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Welcome to Saved by Design

July 29, 2022

New Stuff:

In A Miracle Of Coincidence: “It is finished.”

In A Year In Lent: Only Consistency Allows Change

In Random StuffClick Bait Christ

In Home Page: What Makes HOME?

In Absence: Easters

In Left To Myself: All That Is Wrong

In Emily’s Days: Coda

In Not (As) Fat: One Meal A Day

In Finding Home: Occupation Preoccupation

In The Rules: 1) Plan. 2) Section. 3) Elevation

In Silence In SpringAstonishing

In Days ’till Spring: “Karening”

“Snap Out Of It!”

September 28, 2022

It’s Boomer Harvest.

This season I have been to more funerals than at any other. My peeps are passing.

Like every generation, those who they created, those who lived with them see the loved simply die. Long agony. Instant, unforeseen ending. And everything in between.

Each end has a recognition. A grand Cathedral Event with Bishop. A Festive gathering with somber remembrances. And everything in between.

It is us, thinking about us.

But it is not us. It is never us. Life is there before it’s ending and has nothing to do with us. It is a gift. And in the completely incorrect language of we Boomers, that gift, to everyone, can be seen as coming from an “Indian Giver” who takes it back.

But being given life is not something to take to the Returns Desk. It isn’t justified, earned, or even understood. The gift, like light, or air or love just is.

Millions toil to understand gravity, that force that makes light, and air. But gravity does not create love, and we really do not know why the hell it is. We know many what’s of its existence, just as we know ourselves. But we surely have no understanding of anything beyond what we can perceive beyond those what’s.

The transaction of finding water to slake thirst is simply not found in receiving love. It is just there, whether we want it or not.

But, somehow we want to justify love, or justify ourselves by denying it.

But we cannot deny it. Or death.

What Is “Good Architecture?”

September 20, 2022


What is “Good Architecture?” Morally? Ethically? Aesthetic? Every person has a sense of “Good” – in life and its outcomes – and architecture synthesizes humanity’s values – both universal and fully idiosyncratic.

ArchDaily is the preeminent architectural website, with 3 million visits a week, often 1 million in a day: They ask me to write once a month for them on their monthly Site Topic: This week’s topic is What Makes Architectural Beauty?” Here is my piece out THIS MORNING:

For fifty years architect and scientist Christopher Alexander spent his life defining what is “Good Architecture.” He wrote that “Good Architecture” has an essential truth: “The quality is objective and precise but cannot be named.” His (and many others) pursuit of “Wholeness” in architecture was fully “objective and precise” but in the end came to have the result of “Beauty” without any other definition.

When lifetimes are spent in architecture to an end that “cannot be named”, the acceptance of the fact that we cannot define, let alone control “Beauty” is daunting. Leonardo da Vinci offered a prescription that defies any control by the creator: “Life is pretty simple. You do some stuff. Most Fails. Some works. You do more of what works.”  Beyond building, what works to make architecture, is “Beauty.” Humanity wants to define and control and reproduce success – but if success in making “Good Architecture” is facilitating the uncontrollable responses that are manifest in our genetics, then “Beauty” is out of our control.

The exquisitely subjective reality of our humanity has a universality of truth in architecture. I think finding what is already there within each of us and listening to that essential reality, “without a name”, is the hardest and most natural way to define “Good Architecture.

The measure of “Good Architecture” is found in every human, much to the frustration of those who seek to validate their worth in judgments born of rationalization. As the writer Henry James said, “I don’t care anything about reasons, but I know what I like.”

A group of people join HOME PAGE – architects, real estate brokers, editors – to give their life-long realizations on what they find to be “Good” in architecture. Architects Turner Brooks,Steve Mouzon, Clay Chapman, Realtor Leigh Whiteman, Editor Martin Pedersen, Architecture Dean Jim Fuller, Builder Keith Knickerbocker give us their thoughts! JOIN US!


September 4, 2022

At my wife’s baby shower for our first born, in full wine freedom my widowed mother roundly regaled the assembled crowd of lawyers, doctors, MBA’s who happened to be women, “Girls, if I was born when you were, I never would have had any children!” as I stood next to her, serving drinks.

