Category Archives: Philosophy

To Truly Dance

Dear Mom,
You died on Saturday, April 1, 2017. It was a surprise. I was skiing in Whistler, British Columbia, as likely of a place as I was to be as anywhere.  I’m grateful there weren’t many things I still needed to say to you. In the time since, I’ve told our story so many times: after dad died- I grew up close to you, close to the church. We grew apart, bitterly on my behalf, when I left the church and moved west.  I found my own truth and we pieced it back together slowly, like the beautiful blankets you made for Soren and I. The last few years of your life held some of our most honest and loving conversations. The most recent lesson: that feeling the same faith is less important than feeling each others humanity.

A few more favorites:

The air smelled thick of cut grass and the quiet, high-ceilinged church- I was 9, and stood up for the first time to give a testimony in Wednesday night church. I was just back from summer church camp full of newfound confidence. The cicadas chirped outside in the sticky midwestern summer. I shared a short truth about overcoming my fears at summer camp, you beamed. My faith is different now, but no less strong- you made faith cool.

I was 13 when you were finally able to tell me about my half-brother in Australia- he was half a world away, wondering who I was. I was so mad at you- his existence seemed to refute the moralist foundation you raised me with. Ultimately, welcoming him openly into our family inspired us all to a greater sense of compassion and honesty. I can only hope to learn so much from my own indignities.

At 17 you let me drive your new car and two friends 1500 miles to spend two weeks on our own in the Wind River mountains. When we got out, you flew to Jackson to shuttle us back to the car, feed us, and send us off on the drive home. You experienced the mountains differently than I do, but loved them no less. You refused to let the fears of the world darken the light of your experience, or mine. It’s a lesson we need badly these days.

We were eating at Lulu’s Noodles during the spring of my freshman year at Northwestern. I was terrified, because I had met you for lunch to tell you I was dropping out of music school. To my surprise, you took it in stride and cheered for me to enjoy a more relaxed version of college. That’s when I learned your dreams for me were nothing less than exactly my own.

I skipped my graduation from Northwestern to go on a NOLS course in Alaska. Instead, you sent 5 dozen cookies up to our team because my college team had won our senior design competition. it seemed out of place at the time, but I realize now it was the sweetest way that you could say you were proud of me. You always knew how to celebrate the important things.

Last Christmas we went out for deep dish, the whole family of us. Over the years I had always ducked the opportunity to pick up the check at a family dinner but in 2016 I was glad not to skip the chance. You always lived with the assumption of having enough to do the right thing- whether you had a lot or not. There was always enough.

And that is the point- we had less time than we all hoped, but it was enough. I’m still learning how much you cared for us, how great of a mom you were. I think you’re proud of me- I hope you know how proud we are of you.

“Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”   (Kahlil Gibran)

Climb on, mom.

You can enjoy some of my mom’s ideas through her lecturing and writing work for the Church of Christ, Scientist- her most recent piece is particularly excellent. Our family is deeply grateful for your compassion, however there will be no service. You can honor Lois most meaningfully through a donation to her church or to Mountain Home Montana

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Blossoms

My mom loves cherry blossoms. Last night I went for a leisurely run from my house down to University of Washington and just took a few pictures on the way. Yes, it was crappy light, so I touched up the light and color on a few of them. Regardless it’s a good season in Seattle. This one is for my mom.

“Allow. That’s most of what we have to do, is just allow it. We may not understand now, or ever, but we will feel it, we will feel our lives.” (Andrew Given)

All of Us

Here we are now, after the election, all of us in the same boat. Some are stunned that their unlikely candidate won. Others are stunned that they could be so blind, or so arrogant in their confidence. Being in the second group, I vacillate between fury and despair.

In traffic for work last Tuesday, the mid-90s, 1/2 ton pick-up in front of me taunted me with a variety of conservative bumper stickers. One stood out in particular: “Visualize No Liberals.”

This is about all of us. Visualize all you want, but you will never wake up and find yourself transported to a world conveniently devoid of people who are different than you. The world around us is the way it is precisely because those different people shared ideas, tried things out, got it wrong and still had enough tolerance for each other to try something else. People who value the same things that you do have good and bad ideas, just like people who value different things. It’s not a perfect world but by almost every objective measure- it is the best it has ever been.

The bumper sticker pissed me off because it seemed this person would much rather entertain a fantasy than take responsibility for getting to know the other half of the citizenry their government represents. A fantasy I’ve also let myself entertain on occasion, and that has never proven useful.

