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Fear Of Flying

January 18, 2020

This week, I was 14, again.

I have been helping make things for over 40 years. Perhaps 1,000 scenarios as an intern, partner, sole proprietor.

I have written 8 books, two of those with others, and, by now, over 1,000 articles.

I am 64, have won 40 things lost another 400 that I was competing for.

So when asked 6 weeks ago to enter an essay by a Swedish professor, for a Swiss Academic Journal, I instantly saw the potential downsides. If I made the grade, and the article was published, almost no one would ever see it. In writing it I am writing for the review of others who write articles like this. I have written one before, because I was asked to talk about a specific project. Easy enough.

This time I was asked about an architect I had never met, but whose writings seemed to invest themselves in the work I described above, to the point that these last few years, where I teach at the place he and his large group of like minded folk have come to create an academic program, I now understand what his words meant. After 45 years.

I could write this, for me and people like me.

I could do this.

But this 8,000 word effort takes time. Hours and hours. And staff time another 20 hours. And had 5 preliminary submissions where reactions ranged from “no self-promotion!” to “your cites are completely wrong”.

All the while my mind is unendingly in a vague panic. This is not going to work. How can I write in the crafted way of an academic when I am, mostly, a linebacker in all things? I can be clear, or not. I can make some sentences ring, even be their own thing in a piece about very different things. But what I do is defenseless.

Because in being a maker, given over to creating, the results are not sculpted to any preconception. Many architects and writers create to an audience, I seem incapable of that. Hence losing 400 times over 40 years of offering things up for awards, publication, or just to get a job.

I can play that. Get ready, compete, push, keep pushing. Win, lose, it is just part of the effort. I win enough that losing is just the consequence of getting stuff done.

But here, I have the sense that I have lost before I start.

In recent years, I have come to know more about myself: like the sense that the 1,000 made things has been the result of simple, direct acts of channeling people, places, values, risks, opportunities, and life: no “Style”, just humans and places and materials, all in a stew. No excuses, no make up calls, no rationalization. It has worked. Stuff got done.

But another odd realization was that I know football. I played (badly), coached (hard as I could) and have a son who came to love football, through college. I could watch a game, and think, sometimes know, what was going on, to the point of seeing what was happening beyond the video game most are used to staring at.

I understand the humans. After a bunch of watching I think I understand the ways the coaches are coaching and some of the skills, and travails, of those playing. It is fun when I can focus. A little like making things. I have come to know what I do not know, so there is less fear.

But these weeks, alone in my office early mornings and weekends, I was sometimes 14 again. Like football, I knew the essence of what I was dealing with. I could see, clearly, how I could and can fail. But unlike football, I knew that I had probably lost before I tried.

I flashed on how it felt to be 14 and on the field with full grown varsity players, attempting to play to assist them in getting better. No matter what effort I put in, it was inadequate, because I was incapable.

Then I realized that I knew, as well as anyone, what I was writing about (architecture, writing, making) – I know that I can write (hell, I am doing this). But knowing and doing are two separate things.

I felt at times that I was honored and in fact delighted to come to be invited to compete at the training camp of the New York Football Giants, only now to see that I am 64, fat, weak and even worse (relative to the competition and “peer evaluation”) than I was when I was 14.

Well, I stayed on the field.

I hit “Send” on the paper. 8,000 words, 50 cites, 20 quotes from 8 people, 10 “figures” with 18 images, over 40 human hours in over 6 weeks. Done.

You cannot lose if you do not play.

I prefer to play, and maybe lose, than not win.

If I had been on the field with Giants, I would be hospitalized within one play. I may simply be rejected by my “peers” (who are very much not me) silently in a couple of weeks.

But I understand more than I did 6 weeks ago.

Maybe that is enough.

No, it isn’t.

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