What is meaningful work?

The most important “I Must” statement on my list is to be “meaningfully employed.”  But what is meaningful employment?

Sometimes it is easier to state what something is not before defining something.  Let’s discuss what meaning is not.

Meaning is not value.  Meaning cannot be sold or traded.  Meaning cannot be gifted.

Way out in West Texas, a Prada store replica sits disconnected from the consumerist culture it’s normally associated with.  It’s a conspicuous reminder that Prada has monetary value, but Prada itself does not mean anything outside of its’ normal context.

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When applied to work, the question becomes, ‘If the meaning of your work lies in the ability to subsequently acquire goods for oneself or others, is the work itself meaningful?.’  To answer this question, I apply the West Texas highway test.  If dropped off on a lonely, deserted highway in West Texas without any ability to trade your work, would the work still feel worthwhile?  If the answer is no, then the work you do is likely valuable but does not contain much personal meaning.

Meaning is also not happiness.

Happiness is comfort.  Happiness is pleasure and passivity.

Meaning is discomfort.  Meaning is an exhausting construction process.  Meaning hurts like the aching pains of a teenager’s knees.

We make meaning.  We feel happy.

Raising kids, or so people say, is the most convincing argument for a split between happiness and meaning.  Parents consistently report feeling less happy after having kids, but report significantly more meaning in their life.  Once again, meaning is an uncomfortable growth process.  Happiness is a passive, blissful state.

Ok, so what is meaningful work?  After reading carefully (see links at the end of the article), I am aware of a consensus.  Meaningful work is both personal and connected to a far-reaching purpose.  It is both intrinsically motivating and in service of the greater good.  I would argue that, strictly when defining meaningful work, it is less important whether what you are doing actually has a net positive impact.  What matters is whether we believe that our work is both personally meaningful and benefits others.  We’ll never know the net positive or negative impact of our actions.  The best we can do is pursue work that we believe to have a positive impact.

Raskolnikov, the complex central character in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, has the abstract notion that murdering a pawnbroker who, in his judgment, harms many people would be a crime ultimately benefitting humanity.  Raskolnikov supports his idea analytically but, upon enacting his plan, descends into psychosis.  His ideas become increasingly nihilistic as he dissociates from society.  This is an extreme example, but the point is that abstract calculations of your net impact (payment of taxes contributing towards infrastructure, groundbreaking research advancing a far-off cure, etc.) is not enough for work, or life itself, to hold meaning.  Supporting others financially does usually hold meaning, but the “others” are people you know or interact with.  At the novel’s conclusion, Raskolnikov, through realization of his love for another, knows he is ready to re-enter society.  Dostoyevsky aptly concludes that for Raskolnikov, “Life had stepped into the place of theory and something quite different would work itself out in his mind.”  Raskolnikov finally believed in something and belief, not abstract notions of “the greater good”, is the foundation of meaning.

Ultimately, determination of whether work is meaningful or not is personal.  You must be convinced it satisfies two stringent criteria:  

  1. The work must engage you personally (West Texas highway test)
  2. You must believe in the power of your work to positively impact others

 

LINKS:  If you want to read more about meaningful work.

  1. NY Times Opinion- Millennial Searchers
  2. http://www.workingself.com/work/what-is-meaningful-work
  3. Lab for the Study of Meaning

 

Success

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There is a wide gulf between the literal definition of success and how successful people describe success.  Shown below, the top two definitions per dictionary.com describe success as an identifiable moment conferring discrete benefits.

  1. The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals
  2. The attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

Compare this to how two cultural icons define success.

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” Maya Angelou

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

Both figures describe success as a process or a state of mind.  What explains the disconnect between the dictionary definition and how individuals understand success?

The issue is the difficulty of judging others’ success.  Outside of close friends and family members, we must resort to outward symbols.  However, these external markers (“wealth, position, honors, or the like”) may or may not have personal meaning to the person in question.  Because of this, we must separate how society will judge us and how we will judge ourselves.

Dictionary.com is defining how others judge your success.  Personally defined success, if it is to have any meaning, must be fundamentally different.

This misconception is the core of early 20s confusion.  Tossed into a maze of opportunities and people, you are overcome with excitement at the simple idea of just being a credible adult.  But then, before intentionally defining it, you begin craving success.  This version of success is shrouded in relativity.  Relative to your friends.  Relative to your co-workers.  Relative to your parents.  Relative to your own expectations.

