Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Boston day two, three, and four: seminars and togas

The last few days have been great, I have learned a lot, and I have not gotten much sleep. There are three points that summarize some of what I have learned so far, and they are as follows: 1) I have found that economics is infinitely more complicated than I had imagined, 2) I know infinitely less than I thought I knew, 3) the more I know the less I understand. These three truths cause me a great deal of intellectual pain the last few days as I have conversed, debated, and laughed with people my age from around the world. I spoke with a guy from Mexico City about immigration, I debated the pros and cons of a free-market system with a girl from Nepal, I picked the brain of a Harvard student and I got into a heated debate with a Russian over the role of eggs in a breakfast meal. The level of intellect on this campus really is amazingly high, and I find myself way out of my league yet enjoying every minute of it. I am learning more than I thought I would, and at a much faster rate than my brain can process so I am constantly referring to my notes and trying to master the language of economics.

Time is flying by here as there is so much to do and see and think about. It has been frusterating to me because it really does seem as though the more I know about free-market principles, profits and losses, incentives, and a variety of other economic related material, I find it difficult to understand what the right thing to do is. The more I learn about this stuff, the more I realize that the world is a complex web of ideas, each of which might hold some validity, and I feel less and less qualified to make the distinction between a good and bad idea. One obviously good thing that this time has given me is the opportunity to think, talk, and discuss deeply with other really smart people. Everyone should have this type of thing. It is constantly challenging everything I know, and forcing me to defend it daily.

Well, aside from all the academic thinking that has gone on here, there has been a bit of fun. My friend Joe and I were sitting at the social last night talking about what kind of fun things we could do today on our free day. He suggested that he and I rent bikes at a shop he had found so that we could tour Boston in a quick and fun way; I completely agreed, and, only half seriously, suggested that we do it while wearing togas. Joe loved the idea and the two of us were quickly devising a plan for the next day and how we would ride our bikes while wearing togas all day and all over Boston. Well, today we spent seven straight hours touring Boston on bikes, stopping traffic, getting honks, waves, yells, laughs, and everything in between. You see, our idea caught on and by the time we were ready to go, we had a group of 14 international students wearing togas and sitting on bikes.

A few highlights: stopping at Harvard school of law to get information and talk up my name...I may have been the first person ever to wear a toga in the ancient halls of Harvard, and hopefully the last. Completely stopping two lanes of traffic while 14 toga sporting bikers rode accross the stree to honks and plenty of obscene gestures. Riding along the Charles river at night and seeing the city, lit up in all its glory and set against a starry sky, cool wind singing a song of peace. Laughing with people from accross the world, all of whom, despite our differences, can appreciate the humor of riding through Boston in togas.

Here are a few pictures:

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Boston day one: airports and economics

It has officially started, the madness that is summer and adventuring around the world, and I couldn’t be happier. Travel yesterday was wild, and a bit tiring, yet I am safely here in Boston today. It all began with a midnight flight out of Phoenix to Chicago, where I spent three hours (from 5am to 8am) trying to sleep in a perfectly secluded spot I found on the floor sandwiched between a window and a row of uncomfortable seats. I lay there for a while, watching raindrops playfully chase each other down the glass and thinking how nice it was to see the sunrise while it was raining. I was able to sleep for close to an hour on the plane, and was also able to catch a bit of rest lying on the floor of the airport. Then, at 8am it was off for a quick two hour flight to Boston.

When I arrived I found my bag and followed the instructions I had been given for finding Simmons College, where the Poverty and Prosperity seminar would take place. This involved navigating a confusing and complicated subway system with all of my luggage on my back while being hassled by the occasional mentally unbalanced homeless person. After hopping on a few wrong trains I eventually found my way to Simmons and arrived at 1pm eastern time, and let me tell you, I was glad to have arrived. I found my room and, upon entering, found my roommate Daniel asleep on his bed. He woke up for long enough to tell me his name and that he had spent the night at the airport, and that he was from Moldova. Later as we talked, he turned out to be a really nice guy, about my age, and he was not at all offended when I told him that I not only didn’t know where Moldova was, but that I had never heard of it. Moldova, in case you were wondering, is a small country about the size of Maine sandwiched between the Ukraine and Romania, they speak Romanian. Shortly after meeting Dan, I succumbed to sleep and did so for close to two hours, until we were supposed to start at 4pm.

