vantage point

Posted: April 18, 2011 in UChicago Jorgen

We pushed our way through the dilapidated doorway and ascended the entryway steps. On the right side of this little lobby was a large hole where the marble siding had been smashed and broken to reveal the old, ugly bricks underneath. A few steps later, we went through another door and entered the public stairwell of the building. A depressing grayness worked its way down from the old skylight three floors above and a certain unpleasant stench permeated the area. The dated tile on the floor was grungy and gross, and every step we took gave notice of the sticky grime that was splattered all over the ground. We walked to the door of one of the first floor apartments and my friend offered a gentle knock. A faint voice from the other side of the door responded, bidding us to enter. Then, Like the curtain going up and revealing all the change that has occurred in a moment of obscene (literally: “off scene”) devastation, the door slowly opened to reveal the aftermath of the previous night’s festivities.

***

Our perspective on things rightfully changes when we see them in their true colors. When we remove the deceptive covering of darkness and night and let the light come in.

***

We were entering the apartment in which some of the brothers from a fraternity reside, on a Saturday morning, after an ‘epic’ party that I had not participated in.

It was a surreal moment in many ways. It felt much like walking into a wasteland might – but that is not quite a complete enough picture; it was not just a wasteland but a wasted land. It was a place that had been intentionally wrecked, and the remains were left out for us to observe as we walked around. The place smelt of alcohol, although it was not quite an overwhelming sensation; it acted more like the backdrop, adding to the experience without dominating the landscape.

And oh, what a landscape it was.

The viscous ground was crisscrossed with thousands of filthy footprints, left there unintentionally by the many guests who had trekked there the night before. It would be foolish to even attempt to guess how many substances were present in this mucky mess of stains. Undoubtedly, however, much of it was alcohol that must have slipped ‘twixt the cup and the lip.

In one corner of the living room there was a table that was covered with all sorts of bottles, cans, pitchers, jugs and cups with varying amounts of volume left in them. The table itself, at least what could be seen of it around the above articles, could not be seen because of the intense filth that acted almost like a polish.

The walls in the living room were marked and scuffed to a remarkable degree, evidence of any number of activities that I either cannot or choose not to dwell on further.

Just outside of the living room there was a large hole in the drywall. We were informed that a bro’ had punched the wall while in state of unchecked, uncontrolled and ultimately unjustified anger. Down the hall we were shown a room with a broken doorknob. A different person had done it, but under similar circumstances, mindless destruction.

***

We didn’t stay for long. But there really would have been no reason to. The place lacked, from what I could see, any furniture intended for creature-comfort. Instead it was left purposefully sparse to manufacture as much open space for people as possible. And people come; they utilize this space. But, they come at night, by cover of darkness, when the lights are low. Few people come the day after. Few people want to acknowledge the empty reality that shines forth when the light reveals the true nature of the darkness.

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life in motion

Posted: April 6, 2011 in MBI Jorgen, UChicago Jorgen

I had a healthy double-pace going from the start, in an attempt to avoid the fate that eventually happened anyway: seeing the bus pass my stop just before I got there.  Rather than be thankful for this moment of forced rest, I quickly turned my head around and stared down the street to see how far away the next bus was.

I re-live this experience, or something similar, multiple times a week; running to catch a bus, rushing to catch a train, repeatedly checking for the next one to come while I impatiently wait. My mind is constantly focused on what’s next.

Such is the life of a commuter. I spend nearly two hours a day in transit on the CTA. Every moment is about movement, even when I finally get on the train, that takes me within two blocks of work, I can rarely divorce my thoughts from the hurriedness that awaits me at the end of the line. And while I sit in class two nights a week, I regularly reflect on the long journey home.

What’s worse is that outside of the actual commute, I have also found myself picking up habits of a life on the move in my interactions with people.

A few weeks ago, for instance, I got on campus and rushed into ‘the commons’ to buy dinner. I quickly threw a few pieces of pizza onto a plate, filled a cup with coffee, and jumped in line at the register. As my total was being calculated, I was entirely focused on getting out my wallet and grabbing a few napkins. All the while I was shooting glances into the dining area to keep an eye on my stuff. Without even digesting what my total was, I slid my card through the reader, picked up my stuff, and started to exit.

