Tag Archives: cosmic perspective

Moving forward

Photograph: A low sunset on December 31, 2013. The sky is light blue with a tinge of orange-red on the horizon. In the lower half of the photo is part of a yard; it is very dark and in shadow.

This was part of the last sunset of 2013.

My Australian friends have been enjoying 2014 for almost a day now, but I still have a few hours to wait, work, and reflect.

This Site

I started mackenzian.com last January as a space for writing, exploring ideas, and connecting with others, and also as an archive for my book reviews, publications, and ongoing research. Nearly 150 posts later, I’m pleased with what the site has grown into and am grateful for all of you who’ve joined me in learning through the year.

In 2014, the site will grow some more. I’m in the process of moving the website to an independent host, and as I move, edit, expand, and upgrade over the next quarter, you might notice a few technical issues. Please bear with me and let me know if you catch broken links or anything else that disrupts your experience; it’ll be running smoothly again soon.

Health and Wellness

Last January some of my former grad school colleagues invited me to join what we called The 20/50 Club. Our über-target: to complete 20 hours of exercise and 50 hours of writing per month. This site and #NaNoWriMo kept me moving on the writing goal, but I wasn’t so sure about the exercise.

PHD Comics cartoon of a graph titled "Amount of exercise I get over the year." Graph lines decline between January and summer break, and decline again through the fall semester and ends at zero.

This chart does not match my success with exercise this year! (c) Jorge Chan 2013

Recovering from 8 years of study but determined to regain some fitness as well, I struggled to find my rhythm. Then, in February, I settled on an experiment: 20 minutes of non-stop cardio every day for 21 days—just to see if I could cycle non-stop at speed for 20 minutes and maintain a positive habit for 3 weeks without exception. I ended the experiment victoriously on my birthday, and when that cycle ended, I rebooted it.

From then on, I allowed for the occasional travel day and rode on Sabbaths if I’d missed a session during the week. By April I varied the cardio routine to keep myself guessing, mixed levels of difficulty, and blended rolling programs with intervals. I increased each session to 25 minutes in September; by October, I was up to 30 minutes; and this month I increased it for the final time to 32 minutes. I won’t extend the cardio session from here on: I’ve rediscovered calisthenics and now complete a bodyweight routine on alternate days. I may reintroduce interval programming in 2014 and I’ve added the app MyFitnessPal to help me monitor my diet.

My end-of-year cardio total (February 26-December 31): 1,227 miles and 31,779 calories. And my blood pressure is back to its pre-US ranges.

I’m happy with these results.

Settling In…

With a STEM grant for a local public school system, five figures in fundraising for a social non-profit, team leadership on a state organizational assessment project, and starting over half a continent away from my old home in Texas, I accomplished a lot this year. I’ve made some new friends, attracted new clients, and weathered local DMVs twice for a driving license. But this year’s greatest stressor was the United States immigration system.

It’s almost impossible for even my most empathetic citizen friends to understand what that last sentence means.

Since arriving for my first graduate degree last decade, I gained work and stay authorization through my institution. I was then a student and university employee, and was granted short-term visas to complete my studies. Once I graduated, I lost that institutional coverage.

My move away from my university town was a move that hundreds of thousands of domestic graduates do each May, August, and December every single year. Since I moved in May 2012, five cohorts of graduates have done the same. These graduates might face challenges resettling somewhere new, or re-acclimating if they’ve gone back home. They might take with them skills, experience, and enthusiasm. They might have years of potential, tons of will, mountains of grit.

All of that I had, but it wasn’t enough to move me forward. Outside of the umbrella of my former university, I was restricted. I couldn’t apply for positions I was fitted for. Area institutions had citizenship or status hiring limitations that froze me out. I kept up with changing laws for people in my category, went independent, and developed professional, contributing relationships doing valued work (sometimes for pay, sometimes for free).

Yet I underestimated how much instability and indeterminacy would come from working through my post-grad year without a clear way to new authorization, or how much it would wear on me to watch my 1-year authorization tick-tock away.

When my mother called, she regaled me with descriptions of her latest Jamaican meal: the fresh fruit, Grandpa’s pineapple and oranges, the greens and root vegetables from the yard, my favorite starch ever—roasted breadfruit—and the other morsels that make my mouth water as I type.

She would tease me with her food, and then she would say, “Everyone… everyone sends their love. When are you coming home?”

There was never a satisfactory answer. I’d just started to build my life here, set up a work and reading space, connect with a local church. I’ve been out of Jamaica for 9 years and away from the UK for 16 years—I’ve been a UK expat for longer than I lived there. Until I was able to transform my immigration status, I’d have no travel permit: even if it had been the best of times, and it wasn’t, there was no way I could visit relatives abroad and still hope to return to my life.

There were times when I considered leaving the country. These thoughts usually came late at night, when everyone else was asleep and the frustration crept over me, when I struggled to invoke the reality I wanted rather than the nightmare I feared; those were low times. When the low-grade stress became a scream and I thought I was exhausted, I conferred with a lawyer and started the process of applying for permanent residency independently.

I won’t tell you that that’s when the stress lifted and the exhaustion faded away. Because that wouldn’t be true. There were 5 more months of indeterminacy, and sometimes when I look back, I can’t believe that I didn’t come down with some stress-triggered illness.

It was my friends, mentors, and allies who kept me standing this year. Incredible combined effort from me, my family, our legal advisors, and my current and former colleagues, and we eventually met with success.

I’m a US permanent resident now. I have no restrictions. I’m adjusting to that liberty to imagine that my domestic peers have always had and perhaps never knew the price or value of.

I’m meeting a new year with the ability to move.

…And Moving Forward

About three weeks ago I looked ahead at the new year and realized that I didn’t want to wait until tonight to regain my momentum. So I’ve been spending quiet time and most of my post-holidays afternoons with the Star Trek movies (but of course), some sketch paper, and colored fine-tipped Sharpies refining my goals and drawing out my next few steps. I’ll be able to share some of those next quarter.

In 2014, I want to move forward. I will move forward. And I look forward to hearing from you all through the year as we step deliberately into our futures together.


A little year-end/new year perspective via Carl Sagan and student animator Adam Winnick. Happy 2014, all of you! 

Live well, learn well, and love well here, on our Pale Blue Dot.

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The Overview Effect

One planet, one destiny.

OVERVIEW from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson often speaks about the cosmic perspective that results from the study of space.

The astronauts in Overview share their experience with “the overview effect,” a way of thinking about the Earth and our place in space that acknowledges our essential oneness and the adaptive interrelationships that are part of our biosphere.

The documentary is 19 minutes long and starts with a provocative quote from British astronomer and science fiction writer Fred Hoyle. In 1948, Hoyle wrote: “Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available… a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”

He was right. Humans from various nations have traveled beyond the atmosphere and seen Earth “hanging in space.” Their photos and stories have forever changed our sense of our planet—and our responsibilities here on the surface.