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Getting To Receiving

March 25, 2016



When action is rewarded by achievement, and passivity causes self-loathing (in me, anyway) it is problematic to receive. Receiving gifts has never been comfortable for me, but giving  stuff away gives me great joy.

So in that frame of reference I spent 40 early mornings cranking on my Freemotion 370r Exercycle – as I do pretty much every morning, spinning away from nearer death – and writing during Lent on my IPad.  Last Lent I did that, free-form, and thus longer:

this year less length, less bike time, but a hard focus:

There was no “result” “achieved” – but there was a simple truth, more verified, confirmed and defined than discovered: “mission” is given – its not forced or constructed. In a life dedicated to designing, this is dispiriting: but true. Truth is what separates mission from self indulgence – its the value of seeing needs beyond mine, and yet acting on my need to have greater meaning: so for me its keep biking, keep writing, and try to have Faith worthy of Mission.

Why isn’t a full belly enuf?
Why can’t I simply accept much?
Why is exhaustion necessary for happiness?
These are my questions, but maybe yours, too. I have never binge watched. Reading for enjoyment is only possible during the annual one week “off” of only working through the interwebnets. I have a wife and kids who love me, but I am pretty sure I do not merit it – yet I do love them.
These are unexceptional dysfunctions.
I know I understand little beyond my own architectural niche, a few elements of history and Tubby Raymond’s Delaware Wing-T Offense, so I am compelled to deal with a Higher Order that enables unending unnecessaries, like the undeserved love.
So I am loved, know things, and know that my place is tiny and there is a God too big to understand. But it is not enough. Ever.
Perhaps 40 brief moments of clarity can turn a crater of non-acceptance to the definition of a Mission beyond just living life out in grim or bemused acceptance. Or distraction.
The luxury of a healthy, full life. And belly.
The plane is sbout to take off. Literally. To SF – next one on the way back.

In the car leaving my second red eye in 27 hours, back and forth from 10 hours on the ground on the left coast and sending an email at 5:45AM about a coffee station’s backsplash using undesired material from a tub surround, it is clear that my profession is not a job but part of who I am.
But it is not my mission, it is a devotion.
Perhaps it started as a mission, but as expertise is gained, the intensity of service increases, but the ability of the devotion to enhance insight becomes incidental.
When newly parenting, the mission of child rearing was overwhelming: now it’s abiding and central.
The Next Mission looms in its obscurity. There are no laurels here, only things to get done. But checking off potential items that I avoided failing to accomplish simply keeps the dogs of doubt at bay.
The missional kick of the 15 year old football player, the 20 year old architecture student, the 25 year old newlywed, the 30 year old homebuilder, the 35 year old parent is water under the life bridge.
I thank God that all these things abide as devotions, fundamental parts of my every waking moment (and some nightmares)- but there is an opening before me.
So what 60 year old inevitability will make inspiration out of dedication?
Time for a quick REM cycle in the limo…

The loss of enthusiasm is not unusual over time.
I used to drink gallons of Genesee Cream Ale in the 1970,s – pretty much on any given night.
But devotions abide.
If I could still drop step, dip my shoulder and come up on a (hopefully) distracted inside linebacker and drive my (now incorrect) helmet into his sternum, I would. But I would be dead soon thereafter of any number of traumatic injuries.
I can never build my house twice, but still love it more than any of the other several hundred homes I have designed (one would hope, as its ours).
35 years with the only persons who could both tolerate and understand either me or my wife proves that love abides.
With these Gifts, why do I seek any thing more?
Definitionally a First World Problem.
But the need to do more in the face of objective satisfaction is why we walk upright.
I do feel the sense that despite all forward progress, I could come at that linebacker quicker, at a better angle, or…

Its not exceptional to do the right thing – or it shouldn’t be.
Most of us work hard, pay the bills, put the space heaters next to the frozen pipes, but that simply allows us and the ones we love to live out the lives we choose.
Living as well and as long as possible is the overriding Mission in Survival, but the usual alternative is living less well, – Survival abides as our universal baseline. If you have been given enough to think beyond Survival, somehow you know there is more, or at least I know I fall short in fundamental ways.
But the greed to to more is no Mission.
Mission Confusion is natural: when we have a cold, Job One is wiping your nose, not moving to a Greater Good. But there is a Greater Good, or rather millions of them. There may be a Greatest Good – for me that had an “On” switch 2,000 years ago, but that only set my stage, no one else’s that I can define.
At least I have that, and a life long enough, and full enough to afford the luxury of the burden of Doing More.
This is the season of getting that. Another place to fall short, or not.

