukrainian exchange student, Lena. She taught me how to wear makeup, put on a bra properly, and smoke. She and I and my friend Christy used to go to the mall every weekend. Dad would take us, and he never got tired or bored. We'd come home three hours later and I'd show my Mom the latest neon, midriff-baring band aid I'd acquired, and she would always frown and ask Dad "Why did you let her get that?"

"What? It looks good, she likes it, and that's what's in style." He'd just smile and shrug and go downstairs to read his latest science fiction novel and watch whatever game was on.

My Dad always had a good sense of style, especially for someone who never wears anything other than jeans and work shirts. But I'd trust him to shop for me more than any other person I know.

All my girlfriends love Dad and all my guy friends are slightly scared of him, which makes us all smile. He never had to be protective of me, not that I ever felt he wasn't. In a lot of ways I grew up quick, but in other ways I skipped most fathers' nightmares, like high-school dating, drinking, and partying. He never had any nervous young men in their Sunday ties waiting in the living room to intimidate. And now, when he knows I have relationships, he doesn't lecture or frown, or ask reproving questions. He just takes me out for a malt at the best place in town.

Every time I find something to add to my "miss list", I think of how grateful I am. I try to anyway. I try to think about attachment and aversion and suffering. I try to say thanks and remind myself there will be other joys along with the griefs. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I scold myself. I'm not even gone yet, after all.

Sometimes all that's left to say is "Thanks for the fries and the malt, Dad," when what I really mean is "Thanks for being my Dad."

January 26, 2010

January 23, 2010

Everything Ends

Our bodies bring us joy and pain in equal measure. The aching back gives way to a heat that almost burns, pain and pleasure together, and muscles strain to lower a tired body carefully into a warm bath. Slowly relaxation seeps in with the heat until the most joyful sensation is a single cool drop of water falling from one eyebrow, dripping onto a cheek just beginning to sweat.

John Mayer follows Train follows The Fray follows Nina Simone follows Micheal Bublé and the smell of juniper and grapefruit follows the smell of whiskey. Long limbs glow golden in soft candlelight and pale moonlight and every sense is satisfied, even the mind for these short minutes. All the stresses, cares, fears, insecurities, and pains of the day are washed away.

But don’t be deceived. This is samsara. Everything changes. This pleasure is as transitory as the pain that preceded it and it preceded, in the endless turning of the wheel. Tomorrow I’ll wake up slow and sluggish, by midday my back will ache whether I will it to or no, and by night’s end I’ll long only for the comfort of the hot bath I left twenty-four hours ago. Want followed by want.

Savor these pleasures while you have them, but savor the suffering, too. For without the suffering no will toward renunciation exists. We will never be free from samsara were it not for the will to end suffering and the knowledge that suffering can end and the way set forth and followed.

Follow the way. Read the Dharma. Practice! And remember that eventually all things change and everything ends.

It is our choice whether we allow it to begin again or awake to freedom.

January 22, 2010

Self is Emptiness

I am empty. Well, I could use a cookie anyway, and maybe a mug of hot cocoa, but that’s not what I meant. In Buddhism, the principle of emptiness is a way of understanding the interconnected nature of all things. Wikipedia describes emptiness, under its Sanskrit name ‘sunyata’ (‘sunnata’ in Pali). as “a characteristic of phenomena arising from the fact that the impermanent nature of form means that nothing possesses essential, enduring identity.” In other words, all thinks are subject to cause and condition, aka ‘karma,’ and as a result all things change.

To say that “I am empty” is to say that I am subject to cause and condition, I change, and I have no fixed identity. This is also called non-self, or ‘anatta’ or ‘anatman’ (Pali and Sanskrit respectively). Thus, “the agglomeration of constantly changing physical and mental constituents comprising a human being is thoroughly analyzed and stated not to comprise an eternal, unchanging self.”

In essence, emptiness and non-self are the same thing, but often we emphasize non-self because it talks about our favorite subject – our self – whereas emptiness talks about phenomenon in general. Even as we intellectually recognize that no such permanent self exists, we still don’t like to be grouped into “phenomenon in general.” So while the teaching on emptiness is complete and should suffice for understanding the nature of existence, we needed a second concept in reference to human beings.

Isn’t that interesting?

January 21, 2010

Living With Dedication

Living with dedication is easy. Living with dedicated people is a little more interesting.