I try to say “thanks” every day. I fail and find myself saying “sorry” often. But some things are neither error nor gift. They are afflictions. As St. Paul said, some things are a thorn in my side that I cannot pull out.

I have taken the gift of life God gave to me, in everything, everywhere and spent it with abandon, only occasionally remembering where all the life came from. In all that spending I had, and have, an unrelenting, unforgivingly accurate memory.

My parents were humans, not the vision of love fully felt by a four- or five-year-old. They, like me, made bad choices and did things that hurt (mostly themselves).

Hurt is most fully given to you by those you love the most. My parents’ cruelty, now 60 years past, unveiled their humanity to their children who just wanted them to be the perfection they had presented to us. These memories are graceless rends of my perspective, with no happy trivialization.

What my parents (and their parents) did has been done. If their net impact was just damage, I could adapt and walk it off. I can play with pain. But through my adult life these memories were fully manifest in crushing incoherent night terrors, almost every night – I had badly failed every night.

In the years between childhood and now I have been given a marriage to a beautiful, smart, loving person and have two healthy, intelligent good men as sons, and a career of many moments of helping others. No matter, every night brought terrifying dreams when I had the least control, as I slept. The consequences of that thorn were not easily understood.

Religion portends to offer salvation. Right. I am, by birth and predilection, a very “Low” Episcopalian. I find no solace in icons and rituals, but I love, inordinately, the words Thomas Cranmer wrote in the old Episcopal Prayer Book almost 500 years ago. On most weeks, in unison, upfront in the service and down on my knees I recite a version of what I learned at five:

 “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults.”

I know that I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own stuff, I just didn’t do those things which I ought to have done. Yes, and I have done those things which I ought not to have done – sometimes pretty well. Despite this understanding, my nights were often, almost daily, punctuated by sheet-soaking night terrors.  I lived with them, because asking God to end them, or for anything, is not who I am.

Last year, I was asked by my editor at a Christian magazine to write a “Confessional” – a monthly anonymous feature, that opened the author up to the readers in the humanity we shared – and that meant falling short of what God has given us. I wrote it. Not because I wanted to, but because I was asked. Like most things, I respond to what I am called upon to do. Perhaps the calling was not, ultimately, by my editor, but in the piece, I confessed my inability to forgive my parents.

When he was being murdered, Jesus, the human, called to God, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He could not, himself, a human, forgive those who hurt him unto death. But he could ask God to forgive.

So I did, too. In writing. In publication.

The week of the piece’s publication saw the daily night terrors that were with me for forty years simply disappear.

I’ve been thinking, talking or writing about the traumas of my childhood since my mother died over twenty years ago. And more so when my sibling committed suicide over four years ago. I have been fully open and expressive of the truth of being in a bad place, and the complexities that were only sometimes understood, but unrelenting. But the night terrors were unabated, and my sheets were often soaked upon waking. Until they stopped. Until I confessed.

We live in this world, now. Our days are spent in transaction, efforting every devotion in rationalized mechanisms — often grim, sometimes ecstatic. We soldier on, accepting limits and working hard to overcome them. We feel entitled to “fairness”, “justice”, objectively reasonable outcomes. We define the guilty, we declare the victimhood that has abused the innocent. But life, even the abused life, is not a transaction, it is a gift.

Without plan or design, I am the product of the American Century, the Greatest Generation – those who saved this world, and knew that they were entitled to all it had to offer. White, heterosexual, monied men, like me, could have the education, health, and opportunities simply by accident of birth. My parents felt that their birth earned what they had been given, because they worked extremely hard to manifest lives of success.

But their success, who I came from, and am, is now understood to be all that is wrong for so many. I did not make these injustices, but I am them, simply because of my birth. I cannot change that, but I can be forgiven

God forgave me.

My atheist friends will say that my body reached a place where my brain chemistry or its architecture changed to end the cycle of night terrors that were with me throughout my adult memory. And they are right. God made those things that changed, not me, nor or any of us.

