This week I sit curled up next to family, watching small siblings opening gifts. I lie on carpet squinting at economics and algebra textbooks, and watch the pilot episodes of a couple of shows people have instructed me to see, weighing whether I can sustain the commitment to finish their stories. I wake up late. I run. I sit cross-legged on my bed in the temperate glow of my single strand of Christmas lights and ponder things. What am I looking for? What do I need to manufacture for myself vs. find outside of me? What duties/joys am I shirking and why? Where am I needed? I read T.S. Eliot:
The lot of man is ceaseless labor,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
The things that men count for happiness, seeking
The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
With equal face those that bring ignominy,
The applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.
There are things you lose when you pursue a career: Worship as an obvious chief vocation. Time to be still. Motivations unaffected by the hope of rising higher.
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.
I have lost the easy stride of a worshiper. I am like my brother who, untrained at piano, can play hymns in full harmony by ear– but when I straighten his bench and sit down to teach him note names and fingerings, inspiration is forgotten and he languishes in a tangle of thumbs and accidentals.
I am that child. Learning technique. Questioning my choice of direction and reminding myself what I leave behind. And still, still drawn to my work. But the work and the life get confused often because I think about density and walkability and sustainability and ecology and community and bake myself into a buzzword pie but forget to till my own land and speak to my own neighbors.
What life have you, if you have not life together?
There is not life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD.
And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbor
Unless his neighbor makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.
I have given you hands which you turn from worship,
I have given you speech, for endless palaver,
I have given you my Law, and you set up commissions,
I have given you lips, to express friendly sentiments,
I have given you hearts, for reciprocal distrust.
I have given you power of choice, and you only alternate
Between futile speculation and unconsidered action.
Many are engaged in writing books and printing them.
Many desire to see their names in print.
Many read nothing but the race reports.
Much is your reading, but not the Word of God,
Much is your building, but not the House of God.
And the wind shall say:
“Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”
I fight suburban sprawl and automobile-oriented environments. But imagine I win; who am I then? A decent godless person: her only monument the pedestrian-oriented streetscape and a thousand lost souls?
When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?
Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.
So I hear the questions and I am afraid because it turns out I am not good at walking this path, but I refuse to turn back. Like a fool, I wander forward into the unknown because I just want to HELP, but I don’t know if I will. I want to be important, but I’m afraid it would destroy me. I want to be independent but I don’t want to be alone. I want to worship AND be accepted in a secularized city. So it’s a mess. But I believe I’m meant to wade through it.
In spite of all the dishonour,
the broken standards, the broken lives,
The broken faith in one place or another,
There was something left that was more than the tales
Of old men on winter evenings.
I believe Jesus will be faithful to complete a good work in and through me. Halfway in and halfway out of the dark, I will keep Christmas.
The work of creation is never without travail;
Lord, shall we not bring these gifts to Your service?
Shall we not bring to Your service all our powers
For life, for dignity, grace and order.
And intellectual pleasures of the senses?
The Lord who created must wish us to create
And employ our creation again in His service
Which is already His service in creating.
(Poetry taken from Eliot’s Choruses from “The Rock”; I recommend the entire poem.)
Austin’s major arterial highway is over 50 years old and ready for a makeover. Every rush hour, commuters get to look forward to driving on the second most congested highway in the state. People may envy Austin’s tacos, but no one envies our traffic. Congestion and ageing infrastructure necessitate reconstruction and as the Texas Department of Transportation reviews options for I-35’s downtown Austin stretch, Mayor Adler has asked Austinites to support one specific concept: lowering the highway between 15th Street and Cesar Chavez, adding 2 lanes in each direction, and creating the possibility of a cap over sections of the lowered lanes.
Mayor Adler is joined by multiple urbanist organizations and architects in the quest for a reconnected urban corridor. That is one goal of depressing I-35 through downtown: increasing community and connectivity between the east and west sides of our city. For many years, the highway has served as a barrier between East Austin and Downtown by impeding foot traffic and serving up a hearty helping of exhaust and noise for humans so unfortunate as to stray in its vicinity without a car.
