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Incomplete: Fall Back

November 3, 2018



41 years ago it was dark.

“Daylight Savings” had not happened, but I was fully deficit spending any time I could steal. In the last 10 months I had done almost everything except what was the central purpose of going to college – my undergraduate thesis.

The idea was that I would get a Bachelor of Architecture degree a semester early, the quickest ticket to making things. Cornell had opted to make me a guinea pig for a full year’s Undergraduate Thesis (they normally did a semester), and so far I had completely failed their faith.

But my second semester’s Midterm was the Monday after this weekend in 1977. It was the end of the third quarter of a full year of intention without adequate effort.

The last semesters of my 4 first years were crazy because in trying to get out early I had overloaded courses, sacrificing 2 of them to pass others (i.e. I failed a couple of requirements) and so the make-up semesters of work were layered on in this last gasp. I know now that the distractions of that year were fully compelling – a woman, an arts festival, student senate battle, the crises of my Advisees as an RA, then a new job, and on and on – all blinding in their empowering gratification of my 22 year old ego because I had zero perspective, no advice, nothing but the moment to guide me.

My parents were away and silent – as old as I am today, but without any parental mission. My academic “adviser” knew me well enough to throw up his arns. My thesis professors were either drunk (one) or pretty sure I was dead meat (the other).

But, I had an extra hour.

I could turn the clocks BACK this weekend. I had an EXTRA hour. At 22, that was HUGE. Until I saw it for what it was: a sad make-up call of a moment that was inconsequential and soon spent.

But at Cornell the only answer was work – more than half of my class had decided to leave the program (“the best” then and now) or get a non-professional degree: they had perspective enough to see that the insane work load and impossible expectations were simply too much. So failure was all around me. as was the intoxication of work.

You can fail, but until death, you can work.

I stayed at it all those weekend’s 73 hours (up from 72) and pulled stuff together as best I could. at the end of the 72+1 hours, zillions of incomplete, overwrought drawings and scribbled-out perspectives were hung in some room, and a few professors showed up. They heard my desperate ramblings and looked unimpressed. My lead professor (the other, somewhere else, drunk) shook his head.

He knew, I knew, that I had a long way to go. Here, now, but in the arc of a life spent largely without parents, let alone siblings, or others who cared for me beyond my chosen family of contemporaries, I was fully with the results of my incomprehension. Choices have consequences, and the consequence for me was the inevitability of the necessity for extreme effort to avoid complete failure. A metaphor, but also a model that I and my favored few followed.

I had the family I chose in those mid-1970’s. A group who largely lived as I did: feasted on love relationships, artistic expression, the joy of reveling in near complete spontaneity and devotion to those devotions immediately before us.

There was no year beyond this one, no relationship beyond what awaited you for a few hours at 3AM after a long day trying to be a genius. No meaning beyond the night of drinking after the midterm review where I was, again, pronounced “Incomplete”. Accurately.

In truth pretty much my entire life to that moment had been “Incomplete”. I lived for the “extension”, the avoidance of accountability beyond the immediate explosions of daily life, which were many. I knew that there was a future. I knew that I could work. Other than that I really knew nothing.

So I lived for that extra hour. Unearned. Given. Fully used, appreciated, but in the end known to be meaningless, because thousands upon thousands of hours before it created the fires I now knew I had to put out.

In the intervening 41 years I still thrill at the extra hour. It lets me do this. It offers a make-up call to all the miscalculations I confront every day. Without perspective, or a careful plan, or even much more than work.

It has been enough, so far.


October 31, 2018

Of course my email died for 20 hours this week. You would think that would be a gift: it was just another rediculous annoyance in the swamp of pissoff that is this season…did I mention Halloween is a tiresome whine of narcissism as well?

And when the wandering email returned, the gaggle of unanswered emails, important to me, were silent. I do not matter enough to have a “Will get back to you” or “GREAT!” As I do a dozen times a day. It is depressing.

As is the 237th stick frame over podium building box I see pop-up in expensive or cheap or any site.

Turning on anything: phone, TV, IPad, Computer, ANYTHING I see smarmy, indignant, angry, grave, defensive, petulant, snarking, trolling, avowing dramaturgy of the cheapest kind. Politics. Saving the world by ending or Kinging the bouncing Orange hair swoop. Please make Tuesday come.