The fire alarm had been going off for a while. I’m not sure how long because I was editing a column with one of my young writers and didn’t look up to see what all the flashing was about until we finished. No one seemed to pay it any mind, so I did likewise, bidding goodnight to my columnist and turning to peruse today's letters to the editor. A few moments later a new arrival announced that there were fire trucks outside. Two photags immediately jumped up, grabbed their cameras, and headed upstairs. My attention finally having been pulled away from my computer screen (I always expect to hear that shhh-POP! sound that comes from a suction cup being removed), I decided now was a good time for dinner, only to find all of the eating establishments in the food court evacuated and closed. I returned to my cube and reached for my coat with reluctance. January after dark in Nebraska, need I say more?

“The food places upstairs are closed, so I’m going out to get something,” I told Adam, the news editor who takes up one corner our cube quad. “Do you want anything?”

“Why are they closed?”

“I guess they’re evacuated due to the fire alarm.”

“Should we be evacuated?” he wondered mildly, shuffling through his nightly stack of yesterday’s editions from other college papers.

“Well, I didn’t see any signs of actual smoke or fire, or any uniformed fire people running around, so I’m not too worried.”

“Do they even know we’re down here?”

I shrugged. The Daily Nebraskan occupies a mazelike space of interconnected open offices in the basement of the Nebraska Union on City Campus. It’s part cube farm, part frat house, part art studio. “I don’t know, but I’m sure they’d do a very thorough sweep if the building were actually on fire.”

Adam returned the shrug and I headed out into the cold for dinner. We never did evacuate and by the time I returned the fire vehicles were gone and the entire event was barely a blip on anyone’s radar and not even a momentary interruption of the nightly news cycle.

It’s much the same as the atmosphere at Architecture Hall. It’s not a place anyone really feels they ‘chose’ to be. It’s just the place they can’t picture not being. It’s a “where else would I be?” place.

Now that the fall Hyde studio has vacated the central portion of the Attic, the thesis students have set up house – literally. They managed to acquire one of a pair of sofas that have been floating around the building for as long as I’ve been here, alternately biding time in visiting professor’s offices and various studios, along with a few of the ubiquitous experimental chairs. (Honestly, why are we still redesigning the chair? If we haven’t gotten it right by now, and the never-ending number of famously uncomfortable architect-designed chairs seems to bear this out, I have to conclude we aren’t going to.) Add a television, wheeled drawers and carts serving as coffee tables, and a gaudy painting complete with gaudy frame hung on the support column behind the sofa and we’ve got ourselves a living room. In the next area over, all it takes is a queen sized air mattress to make ourselves a bedroom. We already had a kitchen consisting of the sink in the corner, microwave, several dorm sized refrigerators, coffee machines, toasters, and hot pots scattered throughout. Everyone is settled in for the year, with sleeping blankets and pillows tucked up in corners for the anticipated 2-hour naps following unavoidable all-nighters.

I stopped in a few times over winter break, mostly only to run maintenance on my computer (a welcome change for prior years of working straight through), never to find the college empty, even when the University was officially shut down – and the heat turned off. There were always a few students and more than one professor passing time bent over their desks or downstairs cursing that no one had refilled the vending machines this week.

And it’s not just that people are here all the time, it’s the people themselves. They really are brilliantly dedicated and I love being around them.

“Monica is getting back into the swing.” I posted on my Facebook status today, thinking of how the second week of the semester is going.

“And then the weekend comes…” my friend Christine commented.

But it doesn’t. I don’t get weekends. Saturday is just a day where I go to studio in the morning instead of work. And the places I go, the Attic, the paper, is full of like-minded people. They work hard and play hard, and half the time there isn’t much difference between the two.

I realize then that I’m very, very lucky, because dedication is only easy when one has the opportunity to both know and do those things that one couldn’t imagine not doing, if given a choice. Not everyone knows that or has the courage to do it. Worse yet, sometimes the may know and have, but culture conspires against them, creating expectations of "productivity" and "contributing to society" and "fitting in."

I can imagine not writing, not designing, and sometimes I can even imagine not thinking (my favorite pastime), but all of those imaginings make me sad. If those things should come to pass, I figure I’d get over it, but I’d grieve. That’s attachment for you, a cause of suffering, our First Noble Truth, but there’s a flip side to even that coin (if you'll parden the falsely dualistic metaphor). When I remember that I can write, I can design, and I can think (at least, I think I do), I feel very grateful for these things. I don’t need them, but I have them anyway, so it’s all gravy.

