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The Reality Of Reality

April 8, 2019

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Before the Internet, humans had several indirect ways to connect: phone, letter, even telegraph. Before that, relayed words from visitors or writings.

But direct contact, the primal way we see, hear, know each other is less and less necessary. We can connect on YouTube, Skype, Xoom, Tweet, Facebook, LinkedIn, SnapChat, Instagram, and on and on and on. All good, no complaints. I use some of these every day. That’s how you are reading this.

I help create concerts for my beloved Trinty Church in New Haven. We have done 13 of them over 3.5 years and the latest was the largest and riskiest. A great group, Chanticleer, came and performed beyond the extreme expectations of all involved. We had 750 people in a place with about that many good seats, and no more.

The music was sublime. There were no errors, no accidents, no freak outs. We raised money for another great place for music, Trinity. All was good, in fact, great.

But those things are not what meant the most to me.

Its the humans that always matter more than the art they see and make.

Before the concert, there was a line to transfer internet receipts to paper tickets. It was at worst a ten minute wait. In that wait an elderly man pulls himself up the stair rails and waits as his spouse gets their tickets. I am the door man, greeting and directing, and he is next to me, swaying side to side.

“Are you OK?” I ask.

”I have trouble standing…” he murmurs.

I immediately usher him in to be seated.

Then at intermission, I make the rounds to make sure all is well, I turn, and where I had put the “HANDICAPPED” sign on an opened double pew that afternoon there was a man in a wheel chair. With monitors, touch pads, the assists that those with more problems than mobility need.

After the concert’s wild applause and encore, as the crowd left, I thanked those who were leaving at the door. A woman and her daughter passed. The daughter had the semi-closed eyes and cocked head of someone who has long been blind, and she carried a cane in one hand and her arm was held by her mother.

Her full toothy grin was explosively happy. She was riding a wave of post concert bliss that crushed me.

Concerts are made by people, but bliss is made by God.

Of course the music was made by hundreds of thousands of hours over 40 years of extreme effort and a dozen dedicated lives of gifted and arduously focused singers. Of course cash was needed for the event to happen, and people built the place it happened 203 years ago, Many others, including me, brought these things together that night.

But none of us made the beauty that compelled people to come.

Those who cannot stand, walk, or see are just us, What their bodies can or can’t do is just my bald spot with extraordinay effect on every waking moment of their lives.

Those messy realities are simply missing from the Internet simulations we all use. The reality of screens prevents the real time physical truth of our common realities.

None is without compromise, but no one is without love, either. The joy of love in the bliss those three people heard was heard by the other 747 there, We all heard it because God gave that bliss to us.

No ticket, no venue, no earning, just love.

Beauty is found in many tiny and huge places. A smile, a breeze, the sun, the embrace of another. And music.

The only reason I, and you, are any different from a plant may be the uncontrollable thrill of beauty becoming real in and to us. There is no reason to it. There is no justification. It’s just a gift from a place we do not, and perhaps cannot, understand.

Those people did not need to be there. But in the end, seeing, standing, walking mean nothing.

Because love abides.

“Make Venezuela Great Again”

April 7, 2019

 

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Although we are given every breath, we want a great deal more.

An architecture professor in Australia sends me (and thousands of others) his blog every week. This morning it was about the varieties of architectural extensions of our collective discontent into utopias than manifest the architect’s mind. It was a simple rundown of varieties of ways that architects voice the ways their vision improves on the one we have.

In most ways these earnest efforts are absurdly self indulgent cries against the overwhelming engine of our human incapacities. They are compelling. And pitiful.

Offering options is better than cursing your situation. But screaming against the wind has little actual effect.

After reading the piece, I clicked to an aggregating news site that had (another) article how an intended Utopia (Venezuela) became Hell. The visionary who formed a worker’s country, killed the 1% and foreign economic overlords found that the one thing he could not control, cancer, controlled him, and ultimately his death, made for another the president, who finished the killing work of the cancer and the Utopia the first had hoped to make has died as well.

The hope that we create things that are better than what we have, that are beautiful and expressive of the best in us, is unquenchable. The same fervor is there no matter if it is in the music we hear, the meal we make, the country we create.

It is a place where we know, know, that a vision is better than what we see.

I do this every day, will do it again in an hour. Sometimes I even get paid for it. But I know that whatever I do, it is bested, thoroughly, by what we have. The place we are, the body we are, the sound, air, smell, taste we have are inexplicably present.