After the seminar we attended dinner and our social, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was, and still am, very impressed with the level of diversity of the participants involved in the seminar. I have thus far met people from Peru, Guinea, the UK, Austria, Russia, Guatemala, Mexico, India, Canada, Taiwan, Sierra Leone, and a variety of other places. Each of the participants is around my age, and each of them has unique and interesting stories and each brings with them a very different outlook on life. It really has been eye opening so far. Since last night I have attended two additional seminars relating to poverty and economics and several discussions in smaller groups. I have really been enjoying talking and learning all about global economics, something I knew very little about. Anyway, I am looking forward to my week here in Boston, and hope to see some of the sights when I am more rested and have more time, thus far we have been kept very busy! In the meantime, check out the pictures, some of which I will post here, but I will post all of them on another website that you can access by clicking on the link on the right side of the page.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Stickshifts and Safteybelts

I have been working recently, a lot. By the end of the week I will have worked the last ten days in a row, that’s 80 hours of caffeine fueled work, not that I’m counting. And the thing of it is, I am not naturally good at this, at working all the time and earning money. I have always been focused on other things, and have never cared much about the pursuit of copious amounts of money. The truth is, and this is going to sound so gay, I would much rather write something, or paint something, or hike something, or travel to some distant place for an adventure. And sometimes I wonder if God messed up when he made me, if somehow I wasn’t wired right, or if maybe I am missing some key component that is meant to keep me sane while working long hours. It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s the opposite actually. It’s that I hate doing stuff that I feel doesn’t matter in the least; i.e., every job I have ever had. On the flip side, I have a deep love of knowledge and learning, which is why I like college and higher education so much, because I feel like it matters, and I enjoy it. So when I spend 80 hours in ten days parking cars for rich people, I feel a little spent. So I have to rationalize this mundane crap with the higher adventure that I feel called to, and let me tell you its not easy. For many people I know it just doesn’t seem to be a struggle, they work the 9 to 5, they sell a computer or an electric toothbrush, they go home, and they are satisfied. And to be to tell you the truth, I really wish I was more like that sometimes.

I heard someone once say that there are two types of people in the world, “how,” people, and “why,” people. “How” people only ask the “how” of life, how will I get more money? how will I marry a beautiful girl? how can I pay rent this month? etc. “Why” people, likewise, only ask the “why” questions about life; why do I need a job to make money that I spend on myself? Why do I need a girlfriend? Why am I even here? Let me tell you, I am a why person, and I hate it. Why am I working this job all the time when I could be out having adventures and living large in different parts of the world and riding camels and such? That is a question that I have been chewing on recently. And to make matters worse, I have been reading the blogs of a few people who do live this way, one who is a missionary in Eastern Europe, and another who travels around the world taking pictures, and my goodness does it sound good. It sounds like freedom to me.

But I know this. I know God has placed these insatiable desires deep within me so I never stop asking for more from life, so I am never content to just be.

Well whatever I end up doing, I need to trust God with it, because I don’t trust myself. His word says he knows the desires of my heart, and he cares about them, and that is huge. That is possibly the most comforting thing I have ever heard, aside from the fact that God loves me. But ultimately life is an adventure, and I love that, and I will continue to take advantage of every opportunity I get to live large.

