Thursday, October 02, 2008

an intellectual life

today i drove across the disturbingly windy øresundsbro (that's a bridge) to sweden to attend an all-day symposium in honor of my father-in-law. it's the one that upset me so much when i received the invitation a few months ago. i was pleased to see that there is still a glimmer of being pleased that i'm crossing a border to another country, even tho' it's pretty much like going to another state. i do apparently retain some of my former awe of living in europe (to be said to oneself in a hushed tone). but, i digress.

as i listened to a danish architect speak about urban planning and how he has basically lived his life in a reaction to the modernism of mies van de rohe and le corbusier, and a retired seagoing captain speak about regional cultures and identities and a rector of a university speak about the meaning of an entirely new field invented by my father-in-law, it struck me that i am living an insufficiently intellectual life.

how much time do i spend thinking about what makes cities tick? what makes a great urban space a great urban space? and how do our surroundings affect us? what effect will places like dubai have on the people who live there? you might think that i would have no business spending any intellectual energy on such questions, but you would be wrong. perhaps if i devoted more time to these questions, i would get to the bottom of what makes me uncomfortable about singapore's pristine, clean, safe streets.  would i be able to live there and keep my sense of self as i know it? should i even want to? should i be more open to change than that? shouldn't i ponder those questions in a bit more depth?

and the question of culture and identity is certainly relevant for a person who is going on ten years outside the country of her birth. what remains of the culture and identity i grew up with and what has been layered on top of it? and what does that mean to my identity? who am i today because of the things i've experienced. why is it that i can take the piss with sarah palin's cross-eyed flute performance when my adelaide from guys & dolls in the miss south dakota pageant was no doubt no better or more successful? what aspect of who i am today distances me so far from that person that i was that i'm ok with that?

what am i really doing with the chance i'm being given to write about one of the most important industries in the world? 90% of the stuff on the planet is transported by ship at some point and there is an enormous shortage of people to sail those ships. and i'm writing about that these days (when i'm not experiencing a total writer's block). am i doing enough with that chance? i could have a real effect on an industry that's undergoing an enormous change. have i devoted sufficient intellectual energy to the questions before me?

after today, my answer is that i could do better. and if i do, it would make peter proud. wherever he is. and for some reason, that seems really important.


Amanda said...

I think that we all think too little about what we have to contribute to this place we call home.

Just Tuesday I got to be a part of a wonderful discussion about the future direction of our company and I came away from that so recharged and refreshed, and wondering why we don't do that kind of thing more often.

All I do is manage for a company who sells propane across Kansas and Georgia. Most days I figure that doesn't matter much to this world, but does it?

Your post (as always) has made me ponder.

tangobaby said...

This is a great post, and one that I can relate to also. Obviously there are certain special people who are gifted with incredible talents that cannot help but impact the world in positive ways (cannot help but notice that none of your examples are politicians, but that's another ramble...).

And then there are the rest of us. I think there is a place for each of us to offer our talents and brilliance to the world, but it might not be as clear cut or obvious as to how we might do that. Or we don't have the constant drive to do so, perhaps we get lax or forgetful. Or we doubt our abilities.

I don't know...what I do know is that you've reminded me that I should always try. I am sure that Peter would be proud of you anyway. He sounded like a wonderful man.