A Night In Toronto

September 1, 2022

After Infinite Editing

In early August of 1959, I was four. My parents decided to do our first road trip in our new/used 1957 Fleetwood Cadillac. After visiting my mother’s family, we drove onto Toronto, to meet the three siblings of my father’s long dead mother. We had dinner at the house of the two spinster Hill sisters. They all talked, smoked, were delighted by the main course, a full cow’s tongue in its entirety – my wide eyes fully scorched upon it, especially when the farthest delicate tip was expertly carved off of its standing glory – set cold for summer dinner, upon greens with a side of giggling aspic with suspended green peas held in kinetic array within its molded shape.

This terror was soon matched by the calm, even detached recounting by my father’s uncle of my father’s five years living in Canada, with his aunts. When my father asked his uncle why he spent those years, when he was between one and six in Toronto, when his father was in a Brooklyn, his uncle simply said, “We are pretty sure that your mother died while having an abortion. She never wanted to have another child with your father.”

Perhaps it was the death of my father’s father the year I was born, or that Harry was simply a nasty man who buried his first two wives, but the truth dead-panned by my uncle, who I never saw again, was as simply recounted as a birthday or an anniversary.

At 6 my father was returned from Toronto to Brooklyn to be reunited with what he thought was his mom who would go on to have two more children. At 16, one afternoon he cycled home from high school and found his mother, or so he thought, in a vale of tears, where she blurted it out that she could no longer pretend to be his birth mother, and that his actual mom was dead. Until that evening in Toronto, I do not think my father knew how his mother died. The effort by his father to limit Lucy’s connection to him must have been fully baffling.

That night in Toronto, my father’s aunts then went on to add, “Georgie was always wandering off. We could not find him for hours. We came to look for him on the docks in Late Ontario, near our house, and once when we found him, he said ‘I was looking for my Mum.’”

He was the same age as I was, sitting there that evening in Canada, listening with eyes as wide as those looking at the cow tongue.

Why do I remember this?

Why did this happen at all?

Why were the kids there to hear it?

The break point in a young man’s life, was thus bluntly revealed not only to him, at 50, but to his entire family. It is clear to me that this was the fundamental reason he was “ferocious” for the next 27 years. The reason my siblings were who they became, why my mother was cowed, and I simply watched.

There is no reason in some things. There are often no rational truths that make sense in a chaotic childhood. Bringing up unknown devastation so simply, in front of his nephew’s children is a cold cruelty of an uncommon precision. Lucy’s sibling’s must have never forgiven Harry, and by extension, my father.

When we returned to Westchester, the life of our family began to be known to a five-year-old me. The unending daytime of school then nighttime of rages was a metronome of family ritual. Those patterns became more constricting as the dysfunction eroded any sense beyond survival.

The Impossibility of Zen

August 28, 2022

Right now, this month, America is having its annual whirlwind. Thousands of cars clog college town streets everywhere as out-of-it students aimlessly wander in matriculation. Younger students have begun migrating between school and home every day. This comes on the heels of millions of vacations, where newly sprung sequestrationists were exulting in life without Plague Terror.

About 2,500 years ago a prince, Siddhartha Gautama lived the joys of doing things too. Through encounters with others and extreme focus the prince became the “awakened one” – Buddha. His salvation through meditation manifested Zen – oneness with everything without doing anything.

Five hundred years later the idea that our frenzies on earth are not who we ultimately are was in full assertion by another voice, Jesus Christ. One co-conspirator, Matthew, recounted Jesus – who became Christ – to say:

“Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? 26 Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto [f]the measure of his life? 28 And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin…”

“Chill” is the message. Right. In this season of defining ourselves by change of venue, we should just realize that all this hubbub just isn’t that important. The Higher Power of Zen should obviate the sturm und drang of the endless obsessions here on earth. But it is not just our Good Angels telling us to smell the lilies.  Singer Olivia Newton John was said to be a wonderful human, newly remembered by her passing. But her singing of the words written by John Farrar evoked pure disdain in me when I was in full testosterone overdrive twenty-five years ago:

“Have you never been mellow?
Have you never tried
To find a comfort from inside you?

Have you never been happy
Just to hear your song?
Have you never let someone else be strong?”