Timing is everything. But timing means a beginning, and with increasingly problematic implications for us in the 4th Quarter, the :00 looms.
Conversations gravitate inexorably towards the end of this life among those who can reasonably expect it to end within a very visible limited timeframe. In such a confab, the deaths of a 19 year old cancer victim, and the unexpected dropping dead of a 60 year old the exquisite lack of reason was obvious: 19 and sick since 15, not sick for 60 and dead at 60.000001.
Metaphors are, by definition, stilted by construction, but it occurred to me that every game ends, every clock goes to :00.
Some games, those winning or losing, or both, take the fear and fatigue of having played for the long contest and put it behind them, amp up the effort, the effectiveness, the will to max out at the end of the race, game, opera. Winning or losing happens, but crushing it to the finish matters.
I want my game to end well: I have been spared the 19 year old death by chance and the dropping dead without the chance to gear up and finish well.
I want to kick to the finish, I want to end well.
To do this, Mission must override the rest of the game: an adrenaline focus as the time runs out.

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We need to earn a living, our kids have to get into “the best school for them”, and you really really need to catch up on Downton Abbey. But distracted minds are soul-sucking.
If I hear one more whine of plea for “mindfulness” I just might vomit: but the calendar-based ego is no less annoying. Its annoying because its me. Our kids are Out: they are grad-schooling or just out: they are one job away from Independence: so the endless joy of constant purpose in concerts, games, events, efforts in their righteous cause has ended.
Instead, no fewer than 3 articles published, 2 many-state road trips, 9 meetings, 3 celebratory dinners with spouse and friends, 2 Sunday Services attended, 1 Guest Homilist escorted, 300 “holiday” cards done and progress on a dozen architecture projects and 2 books stuffed my last 5 days…to what end? All good, productive things.
But they simply ramp-up a child-distant life of diligence and measuring its effect: the noise is not chaos, its value-based: but its pushing with momentum, not direction.
The house is floating on a foundation of 35 years of effort and purpose: but Good Foundations go deep and resist frost and gravity: this is about foundation, not the cantilevers that project out to – what?

Many of my friends have a child that smokes dope every day. A spouse of a colleague gets high every day. My Dad was a fully in denial alcoholic.
All-consuming, these devotions are, sadly, addictions: the element of choice is gone. But they are devotions: the devotion distorts perception to the point where a new normal bends all perception to rationalize being completely distorted. Politics, religion and love can be, in radical realities, just as addictive and distortional.
So devotion is not Mission.
I spent 10 years in the cause of finding a life partner. I force fit the rest of my life around becoming an architect. I was devoted to dropping 1/3 of myself. All devotions, all somewhat distortional, all achieved, but none Missions.
Effort is not Mission.
Devotion and effort flow from your Mission:
That’s settled: now what?

There is something called “The Happiness Movement”.
I assume this means there are policies that promote “Happiness”, and forces that must be defeated that threaten “Happiness”. Legislating “Happiness” assumes that there is one set of facts that make for “Happiness”.
Opera makes some of my best friends and one of my children blissfully happy. I want to run out of the room within 5 minutes of the curtain rising on any opera I have been forced to sit thru by friends or watching my son.
I can eat sushi until I explode – perhaps my favorite food: but virtually all other fish makes me gag. So does eating fish make me “happy”?
The only “Happiness Movement” is the human desire to feel they deserve to be happy. Everyone fails, so every has been, and will be, unhappy. We connect the dots and think unhappiness reveals the evil that prevented perfection.
Perfection is not happiness. Effort to a purpose that is worth it makes for being happier, mostly: but neither the effort nor the purpose is perfection. Failure does not result from evil – in us or against us.
Failure is inevitable. Happiness is not.
But neither is futility.

There are as many ways to fail as succeed.
When we write the rules for what matters either everyone’s a winner or nothing is good enough.
The hard part is trying to get to what actually matters, graded or not, winning or not. Clearly money and architecture are not complementary in my practice: my 35 year effort employs 8 people: 7 of them get paid every two weeks, right on schedule. Credit lines, cards and mortgages get interest paid – but are only there because the rules of money are not, for me, the rules of architecture.
But the rules of money have Donald Trump as their Poster Boy.
I must pay bills and people first, me last: I get that. I get that having 30% of my work going unpaid or underpaid, because not for profits have no profit to pay me is the course I chose 35 years ago. It was and is worth it: I guess that’s a mission.
But financial failure is only failure in a world made for me by the rest of us. Human stricture is at best functionary, if not arbitrary. Mission in the 4th quarter should be, for me, a place where devotion has no reward other than the reality of making things better.
Some how, some way.
Not painting. Or yoga. Or even steeping myself in Faith.
Faith, to me, feeds effort – and that’s the issue.


So, in this First World of mostly full bellies and minds, hearts are the issue.

Since I know I have far more than I deserve, and have had great devotions that motivated great fortune – that tackle in Limestone, PA, the 4 day all-nighter to finish the Thesis, a date in Central Park, climbing a tree to see our home’s view and fixing a tire at 2AM on 95 on the way to meet a son at the delivery room – all these resulted in a blessed life.

Since that life has leveraged little cash, but some cred, once again, forces of will, versus capital, have to be brought to bear. I now need to martial fruits with effort. But the effort has to be effortless: compulsions of joy.

This may be the end of Lent’s first quarter, but I am going into the last quarter: winning, I think: but if I do not kick to the finish, this game will not end well: and unlike the other compulsed Graces, this end effort will be inspired by them: some how.



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