As the mayor and the Downtown Austin Alliance write, the lowered highway option for I-35 will benefit our community by:
- Adding capacity for vehicles on I-35, including toll-free express lanes for transit vehicles. Having protected lanes for buses to bypass traffic will encourage the use of public transit, which will help to remove vehicles from Austin’s busy roadways.
- Improving safety and mobility for pedestrians and cyclists
- Enhancing east/west connectivity for both vehicles and pedestrians
- Reducing noise pollution from the highway for the area surrounding I-35
- Creating the opportunity for “cap” infrastructure along the downtown corridor of I-35. This will provide residents and stakeholders the opportunity to create an iconic, privately-owned deck park above the state’s most congested highway, benefiting future generations of Texans.
Take a moment to watch this concept video of the proposed lowered highway:
This option gives Austin the ability to reconnect its east and west communities, forming a more complete and sustainable city. The “depressed” highway began to gain popularity years ago, but there are still many of us who have no experience with the idea. An example close to home is Dallas’s Klyde Warren Park, which is always a highlight of my trips to the DFW metroplex. The park is full of vitality: urban adventurers of all ages lounge on the grass, stroll the sidewalks, and squint at the many food truck menus. In the midst of the park’s greenery it’s hard to believe there’s an eight-lane freeway beneath you!
Depressing the highway has reconnected Dallas’s downtown core. Connection and community are about much more than financial prosperity, but Dallas has certainly benefited economically because of Klyde Warren Park. D Magazine’s Christine Perez wrote, “When the 4.5-acre deck park over Woodall Rodgers Freeway opened in the fall of 2012, no one could have predicted the profound impact it would have on the Dallas commercial real estate market.” An early impact study estimated that the park could catalyze $350 million in new development. But the real number has risen to over $1 billion as of January 2016.
Lowering I-35 prepares Austin for future development in a way that modifying the existing concept cannot. Below is a video of the Texas Department of Transportation’s other option: widening I-35 without lowering it. This proposal allows for no more traffic capacity than the first option, and leaves the east and west sides of the highway permanently divorced from one another.
With this model, the highway bisects a potential community, hindering connection and property value. Conversely, the lowered option gives Austin the opportunity to grow back together, allowing the highway to serve the city rather than blight it. Let’s make Austin more than a great place to eat tacos.
If you want the Texas Department of Transportation to lower I-35, use this form to send an email to James Bass, TxDOT Executive Director.
It was a full-circle year. Things happened to me; I happened to them. I read some books too. [*obligatory disclaimer about how I don’t necessarily recommend all these books so make your own life choices*]
Annual reading list 2015:
(forward asterisks denote intention to read again, while following asterisks denote previously read)
**Perelandra by C.S. Lewis*
**Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card*
*Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte*
The Essential Agrarian Reader (The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land) edited by Norman Wirzba
Many Winters (Prose and Poetry of the Pueblos) by Nancy Wood
Poems on the Underground – Anniversary Edition edited by Gerard Benson
*One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp*
Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Living the Sabbath by Norman Wirzba
Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card
Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’: a Reader’s Companion edited by S. Hawking and prepared by Gene Stone
*The Way of Ignorance by Wendell Berry
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
A Little Manual for Knowing by Esther Lightcap Meek
*The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
Tinkers by Paul Harding
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung
Miguel Street by V.S. Naipaul
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Top 10 Distinctions Between Entrepreneurs and Employees by Keith Cameron Smith
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Physics for Future Presidents by Richard A. Muller
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Suburban Nation by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck
**The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
Socrates by Paul Johnson
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
*Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card
Good Leaders Ask Great Questions by John C. Maxwell
The White Cliffs by Alice Duer Miller
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
*Shadow of the Hegemon by Orson Scott Card
It was not a year of quantity regarding books. But some of these stand out to me like boulders that made my path clear. As always, this is not a list of book endorsements. I do not necessarily recommend all of the following.