Several hundred years ago, we just were. We were born. Lived. Died. Here. We had no way of knowing the trillions of cells involved, the infinite actions of the unknowable number of cells that created our universe. We had no idea of how any of this got here, how it works, pretty much anything beyond what we did every day.

Now we know more.

So much more that we really, really, know how little we know.

As we know more we create more about what we could create. Utopias once centered on interpreting the Bible or the rotation of the earth about the sun, or the divinity of a God or Gods we had images of and writings about, that held cultures together for centuries.

Now we know enough to try to invent our own Utopias.

The last few hundred years has seen democracy, communism, fascism, socialism, dictatorships all made by us, replace some form of monarchy, made by inheritance and generics in the fear that a few of us actually knew the founding God and that was the Utopia we could live under.

Not much has changed. Now we really do think of a Green New Deal. Of Making America Great Again.

Now those who have been punished by the hubris and human failings failings of a succession of leaders want to “Make Venezuela Great Again.” It is hard to think that we, the vessels of transcendent gifts, can do much but use what we have been given, let alone transform our lives to a place that is Perfect. Or at least better.

But we do.

I go to Italy to help largely Indian students see what is there in them, the creations  that might be able to reveal themselves if they can see the beauty around them. It does me no tangible good. It is like going to church in 4 hours, that I will also do. But in Church I receive, in the rest of my life I try to produce.

The folly of full-on devotion to the bettering we all do is often tragic, but occasionally triumphant, Those moments of faith that make the exquisite; babies, families, homes, countries are as real as the fact I cannot sing (beyond an octave).

But I can do what I can do. But It is hard to know any why. It is much harder, in fact it is not possible, for me to avoid the reality of God. So in a sense, I laugh at myself, many times a day.

I will never be wise. I will simply do what I am given to do.

No Utopias here.

Just faith.

“Born Lonely”

April 6, 2019

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Kurt Cobain died 25 years ago this week.

It is an interesting culture that marks death of the significant as much as we do. Pop stars like John Belushi, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston have no remembered birthdays, but, like Kurt Cobain, the point of their leaving our lives by leaving theirs is memorialized and meaningful.

The few I mentioned did not die by accident. They either killed themselves or decided to engage in behavior that killed them. Had they been happy, or felt loved, they would be alive now.

Of course John Lennon, Princess Diana and JFK all died young, ended by crimes of anger or incompetence at the hands of others and their foreshortened lives are also made news in the anniversary of their passing.

But Cobain’s death seems a little different. He never put up the “Its All Good.” front. Maybe that ennui/depression was a pose, but his brutal suicide, with a baby to love him, says otherwise.

Before he created his fame, Kurt Cobain had a girlfriend, before the fully crazed Courtney Love. In one of the memorializing stories about him this week, she noted that Cobain was “born lonely”.

That hit.

Infants only have one requirement beyond nutrition and hygiene – love. You naturally love, it is natural that everyone in your proximity loves you. The unreasoned, fully offered pouring out of undeserved love for and from the innocent is the antithesis of lonely.

Clearly, while living, Kurt Cobain was lonely. He tried being loved by drugs, by fame, by his wife, by his daughter, but nothing in him or to him stopped him from ending his loneliness by ending himself.

The inadequacy of the world to give you love, or at least enough love, is a reason to do more than a baby can. Achieving things, earning things, experiencing things are almost always unnecessary except for the love they give us, and we give them.

Clearly Kurt Cobain loved his band, loved his music, but was not loved or could love enough not to feel fully, finally, lonely.

Good Friday is, perhaps, our common western culture’s oldest remembrance of death. A person of great charisma, hope, even faith beyond his own life, and the lives of those he encountered, made for fear in some. That fear, of a loss of control, breaking the strictures their culture was built upon, or whatever, forced his death in order to maintain the norm.

That death would have ended his meaning, just like Cobain’s death relegated his music to “oldies” status, nostalgia and memory.

But that death changed things for the last couple of thousand years.It is what came after Good Friday that changed that death.

All the rituals, icons, preachy weirdness that followed and overwhelmed the actual death is simply human, and not the point. Once we leave the love sponge of infancy, loneliness can crush the lonely. Loneliness can reveal God, but it also becomes despair.

I get it, for after my baby days I had a decade of simple isolation from those who are normally your intimates. Isolation is often a dull ache of compensations and sufficiency, with little joy. It births loneliness.

