Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Time Passes

...and I've had no time to write.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Corn Palace

As a farmer, I felt obligated to stop. It's really quite remarkable. Apparently, Lewis and Clark wrote in their journal that South Dakota was the great American desert, and that nothing would grow there. The farmers of South Dakota decided to prove them wrong. See here.

Golden Opportunity

While helping my sister move from Houston to Nashville, I found the car I've been looking for. Every once in awhile I do something that others think is crazy--in this case, too risky. But I had to take a chance. I saw it on Tuesday, bought it, registered it and started off toward Montana on Wednesday. We drove 2200 miles, adding a lot of oil (it has a leak) but otherwise having no problems...
I witnessed a lot of fear and doubt on the faces of all those who thought I was nuts...and they might have been right. But certain opportunities come along when we least expect them, and we have to be ready to jump.
Kristen and Kiki were both very supportive. Here is Kiki's profound advice:

I hope you can read this email before you buy the car. I want to say couple of things regarding the car you will be buying and driving today.
First,there is no such thing on earth that can make all human beings safe. In fact, everything that is made by man doesn't last forever. We, human beings in this world are surrounded by millions of dangers that we disregard as long as we are not directly touched by them.
We are constantly creating security and certainity to worry less about we do not have control over. Driving a car is already a risk. Either it is considered a new car or a used car. Although a new car has everything new on it, therefore it gradually increases the probability of being safe in it. A used car is also safe. Considering the fact that it has being driving for so long. Therefore, the car and the engine is used to doing that activity of driving. There are, i believe, millions of reasons to consider a used car just as worth as a new car. I am not trying to denied that millions of people around the world think that a new car is more secured than a used. It probably looks nicer, but the danger is constantly there. Even though we manage to erase such danger through our excitement about driving a new car.
I have many arguments, to defend the idea that a used car is just as safe as a new car. An illustration of that idea is the example of many african people we drive old or very old cars for many years. Most of the time,those used car last even longer than new car. May be it is not quiet clear to you, the idea is that we give the value to our object. Then, it makes our worries go away. Thus, we feel safe.
Honey, i do not have enough time to present details regarding what i am talking about. But, i know that you will get it. Be excited to have your car. That car is going to last as long as we value it. And you will realize that this is going to be your first experience with this car. Then, you will have another and another. Later, you will really appreciate this car. I am not saying that there is no danger to have this car, but the idea is whether the car is valuable or vulnerable, we, humans give the value and importance to our objects.

Friday, July 07, 2006

What is important is to be wholly discontented, for such total discontent is the beginning of the initiative which becomes creative as it matures; and that is the only way to find out what is truth, what is God, because the creative state is God.

Krishnamurti, Think on These Things

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I see farms everywhere...

This empty lot stands a few blocks from my apartment. It's slotted for an eventual community center, but in the meantime... could feed the neighborhood! Why does everyone buy their vegetables at Super Walmart when they could buy them from the garden down the block? It could employ several people at a reasonable wage, cut out all the middle men and transport costs, and beautify the community.

Just a thought...

And what about all these big, empty (irrigated!) parks sitting around??

Done and Undone

My experience on the farm is of course an opportunity to learn about farming, agriculture. Along the way, I've made a few observations about human nature, too.
One thing I've been thinking a lot about lately is the beginning and ending of things. Every action has a beginning and an end, but we rarely pay attention to this detail, living our lives with our endings and beginnings all tumbling into one another. More often, as I've noticed recently on the farm, we simply skip the ending, we wander off, and don't finish what we've started. More p
recisely, we may have finished the primary task, but we have not considered all that is required to end impeccably. We throw the tool down, we leave things strewn around, we're called to another task and we never come back.
Though I don't always succeed, I like to try to finish any activity... admirably...with an attention to detail that takes into account not only the task at hand, but future tasks, the ease vs. toil of future farmers, the care and maintenance of tools and equipment, and the aesthetic appeal of a clean, crisp finish; one where all aspects have been considered and cared for.

