Thursday, June 14, 2007

Visiting the Zen center

Gosh, it's nice to be able to take things one at a time, switch tasks when you feel like it, take some time to pay attention and relax into what you're doing without feeling pushed to do more things faster.



I spent the morning and much of the afternoon sending thank-you notes. Lots of them. 6.5 hours' worth. After a quick stop-in at the OLPC office, I set off for the Cambridge Zen Center's free introductory session, after which we sat on dense blue cushions atop faded green mats and asked questions of a visiting Masai chieftain (38 years old, a chief since he was 18) who wore a gold watch and black and white checkered cloth robe over his slacks and collared blue shirt.



I asked him what made a person a good leader, and he responded that it was a lack of selfishness and giving everyone consideration regardless of who they were. He does this by example as well. Masai are polygamous, but instead of four wives and 40 children he has one wife and four children - and three adopted children - because one issue facing the Masai right now is population control; "when there are more people, the land becomes small." Asked whether he worries about his children (who are attending private school) moving to the city and forgetting the Masai ways, he replied that he could not say he does not worry about it, but that he tells his children that it is their responsibility to give back to the Masai community they came from.



After the talk, we clustered around a beautiful wood table by the kitchen where huge bowls of carob-chocolate rice pudding, warm banana-pineapple chunks, and whipped cream were sitting along with a pot of smoky tea. "You mean we can just... eat it? People that just walked in?" "Yes," said a young man who lived at the Center (who'd originally mistaken me for a friend, causing mild confusion and then a good laugh). We talked about life. After I told him about going to college for engineering, he asked me if it had been fulfilling. "Yes," I said. "Well, it fulfills a part of me." There's a part of me that really needs to build and read and study. But studying can't tell you how to live or what to believe.



It was a warm night, so I walked back from the Center (by Central Square) to Fenway, a stroll that took about an hour. A twentysomething man was sobbing loudly onto a streetlamp across from a Thai restaurant, his friends in baseball caps and faded hoodies clustering around to comfort him. Soft rock guitar and somebody's trumpet battled for aural dominance by the Berklee apartments.



Fenway was, according to Harvard historians via the House Manager's manual, actually built in 1903 (or thereabouts), well after the end of slavery (so Gui was off by several decades). Turns out the wee rooms were servant quarters. I also know how to exterminate cockroaches in the kitchen now, and on the table in the lounge is a black book with yellowed pages falling off; I opened it to a 1981 entry in blue ballpoint where a boy describes his disappointment at the lack of anarchy at Fenway, how he'd grown more radical over the course of his studies but that the house hadn't. "I feel like a snake shedding its skin," he wrote as he prepared to leave.



Some black and white photos of young men in scruffy beards amidst piles of books were pasted within the pages. Those young anarchists are my parents' age now. I wonder if they grew into collared salarymen with slight paunches and a lawnmower in their garage. I hope they didn't. All the same, I'm acutely aware my current behavior (not spending money, no job, living in a crazy painted house, eating at random hours, walking across the city) is tolerated precisely because I'm young and "going through an experimental phase," and at some point - twenty five? thirty? I stop being a cute, eager kid and start being a kook who never learned to live in normal society.



I feel the vague itchings of "I should really be studying something technical" in the back of my mind. I'm deliberately ignoring it and letting it build - I want to make sure it's real desire to learn instead of a sentiment of obligation because I have an engineering degree - and when I can't hold that back any longer, I'll devour something with intense speed and relish... I'm hoping my appetite will turn towards Proakis, or Horowitz and Hill, but we'll see; I've been enamored with the idea of learning kernel hacking, as of late.






Normalcy can wait. Tonight I start a new book - on ethnographic fieldwork methods. Mmm! Time to read.

4 comments:

GuiC said...

Meh, within an order of magnitude. Ok, slave != servant, but... fine.

nikki said...

All the same, I'm acutely aware my current behavior (not spending money, no job, living in a crazy painted house, eating at random hours, walking across the city) is tolerated precisely because I'm young and "going through an experimental phase," and at some point - twenty five? thirty? I stop being a cute, eager kid and start being a kook who never learned to live in normal society.

I don't know exactly what I want to say about this, but I can best summarize it in 3 points: 1. this is probably true, 2. I don't want it to be true, and 3. I feel like there's a way for this not to happen to you exactly like that - people whose opinions actually matter shouldn't be at that place.

I guess I'm having trouble deciding where the line between reality and idealism lies in this case...

bcharlie said...

I always like reading your blog. You express a lot of lifestyle choices that I've kind of felt within myself but am not quite brave enough to commit to living. I feel like I shouldn't say this, but I find you more articulate via computers than in person. I want to understand you better.

Mel said...

bcharlie, I do feel more fluent in written conversations than in spoken ones, which is probably at least partly due to my severe hearing loss (and the accompanying "deaf accent"). If you've got any suggestions for what I can do to be more articulate in person, I'd love to hear them.

Ironically, I feel like I'm not brave enough to do all the things I'd like to do with my life. I've gotten part of the way there, but fear holds me back from the rest sitll.

I'm always up for getting to know cool people, and vice versa - this blog tends to leave out a lot of background info that might make some things make more sense. Drop me a line via email (firstname at firstnamelastname dot com) and maybe we can figure out a time to chat. (I'd ping you a message, but don't have your email.)