I will then see a shallow, obvious, ignorant article or building or tweet or post…Many times a day…

I get an editor’s mark up, a client,s litany, I lose a re-election, I am behind on some things to do other things, I know some folk effectively loathe me, and sometimes I do, too, My legs hurt, my eyes are crusty, my bald spot grows, and I am just older, ever older, everyday.

I know, I know. I am not sick. I am loved. I do things.

Shut up.

Let me check my email again….









October 29, 2018


If I hate those who hate others do I hate myself?

When a disturbed person killed little children and their protectors in Newtown, Connecticut I was crushed by the inhumanity, but on its heals of that body blow was my more typical response: I was disappointed that Alan Lanza had killed himself: I had hoped some one could make him suffer commensurate with the hurt he laid on so many.

The desire for retribution is great within me these days, and us as a culture I suspect.

The latest insanity at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg made me fully angry, not sad, let alone praying for lunatic Robert Bowers who acted with a blood lust that defies any understanding.

I want to hurt those who hurt. That instant violent desire makes me essentially akin to the evil that is done. It is a conundrum of inadequacy that defies condoning. I am wrong, but my knowing it only prevents the vile actions of those I hate – the hatred is still there, and natural – to me, anyway.

I felt good when Jeffrey Dahmer was murdered in prison, then shuddered at my satisfaction. Many states murder those who murder to, in theory, stop others from murdering. But to me, and I think most, retribution, expressing revenge to the violence done seems to be its own justification.

That is deeply sad. The lack of connecting my left lobe of reason to my right lobe of passion is beyond troubling, it is exquisitely human. I hoped for a split second that I had ended someone’s existence during football practice in 1972. For about .03 seconds. I was then shocked at that flash of hate, and then felt the sharp pain of both the hit I laid on the person who pissed me off, and then the hard ground as I immediately flew onto it.

The hard ground of my humanity when insane acts of indescribable cruelty undermine any sense of decency, acceptance, or just benign loathing is disturbing to me. The reaction of hate by hating the hater is completely normal, and totally wrong.

But I feel it. I assume you do too. I sort of understand it, unlike the completely absurd red-dyed hair topped James Holmes who soullessly shot scores, often to death, in a Colorado movie theater. I wanted, I want, him stoned to death, or casually shot just enough to extend death for hours: I want him to suffer because he broke the rule of love that makes my life whole and reasonable to me.

And I am fully wrong to feel that way.

Humans, or at least I, want to express the hate I feel, but know is wrong. It is wrong not because I might be punished for it – someone might exact revenge on me for my retribution.

It is wrong to hate because I am loved.

It all my confused selfish, asinine narcissistic ego bloat and entitlement, not to mention carefree self indulgence and innumerable acts of feel-good acting out, He who made me still loves me. Completely. Even when I hate myself. Which I do with every hateful reaction to hate that seems to overwhelm God’s love.

The guns, the insanity, the circumstances, even the politics are ripe for attempts at control to suppress the hideous outcomes. That attempt at control is necessary. But it is futile on one level.

The hate, whether expressed with an assault weapon or righteous indignation is immune to our understanding, let alone cure. We can sacrifice just about anything to extend the lives of those we do not know. Ask a veteran. But just beneath that is the rage that is triggered by things we do not understand.

I am left with dwelling in the place that I do not understand either, but which saves me from myself, the love of a God that is ever present and never adequate to cure our worst selves.

Art @ HOME

October 23, 2018



There are over 100 Million places to live in America – safe to say that Every One of Them has been touched by those who live there. Many rent, some own, others live with in another’s home, but all of us want to express who we are where we live.

That’s where art comes in. We create, we buy, we find, we make or remake the spaces we live in. This is not about architecture and the envelopes that surround us, it is about creating a place for ourselves by extending our loves into our places. I call it art. Others do too…

First we welcome Helen Kauder who is the Executive Director of Artspace and co-founder of the City-Wide Open Studios festival whose Alternative Space at Yale’s West Campus, which straddles West Haven and Orange This Weekend. Before returning to Artspace in 2010, she served as Deputy Director of the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art. She has been recognized for her long service to the art sector through Connecticut’s Office of the Arts Elizabeth Mahaffey award, and an Elm-Ivy award, Yale’s highest honor for town-gown bridge building. She holds an MBA in Accounting/Finance from U Chicago and an SB in Economics from MIT.