The Ballad of the White Horse by G.K. Chesterton*
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling*
Magic by G.K. Chesterton
Defiant Joy (The Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K. Chesterton) by Kevin Belmonte
The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak (a boulder-book; a thing of beauty)
Tales from Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Song of Roland translated by Leonard Bacon
Master of the World by Jules Verne
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley*
What’s Wrong With the World by G.K. Chesterton
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul by Douglas Adams
The Poets Laureate Anthology compiled by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt (a boulder-book; a collection of fire and ash)
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (almost a boulder; this small story spoke to me of humanity and communication)
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Dune by Frank Herbert
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Julius Caesar by Shakespeare
Star Trek: Federation by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
King Lear by Shakespeare
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
A Window in Thrums by J.M. Barrie
Mathematics in Western Culture by Morris Kline
The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
A Continuous Harmony by Wendell Berry (a boulder-book; this was my first time reading Wendell Berry and it tied together some important loose ends of my life)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling*
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey
Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams
Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
The Catbird’s Song by Richard Wilbur
Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff
A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card
Songmaster by Orson Scott Card
Christianity for Modern Pagans (Pascal’s Pensees) by Peter Kreeft (a boulder-book; a work of apologetics infused with love and honesty)
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Persuasion by Jane Austen*
Station Island by Seamus Heaney
*denotes previously read
8/30/14 – 1:49pm Greenwich Mean Time
We took off about half an hour ago. Goodbye, Britain. It’s been historic. I have new favourite places all over the country. When we first got to London, I didn’t really like it. But I think it was mainly the culture shock and fatigue. Even though we speak the same language, there are innumerable small differences between America and Britain that take adjusting to. It smells different, for one thing! The cities smell kind of like coffee and smoke and something else I can’t describe. The rural areas don’t have the same smell, though- I guess the wind that blows through the world kind of universalises the smell of the outdoors. They do have lots of flower smells of which we Texans are regrettably deprived. Sometimes I would just be walking along a street and smell lilies. Once I smelled honey comb waffle cereal and I am still baffled by that! Anyway, London was just so big, crowded, and different. But when the culture shock wore off, I enjoyed the city quite a lot. It’s so diverse- it should be nicknamed ‘the city of endless discovery’, because every corner you turn, there’s another ancient church sandwiched between two modern buildings, or a lady playing classical violin in a square, or a little independent shop that sells paints, or yet another antiquarian bookstore. I like best to stroll along the Thames, seeing two vast swaths of city and a swirling crowd of humanity divided by the river that creates enough space for reflection. When I come back to England (and I do hope to!) I think I would do London in the middle of the trip though, not the start and finish. I might start in Oxford! Oxford was definitely one of the best places we visited. It’s impossible to pick a favourite, though! Canterbury, Dover, Salisbury, Oxford, the Letcombes, Wantage, York, Alnmouth, Alnwick, Edinburgh, Inverness, Glencoe, Keswick… out of all the towns we spent much time in, it would probably be a contest between Oxford, Dover, Salisbury, and Keswick. But the most jaw-dropping scenery was in Scotland for sure. I totally fell for that country. We’re up above the Atlantic, and the cloud-trails of other planes stream like kite tails beside us. It is something to be PART of the sky I always crane my neck to see. And it was SOMETHING to be part of the country I have always dreamed of visiting.
8/23/14 – 11:05pm Greenwich Mean Time
I like my bed at this Keswick YHA because it’s a single twin by the window with a tiny shelf and a bed light. There is a set of bunk beds in here as well, but their occupants are elsewhere. And there’s a sink in the room! And the window overlooks a river! So it’s quite cozy.