This realization motivated me to personally define success.  An instructive exercise was to remember a time when I felt successful and tease out what made that period feel successful.  For me, it was as an adolescent.  I was passionate about basketball.  Don’t be fooled, I wasn’t any good.  I just had a strict set of rules I followed each day.  Make between 300 and 500 jump shots.  This seems like a monotonous task, and it oftentimes was.  However, I was focused and the process felt rhythmic.

For all the drudgery, I cherished the few moments a day where I felt like an NBA player in training.  I was engrossed in the work.  My priorities were sparse.  Finish enough chores and homework to keep my parents off my back and shoot the basketball.

As an adult, it is more difficult to pare priorities down to a few essentials.  However, I did find a useful tool.  The guys over at The Minimalists ask people to make a list of priorities you must attend to each day.

My list is simple:

I must write.

I must exercise.

I must study psychology.

I must actively date.

I must declutter my living space.

I must be meaningfully employed.

I must spend time outside.

I must stay connected to my loved ones.

Creating this list jumpstarts the process of examining daily activities and determining whether they support your priorities.  If success is defined daily through purposeful action, then you have a better chance of “liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

 

The Price of Looking to the Sky

We take to the mountains because something is different up there.  The air is crisp, civilization slogs and slaves below you, and you’re theoretically closer to whatever higher power you subscribe to.  However, this feeling proved elusive a few weeks ago.

We awoke early, 2:30 to be exact.  My roommate and I drove to meet a few members of his church group.  We piled into a sturdy SUV and headed for Grey’s Peak, one of the “14ers” so many Coloradans covet.  I gradually awakened as the 1994 Toyota Landcruiser groaned with each elevation increase.

We hit the trail at dawn.  The group fell into a rhythm and eventually broke into smaller clusters.  I began walking with one of the faster group members.  Quickly, I was swept up by his desire to reach the top.  Soon a great distance between us and the larger group formed.

At first glance, it seemed advantageous to be ahead pushing the pace.  We felt good that we were likely to have ample time to summit not just Grey’s Peak, but Torrey’s as well.

At last, we reached the top and took a breather.  The view was expansive and would have been breathtaking in most circumstances.  However, I couldn’t forget the choice we made to break from the group.  A choice that undoubtedly was beneficial in regards to the goal of making both summits before the notorious afternoon storms and murderous lightning bolts emerged.  Still, something felt missing.

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What had I sacrificed in pursuit of this goal?  Why did this feel different that the majesty and freedom I have felt atop much more modest peaks?

I had missed nature’s subtleties.  I hadn’t stopped to feel the cool mountain air on my skin and hadn’t gathered the fresh smell of alpine trees in my nose.  I hadn’t stopped to fear escalating winds or even to ponder how much longer we had to go.

Reaching a goal does not guarantee satisfaction.  Perhaps the feeling of satisfaction is simple sum of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations experienced in pursuit of that goal.  If the only experience is dogged persistence and focus, the achievement is empty.

This phenomenon does not just occur atop mountains.  Recently, a social experiment was staged in a DC metro station.  A world-renowned violinist volunteered to play a free set littered with beautiful, albeit somewhat obscure, compositions in the middle of a busy station.  Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post noted that, “Three days before he appeared at the Metro station, Bell had filled the house at Boston’s stately Symphony Hall, where merely pretty good seats went for $100.”¹  The entertainment value of this man’s work was not a question.

Despite this, Bell was shocked to watch as, “1,097 people passed by.  Almost all of them were on the way to work…”.¹  However, a segment of the population noted Bell’s brilliance.  Weingarten noted that, “Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch.  And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”¹  Somewhere along the way these adults became blind to beauty.

After being informed of what they had missed, many pedestrians asked when he would be playing again.  They were informed that this was a one-time experience.

Fortunately, we had a descent to look forward to.  I saw what I had missed.  The flowers, the green hillsides, the blue skies, the radiant sunshine.  Unfortunately, life does not always offer us simple redemption.

“No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Perhaps the path matters more than the goal itself.  We must remain aware or our great capacity to become blind to a rich and varied world.

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¹Weingarten, Gene. “Pearls Before Breakfast.” Washington Post 8 April 2007: <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html&gt;

Confessions of an Ex-Butcher

It’s unthinkable but true that I learned of love and loss from a summer of chopping meat.

