June 30 — It’s an early, unusually cloudy morning at the end of June, and I’m in my favorite seat on the Caltrain heading from SF to Palo Alto. Last car, west side, upper level, six seats down. Funny how something so publicly shared can feel like mine in a special slice of time, like a desk in high school. It’s a strangely uneventful day of work, just a presentation of the Solar Decathlon project to a high school summer program and a SPUR Member Party in San Jose later today. Just earlier this week I had a day with eight meetings in a row (almost had to skip lunch) and it’s not even the school year.
In May I went to my first wedding for a friend my age, a freshman dormmate, at Fish Camp right outside of Yosemite. It was a wonderful break from my workflow, driving through the night with a friend, going on morning hikes, and participating in the beautifully simple wedding ceremony. We had a whole group of dorm friends who came out, which kicked in that kind of nostalgia for the first time. Seeing Mykel get married also made the idea suddenly and viscerally real. I’m going to another wedding for a college friend in August, and will probably be getting used to it over the next year.
That wedding was the bow on about four weeks of non-stop project delivery, starting with completing a Tenderloin design competition with a great team, then getting an intern and putting together a booth for the Maker Faire with my high school architecture class out of milk crates, then delivering a development proposal for two sites in South Stockton for their new community development corporation, then preparing for a visiting delegation from Sichuan University and our Sustainable Urban Systems Symposium. It felt a little like being a chef at a restaurant churning out dish after dish with no time to waste in-between — a lot like being in college again.
It’s been a great three months, finishing up my first formal year as lecturer at both Nueva and Stanford. It was certainly a bumpy and largely winged journey, and it’s hard for me to judge at this close distance whether I have learned a lot this year compared to being in school, or whether the switch from consumption to production mode has starved my brain of some nutrition. I feel like I’ve been racing quickly from activity to activity, letting deeper inquiries pass on by or pass off to others, but at the end it feels like I haven’t moved much at all. Perhaps this is a normal experience out of college. All I know is that while I didn’t expect to be this invested in teaching after one year, the work feels satisfying. It feels humbling, to stay close to the teaching and learning environment, and at the same time it’s incredibly challenging. It’s as if I am proving myself and catching up to myself simultaneously.
To be more concrete: I am planning to stay at Nueva at least one more year, to see it through to its first graduating class, and to keep working on something I’m passionate about, a high school-level curriculum on architectural design. My work at Stanford is also moving in a positive direction, with a significant base of support for the Sustainable Urban Systems Initiative. This has empowered me to commit more fully to instruction and developing a new master’s program and center, which means in the short term that I’m moving up to 50% employment at Stanford. Meanwhile in Cloud Arch Studio I’m plenty busy with the third iteration of Common Ground for the Market Street Prototyping Festival, and given that this one will be on Market Street, right outside the Philz Coffee by the Ferry Building, for two whole years, I should be putting all the time I have to making it excellent. I’ve got a great team helping out as well, including some star students from both Nueva and Stanford. I’ve also got a team working on the CORE project, for which I’m planning to travel to Bangladesh* at the end of July to observe slum conditions. It certainly is a lot on my plate, despite my doubts.
These past three months have been absolutely incredible for music. Here’s a list of highlights (limiting myself to my favorite two songs per album):
- dvsn – Another One
- dvsn – Do It Well
- M83 – Atlantique Sud
- M83 – Laser Gun
- Drake – Feel No Ways
- Drake – Fire & Desire
- Mutual Benefit – Many Returns
- Mutual Benefit – Getting Gone
- Radiohead – Present Tense
- Radiohead – Daydreaming
- James Blake – I Need a Forest Fire (ft. Bon Iver)
- James Blake – Meet You in the Maze
- Tegan & Sara – Boyfriend
- Tegan & Sara – 100x
- Flume – Say It (ft. Tove Lo)
- Flume – Tiny Cities (ft. Beck)
- Whitney – Follow
- Whitney – No Matter Where We Go
- Kevin Morby – Black Flowers
- Kevin Morby – Water
- Blood Orange – Best to You
- Blood Orange – But You
If you want this as a playlist let me know.
Top ten movies:
- Everybody Wants Some!!
- Sing Street
- Green Room (RIP Anton Yelchin)
- Finding Dory
- Captain America: Civil War
- Eye in the Sky
- The Lobster
- The Shallows
- The Nice Guys
- Hardcore Henry
And ten great books:
- Tinkers by Paul Harding
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
- The Martian by Andy Weir
- The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
- The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
- Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
- More Human by Steve Hilton (co-written by my friend Jason Bade)
- Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
- 1984 by Haruki Murakami
- The End of Faith by Sam Harris
The City has been good to me. I’ve explored a great deal more of the neighborhoods around SoMa. I’ve enjoyed having a place to work in the Mission, and frequenting more of the restaurants in the area. Many friends and family have commented on how unsafe they think San Francisco is, but I personally haven’t experienced any danger. I think maybe my experiences through the Market Street project and the Tenderloin competition have embedded me in the fabric of street life, or have given me a haughty sense of confidence. What I do know is that we have to fight for our public space to be a place of empathy and compassion. We may have to fight for the whole soul of this city. In April I attended a Stanford alumni event at WeWork, featuring a panelist of alumni who were working in the Tenderloin community (826 Valencia, School Board, CityImpact, Glide). I was there because I wanted to absorb as many qualitative insights as I could for the Tenderloin design competition. When I got there, the bar area in the back was packed with techies who had formed a spontaneous pitch circle (I’m not kidding). I chose instead to sit next to most introverted person I could find in the room (as I usually do), an older fellow who was at Stanford when the Mendicants were first founded. A few minutes later we headed over together to the other corner of the room where the panel was about to start. However, as they began speaker introductions, the techie crowd in the back was still networking and causing a ruckus, despite the purpose of the event being this panel. I was instantly annoyed and looked around desperately to see if the organizers would deal with the issue. Others in the audience, and the speakers themselves, had the same look. Nothing happened. We all labored through the entire panel discussion with this competing drone in the background. It’s as if we were all too stubborn to do something about it. I thought it exemplified gentrification and the class divide of our city perfectly, and not even a real class divide, but a divided Stanford class. It reminded me of my experience on Market Street, seeing gentrification literally take shape across a single block between 6th and 7th. Yes, the City has been good to me, but the City itself is not well.
* July 2 — I woke up this morning to see an update to a news article I had been following the previous day. Yesterday it was a hostage situation in a Dhaka bakery with two officers killed, and I’d looked it up on Google Maps; it was just a short walk from the apartment I’ve been planning to stay at in the Gulshan diplomatic area. I shot off a message to my research colleagues, noting that the U.S. Department of State may release a travel warning for the country which will prevent the undergraduates from traveling. This morning, I woke up to learn that the bakery was a regularly frequented place for my colleague and her friends in past years. I also learned that twenty people, mostly foreigners, had been killed. According to a local paper, the terrorists tortured anybody who couldn’t cite the Quran, and those who were killed were likely stabbed to death.
It looks like I might not be going to Bangladesh later this month.
Final note before I close. It’s probably clear from two of the books I read this season that religion is a big topic on my mind. It also connects with my views on politics and some of the big stories of this year. I’ve been planning to write a manifesto of sorts, but I’ve been hesitant to publish, essentially because of my trip to Bangladesh, where an atheist blogger was stabbed to death on a street in the middle of the day less than three months ago. Now I think yesterday’s incident substantiates my fears. But I plan to publish before the end of this year, and if I don’t end up going to Bangladesh it could be much sooner, and it will be one of the most important essays I write.