Strangely, I am thankful the election has forced me to reconsider my thread in the fabric of society. What do I want to stand for as an engaged citizen? Why do I (usually) cheer for the left side of the aisle?  What are my fundamental political priorities? I wanted to get a short list on the record (in no particular order):

  • Public policy rooted in real science that is peer-reviewed, transparently documented, and repeatable
  • Fundamentally equal treatment of all people by the government
  • A clean, safe, and healthy environment for people and wildlife
  • Infrastructure development that promotes urban density, defends farmlands & wildlands, and accommodates long term economic and population growth
  • Publicly-funded education that reflects and encourages the exchange of ideas amongst diverse groups of students.
  • High quality, accessible, and affordable healthcare for everyone
  • Proponents of rational and balanced foreign policy that minimizes military action at every opportunity
  • Maintain a capitalist market place, focused on upholding enforceable contracts, with subsides carefully considered as warranted for true public well being
  • Maintain a basic social safety net that supports disadvantaged people getting back into the workforce
  • Balance the federal budget, every damn year
  • Political discourse that is thoughtful, respectful, and remains focused on stuff that government actually does

In 2016 this seems like too much to ask of our government, but if no one asks- it always will be.

This is not a post about the silver lining. I’m still angry that America was foolish enough to elect an inexperienced misogynist. I’m more angry that just less than a quarter of eligible voters were able to take a fat, wet shit on 40 years of progress towards pretty much everything I care about. The responsibility I have to give a voice to these priorities just got heavier, and the weight is scary.

I have been trying to have more conversations with people outside of my bubble- and no one is arguing “yeah, I want dirtier air to breathe and worse schools for my kids!” Neither have I spoken with anyone that has said “I just wanted to vote for racism.” More often than it seems, we want the same things, but the method is different. I won’t ever tolerate bigotry, but I also won’t visualize a world without conservatives- their perspective is too essential in getting a true majority of people closer to what we all collectively want.

 

If You Loved Me

Sometimes you have to leave the things you love the most.

It’s my last night in Missoula. The house is cleaned, the truck is packed. I’m tired from driving back from my climbing trip, but have a few more miles to go. I don’t have the energy to type out all of the emotion coursing through my veins.

I’m grateful to be with some of my closest friends as I cast off, but leaving them is a double edged sword. I’m excited to work again, to explore a new place, to embrace the hustle and bustle of the city. And I’m scared. Of the bigness. Of losing the familiar smallness, of forging new friends, and breaking all of my patterns.

Scared of leaving this place that has felt more like home than any place that I have been so far.

Four years ago, I was in a very similar place. In the cycles of life, tipping past midnight will never be comfortable. And it is always necessary.

Uhaul truck, loaded truck, moving truck,

Keeping growing. Especially when it hurts.

The Next Big Thing

Slowly, the word has spread and I’d like to get ahead of it here. It’s time that Skander started getting after the next big thing.

Well. This is unusual.

Well. This is unusual.

It’s been a while since I’ve worn my suit for anything serious. I like to think I still look pretty good in it. On January 15th I tendered my resignation and drove to Seattle for back to back job interviews. It was the sort of affair that you would want to look good in a suit for.

I’ve limited some of the details that I have shared on this blog, but it became clear at the end of 2014 that my professional life needed to move in a different direction. Over the holidays, my family gave me another good nudge. I’m very grateful for the experience I’ve had working in Missoula, and hope to depart without burning any bridges.

I’ve wanted a Professional Engineers license for over 10 years. Since becoming a contractor, I’ve developed a much better sense of where I want to take my career, and the time-honored craft of professional engineering. I’ve also learned that the most fundamental tenant in all of business is trust- at the end of the day, when the client experiences what they thought they bought from you, you’ve built trust. That’s the key to success. I’m eager to fill out the holes in my professional skill set, and take my game to the next level.

The immediate hole is design. Design gives me the power and confidence that I can deliver on the vision of how I think buildings should work. I have a long term plan to make a big impact on the sustainability of our built environment- the sales and analysis work I’ve done in the past are only parts of the whole. I’m past the point now where I’m debating switching careers or “exploring”. It’s time to  plug the rest of the holes and get moving in a big way. That means letting go of the comfortable things. It means chasing the skills I don’t have, and finding next set of smart people to work with and learn from.

It was a rough drive to those first few interviews. Ellensburg, WA, 01.15.15.

It was not a comfortable trip to those first few interviews. Ellensburg, WA, 01.15.15.

Specifically, that means I am moving to Seattle. This past weekend I felt fortunate to accept an offer of employment from a firm that seems to value who I am, my somewhat non-traditional experience, and my intense drive towards sustainable design. The position is in mechanical design and I’m genuinely excited to get after it. I’ll have more to say once I actually start work on April 6.

I will miss the ever-loving shit out of Missoula, and Montana as a whole. While that won’t be fun, it is also worth mentioning that that my landing in Seattle will be significantly softer due to a really incredible woman I’ve gotten to know in the past few months. More on both of these items later.

The best cheap date in Seattle is on a ferry.

The best cheap date in Seattle is on a ferry.

 

Snow

It’s frozen water and air. There is a clarity that comes from all simple things. In the waxing complexity of my life, the simple things speak the loudest.

St Mary's road bitterroot, mt

Another good season begins.