Christ and Buddha would sing along with Olivia. But wait. She was performing, not for her own fulfillment and connection to the Infinite, but for approval – yours and mine. Jesus and Siddhartha completely re-wrought their lives to project their insight, in hopes of revealing the infinite beauty of the world that has been given to us, that we have no control over, and often ignore.

Jesus, Siddhartha, and Olivia were not “mellow.” I am not “mellow.” But somehow, I should be.

Humans are not mellow but somehow we should know that we should be. The lilies are. Buddha was. Christ wanted me to just cut it out and know God’s love. Sure. But I, we, were not made to be “mellow.”

My long dead Aunt Summey was said to have said “Would you rather be a pig satisfied, or a human unsatisfied?” That question answers itself. But we legalize marijuana. We are in ascending rages over everything that is only seen on the screens of our devices. We are, most definitely, not “mellow.” Despite the guilt we feel in its absence, Zen just is not in the cards for humans.

It is the human condition to know that we are in flux. I think it is because, unlike the lilies, we know that we, each of us, will die. In my 67th year, beloved contemporaries are dying all around me. They lived healthy, full lives, but die scores of years before they had any reason to expect their death. What do I do with that? Jesus was not good with being “forsaken.” If death was seen by the human Jesus as a great and good thing there was no forsaking, there was only fulfilling.

Christ and Buddha both knew there was more to life than college admission, salary, vacation or the grade we receive on today’s History quiz – but Jesus and Siddartha probably counted those in attendance at the gatherings they created. We can only know what we have been given – this moment, in this place, what we value. Beyond the immediacy of fulfilling our hopes, Jesus asks us to have faith unto acceptance of God’s infinite love. Until I have lost all control it is a bridge too far for me to live that faith.

But the bridge too far always comes before us. Unlike the lilies, we know that we will leave this shore and this life ends. The exquisitely unknowable gifts of God: life, love, joy, our implausibly inexplicable existence are not there because our hubbub made them – those gifts are there despite all our silliness.  

The end of every life is known to be out there – but only to us. Our pets just know this moment. Those lilies just live. But I know that if my kid goes to this Elite Fencing Camp she might get into Harvard – and what a Move-In Day that will be!


What Does It Mean?

August 27, 2022

(from endless editing)

“I had a soft-boiled egg and toast with margarine for breakfast, as usual, prepared by my mother. I grabbed my books, and walked down our driveway by myself, to the street where I would be picked up by a man diving a station wagon who was hired by a few families to take those several family’s children to school.

The morning light was low and bright. I felt, well, happy. Bizarrely happy.

I was happy because I had the fresh memory of the comfort and joy of a loving family, of the laughing and loving conversations we had last night…


I was punched in the mouth by the dawning reality that the happy family I was remembering existed only while I was asleep. The happiness of love I felt around me on the driveway was, in fact, just a dream. A very real, powerful dream. One that lived past awakening, but a fully invented, unreal reality of a desperate longing, of coping with the terror that I could never leave.

The usual night of an hour of my father’s focused consumption of scotch was not part of that dream. Louder and louder oaths of injustice and betrayal were not heard. My father’s railing against the indictments of a life that was not what it once was, and could never be what was deserved, earned, rightfully expected were nowhere in my dream.

By the end of the driveway, the shock was gone, but I was wholly hollow. The reality of being alone, at 11 was simply, unrelentingly, true. Life would go on.”

What are dreams?

Why do we even sleep?

A recent study revealed that REM sleep, “Rapid Eye Movement” sleep, the period where your eyes moved, is, in fact, not random, it is because the connection to dreaming and rapid eye movement is direct – like looking at any other reality.

We see what we dream.

My dreams in this later life have simply gotten more real, more intense, more indistinquishable from the moment of awakening, and later. Why? From that dream that betrayed me in 1968, I have never had a happy, flying dream. Rarely the sexual fantasy dream. But often, until this year, there were incoherent night terrors, often nightly, for fifty years. They have left – after I wrote a piece on forgiveness.

Why? I have come to think that this is not random.

HOME for the rest of us

August 21, 2022


Homes are less affordable than they have been for the last generation. The cost of construction is high, mortgages are at a level not since the Great Recession. Connecticut is one of the most expensive places to rent or own a home.