Then I looked up for a second.

The cashier, a college-student, a girl, was staring at me.

She looked like she had just been hit by the debris from a speeding tornado.

I recognized my folly, attempted a limp smile, and walked to my seat a little bit shaken.

It is much too easy to lose sight of the people we interact with for all of the things we “have” to do. And there I was, acting like this person, this human being, was less worthy of my time than my stuff, my food, and my petty little insignificant life.

I decided that I needed to make a change. Not just a metaphysical or psychological promise to “be better next time”, but a real, tangible change that would actually result in a slowing down of my busyness.

Solution: Sunday.

No more school or studying on Sundays. Whatever I do not get done on Saturday can, and will have to, wait until Monday evening.

I tried this out for the first time this past Sunday.

I’m not sure if it was just a placebo, but the day went by almost unnaturally slow, and I found that I was able to spend quantitative time with a multiplicity of people. After church I went and played “Settlers of Catan” with a few friends. In the early evening I was able to meet up with my brother and play squash with him for over an hour. The night was still young, however, and I went home got cleaned up and ate dinner, before heading out again. I met up with another friend and we talked for a long time, hours.  It was 71 outside, so we meandered around the main quadrangles with no agenda, nothing else to do, just a chance to slow down and share life.

Sunday was beautiful.

Sunday was slow.

Have you embraced slowness lately?

Open your eyes to the people around you, be sensitive, be affected, and don’t let yourself get to the point where all you get to see is the dust from your whirlwind hitting people as you pass by on your way to do something eternally unimportant.

Just because you have a life in motion, does not mean that you must constantly live in motion.

birthday

Posted: April 5, 2011 in Office Jorgen

As he gently pushed the door open, trying to be as quiet as possible, the balloons in his hand bumped against the jamb and sent a chorus of echoes down the overly-echoey hallway. And naturally, since we were attempting to be quiet, the sound was much louder than it normally would have been. After this close-call, my co-worker succeeded in entering the office, and together we bolted into the conference room to hide the goods. We were the official party bearers for the most recent office birthday.

The day before:
The official “secret” email was sent out to all of the non-birthday people, getting us all on board for the following day’s festivities. One of my co-workers signed up to go and get the supplies, cake and balloons, from the nearby grocery store. His reasoning was that he had yet to participate in this way in any of the other birthdays, which got me thinking, “why not me?” So, I quickly volunteered to be his partner in crime for the sortie.

The next day:
Acting very nonchalant, we headed out of the office under the guise of a ‘lunch break’. As soon as we reached the exit however, the mission was our only focus. We had a dual purpose in going, for one, we really did feel like our time had come to help out, secondly, we figured we could botch it up so badly that they would never send two guys again.

Our official party headquarters is a Jewel one block away from our office building so the journey did not take long. Once there, however, things began to get complicated. First, there were no cupcakes and there are always cupcakes (we later learned they keep them in the back of the store, see, you shouldn’t send two males). We wandered aimlessly through the bakery section trying to find a fitting substitute. What we eventually decided on were these two small, cheap – literally the cheapest things we could find – cakes, one of which was lemon. Our next challenge was creating balloon bouquets. Which would have been easy, except for the fact that we had very little concept of what colors looked good together. It took us a long time of pulling together different combinations of balloons before we felt properly satisfied with our decision.

After checking out, we headed back to the office. Note: try taking a bunch of balloons through a revolving door sometime, it is a fun little challenge. The only difficult thing between the lobby and our floor was the elevator, for some reason business people get weird in an elevator packed with balloons, oh well. After the doors opened, the challenge of the hall was in our way. We wanted it to be a surprise, so we had to proceed cautiously. Thankfully, we reached the office door uneventfully, but then As he gently pushed the door open, trying to be as quiet as possible, the balloons in his hand bumped against the jamb and sent a chorus of echoes down the overly-echoey hallway. And naturally, since we were attempting to be quiet, the sound was much louder than it normally would have been. After this close-call, my co-worker succeeded in entering the office, and together we bolted into the conference room to hide the goods.

