Posts Tagged ‘Salt Lake City’

This was written in the beginning of october when i first arrived. it has been almost 2 months and i now see how i returned to a zone that was familiar to me,

I find myself in Salt Lake City – a place i have not been – and that is the reason why i came here – for a fresh perspective – a place without a personal history – or really much of an imagined context, for i really knew little about the place – the mormons, the olympics, skiing, growing – but that was about it. I had little preconceptions about here and thought i could be more clear, with a fresher mind. While in many ways this is true, during my short time here i have found myself in familiar zones.

Part of the reason i left the coast, is i found myself repeating patterns of place both inside and out and felt that i could not break free or get clear. My messy writings on this will be posted soon. In San Francisco i felt like i was being pulled into the tourist zone, one which i felt was sucking the energy out of me – but in leaving i wondered if i were to just keep on repeating that zone. And in some ways i have, for this place is new, and many of the sights i will explore (there i felt i had done all the sights to death) and also that my eyes and senses are fresher and clearer (despite the exhaustion of the day) for they lay themselves on sights that are new.

But i have also found myself back in many zones that are known to me – zones of place, though they may be spread apart by hundreds or thousands of miles, are closely associated and truly part of the same zone. I began to ponder this as i waited in the train and bus stations for daylight to break, and remembered the waiting zones of these places. And then as i went downtown just as the city was waking up, i found myself in a starbucks in a hotel – the only open place for coffee i could find, it was across from the convention center and full of business people, and i realized it was the downtown business/office zone that i once knew all too well. As i walked the streets, wide boulevards with long blocks, i was reminded of other western cities.

It truly hit as i went to the library that was part of the appeal after i thought of this town and imagined myself coming here. I looked it up on the internet, and it seemed open and airy and inviting, and somehow familiar. Now libraries are a zone that i know very well, for they are type of place i visit in each larger place – town or city – where i go, but as i walked inside the glass covered atrium, i said “i know this place” and i did. It reminded me so much of the Vancouver Public Library, a place i love, and in a city i had been thinking about before i came here. i looked it up and the two libraries were designed by the same architect Moshe Safdie, who while born abroad, has many of his roots in Montreal.
And each zone (though the specific place may be different and may be “new”) calls up memories, emotions, modes of behaviour, thoughts and the like. And how we travel not to different places but to zones, and while each may be distinct, there is something that links and binds them well beyond their geographic locale.

we may travel many miles, but find ourselves back in familiar zones. While we think of the chain fast food restaurant, the strip malls and big box stores, and the hotels where the rooms are (almost) exactly the same across the nation, and the homogenization of the landscape allowing us to remain in our comfort (or discomfort) zones no matter “where” we are, for we remain in the “same” place. But it is much more than that.

when i was in central america last winter, i found myself going from colonial town to colonial town as many travellers to the region do, and while each had its unique features, after a while i found myself calling these towns a zone, as are beach resorts, theme parks, the urban created “tourist zones”, the market places (though they differ between north america and the neighbours to the south) and to certain extent even national parks. And it is more than just travel, the (different types)suburbs, the new rising “creative” inner cities, the bohemian neighborhoods, the college towns, the office parks, the malls, all often have much more in common with each other than with other zones that are physically much more close. And often we travel from zone to zone to zone, coming back to very similar spaces, both inside and out. And i have written this before – notes of when i went to Seattle this spring – the multitude of zones there, and how i kept finding myself back in familiar places.

There still is diversity, and a larger place can be thought of as “unique” in the way that the different zones within are linked. and it makes me wonder, as i have before, is the earth really round and whole, or is it merely a multitude of zones connected by threads? (which first occured to me in Seward, Alaska – its own special place, but also both a part of and containing many zones (the small town at the end of the road, the place enclosed in a mountainous container where you do not see out, the alaskan tourist town etc.) .

So i am in Salt Lake City, and after a nap my mind feels refreshed, and the clutter of the last zone has unscrambled a bit. It is fresh, and it is old, but my perceptions feel more alive. And within, the combination of zones i travel through, is a different combination than elsewhere, and i am able to once again see the uniqueness amongst the similarity. In coming here, i ask myself what is it about these zones (within as well as without) that i am to learn?

Now i ask, i am ready to leave, but can i go back to a zone that is familiar but live it differently?

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abandoned journey?

Staying here i have abandoned my path – the heaviness and sluggishness have now set in; it seemed a calm, but now that the intensity is gone, a deadness looms inside. I retreat and hide away, no longer engage with the energies of place, no longer feel them, at least consciously. But i know that i do, and that they have become a part of me – they have won. My world becomes small; i become small. My world the hostel – i cook some, gain weight, feel overwhelmed by the endless chatter or pratter of some, not part of “the group” to whom i cannot relate – big dominant personalities, so i shrink away to my room, my bed, hide behind the computer screen, and now so much of my life on line – a place where i engage much more than before – reach out- but again on the outside. I crave that intensity and passion, some glee that drives me out of bed in the morning, that gets me moving, but instead i find diversions to fill my day – sometimes. and i remember this feeling, the place where i have spent so much time, not in the physical world per se, but inside – that place that says this is it, this is all it is supposed to be, why can’t you be like the rest, get off on what they do – but i cannot – for how long did i try, and then, as now, for how long did i merely resist, still not engaging in what calls me forth, and as i do not feed that light, it slips away and i no longer know what it is. Has it died or has it just been buried inside? At times i feel like maybe some of the harsh edge is fading, that a softness is shining through, but where is the edge in the positive that makes me more than a lump.