The culture is flooded with media focus, paid and journalistic, on the single family home. “DIY”, “flipping”, “Hot Housing Market” are the terms less than 2/3rds of American families deal with – but 40% of us rent, and millions of homes and apartments use government or not-for-profit funding to provide places to live for those who cannot pay for the extreme costs in the private sector.

The Housing Bubble is bursting, right now. The market will change. The way “family” is described is changing to redefine our homes are occupied. There are a lot of questions. Three experts have lived their lives seeking answers to the questions confronting everyone who lives anywhere.

Steve Grathwohl has worked in sand around Bridgeport, Connecticut to connect people, communities, programs and homes for decades. Jim Goodridge has been active in both the public and private worlds of hime creation in Guilford Connecticut for the last 30 years. Joan Arnold has worked in New York, and led the cause of home ownership nationally, in the not-for-profit world

What will happen in the next few years as we deal with these realities:

Changing ways we live (co-housing, condominiums, adult dormitories?)

Changing Financing (government, public banks, non-profits?)

Changing Zoning (Accessory dwellings, the definition of “family”)

Changing Infrastructure (septic, transportation, energy)

Changing Ownership (NGO’s, non-profits, non-family)

What might change in the next generation?


A Sad Tale

August 20, 2022
“I think that I shall never know
Why I am thus, and I am so.
Around me, other girls inspire In men
the rush and roar of fire,
The sweet transparency of glass,
The tenderness of April grass,
The durability of granite;
But me- I don’t know how to plan it.
The lads I’ve met in Cupid’s deadlock Were-
shall we say?- born out of wedlock.
They broke my heart, they stilled my song,
And said they had to run along,
Explaining, so to sop my tears,
First came their parents or careers.
But ever does experience Deny me
wisdom, calm, and sense!
Though she’s a fool who seeks to capture
The twenty-first fine, careless rapture,
I must go on, till ends my rope,
Who from my birth was cursed with hope.
A heart in half is chaste, archaic;
But mine resembles a mosaic-
The thing’s become ridiculous!
Why am I so? Why am I thus?”

Dorothy Parker has been regaled as a woman in the male dominated Mid-20th Century literary world, and demeaned as a commentator rather than a creative force. Her humor is beyond reproach, even at death – “Pardon My Dust” as her epitaph. 

But as any writer knows, each of us can be in the words we share. Emily Dickinson shared almost nothing while alive, but her revealed words are now crushing to me, every time I read them, more than a century after her death. Writer’s words live. Our lives do, too, but they are recounted, interpreted, sometimes videotaped, but our declared words extend the writer.

In this sad, classically glib, poem, Parker concludes:

“I must go on, till ends my rope,
Who from my birth was cursed with hope.
A heart in half is chaste, archaic;
But mine resembles a mosaic-
The thing’s become ridiculous!
Why am I so? Why am I thus?”

Who is she asking? Who would respond? I think she is calling out to the God she could never accept in the life of the cool. Being in the full rapture of the public world, Dorothy Parker made the cynical, naughty, intellectually precocious woman a source of guffaws and admiration for anyone pausing to partake of her articles for The New Yorker, movie screenplays and banter sitting at The Algonquin Round Table.

Hip, witty, nihilistic, unrelentingly self-deprecating, Parker was the Modern Woman in an Ancient Age. A time-traveling mind is revealed to have a heart, despite herself in her words:

“(my) heart…resembles a mosaic…
Why am I so? Why am I thus?”

Our time, this moment, is a moment of extreme superficiality in public projection, no different from a hundred years ago. “The Algonquin Roundtable” would be a killer Podcast today. The posthumous internet memes of Dorothy Parker are biting, hilarious and have a life far beyond her own.

But she did die 55 years ago. Her jaded intellect may thrill the glib, but her humanity, her living, breathing soul is the work of God in each of us. In me.

“Why am I so, why I am thus?”

