December 12, 2010

After Action Report - Fall 2010

Exactly four months ago, I arrived in California on a Southwest jet with my mother, father, and swiftly detoxing cat as carry-on luggage. Mom and Dad went home five days later, but the cat stayed. Together we settled into a small house with an easy-going and often-absent roommate in a sketchy neighborhood in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles. I started coursework in the Master of Divinity program for Buddhist chaplaincy at University of the West, a three-mile bike ride to the southeast. The cat stayed home, sniffed curiously at the smoggy air and feral kittens just beyond the screen door, and napped on my new Ikea furniture.

On August 23rd, I began four classes: Interfaith Chaplaincy, Spiritual Formation, Buddhist Meditation (which involved no actual meditation), and Religion, Science, and Society as an independent study. I also joined the Kung Fu Club, the Buddhist Students Club, the newly formed Chaplaincy Club, and got myself appointed and then elected Treasurer of the Student Association so I could carry out my ongoing mission of boldly making trouble for the administration as no one has made trouble before. I also joined an online dating site and began contemplating (or re-contemplating) my future career plans. I made a clean break with my old life and now the decision before me is whether or not I ever want to return to the design world, or if I might choose another path.

Now the semester is over. My term papers are written, fifty-four pages in total. I wrote a spiritual autobiography I am most proud to say I managed to condense into sixteen pages; by far the hardest task was brevity. My shortest paper was also my most academic, regarding the role of renunciation before and during Buddhist meditation practice. I double-dipped on the research for the last two, one an “idiot’s guide” to talking about God for non-Christians and the other in response to the question of why God matters to Christians. Though their source material had much overlap, each thesis/purpose is unique. I am satisfied with my grades outlook.

Despite a constant low-intensity search, I have yet to find a job. Nor do I have any hope in that respect. Unemployment is three times higher here in the Los Angeles area than in Lincoln, and the campus I attend is not conveniently situated next to a large technical and professional employment base as UNL was. I can live on my financial aid alone, a welcome surprise and difference, but the timing of the aid disbursements from the school is problematic, to say the least. Which means I have a target for my trouble making.

I’ve met three guys through the dating service, but with no real sparks. I’ve put things on hold until my financial situation improves. It’s hard to invite guys out to coffee when I can’t really afford to be buying even coffee every week. I’m too stubbornly egalitarian to let them pay (plus it would just be rude to expect it). I have realized some important things through these adventures. I’ve reached a place in my life where not only do I want to date and be in a relationship – I want some romance, some dressing up, putting on makeup, going nice places, being surprised type romance. I want to be excited. I want him to be excited. I’ve never particularly wanted that before, but, as the Buddha said, impermanence.

Some other things I’ve learned: Ninety percent of all traffic accidents in this city could be prevented through the consistent application of courtesy. I can now ride my bicycle without using my hands (after how many years of practicing?). I like being unemployed. I want romance. I like riding in tanks with men. Theories of spiritual formation are like horseshoes, hand grenades, and tactical nuclear weapons (apparently, close is good enough). The world needs to move past mere tolerance of differences. Everyone should be in a weekly support group. Everyone, but especially college students. Religion and secularism is a false dichotomy. Hulu has a bunch of new Japanese anime to watch. Though I love books, the Kindle is awesome. And no one ever died of an unrequited crush. C’est lavie.

Now as the five unoccupied weeks of winter break loom before me, I have some thinking to do. Am I going to join the Navy? Am I going to give up on reforming design education pedagogy in favor of a more chaplaincy oriented future? What am I looking for from these dating experiences or in a relationship? What direction do we want to take the student government in next semester and where could we do the most good? Am I going to find a sangha? Am I ever going to start meditating regularly? What book should I read next on my new toy? What do I have to do to get my doctorate from the Irish School of Ecumenics in Dublin? How is this novel I’m writing going to end?

As I said in my spiritual autobiography: Willing not to be right, but to be wrong. Willing not to find, but to seek. Willing not to succeed, but to try. Willing not to dream, but to wake up. I can spend this time learning, just as I’ve spent my entire life learning. Maybe next semester will be better (though this one wasn’t too shabby) and maybe not, but I’ll find out soon enough. This dry summary doesn’t cover a tenth of the last four months, because I don't fully understand everything that has happened myself, but that too will come in time.

One down, five more to go.

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