It is not merely this physical place where i am – the return to hostel zone – the place where i said i would not go back to, but something drove me here – for although many drive me nuts and i am on the outside, i do interact with people more, and it was years ago in hostels where it first began. And here i have been allowed to stay, not pushed out, as it has been in so many locales. Why is it that these very places where i feel dead, are the same ones where i can stay. Is it because i dared not live? Or is it in the quiet times, that something slowly grows inside, a transformation that is imperceptible to me, but when i look back that is where it occurred.

Is it November, the coming of winter, people huddle in, the trees have dropped their leaves in all their splendour, and reveal their nakedness. The days are darker; so much less light revealed. but no, i have felt it in these zones at other times – but the late fall has also been a time of retreat.

But it is also the place – not only here – but others like this – that i stop in locales where i do not see me staying, do not see a way to bloom that is me. I went to a tree lighting in a square – heard about it through another, but like so much with events here, the information is hard to find; it was small, subdued, and without passion so it seemed, that restricted feeling that comes with salt lake – of nice streets and clean, but that does not know how to do festivals and events. i walk through temple square, so beautiful and lit up in a multitude of colours; it made me smile as i made my way through the conservative well dressed crowd, but again i felt something press down through the choral music in the air. But i ventured out a little bit; for a moment felt less sluggish then returned with an empty evening ahead of me.

The sluggishness is here – and has taken over – reminds me of beaconsfield and toronto with my dad; the two cities, montreal and toronto are grand, but when i have been back i have felt this emptiness and deadness grow; i thought it had gone away but it has returned. And it is that feeling of having given up once again, of supposing to be someone i am not, of neither understanding nor fitting into the mainstream, but of feeling that is what i am supposed to do – get along, fit in, carve off the corners of my star to fit into the square hole, and kill that part of me that is unique and different, that walks to a different beat, that provides the spark and light that can shine – and i feel her dying inside. And how to move beyond that deepest most primal feeling that she is unacceptable and that who she is is wrong, that if only she were fixed somehow, that she would be allowed to dance. And while i dance with her sometimes, there is that feeling that i must put her aside; her music is different than what others feel and she cannot dance to the canned dancehall pop (and when it comes to literal dancing this is so true – i move and shine to the more offbeat tunes that so many “struggle with” and remain stiff or go through unfelt motions when if comes to many of the popular tunes when the floor comes alive and fills up – but at least when it comes to dancing i am now ok with that)

Maybe that is why i have been stuck here – a stuckedness i brought on myself – to learn to own this and to shine through anyways – to accept and love that girl inside, and to feed her energy, so that she might shine through and dispel those voices that say she should be something else – to reclaim that slogan of my teens “you gotta be weird to be normal” and accept my difference as a unique shining light.

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I have not been down to Temple Square this week. It is the place that drew me here, and that enthralled me on that first early morning when i came to town. It sits in the centre of the city and the temple spires call from a distance, but it sits apart from all around.

The original square is enclosed behind gated walls. The gates are open throughout the day and you are free to enter inside. The adjoining area is a pedestrian zone with defined entry ways. The museum and family history library lay across a busy street, but feel more connected to the square than to the city that lay around.

When you come into the square you feel like you have entered a different world – which is the purpose of it. You leave behind the daily concerns and enter into a sacred zone. There is much to inspire with fountains and flowers and statues and the architecture of the buildings, all designed to uplift the spirit, but it is not a place where you can just be and connect. Although there are no “no loitering” signs, i feel like i cannot just be with the place.

It is a place where you visit and in many ways it has become just another tourist zone. Two visitors centers, one at the north gate, and the other at the south, serve to show and tell the history of the square and to provide an introduction to what the latter day saints are about; several free films are shown every 90 minutes throughout the day showing the founding of the faith, the journeys across the land to come here, and some of the unique beliefs; a history and art museum lay across the street. I visited them all when i first arrived feeling an entry back into tourist zone. it has become a show case for what is there – the simple shiny surface to show the world.

The sisters, pairs of young women wearing skirts that reach mid-calf, are there to guide you around the square. They are helpful and friendly – but so very young, on their version of the boys(young mens) mission – and have not yet experienced the depths of life. And i am afraid the my philosophical questions might dim the perkiness they possess. And everywhere there is someone to guide you – and on any spiritual journey, is that often not what we seek – a guide to show us the way. but here in the show room, i feel that it is the superficial cover that is shown and it is a deeper connection that i seek. But the girls encourage me to both fill out a card so that i may receive a visit in my home and a greater introduction to the faith and to read the book of mormon itself. And so perhaps,this square is but an entry way into another world – a world that may be deeper, but remains unseen to me.

As an outsider the most holy place on the square – the temple – remains unseen. While there is a full model of the temple in the visitor’s center, with inside relief, and photos, videos and explanations of each room, you cannot enter the temple unless you are LDS. Even for church members it is not a place where you go on a regular basis; it is a place where you engage in ordinances (or ceremonies of faith), communicate with the spirit and engage with god. It is not the gathering place of believers, but a holy place set aside from worldly concerns. I look at the fence that surrounds the temple and feel cut off.

At times here i have craved many of the mexican and central american churches that sit on or beside the lively zocalo or central square – the square that is full of life, the grand churches that are open much of the day, where people wander in and out, not only for mass but to pray, to light candles or to merely visit. I remembered Christmas in Leon, nicaragua with people flooding in and out of churches with balloons and more – oh, it seemed so much livelier there. And the churches are not as separate, connected to city life around, the public square with a variety of worldly activities, a market by the steps, food stalls inside or outside the gates – a visible part of daily life. You enter the church, just step inside, and you can be taken to another world, that of the spirit and of god. The spirit is incorporated into the daily life, a place apart, but connected. its true life outside is often louder, more crowded, more alive, and the church is a place you can go for a moment of peace, prayer or reflection (or to mass of course). It is a living faith, one that extends to the crosses in taxis, buses and cars, and far beyond. worship and spirit is not just something that happens apart from daily living. but then again all life zones are not as differentiated there.

