Philosophy Tuesday

I first heard the terms awfulizing and catastrophizing from Loretta Laroche, and I instantly “fell in love” with them. What a powerful set of words to distinguish something that we can do oh so automatically: take something that happened, and render it awful and/or a catastrophe. (Or a disaster; disasterphizing as a term works too.) “It rained on our vacation; our vacation was ruined and sucked.” “I stepped in mud; gods these things always happen to me!” ” The boss was terse with me; he’s such an ass, doesn’t like me, and I have to fight him every day.” “The lines were long; it took me ages to get it done and I was bored to death.” ” There was a traffic accident; other people are stupid and living here is frustrating.”

Not everything goes our way, and we won’t like everything that happens in our life.

And sometimes, there is an actual natural disaster.

We always, however, get to choose who we are going to be in the face of our circumstances. We can catastrophize, be a victim, and suffer, or we can admit it didn’t go as we planned/liked/wanted, be sad for a moment, and move on to create what’s next.  This doesn’t mean being a Pollyanna – that’s just as inauthentic as awfulizing.  It doesn’t mean dismissing our thoughts or feelings and making ourselves bad for having them.  It doesn’t mean being completely stoic or dead to the world.

It means being present to what’s so and to our reaction, and authentically choosing the possibility that takes us where we want to go from here.

Architecture Monday

click for project info and more photos

This is a building I’ve not been to, but amusingly I walked right by the future job site in 2009 during my transcontinental rail trip. Situated just a stone’s throw from the VIA rail station and the sculptural cable stayed bridge, I’ve an impetus to make a return trip to see the new museum. Done by Antoine Predock, the form I think will reveal itself better in person than in pictures, but the crystal spire is a good starting point. It is the circulation space inside, however, that really draws me (the second photo above) – the procession in and out and in and out and in and out and criss-crossing through this space as you ascend through the galleries, that seems like it would be an amazing spatial experience.

Procession often plays an important role in architecture and our experience of a place. Most used in ceremonial or celebratory buildings, it also can play subtly in more tranquil settings, including a traditional home in many a culture. The transitions, open views, expanses, and just the sheer act of movement all together build a gentle narrative, linking us to this place, this time, and the function and meaning of the building.

I’ve not yet been in a Predock building, and if this were to be the first, I’d wager it would be a fine example of his oeuvre.

Gaming Thursday: RPG System 7: Layers

Some random musings on the idea of character classes, brought on by the reading of the new PHB. While fifth edition has gone a ways to tweak its traditional model for character classes, especially with the inclusion of backgrounds, it remains that many character classes still possess a mix of combat abilities, non-combat abilities, and specific story elements in them. I think there’s an opportunity missed there that could’ve been gained by taking it further. (And I totally understand why they didn’t do so.) Continue reading

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

There is, as it turns out, a difference between understanding something, or getting something. Or, to use the geek term, a difference between understanding something, and grokking it.

A classic example is the difference between understanding how to ride a bike, and riding a bike. If you’d never ridden a bike before, and got instruction, you could learn what to “do” (pedal, move handlebars), the physics behind it (gyroscopic actions), famous cyclists, the history of the bicycle, and more. And you’d get on the bike, go four feet, and pitch right over.

Fortunately, we learned how to ride a bike without actually understanding all that (and at most information we probably received is the pedal, move handlebars bit), and that understanding was irrelevant. For there came a time when, all of a sudden we got balance on a bike, we developed a powerful automatic sense of it, and off we rode. Once we got it, it was ours forever, to be called on at any time, without having to think about it, apply it, or worry about it. (This is even more true of walking – most of us didn’t even have language yet!)

When it comes to ontological philosophy, and the study of the being part of human being, the same is true. Understanding is, unfortunately, the booby prize. We can know, understand, test on, recite, like, and even profess our desire to act by the precepts of a particular philosophical tradition, or proverb, or foundation, and it will change our life not a wit.  For a knowledge hound and an understander like me, this… is/was a bit of a problem.  All my knowledge of Buddhism in university didn’t alter anything for me in my life, and as I began my ontological journey it was very slow going at first as I thought and over-thought things, understanding them perfectly yet with no impact.

