In Random Stuff: “May We All Get……what we Deserve.”
In Not (As) Fat: Fat & Drunk
In Finding Home: Fixing More Than Forming: Reality
In Home Page BOOKS, WHERE WE LIVE, WHO WE ARE
Homes are not libraries, gone are dictionaries and encyclopedias from the den- front and center is the family computer, and in each of our hands a device or two. So books in our homes are now more about reflecting who we are and what we value to ourselves and to our visitors: Books we have read and slipped into a bookcase for safe keeping are totems, relics and artifacts. The books we lay next to our beds, our toilets and most comfy place to sit are as near as the food at the dinner table. The books we hold in our hands as we read them are as alive as anything in our lives. So books are both alive in the present, there for the future, but embody and encapsulate a history – the very personal intimate history everyone has with the books they have read – whether its your Chem 201 textbook, Wuthering Heights or a murder mystery read on a vacation.
Books are not simple objects with one obvious use, just like our homes. Homes are not warehouses for our bodies, they are not big umbrellas, or blankets – homes (and places like the Institute Library) are mirrors of our values: places where past, present and hope come together to reflect where we are from, where we are, and where we want to go.
As Seen in the New York Times, 12/2/2014
The outdoor chapel at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT
CEPHAS Housing 25 Years Ago in Yonkers NY
In Hartford Courant (login required): Smart Home Design In A City That’s Neighborly
In New Haven Register: Villas on a ridge, New Haven’s Hillhouse Avenue
In Hartford Courant (login required): A Classic Street Ages, But Retains its Beautiful Bones
In New Haven Register: Forum: Yale, Pearl Harbor bridge projects show branding matters, money follows
In New York Times: Everything and the Kitchen Sink
In New Haven Register: Millennial Meme Housing Sprouts in New Haven
In Hartford Courant (login required): “Christmas in Connecticut” was Perfect for War-Weary 1945 American Moviegoers
In Room One Thousand: Sixty Panes of Faith
In Behind the Walls: The Not So Tiny House Movement (Part 1)
In New Haven Register: Quarantining Architecture
In New Haven Register: Weeds on New Haven’s Oak Street Lawn
In New Haven Magazine: Back Yard Forward
In New Haven Register: Ultimate Gesture of Architectural Modesty is a Buried Building
In New Haven Register: Tulips, Architecture Students & Bubbles that Burst
In New Haven Register: Flood tide of rental housing could change New Haven’s landscape
In New Haven Magazine: Still by the Sea
In New Haven Magazine: Preserving the Past for the Future
In River & Shore’s Coastal Homes: Boy Was It Worth It
In New Haven Magazine: From Family to Farm
In The New Haven Register: Ultimate Gesture of Architectural Modesty Is Buried Building
In The New Haven Register: Yale’s Evans Hall: Overdressed for Success
In New Haven Magazine: Cubed
In New Haven Magazine: Finding Design
In The New Haven Register: Pearl Harbor Bridge in New Haven Extension of Greatest Generation’s Legacy
In Hartford Faith & Values: An Elevator on Orchard Street
In The New Haven Register: Are Neighbors More Neighborly when there is Greater Density?
In New Haven Magazine: Lawyers In Love
In New Haven Magazine: A House of Homes
In The Source: Duo Dickinson, Architect at Large
In River & Shore’s Coastal Homes: On the Indian River
In The New Haven Register: Aesthetically inconvenient Mudd Library faces death sentence
In Connecticut Magazine: Elements of Surprise
In The New Haven Register: Real Icons Aplenty in New Haven
In The Mercurial: Erosion Revelation
In Architecture Boston: Post-Modernism and Intelligent Design
In Design Bureau: Steve & Frank
Archive: Real Life Survival Guide
On Common Ground with Annette Ross: She asked “Where is Architecture?”, I answered
On HGTV: Mercedes Home Diaries Password: mercedes
On Home Page, Binnie Klein & I debut our new radio show. Listen here!
On A Miniature World, Binnie Klein & I discuss springtime striving, mislaid spirituality & the folly of architectural terms. Listen here!
This is first draft of the organization of the New Book by Steve Culpepper and me: its raw, so don’t blame Steve
1) “Before” 28,000BCE to 1620 – Landing at Plymouth
Population: White 100 Native 75,000
Cleared land: 0%
More than a century before Europeans decided to “land” at Plymouth Newfoundland was visited by John Cabot. Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazano sailed all the way up the Atlantic coastline. His reports encourage Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Bartholomew Gosnold, Martin Pring, and George Weymouth to follow in his wake. The wild landscape and the native culture encouraged further investment and Weymouth brought back a Native American named Squanto who became fluent in English, and served to make the mysterious personal, encouraging colonization.
It was Captain John Smith, Governor of Virginia, in his 1614 trip to the virgin shores of what is now Massachusetts described this part of the world “New England”, and made a wild and often hostile place seem like a New Eden to the Puritans. But Smith also realized that the real treasure of the Maine coast was not precious metals, but cod.
“Discovery” and “New” must have seen very odd words to the 75,000 permanent residents New England’s uninvited emigrants found, whose culture, governance and thriving belied every denigration save the superiority of the tools of war. But the cruelest weapon inveighed against the indigenous people was were the billions of bacteria, viruses and ailments that had been part of the European ecosystem for thousands of years but had not followed the Native People across the Bering land bridge 30,000 years earlier.
While mostly benign for most Europeans these tiny invasive species had created genocide in the century between contact and colonization, reducing many tribes to memory in a huge bloodless culture war, that rendered what the Puritans found a different place than Cabot first visited.
Where God and Community Came Together
The first inhabitants of New England based almost all their actions on religious beliefs. Fleeing from the most radically Reformationist state in the Old World, England, these reactionaries took the Protestant ethic to new extremes: they risked life and limb to have a direct relationship to God. Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers, even the first Baptists took everything they owned and left everything their families had known for 50 generations since the establishment of the monarchy, and rejected a century of religious revolution to walk the talk (or, better stated, sail the travail) to a place of unfathomed danger – The New World.
Most of those 17th century religious radicals landed in New England.
A distinctive example of the settlers motivations was New Haven Connecticut. New Haven was created on April 24, 1638, when a company of five-hundred English Puritans led by the Reverend John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton, a wealthy London merchant, sailed into a large harbor. They wanted to build a theocratic vision, a City of God, and thus the community design of 8 large square blocks centered on a central square, The Green: an open urban space. Ironically this well-funded, very organized start devolved in a few generations to where only the 9 squares remained of the Utopian Community by the advent of the 18th century.
The extreme risk of immersing themselves in the unknown meant the first act of 17th century settlers was survival. They built fragile tiny homes out of immediately available materials – fieldstone, green wood, earth. They hung on by their fingernails for a generation or two, making better homes, cultivating fields, building herds, finding potable water, rearing children that lived past infancy.
Once physical survival was established, the spiritual raison d’etre of putting themselves at mortal risk could receive some communal attention. Presumably worship happened as possible in whatever structures were available until there was relative stability of sources of food, shelter and clothing. Security meant that each of the town-states that had come to this wild world could manifest their common desire for full religious immersion. in the 18th century these autonomous communities could raise money and dedicate physical labor for more than sustenance and actually build the architectural center of each town: the Meetinghouse.
Not just Town Hall, not just the Church for the Town State Religion, these were the tallest, best situated structures in each village, set to the Greens that formed the civic heart of commerce, social life, and the grazing of cattle, marshalling of militias and civic debate. The vast majority of New England Meeting houses were built in the 18th century, after survival was assured, before politics focused ardor to foment revolution on a governmental, versus spiritual, plane. In the aforementioned New Haven, the central Green did not get a religious inhabitation until it was too late for Eaton and Davenport. Three churches were built in the 19th century, including, amazingly, one for the Church of England, which had come initially in 1757 in the wake of the collapse of the Utopian intent of the town’s Puritan founders.
Meeting Houses fused social, cultural, governmental and spiritual life into one architectural synthesis. They were aberrantly whitewashed to a sparkling white when most buildings were weathered wood. Walls were often 2 stories, built at one big barn-raising, versus agglomerated homes built piece-by-wing. The interiors were as fine as any home, but the Puritan ethic of rejecting ornament, music, and expression meant clean lines and simple details captured daylight with a stark purity that was a perfect symbol of complete faith in the Light of God.
The abstraction of the Sacred became a foil for the Profane as the Sunday Sabbath gathering was often reciprocated by the regular Town Meeting where all the jealousies, legalities and bean-counting rendered these civic structures into sounding boards for the collision of culture, commerce and Christianity. The lofty virtues of sacrificial love in the hope of Grace had its flipside in self-interest, petty politics and personal vendettas every municipality legislates to regulate.
Since World War II, in Europe and New England, religious belief has significantly waned as a cultural focus. Perhaps centuries of familiarity has lead to contempt. Many meetinghouses have become museums as government outgrew their tight confines and religious life shrank away from the public square. Many families who once held religious observance as central to their lives no longer set aside the Sabbath day to worship. Instead of attending to a “day of rest” in any religious venue, time is spent in Starbucks, shopping malls, or sports arenas.
Cultural transitions, including a secularizing landscape of faith, alter the meaning of religious icons. White clapboard churches on town greens used to symbolize New England Christianity. Now they lend the region historic gravitas while their role in religious life declines. Meetinghouse remain deeply compelling, but more as touchstones to a time of courage and trail amid extreme adversity: when people risked everything to be with their God, and away from their King.