The Lake District is incredible. Of course it is. The bus ride from Penrith rail station was flooring. The mountains remind me of the Scottish highlands, but since this is further south everything is more developed. The slopes are embroidered with hedges and knotted with sheep. So it doesn’t have the same raw vastness of Scotland, but oh, is it spectacular. The sun lavishes some serious affection on these hills. On the way here, I had to just put down my camera, lean my head back against the seat, and stare. There’s too much to take in! In places like this, it’s best to lie like a stone in a river, letting the beauty flow over you. And, like a stone, let the moss of a place grow into your pores so that wherever you go, you will always wear the stains of that life.
8/24/14 – 8:17am Greenwich Mean Time
If Scotland was glory, this place is glory covered in a quilt and made comfortable.
8/21/14 – 5pm Greenwich Mean Time
Having just walked over a mile from a cafe near the Glencoe bus stop to our hostel, I can definitely say I’m glad we packed light! The bus ride from Inverness was incredibly scenic; especially once we neared Fort William. The mountains are stunning. Oh, Scotland. This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.
I have felt the slow creeping of fern-like things budding in my mechanical heart.
and the streams I see tunnelling under Scottish roads; they flip over themselves in haste for the sea…
I have felt the slipping streams tunnelling through me.
8/16/14 – 12pm Greenwich Mean Time
We’re on the train to Hexham, bound for Hadrian’s Wall. I’ve had this line from W.H. Auden rolling about in my mind since I saw it in York: “And down by the brimming river, I heard a lover sing; under an arch of the railway: Love has no ending.” I guess the trains keep it fresh in my memory. If I have any money left when I get home (doubtful), I want to buy Auden’s ‘Age of Anxiety’ with intro and annotations by Alan Jacobs.
The landscape is fantastic. And varied. Right now there are hugely tall pine trees looming over the fields, and horses with oversized feet grazing the hillside. And now there are ancient oaks and slender aspens with ferns going crazy below. There are hills green with grass and fields yellow with wheat. Several kinds of purple flowers- some with long rush-like fronds and some with small round petals and white centres- follow the track. And when we pass a village there are always brick houses (with the inevitable white window frames) and a church spire looking extremely historic, but the details of which I’ll never know. Incredible, the surplus of history that is packed into this island. And the surplus of blackberries is also ridiculous. =D
8/11/14 – 9:43pm Greenwich Mean Time
With extreme skill at research and bus-schedule-memory, Dad saw to it that the bus which took us to Blenheim Palace today also made it possible to visit Tolkien’s house and grave. We did a lot of hopping on and off buses today. =) I sang ‘Into the West’ at Tolkien’s grave, which simply felt like the right thing to do.
Blenheim P was huge. Not just the palace, but the grounds! We didn’t even see everything. It was very impressive. The room where Churchill was born was less ostentatious than the State Rooms, but its significance made up for the lack of grandeur. “Here’s where the 20th Century was saved,” said Dad.
Back in Oxford, we spent some more time in Blackwell’s, ate dinner (steak, ale, and mushroom pie) at The King’s Arms pub, and did some more wandering around Oxford. I’m growing more and more fond of this city. Its streets form a labyrinth of treasures waiting for me to stumble upon them.
8/2/14 – 6:25pm Greenwich Mean Time
I am living the London experience to the hilt right now. We took the Tube from Covent Garden Market (so crowded!!) to Tower Bridge, and I’m sitting on a ledge right on the Thames with the bridge on my right, to the East, and the Tower of London across the river. (Okay, but a security guard with an Indian accent just told me to get down, so now I am standing once again on aching feet.)
It was supposed to rain today, but it never did. It’s been mostly overcast, but now the sky is open, with grandiose flat-bottomed clouds meandering slowly. It’s lovely out here over the water. I much prefer this to the constricted city streets. I guess I’ve been living in the country for so long that it’s hard to acclimate to city life.
Tower Bridge is so beautiful in this early evening sun! It was funny; as we were walking here, we were discussing whether we were going the right way. This British man walking by heard us say Tower Bridge and said, “That way! Definitely that way!” as he rushed past us. The people here are fun.