Monday, February 14, 2011

the knee-jerk principle

There's a kid that sits next to me sometimes in Psych 101 (yes, yes--I'm a grad student taking Psych 101) that must have some sort of special situation because he often spends his time in lecture writing up a learning journal rather than taking notes.  I'm really not sure how I have time to look over at the guy's computer screen to notice things like this because I'm usually so furiously taking notes myself that I've practically burned a hole through my paper (or perhaps through the second joint on my pinkie--some days the jury is out on which one has sustained more damage).  Yet furious scribbling and all, I've noticed the emergence of the learning journal.  Maybe this is because I'm jealous and would much rather be writing a learning journal myself.  For psych 101 it would go something like this: this professor is highly agitated, I'm in a room with 400 other people born a decade behind me, psych 101 is hard, but I get an 'A' for effort on this learning journal, right...?

I love the whole concept of a learning journal.  No need to take notes furiously, no need to read books from the library.  Just reflect, put it on paper and--hopefully--remember why you're doing the learning in the first place.  This last weekend, as I turned 29 years old, I realized again the importance of this process.

I got in a horrific fight with my husband this weekend.  On my birthday to boot.  Actually, the birthday part exacerbated the fight part, but that may be diverging from the point.  There are so many reasons why the fight happened, and so many reasons why it didn't need to happen, but happen it did, and both of us spent a pretty miserable day in each others vicinity.  What surprised me throughout was that several times I acknowledged that what I was feeling had very little to do with anything my husband had actually done.  One accidental misstep on his part had initiated a seed of a feeling in me which sprouted, grew momentum and crescendoed before either of us could change course.  My reaction initiated an equal and opposite reaction in him (I'm defying the scientific principle here, I know) and both of us ended up staunchly in our own universes, unable to communicate with the other.

What I needed in this moment was a learning journal.  Something that could remind me what I had known and learned several times in the past, which was that my husband loved making me happy and couldn't possibly have meant to make me feel insignificant on my birthday.  My learning journal could have told me that I'd followed this same emotional path several times before (because, really, don't we often have the same exact feeling--guilt, fear, insecurity--just in response to different circumstances, like a rotating wheel?) and that it was my path, not one my husband forced me on to.  He could have had his own learning journal which would have told him much the same.  The truth was, our emotions had very little to do with the present situation--more than anything they were remnants from past crises that just never went away...past insecurities that kept gnawing at us in the gut.

In the end we made up without the learning journals, but not without some serious tension.  In the midst of it all, it felt like a day lost.  A precious Saturday together, with nothing to do but enjoy one another, but which never came to fruition.  However, today feels different.  Today I realize that sometimes all my stories, past and present, converge in a way I can't control.  Sometimes those stories that run around inside me and shape and pattern my landscape, sometimes they run into one another and I become the casualty.  Like when your knee jerks from the doctor's hammer.  Sometimes we have emotional knee-jerk reactions for no apparent reason.  I'm not sure I have the answers about how to prepare myself for more emotional knee-jerk moments, but a learning journal seems like a good start.  In the midst of the next emotional tornado, when nothing makes sense and my chest feels like it's being put through a blender, I can read through my learning journal and remember that I've been here before and things are going to come out a lot better than they seem at the moment.  Of course I won't get an 'A' for effort, but I bet I'll get my husband's kisses back a whole lot sooner.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

As the crow flies over Cairo

On the world map that hangs on my wall, Seattle exists a mere 17 inches from Cairo, Egypt.  The world gets smaller every day--clearly not accomplished by the fact of a map hanging on a wall in my apartment (and the arbitrary distances it chooses)--yet I can conceive of that 17 inches as a much smaller distance than was possible not that many years ago.

What does this 17 inches mean?  Well today, in this moment, in this year, it means a lot.

Protests in Cairo this last week have been pushing for a transition to a new government.  For many people this is curious, interesting even, but does it matter?  Protests in Tunisia, in Yemen, in France, in Mexico...protests.  Perhaps nothing new.  But perhaps they are.

Ben Curtis/AP
A whole generation--a very large generation--of young people is coming of age in the Middle East.  For that matter, a whole lot of young people are coming of age all across the 'third' world.  And they want jobs.  So do I, so do my friends, so do my students.  Some of those young people are pushing for access to jobs in the 'first' world and getting visas to the U.S., to France, to Germany.  They are studying for advanced degrees, winning positions in prestigious companies, maintaining communication with friends and family at home and truly changing the face of the world by creating global communities.

Those 17 inches, because of the internet, the airline industry, Skype, blogs, and satellite TV, are almost a meaningless distance.  I see Cairo and Cairo sees me.  But I'm watching Cairo in a very different way than Cairo is watching me.

What's happening in this push for a global community is both exciting and scary.  Young and old making demands for a transition to democratic leadership in Egypt--exciting.  The potential for instability in a country that helps keep cheap oil flowing straight to the U.S. and Europe--scary.

Perhaps the pushes for reform, advanced education and jobs that are happening all around the 'third' world will be a moment for reflection, readjustment and eventually, new innovation.  Perhaps the price of oil will rise as the Suez Canal goes into a state of flux and this will push new energy technologies onto the marketplace and spur job creation in a whole new sector.  But perhaps in the meantime this will increase the price of food, heat, transportation and just about any product that travels any distance to arrive at market--meaning, all of them.

The 17 inches between Seattle and Cairo have become very small indeed.  So small that what happens in Cairo has ripples that surely end up in my pond.  This is exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time--as moments of transition always, certainly are.  What we choose to do with a moment of transition can determine quite a bit about our future.  So let us absorb not only the import of this moment but also its possibilities.  For anyone interested in fostering a global community, in learning from dynamic social movements or in developing the technological innovation that supports a fast-paced, integrated world--for all of you, this is your moment to shine.  Seize it.

My succulent world

Watching el viejo.  The peruvian grey-haired cactus.
Dry blue explosion

 Like rippled aubergine

The Bart Simpson haircut

                       fecund desert

I call this one Stalin's mustache.