After we were safely inside the conference room, we set everything up for the birthday girls’ arrival. We went around the office, getting everyone to go to the conference room, then we invited the two birthday ladies in for a ‘meeting’ and… Surprise! Everyone enjoyed the little party, and much to our surprise and chagrin, showered me and my friend with adoration for our great job and the delicious cake.

As I stood in there in the midst of these daytime comrades of mine, I felt so connected. I came into this office five months ago and had been stopped for a similar ordeal (read about that here), this time I was more than an innocent bystander, I was really one of the gang.

whatever

Posted: March 29, 2011 in MBI Jorgen

The gruff, rather demanding man grabbed my hands and marked them with large black Xs. I was then thrust into a darkened room to wait. As I took in my new surroundings I noticed that black was the dominant color in this room’s motif. There were lights, but they were dimmed and tended towards the darker side of the spectrum. There appeared to be only one other door (besides the one I had entered through), a dirty, black door marked with the words “NOT AN EXIT.”

I did not have a very clear concept of why I had been brought here, or what was to be expected.

Then it started.

The first sound was that of loud beatings, if one tried, a rhythm could be ascribed to them. In and of themselves these beatings might have been tolerable, what followed the beatings was not.

Joining the growing cacophony of the room were the loud, drawn-out, agonizing screams of a man.

***

At least that is one way to describe the experience I had.

I was encountering Chicago’s indie music scene for the first time, and I felt overwhelmed and out of touch. As I sat there listening, soaking in the first few melodic notes of the band on stage, I knew I faced a choice: Depression or Expansion. There was no third option, no middle ground. I knew myself well enough to acknowledge that I needed to fully embrace the situation or I would walk away defeated.

***

My brother and I were attending a show in the north-side neighborhood of Belmont; a completely different slice of life than I am used to on the south-side or downtown. One of my brother’s friends is in a band that was playing at this small bar/music venue known as the ‘beat kitchen,’ and I had tagged along for the experience.

I had no idea what kind of music was going to be played, and I’m still not sure what it was (especially since classifying musical styles is nigh impossible these days). The first two acts were characterized by loud music, accompanied by indistinguishable lyrics screamed into the mic. Standing there, I could feel the pulsating bass flow through my body like the tremors of an earthquake. The combination of the other instruments presented a harsh sound like the thrashing of a violent thunderstorm. I tried so hard to find something that I could cling to, surely there had to be some sense in this thing that I did not understand. I strained to hear the lyrics, but I could not. I felt like the songs were pointless because the words were being lost in this inharmonious mess.

I gave up.

That was when I heard something beautiful.

I stopped striving to apply something that was not there, and accepted what was being offered. These men were presenting real art. Once I let myself be affected by the music itself I was transported, albeit for a short time, to a different world where it made sense. What had been nonsensical became so real to me that I had to close my eyes and listen.

After my brother’s friend performed we started talking to his wife, and I was quickly deposed from my place of understanding.
— “How did you guys like it?” she asked.
–“It was good,” we dutifully responded.
–“This was much better than the last time I saw them,” another friend interjected.
–“Yeah, for once you were actually able to hear the words,” said his wife. Oh well, I felt like I got it for a moment there.

***

The night concluded with an act that was entirely different: one guy on an acoustic guitar. It was a gentle, easy-to-understand conclusion to the night. One of his lines in particular really resonated with me:

“You can’t go on like this forever, saying, “Hey man, it’s like whatever” for the rest of your life”

Why? Because, newsflash, it’s not whatever; choices have consequences and people have feelings. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Each day we are becoming a creature of splendid glory or one of unthinkable horror.” There is no magical land or magical time where we can live outside of consequences. There is a mountain in front of you right now, are you going to get depressed or are you going to expand?

I’ve tried the depression route before, I recommend expansion.

