Norman, China, me, my Art, my City & OUR Energy

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I continue to find myself pulled in so many disparate directions. There’s a book in the works, album material, rehearsals, speeches, paintings, presentations, home repairs, data research, neighborhood ‘Revivaling’, and that’s all in addition to the mundane aspects of life that we all confront. I try not to lament this excessively, b/c it seems to be exactly what ‘God’ has intended. If you don’t know my story, I went to China to study Urban Design & City Planning, and after a year and a half, discovered I had a rare form of, potentially deadly cancer. Having a conversation in Chinese w/ a Chinese doctor, about having brain cancer, wasn’t in any of the textbooks dialogues I’d ever studied. That said, if it weren’t for modern technology, the surgical arts, and human collaborative skill. I wouldn’t be here. Why then, did ‘God’ want to preserve my life? That’s a question beyond my conclusive capcity, however it has had an immense impact on how i approach the betterment of my self & our collaborative life together. When both forms of ‘perfection’ are pursued, then we inevitably follows that a ‘more perfect Union’ will continue to be pursued, achieved, studied, pursued again. Such seems to be the natural state of the Human Condition; the reason ‘Life’ is so precious, as to be deserving of being ‘saved’, is that each of us, w/ our own lives, is empowered to amplify our perception and alter the course of our collaborative culture.

What worries me is that the idea of ‘Public Art’ seems to have been co-opted by many of our municipal elites. There seems to have become a substitute interest-group that thinks itself deserving, not b/c of financial equality, but by sensibility superiority, to eat at the same restaurants, earn socially respectable salaries, have spouses of reasonable attractiveness, and generally, live rhythmically, relaxed lives of dedication and relentless persistence comparable to their colleagues in bigger cities who went to more prestigious universities: hierarchies of privelege. I applaud having achieved the satisfaction that accompanies that type of achievement, however I don’t accept the set of sensibilities having settled for such meager contributions to, what I see as the solution. What’s more astonishing is that those people (the intellectual & suburban elites) don’t feel satisfied w/ having settled for this definition of satisfaction either. They see our culture’s evolution in the same terms as U or I. They see its crassness, its vulgarity, sterility, and limitations and abhor them too, however their cynicism justifies their continued persistence towards positioning themselves or their children’s children in the best position to manage the calamity that they see as inevitable and undeserving of our preparedness. People will prepare for tornadoes, but not economic collapse. Perhaps if we did, we wouldn’t be afraid of the contraction? That’s another posting though. although most of us can agree to the dominant culture’s crassness & superficiality, it must be said that it has also allowed the most transcendent experiences to have been experienced and some of the most miraculous technology to have been conceived & constructed. The tragedy is that, despite that transcendence, each new generation has to re-experience transcendence somehow. We can only discover gravity once. We can only discover electro-magnetism once. What are young people to do except search-out for intellectual, technological, sensory, or spiritual spectacle to substitute for the sense of ‘awe’ that the Human mind requires for its sense of ‘completeness’. Its substitution w/ economically profitable ventures that meet some of that need temporarily don’t suffice and can’t be sustained-the House always wins. There is an ambient sense of discontent and overall dissatisfaction may not be overtly expressed in conversation, but it manifests in other ways such as, over-eating, gambling, techno-narcissism, spectacle’s sumptuousness, sexual titillation, lusts for power, wealth, prestige, the prideful insistence on self-reliance, come self-handicapping, come self-alienation, and so on. That’s what grieves me the most; to think of all the lives, the hours, the energy the effort that goes in to managing the problems that inevitably arise from the failure to recognize the long-term benefits of preemptive education and the delayance of gratification-which is another way of saying the ‘exercise of one’s will’.

