Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
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:
Friday, July 07, 2006
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
This empty lot stands a few blocks from my apartment. It's slotted for an eventual community center, but in the meantime...
...it 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??
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 precisely, 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
I’ve done some reading today in Carl Sandburg’s book about
Pablo Picasso, "Acrobat" 1930
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 Pfleghaarlife. 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.
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 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 scholar, 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.