Tonight was my last meeting as an Executive Senator with GPSS.. I’ve got mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’ll be good to have my Wednesday nights back, but on the other, I always find it a little anticlimactic and sad to move on from any organization I’ve been a part of.

In the case of GPSS, I’ve been involved for almost 5 years, about 3.5 of that as an Executive Senator. Through it, I’ve been on all sorts of committees: from search committees for the Dean of Engineering and Student Regent to the University Disciplinary Committee, from the Disputes Resolution Advisory Committee to the Science & Policy Committee. It’s been a good ride, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with a wide variety of interesting people, to contribute to policy discussions at various levels, and to participate and help organize a variety of events. With the exception of the people I’ve met through FIUTS, my social life in Seattle is largely based on people I’ve meet through student government, and I’m very grateful for the friendships I’ve made. Even my D&D group is partly made up from people I met as the graduate student liaison with ASUW, the larger student government of UW.

Stepping down was of course inevitable. I plan to defend sometime in early 2014 and that’s only possible if I knuckle down and get on with my research project, but it’s a little hard to let go. I think part of it is probably my native perfectionism. Though I’ve been with GPSS for some time, it’s only really been in the couple of years that I’ve had the confidence to drive discussions and there’s far more that I could learn from the organization and its people. Every time we pass a resolution or run an event, there’s clear things I can see that I could improve on. That’s not to say that any of these are failures, merely that there’s always something to strive for. It feels strange to leave when there’s more I could learn and do.

Anyway, here are shout outs to some of the people that have inspired me in my time with GPSS: Jake Faleschini, President 2008-2010, whose open passion and humble approach to leadership did a lot to improve my estimation of the US when I first arrived at UW; Charles Plummer, President 2011-2012 and Exec Senator for years before, whose meticulous attention to detail and steady hand on administrative affairs always set a high bar I never quite felt I was able to meet; Adam Sherman, President 2012-13, whose marvellous charisma and positive outlook is just a pleasure to witness; and Melanie Mayock, VP 2012-13, who is about as tenacious and committed a lobbyist as I’m ever likely to encounter, with principles to boot.

Others have become good friends, even if I don’t see them often: Kristen Hosey, who is taking her never ending reserve of humour off with her to Africa for a year; Lindsay Morse whose quiet resolve and perspective I seem only to encounter at GPSS reunions and PAX; Shawn Mincer whose huge smile and never-ending comic book suggestions I hope to see and hear more often; and Yutaka Jono, who I’ve not seen since Osaka in 2011, but whose sense of humour and eccentric outlook on life I hope to experience again. Still others I’m still getting to know or never got to know as well as I’d have liked: Aaron Naumann, Chris Lizotte, Vera Giampietro, Evan Firth, Megan Gambs, Colin Goldfinch, Keolu Fox, Alice Popejoy, and many others.

But it’s the continuing flow of new people, passionate, principled, and engaged, that I’ll miss most. GPSS has been a privilege to work for and a pleasure. It’s been great. I hope to stay in touch.

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There was a short opinion piece in the Press the other day about plans for the Avon River as Christchurch rebuilds. Read it here.

The plan they’re talking about is broadly that espoused by the Avon-Otakoro Network, and envisions rejuvenating the damaged lands along the river (where much of the heaviest quake damaged land is) by creating a park and reserve.

I’m generally in favor of something like that, and commented on the article accordingly:

I strongly support turning the banks of the Avon into a reserve. I don’t so much mind the specifics: a wetland, a park, a garden, or a common use space – all would be great, I think. A combination of the above would suit me best.

I think the following are important:

  • we shouldn’t rebuild houses that will slide into the river the next time we have a quake.
  • we shouldn’t solidify the banks with concrete. It’s tragic how deadened a city looks with that sort of land management.
  • we should use this as an opportunity to build and recast our city in a way that captures our shared ideals and that offers us opportunity to create meaning in our lives (whatever that means to each of us individually).
  • we shouldn’t let a small group of powerful individuals (be they politicians, business, or the wealthy) tell us how to use the land. It may be held by the government, but it’s our city, and we should have a say in how it’s used.
  • we should cater to as diverse a selection of citizen’s interests as possible.
  • we should respect and showcase the land and its flora and fauna. They’re a big part of what makes NZ so special. Living overseas as I have on and off for the last few years, I’m struck with how much the rest of the world is jealous of our country, and it makes me sad when we take that for granted.

I’d like to see nature reserves, bike trails, foot trails, gentle banks with willows, band rotundas, parks for markets and fairs, and more. So few cities have the opportunity to remake so much of themselves, and I’m really hoping we’ll be able to meet our own dreams and take advantage of that.

I grew up near Horseshoe Lake and the Avon. I’m in the US now, but I miss my home, and it strains me not to be able to be there as it rebuilds.

Posted in News, Personal, Rants & Opinion, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Tomorrow morning, I start the Anatomy and Embryology class that all medical and dental students here at the University of Washington take. I’m neither, but since my PhD dissertation work centers around teaching anatomy, I’m taking it.

Anatomy is typically taught using a combination of methods: lectures, living anatomy, and dissection. Of these, dissection is the most remarkable and unique. There’s really no other field of study in which you are so closely exposed to the dead and thus to thoughts of your own mortality. It’s an intense experience. I’m not sure what to think, or how to feel.

I know from visiting the dissection labs briefly last year that I won’t simply freak out and be unable to cope. But, I also know that there’s a pervading sense of unease and queasiness from being in the room that I’ll have to cope with. It’s not clear to me if that will come with time, or whether it will take substantial reflection.

I know that the smell won’t be intense or even particularly bothersome. But, I also know that there’s a raw physicality to it all that reminds me too much of cured meat for that to be an attractive food stuff for some time.