What makes dedication easy is the knowledge that it would be harder to live without these things I feel dedicated to than it is to live with them.

January 20, 2010

Dreams of War

What does it mean that I dream about war? That I write about war? I don’t dream about combat particularly, though it is sometimes there in bits and flashes, like I’m channeling someone else’s PTSD. I dream about cultures, societies, worlds at war and what that war does to the people, how they become hard and strong, how they adapt and survive. But they are lonely, too, and always reaching out to each other and always afraid, not of loosing but of loving. I dream in third person, the omniscient author, and I am nowhere in the dream, nowhere in the story.

Does it mean I’ve simply watched too many movies, read too many books, and gotten lost in the so-called glories of war, the glamorous lonely warrior mythos? Or am I the one who is lonely and afraid? Do I thrive on conflict, seek out challenge (whatever little of it there is to find in my cushy waking life), in order to make myself that strong person who doesn’t need to reach out? Is it an allegory? Or just good fiction? Am I trying to understand why war happens, how people can hold both love and hate in their hearts so easily, why the horror of violence never seems to overshadow the desire for conflict?

Why do I dream of war?

DN Column - Women in the Workforce

Kinda a downer today. Or maybe that's just 'cause I haven't seen the sun in a week. Or maybe it's just depressing know that, as a society, in thinking we've gotten over sexism we've just gotten better at ignoring and perpetuating it in more subversive ways. Sigh.

Sexism still lives in workforce expectations


January 16, 2010

All That's Left IsTo Unlearn

Information By Daniel Donahoo

she closes the lid

and unplugs the device

no bigger than her thumb

from the computer.

My life's work, she says. But, it isn't her life's work.

You see, we store information like an Escher painting.

It shouldn't all fit in there. But, it does.

And every day we manage to fit more and more into smaller and smaller spaces until one day

she says,

we will be able to fit all the information the world has

everything that everyone knows and believes and dreams

into nothing.

It will all be there. Stored and filed.

Tagged with any keywords you might imagine.

Our hard drives will be thin air.

They will make nanobots look like elephants.

And elephants will be in there too. Tagged. Accessible with search terms

like gray, ivory,

and the largest land dwelling mammal

We will process away at nothing and understand everything.

We will think of a word and the information will slip in, not through our ears or eyes

but straight thorough our skin. Information will breathe in and out of us, permeate our skin.

Our knowing will be as deep as it is wide.

You see our work here is to learn so much,

to be so full of knowing,

that all there is left to do is unlearn.

Humanity must get to a point where we let go.

We leave the useless ideas and the spent ideologies in the recycle bin.

like an adolescent brain shedding neurons.

like a snake slithering from its old skin.

like an old man who has come to understand so well the point where reality meets

the intangible that he is able to decide which breath will be his last. And, he

will enjoy that breath more than any that he has taken in his entire life.

And, her life's work is more than a four meg flash drive.

My life's work, she says, is the impact that this has.

This is not about what I produce. It is all about what others receive.

Listen to this spoke word piece on Youtube.

January 12, 2010

Buddhism's Dictionary

Brit Hume’s comments regarding Tiger Wood’s religion have been bouncing back and forth in the media and blogosphere for over a week. On the surface, I found the original comment innocuous. “He’s said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. ” Okay? So what?

Hume is expressing a perfectly valid personal opinion. I don’t find it offensive, only a little ignorant. He’s right when he says Buddhism doesn’t offer forgiveness and redemption in the Christian sense, because in Buddhism (so far as I can tell) neither concept exists. They aren’t important. He’s trying to sell Christianity by touting benefits that few Buddhists would think they need. It’s like trying to sell a washing machine with a satellite uplink. Why would anyone need that? However, Hume is perfectly within his rights to believe what he does and try to advise others to do so.

It's interesting that so many non-Buddhists are outraged, some claim on our behalf, which I doubt. They’ve managed to successfully make the mountain. Meanwhile the Buddhist response (that I've seen) has been very cordial. It’s all very strange for me. Perhaps more interesting is that the stage for all this debate is a very theistic one. The pundits all scrambled to find real, genuine, official Buddhists to comment and then asked all the wrong questions.