We see the extreme effort to build the biggest, nicest building in town to express a devotion to freedom found in common interest and belief, the uniquely American vision of bottom up determination in faith that everyone – everyone – was entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. The Revolutionary War turned that belief into a government on a national scale. Creating a federal system based on a social dynamic that was test driven in every Meetinghouse in New England is a natural extension of how America came to be, long before the Founding Fathers were born.
So said my soon-to-be mother-in-law at our Rehearsal Dinner 34.5 years ago. It was inscrutably caustic then: and I find this rendering of a condo project in Boston to have the same vaguely terrifying undertone.
A dead church, one of zillions in secularizing New England (or “Little Europe” as is the micro-cultural drift seems to be trending) has been sacked and grotesquely abused by a celebratory engorging of its entrails.
As God becomes quaint affect in the dominant New England value system, humans find Sunday Brunch more defendable than religious ritual -(which means, BTW, brunch will soon become a ritual, if it isn’t already)
All those abandoned boxes once containing our combined spiritual hopes and faith are littering some of the best real estate in the too-smart-for-the-rest-of-the-country Northeast. Naturally, a free market economy abhors a vacuum of productive assets so these once sacred vessels of a community’s best hopes are either repurposed or removed: either option seems reasonable: what is unused needs to find usefulness, especially in industrious New England.
But there are 2 approaches to relics: venerate or desecrate: removal begs the question, restoration shows the love, but desecration, where the dead appeal and antique innocence of the relic are virtually mocked by abusive reuse is, to me, shockingly present in this image.
Perhaps a Historic Commission mandated saving the skin of the church.
Perhaps the Marketing folks thought a few LEEDS points of its vestigial skin would goose the “Sustainability” angle to potential buyers.
Or perhaps the architect/developer just wanted to dance on the grave of an unresurrected symbol of the culture giving the finger to what once was the central purpose of New England life: worship.
No need to speculate: architect James Alexander, who led the building’s design team at Finegold Alexander + Associates simply states “But re-using it as it was, with the shape of the roof and the square footage, it just wouldn’t generate the return.”
It does not matter what the intentions are, were, or if there were any guiding principles beyond profit, but this design manifests the tone-deaf “whatever” realities of our culture “getting what we deserve”. What does matter is that it is a hideous outcome everyone who is not inside it will now live with until the next better way to make money changes it.
The building may no longer be Sacred, maybe it never was, but this result is a Modern Barbaric Profanity. The punishment of vulgarizing its long gone intent does not fit the crime of its obsolescence.
A dead husk, invaded by equally dead, but aggressive glass and metal, feasting upon the husk’s guts to burst forth to reach up to the Heavens of Density. The Zombie Shell somehow acting as a distracting palliative to the superstock box within seems more a soulless calculation for Zoning Approval than an unintended commentary on secularization.
In this image contemporary culture is wearing the dead skin of its vanquished foe – that died simply by turning the other cheek – with the triumphant invasive symbiant now oathing contempt for history, context, any sensibilities other than ROI, and, well, just plain old standards of beauty and care.
This is nothing new- a den of debauchery and drug abuse, The Limelight inhabited an abandoned church at the height of the “coke good for you” 1980’s. New Haven built a parttime state capital on a not-quite-depopulated graveyard in the 1800’s.
Cultures change, but what we build always reflects our values.
The rape of the innocents to make a buck has been around longer than Christianity. I just wish human eyes could see more than profitability in what is dead, but not yet gone.
These 40 short pieces were written on consecutive days, during 90 minutes pathetically cranking on an Exercycle. Over 30,000 calories were burned, but somehow I did not lose the 10 pounds of fat-embodied energy they represent: however about 13,000 words resulted with over 1,000 “visits”. I now lay this action to rest in its Cyberbarium.
All living things consume.
Consumption confusion happens when “need” is blurred with “want” – and a century of Industrial Age cheap goods facilitation of “want” has rendered us irredeemably needy. But there are other “needs” besides those we engorge, own and use.
Distinct from all other life forms around us humans “need” validation, justification: purpose: a friend noted he wanted academic recognition of a mathematical formula that synthesizes disciplines: he “need”ed that despite having children, wife, career and possessions (and a full belly). It’s easy to mock“First World Problems” as the rest of the world’s problems are vastly tipped into the “need” category: unlike us in our comfy Western perch,death is close and real for most at any age.
The response to our own overfed absurdities of flailing against purposelessness – following fashion, politics, sports, pets, spirituality, food or Internet Hell to distraction is nothing new: a century ago those things were not fetishes for anyone save the 1%, but religion filled all voids of purpose: most “knew” the purpose of life: Serve God.
That simple Prime Directive has become a point of ridicule where I live as the overwhelming secular overload is stuffed down our lives with pre-emptive factoids, dissipations and legitimate struggles to avoid death and earn a living.
So Lent lingers for some as the Anti-Want Zone, the denial of dissipations, the rejection of distraction – good luck with that: these 40 days will see how I do. 90 minutes pushing off work by working out. Done.
39 to go.
All living things perceive. Single cells respond to stimulus, pigs find truffles. Women typically walked away from me in high school.
But the gross force feeding to refusal of our perception highways has catapulted into absurdity in the last generation.
In the 1980’s a smoking, sunglassed, headphone wearing woman completely wrapped in chic caught my eye on 6th avenue: a perverse combination of manipulative attention grabbing and yet layered in cloaking devices to block or screen the world she so desperately wanted to notice her. Smell, sound, sight and body were completely filled with manmade distractions. She, like most of us, desperately wanted to control the world she was forced to walk in.
The present level of technologically propelled dissipation seems to be crescendoing to the point were a chip or 2 set next to the right neurons will allows to be in the Matrix without the pod.
Watching Morning Joe on a 1990 cathode ray tube TV/VCR may not be high tech overload, but its the way I multitask when working out. Well not for the next 38 days.
What? Oh yes, I am still holding an IPad and typing. what’s the difference? I have no idea – but at least difference is different…
Despite all distractions, or because of them, everyone wants “Me Time”.
“Me Time” seems to be a Boomer construct, created when we decided to create our Perfect Children and then nurture the living Hell out of them by micromanaging every ounce of potentiality out of their increasingly sullen bods and brains. Tiger Momming is hard work: and even though it is completely ego-driven, it is focused on someone else – and that someone else is going to HARVARD! …or not…
So lapsing back into the familiar Me Generation modality, Boomers created a naming opportunity for respite from parental overloading and dubbed it “Me Time”. Of course “Me Time” has been co-opted/evolved into use by those with similarly over focused marriages, careers or belief systems.
The idea of isolating yourself from externally focused devotions is spookily similar to Lent.
New Age-ish naming rites have made it “mindfulness” or “being present” or earlier “finding yourself” – but its far harder to be quiet and be open to something that is not you, that is much larger than you – without the screeching hype and ego investment of kids, careers and causes.
Its seems that much of my own petty place devolves into imponderables: knowing extremity is extreme and being extreme anyway – knowing flowers smell good but never noticing as you kill yourself creating a garden out of rock, or simply hearing the Still Small Voice and opting to keep on driving:
It’s not simple: and that’s the point.
Everyone breathes, but some of us smell the roses.
Eating is mandatory to keep breathing, but most of us want more than the Space Food Stix we thought astronauts ate to survive in space without haute cuisine.
You can live a long while just by drinking water, but brown alcohol makes drinking much more interesting.
Every human necessity has the potential for enhanced delivery systems in their satisfaction: the desire to enrich and engorge seems part of the same genetic coil that enables us to breath in a coma. Having just had the best meal in my 59 years last night, during Lent, that involved any number of hours in preparation and in doing the work that paid for its exquisite price tag, its natural to ask whether excessive consumption is morally unsupportable.
As an architect who often gets paid for designing homes, I am acutely aware that no one “needs” what I do: there are 90 million existing homes and a hundred “1,000 House Plans for $19.95″ books that make what I offer a response to “want” and not “need”. Yes, I have designed about 80 Habitat homes and about 100 other projects on a pro boom basis, but even those probably could have become reality without someone of my pretenses.
So why indulge in Lent if everything beyond breathing, drinking water and consuming Space Food Stix is indulgence?
I think its because value and meaning are deeper than absolutes: the beauty of food, flowers and brown alcohol is, for me, undeniable, even if I try to in times of guilt and getting things done. In dialing back the literal noise of Law & Order reruns while dialing up my workout to 90 minutes at Level 23 (a new high, I am told by the person who sold me the bike) in these 40 days I can see these indulgences as gifts, not earnings.
For there is nothing we have that comes only from us or for us.
Silence does not happen.
If you can hear, the quantity of sound around you can be reduced, but sound never goes to zero: to silence. Effective silence means no sound holds your attention, and I guess that’s what Lent is about (for me, anyway).
The Seattle Seahawks football team has a “12th man” – the 80,000 screaming attendees who seek to aid their team – not by cheering them on, but by thwarting the efforts of the Seahawks’ opponents with noise.
Thwarting with noise is not limited to football teams. The very vehicle of this missive, the internetswebs, is the loudest sound machine humans have created. But it is silent without an “on” switch. We opt for the “12th Man” in our lives every day: we seek the noise of affirmation, or at least think its futile to try to avoid the deafening din of a world who has not a clue you exist, and trivializes your life with every dissipation.
