Sunday Reading, 7/25/2010

Just some stuff I enjoyed today and felt like sharing:

“A Buddhist would advise that power comes when you detach from your past. An exec would say you’re only as good as your last Pn’L. They’re both right. When it comes to your genius, there’s always more where that came from.”

– Danielle LaPorte: Cocktail Lines and True Presence: the Power of Not Relying on Your Past

“Look at what you would like to achieve and ask yourself, ‘What is the smallest step in the direction of my dreams that I can take right now?’ Then take that baby step. Now.”

– zen habits: How to be Insanely Productive and Still Keep Smiling

Immortal Technique – You Never Know (unofficial video directed by Al Mukadam)

For Nonny

My grandma died comfortably and peacefully tonight. Her name was Louise Hurley Sweeney, but to me she was always “Nonny.”

For me, it’s hard to feel low as I think about her, because the truth is that Nonny had such a positive impact on me, as she did with so many others. She inspired me with her dedication to causes of love for those known and unknown. She was a patriot- not the kind distracted by the jingoistic farce of American exceptionalism, but rather someone who consistently advocated the ideals of justice, equality, and prosperity for all humankind.

For me, Nonny served as someone whose style wasn’t so much to encourage me from the sidelines, but to get involved with just the right bit of helpful information or a pressing question to make me realize something I hadn’t thought of before.  Ever the journalist, she was always helping me with my writing and photography skills. Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, a gift from her, has a dedicated spot on my desk. (And I used it to make sure I had properly formatted the reference to its title – a habit she would encourage.)

This year, she continued to inspire me with her strength as it was discovered that she had esophageal cancer. Though not going so far as to be in denial about its seriousness, she prepared for treatment and subsequently beat the cancer, and showed many good signs during her recovery. It was just last week that she’d gotten enough strength back to be doing the dishes herself. It took complications with her digestion and a bout with pneumonia to finally get the best of her.

Even the way Nonny died is a testament to the things she did right in life; she spent her last days surrounded by her husband, all five of her kids, several grandchildren (including me via the miracle of the Internet), and some very good friends who are as good as family. Many told her stories, we played her songs, and my aunts got to give her the pedicure she always wanted. I have great photos of her with giant grins with various family members that I will hold close to me for a long time.

I know I am just one of many people for whom Nonny’s love had such a positive effect on their lives. It’s geeky of me, but Star Trek: The Next Generation really gets my feelings right:

“Death is that state in which one exists only in the memory of others, which is why it is not an end.  No goodbyes, just good memories.”

Nonny has made a lot of good memories for a lot of people- so she’ll live on quite richly in the minds of many people. I loved her so much, and will miss her presence as I move ahead.

Zeke’s Life, Spring 2010 edition: Be Here Now

I don’t know where the last couple of days have gone, but I want my weekend back!

I haven’t been posting a lot about daily life this semester because I am lucky enough to actually be very consumed with school and the career search. I really didn’t expect things to hit me so hard all of a sudden, but I’ve been going seemingly nonstop since January or February. For the most part I’ve been handling it OK, though I’ve definitely had to shift gears on my daily routine.

One unfortunate truth is that I get so distracted having my desk in my bedroom that it’s pretty hard to be productive from home, so I find myself kicking myself out of the house a lot to get stuff done – to the CSU library if the time is right, but more often than not, I’m at the Alley Cat, Fort Collins’ 24/7 coffeeshop near campus. I quickly gained my FourSquare mayorship, I’ve had more than one precarious 4 AM bike ride home in varying levels of snow, and I am not going to tell you how much money I spend there. (The cost of the coffee and food is far offset by my productivity gains from the removed distractions.)

Currently on my plate are two big midterms and one case study on my own while working together on a huge paper and presentation with another group. Somewhere in there, I also need to find room to squeeze in a freelance project and the hunt for a job (Not knowing what I’m doing a month from now? Not the greatest feeling!) Despite all that, I feel like I’ve been ramping up the workload so steadily now that I can still manage to get stuff done without self-destructing. It’s interesting, though – I really haven’t felt this intense, stressful-yet-exciting kind of routine since my last senior year, back in high school. Back then I was juggling AP exams, college applications, understaffing at work, and a family with a 14 year old and a 4 year old at home. The situation has changed, but it’s the same old story: I’m super busy, but it’s almost all really worthwhile stuff that has me excited for what lies ahead.