Rick Sanchez over on CNN wanted to know “Is Christianity better than Buddhism as far as redemption and forgiveness goes?” He asked Ethan Nichtern, who didn’t rise to the bait and described the mechanisms Buddhism provides that fill the same role as forgiveness and redemption, thereby couching the debate within familiar Christian language. This is where I think the mistake lies.

“Is Buddhsim a good place to look for redemption or forgiveness? Does it offer it?” Sanchez asked.

Ethan immediately replied “I think it definitely does.” He then went on to talk about meditation practice and becoming in touch with our minds and hearts and work with things we want to change.

Karen Maezan Miller on Shambhala Sun Space took exception to Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times in which he stated “…these believers are colluding in their own marginalization. If you treat your faith like a hothouse flower, too vulnerable to survive in the crass world of public disputation, then you ensure that nobody will take it seriously.”

She responded by quoting her Lutheran mother: “The faith that competes is not faith. The faith that disputes is not faith. The faith that defends is not faith. The faith that debates is not faith. The faith that needs others to take it seriously is not faith.”

I think she, and her mother, are spot on, but again, they are couching the dialogue in theistic terms. One of the commenters, J Shaw in Seattle, had a very prescient response to Douthat’s column.

“As a practicing Christian, I find this demeaning and immature, that anyone would choose a faith for any reason other than their perception of its truthfulness. I find the existence of a loving God and his offer of salvation to be the best news ever told, but I wouldn't be a Christian if I didn't also believe it was actually the case.

“If Woods were to convert to Christianity (and it is within my rights and Hume's to hope that he does so), he may find a theology of sin and salvation which is more comforting to him than what he had in Buddhism (then again, maybe not). But this is no reason to convert. No, conversion should only come with genuine belief.”

For me, and perhaps only me, Buddhism has nothing to do with faith, belief, forgiveness, or redemption, at least as they are understood in the Christian sense. As Ethan pointed out to Sanchez, Buddhism does have mechanisms for dealing with suffering (whether from cheating on one’s spouse or anything else) which can bring the same kind of positive change and peace of mind that redemption brings to Christians, but to say that it is redemption is disingenuous.

To even call Buddhism a faith at all seems like a misnomer. The Buddha told us to question, test, try, experiment, and to never believe anything anyone told us just because they said so, including him. What I have in Buddhism is not so much faith as the benefit of the doubt, a “that sounds true, I think I’ll try it” intuition. Maybe this isn’t enough for some people, but it works for me. Faith, as I was taught faith, is belief in something that cannot be proven. Buddhism is, supposedly, the exact opposite, a system that can be proven through each person’s experience of it. If this were not so then all the assertions of the buddhanature and potential for awakening within each of us are just that, assertions with nothing behind them but words.

Can we (and should we) talk about Buddhism in this country without using Christian language? Without resorting to words like faith and foregiveness, and all the Christian baggage that comes with them? I may use the word "believe" sometimes, but never in the absolute sense, never in the Christian sense. What I believe is just a best guess at any point in time and so subject to drastic change. It's also always wrong, as conceptual thoughts are, but I haven't gotten away from them yet, so I'm stuck with the language.

We need new words (or no words?) to be able to talk about things without tripping over theistic concepts.

DN Column - Escapism

Something I think about quite often, but haven't quite figured out yet. I'm sure a total renunciation of fiction would be a good way to go, but that feels like I'm cutting out a huge piece of my own culture. On the other hand, maybe I'll try a fiction-less retreat sometime, just to take it for a test drive.

Entertainment captures interest over real events, people


January 10, 2010

We Are What We Think

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts.” So opens the Dhammapadda, the collected sayings of the Buddha, more or less. The translations vary, but the gist is the same and this is how I remember it. Apparently, there is a lady at Harvard who’s been proving it since the 1970’s.

Ellen Langer is the subject of an article in “The Chronicle Review” January 8, 2010, edition, which I found laying on the newsroom floor. “Ellen Langer’s Psychology of Posibility,” the cover title read and inside on page B7, “The Art of Living Mindfully.” It’s dharma, pure Buddhist psychology, but without a single Sanskrit or Pali reference. Langer has been performing experiments based on passing “what if?” questions for the last thirty or so years.

In 1979 she encouraged old men to think and act as though it were twenty-years earlier over the course of several days. An unrelated group of test subjects then guessed the age of the men in before and after photos, ranking the after-shots as younger. In addition, the men acted younger – tested better in hearing and memory, increased grip strength, etc.