The Seahawks had to play the Super Bowl away from a stadium filled with 12th Men, and they lost: not because they could not distract their opponents with noise, nor were they distracted by it: a 22 year old human, who had worked for a decade to hear what he needed to by spending thousands of hours focused on what made him better, read a single step of his opponent, acted on it and won.
We live surrounded by noise: we act focused in silence.
Exhaustion is not rest.
When World War 1 ended, there was a winner and a loser, but there was no peace, just a pause between war.
Those who have problematic childhoods –https://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/extremity/ – tend to view life as a continuous struggle, with cessations due to failures that only simulate rest.
In this world of applied victimhood, the natural reaction to each shortcoming is that it reveals undeniable fate. The world will soon win over your efforts, defeat you, and reveal the reason for your failure: the inadequacy of you.
Unlike the vast preponderance of nature over nurture, this abiding mindset is learned behavior, at the foot of parents who, in turn, saw the crushing inevitability of disappointment as unavoidable gravitational pull.
“Live it hope: Die in despair.” Said my Grandma Summey. She meant it, because she lived it.
On most days I feel incomplete and inadequate without exhaustion. On the days I go to bed spent, I know that win or lose, I can do no more. Not peace, but the incapacity to commit failure.
If Lent is anything it’s a simulation of the peace that escapes some of us, that allows a brief window into what exhaustion simulates, but pre-empts.
I am an exhaustion junkie, but I still need rest.
Brains can be glutted.
7 meetings in 7 locations in 12 hours yesterday meant my brain serially loaded up and dispensed. I had a form of “mindfulness” – just not the one venerated by New Agey Spiritualists.
I had full mindness – loading to refusal, the norm for most of us.
Humans tend to yin-yan, swing like a toggle switch between on and off, black and white. So its not surprising Monks found each other, dialed the world back, hunkered down and hunkered in to find the alternate universe to the cacophonous life we are dumped into: even a thousand years ago.
But the binary, the flip side, the either-or is, to me, a cop-out. Evil exists, as does grace: but humans do not flick a switch one way or another twixt perfect good or bad.
We evolve to states of being that push us closer to knowing where we are, or mask it in meetings, bitterness or resumes. We wallow in knowables and flow to our comfort zone in a stream of things we think we can control, or at least understand.
In my car, alone, I float to those meetings I most perfectly understood yesterday: But I know they were less important than the actual time in the car, where, like a monastery, I found refuge from a full mind. Kinda like Lent.
The easy road is distraction.
Humans tend to desire what is not possible.
The rarer the beauty, the more its impossible possession becomes central to our outlook. A prom date, THE best school, a job that transforms your life (and let’s you buy the Perfect Car) – “hunger is the best sauce” and the more elusive something is, the more we seem to want it.
But some of us got the date, the school, the job and the car. None of us get the one thing everyone wants and is not in the Rules of the Game: predictability.
No 2 days have the same length, weather is a humbling wild card, our kids can grow up to be strangers, we get sick.
Some have even more extreme inconsistencies: a spouse you love comes to hate you. A child dies. They cancel Star Trek.
We use tricks to accept the overwhelming presence of randomness in our lives: horoscopes, numerology, scriptural interpretation, political extremism – all create a hard edged matrix to understand our incapacity to understand.
We create the concept of “Fairness” – that there is a cosmic balance sheet that should tally out, where there are no math errors, no unknown equations, no teacher’s pet when grading happens.
Good luck with that.
It is beyond trite to say that “the only constant is change”. And incorrect. The sun comes up, people die, you feel and think.
The constant, the definitionally present consistency in each of our lives is simply us: we are seeing, hearing, feeling and reacting to these engines of inconsistency.
Lent takes that reality one step back into a quieter place of getting OK with that.
Things change, you are still there.
Cause and effect does not equal change.
When the Mad Men metronome of Mid-Century norms allowed the Greatest Generation to heal after the world ruptured a second time in 20 years it wrecked my parents’ lives.
Contrary to the bliss of the American Dream of suburban calm and shared cultural values, my parents bliss was going to jazz clubs in Harlem in the 1930’s: But the Post War world told them, in their 30’s, it was time to move out of their very cool apartment on East 10th St., move to Westchester and have kids.
The cause of cultural healing after being ripped apart by overwhelming war compelled them to flow with their fellow post-warriors to a place they knew was “right”, but was not what they wanted.
Change happened, but it did not change them, it only changed what they did: 2 hours on the train every day for my father, 15 years of young children for my mother and a second half of life spent remembering the first half, and wishing they were there.
They were not victims. Moving to the ‘burbs and birthing was not a sentence, it was a choice. But it was a choice without much thought. Not thinking much about what to have for dinner may give you indigestion, but not much thought about how to spend the last 40 years of your life can wreck it.
So even though the counter cultural 1960’s were actually more akin to their values in the 1930’s, they were outraged, angered and defensive that the world that they had built was being disassembled.
They had no tools for retrospection: their parents had survived by following well worn paths of coping. Even though my parents had rejected following in their parents’ footsteps and stepped out into Jazz Age NYC, when another generation decided to do the same thing 30 years later, they had no sense of the comparables.
Lent can give a whiff of the comparables.
It’s not change that wrecks things, its not changing with it.
What’s beneath us reveals us.
Going thru this year’s “Worst Winter In History”‘ New England has gone well over a month without a full thaw. A day or 2 of above freezing for some hours here and there, but between, unrelenting, deep, single digit (sometimes with a “-“) temps.
The subsoil in New England has been churned, scraped, dropped and composted by a glacial occupation that invaded, stopped, and melted – leaving a few thousand miles of Canada scattered over bedrock. The soils are magnificently inconsistent, making building any foundation an adventure.
So when the ground’s water is both trapped and frozen, and that freezing descends from the surface, down, down, down to the 3ft depth of water-soaked soil that is more insulation than transmission of the bitter cold, the hidden water that becomes ice that is entrained throughout the sand, clay, loam, peat, and organics that make of the Mulligan Stew of New England Subsoil violently grows as that ice takes up more space than the water that was there before freezing.
Parts of some subsoils contain more water that becomes ice (organic material, clay) grow and push up like Topsy: but others, (sand and gravel), let water flow through them before freezing and stay about where they were.
Frost Heaves Happen.
What was invisible makes our cars bang, buck and brake. We trip over them. Some things literally pop out of the ground, and some poorly design foundations crack and fail.
It took a special condition of stress to reveal what was completely unseen and always there. Engineers try everything to dewater subsoil into safety, but humans inevitably fail.
Those failures to design away reality, to compensate for potentialities, to remove history from impacting what we have built are not limited to frost heaves.
My failures, old and new, are heaved into view every day, often at night where the dreams of broken lives and feared outcomes push up through the sound stable sleep.
Sometimes I am not exhausted enough to sleep through them, even while awake.
But Lent gives me a place to deal with them, a little.
Reality heaves up when stress becomes undeniable.
The first molecule we see is often enough.
Interwoven skins of atoms stopped what humans perceived for 99% of our time walking upright. We saw those skins of stuff: rocks, trees, water, through what we saw as nothing.
Lack of evidence does not mean absence of presence.
As our eyes grew to microscopes, telescopes, radiation and sound used as vision, worlds unravelled (bleeding and fresh air does not cure cancer) but other worlds were revealed (cancer).
The empowerment of ability made the 20th century a rush: we could now see what was unseen, and that meant we could, ultimately, know what was unknown.
Not so fast.
The 4 minute mile did not stop runners from beating that by double digit seconds, and in the last generation the data explosion of seeing the echo of the Big Bang or naming each genetic component in each cell seems to be as depressingly incomplete as it is invigorating.
We now know, know, that time is too short to have or know it all. The science we created to overcome time with finite understanding has rubbed our noses in our insufficiencies.
Like those first century Christians that assumed a Messiah would save Israel from Rome, the assumed local redemption became ashes in the mouths of those doing the assuming.
Hope is so close to expectation that the differences have almost no distinctions.
We leap to rely on so much more than the data we actually have that we make stupidity of our brilliance.
Lent may be simple, but the realities of our lives are unavoidably complex, and there are an overwhelming number of molecules to hide what we do not see.
Snow has become a chronic disease in New England.
We can stave off its effects by therapies (shoveling, salting, sanding), but we cannot cure it by our actions.
We are legitimate victims of its senseless, dishonorable caprice: a randomness of impact that knows no reason, justice or reward. Snow has no upside, save for the dwindling numbers who snow board/machine/ski – And I am pretty sure they have maxxed out by now.
Snow, like most diseases has collateral opportunistic infections facilitated by its weakening of our resistance. For some, working out is a memory. For others comfort food is making their pants pretty uncomfortable. For me it has involved a couple of devolutions into “The Walking Dead”.
“The Walking Dead” is a cable TV show without irony, pretense or, seemingly, redeeming intent. It’s a huge hit for the last 5 years of economic snow-in that has rendered many of us falling into a full-blown collateral epidemic: binge watching.
Like junk food, episodes of “The Walking Dead” require no effort to understand or digest, nor do they provide any reward other than “passing time” (for me as the snow accumulated and I was powerless to fight it).
Each hour is like the last, with minor tweaks and character deaths and introductions. There is no arc to the plot, hell there is no plot. Just people walking, followed by what are presumably dead people walking, punctuated by much spilling of presumably already dead blood.
