Tag Archives: encounters with people

Guest post by green mormon architect: 8.3 Million

As the bus exits the Lincoln tunnel and enters Manhattan, I strain my neck to look out the window at the buildings towering over me in the narrow corridor called a street.  I am overwhelmed with awe at the beauty and majesty of this new environment.  I can hear, feel and smell the city breathing with both life and decay.  Steam coming out of the asphalt.  Music coming out of a church.  Rotten food coming out of buildings.  Light coming out of windows.  People walking everywhere.  I am a foreigner here.  Where can I find shelter, or a drink of water?  Where do I push my stick into the landscape, like Brigham, and say this is where I will begin?

I decide to explore this living organism called a city.  Much more seems to be going on here than is visible on the surface.  The landscape before me is teeming with life like a tree, with roots extending deep into the earth and branches soaring into the sky.  Lightning and water flow hidden through arteries giving life to all.  Burrowing under the city’s skin I enter one of the arteries called a subway.  Here I am transported to another time.  As I emerge, not knowing what to expect, my eyes take time to adjust to the changed scene before me.  A person reeking of urine and dressed in rags asks for money.  I get a sandwich from a guy at a deli.  Someone follows me calling out that he knows me, but I’ve never seen him before.  This part of the city is old.  The scale of all I see is different.  Ground Zero lies in ruins.  People around me share where they were when it happened.  There is a wall lining an entire street with flowers and graffiti-like markings.  One of the scrawlings says, “I sat in silence watching.”  Why are all these people here?

By chance I run into a friend from high school.  I don’t know what to say to him.  He doesn’t say anything, so we pass each other on a piece of concrete called a sidewalk.  How do I make my mark?  How do I make a difference?  I run into a friend from college.  He lives here now.  We talk as though we were not in a foreign place.  I forget that I am the foreigner.

An obsession begins to develop towards this strange wilderness.  I feel at home for the first time in my life even though I am alone.  But I’m not alone.  This vast landscape is layered with people, surfaces, textures, and materials that combine infinitely to provide me the community, music, crime, art, filth, food, and beauty that I need.  Every stranger I pass on the street helps contribute to make each of these parts of my life here possible.   Again I burrow into the city’s skin.

I emerge reborn, now a child of the city, confident.  I am ready to begin.  I know where in the landscape to place my stick.  I enter a box called an elevator and fly upwards, unseen, as high as is humanly possible, to the top of an Empire.  Here I stand on stones carved out of the earth by human hands.  These stones suspended 1250 feet above the street allow me to see the grandest achievements of Humanity.  It is February 14th at midnight.  Sleepless in Seattle comes to mind.  Except my love is not coming for me.  My love is already here, all 8.3 million of them.

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Jonathan is an architect and blogger who loves talking about sustainability, the environment, buildings, and cities.  He has worked in Orlando, San Francisco, Portland, and now Salt Lake where he is approaching one year in Utah working for the LDS Church.  He blogs at green mormon architect and salt lake architecture and is looking forward to a return trip to New York next month.

Feeling the life week on WIZ

If you’re doing the human being thing with any gusto, you’ve more than likely experienced moments of awakening, of not only feeling more alive yourself but of feeling the lives of others around touching your life, dancing through, affecting and changing who you are, entwining into your being (you can read about some of my awakenings here).  In my opinion, you can’t wind too deeply into life.  And no matter how deeply you do ravel, greater depths and more intricate braiding patterns remain.  If you learn them, they weave you into a lively tapestry that changes nearly every breath you take.

This week on WIZ we’re celebrating that heady condition of feeling the life that you are and the life of others around, be they strangers or loved ones.  We’re singing songs of relishing being alive and of maturing through levels and stages of life.  Have fun, and readers, please feel free to raise in the comments your own thoughts about what it means to feel alive or to face the challenges that  circumstances have presented to your feeling as alive as you desire.

Let’s see what we can make of this third week of August 2009.

August is people month on WIZ

I’ve decided to officially declare August Homo narrans month on WIZ.  Throughout the month, I’ll post narrative prose and poetry that’s people-centric in nature.  Homo narrans (“storytelling man”) is John D. Niles’ provocative turn on our self-assigned scientific designation Homo sapien:

Only human beings possess this almost incredible cosmoplastic power, or world-making ability… Through storytelling, an otherwise unexceptional biological species has become a much more interesting thing, Homo narrans: that hominid who not only has succeeded in negotiating the world of nature, finding enough food and shelter to survive, but also has learned to inhabit mental worlds that pertain to times that are not present and places that are the stuff of dreams (p. 3).

When I write poems and essays that focus on nature, human presence permeates them — my presence out in nature as observer of and participant in some events and also as teller of the stories I relate.  Also deeply important: the audience who follows these narrative trails with me.  Though it might not appear obvious, my writing is all about people.  I wouldn’t present my narratives to audiences if I did not carry deep and growing feeling for fellow humans.  But I worry — a little — that the feeling I bear toward my own kind doesn’t shine through as much as I might hope.   So I’m tipping my hand.

One of the reasons I don’t write much (comparatively) about people is that hummingbirds or deer or swallows don’t especially care much if I write about them, but some of the people with whom I’ve had stunning encounters and whose stories weave through mine might feel put out by my narrative take on events or as if confidences have been betayed.   I embark on this project with the greatest respect and undying affection for my fellow beings.  As far as I’m concerned, the same rules of engagment apply in the human environment as when I’m out in the natural one.

Pretending, for the moment, they are not one and the same environment. 

Throughout August, then, WIZ will run narrative pieces celebrating the human presence on this planet and in general reveling in both the perks and glorious ironies of being human.  Readers wishing to join in — please feel encouraged to do so.   Stories, poems, fiction, or hybrid pieces that weave natural threads through the human narrative tapestry are especially welcome.  Please read the Submissions guidelines then send your best Homo narrans efforts to wilderness@motleyvision.org.

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Niles, John D.  Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature.  Philadephia: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.