Women who were told their daily cleaning activities were the same as exercise lost more weight. An upside down eye chart led people to expect to get better as they moved down the chart and as a result they were able to read smaller letters than on a normal eye chart where they expect to do progressively worse. People who got to pick the numbers on a lottery ticket rather than have them chosen for them then refused to trade in that ticket for one in a different lottery with better odds. People fulfilled ridiculous requests just because an official looking memo asked them to.

Langer has published the books Mindfulness and Counterclockwise as well as many academic articles. “Mindful attending, noticing, is enlivening,” she told The Chronicle Review. “People who say they’re bored – with their relationships, for example, or their jobs – that’s just because they’re holding it still. They’ve confused the stability of their mind-set with the stability of the underlying phenomena. Things are always changing.” She talks about “how context-dependent evaluation is. There’s nothing I can’t reinterpret.”

An article in today’s New York Times Magazine seems to bear this out. “The Americanization of Mental Illness” describes the Westernization of mental illness symptoms in other parts of the world. The basic idea is that a culture comes with a certain “symptom repertoire” and when mental distress manifests it unconsciously chooses the symptoms which “should” be displayed. For example, in the 19th Century there was a spate of mental hysteria manifested a leg paralysis. Now we have anorexia and paralysis is almost never heard of, but both are believed to be caused by mental turmoil.

Cases of anorexia shot up several fold in Hong Kong after the widely reported 1994 death of a starved 14-year old girl on a public sidewalk. Moreover, while food refusal had been seen by Western-trained Chinese psychiatrists, the “cause” was most often reported as feeling a bloated stomach, whereas after the girl’s death and wide reporting on the modern Western version of anorexia by Chinese-language news outlets, patients began to cite fear of being fat far more often.

“When there is a cultural atmosphere in which professionals, the media, schools, doctors, psychologists all recognize and endorse and talk about and publicize eating disorders, then people can be triggered consciously or unconsciously pick eating-disorder pathology as a way to express conflict,” Dr. Sing Lee explained. In other words, we act the way we think conflicted people act. It’s not that mentally ill people are “choosing” mental illness or making up symptoms. Leg paralysis was as real and as well documented in its time as anorexia is now. We just are what we think.

Toward the end of the article about Ellen Langer, the author writes “Still, Langer’s penchant for sweeping statements, whether about science or life, can sometimes strike a careless note. She can appear to believe that people would never struggle – with learning something new, with making a choice, with finding happiness – if they simply broke free of assumption and automatic thinking.” Replace “struggle” with “suffer” and you’ve got Buddhism in a nutshell and a pretty good definition of nirvana. (Not to confuse suffering with pain or struggling with control.) “On the subject of divorce, she has written that if children were taught that families can be composed of a mother, a father, and a child but also other arrangements, ‘then there wouldn’t be such a problem were the circumstances to change.’”

An almost random aside caught me as particularly interesting: “Anger is a tactic of the powerless, Langer believes, and she decided a long time ago that she had the power to do anything she set her mind to.” I can see that. Every time I get angry, it is born out of a feeling of frustration and powerlessness, yet I never thought of anger in terms of a way of dealing with that frustration. As much as even I disliked anger, anger was just what happened, but I don’t have to think of it that way.

And if I am what I think…

January 07, 2010

Less is More

I think I shall not write so much. I’ve been writing without anything to say. It’s like jogging on a treadmill. I’m just doing it to keep in shape, half out of habit and half out of some vague notion that eventually the monkey will punch out Shakespeare.

I’ve been here too long. I’ve been doing the same thing, lived in the same house, studied the same subjects for too long. It’s been brilliant, but so little (and so much) has changed. I’m writing about the same things. I’m still busy. I’m still lonely sometimes. I’m still stubborn. I still wish I had more time to take more classes because there are so many interesting things left to study. I still love living alone, good coffee, my cat, and bad novels.

I feel like I’ve lost much of my source material as I’ve focused on simply finishing my thesis project, graduating, and moving on. I’m not sitting. That’s not new. But I’m not reading the dharma either, aside from bits and pieces from a few of the blogs I read. I have a small stack of dharma books I’ve not touched and I’ve let my magazine subscriptions lapse. The dharma, my thoughts on it, and practice of it are naturally interrelated to so many of the other activities I’ve given up, including my seat on the student senate and my work with various registered student groups. Most of my ‘better’ writing goes into my columns. I haven’t been out to the mountains, or on any retreat, in well over a year.