The only thing being killed here is time.
Time is all we most certainly have in this brief moment walking in this world. “Read a book” is a trite retort to those who play video games or binge watch into oblivion. Books can be as dead-ending as any binge watch: for its not the time invested, its in its irredeemable passing without hope.
I have spent more hours doing less than watching “The Walking Dead” – I have watched 2 sons play 2 seasons of T Ball – a useless, plotless, arbitrarily coagulated play date between strangers. But I do not regret those hours. I witnessed a unique set of moments, never to be rerun.
Ironically “The Walking Dead” started as a book – a comic book. Having spent many hours reading those before teenagery, I get the appeal. The depressing, open-ended sense is that there is, truly, nothing better to do.
But even adult gainful employment can feel dead-ending. As one of my employees once told me, the radio in my office helped him to “pass the time”. I felt that the job gave him nothing and that I’d failed him…despite his paycheck.
When time becomes dead, and we walk thru it towards nothing, the only option is distraction.
Its time to shovel out.
We fix more things than we make.
Having helped make things for about 40 years as an architect, the vast majority of projects fix rather than form.
Given there are 70 million existing homes and we build maybe 1% of those each year, the odds favor repair over invention.
This is true for the repairmen and formers ourselves.
So much of who we are is baked in the cake of our genetic predilections and capacities that nature kicks nurture’s best hopes to the curb most days. I will never play in the NFL.
Parents know this (especially after the college search) but humans in general still venerate the New over the Renewed – we love greater control, so we laud it when our world grows at our own hand. In my hand is a device that did not exist 5 years ago, and I am using software that was just a thought 10 years ago.
But there are so many more repairs needed than invention can replace. I have a dozen new homes being created in my office and head, but 4 dozen renovations to effect.
The problem is that for any design you cannot build the site. Most sites have something on them, and all sites, all of them are somewhere, not everywhere or a place that has no abiding, real, undeniable characteristics.
When architects venerate sculpture that happens to be used as a building they are no different than the scientist who venerates a theory that cannot be proven. The difference is the scientist (should) know that. The architect believes that she or he has defied the rest of the universe and made a singularity.
None of us can be the singularity we wish for. The existing sites of our genome, childhood, accidents, failures and triumphs nurture a product that cannot be perfected.
Each of us is a bent wheel, dented by reality colliding with the preferred arc of our hopes and expectations. Some dented wheels can go faster and straighter than others, but many can barely turn. As the song says when you bend it you can’t, try as we might, mend it.
So I spend my life mostly mending homes, always adapting to sites. But in Lent I see the remodeled me and the shaky ground I am built on more clearly.
We cannot control, but we can understand.
We focus upon what affects us.
Right now, 2 or 3 degrees of Fahrenheit temperature are grabbing our brains in New England: above 32F or below it. Below 32F and its misery extended, above freezing we feel the potential for redemption.
We root for the outcomes we want for those things we focus on. Many claim nihilistic nonchalance, sophisticated ambivalence: but truth be told in most things most of us have a favored result, no matter how hopeless it may seem.
In focusing on the various states of water: snow, rain or clouds, its one of the rare times we have our noses rubbed in basic science. We see that matter can be solid, liquid or airborne. Rain and snow are undeniable, but when sublimation from ice to vapor happens its a mysterious event. Every once in a while we see the reduction in ice on a sunny day when the temp is below 32F.
That sublime (literally) transfer of solid to vapor makes no sense in the “Snow or Melt” world we are being crushed by now: its a graceful gift of change we do not expect, did nothing to get, but happened.
An icy driveway has less ice on it after a very cold but sunny day without salt, shovel or going above freezing. It’s not a miracle, its not answered prayer, it’s just another one of the endless facts that we mostly avoid to get through the day.
But sublimation does reveal the absence of malevolence or motive in most things.
Like a child we think that events we actually have no control over are somehow geared to us. Humans create 9-11 conspiracies, drug companies knowingly making vaccines toxic, the government importing drugs or spreading AIDS to control people. Better a knowing victim than a powerless observer.
Harder to have faith while knowing ignorance.
Sublimation, and, to me, Grace, happens whether we know it or not. And that’s the point.
Trust and Faith are not the same thing.
Having written about houses for about 30 years, and having my houses written about, you bump into folk who do the same.
This decade has not been kind to either writers nor architects.
Whether economics, technology or cultural erosion, fewer people are earning a living doing either activity than there were at the beginning of the decade. I am also a devoted episcopalian, a cause with a recent history that makes writing and designing seem far more successful in comparison.
But there are distinctions between the downward trajectories of cultural realities. Those impacted feel threatened, even betrayed, but also, somehow, stupid. But the deep background of those feelings has 2, and I think only 2, bases.
I never thought I would be financially successful being an architect, let alone being a part time writer. But I always knew I had no real choice in being one of the Frozen Chosen.
I chose to design and write, I trusted it would work out (and I guess it has, more stuff to do than ever, just (even) less money). But my acquaintances that were just “transitioned” or flat fired from the New York Times Home Section, all better writers than me, trusted in a system of professional authorship that had evolved over a century. Their trust has been busted.
There are many episcopalians who trusted in “The Church” a place where centuries ago, a bunch of smart white guys created a system of worship that, like traditional journalism (also a white guy product), has become increasingly unrelated to value in people’s lives.
Trust can be busted. Faith is just there, like my appendix – nonessential, removable without death, but built in, unquestioned and in me from the get go.
I have faith in the value of design, the written word, and God in my life: those parts of me have and will seem to fail me, but they are of me, so I have no options – trust is irrelevant, because faith is not an option.
I doubt that an appendectomy is in my future.
There is satisfaction in action.
My neighbor comes home from work around midnite, – these days often to new fallen snow. His response: shovel rather than watch SportsCenter to wind down.
Men do not speak of these things, but I know he feels quite the badass for shoveling snow in the moonlight. Pulling all-nighters in architecture school was not so much about the work as it was responding to the terror of a design jury with the screaming rage of a Celtic Hoard on a hillside – “YOU MAY TAKE OUR LIVES-BUT YOU WILL NEVER TAKE OUR FREEDOM!”
Righteous action never seems wrong at the time. It is very comfy to excoriate a Bush or 2 for launching into war at the drop of a provocation: but listening to accounts on the radio in my car during the drop of those 2 buildings I knew, knew, there were 60,000 dead folk walking in the Middle East.
I was dead wrong: more like 120,000 and climbing.
So when I hear about the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (yes I did cut and paste that name) I simply want the trial to stop, and put him in a cage with several bombs identical to the one he and his truly evil brother created and set them off every half hour or so until he has the same end as he imposed on innocents.
An eye for an eye makes real sense in the moment you’ve lost your eye.
I see the snow and I want to take down a fullback from Limestone, PA, in 1970 Buffalo NY.
Action/reaction is as natural as hunger/eating. But I added 1/3 of myself to my self over 30 years by doing that without thinking.
Without thinking, everything is natural. And that’s not always a good thing.
Lent can help that.
Reading my own words is queasy-making.
There: “queasy-making” – What IS that?
For me, urping up words seems both easy and grating: no one else has to read this, and full-on narcissistic self-gratification has a second course self-loathing served with every written “Selfie”.
But very few of us actually enjoy what we know we have to do. Writing has always been a requirement: From whom, to what end – who knows? Not me.
Looking into a mirror of letters does not make the image prettier. But the act of forming words of thoughts is, to me, the same translation as drawing.
Translation may be the means that creates its own end. Autonomic acting out, by rote, by comfort, by the rules is harder when you translate those acts into purpose, perspective and memory.
An untranslated life slides upon the surface of meaning, a viscous slick of float that requires dead calm.
I am not so sure dead calm happens ’till you’re dead.
Unnecessary but inevitable translation of who we are into works, faith or dissipation gives the day-to-day a window and a mirror: bottoming out or rising above, we seem to be incapable of floating.
So I write, especially in Lent.
Today is one hour late, all day.
Later than what?
By now the Ben-Franklin-invented/helps-farmers/SPRING-FORWARD! Schtick has worn thin: but humans are sentenced to interact with the grindstone of intractable realities (like the earth rotating at an angle and circling its power source) every day.
Sunblock, gloves, hats, shoes all mediate between what we must deal with. Most of human history is translating reality to necessity. Today, the translation may be a job that pays enough money to own a nice place to live, or working out every day to push death further off.
Prehistory was a place of Translate or Die: Immediately. Sharpen the stick. Find a fish. Eat. Coming out of an overwhelming necessity for full-time survival skills, the ancients must have been pretty burnt out with permanent fish/cave/water finding.
Its not surprising that the revelation of a Bizzarro alternative universe, where nothing was needed to translate reality to desire – a Garden of Eden – was seen as possibility, with Grace, and that the toil and travail of the 24/7 grind of survival had Heaven as a potential endpoint.
There was no Daylight Savings Time for Adam and Eve. Heaven has no need for sunblock. We can cease translating a hard world to stay upon it. We can leave our sharpened sticks at our side and simply be.
To me that’s more Hell than Heaven.
I find Esperanto a bad alternative to conjugating the verbs of reality to the language of my devotions. Absent devotion I devolve: if death was dead I would be unnecessary: but in the end of course I am.
The globe spins and rotates if I set my clocks forward or not: and as we transition to a place where our clocks set themselves to our whim we desperately want the translation of reality to necessity to be effortless.