It is true that the mormons also practice a living faith. Here much was designed to happen in the ward houses in the local neighborhoods – but those building are not part of a larger public gathering space; they are calm and well ordered like the neighborhoods themselves. Although holy buildings are a material representation of faith, spirituality is much more than a sacred place and what is practiced there. And here they do affirm the spirit through service, in their families, with the rules or practices that guide their daily lives and even through their underwear. Perhaps the undergarments represent the difference, they are worn beneath the clothes and thus not visible on the outside.

In latin america the boundaries between the inside and outside are much more fluid and permeable in general. There is more of a flow. In North America the separation of church and state, inside and out, public and private is greater and we often strive to maintain and build boundaries or borders. While there is a time for joining in and bringing the spirit into the dance of life, and a time for leaving worldly concerns behind, perhaps what i feel here is the split between the sacred and the profane. And when i go to temple square, i am the profane who may visit, but is to be kept outside of the truly sacred grounds. To be seen as profane is akin to being cast out and separated from the divine. But i know the boundaries are more fluid, and the divine can be found in all – if you only look for it and see it, and call it forth. And all can be sacred if we let it be.

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What does it mean to build a New Jerusalem? Is it possible to build a city or community for god here on earth? Is it desirable?

i have been curious about Salt Lake City for several years because of its history and why it was founded and built – as a place to practice religion, a place built for god. I am not a mormon, and several aspects of their faith do not call to me, but the idea of founding a place on this basis has always appealed to me.

But what i find here is a modern american city, well laid out and planned, but still a regular city – though with a certain underlying vibe – one that is based in the foundations of it, and it makes me wonder about the ideal. And around is sprawl, the sprawl of modern cities, the endless development up and down the valley – but i see that too is related both to the growth and development patterns across the continent, and to the original (and continuing) mormon corridor – of small communities, or stakes as they were called, built for people to live and worship. And like small towns everywhere, they have merged into one amorphous sprawl.

The curiosity with the origins of cities came to me when i was in San Francisco and Seattle and other places that were founded or grew because of the gold rush, and the old buildings were dedicated to business of the getting rich quick, and there it occurred to me to what extent does the foundation, the raison d’etre of a city in its inception, carry over to modern times.

For me the movement west in search of the ideal has always called, for i too have done it myself, the lure of “go west, young (wo)man” but what has been the ideal – a comfortable life, adventure, riches of gold, the possibility to be free, whatever that means, god. It has been symbolic of a place where you can be both free and safe to live your dreams.

The story of the latter-day saints of seeking to build a Zion, of fleeing persecution for their beliefs, and of finally arriving and building what was to be an ideal place called to me. And so i came to this basin, where they built the temple and called for believers around the world to join them in creating a new zion. for many years that is what they did – design a place that would reflect a living faith on so many levels from the physical design and layout to collective enterprises in an attempt to be self-sufficient.

Once i got here, i realized that part of why salt lake called is that it, in some way, represented the transition from the journeying to the building stage. A journey is a period of travel or movement and of seeking where new horizons continually present themselves. It can be hard and challenging, but it also is a period of growth and renewal, and important transition from one life to another. The pioneer stories are still a prominent feature of the mormon history, dramatic time.

However, the switch from one type of movement of searching to another of creating came about once they found a place. It may not have been ideal, a desert basin, but time comes to say enough, lets stop and build it here. Now according to legend, Bingham Young stood on top of one of the hills and knew or was told by a higher source, that it is here that you are to build. Was it divine inspiration and knowing this is it, and how much of it was weary fatigue, and saying this is the place where it will have to be.

I think this is where it differs from some present journeys where you are looking for a place that already exists and ready-made for you to come and join; here there was nothing, and it represented a palate upon which to build – it was not already there and required vision to believe that it could become something more, something worthy of god here on earth. But then again, how many new frontier exist today in our ever connected and known world? Is it possible to just find a fresh place to transform – a place where you can land fresh? A place where others are not already? But then again, was there ever such a place, for native americans were here already? Is it just the belief in such a place that has disappeared?

Another difference is, that while in the motion of a journey, the pioneers had a home in a community, one without stable roots in the ground, but one of interconnection to one another and to a higher source.

Still once you have stopped there is a shifting of gears – you are no longer searching for the place but you have found it – or rather you have found the locale where you are to build it. Your action changes from seeking and imagining to building and creating. You are now transforming the environment, and although it is a difficult time, you are guided by a higher vision and a concrete as well as abstract purpose and can see the progress you are making. Although they almost starved in the first years, and lived a harsh existence, it is a time that is now romanticized for it calls forth (or back) a higher ideal, and a time when the ideal called forth.

During those initial years this basin was transformed, a city and community and temple were built and thousands upon thousands of pioneers arrived, making arduous journeys of their own, but having a specific destination – of a place that was there, unknown and known at the same time, a place where they would help build and live. They were called forth to help build something greater than themselves and to join with others who had already begun, and were able to do so, making transitions and transformations of their own and thereby transforming the place to where they were called.

During the 1890s there was a switch in policy, where immigration to the new zion was no longer actively encouraged and organized, and instead people were encouraged to stay in their homelands and build there, and go out into the world as missionaries. I see this as a major shift, and this period marks a transition in the history of both the church and the society at large; the abandonment of polygamy, the entry of Utah into the nation and the national expansion in general, the economic downturn that swept across the nation, the end of one century and beginning of another. It also led to the decline of the more collective enterprises, and i believe, the realization that you cannot live totally apart or isolated from that which surrounds. Another century that we have passed through.