He rolled around in the hotel bed, unable to rest. Part of this was due to the incessant sunlight pouring through the window, part of it was the ceaseless prodding of his conscience. It was a strange dichotomy between too much light and too much dark.

A few minutes after the conclusion of the above movie, I went to bed myself.

The yellow glow of the streetlight defied the darkness of the room as it made its way through the wooden slat shades with ease. I tossed and turned for a while, the light was not so much of a problem as was the constant churning of thoughts in my head.

The main thing on my mind was this: “don’t lose your way.”

The next night the situation repeated itself, minus the movie.

The next morning when I roused I glanced up at the clock on the dresser: 7:35 AM. I was late; I had lost a half-hour of preparation time. Still, it was hard to convince myself that I needed to get out of bed that is until I looked at my cell phone which recorded the time as 8:35 AM. It was then that I remembered that the dresser clock had not been adjusted for daylight savings time, and I was 20 minutes late for leaving the house. I didn’t have time to shower; let alone make coffee, eat breakfast or make lunch.

Day’s like that are hard to rectify. Seemingly nothing can go your way when you start your day late.

I felt this fact compounded as I commuted to work. Naturally, it was raining, drizzling more like. I felt a deep coldness, unsatisfied with myself and yet unwilling to change my mind. It was a strange dichotomy: light all around me, yet darkness within.

Paul Cézanne, the French impressionistic painter, once said, “Genius is the ability to renew one’s emotions in daily experience.

A change was needed. And that change could not manifest itself in the form of wishing away another morrow; tomorrow would come just the same, yet hopefully be different.

I awoke very early the next morning to the sound of the alarm on my phone going off. I got out of bed, it was still dark outside. I stumbled, as one does early in the morning when our dormant legs are not fully ready to handle our weight. I made my way into the living room; the street lights were not as effective in this part of the house so the room was much darker. I took a seat on the la-z-boy. For a moment or two I just sat there, in the dark, at 4:45 AM.

Eventually, I reached over and clicked on the lamp.

Light flooded the room.

For roughly the next hour I sat and read. I then got back into bed, to sleep until I needed to start getting ready for work.

Something was inexpressibly different when I awoke to face this new day.

Proverbs 19:23 – The fear of the LORD leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

Proverbs 4:18-19 – The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.

We lose are way when we live in the night. We stumble and know not why.

I needed to reset, refocus and restart – I needed to walk in the light.

And turn off the dark.

As I commuted to work I saw people all around me. At work my colleagues were real again. And, coincidentally the sun was shining like “the full light of day.”

little big world

Posted: March 22, 2011 in South Side Jorgen

As our little boat rounded the bend, we came upon an idyllic old-west town scene. Peering ahead we could see a group of people on horseback, dressed as cowboys. They were swinging lassos, smiling broadly, and singing a quaint little song. I recognized one of these cowboys from his peculiar yellow-checked shirt and cow-print, black and white vest: Sheriff Woody from Toy Story.

Moments earlier our little cruise had taken us to the Hawaiian Islands. While there, we had been surrounded by an array of colorful islanders smiling and singing. On one giant wave I caught a glimpse of tandem surfers, it was a little girl and a little monster: Lilo and Stitch the titular characters from the movie Lilo & Stitch, to be more exact.

As our water journey came to a conclusion a giant advertisement for Sylvania – the light bulb and Consumer Electronics Company – bid us farewell.

Something has changed in the last decade at Disneyland, as this example of the ride “it’s a small world” illustrates.

If anything, the magic has increased. There is wonder and imagination at every turn. The rides are more spectacular than I had remembered; the shows are nothing short of incredible in their use of technology and lighting. The entire experience is a sensory overload of magnificent proportions.

And yet, despite all this, there is also cheapness in the experience. Disney has felt the pressure to pander to popular culture, albeit a culture they are helping to create. There is an emptiness that comes from seeing a bunch of movie characters infiltrate the confines of “it’s a small world.” It becomes less of a journey into a different world, and more of a reminder of things all around us.

