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Making Things

September 27, 2017
Journey UWest-podcast-cover

Cover art by Good Citizen Media Group

I made a thing. I am making other things. It feels good to make things, but it is also time-consuming and nerve-wracking. In Buddhism we talk a lot about non-self, about not clinging to the ego, about the dangers of pride. But when I make a thing, I become anxious about it because I want people to like it. I want them to enjoy it, even if they never know who made it. And I realize it is because, in some small way, my self-worth is contingent on the value other people place on the products of my labor. From a Buddhist perspective, this is, perhaps, not terribly wise. But I am a social animal, so I am genetically programmed to care what others think of me.

Beyond that, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from making a thing you can actually point to. I spent many years in college shuffling facts away into my memory and turning in papers that only one person ever read before I had this satisfaction. Then I took a watercolor class. I spent hours painting in the studio. Sometimes, I would only be working on color pallets or perfecting a particular stroke on a piece of practice paper, but at the end of my session I could sit back and literally point to what I had done. I could take it home and show it to my mother. I felt accomplished, even in a tiny way. I wonder if much of the dissatisfaction in our current work culture simply arises from our inability to point to any tangible product from our hours of toil.

For many years, my blog has filled this niche in my heart. I make a thing with words and put it out there on the internet for a few other people to find. Mostly, I simply enjoy the making of it and I enjoy rereading my old work from time to time. It is a ‘thing’ I can point to and remind myself where I’ve been and what I’ve done between here and there. (Which is probably more clinging, so that’s more grist for my meditations.)

You may note, however, that I have been absent of late. This is mostly due to my dissertation. This is predictable for PhD students, I have observed. We vanish into the wilderness of our books and data and theories, only to emerge months later starved for human company and incapable of monosyllabic conversation. I predict my blog will continue to feel the neglect for a few more months yet.

However, in the midst of all that, I did make a thing. It’s a little thing, a podcast with three episodes. It’s about my alma matter and current employer: University of the West. I had fun making it because I got to interview some of my favorite students and I got to work with a wonderful crew at Good Citizen Media Group who really made us sound far more professional than I ever felt. We were able to use some music from our students, Venerable Frank on a classic Chinese instrument and the punk duo Melody and PJ of Atomic Attractions. The entire process was fun.

The podcast was funded by a grant from the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism. They were very kind to offer us support not knowing what we might create with it. We could only make these three episodes (no plans for an ongoing series), but we did our best to ensure they give any listener a good idea of what our school is like and what a Buddhist-inspired education could be. Most of the students I interviewed were not themselves Buddhist, but they’re very happy to be at a school founded on the principles of wisdom and compassion.

Anyway, check it out, if you like. It’s called Journey UWest, which is a play on the ideas of education as a journey, the idea of Buddhism as a path, and the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West. If you’ve every wondered what I sound like, now is your chance to find out. Then you can read all future posts in my voice. (Although, personally, I prefer to read all my old posts in the mental voice of Patrick Steward, but who doesn’t?)


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