But by delving deep into it, examining our life, trying it on, taking it on, and experiencing the philosophy – and here is where guidance and a teacher is very useful (and was absolutely critical for me) – there comes a moment of insight when we can grok it. Through the practice there comes that moment.  Our views and our experience of life alters, and new possibilities for our life opens up.

We can get on that bike and ride.

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

I’ve been excited recently to see that there is a dawning realization in the psychology field that much of what has been considered psychological research, that is, something showing the ins and outs of how humans operate, has actually not been psychology at all, but more so sociology. I’d be willing to wager that many of these findings over the years, the truths that have been deduced, would turn out to be not very inherent or illustrative at all, except to show what the prevailing context or worldview is in the society of their test subjects (often, humorously, college students in an Anglo-Saxon setting). Like this study linked to here, if they bring the studies to other locations around the world they start to get different, even contradictory, results.

It is not to say that sociology research is not valuable – it is valuable because it lets us discover the collective hidden views of a society. These answer the questions about what is really valued and what is really influencing the society and having it go, do, and end up the way it is. Once these are known, they can then be a starting point to shift things towards where they actually want it to go.

The key is to remember that it likely does not say anything about humanity other than to explore the boundaries of our capacities; different societies will operate differently, and those too would show the boundaries of how human beings are capable of operating.

It is up to us to choose where in that range of capacity we want to aim ourselves.

Architecture Monday

click for project info


images © James Steinkamp

A tight site. An involved and extensive program. And very important occupants. Sometimes you’re given a project that just seems ca-razy. And then you get to work and get funkeh! Put the a pool on the top floor? Perfect!*

So here we have Perkins + Will’s design for a high school in the heart of Chicago’s downtown. Taking what could otherwise be a very jumbled and cramped design, they teased the vertical axis to provide generous well-lit hallways and atria, a multitude of terraces, a full auditorium, pool, and gymnasium, and details that provide identity and an expression that the kids matter. Not to mention some great views of Grant Park. There are a few spaces that perhaps look a bit generic-corporate but on the whole it is a fine solution to the program complexities and the limitations of the site.

* – It actually does make sense in a weird way; if you don’t want to put it on the ground floor there are some structural grid advantages to putting it on the top floor…

Gaming Thursday: how2RP

It’s an exciting time in the world of tabletop RPGs, with an upswing in popularity and the new edition of D&D garnering fresh interest.

I’ve had the fortune of playing with a number of people over the past few years for whom it was their first foray into the world of RPGs. I’ve gotten to see them grapple with something that is second nature to me: the role playing aspect of an RPG. For those new players (and us old timers as well!) I’d like to supplement the material in the new PHB (and, oddly, the DMG) with some succinct additions to help through those floundering first sessions, because it is really a big question:

What is Role Playing, and how does it make RPGs such a different game?

Continue reading

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

Creating from intentions is a powerful tool. And I don’t think it’s something we do often enough.

I’d say that usually our default, automatic, way of designing things comes from a place governed by our ideology, our viewpoint, and by what we “know”. This is the right way to do things… this is the best way to do things… this is the way my tribe thinks we should do… or just plainly this is how it’s done, or this is how it has been done, so, that’s the way we should do it. We may not even realize we have “starting points” that have already largely limited the area we can play and invent in – this is that infamous “box” that is so often buzzworded. The best we can do is to tweak what we already have/know.

But if we instead put the intentions up on the wall and then invite ways to meet those intentions, real solutions can come about. New ideas. Combining ideas. Ideas informed by, but not burdened by the past and “how it’s done.” Evaluation is possible. Even ideas from our opponents that we would normally dismiss.

And therein I think lies the real beauty of this: even opposing sides can usually agree on a set of intentions. It does not mean that there still won’t be compromise and disagreements, but it is a great aid to generating discourse. Every idea can get measured and extrapolated as to how they meet the intentions.   The conversation can become focused around the intended outcomes, rather than on the external concerns we may be trying to protect, or our addiction to being right.

In the world of intentions, new possibilities open up.