For me, that loneliness changed, for Kurt he had to end it, himself. Unlike his death, the death 2,000 years ago has for me life, especially in this season.

Jeffrey Hunter Is No Longer Jesus

April 5, 2019

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In 1961, the movie “King of Kings” came out.

I know this because every Easter evening, we went to “Aunt Fanny”’s House (my dead grandfather’s surviving 3rd wife, who we had no genetic ties to) for Grey Lamb and iridescent, canned, mint jelly. And cigarette smoke.

And a movie after dinner. Of course the kids’ bellies were all fully filled with chocolate and sugar, so an unappealing dinner became, virtually, nauseating, but we labored on through the “instant” mashed potatoes.

In 1963 or 5 when I was not yet 10, the post lamb leg feast was watching said “King of Kings” with stomachs fully distended. Jeffrey Hunter played Jesus. He was Mid-Century’s perfect mirror of The White Guy: like his other GI or Cowboy movies, his piercing blue eyes were deeply loved by the camera.

The then insanely long hair made him 1990 years old, little did we know it made him 1968 just a few years later.

But the movie’s stagy pretense was like Wonderbread – without texture, complexity, let alone irony, or, even reality. And it was just a little creepy.

“King of Kings” was Caucasian Cinema for Caucasians in full cultural dominance. In a few years or 20 we white guys will be outnumbered by the rest of humanity here in the US, and the comfort of White Guy Jesus will mean even less.

Those misfits, first with history, where Jesus was middle eastern, and not from California, and today, where movies seen on black and white TV, with commercials filtered thru the blue haze of cigarette smoke, are becoming rarer and rarer. People have moved on.

But I think these misfits happen, have always happened, because we like looking at what we know. And we change. So what we like changes. So misfits between image and desire happen. And we move on. Vaudeville is dead, soon, sadly followed by Gilbert and Sullivan.

The meme above, cribbed from Instagram this AM captures that disconnect. I work with the Connecticut Episcopal Diocese in Connecticut to rationalize a quick and deep drop in the number of people who go to church in the last generation. We have closed nearly 20 churches in the last decade and will probably close another 20 in the next.

I think it is because Jesus was Jeffrey Hunter for too many, too long.

I see no magic website, no transformative meme, no transporting Icon that will make The Risen Lord compelling to those falling away into brunch and binge watching. I think meaning has ceased be found in the fixation upon the cathode ray tube to see what 4 broadcast channels deign to offer in Prime Time. There are millions of images, voices, messages unrelentingly bombarding everyone all the time.

That reality is not happy with benign reflections of a knowable life for the Caucasians that included checking off the box of “Religion” as part of our human vitae. No it is becoming more complex.

I do not search for validation, or even believe it much when the cappucino swirl evinces Mother Mary. I think the reality of Jesus is in the places I cannot see, but, unrelentingly, feel.

Perfecting hope in describing what should be, as in “Make America Great Again”, captures desire, not what’s here, now. The problem with hope is that absent evidence, it is pretty dangerous. And if the only evidence is faith, you have to think beyond imagery and ritual. Not easy.

You have to be open to who you are, not what you see and do – in a world obsessed with seeing and doing.

Welcome to Saved by Design

April 4, 2019

New Stuff:

In Random Stuff:  Vanishing Subtlety

In Home Page: NEW HOME

In Absence: GOTCHYA

In Left To Myself : Sawdust

In Not (As) Fat: One Meal A Day

In Finding Home: what…where

In The Rules: Between Rocks & Hard $$$

In Silence In Spring : Astonishing…

In Days ’till Spring : 40 Days

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Michelangelo

April 4, 2019

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A friend lost his job. His friend says “God has a plan for you.”

Really?

Making design out of chaos seems to comfort. Like finding a nose in a sapling that I found on Instagram this morning. There is a plan. There is a reason. If I could just see thru the bark.

I design every day, all the time. Design is virtually execution. The buildings, concerts, writings, events, organizations that I work on, every day, offer infinite opportunities and risks are great with me.

If I thought there was a plan to the planning I would stop planning, and try to plan the plan.

If there was a plan.

But I cannot know it. If there is an overarching arc to anything then it means that my life has two paths: obtaining the arc or simply not.

No pressure.

I never played baseball. Pretty sure I couldn’t If I wanted to. The throwing, batting and hand-eye capacities seem, to me, unlearnable. But the mindset, of react/respond/execute to a ball that comes from a line drive, a dribbler, a fly ball, the first baseman, any source, anywhere, at any speed, reminds me of something I did do, play linebacker. Every play different, every response based on a million previous responses, but set to the bodies hurtling, sprinting to, at, away – each play a flow of reactions.