When The World Becomes A Human

August 19, 2022

From a host of editing

Before this moment’s rage of #metoo, agonizing suicides, or just the realization that misery is not a fault of the miserable, but an outcome, there was a prequel to this era of “outing” found in my childhood. Baby Boomers had been parented by those who had saved the world, often at the cost of their own lives. Not just the loss of mortality but in the damage to their humanity – parents and children. For fifteen years of Depression and War, my generation’s parents lived through fear, poverty, then destruction and death. No one escaped from that life without being a victim.

Those who did not die led the bent lives of the broken. In that time, there was no understanding the catastrophic breaks in hope and faith so many lived, let alone healing them, so denial and distraction simply distorted a generation born of those saviors of the world. 

In my small life there was no tragedy. No illnesses, no poverty, a WASP family in Westchester, New York at mid-century. There were the excesses of any white, upper middle class, privileged family in America. We were part of private schools, country clubs, too much good food, with both parents together, mother working at whim, not necessity. That polished image, in concert with the cultural dictates of the triumphant, fully hid a cruel life of judgment and rejection. My two older siblings made the mistakes I would learn from and lived lives in the wake of their parents’ judgment, one to the point of suicide. I had just enough intelligence that I could burnish it into an isolated place of coping.

No one asks to be born, let alone to be born to those who have hurt so many. My life was born of those broken by circumstance, if privileged in prejudice. That reality, my reality, was not desired, let alone earned. My parent’s damage became my damage. Rather than understand, my parents coped, so their children did, too.

The methods of coping that my parents employed were the distortions of their generation – drinking, smoking, and the holistic invention of the American Suburban Life as a sanitorium. We could isolate in place. Control the day with booze, their time with smoking, going to church, and hobbies. And having children. 

But distortion, and the victims it creates, could not stand. In my family’s case, the victims were broken by the broken, the legacy of so much damage is more damage. The most obvious cruelty was alcoholism. Drinking for the Greatest Generation was as harmless as Binge Watching is for this time. My parents generation created suburbia as a Safe Space to forget the War and the Depression, most often with alcohol. 

Drinking was seen as devastating to the drinker, and their loved ones were expected to cope. Written thirty years after the drinking generation createdsuburbia, “Adult Children of Alcoholics” Janet Woititz offered up her startlingly obvious argument: Extreme parental behaviors affect young children all the way into and through adulthood. Post-World War II alcoholism was just part of life, often tacitly accepted as normal, even socially positive behavior. My father never believed (or at least expressed) that alcohol was anything more than the next meal, or cigarette. And he was drunk by every nightfall that I knew him  thirty-three years. With one hundred million Boomers having grown up in the ethanol-infused mid-century, the market found the book, and by 1986 it was on the New York Times bestseller list.

When I opened my office in 1987, my landlord referred me to a cleaning lady. She was in her mid-20s, seemed a little sad around the eyes, and was a young Wesleyan graduate. Being WASP, I live by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. I did not pursue why a Wesleyan grad was cleaning offices. But we talked one Sunday afternoon as we both toiled in the office alone.

I have no idea how it came up, but in that moment I broke my ethos of non-disclosure. I noted that my father was a very high-functioning alcoholic. She nodded and said, “So are my parents.” We stared at each other for a couple of silent seconds, and we both went back to work.

A week later, the Monday after the next cleaning, I came to the office, early as usual. Woititz’s book was on my desk, with a cassette of an electronic version of Pachelbel’s Canon. I had seen a synopsis of the book in Time magazine, but holding it, and then hearing the odd tones of mechanically rendered heartbreak on the office stereo, I broke down. My staff then arrived, and we went to work.

My capacity for work was of my dad, who came off the same Metro North train every night from Manhattan and drank twelve ounces of scotch from 6:30pm to 7:30pm before every dinner from the moment I knew him. He was the model of the midcentury Provider to a full family.  I am high functioning too, just without the drinking. Or the income. Just with the damage it caused.

By the time my wife and I had children, our parents were either dead due to their mid-century habits, or just not part of our lives. My wife (also high-functioning and damaged) and I soon encountered two abiding conundrums: one, a cliché: “You are only as happy as your least happy child”, and the second, harder to accept, is that we were only as happy as our childhood allows us to be.

