You say Missouri
out West. Urban prairie bound,
I say Missourah.

Clusterf@ck

The northern end of Main Street in downtown Kansas City has been torn up to put in a streetcar for so long it is hard to remember what it was like as a functioning thoroughfare. Lanes closed, new lanes marked with a snaking line of orange poles, signs warning you to “keep right” and of “open trench”, driving down Main Street has become a stressful and tedious journey to be avoided whenever possible. Increasingly you hear that the businesses on Main Street, in the RiverMarket district (where the streetcar will turn around), and in the Crossroads (just west of Main) are struggling from the prolonged disturbance of major road construction.

While there are finally signs of progress, namely that there is actual streetcar rail in the street as opposed to just countless blocks of trench, the streetcar project is appears to have entered into a morass that many large scale projects with lots of moving parts fall prey to:

Clusterfuck.

And not merely in the “bungled or confused undertaking” of the formal definition of this word. In the sense of feeling like there are multiple forces working at odds with one another and possibly not being aware of this fact until a perpetual state of stalemate becomes clear in a sudden and unpleasant revelation.

It is hard to witness this project falling into this state knowing the controversy that surrounded it. Kansas City citizens by and large have been opposed to the streetcar and to extensions of it beyond downtown. They perceive it as being too expensive and not a particularly effective form of transportation. City officials are invested in its development and cite the possibilities for economic development, increase in urban density, and reduction in car traffic. I will admit, my own perspective has vacillated between the two since I first moved here. What I have increasingly come to believe is this:

You don’t build for what you have. You build for what you want to have in the future. You build to create something new out of something that has reached its limits. You build to expand. You build to embrace possibility of something bigger and better than what you have now. You build to manifest a vision.

These ideas all sound very abstract and slippery when it comes to talking about taxes, construction, and return on investment. And they aren’t particularly persuasive. Citizens want facts and accountability and prudence from the government. They are averse to risk and by extension, will accept a status quo that is somewhat uncomfortable to going through the chaotic upheaval that will create truly dramatic change.

And that is the real crux here: if you want things to be different, then they have to actually change. And change can tear things up and leave them unsettled for extended periods of time. Change can look a lot like major construction (and destruction). Change can get really messy before it gets organized. It can begin to look very random and the strategy can be hard to see. It can get so complex and bring up so many new issues and obstacles and problems to solve, that you begin to feel like you are in the quagmire.

Change can be totally fucked up.

But if you will hold fast, keep looking ahead and putting one foot in front of the other on your course of change, you will wake up one day and see something amazing has been built. And with this newly built aspect in your life, even more change begins to trickle out from it like dominoes falling. A vision that once seemed abstract becomes more clear and the future you couldn’t imagine before begins to grow before your eyes. And best of all, when you embrace change, those around you also embrace it and begin their own transformative change process.

So just buckle up and enjoy the ride…because what comes from change is limited only by the breadth of your creative vision.

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The Great War Within

Kansas City is the home of the National World War I Museum at the Liberty Memorial. Filled with countless artifacts and insightful exhibits about the war, a visit to the museum will create a sense of both wonder and horror at the breadth of this military tragedy.

WWI

For those of you who are not history buffs and have long since forgotten the entangled web of events leading up to the war, it is worth noting the primary characteristic of the war: the Western Front, a trench of nearly 500 miles stretching beginning in Belgium and criss-crossing its way across a wide swath of France to end southeast of its starting point on the Swiss frontier. Germany’s initial sweeping victories of the war were thwarted by the Allied forces in 1914, causing German troops to begin the process of digging in. When Allied forces were unable to advance through these embedded troops, they too began to dig themselves in.

One of my favorite exhibits in the museum are dioramas of the trenches of the German, British and French soldiers. Amid the myriad of display cases filled with clothing and military equipment, these dioramas create a context for the war and the insurmountable human suffering that occurred there. And they provide a stark contrast between the conditions of the trenches for the soldiers of each of these countries as they become increasingly bleak down the line of the Front.

The Germans were the first to dig in and had the benefit of being on higher ground. Their trenches had wood planks lining the trench and may have even had wooden planks for floorboards. The British trenches were lined more with sandbags and a thicket of interwoven branches that created a basket weave mesh. The French trenches were haphazard with makeshift barriers against the walls of the trench: randomly placed sandbags, cloth, branches. A nightmare of mud and futility.

The violence of the war came from all directions: deafening and continuous shelling and gunfire, poison gas, trenchfoot (a disease caused by continuously standing in water), filth, and rats.

And mud. Mud so thick soldiers would become trapped in it. Drown in it.

There was no contingency plan, no way out of the trenches. The war was supposed to be short, but once forces had dug in the trenches there was no way to extricate themselves out.

“Trench warfare becomes necessary when two armies face a stalemate, with neither side able to advance and overtake the other….What began as a temporary strategy — or so the generals had thought — evolved into one of the main features of the war at the Western Front for the next four years.”

When I visited the WWI Museum I remember thinking, “This is what divorce looks like”. This is how it happens: there is an initial attack and opposing resistance, and then both sides start digging in. In its early stages, this digging in feels protective, even strategic. Just give yourself a little breathing space, hunker down and hide your vulnerabilities. It may not be as comfortable as what you are accustomed to, but it is not unbearable. Then as it progresses, as each side retreats into their trench rather than reaching across the space between them, the trenches become more disordered. Emotion overtakes rationality, reaction jumps ahead of planning, the interest and effort in developing contingency strategy dwindles. The more we dig and live in the trench, the more narrow our vision becomes.

And then comes the mud…and the rats.

Both of which will destabilize and erode any feeling of security and extinguish the light of future possibility. The only way out of this trench is to fight, to kill, and to be killed by the ensuing violence to come. Unless one of you is willing to raise the white flag and surrender for the sake of a more forgiving truce.

Marriage isn’t the only place in which this occurs. Anytime we feel the opposition to other people there is the potential for these types of isolationist tactics. It is hard for us to understand, when we want to protect ourselves through withdrawal and armor, that the outcome of these actions will not benefit us. We don’t gain security from hiding nor do we get greater stability from our static position. We cease to grown and instead become stunted by our own fear and resentment, which breeds like so much vermin in the trenches. The longer we stay in these positions, the weaker we become and the more suffering we endure. We do not celebrate the victory of new possibilities with another, but rather become entrenched in the stalemate which has far more destructive consequences.

(WWI quote above in italics taken from:  http://history1900s.about.com/od/worldwari/a/Trenches-In-World-War-I.htm)