We want Eden, we want Heaven. Now. Here.
Not Happening. Because the wiring that made the Romans adjust their version of timing Every Month is still there.
After a tough loss that left the team hopeless, my son’s great high school football coach grimly noted: “So, now, all we have left, is work.”
I will never own a snow blower, riding mower or pretend its not winter by flying south to Eden.
Work is all we have left. It may not be Heaven, but it is not, for me, Hell.
Broken expectations scare and inspire.
When my wife and I decided to get married in 1980, we, of course, submitted a wedding announcement to the Times.
She, Harvard, Bloomingdales, grandfather w/2 Pulitizers. Me, trade school in upstate NY, intern, grandfather who came to America in 1903 to play pro soccer.
When it popped up in print, I was George and had no relatives. But then again, they only used the brides’s photo then. My side of the story would have simply broken the norms of one of the last gasps in the death rattle of the Social Register.
There are still norms, they are just not Greatest Generation norms: out are the old norms of homophobia, sexism, mandatory children, predictable hair and racism. But there has been, thanks to these InternetWebs an explosion of New Norms.
Science Denial, gender issues, gun love/hate, free range/helicoptering,and zillions of others beyond the left/right political norms that were always there.
There is currency in bucking norms: instantly courage is conferred when someone says “not me”. Not going along to get along may just be acting out or a cynical manipulation of breaking expectations to get air time, but it can also simply be the truth.
Sometimes your own norm is just what it is and its not deniable, even though its easily mockable in the the vast mirror of self-support that is the reason we have norms and expectations to begin with.
By owning an abiding love for a wretchedly dehumanizing and debilitating activity (football) I break my educated polite society norm (one person was “very concerned” that the damage to my brain playing caused my unashamed devotion).
But internet political commentator Ana Marie Cox is a Princess of Internet Snark Norm: the Smartest Person on the Server Cynicism expectation, where motives are mocked, intentions are angrily destructed, where political attitude warps every and all other norms towards one crushing expectation of correctness.
Well, for her, that kinda ended last week:
Owning someone else’s norm makes for constructed expectations that have no joy upon their obtainment, just relief you were not discovered with the wrong norms…
Maybe its just that “norms” are not where we really are, when alone and quiet – an inescapable fate, even with the InterWebs, more often in Lent.
We all must sleep.
Like eating and not freezing or frying its one of the bio mechanical necessities.
Unlike calories or hypothermia, science really does not “get” sleep: its woven into us (we are not, after all, Vulcan), but its a trait billions of earth rotations has ground into the warp and woof of our genomes, and the genome of almost every living thing. Maybe like the defragging of hard drives in the 1990’s or power washing mold off our brains or just the spin cycle of our daily dance with life, sleeping is natural and necessary.
We must sleep. And dream, apparently.
Dreaming is when our mind completely disengages from our control. In adolescence sex dreams thrill and scare, in school (and seemingly forever after) we are naked and late to a final we did not know was happening, or we are suddenly able to fly without crashing.
Or we have nightmares.
Apparently nightmares and night terrors are not just “bad dreams”, they actually stress more than they relieve stress or depict fears. Nightmares take damage: PTSD, rape, wrecked childhoods and transform their problematic presence while waking into uncontrollable terror while sleeping.
I am pretty sure I have not had a happy dream in my adult life.
Of course the 18oz grease blob barely chewed into a belly 20 minutes before going comatose has created any number of bad dream outcomes, but every sleep I fall into has an unannounced revelation of the paper-thin coping that must be my brain.
Inarticulate extremity, unremembered ruinous failures: all with a single egomaniacal lynchpin: somehow I screwed up.
Here the usually tenuous lurch to metaphor is not strained: we all live with the reality that we have failed, will fail again, and are in deep anxiety over failing. We are, by necessity living 99% of our lives in the niceties of a world under relative calm, sometimes control, and, for me, blessed outcomes.
But our fragility amid happy circumstances is made brutally ominous when our minds are not in a world we have created, but when we have no choice but live in the world our lives have been shaped by.
Psychotherapy could help, but it will not change the first 15 years of my life: which I remember well, and kind of understand.
We want understanding to reduce fear – and it does in the places we control – but before understanding was possible, those fears became part of who we are, just like the necessity of sleep.
The living of that comes from a Greater Place than my puny brain. Working at resolution pushes it farther away, as coping is not curing. So I have no choice but to trust what I cannot earn – Grace.
The place where dreams come from is not heaven, or for me, hell. But the place where peace comes from is certainly, assuredly, not from me.
Lent can help with that.
The glass may be half empty, half full, but the the glass, itself, remains.
This is the 21st effort of 40 – the effort is trending with less left than has been done: we are, as my wife says “on the return flight home”. It’s only when my brown alcohol is close to leaving my glass that I think of the advisability of the next one.
In the moment of consumption, expression, action, we seldom realize where we are. Early on I told my son that once gone, intense experiences, like football, their absence will invoke “missing limb syndrome”: sometimes I have to look down as I still think I am wearing cletes 40 years past playing.
He still was a bit overwhelmed that his Football Glass is now completely empty when this season started without him.
But he remains. I remain. I will never again be drinking in the most important thing I will quaff: being a parent of the wee. But the family still is.
That glass and other glasses are completely empty. Nothing left. But the glass remains.
The glass of us, the drinkers of all that we fill our glass with, is right here. Now.
Experience can be blissfully enabling, thrilling, meaningful, but its absence is not the smashing of the glass.
Glasses get refilled.
Mine most assuredly does.
Like sand and deserts, humans form enormities.
The concentration of loners is never more obvious than on commuter trains – where no one wants to be there but most cannot sleep. In 1978 as I commuted into NYC for my first job, the insulation against contact were newspapers, magazines and books, with a bar car and card games for the heretics who broke the rule of anonymity in transit.
Last night zooming home in the tube of static motion, the scene had become more universal in its methods: the occasional sleepers remained but all eyes were on “devices” and the only contact was finger to screen.
Sherry Turkle, like me, is a master of the obvious. She wrote “Alone Together” describing what are all immersed in: a changed world where there is quantitatively far more cyber contact than human-to-human. Being an illiterate who writes, I know what I know of this book via NPR interviews. And like all successful books, Turkle writes what we all know, but are unsure is shared.
But there is one fallacy in our perception of a new self-isolating malaise: that this is new.
New is the avoidance of uncomfy contact by making contact in another plane: rather than staring at paper, like my father did, some of the screen siren focalists go beyond reading web pages, to interaction with others, albeit on line.
There is safety in indirectness: the control of the typed – versus touching or talking spontaneously with its lack of edit-ability, but this indirectness is still interaction: not passive mind injection from dead paper or screens.
As I sit and spin at Level 23 in silence, for a commuter-like mandated period of time its clear that the third place, between work and sleep, is now the lab of humanity’s evolution.
Being alone in 22 million New Yorkers is a well-revelled meme: being alone within yourself: not really sure of where you are, let alone where you are going, may become a louder voice, as silence gives way to infinite options for completely inhuman contact.
Isolation can clarify, or depress.
I know clarity is never, really, available to me: but isolation can give me a connection to larger orders of history, context, and yes, faith.
It is, after all, Lent.
Self Indulgence is the idiot offspring of Introspection.
Artists have always done self-portraits: taking what you know intimately and testing your hand-eye-heart-brain connection skills to manifest essence in accessible media.
But that simple test of skill and understanding has spawned its own idiot cousin: the Selfie: which tests how much your “friends” “like” you on social media.
Thousands can be snapped, reviewed, and rejected until the snapper’s narcissism is fully fed and ready for celebration to validate the self-love. Aesthetic Onanism without apology. Free Love in the Me Meme.
But yesterday The Hollywood Reporter noted that a new obsession is now hemorrhaging out of the Kardashian Black Hole. As with all things cultural, new values have created new technology in response to new sociological imperatives.
Faces are so “been there”. Breasts have jumped the shark as well it seems. For now its bottoms that beg for Pixel Time. The Butt Selfie is now “trending” on Instagram: the highest honor this side of a Reality TV show. [editor’s note: which is the better Oxymoron: “Jumbo Shrimp” or “Reality TV”?] It is so happenin’ that it has coined its own name: “Belfie”. [Editor’s Note 2: do I have to prove the etymology?]
As you might expect plastic surgery goes wherever personal validation is needed without thought or effort, and “Butt Jobs” are on the rise (along with layers of “stuff” over millions of Gluteus Maximii).
But unless you are a contortionist, the ability to show your butt to more than those within eyesight of your backside needs a technological fix. The “Belfie” needs some helpie. VOILA: the “Belfie Pole” is born! And selling…screw your phone to it, reach around and your Buttock Beauty is Web Friendly!
Its too easy to mock the vanity in any of us: we all have our own “Belfie Poles” of rationalizing our weaknesses with stupid compensations. I wear knee socks for no good reason, except I want to. And I am mocked for it.
But butt gazing is nothing new, just its cyberizing: in days of yore introspection was called “Navel Gazing” and the line between “Selfie” and self awareness is pretty fine.
Am I indulging myself in writing this? Yes. I just hope, in the non-anatomical end my self can be better for it.
It is Lent, after all.
Today is “Pi Day” as it is the 3rd month, the 14th day of the 15th year of this century. It with happen again in 100 years. All of this accounting ascription is, of course, a complete fabrication by humans.