This emptiness was most profound inside Innoventions – the house of the future. Tom Orrow, a humanoid robot, does an excellent job of drumming up excitement as one enters this magical futuristic house. Unfortunately, the best glimpse of the future that Disney offers is a bunch of broken, pre-programmed touch screens, cupboards and drawers that are bolted shut, and 20 x-boxes that are nothing more than that. Far from being the eye-popping place it once was, tomorrowland is now a cheap, sell-out, product placement bog. Which, rather than make one imagine the course of the future, makes one see the chintzy state of modern American entertainment.

It’s not so much that seeing Disney characters littered throughout a classic ride is inevitably bad; it just serves a stark reminder that it’s a small world. The increase in product placement throughout the park is likewise more annoying than evil. The problem with these things is what they represent: cultural connectivity, objectivity, and uniformity. They remind park-goers, although subconsciously, about the power of culture over against individuality. “It’s a small world “has shifted from a cute realization of certain universal human traits, into a reminder of the constricting nature of technology and globalization in the world today.

Two days after going to Disneyland, I flew back to Chicago, and got an overwhelming taste of constricting culture. The following day, this past Saturday, I spent entirely indoors, and yet I was decidedly & disturbingly not alone. Through the mediums of books, movies, TV and the internet I was unavoidably surrounded by the noise of culture. I was given a chance at real solitude and I wasted it away.

However, if one is able to hear the message through the extra noise, there is still truth to be found:

it’s a world of laughter, a world of tears
it’s a world of hopes, it’s a world of fear
there’s so much that we share
that it’s time we’re aware
it’s a small world after all

The knock of the pins hitting the floor was drowned out by the sound of the music blaring through the speakers. Our conversation was limited as we strained to hear each other over the cacophonous background. I was speaking with the owner of the company, for the first time ever. Though it was hard to communicate due to our settings, I had the opportunity to honestly share my life with her.

The above happened three weeks ago at my companies quarterly outing, which happened to be at a bowling ‘lounge’.

The place was very dimly lit, on top of this, most of the lights were black-lights which gave our clothes an eery glow. The lanes were painted with these distracting squiggles, which heavily detracted from the bowling. Everyone around me was drinking, I held a disposable plastic water cup. My co-workers were all dropping expletives, I fought (successfully) the urge to let my tongue slip. Finally, the place was packed, our group alone represented 35 people on just three lanes.

Fast forward to this last Friday night. We walked out into the rain, it was cold and windy. Moments earlier I had been fighting going out at all, my brother had urged me to join this late-night expedition. We were headed to a fraternity party (?!?!).

It was much brighter than the bowling alley, and there was no bowling, but otherwise it had a pretty similar feel. Everyone was drinking and using language. The whole apartment was packed, we had to literally squeeze our way into the crowded room, only to find ourselves backed up against the hallway wall trying to make conversation with those who were directly next to us. I had only one partial conversation while in the confines of those walls, and even that was a chore of straining to hear the others voice. But even in that limited context, I was able to be open about my life.

Needless to say, my view of a ‘party’ does not mesh with these modern incarnations of such. Why show up at all then? I don’t participate in the signature activities available at these parties, never have, have no desire to do so. I did not go to these parties in order to divulge in debauchery, that is really not my cup-of-tea. No, I went to a) see, and b) speak.

I have heard a lot of people defend attending college parties in order to “You know, try it. How can you say its wrong if you’ve never been there.” I assure you this was not my line of reasoning, I had no intention of ‘trying’ anything. (On a side note: I missed the part that said you need to try something before you can know that it is wrong.) I simply wanted to be there, to see what the experience was like.

Secondly, I was given an opportunity at both parties to speak. Even though it was strained, short, and staccato, it was still genuine and honest.

It would be a lie to say that I was comfortable for any real amount of time at either party, nor should I have been. However, if we are not going into places that make us uneasy, I would argue that we are either not living in the world enough or that we are too being much of the world. It is not enough to simply be in places that we do not belong and attempt to fit in, we must waltz into these parties and consciously be distinctly different.