Artwork and writing by Eden Gallanter.

Eden is a professional artist, author, and scientist, and is the creator of the Cheimonette Tarot, sold in over 30 countries, across 6 continents.

Filtering by Tag: School

Søren Kierkegaard at 3 AM, or, How I Passed the LEED for Neighborhood Development Professional Accreditation Exam

"The truth is a trap: you can not get it without it getting you; you cannot get the truth by capturing it, only by its capturing you." - Søren Kierkegaard, Journal Entry, 1854.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep I pick up my “Journals and Letters of Søren Kierkegaard.”  He is my favorite philosopher.  I can’t necessarily say that he has written my favorite books on philosophy (it’s difficult to top the beautiful mind food found within Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason,” or the gloomy appeal of Sartre and his avid solipsism, or Neitzsche’s elegant and sometimes mean-spirited logic in “Ecce Homo” and “The Twilight of the Idols.”)  Nevertheless, Kierkegaard remains my favorite, the best loved, which is why I adore the intimacy of his “Journals and Letters.”  His inner conflict over his theology, his interpersonal relationships, his vehement and often passionate expression of the collection of ideas that eventually won him the title Father of Existentialism, all make him the most human of the philosophers.  I admire his doubt, his confusion, and his brilliant articulation of the train of thought (rather than presenting his reader only with an ostentatious display of philosophic conclusion, as Kant was used to do).

Kierkegaard, in fact, was very straightforward about his conviction that the only valid perspective on the world is that of subjectivity.  There is such a thing as objective fact, truths that are common to us all and universal laws that can be applied across space and time, but these truths cannot be discovered or understood with any tools greater than the outer limits of the small and inherently biased human mind.  “Subjectivity is Truth,” wrote Kierkegaard.  “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”  For him, there existed no worldly authority that could be trusted.  Objective truths could not by themselves contribute meaning to human life.  Meaning existed only within an interpersonal relationship to truth.


So, I’ve been studying for the LEED for Neighborhood Development exam this past month, and I passed the exam on March 29th.  The exam consists of knowing the information contained in the U.S. Green Building Council’s elephantine Reference Guide for the Neighborhood Development rating system: about 600 pages of the concepts, calculations, referenced standards, and exhaustive instructions for professionals trying to achieve project certification for a neighborhood development.  USGBC's reference guide covers major principles for sustainable community development, and the rating system awards points for high density in residential and nonresidential buildings, mixed income housing, mixed-use neighborhoods, energy efficient buildings and infrastructure, and for projects located on previously developed land and near public transit.  There are a myriad of other factors, including urban agriculture, habitat conservation, and even criteria concerning accessibility for the disabled.

Not only am I not terribly skilled at memorizing numbers, but, unlike the majority of folks who take a LEED AP exam, I have never worked in the building industry.  I’ve mostly worked with communities to develop green infrastructure, through nonprofits, local park authorities, and small green engineering firms.  I’m sure that someone who is good with numbers could pass simply by memorizing the entire quantity of factual information contained within the reference guide, but he or she would be spending roughly twice the amount of time necessary, and, in my opinion at least, memorizing exactly the kind of data that you can simply look up once you are on a LEED project team.  Happily, as it turns out, Kierkegaard told me exactly how to pass this exam.  None of the facts I was supposed to know for the exam had any meaning by themselves; once I understood the underlying reasons for the standards, point allocations, and specifications of the Neighborhood Development rating system, the details stuck relatively easily.  I had to think like the authorities at USGBC, who came up with the rating system, to study successfully and pass.

Therefore, in the stressful week leading up to the exam, all the nights I couldn’t sleep and was up in the dark, reading my Kierkegaard, I was actually subconsciously hatching a plan to pass the exam.  Subjectivity is Truth, and only through finding meaning that connects the facts can there be a real proficiency in the LEED rating systems.  And it’s the kind of knowledge that sticks, too, instead of dissolving into disassociated numbers and words the minute the test is over.  Pre-test anxiety is just another tool to use, if it can be understood as freedom to make the facts fit the story of how and why they have meaning.  Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, and when your head stops spinning, you open your eyes and find success beyond your most distantly cherished wishes.  It's true.


The Fool

"Just think, they never sleep!’‘And why not?’ ‘Because they never get tired.’ ‘And why not?’ ‘Because they’re fools.’ ‘Don’t fools get tired?’ ‘How could fools get tired!’ –“Children on a Country Road," Franz Kafka


I have had an interesting jumble of jobs and education during my life so far: ranging from art student to art model to art teacher, farmhand to gardening assistant to environmental policy advocate, English lit major to journalist to researcher.  Since I graduated with my master's degree in landscape architecture from Cornell in 2010, I've been working as a consultant in green infrastructure and community planning.  Now I'm gearing up to apply for UC Berkeley's doctoral program in City and Regional Planning at the end of this year.

I now have less than thirty days before I depart for three months' work in Israel, to work with the Reut Institute, a nonprofit, non-partisan policy group that advises the Israeli government, advocating for non-violence and social justice.  I'll be working on several projects in the ancient town of Safed, in the northern Galilee.  The town will be a case study of techniques for inclusive economic growth through sustainable neighborhood planning, historic preservation, and integrative urban design.

I've become involved recently in Occupy Wall Street.  I was in New York City in mid-November, and was there for the NYPD raid on Zuccotti Park, and the march over the Brooklyn Bridge a few days later.  I took pictures and shared my experience over Twitter, where the BBC found and contacted me for several broadcast interviews.  I then went to Occupy Congress in D.C. in January, and have been variously involved in Occupy Oakland and Occupy San Francisco.  This involvement was a big factor in my work for Reut in Israel, which is extremely interested in the Occupy movement, and in addressing Israel's own problems with poverty and income gap.  Being part of OWS was an incredible, life-changing experience.  I've never been an activist before, never experienced that kind of immediate sense of community before, never felt so sensitive to the intellectual and emotional tides of a crowd before.  Being part of OWS expanded my identity, taught me more about individual power, and gave me a whole new perspective on the systems of our society and our different systems of authority in the United States.  I both lost and found faith in people, and in myself.  I hope to be able to effectively apply what I learned from OWS to my upcoming work in one of the most complicated countries in the world.

My thoughts about the state of Israel are likewise complex, and I'll talk about that more in a different post.  Right now I'm learning as much as I can about the situation and history of the country I'll be working in.  Israel contains religious and secular Jews from around the world, Palestinian Muslims and Christians, Bedouins, and a dramatically increasing number of immigrants, including Sudanese and Vietnamese refugees, Gypsies, and many others.  There are some parts of Israeli history and the policies and practices of the Israeli government that I find objectionable.  That's all right.  I do believe that change comes both from without and from within; you cannot change a system that you refuse to become involved in, and you also cannot truly effect change without the perspective of venturing outside of mainstream society, where creative thinking bends the rules every day and where revolutionary thought, a nebula of destructive and generative force, forges new constellations of human progress.

An Atlas is both a series of maps and a Greek God, hoodwinked into supporting the sky on his shoulders for all eternity.  I am a mapmaker by profession, showing cities as they are, as they were, as they might be, and I am an admirer of the god Atlas, who knows as well as I do how very heavy the world can be.



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