Unlike the Equinoxes or Solstices when the length of days are either equal parts light and dark or their extremes, things like Friday the 13th, or New Year’s Day commemorate nothing except our need to commemorate.
Inventing Christmas, a date that has zero actual basis in when Christ was born layers provenance into the passing of the Winter Solstice. Taking the ratio of radius to circumference of a circle, 3.1415, to a date, 3/14/15, is no less arbitrary.
We need anchors in a sea we have little understanding of and zero control over. All of this can end in a lightning bolt or cancer cell. Our children can careen into danger. We can find ourselves alone.
So we look outside, to the days, seasons, unrelenting realities of the world and we put the lipstick of numbers on the uncontrollable Wild Boar of time and meaning.
This seems to be a lot of effort without benefit: architects do the same thing: the Fibinacci Series – represented by the crossection of a nautilus shell begats another ratio: The Golden Mean – where 1.618 as applied to width creates a “perfect” length, and Prest-O Chang-O: high art conferred on a shape, space or plan.
If you are not that great at design, the Golden Mean is no help: your designs will still fall short, no matter how many nautilus shell projections you employ.
If you are at a loss for meaning, Pi Day, lottery numbers, your birth day, astrology, and the 67,439 personality quizzes on the Internet will not do anything except pass the time with intellectual white noise.
A head filled with noise is not listening: numbers can be noise.
Just listen: you will hear.
Lent is good for that.
The middle is not nowhere.
There is snow on the ground, deep, but the temperature is over 50. There is light at 7pm but the mornings are full of fog from the snow.
It is not winter. It is not spring. It is neither, but it is something.
It is a place of angry remembrance of a winter that made no sense (as if weather ever did) and a spring that is literally hard to contemplate given our Post Traumatic Winter Syndrome.
My past can prevent me from feeling the future, too.
Even though its over, what’s over is not done until its no longer darkening our perspective. “GET OVER IT!” bellowed Cher in “Moonstruck”. Right.
Easy to say, devoutly wished, but when layers of the past are what you walk between, every day, you may not be shoveling, but your way is directed and focused.
There will always be a spring, this one will be grotesquely brief because of the lingering ravages of of a winter that did not, and sadly could not, make sense. But the imposition of something meant that there was something there before the imposition. There are gardens under this blanket of cold, white death.
For me its easier to shovel, than trust in melting, it’s what you have to do to get out into a world that has its necessary parts made passable by human effort against large order imposition of the uncontrollable.
But I cannot shovel my gardens, I have to trust the 50F will linger, the snows will go away, without my shoveling. I cannot get rid of what has happened in the past either, no matter how hard I try to make it inoperative by shoveling up achievement in the here and now.
But I can believe in unmerited positive futures, because they happen, to me, every day.
I can’t get over enough to change much: but the world has never needed to get over me, so my guess is spring will happen, despite my PTWS…
Some call it seasons.
I call it Grace.
It is Lent, after all.
“Followers” have become just another way to fall short.
By definition, the Digital Age is based on digits: and thus at its core are measurables. Where once your 3.6 GPA measurable was laughable for Harvard and a shoe-in at your local state school, now the Digital Age measurables are more about what unknown zillions of others think of you: and thus how your “reach” is “trending”.
My “reach” kinda sucks: I could have “10,000 Followers on Twitter!” If I pay someone to put me on some links. My “key search word” manipulation (again for money) is “guaranteed to boost my “hits”, but I refuse to up my Google Analytics. News readers on local overnight TV broadcasts have maxxed out at 5,000 “friends” on Facebook, I am several thousand short of being maximum.
It is an arena where presence means more than achievement, so it has created “achievements” that only require presence.
Ideas, work, caring, even meaning are simply the manipulables that create measurables in this self-referential terrarium.
Chief among these are the “followers” and unlike “friends” they are perfectly named. I follow the Giants, politics, science – with zero expectation I have had any meaning in their realms.
But “followers” “comment”, they “#”, they “Tweet” they “like”: they also flame and snark.
Despite our essential laziness, humans would rather follow than stand still – its the middle ground between devotion and meaninglessness.
“Following” is like having the TV on as background noise, its like eating popcorn at the movies, having the 6th beer in college, or in days past for most, lighting up a cigarette. Its a passive distraction, a way of “doing something” that asks nothing of you save time and money.
I have seen parents who are “followers” of their children, people who are “followers” of a religion or a political party: it is easier to be eyes-on and hands-off – but it is never, ultimately, fulfilling.
Some things deserve more than following.
But you need to stop, and stand still to know what they are.
Lent is good for that.
Change is hard.
But it does not stop.
So life is hard.
Its harder for those who think they are the clever ones to dance around the rule of change. Win the lottery. Lose 20 pounds by eating kale enzymes. Vote for someone who will change things the way you want them changed.
Mostly Magical Thinking.
But there are simulations of defying change: hair coloring, 500 crunches a day, watching Fox or MSNBC can give you a sense that you are “WINNING!” as a drug addled celeb ironically squawked as he lost everything.
But Botox is the weirdest de-changing device: it literally infects us with a toxin that paralyzes muscles (as in rigor mortis) to simulate unwrinkled living skin. The InterWebNets reveal:
“Botulinum toxin (BTX) is a neurotoxic protein produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum and related species. Infection with the bacterium may result in a potentially fatal disease called botulism.”
Botulism has been weaponized with the intent of killing millions. It is is reasonably declared a plague when it has free reign.
But when we use it, its “totally safe”, controlled: put to a productive use like other dangerous things like medical marijuana and guns…wait…
Some are so scared of death that the definitionally superficial evidence of its inevitability, wrinkled skin, screams “SOONER RATHER THAN LATER” to us, causing millions to cast an immobilized eye to cost and motivation and infect themselves with a paralyzingly toxin.
Spoiler Alert: when they say “Save Your Life” by quitting smoking, losing weight, eating kale (all good things) (well maybe not the kale) it is Fact Checked to be “Lengthen Your Lifespan”, because, well, you know…
(We all die.)
Even the Google freaks who say that 500 year life spans are possible will feel a little freaked as Year 499 rolls around.
We do not want to do the only thing we all do: reach the end of the span we launched into at birth. That arc is subject to gravity, just like your skin.
The desperate measures to avoid gravity are what has made humans succeed over all the other factors on this place, but our consciousness that motivates so much good, can wreck our sense of self when we realize that some games cannot be won.
Life after death, if it comes, comes after death. We either put that someplace or obsess and let that obsession introduce toxins, biological or even more destructive, into our lives.
Perspective is not natural, but I need it.
Lent is good for that.
You will not trip if you don’t move.
Mid-Century “tripping” involved hallucinogens, but plain old everyday tripping also involves missing reality, the reality of an unseen thing in your path just small enough to be unnoticed, but just large enough to end the balance necessary to walk up right.
Tripping is not limited to physical motion: yesterday two projects that would have employed several thousand hours of time, earned money, and made beauty simply fell down. Both stopped moving forward because facts got in the way.
As always, my first instinct was to think I had not done enough, but my clients needed me to get to the “NO GO” decision. I did my job well, but that meant no job.
But its not the workmanlike, odds-played trip-ups that sting: its the crash and fall with no warning that breaks faith. No one expects to trip, but once you do, there are only 3 options:
1) Do not move again.
2) Get up and keep moving.
3) Learn, and move again differently.
We are told to trust in a Greater Good, “it’s all good”, that we cannot know Fate – that our only option is Option 2.
Paralysis, Option 1, means we we have no control, and danger means we live in place, where we are – for some that means alone, putting hope in a box.
Option 3, “Trust but verify”, is the hardest: more risk than 1, less faith than 2, but lives in a place where most of us are.
Humans prefer the easier ways: Zealotry or Nihilism: “GO BIG OR GO HOME”.
I prefer “Get Real”.
Reality means that moving forward always means tripping: “There is no effort without error” as previously noted: but perspective minimizes tripping.
Perspective is fact based, – but it is also faith-based: you must believe the walk is worth the trip, and the tripping.
I do, not because of facts, but because of faith.
Breaking does not mean broken.
Chris Borland is a 24 year old who has had a dominant focus for 15 years: playing football.
For some his dream is theirs: extreme achievement amid no holds barred competition and anointment to the top metric of success: starting player in the NFL.
For some, he was a deluded, perhaps Tiger Parented, misanthrope – using violence to endanger others in a dehumanizing cult of anger and pain.
He just stopped living the dream and left the cult. He stopped playing football.
Danger is everywhere: crossing the street, falling in love, getting cancer. But riding a motorcycle, playing football or believing in God in New England are known dangers before you engage in those life choices.
Chris Borland knew from his first full-on practice that football was dangerous, he got his first concussion playing soccer, then football, then not again for a decade. But he saw that he simply could not continue on in the mission that had more risks than rewards.
He did not fail, he did not renounce an evil, he simply could not be committed to do something he had loved enough to forego the danger. He grew up enough to know the next mission was more important than the one he had dedicated all of his body to for over half his life.
People stop believing in God, but are not heretics nor are the “saved” from delusion. People find a mission, from within themselves, but they are not “saved” – they are doing what their mind, heart and body caucus to commit to.
Chris Borland did not give up football for Lent: the next rest of his life is just taking over from a mission he lived, and finished.