So the last few days have taught me a bit about hard work and simply putting your head down and doing something even if you feel like it won’t ever amount to anything. It’s the process, not the end, in which I can find meaning and hope. In this case the means justify the end, in fact, they create it. So I will patiently wait for my summer adventures to arrive, and in the meantime I will suck whatever meaning and depth I can from a Beamer and a manual transmission.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

California Dreaming

Let me first say that I am greatly looking forward to this summer, as it holds within its vast arms an array of joy, beauty, and opportunity. Ah yes, the summer of 2007. So it begins. This trip to California signaled the start of my summer and its adventures, and let me say that there may be no better way to begin one’s summer than with a free trip to California for four days. I headed to California with my girlfriend’s family, the Harmans, to attend the wedding of my girlfriend’s best friend, Jenny, in Irvine. The trip to Cali was good, I have always enjoyed road trips and took the opportunity to read and reflect on a variety of things. I was sitting, reading Emerson, and I nodded back and forth between Emerson’s words and trying not to drift into road induced sleep. I closed the book and shut my eyes for a moment, Emerson’s authoritative words echoing wisdom in my head… “God will not make his words manifest by cowards…” I stopped to wonder at his words and what they could mean if I really took them to heart. You see, I seem to have a problem with living in the moment, with not worrying about what is to come. I feel like I am constantly living in three different worlds, the past, the present, and the future. It is one of my greatest faults, I think. It makes me emotional and unstable to a degree, and I feel this restlessness creeping under my skin like some disease. Emerson addresses this problem, by making an example of a rose…“These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence…” Oh how I long for that. So, with the risk of sounding rather foolish, I will tell you that I spent the rest of the trip to California wishing I was a pretty rose, and I could sit under someone’s window or in a garden, and people would point and marvel at my beauty and simplicity, and I would simply smile to myself and think, “why yes, I am quite beautiful, thank you.”

As we arrived at our hotel in Irvine, I was greeted by a cool gust of air that tasted of salt and the sea. I must tell you now that I do not find much else as refreshing as I find that simple, relaxing, feel of cool California air. Its as if even the air senses that the coast is about relaxation and calm, and rejects the heat and busyness of urban life. After finding dinner at a nearby restaurant, we headed back to the hotel where I did a bit of solo exploring. After a journey to the gym and the hot tub, I sought out the lobby’s large chairs for a bit of coffee and a good book. As I was sitting there I listened to two girls sitting in front of me talking in a language I had never heard. After a few minutes of attempting to decipher what they were speaking, I decided to ask. A South-African dialect, they told me, speaking in a heavily accented English. Ah, I thought, interesting. I then proceeded to perform my best South-African accent (influenced heavily by Leo DiCaprio’s accent in Blood Diamond) with what I thought was a flawless delivery of the line, “That diamond is my ticket off this god-forsaken continent!” As I delivered this line I shook my hands a bit for effect and gave my best Leo face. Although not quite perfect, they laughed and told me that the accent was pretty good, for an American.

The next day we ventured to Huntington Beach, where we spent a good portion of the day leading up to the wedding. Upon arriving I was immediately taken aback by the shear beauty and size of the ocean. The waves crashing like free-form verse on the shore sang a vernacular for fish that sounded beautiful. I think that God must have created massive beautiful things like the ocean simply to remind us how small and insignificant we are and how big He is. As I stood, the words to one of Shawn McDonald’s songs rang in my head… “The same hands that created all of this, they created you and I…” Beautiful, I thought, and cold. The ocean is really cold.

The wedding was beautiful as well. Right on the beach, ten feet from the Pacific Ocean, the happy couple that was Jenny and Josh were married, much to the delight of several hundred onlookers. And it was nicer than I thought it would be, honestly. Despite the fact that the tide didn’t rise and swallow them into the ocean as they recited their vows, it was still a good, short, ceremony. To tell you the truth I have never been a fan of weddings, and every time another friend of mine with a foolish grin and a sparkle in his eye tells me he is getting married I roll my eyes and say, “sure you are…I’ll see you sometime next year.” I think all this has to do with some unconscious thought I have that neither my friend nor his fiancĂ©e have any idea what they are doing; and in their defense I have begun to think that I am probably wrong, but it is still easier to be pessimistic than optimistic because, after all, I am in some ways losing a friend. Yeah, I know, I can be pretty superficial and shallow despite the 22 years I have lived, but it’s my right to be superficial and shallow, so there. Anyway, I did enjoy the wedding, mostly because I got to watch my girlfriend, perfectly framed by the ocean and glowing a bit as if she was an angel from some celestial place, standing by her best friend as she was married. The whole thing was rather beautiful I suppose, and now Jenny and Josh are married and are very happy because now they can squeeze each other’s butts and such while other people are around.