Before that time, with the building of the railroads many “others” came for very different reasons and the area was no longer homogeneous in terms of worship. Salt Lake and parts of Utah were no longer only for true believers, for members of the church. And this remains true today; while mormons still predominate in many areas of the state, Salt Lake is a diverse city – but one where you can, at times, feel the original influence of the pioneers – not only in the built material environment, but in terms of an underlying vibe.

Today we see both the search for community building upon common ideals and migrations of so many around the world, of people coming in who you believe are different. In my weeks here i have pondered many questions, many that have been churning beneath the surface on my journeys through the west, through small towns, both ideal and shattered, through divided cities, and intentional communities. Can you build a place for those who share common values? Should you? Can you build such a place and also be connected to the world be it via rail or ideas? Can you change or control the others who come for their own reasons? Can you remain distinct within? should you? What do you need to give up? Is it central to your core or essence, or is it just a minor part of your being? But how does giving up a minor part affect the whole? Do you engage with those “others” who come in? Do you just coexist (to quote a popular bumper sticker) allowing each to remain in their own worlds? Can you? Should you? What do you take in and how do you change? Do you welcome “them” and want them to join you? Do you try to keep them out? Are you afraid that some of you might join them? Do you ever merge and become one? Is it possible that all are transformed, intertwined, but unique? Can you move beyond the notions of “us” and “them” and realize that all definitions and boundaries are fluid and ever-changing and shifting?

This is a dilemma that i see being played out over and over again, not only here, or with many ideal utopian or intentional communities, but all who seek to create a life where you are surrounded by common values, lifestyles and cultures. With the splinterization of society, we see more and more pockets being built, and while you want live in a certain way, can you ever separate yourself or your “group’ and what are the consequences of trying to do that? This is a common theme that runs throughout my thought and i am certain to write more about it.

They mormons also came to Utah not only feeling that they would be free to practice their religion, but that it would also be safe to do so. They had been persecuted and had to flee one locale after another from New York to Missouri to Illinois, attempting to build and then being at times brutally suppressed for being what they were. They fled the nation to what was a land where they could be safe and free, but soon after arrival what was mexican territory was suddenly under the jurisdiction of the united states. Does what you seek to flee eventually find you? And they were not free from persecution in the forms of attacks and legislation. Did they discover that there is no truly “safe” place where you can go? And it asks when is it time to lay down and flee as they did across the land? when is it time to fight and what are the consequences of that – as with the mountain meadow massacre when they attacked a wagon train of pioneers? When do you take a stand? Do you build walls to protect yourself? Can they stand? But just what do you keep out and what do you hold in? Is it what you imagined that you would? And when the walls start to crumble, as they eventually will, just what comes pouring in and rushing out. Or do you spend so much time maintaining those walls, that you neglect to nurture what is inside? And what becomes of those who stand looking at the walls from the outside? Can you just be and let the light shine out? Is it possible when the forces against you will not let up? When do you compromise and how do you do so without giving up?

The temple was finally completed in 1893 and many compromises were made to allow for the continued existence of the church and the society. But from what i sense as an outsider looking in is that the LDS movement was transformed from something quite radical and dynamic to something that is now more staid and conservative. As i went exploring the history it occurred to me more than once, is that while i could not see myself ever joining the church today, i might have been inspired in its earlier days when it seems to be more a movement and a journey rather than a stable institution. But wasn’t that the goal all along? Still, it seemed that something major changed around that time.
With the statement on polygamy i see a shift from building communities to building (and today, maintaining) nuclear families and a focus more on individual behavior with words of wisdom and rules taking on a greater importance, as did obedience to authority. With the separation of church and state (which are still intertwined) the communal aspects of economic togetherness seemed to have faded away.

But i have to ask how much of that came from the specific compromises made and how much of it from the ending of the journey and the building process. Once, the journey kept people engaged and provided a goal and means of togetherness, and then once a place was found, its transformation and building served that role again. But once you have stopped the building, then what do you do? what does life become about? What guides your worship and practical purpose in the here and now? How do you stay connected and inspired? Do you keep building or can you say – yes, this is done. But then what? what do you concern yourself with? You have the building, to go in and worship – is it what you imagined? Are you still connected? Do you feel that you have landed or do you feel a loss? Can you step into what is the next phase? And does it take you along the path, and how does that path transform?

Or do you just try to be and shine your light and encourage others to do so all around? Do you try to build other communities of light around the globe not separate or cut off but within the larger whole? But can you? Is that what this church tries to do through the missionaries and expansion around the world? But can you join with those whose light is different from yours and shine together but unique? Has the ideal changed, or has it just expanded knowing that this planet is so interconnected? But then are we not just building zones? And as one grows does another shrink back? does the energy just move around, rather than being increased to a new vibration for all?

I thought i might answer my questions through the act of writing this, and while i have answered some (for the moment), i find that what i have done is come up with even more questions to be answered.

I began this thinking of my college study of social movements and the progression they go through – from radical idealism to settlement and stability. But how can you stop and still grow and change, how is movement possible within the calm – for all does move, but is much more subtle, and the changes may not be recognized until they have occurred. Can you guide them without trying to cling to the old, without hindering movement and change, without becoming defensive of what you have and closed to all that happens around. Salt Lake is now a modern american city – you can still see and feel the founders, but while the city and area expands, it now does for different reasons, and you can sense a defensiveness and protectiveness of what is here, and at times it is hard to imagine the inspiration, activity and faith that was needed to create what was here. But it is all change.

I still ask can you build a “New Jerusalem” here on earth? While Salt Lake does not seem to be a New Jerusalem at all, and i feel that the goal was abandoned long ago (in terms of american history), i also wonder if that might be a blessing after all. The city is not being torn apart by war and strife as is the holy city in what is currently isreal. But then again, can you not try to do so and is it our abandonment of the quest of building cities and communities for god (however named or defined) that has led to the deadened places and strife around?

