(I wrote this while I was sick, so please forgive any mistakes or...etc.)
On Monday, the day before I was starting class in Portland, I woke up ill. And I didn't feel any better on Tuesday. I didn't want to skip the class. It only met once a week.
I couldn't believe I was so sick. This felt like one of my unsustainable patterns exerting itself in my life. It went something like this: I worked too hard, I worked too hard, I worked too hard, and I'd get sick. Then I'd have to peel away those things in my life that weren't serving me.
Well, I wasn't going to fall for it this time. I was going to class.
I took a walk around town early afternoon to see if I could actually drive to Portland and walk to class. I was able to do it. I had to stop a lot, but I made it down to the post office and back up again. At 4:30, I got into the car and drove to Portland. I got stuck in rush hour traffic so I didn't make it to campus until just a few minutes before 6:00.
I went to the building where I thought the class was, my favorite building on campus with the atrium and bamboo garden, but there was no classroom 238. Oh man. I got the wrong building? It was 6:00 now. Probably nothing was open on campus for me to find out where the real class was. I was having too much trouble breathing to be running all over campus.
I walked over to my friend Mary's department. If she was there, she could help me out. The door was locked. I couldn't believe I had driven all this way and now I was going to have to drive back home. I felt a little panicky because I felt too sick to actually walk to the other side of campus where the library was--and probably a class schedule.
Then I heard someone call my name. I turned around. Mary was leaning out the door. I was so happy to see her. I couldn't really talk easily because of the laryngitis; I was able to convey that I couldn't find my class.
Fortunately, Mary had a schedule and she figured out the classroom was in the building across from the one I was at. I didn't have far to go. I walked around the building and found 238. I opened the door and went inside.
I couldn't smell anything, because I couldn't smell anything. But it reminded me of my physics lab from high school which always smelled slightly of pipe tobacco. Long tables with computers on them faced the instructor who sat at a table. Behind him was a huge white board. No windows. No air. Ugly green healable plastic on the tables. Cluttered tables and shelves at the back of the room.
The instructor was reading off the names of students. He sat at his table. He worse glasses and had a handlebar mustache.
I sat down and immediately turned off the computer screen in front of me. I listened to my wheezy lungs as I sat breathing, trying to relax and get my bearings.
Then the teacher began talking. He said we would learn how a residential home was built, from the ground up. We would learn about all the different systems and how they functioned within the building.
I wanted to become more knowledgeable about building systems. This would help me evaluate buildings and the environment more intelligently, so that I didn't suggest anything stupid or untenable.
For instance, the instructor talked about someone plugging up air holes in their house to help with the heating bill; this cut off the air flow in the house which then helped grow mold. They had to tear the house down. Things like that.
Soon the teacher started talking about the building codes which he seemed disgusted by. And he talked about energy efficiency and "green" policies with derision. He said that all green ideas were more expensive ideas.
He went on and on about some government policies. In Colorado, he said, the water from your roof does not belong to you and you can't capture it. It's considered to be part of a river or tributary so it must be allowed to continue on its way. In Arizona, on the other hand, you must capture the water from your roof if your building is over 2500 square feet.
He said the government was going to start going door to door talking with people about energy efficiency and forcing them to make changes.
"I call them the green Nazis," he said, "going door to door in their brown shirts."
He followed up that statement with, "As you can probably tell, I don't care much for the government."
I heard nervous giggles in response.
I growled to myself. I was taking this class as part of a sustainable building certificate and the instructor was going to deride any "green" methods for the next twelve weeks? Plus I'd have to sit and listen to him bash "the government" for that same amount of time.
He was the guy in charge so everyone would have to listen to him and perhaps become biased because of his opinions. I suddenly felt like I was in a classroom taught by an older Timothy McVeigh.
I wanted to raise my hand and say, "Hey, I work for the government. So does my husband. We work for the library. My father worked for the government, first in the Air Force and then as a teacher. You work for the government because this school gets funds from taxes."
But I sat quietly. For years before the Oklahoma bombing, I was furious with the "government." Years of Reaganomics had shredded our infrastructure and our manufacturing base. I despised what George Bush had done in Iraq. And then when Bill Clinton got into office, one of the first things he did was "don't ask, don't tell," which I thought of as a complete betrayal.
Then Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrow building. I sat watching that horror on TV and wondering what had happened to us as a nation. McVeigh was anti-government. He hated our government. I decided then and there that I was nothing like him and I didn't want to participate in the kind of rhetoric that would lead to something like that. It was one thing to criticize our policies, which I continue to do, but to feed extremism was irresponsible. I had the creepy feeling as I sat in this classroom that this man was feeding that kind of extremism with his offhand remarks.
Should I raise my hand and say, "I'm a green Nazi according to your definition and I work for the government. You wanna string me up?"
I looked around the room. I didn't have to take this class. I did not have to sit here for weeks listening to this man's opinions. I might learn something, but at what cost? I could barely breathe in this room, and I didn't think it was all because of my cold.
This was not my place, not my journey. He was not my teacher. I didn't want to have this battle or this struggle in this room and this place. I wanted to learn from more evenhanded teachers.
I got up and walked out the door.
I drove home through the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. I felt relieved. Now I wouldn't have to get stuck in traffic one a week.
When I got home, I dropped the class. Then I curled up on the couch and tried to breathe and sleep.
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