In that, he is like anyone who does not go with the flow. He let the rest of the world into who he is until it changed who he is.
We are given much, can do much, or choose not to accept anything in the safety of risk reduction.
Finding the next rest of your life is necessary, but its not fun: its just what we have do do.
Lent is good for that, maybe it will help me with this:https://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/mission/
The Xerox is blind.
Hearing is not listening. Because we watch, it does not mean we understand.
The Equinox, today, is The First Day of Spring. This First Day of Spring we shall have 5 inches of snow in my part of the planet.
In the necessity to make science more than Reality TV, “Global Warming” which may indeed be happening, no matter what the cause, had to get a PR reboot to “Climate Change”, because some places are sometimes not always warmer, and humans only live in one place at a time, and the Internet can only show weather, not make a microclimate around you.
So we feel what we feel, suspend understanding and have winter on the first day of spring: warming? I think not. In California they have no water, in Greenland, its becoming green again, but it is most certainly not spring, yet, here.
But we still call the day of equal measures day and night spring and the longest day summer, the other equal day fall and the shortest day winter. Why?
Because we do not know enough.
The last few centuries have got a lot of measureables measured, data engorges computing devices to the point where the only mysteries left are the important ones.
The Druids knew all the basics we know a bunch of thousands of years ago: longest, shortest, equal. We now know the 3D truths and distances, velocities, vectors, and forces.
We just do not know how or why. Even, really, about we did ourselves: Stonehenge itself.
97% of what makes everything in the universe is “Dark” – it is literally infinite thesis fodder without understanding.
We know so much, see so much, listen so hard, try like a mother with all our heart, mind, and soul, and yet all we have really gained are better and better Stonehenges, where today, the sun shone between 2 stones and hit another, as it has since it was built for people that are so long dead we have almost no idea about why they thought a NASA program in cleft stone was a good idea.
Its good to know things, its better to understand them.
Lent is good for that.
How you start can determine where you go.
In 1979 I coached Tight Ends for the Branford High School Fighting Football Hornets.
In the Delaware Wing-T Offense the tight ends had essentially 2 things to to: block or get open for a pass (“Duh”, sez the football savvy).
But the only thing I really taught them was the first step. In both responsibilities if the first step was wrong, bad things happen.
If my coachlings did not take an unnaturally flat step while keeping their back parallel to the ground on running plays or step in the direction that freed them from the person in front of them on passing plays, the play ended before it began.
How you pivot can make things better or worse far after that pivot.
I pivoted from falling in love with families to a person and have loved one human for 35 years. I pivoted from sadness over losing my body to working out every day for a decade and I am not dead. Yet.
I pivoted from pushing thru early mornings getting that work done while multitasking bathed in the noise of Morning Joe or the NFL Network, to doing this, in silence, at Level 23 (out of 23, BTW).
You can always course correct after a bad pivot, make the block or get open after a bad “Read Down” step or inside release, but its harder. We now pivot to spring in 5 inches of snow, but, spring will happen. Probably.
Lent can be a pivot.
Familiarity is a source of comfort.
A man I had not seen in 42 years died yesterday. I had reconnected with him on the internet . What I saw on my glowing screen was a reasonable extrapolation of the 16 year old I had last seen in 1973.
Upon his quick and unexpected death his friends posted photos of happy times: fishing, partying, at sporting events. My fellow high school mates had photos of him, beer in hand, in the early 1970’s.
Since I did not drink in high school, I never went to parties so the partying was not part of my memory of him. I knew him because I played football with him, and that act was central to my life then.
In fact we executed basic double-teams, and fold blocks side by side. I had given him a nickname, “Todd-a-link”, as his name was Todd and his baby face, stout squat form made him both a good player and the very image of a huge toddler.
For his friends his death meant celebrating the same funny, generous spirit I knew in the 1970’s, but in the 21st century I remembered Todd-a-link only as a guy I busted it with.
We use what we know first. The familiar is the default setting of our perception, and actions based on that.
Todd was, is, and now will be Todd-a-link for me. It’s easier that way. I am sure that’s a distant, shallow and incomplete picture of him.
Absent perspective, we are left with impressions, impressions that can become assumptions when we opt for the easy way out.
Lent is not the easy way out.
Fate is not conspiracy.
Jimmy Carter once famously said “Life is not fair.” The lack of Universal Justice, of thems that’s gots getting more, or the oppressed fated to further oppression is undeniable. Its history.
But the rationalization of silent indifference to the randomness of the human condition as cosmic payback or victimhood at the hands of God(s) is just a way of feeling that something, anything, is in control of everything, and thus we are all pawns in its thrall.
Well, we are bits of organic matter that influence not-so-much. It would seem impossible that there are huge intricate scales of judgment that grind infinitely slow to exact Karma.
Except the judge of these realities is each brain: a brain that can think its a really good idea to eliminate a race or a religion, and the same brain that will kill itself to stop that from continuing.
When a great or a terrible thing happens it always hits me someone has it better or worse. Of course Newtowns happen and the birth of your baby happens, but we live in between. We just ascribe the extremes to Evil or God’s Grace or Luck or Fate – based on each brain’s Sorting Hat.
But the one benefit of a lot of brains figuring a lot of stuff out is that we can see back to a time when our brains weren’t around: and it ain’t pretty.
As we scream at each other about “Climate Deniers” and “Climate Hoaxers” there is one simple truth: a hundred thousand years from now all of where I and many others are, overheated or not, for whatever reason, will be under hundreds of feet of ice.
The unrelenting reality is that the last million years has regularly seen 5 or 6 times when things became colder after being hotter (than they are now) and forces made ice our microclimate.
Everything scraped away: everything. It we are around we are all jammed into the newly formed equitorial plains of once coastal tropical lands now revealed as the ice has sucked up a lot of water.
No Justice, No Peace: Just Ice, Ice Baby.
We do not control much. But what we can control is what we do with what’s controllable: until the next Ice Age happens.
Thinking about what is possible, instead of being a victim of what is impossible to understand, is a start.
Lent is good for that.
Belief can be useful. And scary.
Alcoholics Anonymous can be viewed as a cult. It had a messianic founder, Bill. It has a creed – the 12 Steps. It requires deep and abiding belief.
But after that, the “AA is a cult” meme kinda falls apart. When you leave true cults you have fallen from grace, are shunned, even killed in some cultures. AA expects failure. Knows everyone in it can fail at any given moment, and that’s just part of the deal.
The humanity of failing without being a failure is hard for the fearful to accept. Control is assumed to be essential, rather than faith.
This week Atlantic Magazine publishedhttp://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/03/the-irrationality-of-alcoholics-anonymous/386255/
Its the latest in a string of rationalist arguments that the counterintuitive aspects of demanding complete rejection of a consuming addiction while expecting failure around the corner is somehow, like some chemotherapy, a cure with too high a cost. But AA is never presented as a “cure” and it realizes control is only as good as walking past the last bar. AA is so oddly human that some bridle against it.
The Higher Power part – where you know you cannot do the rejection of a full on addiction with just the tools of humanity also makes those who believe in control eager to wreck a way to live with failure, rather than pretend it can be cured or fixed.
Contrary to the rejecting of a Higher Power, large hospital marketing chains are using “Spirituality” as a cornerstone tool to distinguish themselves from straight science-based modes of healing. Like the “fats” that are part of a “balanced” diet, getting in touch with a non-science-based set of therapies seems to create a compelling healing menu that is worth the ad buy.
Humans have always been in an odd place: here, now, in this world – but wishing for larger realities: knowing God, saving the world from Climate Change/Obama/Bush/meat, or debunking things like AA: All because of a Higher Power: Your brain.
The brain can think itself into almost any truth that fits its way of thinking: but facts are stubborn things. And millions being able to stop something that has wrecked and killed millions more is a fact, as is the better outcome for some that believe there is more to healing than traditional science.
Some facts need faith, like the resurrection, others just need you to realize being uncomfortable with a different reality does not mean you have lost control of yours.
Oh, and BTW, you never had control of your reality in the first place.
Lent can help with that.
We often find ourselves by opposition.
I am a prisoner of NPR by day. It has its mock-able memes (think “Svetty Balls”), but it has one clear, overriding bias (no, not that one) – clearly the programmers at NPR believe that:
An English Accent Makes Everything Better
Its a distinction without a difference as the same words oathed with a Brit residue have a gravitas that those who speak American simply lack in the ears of NPR. And we who are sadly limited to American can find some solace in the fact we always sounder smarter than those who speak Southern.
Right now in architecture several angry articles about the devaluation of my profession have rightly focused on its recent tone-deafness to popular culture, context, social integration, and plain old just not leaking. http://www.forbes.com/sites/justinshubow/2015/01/06/architecture-continues-to-implode-more-insiders-admit-the-profession-is-failing/
The essential truth is that any fine arts endeavor can get lost in itself – and that’s the inexorable recent slump of architecture, historically “the mother of the arts” – towards living and bathing in the fine arts, away from the concerns of the bourgeoisie.
The oxymoronic “New Classical” music is unlistenable to all but those who are “in the know”. Ezra Pound and James Joyce enrapture a tiny few who can delve into their exquisitely hypercomplex syntax and structure. And sculpture is the product of architect Zaha Hadid.
Becoming irrelevant is a problem.
But blaming the language and not the mindset is a bigger problem.