Some things have changed. I’ve developed a taste for Irish whiskey. I’ve made a major change in my life course. I’ve lost friends and gained lovers, lost family and gained teachers. So on and so forth. Marilyn died. My dog died. My grandmother and great-grandmother died. My cousin and my brother got married. I’ve had some wonderful jobs, been to great new cities. I got more patient (I hope) and learned how to relate to others better (I also hope). I learned to ride. I forgot how to speak whatever Japanese I ever learned.

But I digress. I find myself doing that too often, falling into the rhythm of tapping keys. It’s a rather comforting rhythm. Familiar. Productive. Deceptive. I remember a rhyme from my childhood. “There was an old owl who lived in an oak. The more he listened the less he spoke. The less he spoke the more he heard. Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?”

So I think I shall write less and listen more.

January 06, 2010


The paw flexes,

soft brown leather pad pressing down,

little hairs tickling,

a tingle passes from her into me.



It's been snowing for a month. The first storm came during dead week at beginning of December. Although 'storm' is a rather grandiose name for what was, in reality, a rather peaceful occurrence. The snow snuck up in the night. It was long predicted with much drama and fanfare on behalf of the local media, to which viewers sighed and rolled our eyes, again. This is Nebraska. It snows. Snow in and of itself is of little concern, wind and cold are much more deadly and ice worse by far. This 'storm' had none.

I walked through that snow. It fell peacefully and quiet. The entire city carried the pink tint of night, city lights reflecting from soft white surfaces and the low, heavy underbellies of clouds. It was well past midnight and the snow was already several inches, with several inches yet to fall. The University closed for a day and a half that week.

Snow has been on the ground ever since, piling up along the roads and on the corners. Christmas brought more, another 'major snow event' in the language of meteorologists. I spent the storm, this time with accompanying wind, cold, and ice, safely ensconced in my parents home. The following weeks have brought more snow, a few inches every few days. The last week or so has included frigid temperatures. I've walked to work in the morning in single digits, both positive and negative, and dangerous wind chills, making me glad for my warm winter gear and the fact that it's only four blocks.

These are like the winters we had when I was a kid. It would start snowing around Thanksgiving and the landscape would be white for three months. We might have one or two welcome thaws, but then the snow would return. They stopped sometime in high school. Snow became sparse on the ground and people talked about drought. Then winters became warmer. Autumn lasted longer and spring came sooner. We've have two instances of real winter that I can remember in the last decade, and the other lasted only a few weeks.

I know I'm not the only one who've noticed this. Reading Laura Ingles Wilder shows winters stronger by far than anything I've ever seen. Talking to my parents and grandparents is the same. I've never seen snow up to the eaves of the house or had to tunnel to the barn. Although it may be indicative of greater issues, I for one am glad I've never seen a winter like that.

I've felt isolated for the past month and I live in the middle of a city. I always feel a little isolated during winter break. I expect it. The snow has magnified this sensation. I feel like hibernating - curling up at home, reading books, eating, drinking warm tea, watching television and playing with my cat. It's winter, real winter, and I have this instinctual desire not to stray far from the safety of my cave.

This cold snap has spread as far south as Florida where they're in fear for their citrus crop. NPR reported that four people in Tennessee died of the cold this week, which is baffling to those of us farther north, but sad nonetheless. Every year a few people get their cars stuck in the snow and try to walk out, causing much sad head shaking in the spring when the bodies are found. (Everyone knows you stay with the car.) Much of the rest of the country is dismayed, while we just shrug and carry on.

The city is still active, for all that it's half empty, but I think perhaps I'm not the only one feeling the snow. The coffee houses and restaurants are full, the bookstores and video stores busy, and the movie theaters doing good business. People seek each others company, but don't want to go far. There's no lack of folks hurrying around downtown or along 16th outside my house, wearing tall boots to wade through the snow. The homeless guys are still there on the corner of 14th and P, though I desperately hope they have somewhere warm to go at night. I'm looking forward to the start of school next week, to seeing and talking to people with more than a three word vocabulary and an interest in more than laps, naps, and feathers on a stick.

I think it won't stop snowing anytime soon though.