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A small detour

A large truck blocked the sidewalk. It was picking up a dumpster and the only way around was to walk in the wide street. I did that on my way to the coffee shop venturing out beside the small stream of traffic that was coming towards me. When i left the truck was still there so i took a small detour and discovered something on the way.

I usually walk down that way to the library, in fact it has become routine. My body automatically turns to the right and down 300E and i walk the street that was new to me three weeks ago no longer really noticing what is there. It is not that i am closed down, but that i am on automatic pilot and thus not fully engaged – unless, of course, there is something so obviously different, or in my way – something that is impossible to ignore.

So when i left i had to break out of the habitual mode and come into the present moment and locale. I could step out into the traffic and walk around the truck, or i could turn the other way. The sun was shining, and to go in the other direction would take me there just as well – it was only a few hundred metres longer after all. So i walked over and down 200 east instead and discovered a street cart selling veggie dogs – in fact the food it sold was entirely vegetarian. “Now so what”, you may say, “it was only a street cart”, but for me it was a discovery – something small – but a discovery nonetheless.

Not only did i get to eat a veggie dog, something that i had been thinking about for a while, but I consciously realized that i had ventured out and discovered. The other day i had been at the library and my tummy rumbled and i wanted something small to eat; i did not want soup from the nearby coffee shop, as good as it is, for a can of soup was to be my dinner that night. I walked up and down the busy avenue – 400 south – that i also know so well -, a place where you feel overwhelmed by the cars, looking for what i could not find, for what i knew was not there. Eventually i hopped on the trax in the free zone, and went for a ride to get a street cart burrito that while tasty did not seem as good to me as it had the times before. Last week when grocery shopping, i had looked at the veggie dogs, something i rarely do, but decided not to buy them as for me it is an occasional treat and is street food. What i had been looking for was there all along but i had not turned to see. Now i know that cart exists, only a block from the library, and i can return there any time. And maybe i will, and it will become part of a new routine, or then again, maybe i won’t.

This might seem like a really small thing, but how often do we find ourselves walking the same path over and over again, more out of habit than anything else. Something that could add to our lives is just around the corner, but we have no idea that it is there. We don’t think to venture out until our path is somehow blocked, even momentarily. It is easy to get agitated and bemoan why must i go around this obstacle (even when another way is clearly there). but if i just say, yes, i can go around, I may find something there. A detour need not be a source of frustration, but can be a journey of discovery.

A detour is not the same as a path being blocked, for we know we can get around, and still get to our destination. While it did not happen here, we might find ourselves headed for entirely different place, to where we were meant to be. (And of course, sometimes a detour is just a detour – nothing more and nothing less )

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10/27 – salt lake city

I am not a car. I am a human being. This i want to yell. I yearn for a place that is geared towards people rather than cars. I yearn for a place that is built on a human scale. At times i wonder if cars have become a species that is taking over, like in many a sci-fi film for it seems that in America the landscape is geared towards them. What i am writing is nothing new, not even to me, but i can ignore this feeling no more. I have wandered north america, and the usa for too long, and the landscape makes me sad. all too often it hurts to walk, the body is fine, but the soul screams out and feels overwhelmed. there is no where i want to go. I am a person in a land built for cars.

I feel this more intensely here, in a city designed for the car, but it is something that has haunted me for many a year – in so many places around the continent. Why not just learn to drive again and somehow buy a car – you ask. Perhaps i could, and i am just being stubborn and refusing to accept the society we have created. Maybe i am, but i feel that something has been lost, something that must be reclaimed – somehow. But how?

At times i have been yearning for Central America or Mexico – the lands where i was last winter, the lands where public transit and public space looms large. A place where you could almost always find some sort of transportation – from a deluxe bus that puts greyhound to shame, to a chicken bus – the school buses of my youth, to the back of a truck, where in the cities buses, collectivos (communal taxis) and in guatemala tuk-tuk (three wheeled motorized taxis) could take you anywhere. Though it is not just the transportation, it is that despite the crazy traffic, many places are still built to human scale (though the big cities are the sprawls of the car). They are designed for walking though the sidewalks are narrow and uneven and suddenly disappear, and the cars zoom through and do not stop and park anywhere. The Cars are part of the equation, but they are not it. People still walk as a means to get around, and for fun. A pedestrian is not an anomaly. Still, the danger looms, making it less safe to walk around.

I am in a city where in many areas it hurts to walk. the neighborhood where i stay is older, one of the first, and is built to a human scale with narrower streets with sidewalks separated by a median of grass and trees, but once i leave i am faced with the wide boulevards full of cars. And even in this area you see few people on the street, and i think that is it.

Public transit in this city is fairly good, with buses passing in many areas every 15 minutes to half an hour. The trax light rail train runs more often and the system is being expanded, as is the front runner train to link the communities to the south. But once you get off, there is little around. The trax to the south is built upon old railway tracks, and stops at park’n’rides with little else around; buses run to and fro but it is a wasteland to the eyes.

In town the blocks are long and the streets are wide – sidewalks exist separated from the street, but few walk along – only those like myself, the poor, the young, the homeless, and the occasional other person. While walking is possible on the main streets, you are overwhelmed by the cars – they are not to human scale. you must push a button to work the pedestrian crossing light (yes it exists) and if you come as the street light changes, you must wait an entire round. The effort is made but you become overwhelmed, and feel visible and exposed as a pedestrian.

The problem is lack of the public sphere – few people walk here and the only ones in parks are the homeless or barely housed so it seems. Yes people are busy and days are getting short, but lunch breaks, and after work – at home alone or with a few others in private space in front of the tv.

