Category Archives: Movement

The MAMA swings

Last fall I took two online classes through the local community college as prerequisites for a graduate program that I eventually decided not to pursue. Along the way, I discovered James Marcia.

Marcia contributes the idea that as someone enters each stage of identity development they tend to move into four alternative statuses: identity diffusion, identity foreclosure, identity moratorium, and identity achievement.

These four alternatives are connected by the presence or absence of two  characteristics: crisis and commitment. The experience of crisis, to Marcia, involves an individual exploring options as their identity develops. Commitment is the moment the individual decides to invest in one option and integrate it into to their newly resolved identity.

There are four different combinations of crisis and commitment that a person may find themselves experiencing during their development. Identity diffusion is the state of a person who has not explored meaningful alternatives and also has not made an identity commitment. Perhaps, they have been made by others to feel powerless to true exploration and commitment or it may be they are simply content and comfortable. An individual who makes a commitment without exploring options is said to be in identity foreclosure. They’ve confidently ended their journey before they even started, often accepting their received culture and path. Identity moratorium is the state of an individual who has explored meaningful alternatives, but has not yet made a meaningful, lasting commitment.

At the end of a crisis, if the person is to have developed in a new way, they will examine all of the options they have explored during their crisis and commit to the one or few that most define their identity in this new context. This is called identity achievement.

It’s certainly not a passive process. Most current research suggests that major identity shifts occur during late adolescence and early adulthood when individuals are embracing their independence and exploring on their own. In early adulthood there is an emergence of identity that is more vetted and integrated. But the process is never finished.

The final truth that I learned from Marcia, for me, is the most encouraging. He believes that in order to achieve a positive identity, most individuals go through “MAMA” cycles: from moratorium (that is, exploring without a commitment) to achievement (choosing and recommitting to your identity) and then back again. “Marcia agues that the first identity is just that—it should not be viewed as the final product.”

With each relationship, job, community, major world event, or other change in life, we are given the chance to reconsider our beliefs and identity. The MAMA cycles are healthy. That was positive news to me—as a somewhat impulsive explorer—and an affirmation that searching is healthy. We can always decide to return to what we already knew to be true, but knowing that we have explored our options will provide necessary assurance along the way.

I’ve primarily learned about Marcia through the textbook Children by John Santrock (2013). All quotes and paraphrases here are from that work.

Thoughts on Richard Sennett’s “Flesh and Stone”

The other day I read the introduction to Richard Sennett’s, Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization. What an incredible piece — perfect example of why I love introductory essays.

Sennett here is writing a history of the physical aspect of life in the cities I have been learning about all my life: Athens, Rome, Paris, London. He isn’t interested in an intellectual history: just a bunch of Western thoughts traveling along from one place to another. Instead, he writes, “I was prompted to write this history out of bafflement with a contemporary problem: the sensory deprivation which seems to curse most modern building: the dullness, the monotony, and the tactile sterility which afflicts the urban environment.” With the context of history, Sennett introduces us to the ways citizens have lived differently in the past and the role of the city in protecting and facilitating human interactions.

Additionally, Sennett conjures a common conflict within this history that sets Western cultures in opposition to the body. He writes, “Western civilization has had persistent trouble in honoring the dignity of the body and diversity of human bodies …” from the Greek ideal of male athletes to the multicultural communities of modern Greenwich Village (15).

Consistently returning to the current experience, Sennett writes that rather than interacting with other people while accomplishing daily tasks, even literally bumping into them, many of us live from one contained space to another: the home, the car, the office.

Today, more sensory experiences are now consumed with little required input. Pleasure and pain are most often experienced through television, movies, and video games and even the greatest cities are most often viewed through the windshield of a car. Distances that once involved hours and innumerable human interactions now require only 10-15 minutes of driving. “Both the highway engineer and the television director create what could be called ‘freedom from resistance.'” Sennett is writing from the vantage of this society we’ve created for ourselves in order to prevent unplanned, unwarranted encounter. “Thus the new geography reinforces the mass media. The traveller, like the television viewer, experiences the world in narcotic terms…” (18).

After looking through my books, multiple friends have commented that the large font of Flesh and Stone “stands out” on the shelf or that the title is “weird”. I think Sennett (or his publisher) chose the title partly in order to make people uncomfortable. The fact that it sounds sort of like an adult romance novel is definitely connected to Sennett’s thoughts on contemporary life and our discomfort with even the word “flesh.” Sennett is concerned for the experience of the body in the city in and most importantly the way that social behavior reinforces social connection far more than in merely romantic terms. He writes, “much as today in small southern Italian towns a person will reach out and grip you hand or forearm in order to talk seriously to you” (21).

When I read that particular example I was struck by the simple idea of it and how far it is from normal behavior among my friends and family. Sennett writes to teach us about ourselves and the lives that we live, sometimes prescribed by urban design and other times by cultural tradition we have forgot to even notice

Finally, Sennett concludes with a personal note about the origins of his research, particularly within the context of his friendship to the late Michel Foucault. When they began in the 1970s, he writes that Foucault envisioned human bodies as constrained by tradition, culture, and “choked by the knot of power.” But as he observed Foucault in his last days, Sennett noticed that the fixation on power and control began to relax. As a result, the book that he completed is not the research that Sennett began decades before.

Particularly, he pushed his research beyond simply the realm of human sexuality and, to honor his late friend, embrace the numerous aspects of life that provide meaning and value. He writes, “If liberating the body from Victorian sexual constraints was a great event in modern culture, this liberation also entailed the narrowing of physical sensibility to sexual desire” (26). This narrowing, to Sennett, is no longer necessary or helpful toward understanding human social interaction. As in the example from Italy (I think the Instagram account @notmynonni is a fitting connection here) there are a million meaningful moments in a life that deserve our attention.