I feel like there is some kind of intangible value in true completion of a task. If the objective is to plant lettuce, the job is not done when the lettuce is in the ground. The job is truly done when the seedling containers are collected and returned to the greenhouse, the tools are put away in the shed, the hose is coiled and ready for the next project. It may be easy to just write me off as a neat-freak, but in fact I believe that this kind of attention to endings is immensely important in the process of living life. We need to examine our work and ask ourselves if we've done the best we can do. There may, of course, be times that we don't do our best work. It may be that we're tired or otherwise impeded. But in those cases, even the intention of doing our best work will suffice. When the intention of doing our best work is allowed to dissipate or not to matter, however, we only achieve a kind of apathetic carelessness. The lettuce may be in the ground, but the integrity possible in all work is left undone.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence of thought

February 12, 2004

I’ve done some reading today in Carl Sandburg’s book about Lincoln—what an incredibly objective individual he was. He was completely able to put his personal beliefs aside to fulfill his duty to the nation. “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.” This statement took incredible impartiality and could not have been easy in light of what I believe were his personal objections to slavery—at least as this book portrays him. It is a new thought for me that personal beliefs aren’t necessarily the most paramount consideration. The idea of duty before conviction is very interesting—and maybe only necessary for those who hold elected office or who represent more than just themselves? It seems to me that Lincoln felt an obligation to uphold democracy—to represent even the needs of his adversaries in his final decisions. It’s fascinating. I don’t think I could walk the line he had to walk between the extremes. He saved the Union AND abolished slavery! And do our modern politicians take so much care in their decisions?

What is failure?

I have to admit something that no one likes to see, much less admit seeing, in oneself. It is that I have absolutely no true confidence in myself or in my ability. I think this lack of confidence, or perhaps my ability to recognize it now, hinges on a fact of life to which we are all subjected--that is, that I can have
Pablo Picasso, "Acrobat" 1930
absolutely no certainty about anything. It seems, the more reflective I become, the less I can be certain of things--not only those things which others might have me believe as true, but also of those things in myself which I had always accepted or assumed to be true.
My whole self, really, is nothing but opinion and it feels as though the thoughts and reflections I have are not essentially my own, but are the result of influences upon me, whether social or historical (or both). And even this conclusion is not authentic to me but is at best a synthesis of the ideas and reflections of others, though made real to me through my own experience. In some ways, this lack of certainty, while being a fact of human existence, seems maybe more akin to me than to most of those around me, or at least they are better at playing the game of "what I'm doing with my life." They seem to pursue, without any hesitation, the building blocks of the life that is proposed to us. It is like their path is determined by those blocks themselves. Once they have achieved a block, their next step is determined by the location of the next block. They have learned to live life like a video game and they accumulate all the points. Yes, they do end up with many building blocks, and they build the life they have been taught to desire. Is it the life they imagined for themselves? Who established the goal? Who set the game in motion? Accumulating points is fun and addictive--in some cases the goal doesn't matter, but then, the goal is assured if one plays by the rules and works only to pefect one's skill within those boundaries.
I was in a true funk this weekend, and with a real desire to escape my own mind the best I could do was flee the apartment. I went to the bookstore and found a recording of E. E. Cummings reading from his play him (see below) and other poems. In my particular mood, I felt an immediate sympathy with the description of
his own uncertainty as a feat of acrobatics; three chairs balanced on a wire, eighty feet in air. I am an artist. I am a man. I am a failure.
What is failure?

For me, the blocks don't build, the points don't add up to being an accountant or a dental technician or a veterinarian, the goal isn't clear. Clarity, certainty have always eluded me and I manage to leave my blocks behind as I pursue a new thing totally unrelated to the last. "So how does working on a farm relate to a degree in divinity?" "Why are you in divinity school if you are interested in education?" I'm wearied by these questions; wearied and discouraged more by my attempts at a true response. Because in fact, I do not know. A sense of failure is directly related to the approval we seek from others, or at best to our own desire to fit in and measure up, and if possible, just a little bit higher and beyond where we are expected to fit. We not only want to "make a contribution" but to make a sensational contribution. We want recognition, validation. There are certain jobs we'd "never do!" after achieving a certain level of education or material comfort or prestige of another kind. I feel an enormous pressure to perform, succeed, achieve. But I believe my essential nature is to wander and learn.