In Genesis God “confuse(d) their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” In architecture this has devolved into a high school food fight between the Popular Kids (Modernists) and the Nerds (Traditionalists). Those recent articles in the New York Times, Forbes, and earlier Slate all saw a Naked Emperor, Architecture: declaring its emptying importance, true that.
But then, those articles took the easy way out: they ascribed tone deafness a style, Modernism, decrying its out of touch British Accent of architectural expression as inherently disingenuous.
Humans are disingenuous, things are just things – the person who loves sculpture deserves to live or work in one. To say one eyewash is Ugly and one Holy is to be one of those running from the crumbling Tower of Babel cursing the foreign language of your fellow flee-ers.
Humans are so terrified of insignificance that we create differences just to feel safe from the other side of the differences we create.
No matter what we do or say, there is something that either the passage of time or our willingness to listen will reveal: the truth.
And it doesn’t have a style (or an accent).
Lent can help with that.
Things begin, end, stay the same.
Driving up I-395 in dis-inhabited parts of northeastern Connecticut I see failure all around me.
There may have been no larger socio-economic failure in pre-Depression America than the 300 year attempt to farm New England.
Hills filled with glacial born rocks, glacial scraped bedrock, glacial carved swamps made the land unbearably brutal.
On the coast wind and tide driven salt water poisoned otherwise viable lowlands.
The little Age Ice started almost with the first plowed furrow, and seemed to end when the midwest became our Breadbasket. Hurricanes wrecked everything from time to time, which made the harvest times in a 3 month growing season filled with pre-Weather Channel trepidation.
Millions of trees surround I-395. All those inside the silent stone walls have calipers shy of a foot or so- meaning they are at best 50 years old. Those at the walls can be huge, but now stunted by their adolescent competitors, whose growth has been juiced by 300 years of cultivation of their soil.
Why do humans do this?
First they had to: colonizing meant making everything from scratch: home, food, family.
But after things got settled, perhaps a few generations in, and the west was opening up with 30 inches of topsoil on flat plains, some with 2 growing seasons: why stay and keep trying?
Of course Boutique Farm To Table Artisanal efforts have reclaimed a few percent of the scorched earth, clear cut world that was 19th century New England, but making a living as a farmer has essentially moved to other places.
We do what we know, we resist knowing we are wrong, we do unproductive things. Over and over again.
We want to be good, we want to be right and we confuse the two every day.
Its hard to be wrong, and not be a mistake. For me, anyway.
Working harder at being wrong only makes it worse: thousands of miles of stone walls snaking through forests on 395 attest to that.
Hardest is to find a place where things are clearer than the world wants them to be.
Lent is good for that.
Knowledge tempers fear, and unknowables are terrifying.
You could make a case that all of medicine is just a specialized lab course, where humanity finds out how we are going to die.
Of course things get fixed in medicine: miraculous cures, heroic triumphs over all odds, exquisitely skillful surgeries – but while all of these extend the lives of the patients involved the baseline is that life is a terminal condition. “No one gets out alive” said the framer on a job site where I had just heard that my father had died.
So the acts of humans with no discernible purpose who not only end their own lives but in the process kill complete innocents is terrifying.
War is complete cultural, social and political madness: humans put every effort into killing other humans, knowing there’s a good chance they will end their lives and never benefit from whatever fruits of war happen. But there are perceived fruits: power, defeat of those who will oppress you if they get power, saving your people from death or slavery. 911 made sense in that mindset.
There are reasons.
But those who just happen to be flying on an airplane with Zaharie Ahmad Shah or, now, Andreas Lubitz or just going to the school Adam Lanza once attended end up dead without any plausible reason.
“He must have been crazy” is an explanation. It applies to me gardening a salt poisoned, shade bathed patch of rock too. It does not provide a reason for acts that are inexplicable that end innocence with death.
The idea that a singularity can eliminate a whole is the essence of anarchy. Humanity as a species uniquely relies on rules to survive and push forward. When those rules are distilled, refined and given full devotion, Mother Teresa happens. When there are no rules, nothing is valued, and life is purposeless, Shah, Lubitz and Lanza happen.
They are the single cancer cell that “happens” for reasons we begin to sometimes understand to a level where cancer has become more hated than feared.
But more often than we’d like our understanding does not prevent the same outcome as the victims of Shah, Lubitz or Lanza. Their actions have no registration with the most basic understanding we share: There should be rules we can understand.
That single cell often kills all the other cells that allowed it to exist, and then ultimately itself: to what end? Completely senseless.
Religion, law and science try to give a matrix of understanding to the senseless. But no level of faith in anything can make sense of the nonsensical.
Lent can help with that.
Forewarned is not forgone.
I drive cars until they stop working. There are no Vanity Upgrades. 100,000’s are common on the odometer.
In the last generation virtually all of the cars I drive have had the little side view of an engine emerge from the dashboard blackness.
“CHECK ENGINE” is the decoded meaning.
The first time I saw it, I pulled over fearing instant car fire and death: and the decoding Car Manual said “SEE YOUR MECHANIC”, I did immediately and the $267 was duly spent for a new catalytic converter, no questions asked.
But my mental and financial state benefitted from the non-manual knowledge I have gleaned since that first panic response.
“Reset your gas cap.” Does work sometimes.
“If your car is not “running rough” wait till it is.” Was music to my ears.
All these pearls of wisdom came from the mechanics who would have benefitted from the $267 money injection into their business, but know that credibility makes more money, until matey, that a quick sale.
There are other “Check Engine” lights. The additional 1/2 of myself I ate into being was a very bright light – and altho there is still a faint glow, the daily workouts have ended my “running rough”.
But the stupid words, anger, sadness or nightmares I inveigh on myself and others should tell me to check my engine. By then things are evidencing themselves that were always there, in everyone, and I long for the “wait until its running rough” advice.
Sometimes I can deflect and defer, but mostly the light burns bright for a reason, that I cannot drive through.
I cannot build and install a catalytic converter, nor can I understand the reasons or even the outcomes when I am “running rough” unless I am willing to see the light first.
That glowing orange little engine showed up on my dashboard last month: it comes and goes, the gas cap is reinserted, but the roughness has not required service yet. This time.
But I do need to get a colonoscopy, or so my wife tells me.
Hunger is the best sauce.
Often the sense of anticipation means more than the actual obtainment of what’s being anticipated.
But more than that, the American Standard of “Best and Brightest” often can never live up to its hype.
The cliche is the The Big Game: Super Bowl, NCAA basketball championship, 7th (or 8th) Harry Potter movie, final episode of a long running TV series, or general election after a “bruising primary fight” can never fulfill the pent up expectations we create when our brains are hard wired for impatience.
2,000 years ago it was a time of expectation in the Middle East, kinda like now: something is going to happen, and it might not be good, or it could be Fantastic.
It was horrible. And its final outcome became the focus of billions of hearts, minds, lives. Whether a huge hoax perpetuated with Saul of Tarsus fulfilling the Goebbels role, or the single transcendent pivot of all humanity away from law and keeping score, either way, this week was the penultimate week a couple of thousand years ago.
Because I seem to work every Sunday this is my penultimate piece in a 40 part Lent stream of thought. Breaking the Sabbath Commandment means I worked through the 5 or 6 Sabbaths that don’t usually count in the 40 days of Lent, so rather than end on Easter, (as the Canons require) my 40th and finishing piece is tomorrow. I seem incapable of resting unless exhausted, so I break a Commandment 52 times a year.
In this way I evidence the oxymoron of my life: Pushing To Find Peace. Peace is the end of Pushing. Pushing is the end of Peace. I have both, and thus neither.
I thus sentence myself to a Penultimate Life: never attaining what I want, because its not about wanting, its about being ready to receive.
I am not so good at receiving, it seems.
Maybe Lent helped with that.
As we in New England look at snow that has not seen the light of day since January, and will be gone by Easter, natural rhythms and time in their passage are great with us.
Like Christmas, whose date is more keyed to the lightening of days than the birthday of Jesus, I wonder, as a mindful Scheygetz, if the timing of Passover has more to do with the passing of the Vernal Equinox than the actual moment ancient Jews were saved.
Where ignorance exists, assumption floods the void, and since there is just enough history to say that Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, and obliquely spring, and thus was, in fact, killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, history calls the question:
What happened after that?
Accidental or natural circumstance can motivate a lot of considered action: finding fire, “discovering” Dark Energy/Matter and having Sarah Palin on a presidential ticket could not have been the result of planning: stuff happened, humans reacted.
So when confronted with the cacophony of my life, I realized the time working out to forestall death early in the AM was good, but could serve a purpose: forcing a long, required time (90 minutes) in silence (versus MSNBC & NFL Network) and use that time and silence and focus of physical effort (level 23 (out of 23) on my bike BTW) to write.
Since I am needy, shallow and over-sharing that meant distributing the fruits of tapping on an IPad.
That tapping resulted in over 1,000 “visits” to read about 12,000 words in 39 days. Since the entire text comes with each piece directly or by link, I have no idea who has read how much.
Or why I did this, or what it did.
But that is the point: seeing the Big Bang billions of years after the event, as scientists are, right now, is just an observation – just like seeing the January snow in (almost) April. We have come to believe that seeing something on YouTube or Facebook or TV is actually an act, an achievement, that viewing is participating.
It is not.
Observing is a start, but the rest is up to us, and to what helps us, despite ourselves.
Love to you, whoever is observing this. Its a start.