A summer job is a rite of passage for many college-bound seniors.  A cautionary tale of the hellish, trivial existence you would wake to if you didn’t frequent the library.  In actuality, it showed me the disappointment, dashed hopes, and regrets that linger in the bread aisle and behind rows of neatly stacked egg cartons.

I remember the interview, a series of indirect, accusatory questions designed to pinpoint the risk of you stealing gratuitous amounts of inventory or showing up high off your face and obnoxiously late.  There were some who did.

A couple of high school burn-outs traded stories of LSD flashbacks in the break room.  It sounded mystical and horrifying, as if at any moment an innocuous activity like sorting black-skinned avocados against the backdrop of gleaming, silver fish could trigger a dark showing of Fantasia wherein you would be captured in a shiny Disney Castle enshrouded in darkness.

I later engaged in equally vacuous activity though. I purposely lifted heavy boxes in a foolhardy inefficient manner and took exaggerated full turns just to place a box on a shelf, hoping in vain that the extra half-second of exertion would yield some measurable personal change.  I also did push ups on the sly with the lofty goal of making my chest a smidgen broader. It was only fitting that they stuck me behind the stinky, dangerous meat counter.

The $7 an hour rate I was paid seemed lavish, a full dollar above the 2005 minimum wage rate.  Plus, the fringe benefits were myriad.  Filet mignon cooked late at night on the steamer and a steady diet of preposterous stories.

I wore steel-mesh gloves, chopped meat, and smiled at housewives.  At times, I felt vaguely professional and useful.

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I came home smelling of rancid fish and tortured pigs.  Tiny pieces of red meat dotted my black work pants.  One shower rarely felt adequate.  My muscles ached from the push ups I’d sneak in once I was left alone for the night shift.  I was a meathead in the fullest sense of the word.

I hosed down the giant, room height metallic saw, pounds of fat and sinew exploded off the metal monstrosity.  It smelled like a mixture of pencil eraser and decay.  I wore huge, clunky rain boots and the floor looked like what I imagined an Indian village looked like after a monsoon, except the drowning goats and floating rickshaws were little pieces of filthy meat.  Even after a 30-minute coat of scalding hot water, the place never felt clean.

Periodically, I’d talk to my co-workers.  There weren’t many like me, most were serious folks burdened with performance expectations and managerial aspirations.

There were also bitter, burned-out grocery store veterans.

It was unfair that I had it easy and Ray, a grizzled forty something vagabond to my left, had two severed fingers from a life spent slicing carcass and a desecrated subconscious sacrificed somewhere in Vietnam.  Oftentimes, his dark past emerged within tales of benders and violent break-ups.  He hated women, I think mostly because they represented romance and idealism, and referred to them in various demeaning terms.  “Dumb bitch” was his favorite.  “Dumb, fucking bitch!” he would exclaim as his teeth clenched and his red eyebrows furrowed, revealing a frightening caricature of a disillusioned madman.

Ray told horrid stories.  One particularly sordid story, detailed him kicking a naked prostitute out of a “shit-hole Gulfport hotel in the pouring rain, a plethora of drugs left on the table.”  He told me he, “missed that bitch though.”  After a heroin binge, he gathered his belongings and hitchhiked to Texas.  He spoke of bar managers kicking his ass, the swallowing of his own teeth, and bleeding in assorted parking lots.  It was always raining.

Much of it was for shock value, I’m sure, but everything he told seemed real.  More real than anything I’d heard at least.  The pain he suffered and the pain he inflicted on others was real.  I saw how disillusionment snowballed, melted, flooded and drowned this man and those around him.

But Ray had a heart.  He took me under one of his disfigured wings and told me about how mystery shoppers tried to fuck you.  Mystery shoppers were shoppers paid to spy on grocery story workers and report back to their block-headed henchmen.  I never concluded whether they were real or just a base ploy to motivate the peasant rank and file.  He also kept me abreast of rival K-Mart’s generous benefit plan, but cautioned me that it did not outweigh the adversarial managerial climate.

I think he missed, or chose to ignore, the fact that I would be going to college, a place far from blockhead grocery store managers and benefit battles.

My other co-workers were interesting in their own ways.  Francis, our tightwad manager, told me the story of a DWI arrest, spelling the end of his University of Texas days.  He impregnated his girlfriend the same year, creating an insurmountable financial obstacle that he still hadn’t overcome.  He unleashed bitterness on me because I possessed a chance he had lost.  He nitpicked and left embarrassing notes decrying my work ethic and attention to detail.