Were these things part of a plan?

If so, quite a design.

Michelangelo responded to the stone he carved, and created angels. I think he responded to the trillions of cells of his body. They saw, felt, reacted, responded. The design of those cells is either the happiest accident that our feeble minds can imagine, or there was a design so complicated we cannot even begin to understand it.

Can a design understand itself? Is there a reality beyond the moment of its existence? Humans, or rather, some humans, believe so.

Does it matter? I think faith matters. A sense, belief, understanding that there is no script, but that there is Mission. A direction that is worth devotion. No score. No win or loss. Just effort. And faith that it matters, without really knowing why.

A sculpture will be made, but is it the one that is of you? Of who you know is you? Or is the sculpture the embodiment of assumptions, fears and dogma? It is pretty hard to have faith beyond getting the money, love and health to maintain existence.

My guess is that money, love and a paycheck meant less to Michelangelo than the angel.

I think the angel is in each of us, and we are the sculpture. Not a crafted design, but an opportunity to be what we value.

We all value beauty. I have come to think it is why humans are alive. It’s reality is at the core of the angel in us. It is the concerted implementation of each of our trillions of cells that can make beauty beyond sculpture.

For that beauty, in me, is effort. It is the shortstop or linebacker reacting, responding, executing. Not following a plan, if there is one.

The plan, if there is one, is the reality of infinite moments of beauty that are constant in their ephemeral power.

It is the essence of Lent for me. In lives so full of reacting/responding/executing that finding the angel in the stone is a mission, not a sculpture. If we can know that there is a mission beyond the din of survival. For me, that is what Lent is for.

News

April 3, 2019

Recent Work

Progress in Greenwich

                                                                                                             

 The outdoor chapel at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT

Click here to read about the project.

   

                                                                                                             

CEPHAS Housing 25 Years Ago in Yonkers NY

Click here to read about the project.

                                                                                                             

READ:

In Common Edge: Is the Culture of Architecture Becoming More Profane?

In The New Haven Register: Gehry Turns 90 and New Haven Rediscovers His Presence

In Common Edge: Style Wars Are Increasingly Irrelevant As Things Change

In Common Edge: Confusion of the Vanities: Why Architectural Style Wars Are Becoming Irrelevant

In Mockingbird: I Am Not Karl Lagerfeld

In Common Edge: Why “Zaha Hadid Activewear” Feels Off-Brand

In Mockingbird: We Are Suddenly Surrounded By Dead Trees

In Common Edge: Why Do Architects Remain Obsessed with Flat Roof?

In The New Haven Register: The Yale Armory is No More

In The New Haven Register: The ‘Story of Church Street South’ in a Yale exhibit

In Covenant: The Next Church

In Mockingbird: Aaron Rodgers Failing at Family

In Common Edge: When Buildings Are Shaped More By Code Than Architects

In Mockingbird: The Canon That Crushed Richard Meier

In Common Edge: The Kids are Alright: How the Great Recession Shaped This Generation’s Entry into Architecture

In Mockingbird: A Message From Jesus

In Common Edge: Life, Death and the End of the 20th Century Architecture

In Common Edge: Architectural Criticism That’s Not Just For Architects

In Mockingbird: The Undeserved Vacation: The New Sabbath

In Mockingbird: Bedside and the Lord’s Prayer

In Common Edge: In the Era of Artificial Intelligence, Will Architecture Become Artisanal?

In Mockingbird: The Gift of Profanity

In Common Edge: An Architect’s Devotion and Determination is Often a Project’s Make or Break Factor

In Mockingbird: Violence & Faith

In Mockingbird: …Mistakes Were Made…

In Common Edge: What a New Botox Commercial Says About the Public’s Perception of Architecture

In Common Edge: Architecture Ignores History at its Own Peril

In Common Edge: Why Homes are the Original Architecture

In Mockingbird: A Letter of Recommendation

In Mockingbird: Nothing Means as Much

In Common Edge: Michelangelo’s Lesson: Specialization in Architecture is Not the Only Way

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WATCH:

On WTNH News:  Madison Architect Sheds Light on Solar Solution for Homeowners

On Common Ground with Annette Ross:  She asked “Where is Architecture?”, I answered

On HGTV:  Mercedes Home Diaries       Password: mercedes

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