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I feel disengaged from this place and that is an action i have taken. or is it the result of actions not taken? This feeling of lifelessness is so familiar and remembered and i wonder just how much of it has to do with the place. I begin to think it has little to do with this specific place per se, for the feeling is more a result of disconnection than of anything else – of life not flowing, of it being stuck in a puddle or a large shallow lake. It is more the zone that i am in that drags me down – the zone of disconnection.

That zone is lifeless and bland where little energy flows in or out, and it is the zone where i have felt that i am supposed to be according to the designs of others and society. It is a zone without passions or strong feelings in any direction, a zone of getting through day-to-day, of going through the motions, of survival and of not truly living. It is a zone where i do not feel quite alive. i wander around without a destination; my eyes are clouded and i do not see; my ears hear little, my senses dull and my body becomes heavy to me. it has been a while (so i believe) since i have had this sinking feeling, and i know it often happens in the fall. The days are getting shorter and all around is preparing for winter – the trees will soon drop their leaves, and all turns within, slowing and shutting down, crawling inside. The harvest will soon be done, the harvest of the food and of the experiences that were set out to grow in spring.

And we crawl inside – i crawl inside – disconnected from that which is around. but it is not just the time of year. i am in a city, a leafy one yes, but still i feel cut off from nature. I see the full moon glowing above the mountains that surround, above the buildings, and i know it still affects us all, but i feel disconnected from its powers and the mountains appear as but distant scenery. i sit inside and am shut off, and yes protected to an extent, from that which is outside the walls. I sit in front of the computer and that becomes my world. i crawl into myself and the thoughts become it, and i become disconnected from my body once again.

I know what i feel is the energy of disconnection, an energy, which like all other energetic forms, feeds upon itself and grows. I see little around which calls for my engagement which fuels that sense of standing outside, but because i feel lifeless and apart, i see little to connect with. As i seek to engage with the energies of a place, that renders me lifeless, and i feel caught in a downward spiral for i do feel the energies strongly, and that which i feel is disconnection.

I wonder how much of this i brought on myself – both in terms of the ego self and that of the soul self. I was more engaged my first days here – down at temple square – visiting the centres, watching the films, seeing the buildings, talking with few of the sisters – learning about mormon history and beliefs. some of what i saw intrigued, and some felt sad, and i have not finished writing about the energies there – the gradual change from the seeking and building zion to the city and culture that now is but i felt alive. I also felt pain and confusion inside, and thus pulled away and disengaged. And before i came, i thought maybe i would stay, but as i looked i saw nothing in mainstream american life that called – the materialism and sprawl – i felt it strong, and when i thought of joining in i felt empty and my heart sunk and i was disconnected from all that and did not wish to connect. like the air i found it hard to breathe in when i first was here, so i started breathing more shallowly, shallow like the lake.

But often when if has been time to stop, i feel my heart a sinking – for i know that what i feel that i am “supposed to do” feeds it not at all, but rather than listen to what calls, i pull away and it sinks some more, and i wander lost once again. But how to engage i ask myself, for what calls is so far away. The sprawl that i see, the cars and stores, drain me and i feel that voice saying just give up, join in, do empty work that harms and feeds the cycle, consume distractions in order to fill that empty space that yearns – for something. And then i wonder, is that not what i do anyways. But i yearn for something positive to connect to.

I still can see the beauty of some of this place – like when i went up to a park and looked down at the green valley below and the mountains that surround, of when i walk the neighbourhoods of older victorian homes and trees that are starting to turn – leaves becoming orange and yellow, but what i realize is that they are but pleasant scenery for me. They are nice to walk by, and i appreciate them, but they are not what calls.

I engaged for a few days at the Family History library, doing research on my paternal side. For two days i sat there looking at census records and other documents and was in an active curious zone, I took a break and a burrito cart on the corner near the symphony, and smiled as i ate it one the grass by the fountain where the construction workers with orange vests took their breaks. I went across the street and into temple square and sat by the small fountain crowned by seagull, the state bird, and a bird i love. For a few days i felt alive, on a quest, and while engaged with an activity rather than a place.
The place caught up with me, i was sitting inside in front of a screen all day, and my body began to slump. And i wanted to connect, feel part of something larger than me and saw that was what i was doing – looking for connections back in time, but so many unanswered questions, and no connection with anyone alive that i know beyond my father, was i grappling for something that did not exist. And i knew that i was grappling for that sense of connection that eludes me so. And for a bit i felt engaged, in the moment, see now that sense of connection i had been seeking was what i was looking for. To be connected to something larger than myself and to be a part of the living world. And seeing those names upon the screen eventually led me to feel alone once again, for that is what they are to me, but name on a screen – i know that there is more there but in the end it brought back the feeling of being cut off. And in their culture, which focuses on the family, that sadness at the brokenness of my own hurts me more.

I started this yesterday, and then let it be, for it brought out a sadness in me, so i engaged in something else and disconnected from this. I will put it out and be done with it, for that sense of alienation has returned to me. that sense of alienation from society, and of not having a place to be, a place to life full and not merely survive. But in writing about that i feed the energy, and it is time to put it aside for a while. I did today, and became engaged with theories of place, but i ask myself why am i here, not merely in this city or on this couch, but on this planet earth? For i know there is a reason, there is for each of us, but i only wish i knew what my purpose was. This disconnection is also with the source, and i need to reconnect somehow. But i think it is speaking in this jumble in my mind, this jumble that is even less clearly written than this entry itself.