Francis had cleaned up his life in all of the exterior ways but his soul was black when compared to Ray’s.  Ray was bitter, depressed, and high on drugs but he had moved past hoping others would fail.  Maybe he just had a more advanced form of depression and could not muster the ambition to bring me down with him, but I interpreted it as genuine heartbreak that he wouldn’t wish upon others.

Ray intrigued me because he could be so damn good to me while simultaneously violating every sensibility I’d been taught was decent and proper.  He never wore gloves.  He muttered “stupid, goddamn bitch” as he smiled and handed a splendid housewife a thinly sliced pile of animal harvest. The stunned woman watched in horror and probably bought the meat out of fear, only to throw it out in a fit of hygienic OCD.

The same day that fussbudget Francis lambasted me for an inadequate clean-up job.  Ray valiantly defended me shouting, “Lay off him, he’s just a fucking kid.”  He wanted to protect me from whatever messed up state of mind had befallen him.  I had never met a monster with feelings.

That summer was a whirlwind of change.  I would be off to school in the fall and I vacillated between contentment and apathy towards my high school girlfriend.  All this was trivial, but to an 18-year-old suburban boy it was cataclysmic.

I remember standing behind the counter amidst one of our brief break-ups, and she “happened” to show up (because we all know high school girls have domestic errands to run at 8 pm on a weeknight).  She was wearing an audacious shade of pink.  Her shirt tightly gripped her frame and every urge in my body told me I was still a boy.  This fleeting onslaught of hormones overtook any deep insight I collected that summer.

Years later, I realized I had learned some of the most profound lessons of my life from a deranged butcher.

I learned the different ways grown men deal with heartbreak on a deeper level than any romantic relationship could approach.  I learned that everyone has a story, complex motives, and a heart, however wretched and twisted it becomes.  I learned that heartbreak is far-reaching and sometimes manifests itself in anger, violence, and profanity.  I learned that heartbreak comes from long-held wounds, usually incurred in times of feeble innocence.

Just because Ray’s gnarls and cuts resurfaced themselves as naked prostitutes scampering off in the rain and the unfurling of profanities behind a butcher shop counter didn’t make them any less real.

Cali at last

4/16/2014 

It was 80 degrees in Sacramento as I stepped onto the platform.  The warmth replenished me like water filling a coffee-maker.

This journey took me from grey, crumbling northeastern cities through frigid cornfields, jutting mountains, sun-soaked canyons, and meandering rivers.  Yet what I remember most is sweltering heat on an ugly platform in Sacramento.  It felt like home, but just as I began to enjoy it they called “All aboard!”.

The train continued through California’s interior, a pastoral land dotted with orange trees and green fields showering in the sunlight beneath watchful hills.  This land, just miles from unthinkable affluence, represents a hard way of life.  Migrant workers rise early each morning to toil in pursuit of a better life.

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We kept moving until we crossed the massive bridge network connecting the wide swath of Bay communities.  The skyline was a mere silhouette, obscured by a thick, smoggy mist.  The realities of getting from place to place began to wash over me as I furiously checked my phone to map my route into my brother’s Mountain View apartment.  The luxuries of the train ride were suddenly apparent. Time, movement, and direction are all decided for you.  All you have to do is sit and exist.

The trip was an opportunity for reflection.  I read and wrote furiously.  Most importantly, and all successful trips do this, I’ve renewed my commitment to adventure.  I’ve reaffirmed my belief that time spent searching for truth and knowledge amidst the backdrop of a beautiful, shifting sense of place is worthwhile.

Boston to the Bay- C’mon California

April 16, 2014

Beauty becomes burden.  Counter-intuitive as it seems, the breathtaking scorched-red mesas and gently flowing waters of the Colorado River became tiresome, almost annoying.  I felt a desperate urge to capture it all, freeze it, and hold it.  Each bend was more gorgeous than the last and each meadow stretched farther than its predecessor.

I gasped for breath, drowned and smothered by the beauty encircling the fast-moving train.  It’s a hopeless pursuit to capture everything. The mood, the light, the quiet delirium that inevitably follow a few nights of sleeping upright could never show up in a picture.  The moment is sure to scamper away, quick as a jack rabbit.

I long for more than the visual.  I want to be way out there avoiding cacti and spiders.  And this desire shall also pass.  It will fade into the Earth’s curvature like the sun always does.  Once the sun of my ambition is eclipsed by the calm of realization, I’ll want more.  And isn’t that what life is?