Can I be a confident wanderer? Can I be content with never arriving? I have many skills, and enough experience and funny stories to fill volumes. I feel a desire to express myself as I am doing here. But I am not confident that I can make an authentic contribution to this
"Chair on Chair" by Michael Pfleghaar
life. I don't know what it means to be true to myself when all that I am is the synthesis of what has come before, and so much of what I say or do is reaction, not action; an unconsidered response to social pressure, perceived or imperceptible, and years of conditioning. I have never learned how to be myself. I have only been taught to perform, achieve, and measure myself against the standard..
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes that there is nothing new under the sun. Perhaps it may be too bold, too selfish to desire to think newly and independently, without influence. Is there anything new that can be said or done? And isn't the importance I place on coming up with something new and different only the obvious product of an obsessive commercial culture?
I am not certain of anything. Yet, certainty seems to be the opposite of failure.
If you can tell me, how can confidence be found in not-knowing? Can wandering be a goal in itself? Can it be useful to society, can it be a life's work? Can a contribution to life be built by one who doesn't accumulate blocks? Can I please be defined by my humanity, by my life's experience, by my insights...and not by my ability to fit in?
Please don't ask me what I'm planning to do with my degree.
Ask me sincerely what I've been thinking about lately...

Monday, July 03, 2006


Excerpt from
him, (1927) by E. E. Cummings

Self-portrait sketch by E. E. Cummings circa 1920

him: The average painter, sculptor, poet, composer, playwright is a person who cannot leap through a hoop from the back of a galloping horse, make people laugh with a clown's mouth, orchestrate twenty lions.

me: Indeed.

him: But imagine a human being who balances three chairs, one on top of another, on a wire, eighty feet in air with no net underneath, and then climbs into the top chair, sits down and begins to swing.

me: (shudders) I'm glad I never saw that. Makes me dizzy just to think of it.

him: I never saw that either...

me: Because nobody can do it!

him: Because I
am that. But in another way it's all I ever see.

me: What is?

him: (pacing up and down) This: I feel only one thing. I have only one conviction. It sits on three chairs in Heaven. Sometimes I look at it with terror. It is such a perfect acrobat. The three chairs are three facts. It will quickly kick them out from under itself and will stand on air. And in that moment, because everyone will be disappointed, everyone will applaud. Meanwhile, some thousands of miles over everyone's head, over a billion empty faces, it rocks carefully and smilingly on three things, on three facts, on: I am an artist, I am a man, I am a
failure. It rocks and it swings and it smiles and it does not collapse, tumble or die, because it pays no attention to anything except itself.
I feel, I am aware, every minute, every instant, I watch this trick, I am this trick. I sway, selfish and smiling and careful above all the people. And always I am repeating a simple and dark and little formula. Always myself mutters and remutters a trivial colorless microscopic idiom. I breathe and I swing and I whisper. An artist, a man, a failure must proceed.

me: This thing or person who is you, who does not pay any attention to anyone else, it will stand on air?

him: On air.

E.E. Cummings Audio links:
"every artist's strictily illimitible country is himself"
let's from some loud unworld's most rightful wrong

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Nasredeen Hassan

Nasredeen Hassan is a Sudanese student from Darfur. He has been accepted as a visiting scholar at Harvard Law School for 2006-2007 and is seeking support in order to take advantage of this opportunity.

Nasredeen is an unusually gifted schola
r, finishing first in his class of several hundred during his undergraduate and graduate legal study. He received the top academic honors ever awarded by the Faculty of Law at the University of Khartoum. He wrote his LLM thesis on "Mechanisms for the Protection of Human Rights in Sudan", focusing on the role of the judiciary. He dedicated his thesis to his mother, and to human rights workers around the world.

To read more, or to donate, please click here.

Saturday, July 01, 2006