Last weekend, Martin and I opened our the ski seasons on St. Mary’s (in the Bitterroot). Our bodies quickly remembered the easy rhythm of pushing skis uphill. Step, breath, step, breath. The closest common feeling is sitting in church. It’s a meditation. Quiet snow under foot, the smell of deep evergreen freezing deep in our nostrils. Perfect. Simple.

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avalanche pit, st. marys bitterroot, 11-23-14

Nov. 23, 2014 Avalanche pit. South aspect at 8000′ on St. Marys ridge. Numerous weak layers between 60-90cm from surface.

It is tempting to get caught in the drama of this world. The simple things cut it away.

For so long, I’ve defined myself by what I do. I have to change the way I think about myself in relation to the way I think about what I do to pay the bills. Some of the most put together people I have ever met have been unemployed or underemployed. I fear for them- and I know that my fear does nothing for them. In light of how I let my job both define me and consume me, their grace in that particular regard has always impressed me.

I should be grateful for having a job- but a lot of days I dread going to work because I feel like there is no way to win. There is no way for me to find peace with my career. There will always been more work than I can do. I will never ask the right questions, do the right things, or plan far enough ahead. I let the mistakes I make eat me alive, or at the very least, they crush my morale. You know all those quotes about all the great innovators failing a lot before they struck it big? I’m starting to wonder if I’ve got the guts for that. More often than not, my career has always been this evil nemesis in my life. I’ve never been able to master it, or even balance it. I’ve missed bluebird days, real friends in places of real need, and probably a relationship or two because I was more dedicated to my desk than my heart. Yet, paying the bills and “being a responsible adult” (e.g. saving for retirement,  compiling “professional experience”, etc.) can seemingly only be avoided for so long. There’s a balance there, and I’ve never even gotten close.

Seen at Costco.

Seen at Costco.

I spent most of this weekend stressed out and worried about how to make a major mistake at work come out right. I’m embarrassed to say that I also spent most of this weekend with 20 totally wonderful people that I feel deeply connected to. People that inspire the best in me. What did I accomplish in my worrying? Not much. What did I miss out on? Probably more than I will ever know.

Thanksgiving feast

So much to be thankful for- and this was less than half of it.. Don’t miss a morsel..

It is easy to think we have it hard, but the real fact is that most of the junk we deal with at the office is contrived. I know that it starts with me. It starts with remembering that I am not my work. That there is more to all of us than how we pay our bills. Indeed for most of us, the everything else is often the part that matters the most.

friends, sky, landscape, montana

These men matter.

I’ve said it before- the only real limits are the ones we create in our own minds. This time around- the only real problems are the ones we make in our own minds. Don’t let anyone, or anything, live inside your head for free.

No-Vember

(This post is about activism. First and foremost, please vote on Tuesday- it is the most important and functional form of activism. I really don’t care how you vote, just make sure you do it.)

The crisp air smelled of sage and yellow like the larches that rolled past the windshield of the work truck. I had spent the day working with a new employee, and the 3 hours in the car together left ample time for a deeply meaningful conversation that spanned religion, environmentalism, social justice, and fatherhood. One more sign that we are not your average construction company.

Something worth standing for.

Something worth standing for.

I joked about a stop at the local brewery on our way home, and Sam* politely offered to join me, but that he didn’t drink. We didn’t stop. After years of alcoholism, he’s been sober for a year and loving it. He pointed out that alcohol in America is a tragically powerful, chronically unrecognized drug that our culture is disturbingly casual about. I couldn’t agree more.

Thursday I posted a link on Facebook about Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly acknowledging his sexual orientation- a move that I applaud and that supports our cultural evolution away from institutionalized bigotry. One line in his statement stood out in particular though – “I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifices of others.” In the age of the “self-made millionaire” it’s unfortunately rare to hear one of the titans of business acknowledge the unknowable and invaluable contributions of others to their success. We all, even the titans, need each other. Secondly, he recognizes that we have a cultural aversion to activism.

The greatest blow our culture has suffered from the conservative movement is that activism has become a dirty word. That Mr. Cook’s statement has been heralded (even as I herald it) as admirable belies an assumption about speaking out. That making our most authentic and passionate desires known is an act of boldness, rather than an act of normalcy, is sad to me. We all have things that mean something to us. Our actions will always stand for something. In the pursuit of living fully, the greatest tragedy might be that we might let our lives slip away without being honest about what we stand for.

Sam’s commitment to sobriety reminded me of a commitment I made last year. No-booze No-vember. Some people prefer to celebrate “Movember” by growing mustaches, but I’ll re-up my commitment this year to stand for something a little bigger. I’m all for moderation. I also regularly enjoy good craft beer or locally produced wine. Alcohol warrants serious respect and taking a month off of drinking seems like a fitting way to check the casual cultural attitude that tends to prevail.

Join me. Or not, but think about what you stand for, and don’t be quiet about it. Our lives are too amazing not to stand for something.

*name changed out of respect for privacy.