All of this wedding stuff got me thinking about how Emerson talks about peace and love and truth and beauty, and he seems to think that they are some of the best things in the world, and, come to think of it, I guess Jesus thought the same thing. And the thing of it is, when two people get married and they have a Godly love burning passionately, deeply within them, you can tell. You can see it in their eyes, you can hear it in the way they talk about each other and how they glance at one another from across the room. It is as if some force has a hold of them and it radiates love, truth, beauty and peace. And what’s more, it pulls people to them. When two people love each other like Jenny and Josh do, people want to be around them, want to watch them, want to be their friends and catch some of their love for themselves. Anyway, all this to say that I think love and marriage are two beautiful things, and it’s a good thing too, because there is a shortage of true and beautiful things in the world.

We began the next day with a trip to Newport Beach, where we spent almost all day in the sun boogie boarding, playing in the sand and sleeping. A true summer dream. And I will tell you that it is during these times that I have these terribly romantic (albeit unrealistic) dreams of what the future could be, and I closed my eyes and tried to taste what it would be like to live a life completely devoted to surfing and playing beach volleyball. Other than the possible sunburns, that life seemed pretty good, and I resolved to incorporate that unrealistic vision somehow into my realistic future. Not an easy thing to do let me tell you. So I eventually came to a sort of semi-realistic collaborative compromise between my Id and Superego, and decided to eventually become a surfing lawyer. I could have waterproof business cards in my wetsuit and, just as I am coming out of the water, someone would ask me who I was to which I would shake my long golden locks of hair and reply, “dude, I’m a lawyer.” Then I would hand out a business card and slowly walk down the beach and into the sunset. I also thought about incorporating my love of poetry into that scheme, and I imagined myself sitting by a beach fire-pit at night and, under the stars and in the cool air, writing poetry and playing my acoustic guitar while my long blonde hair and beard blew quietly in the wind. So as you can see and as I earlier confessed, I am a hopeless romantic when it comes to things like this, and all of this was rattling through my mind as I spent a day on the beach.

The next day was equally enjoyable, with a trip to Laguna beach and a relaxing ride back to Phoenix in the back of a Chrystler Sebring. During this time I did a lot of thinking, because I knew that I was headed back to Phoenix and thus back to real life (at least for the time being.) And I had the hardest time rationalizing all the hours I would be spending at work in the next few weeks, and it seemed that happiness and relaxation were such fleeting things, like they were given to me only long enough for me to really miss them when they were gone. But as I thought and prayed about this on the way home I realized that I was making a huge mistake: I was assuming that I was entitled to something. I have this deeply embedded feeling that I somehow deserve a simple, stress-free existence, and that if somehow life does not line up with what I want then there has been some mistake. But I realize now that as God happens to say in His word, I have been bought with a price. I am not my own. And any fun vacation time I am allowed to enjoy is nothing more than the kindness of God, giving me something I don’t deserve because He is loving and caring. It is was a radical change in thinking if you want to know, and ever since embracing this thought my life has gained tremendous joy. Instead of feeling sorry for myself because I think I deserve some easy existence, I thank God for what he has given me and enjoy breaks from work when they come. It takes a lot of pressure off too. Instead of worrying about what I will do, who I will marry or what job I will work, I only need to worry about God and whether I am doing what he wants me to. To sum it up in a few words I would say that living this way is freedom. My girlfriend Emily tells me that nothing comes without hard work, and that I have to work just like everyone else and I shouldn’t get so emotional about it. She says that there is a point where you have to stop thinking about everything and just do it. I know she is right, but for some reason there is something deep inside me, some dark beast of a thing that pulls on me and makes me feel like life shouldn’t be so tough. Emily also tells me that I take myself too seriously, that I take life too seriously; and I guess this trip was good for me that way, because lying there on the beach, watching my friend get married, laughing and talking with everyone, I realized that this whole life is a gift, and that I should just relax and enjoy the ride instead of analyzing every little thing that happens. I am so blessed, and I thank God for it.