Ever-committed also to his hope in the potential of the city, Sennett writes from the Judeo-Christian perspective that the body is connected to the spirit, valued and important. Although I don’t think Sennett is a Christian today (in more recent interviews it seems like he identifies as a secular humanist), at the time of writing this book he identified as a “believer” and acknowledged this perspective in his research. While conceding the Biblical idea of “the fall” and great separation between humans (loss of trust, for example) he also shares the way that his faith weaves into his research and his own stubborn optimism.

Somewhere between the chaos of the past and the isolation of modern life, Sennett ultimately writes, “to show how those who have been exiled from the Garden might find a home in the city.”

Making Memories

While my 16-year-old sister was at the beach last month, she stopped by the local bookstore and bought me a copy of The Image of the City by Kevin Lynch. Amazing. A lot has changed since it was published in 1960, but the main idea is just as important today: we should work to enhance the quality of the experience of each city. Is the city easy to navigate? Is it memorable? Is it hospitable?

Throughout the book, Lynch uses small drawings to explain his theories. Now, instead of practice my signature when I’m bored, I’ve been doodling:

Screen shot 2014-06-24 at 5.41.02 PM

This is my idea of the best highway experience. The road travels toward the city, embraces the full broadside view of its beauty, then bends around. In Richmond, there is a reoccurring conversation about the view of Richmond from the highway (especially traveling south on I-95). Lynch’s research gives good context to this and similar, ongoing conversations.

To explain his desire to improve cities, Lynch uses the terms legible and imageable. Basically, does it make sense and is it memorable? If it doesn’t make sense to the viewer then it won’t be memorable. I have to add, you want your city to memorable for the right reasons: beautiful, consistent, dramatic, historic, dynamic, creative, vibrant, efficient.

To describe the “imageable city,” Lynch chooses five elements that he believes make up the urban experience. Each of these can either be completely forgettable or incredibly memorable. Here are some examples from Richmond:

  • Paths (Monument Ave., Grace St., the Boulevard)
  • Edges (the James River)
  • Districts (The Fan, Church Hill, and many others)
  • Nodes (downtown, Carytown, MacArthur Ave.)
  • Landmarks (The Sailors and Soldiers Monument, The Carillon)

Fortunately, Richmond has been blessed with examples that show off the potential beauty of each element. At the same time, there are many issues with the “Richmond image.” To many, it’s a confusing and disconnected city. 

To move forward, we need to find simple ways to turn everyday elements into memorable, quality experiences. For decades, economic development in Richmond equated to wedging large-scale projects in or near the central business district. These projects aren’t going to improve the overall experience of the city. In contrast, improving the most basic elements—paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks—will gradually create what Christopher Silver refers to as the “Good City.”

The real lesson of the book is that urban form is important from border to border. It’s a lesson for us as we work to create the best possible Richmond: a city that is coherent, beautiful, and vital.

The work

There are some verses in the Bible I could read every morning. This one struck me a week ago because I never really realized how much work there is implied between the lines. In a world where everything I experience with my senses is earthly, this verse is a challenge. I believe the word “set” is an active process. This is the work of faith.

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Career Brainstorm

While flying back to Richmond a few weeks ago, I drew up a brainstorm for my future. All of the sudden, it became clear that local history is something that I could champion for a lifetime. It’s not really a brainstorm. It’s an observation of my past and a hope that, with a lot of work, all of my various interests might be resolved into one goal:

Future Brainstorm

My Room: As it never again will be

I recently moved out of the house I lived in for two years. That is the longest I’ve lived in any place in the city of Richmond.

Before I left, I stood in the middle of the room to take this panorama of the space as it never again will be:Room panorama

I spent two tumultuous and rewarding years in this room as I worked to resolve the dissonance of post-grad life. I printed photos, hung my art, displayed my books, and taped inspirational quotes and life lessons everywhere:

“Something is wrong. FIX it.”

“I went from, ‘How could I possibly do this’ to ‘ How could I possibly not?'”

“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”

The night before I moved out of this room, I posted a photo on Facebook and wrote a long, emotional homage to my room and house of two years. Two weeks later, I had almost forgotten about it entirely. I moved into a new house, created a new routine for myself with new habits and a new environment. I have new roommates and a new city block with new neighbors to meet.

Also, I’ve realized that over the past few years I developed the habit of leaving unfinished business laying around. In the photo above, it’s on my desk (which I rarely used as a desk), on the floor, on my bed, on my bookshelves. Moving was an incredibly healthy process for me as I was forced to sort through all the unfinished tasks and gradually resolve each one.

So I’m glad I took this photo. I’m incredibly thankful for the two years I spent in this room, the two people that I shared it with, and a total of 15 guys with whom I shared the house. It’s a powerful thing to share a space with someone.

It’s a generous thing to remember.

Dust in the Light

Light illuminates dust played through the air as everyone goes everywhere. It’s golden hour in the Charlotte airport.

Staring into that playful dust takes me to my playful past. A son drapes his arm over his dad’s shoulder. A woman walks by talking on her cellphone. The world draws me away from by book then back into my mind.

Book. World. Mind. Journal.

I’m amazed by the depth of our diversity. Where are we from? Who do we love? Where are we going? The dust in the air turns day into dream. Conversations, beeping shuttles and rustling feet fade to the background as I, entranced by that light, sit and rest like a silent protagonist monologue or a string of thoughts tangled and blended together.

The sun is now shining on my entire body from the window across the room and I can feel it when I close my eyes. When the sun begins to set you wonder where you’re going to rest your head, and with whom.

I first wrote this as a journal entry in May, 2013.