That childhood, the Baby Boomer childhood, swam in the hope of the world’s saviors: we Boomers all had the empowerment of our parents’ triumphs over the Depression and Hitler with none of the survivor guilt. That combination of narcissism and dysfunctional upbringings made “virtue signaling” a generational imperative. Just like our parents, we saved the world, too, but from sexism, homophobia, racism, and limitations on lust. Oh, and Nixon.

My generation reacted to the sanitorium of suburban life with The Cultural Revolution, drugs and sex and rock and roll – but we, too, simply did not know how distorted our beginnings were. Because we were not told. The damaged coped, most neither understood nor healed.  We were saving the world now.


August 15, 2022

From endless editing

The day of my birth, August 21 was hot. Floods were raging through Pennsylvania. It was the 8th month of 1955, every one of which had been in pregnancy for my mother, now soon over. Pregnancy had no dietary or lifestyle changes, smoking was unabated, and my mother once proudly declared to me “I loved being pregnant! I loved being pregnant – I could drink and drink and drink and never get drunk!”

The drugs were administered but fewer of them for this fourth time in the eleven years and three previous pregnancies. Yet there would be little awareness of birth, save awakening to a visiting baby, soon rushed out of sight, for feeding. Being a boy, immediate circumcision. 

As it was for her previous children, mother’s milk was inferior to manmade nutrition. My father was absent for the messy necessity of birth, as were all his compatriots in fatherhood as well.  Then, after two nights recovery in the little Dobbs Ferry Hospital, my mother and I came home to five-and ten-year-old siblings, long out of diapers fully enmeshed in schooling. It was clear that in the 1950’s my parents were exhausted, so they opted for the easy name selection for their last child: after my Dad: George Arthur Dickinson, but Junior. I have no idea when, but to distinguish me, in utero, from by father they code-named me “Duo” (for “Junior”) and it stuck: like Muffy or Buffy or Skip or Trip (had I been the third).

The parties were over. The jazz was on the HiFi, and Manhattan was a nice place to visit. Meals were now nutritious from fresh frozen or canned, work was from a railroad, days started and ended by the train schedule. But this last, this third child was the last brick in building the family wall to the world after the chaos of war. The new Family Home was fully remade in the hopes of the parents, now filled by three new humans not even considered a dozen years before. 

Beyond re-location, the home was my mother’s first attempt at a full interior design. To my parents the complete segue from Jazz Life to Suburban Home creation demanded the legitimacy of provenance – even if it was purchased. Somehow the manifestation of their worth was found in the history of the things they collected. It was the validation of existing things, traditional patterns, and appropriate colors. The invention of a suburban legacy by my parents and so many others who were rushing to make a place for the survivors used instant history to simulate a culture.  Unlike the objects they bought and rooms they decorated; their children turned out not to be what they chose. Like any human, each became what was given to them, by nature or (the lack of) nurture, uncontrollable beyond conception and birth. 

Once they had secured their first purchased home, my father saw the need to immediately pay off the loan given to him by his friends to buy it – so there was no money for outside professionals to do the work of renovation. That meant that my father and mother did much of the home’s renovation themselves. Today this is called “DIY”. My father used my grandfather’s inherited tools in a shop he set up in the basement to build bookshelves, cabinets.  My mother dove into wallpapering and painting, both decorative and background. Their masterpiece, done when I was five, their last DIY effort, was to fully construct largely decorative bifold doors of extreme complexity between the formal dining room (used a few times a year) and the formal entry (never used) and the capacious living room. These wide bifold doors took months to build and install, and involved marbled mirror, gold leaf, curved oak and ornamental paint of my mother’s design and father’s execution. I am not sure we ever closed them.

When the weather was good multiple gardens were made, dug from raw overgrown grass. The stones that had created our exterior walls and patios were reset and re-pointed. All by my lawyer father, son of the contractor. 

The home thus became the projection of my parent’s worth. “Antiques” were found by “antiquing” in New York City, on day trips (with a purpose) or every once in a while, an auction. What was purchased were mostly nice reproductions of “classic” furniture or objects. I only know this because I was the executor of my parents’ estates, and in the evaluation of the contents of a life collecting, there was more name-brand than provenance. They simulated a family legacy that evaporated with them.