C. Wright Mills once wrote that “Fate is when an infinite number of people make an infinite number of choices about an infinite number of things”, and to that I’ve added that they also do it w/ less than Finite understanding. The system is too immense and its failings to grandiose as to be blamed upon a single person, and the same can be said for its most laudable triumphs. It’s simply a manifestation of Human neurology and our mammalian nature. We’re innately designed to seek comfort and convenience, but we have the knowledge of when our bodies’ inclinations are deserving of being overridden. For example, if I twist my ankle playing basketball, I know that I need to submerge the ankle in ice for at least 15 minutes in order to stem the body’s natural response, to what it thinks is externally-caused trauma, thus protective fluids acrete around the injury and we call this swelling. However, once the ice surrounds the injury, the body perceives this the temperature change as a reduction in trauma and thus a signal to reallocate the body’s resources to other functions. The swelling dissipates. The same principle can be applied to these aspects of our Culture that we find corrosive and destructive. The desire for a double quarter-pounder w/ cheese sounds appetizing, but I know about the way the factory farming system operates, I know about the monoculture system to grow the grain used to feed the cattle is fossil-fuel dependent, and I try like hell to override the urge to eat the beef b/c I know that it’s physically, ecologically, and morally inexcusable. I may not always be successful, but when I fail I impose some sort of atonement, and simulate an ‘ice bucket’ type method of retraining my mind and sensibilities to enhance the chances I won’t fail the next time (which can be hard when the commercials & TV shows barrage our minds w/ the most decadent images w/ our most admirable celebrities everyday). Ben Franklin wrote, “Eat to live, don’t live to eat”, and I try to abide by Poor Richard’s wisdom, much like most of America once did. It falls upon all of us to raise our standards for our own expectations.

It falls upon me to hold myself accountable when no one is watching. It falls upon me to hold myself accountable when some one is watching too. It falls upon us to hold each other accountable, and it falls upon ‘them’ to have trained us to confront one another while still eliciting greater collaborative connections w/in this global/tribal enterprise called Civilization.

The Culture & Economic system into which we were all born has evolved over all of Hominid history (going back hundreds of thousands of years according to carbon-dating & the archaeological record). Not even, Gordon Gekko, who famously proclaimed that ‘Greed is Good’, can be held fully in contempt of Human Progress, for he too chose not when, where, or to whom he would be born. Donald Trump may personify the superficiality and vulgarization of our Culture, but he is w/out doubt a product of it. The purpose of Art seems to me to be, not only synthesizing as best one can the chaos of contemporary cultural stimulii, but also to propose theoretical reasonings that contributed to its arrival (wherever we’re at), as well as a ‘MAPP’ for how to proceed; and to where we should direct ourselves. “What goals most deserves our concerned attention?” should be a common query posed to ourselves, both by and to one & other.

How does that reflect on the Corporate policies of our Municipality: e.g. Norman, OK? What I’m seeing is a forceful attempt by educational institutions to grasp the last gasps of wealth from a Suburban system whose energy resources are dwindling. Oklahoma is in a unique position in that its an oil-producing state. If the United States Government weren’t united, we could be considered an oil emirate like several in the Middle East; though we also have the other form of wealth: SOIL. We’ll get to that later though. There are several propositions that are being put forth by the OU Foundation, several national developers and financing groups who are desirous of building a monstrosity of what I call ‘Interstate Urbanism’. The vision is to take what amplifies value in core urban cities, such as Portland, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, (the live, work, play convenience) and transplant it to Oil & Drive-dependent Oklahoma. I appreciate the overtures to energy-efficiency, however I see this to be an attempt to use the insights into human decision-making and over-simplified and emotionally potent visions of an abundant and verdant future world to gain ascent to massive construction projects.

What I’ve failed to realize is that, there is a nexus of sorts between the ‘Elite Factions’. There’s the artistic elites & the suburban-sprawl elites. The artistic elites want to create an ostensible lovely city. One that possesses the public art displays that indicate our uniqueness and our appreciation for the role that ‘Art’ plays in creating a sense of place. I’m not in disagreement w/ that aspiration, however if $250,000 dollars is spent on a School-Paper Tornado, w/ a commission going to the United Kingdom, I have a problem w/ those sensibilities. They’re wasteful. They’re superficial. They promote an atomized view of human society and they result polarizations in weatlh, health, duty, and destiny. Some people become the 1% of the healthiest. Some people become the 1% of the wealthiest. Meanwhile, the other 98% are expected to endure the sufferings of having been neglected the education and experiential training needed to engender sensibilities that enable them to exert the force of will upon themselves. Lacking that training, to whom should they turn but the exhilaration of the Casino, the numbing of the Heroin, the sumptuousness of the sports bar, the ‘wow’ of spectacle, the CGI graphics, video game rampages, revved-up engines, or the boom-pop of gun-culture. Identity politics amplifies people’s insecurities and needs for ego-compensatory hobbies, however, what’s the price? The costs are socialized, while the profits are privatized; all for convenience. They are providing products and services to all of us, including themselves. We’re all in this together and we’re all to blame. What’s confounding to me is why we haven’t already seen this trend and awakened each other to its insidiousness. The only encouraging answer I can conceive is that we just haven’t synthesized a way to describe the problem, organize a solution, and articulate in a clear, concise, and resonant way.