Seeking, finding, discovering, and eventually forsaking in pursuit of the new, the mysterious.  The aim of capturing beauty is a fruitless, yet necessary, endeavor.  We must capture beauty and coldly send it away if we are to keep living.

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Boston to the Bay- Mountains turn to desert

April 15, 2014 1:31 PM

The train is beginning to wear on me.  The peaks are beautiful and the tufts of grass interlocked with patches of snow are brilliant, but I want out of the artificial environs of this train.  I long to be on foot, breathing the crisp air for myself.

On the bright side, I’ve learned that Mountain Dew registers on a breathalyzer and that grapes, “really gas you up.”  

We are following a gorgeous canyon dug out by the Colorado River.  Conifers and shrubs are prominent along the otherwise dry, boulder strewn banks.  White tufts of water rush like graceful snow ants protecting their mound.

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Periodically, darkness encloses the train as we enter a cocoon-like tunnel.

We’ve passed the snow-covered portion and the land has begun to remind me of the dry desert lands of Big Bend I have grown to love.

The grass mesas at lower elevation seem more hospitable, stark, and real.  The snow-capped jewels of the Rockies, while stunning, never feel real.  Perhaps the beauty is too large to comprehend, simply not collapsible into the English language.  For this reason, I prefer the humble grass and shrubs of an open plain.

The difference between the western US and the Midwest is profound. Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Iowa give glimpses into what civilization and culture have wrought upon the US.  The route teems with failed habitation, factories puffing out smoke, cars and trains, a land unrecognizable to the natives of this land.

The Rocky Mountain stretch shows the audacity of incomprehensible geologic forces at work, and man’s pathetic attempt to saddle and ride a world as powerful and vindictive (rightly so) as an infuriated bronco.  The towering white peaks and the burning red sand makes an overt stand against human encroachment.

We’ve reached sharp, dry cliffs.  A land soaked in sun and shadows.  A land where bank robbers and villains lurked in caves.  A land of gold and theft, wealth and crime.  Land like this tests a man, pushes him to his brink, and brings him back with the promise of challenge and adventure.

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Boston to the Bay- Back on the train

April 15, 2014

We’re back on the train, and I’ve already noticed a change in the passengers.  We are seated in front of a group of crude truck drivers who are en route to Reno, Nevada.  On one hand, the belches and farts emanating from the rear are intrusive.  On the other hand, these folks bring an exotic body of knowledge to the forefront.  For example, sandwiched between burps, I learned that Mountain Dew registers on a breathalyzer and that grapes, “really gas you up.”  Indispensable travel advice from bona fide road warriors.

The fascinating chatter did not stop there.  Down in the dining car, a sloshed Clint Eastwood doppelgänger mused that he, “Lived in these mountains for five years.  Moved back to Illinois to save a marriage.  I tell you what, I should’ve stayed in these mountains.”  A sad tale indeed.  He wasn’t talking to anyone in particular.

As most drunks do, he initiated conversation with the first willing pulse.  A solemn, silent Native American who hadn’t changed his expression or uttered a word in 40 minutes sat nearby. Not even alcohol could pierce their cultural separation.  So, by default, the dining car attendant was the lucky man.

The attendant and the drunk Clint Eastwood-looking former mountain man’s conversation went down like this: (Keep in mind that we are approaching western Colorado and heading further northwest).

Clint:  “How long until we cross the Grand Canyon?”

Attendant:  “Sir, we don’t come anywhere near the Grand Canyon.”

Clint:  “Man, I am lost.”

Stoic Native American:  “Grand Canyon in Arizona.”

Clint:  “Yeah, but…”  (trails off)

Stoic Native American:  Gives up, stares out window.

Clint:  “Maybe I’m thinking of my next train.”

 

Boston to the Bay- Denver pit stop

April 14, 2014

It was cold when we arrived at Denver’s Union Station.  We wandered through downtown and floated a few ideas around.  We settled on walking three miles to the Museum of Nature and Science, located inside City Park.  It felt good to move our legs after sitting for so long, and we agreed that the dry cold of the Rockies was much more bearable than the wet, cold bite of the Northeast.

Upon arrival at the museum, the intermittent sleep you get from sitting in a chair for three days caught up to me as I wandered from exhibit to exhibit.  I learned some scattered facts about wildlife and Native Americans, but soon found myself asleep in an IMAX theater.  After my shameless nap, we ventured outside where the weather had improved significantly.  It was 60 degrees and sunny and the views of downtown and the mountains were crystal clear.