I’m still actually working on the answer to what does lie ahead. On the practical level, I’m looking for systems analysis, sales engineer, and web developer opportunities in Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins and San Francisco. But I’m wondering a lot more about long-term stuff: what do I want my life to look like? Do I want to move to a big downtown area and try the urban yuppie lifestyle? Do I want to travel? Do I go back to Spain or do I take care of my massive international “to-do” list? Since I’m at a point in my life where I have the freedom to make those decisions, I feel like I should really think a lot about them before I commit myself to one path for a while, since I’m just finishing up this 4-year “chapter.”

I find myself thinking back to a walk I took a year ago alone on the dunes of the Sahara: it was there that I felt the most clarity and perspective I’ve ever experienced. That wasn’t really a “what am I going to do with my life” kind of moment; it was more like a time where all distractions were removed to the point where all that remained was the pure essence of being in communion with all that really matters in the world. A few months later, I was back in the daily grind when this line from Six Feet Under hit me like a ton of bricks:

All we have is this moment, right here, right now. The future is just a fucking concept that we use to avoid being alive today. So, Be. Here. Now.

I never expected to get a serious philosophical revelation from an HBO show, but it really does explain it all. The stuff I have going on isn’t necessarily irrelevant, but it’s really important to me that I don’t get lost in it. I want to go after a lifestyle for my future. My goal is not to save for retirement, or be super successful, or be the best person in my professional field. I don’t want to burn out on stress to the point that I need a vacation to recharge my spiritual batteries. I want to work towards making every aspect of my life: personal, professional, social, financial, spiritual, whatever – into things that enrich my life and the lives of everyone around me. And that’s it. Anything that doesn’t work towards that probably shouldn’t be there.

10 Years in Retrospect

The last few months of this decade are closing out here, and at the same time I’ve found myself in a time of transition that’s given me pause and made me look back over how much has changed in the last ten years, both in the whole world and in my own life.

I’m no contemporary historian, and my perspectives have been too limited to really have much original insight on what’s happened to the world at large. America has gone through some serious growing pains, especially involving foreign and economic policy. China has secured its “rising superpower” status, representing both potential for huge improvements in quality of life for many, and serious human rights concerns as well. I’ve had countless friends spend long amounts of time in China in the last few years: most of them teaching English and learning Mandarin. I feel like I should probably be doing the same for my own benefit.

As for myself, I can’t believe how much change I’ve been through. Here’s a short list of things I can remember about myself in 1999:

  • I was in my last year of being an only child living alone with two single parents.
  • I had recently become a Christian, and was thus adjusting to a very different view of myself and the world.
  • My dad had recently been through a big breakup where I chose to keep a relationship with his ex going, despite pressure from others to break it off.
  • I was a total introvert.

Here’s where I am now in comparison:

  • Both of my natural parents remarried, and I now have a stepsister and half brother. I learned a lot from having siblings and from being a part of a larger family.
  • I’ve been through a lot of evangelical churches and social circles, where I met some incredibly loving people and some total nutcases. I matured a lot and gained a lot of perspective. I also had some church influences that gave me what I consider now to be pretty unhealthy attitudes. I am thankful to say that I’m happy with where I’ve ended up: I have a strong, beneficial spiritual life, and am fiercely anti-religious. Am I still a Christian? Yes, and because of it I have strong qualms with most of today’s concept of “Christianity.”
  • My dad has recently been through a big divorce where I chose to keep a relationship with his ex going, despite pressure from others to break it off. This time has been much more complicated, and it’s given me a lot of doubts about both my existing and future relationships. Nothing terrible, but I definitely have a lot of stuff to work out.
  • When I became a teenager I got crazy social. Now I’ve calmed down – only a little, mind you, especially after the craziness that is studying abroad in Spain – and have reached a healthy medium. I go crazy with too much time alone or too much time out painting the town red.

As for the decade ahead… I have a lot of big unknowns. I’m in my last year of college, and graduating with a degree has been a big goal for me. After that, I don’t know what I want to do, but I have lots of ideas. I went off on my own in the Sahara this April and spent a long time praying and meditating there, and I came away with my desires for what I wanted out of my life realigned. My future career is but one factor in the large scheme of my entire life (embodied by the Spanish attitude of trabajar para vivir, no vivir para trabajar – Work to live, don’t live to work). I’m considering doing two years volunteering for the peace corps. I’m considering moving abroad, or looking for a nontraditional job that could give me the freedom to travel.

So it’s been a very packed ten years, ten years which have ultimately left me better prepared and very excited to see what life has in store next!