I’m not worried about being shocked. On the contrary, I expect to be fixated and fascinated. I’m worried about the slow moving emotional effect of being around the dead, and what effect that will have on me. Worried is the wrong word – curious and a little apprehensive is probably more accurate. Curious because I want to know how it’ll affect me, and apprehensive because I really have no idea what to expect.

Regardless, it will be challenging, and intensely meaningful. If that doesn’t make something worth doing, I don’t know what is.

Posted in Life, Medicine & the Human Body, Personal | No Comments »

Wow. Just, wow.

For those who don’t know, my hometown of Christchurch just got hit by <i>another</i> large quake, this one “only” a 6.3, but right under the city, and extremely shallow (about 5km). Death toll’s at 75 so far, but there’s still 300 odd people missing, and many ruins yet to be searched. Buildings of all shapes and sizes in the central city have either collapsed already, or are on the verge of collapse. Christchurch Cathedral (often used as a symbol of the city) lost its tower and NW corner, while the big Baptist church on Oxford Tce has been flattened. The Hotel Grand Chancellor, tallest hotel in the city at 26 storeys, is on the verge of collapse, having apparently sunk on one side by about three metres during a ten minute period sometime this morning. If it goes, it may well take a block of neighbouring buildings with it, too.

Photos and videos of the quake and its aftermath abound online. Those showing tangled mounds of scaffolding and other signs of rebuilding from the last quake (September 4, last year, a 7.1 some 40km west of the city), confounded by yesterday’s, are particularly depressing, while others, showing collapsed buildings and great cracks in the road, are perversely fascinating. Those with people are generally uplifting – people celebrating their escape from the PGG building, people helping other people, and so forth. As always, people rise to the occasion of shared tragedy.

My reactions have have been multifaceted:

Shock came first, but passed quickly – after a brief feeling of “not-again”, I was resigned to the fact of it, and moved on. Of course, I’m in Japan, not NZ, so any shock I feel is trivial in comparison to that felt by people there, even those in the safer parts of town where liquefaction was largely non-existent. It was more the shock of seeing the places that make up one’s past turned upside down.

Urgent concern swiftly followed, and it too was blissfully short, with a few notable exceptions; modern communications made it easy to track down most of my friends and family, and despite a lot of worrying about the few who didn’t show up for several hours, I’m now fairly confident that everyone I know well in the city is fine, with most suffering only relatively minor damage to home and contents (chimneys off, shelves down, but no fires or collapses). Similarly, my parent’s house is apparently mostly OK (though I’ve yet to talk to them).

If I’d been there, I’m fairly confident that my next reaction would have been an urge to do something – to find something apparently useful to do and to do it, partly to help and partly to combat the crazy feeling of being useless. Being in Japan, though, I’ve got something akin to survivor’s guilt that I’m going to call avoider’s guilt – the feeling that those I know and love are suffering, and there’s nothing I can do about it. From here, all I can do is watch and sympathize with those I can contact through chat. There’s more to it than this, though, I think. Going back home over Christmas, I had a definite feeling of having not been a part of what had clearly been a defining experience for so many of my friends. It’s hard to place emotionally – it’s kind of like alienation (but not), kind of like jealousy (but not), and kind of like a missed opportunity for solidarity. Mostly, though, it’s just a mass of silly, misguided guilt; a nexus for stress to gather and fester.

Another ongoing reaction has been the sick fascination of reading news reports, watching videos, looking at photos, and talking about events, statistics, political and economic implications, and the underlying natural events. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to know what’s going on, but there’s something perverse about the enthusiasm with which curiosity is pursued in the face of disaster. Yesterday was particularly bad – I just had to keep checking Facebook and the various news sites to see if anything had happened – today, I’m almost gleefully awaiting the collapse of the Hotel Grand Chancellor, an event sure to be spectacular.

To be sure, sorrow and empathy are present, too, but being so far removed, they’re mostly internally focused. There’s certainly sorrow over the places destroyed, but with most of my people safe, what sorrow there is is overcome with relief. I expect I’ll be struck by the angst of destruction and change much more strongly when I go back in December.

All in all, I’m in a very weird place, and though I know that being there would have been terrifying and mad, part of me wishes I was. There’s truth to the idea that life has to be experienced to be appreciated, and I wonder what I might have learned about myself had I been there. Is that wrong or weird? Foolish or silly? Probably. But it’s what’s in my head at the moment.

This last December, while it was strange and vaguely disorienting to return to Christchurch to see the cracks and damage from September’s quake, this next December I suspect it will be much worse. From the photos, it looks like vast numbers of buildings throughout the city will have to be demolished and replaced, and I doubt the cleanup will be complete, even then. It’ll be strange. I can only imagine how strange it is for those actually there.

For now, then, here’s hoping that this will be the last big quake to hit Christchurch for some time to come.

Posted in Life, Personal | No Comments »

In my last post, I talked about my motivations for keeping this blog, one of which was improving my writing and helping myself get better at thinking about things more clearly. I also said that I want to get better at using it to start conversations.

In aid of that, then, is there anyone who’d be interested in participating in a writing exchange of sorts? The idea is that we exchange pieces of writing from time to time, then critique them with one another either in person, via Skype, chat, or whatever. Ideally, I’m looking for someone who’s open-minded, honest, is genuinely trying to improve their own writing, has diverse interests, and thinks they can be both firm and thoughtful in their critique.

I always find it easier to get motivated about things when I’m working with someone else, and I sometimes wonder if the essentially solitary aspect of writing is one of the reasons I sometimes find it so hard!

I guess I’m looking for ways that blog-keeping and writing can become more social.

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Posted in Personal | 4 Comments »

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