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The Avenues

I sit out in the back parking lot having my morning coffee and cigarette. I look across the street and the leaves are turning even more – yellows and oranges abound and contrast the green that remains. Clouds cover the sky bringing out the brightness of the colours even more. Across the street is one of the many victorian homes that grace the neighborhood – standing graceful and elegant – connected and lived in. I am thankful for this area where i am. I walk these streets every day, taking a different route on my way to elsewhere, often remembering to pause and appreciate it. At times i wish to stay here, within the boundaries of the neighborhood with two lane streets, pretty homes, and trees. The avenues on the border are grand with the governors mansion, old historic churches, the masons hall with the sphinxes out front, and much more grand architecture that uplifts the spirit. but then i make my way out to the beyond, the beyond of busy multilane streets, newer buildings, stores, and more, and my mood sinks. And i ask why do i go beyond?

In the avenues i walk each day for that is where i stay. And each day i make a discovery – a new street, a park, a cemetery with views over the city, a little store on the corner. I feel brighter than i do in the newer sprawl, but still not quite fully alive. I rejoice in the beauty of the neighborhood, but only for a while then i feel empty again. I feel distant and apart from that which is around. it is uplifting, and reminds me of other neighborhoods which i have walked through in Toronto and elsewhere – older, built with care and lived in, but here the separation is greater.

I ask myself why the distance? Why the feeling of separation? It is because although i stay here, it is not where i live, and this is a residential neighborhood. It is a place of homes, a place where families (and some couples and singles) build their lives, where they come at the end of the day. it is their place of rootedness in life. I admire what others have built and what others care for and do not engage myself. I walk the streets, but do not join in. Much was built long ago, and it is that which is more historical that calls to me – there is something richer and deeper in those buildings, than many of the colder buildings of more recent years. They feel that they were built for living rather than merely for profit as many new developments are. There is life within the walls, but it is a life that i do not join. And here i stay in a hostel which is in what was one of the few bland concrete brick two story apartment buildings around – a building that stands out and does not blend into its surroundings. it is not the place but the way we relate with it that determines its energetic influence on us.

I appreciate these places, and they lift my spirits to an extent. But i am merely a visitor here – a wanderer – and these are not places of wandering. These are places of stability and rootedness, and of creation and maintenance of what is. I am so often drawn to these older neighborhoods but there is also something that makes me walk away. Is it because i have not joined in the lifestyle they call forth? Is is because i wish to join but believe i cannot? is it because that life is not for me?

The avenues is beautiful, but it is also one of the more desirable, and thus, expensive places, and has become a place of those who are more established with money to be had – not the vast riches of exclusive areas, but of comfort and not scraping by. And i ask myself, if i tried to stay in these places would i feel alive or would something inside me slowly die? Each place calls up an activity (or a few) and means of engagement and ways of being – and is what is called up here really for me? Would i connect with the other life forms (people) around? what other activities would become necessary to stay in the place? The trees have strong roots, but i wonder if i would shrivel away?

I appreciate the place and walk some more knowing that my engagement here is that of thanks for what has been created. I remember to focus on that and feed that energy, and not that of the alienation that i often feel. I am thankful for what has been created here.

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trapped in salt lake

I am feeling trapped here in Salt Lake City. I had wanted to come to a created environment and now i have, a city and a sprawl. The mountains that surround do not feel like a welcoming container, but seem to hold me in. I feel my body slipping away to a remembered place of weakness though i have never been to this particular city before. I disengage and therefore weaken myself, energy neither flowing in or out, but there is little around that captures my attention, that calls for connection. to put down roots and grow i said, but rather than being nurtured, i feel like i am shrivelling up. To free myself i say, but all else seems so far away.

The city is an oasis in the middle of the desert. what surrounds does not call; it is harsh and stark. A city is a created environment, a transformation of space, and here when i am in the leafy neighborhoods, or overlooking the town, i see an oasis of green. Often when i am in a city i seek out the nature that surrounds; but here it seems that the most pleasant natural elements are contained within. now, once they have become part of a city – the trees and flowers and plants are no longer nature, but they are another form of life. The mountains that i see are but that – scenery – they are apart and not connected to this valley floor and act as a mere dropback to the life down here. In the bright sun they appear brown and hard and do not really call forth, though in the evening when the sun is setting they come to life as the harshness is mellowed out. But without a car they are out of reach, and do not appear as a place to explore, or maybe i just know that i can’t get there. in any case, they are disconnected. It has been abnormally warm for October, and ski season seems far away; not that i ski, but that is the activity that these mountains call forth. In other directions is the desert and the great salt lake, both which appear as foreboding environments, and are out of sight anyways. So it does not all out, but neither does what is here, and that feeling of stasis is what holds me down.

Could i engage right here i ask? I have asked this so many other places as well, and compared to where i have been and left, this place lacks so much – mainly in terms of nature around and a center within. I stay in an older residential neighborhood, close to what is called downtown. it is nice to walk beneath the trees, and there is much in reach, scattered around on different corners and blocks nearby. But that is it, it is so scattered about, and as it the case with cities, there is so much around, but so much of it is the same. And just what do i connect with? I need to engage, but nothing calls forth and i feel so overwhelmed. And being in a city i feel disconnected from the natural environment.

There really is no center as tends to be the case with most american towns; and here there seems to be a lack of spread out centers built for people to be. Like most of america, it is the land of the car, spread out and not built to human level. The downtown core is empty with few people about; some street kids and tourists and that is about it. Despite the buildings and the construction zone, there is really so little there. Temple square is at the center, and i spent several days there, but it is a place to visit, a tourist zone, and once you have seen it there is little reason to return, and it is not a place where you just be.