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We had a few hours to kill so we plopped down along the 16th Street Mall, a downtown collection of shops and restaurants connected by light-rail tracks.  I was expecting upscale shops and a peaceful atmosphere.  Instead, we found the epicenter of vagrant life.

A bearded man in tattered clothes shouted, “Hey you, with the expensive backpack, got any rolling papers?”  I thought that was an especially interesting tactic.  Maybe his thought was that if he aggressively reminded me of the embarrassment of riches Jansport had bestowed upon me then I would feel obligated to pull some paraphernalia out of my ass.  Whatever, man.

This wasn’t the only hostile situation we encountered.  Outside of a McDonald’s, a large man with a deep baritone voice towered over a disheveled man and rumbled, “I better have my money today or I break your f*cking face.”  The little man scooted off and canvassed similarly disheveled folks for money.  They must have some sort of informal credit union within the street underworld.  How do they keep track of their debts?  Is the penalty always a “broken f*cking face”?  How do you break someone’s face?

After another hour of watching the 16th Street circus, we met my friend Pete for dinner at Rio Grande.  I was confident that the Mexican food would be an improvement over what I had way back in Massachusetts.  The food was better, but still not up to Texas standards.  I’m coming to grips with the notion that Texas may be unrivaled in regard to Mexican cuisine.  What was excellent were the margaritas.  Two of those at altitude and you’re sailing.

After a relaxing dinner, I was looking forward to a full night’s sleep in a real bed. We hopped in the car and drove to Pete’s house, a Townes Van Zandt cd softly whirling us to sleep.  The Mexican food and the country music almost brought me back to San Antonio, and for that I am grateful.

Colorado Girl by Townes Van Zandt

I’m goin’ out to Denver

See if I can’t find

I’m goin’ out to Denver

See if I can’t find

That lovin’ Colorado girl of mine

The promise in her smile

Shames the mountains tall

The promise in her smile

Shames the mountains tall

She bring the sun to shining

Tell the rain to fall

It’s been a long time, mama,

Since I heard you call my name

Ah, been a long time

Since I heard you call my name

I got to see my Colorado girl again

Be there tomorrow

Mama, don’t you cry

Be there tomorrow

Now, mama, don’t you cry

I got to kiss these lonesome

Texas blues good-bye

I’m goin’ out to to Denver

See if I can’t find

I’m goin’ out to to Denver

See if I can’t find

That lovin’ Colorado girl of mine

That lovin’ Colorado girl of mine

Boston to the Bay-Day 4

April 14, 2014  Omaha, Nebraska 12:24 AM  

Just as Houston has no fall, many places have no spring.  Western Iowa and Nebraska are covered in snow.  The wind whips and swirls with ice.

Iowa was rainy and cloudy, pleasant weather to accompany a backwoods train trip.  Despite being encapsulated in a bubble careening forward at 70 miles per hour, you and the residents watch the rain fall together.  However small, there is a connection, an abstract coziness making you feel as if you lived at least one afternoon in this state.

Speaking of the Midwest, nearly every town seems to be mired in decay.  Old billowing factories give labored heaves of stale smoke breath.

Somehow there’s still life and wood-frame houses.  People cling to the life they’ve known.  There’s a forlorn, despondent warmth that forces you to respect the integrity of a people willing to suffer through winter and weather the storm of deindustrialization.  Paradoxically, these people seem to have it right, an anthropological “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude that preserves family and customs.

April 14, 2014 Might as well be January 2014–6:22 AM Akron, Colorado

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I woke up after a few hours of restless sleep.  The sun is hiding, but has left a brilliant pink remnant in the distance.  The kind of glimmer that must help the poor people of the Dakotas or Alaska get through dark, cold days.  It is white for infinity.  Little thickets of grass defiantly poke their heads out their blanket as if to say, “Is it morning yet?”.  The cold and the wind softly murmur “no”.

The West was supposed to spell promise, but all I see is snow-covered farmland.  I knew that eastern Colorado was this way, but, selfishly, I expected the weather to bow down to my schedule.

The flat land is slowly giving way to a few upstart rocky inclines.  Behind me, the sun has put its foot down and has finally broke through the tangled web of clouds that have chased our train since Indiana.

A few cows graze over the snow, taking the annoying white impediment in stride.  There isn’t much a grazing cow doesn’t take in stride.  Man has transformed this beast to a stoic machine.