Right now, Norman doesn’t have a Sister-city relationship w/ China. There’s a city south of Xi’an called Ankang, that I think we be perfect. Similar latitude, similar size and similar geography. I think it’s possible for me to synthesize the disparate positional needs that the city has into a singular position, dispatch a liaison to represent the municipality, begin structuring a sister-city partnership w/ Xi’an & Ankang, while concurrently working to build relationships w/ many of China’s high-speed rail equipment & program designing companies. The vision for UNP neglects the reality of fuel constraints into the future. Do we want to continue living in fuel dependent communities in which we have to make the choice between our convenience and someone else’s quality of life? Do we want to allow our selfishness to relegate people that we’ll never meet to live in a biologically impoverished world just so we can be a little bit more comfortable for a little while longer? i think we can lead the way. I think that Norman can be the most strident standard-bearer for a new approach to Resource Reverence. If Norman were to turn-down the current proposition and demand that the Oklahoma Dept. of Transportation, state universities, the state legislature, and community leaders to confront the challenges now by collaborating a state-wide masterplan for connecting the major population centers w/ the largest investment ever in hi-speed rail. Imagine the scandal when the energy industry makes the choice to allocate capital for that type of project? Imagine how inspired people from all over the world be? Imagine the type of donations and desire to contribute to that causes that would result from that action? Imagine the job creation and infrastructure construction value to be created when we start using our muscle power and fuels to build winter greenhouses & planting fruit trees rather than mowing our lawns? Imagine the benefits to our community when we build something that motivates travellers to come through all that Norman offers to experience the most tranquil enclosed botanical gardens in the state? Imagine a cyclic rail system that starts in OKC, travels south through Moore, then Norman, to east Norman, then up North to Midwest City and then back west to Bricktown? Imagine how yard parking hubs could facilitate large numbers of people from disparate rural areas to feasibly and energy-independently travel between the spectacle of the city and the tranquility of the country. That’s one of Norman’s unrecognized assets; its rural, suburban & urban make-up. It can be connected if our desire for short-term solutions is resisted, and instead directed towards implementing policies at the municipal, state, and national levels to reallocate what few resources we have to anticipate a world that deserves more energy but can provide so little. We can’t be selfish with OUR energy and we can’t be selfish with how we design our communities to anticipate its waste. Currently, that’s what we’re doing. We’re wasting it every day we enforce state statutes requiring yard maintenance. We do it every day at our public buildings by contracting w/ lawncare service providers to make our buildings look pretentiously pretty. The soil is eroding and absorbing pesticides & herbicides, but it appears like its pretty & ordered. Despite the fact that our lives, and our society are in chaos, we want to subconsciously think that owing to our visual surroundings, the ‘world’ must be a-okay, when its anything but that.

This can’t be done by me alone. Citizen Solutions can’t do this alone. Tom Cole can’t do this alone. This is going to require each and every student, grandparent, mom, dad, brother, sister & neighbor to take action on. We’re each going to have to teach and help each other move the dial more towards ‘conservability’ instead of ‘unsustainability’. We can do it. Our soldiers aren’t afraid to die for us, and we can’t be afraid to sacrifice for everyone. When we make the sacrifices and forge the governmental connections that I’ve suggested, we do it not only for ourselves, but for all future generations-our grandkids’ grandkids’ grandkids’…-will benefit from these changes, and it’s how we maximize all of these blessings while conserving as much of them as possible for future generations. If we do this, every generation, of every species, will owe us for having made the most monumental shift ever. And it will have happened in little ol’ Norman, Oklahoma; just a sleepy little college town in the heart of corporate energy country. It would shock the world and probably animate the greatest private giving in our history. It would fuel a gov’t infrastructure program that would enable us to increase the financing opportunities, inspire people to relocate to Norman (good for real estate taxes), motivate people to stay in Norman to experience this unique approach to conserving resources while maximizing transcendent opportunities that everyone who lives in Norman has a right to have.

Thanks for reading, I know I need to edit this again, but still, thanks.

Evan A.

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