I have explored some of the neighborhoods, but what that amounts to is walking around, drinking coffee and riding transit – i do not see how to grasp on. perhaps i do not want to for i see houses and places to shop, and i do not know how to engage, or is it that i see nothing to engage with. It is so spread out, with malls or centers and individual stores and office building blocks apart. I find myself returning again to whole foods and feeding that empty place within. There are some outside tables overlooking the parking lot to the center which sits on a busy traffic filled street where trax also runs. So i sit inside, in the upstairs area, playing on my computer, divorced from all that is around.

I went to one corner, 900 and 900, which was cute with coffee shops, restos, a theater, and outside tables and people were around – an area that extended for half a block in each direction; the narrower site streets were cute with older homes and a large park was nearby. It was familiar, but seemed isolated in the car oriented sprawl that is around. I ask myself, what would i do right here for there is more to life than drinking coffee, but i see nothing to create. On my way to the library, I pass by a book store on one block, an alternative restaurant on another, a massage school, and much more (old churchs, 7-11s, fast food joints) scattered about and i become both over and under whelmed.

I took the trax train one day up to the university, a sprawling area, with great views, but no center that i could see. I went south on the line to an area that said historic sandy on the map. the train ran for miles down the old railway tracks through industrial zones. The stops were in the “middle of nowhere” not connected to mini town centers or even shopping malls – each had a park’n’ride and a place where the buses came in, often with very little else around. I got off near the end of the line but could not find a historic center but perhaps i did not walk far enough; but it was not comfortable walking down the busy wide suburban roads, yes with sidewalks, but where i was the only pedestrian. A residential neighborhood with small bungalows sat on one side of the street but there was no reason to wander down there.

Another day i went to Ogden, at the end of the frontrunner line. It is a separate city, but is connected by sprawl, the sprawl that runs up and down the watach range. The sprawl of industry and housing developments. The sprawl that is the geography of america, that defines the placelessness of this country. It is created, but for what, and it hurts when i look on. Is there a place for me to create here i ask, and then i shrivel within.

The frontrunner, the nice commuter train with frequent service, lets you off near the historic downtown in ogden; a place that is cute but that feels dead. I know i have seen pictures of it taken in the winter, an old western street with the backdrop of a snow covered mountain, which looks wonderful and inviting. Yet the area is empty, it is another primarily tourist zone, be it tourists who have come from afar or from the sprawl for the afternoon. It is a cute street but it is not a lived environment, for life now takes place in the sprawl. I walk around, the sun beats down hard, and i feel that aimless wandering emptiness again, that sense of loss that overtakes when i am not engaged. I try to connect, but despite a park and a new empty shopping zone, the area feels dead to me and the deadness crawls in. I drink coffee and then ride the train back through the sprawl to the oasis where i stay.

I spend days sitting inside or at the library with empty walks in between. An impasse in my life and i feel trapped once again. i look to move on and spend time in that searching zone, coming up blank, and staring blankly, and cut myself off even more. I try to write, but i see little to make me smile. The wonderment has abated, and i shrink away.

The city seems so isolated, and what direction to go? Do i do back from where i came from, where i have no place to stay. for here for the moment i can stay, and this has happened before – why is it that i seem to stay in the lifeless zone. transport out is difficult with expensive buses and flights, and trains that run in the middle of the night, and so much is so far – and nothing speaks to me.

Is it this city that makes me feel trapped, or just a city without a core, or a soul? For this is what so much of america is and it makes me sad. is it where i stay, for in this hostel others also seem stuck, and transition through impasses themselves. I want to live, but here i feel i die. I asked myself that the night before i came – would i die in salt lake – and the answer was yes, so i ask myself why i came out here. and can i get the strength to live again?

But i feel tired, like i do not have the strength to move on? but when i try to “settle” i dissolve. Is it that i see very little in this country that appeals to me, and there is nowhere here that i really want to go, and my eyes and heart are sad. Is it due to their sadness that nothing around calls forth.

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It to me a while to put my finger on the overall predominant vibe in this city. it is neither friendly, nor unfriendly. If you approach, people are polite, but even in tourist places, i feel you need to work to elicit information, and even then all is not given, and nothing extra is offered up. It is not unhelpful, but it is not helpful either. It is not forthcoming. It is reticent.

You have the feeling that people ignore one another or turn away, and while this can be common to larger cities i feel it is more pronounced here. That there is more a “putting up” with others, and an unwillingness to engage, probably due to the underlying divisions in this town. Most often is seems that people pretend that others are not there. In any case, the overall vibe is not welcoming, it is not unwelcoming, but it does not welcome. It neither smiles nor scowls, but either stares blankly or turns away. The “excuse me” in places can be clipped as if to accidentally touch were a sin. At times i feel the truce is uneasy, with an undercurrent of disapproval and judgement running beneath the surface in many directions and a wariness of others can be felt. But people coexist, and in that sense get along. Yes some are friendly, service is polite and I have yet to meet someone who is rude, and one on one i’m sure many do interact, but my overall feeling is that beings are closed and energy does not flow or connect.

Or perhaps it is just me, and i have put up my own shield of reticence, which as i think about, it one that i unconsciously use – and so perhaps i am here to see what it looks like shown back at me (again). I know that i have retreated here, and often fail to engage, and often am not forthcoming myself. I try to reach out, but find it more difficult to do here, for it is not something i see all around. i find i withdraw from the place around and feed the cycle. And i see that although the energy it closed, it still flows in a sense, for any energetic matrix ‘encourages’ more of the same, and closure can feed closure as much as openess and feed openess.

Am i projecting this vibe, or am i really feeling what it there? A bit of both, i believe. I know that what i write is not false, but i also know that it is not complete. The overall vibe of reticence does exist, but i also see people engage. I see now that i am atuned to pick up on this reticence and let it feed that which exists within. I do not know if i can change my patterns here, but at least i have become more aware. In that sense, i am thankful for being here.

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