We then welcome Elizabeth Holt, the Historic Preservation Specialist for the New Haven Preservation Trust. New to New Haven, Elizabeth was born and raised in Nashville, moving here from Brooklyn by way of New London in 2015, where she went to Pratt. She interned at the non-profit Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Lastly we welcome Stewart Johnson who helps run Hull’s Art Supply in New Haven. Stewart has been on the frontline of interfacing between art and occupants of homes, in a place that frames, sells and helps humans create art, providing “Tools for the Imagination” for those who are not college students and professional artists; it is now a resource for creative minds of all ages and abilities.

Standing Up From Sitting Shiva

October 20, 2018


It is not easy excusing indulgence.

The death of my sibling has forced me to indulge my perspective with expression.

The art here combines words and images found 4o minutes alone in silence standing on feet of collective rejection, trying to understand what I was seeing.

In the end I was seeing the 60 year old damage of cruelty – and the gift of its absence. So in this last year of WASP shiva I have written and talked and thought of the fruits of that cruelty. For most of us cruelties are pretty petty – selfish acts, denigrating name calling, simple prejudices.

But real, hard, cruelty is seldom seen, and it wrecks the young. I can say this because  I have seen it. I saw it in that 40 minutes alone in Peekskill New York.

Devotion is at its most intense and vulnerable in the young. Perhaps because I was washed in the same cruelties of my sibling I am left destroyed by the beauty of the youngest among us. Inordinately so. Their full reactions to every happy and threatening stimulus is guileless and is simply about the fragility of the love they fully embody. But most of those in these cruelties were not victims so much as participants, and my family is not tragic. We were never beaten, starved, poorly clothed, even uncomfortable, it was MidCentury Suburbia for God’s sake, Private School. Dry Cleaned Clothing. Shined Shoes, Veal Cutlets.

In all the visible ways we, all of us, were living the American Dream after the nightmare of World War 2, But in the last 60 years the outcomes of that time have revealed the damage of those who created us.

In fact my sibling had the luxury of controlling her life to the point of suicide. That final measure of a life built upon hard breaks of killed careers, marriages, devotions, gender and Faith. Each was done with a finality and purpose. My being in a place unseen by anyone but my sibling for 16 years was a daunting reveal of survival via control and exclusion.

Addressing death will do that.

The act of sitting shiva is not easy for we Puritans, A Sabbath might make sense if I deserved it, but I know, somehow, that I do not. So I think taking time to process death, first of those I love and then my own yet to be, is self indulgence until it becomes unavoidable.

The results came home to reveal themselves a year ago. My sibling executed her last act of final complete control. My life, and the lives of every family member in my youth was shaped by cruelty. The snap of denigration, dismissal, judgment was swift, complete and irredeemable. My sister left. My brother retreated to a life he controlled. I, the youngest, watched and shut up. A little like now, until now.

I had to admit today that I excuse the common cruelties of self-indulgent prescription, dismissal, condemnation, judgement. Not pious sanctimony, but because in my tender youth I saw real, intended, repeated cruelty. What I see now is simple acting out, not the dismantling of belief in the potential of love being a part of our lives. My parents could not see what they were doing.

They were not alone.

In the mid century, millions of men who were broken by the most hideous realities of violence and murderous hate survived to seek solace without diagnosis. For them, there was no antiseptic, only the bandaid of control. My parents, deeply damaged by circumstances beyond their control  found a place they thought would end their pain.

The suburbs were a sanitarium for the damaged in Mid Century. Endless smoking was a distraction. Every night drinking till fully drunk was a daily retreat to intoxicated rationalization. They were “right”, after all: They survived. We, their creations and dependents, had no other voices other than theirs.

Those who were not smoking or drinking were in their care. Those infants and innocents looked to their parents for love beyond sustenance. They expected protection, assumed nurture, hoped for love amid all the confusion of parents’ lives made before their existence.

In the death of the damaged, it is clear to me that cruelty wrecks the young. In having our own children I realize that the absence of cruelty feeds the best in us. So whether it is justification by judgment or acceptance by love, in death the fruits of giving or cruelty are harvested.

That is why some sit shiva. That embrace of understanding is hard for me to accept. So I act. I write, I make things, events, images. Like this. We all consume the essence of the lives that have been harvested. But those who hold the hearts of the young in their hands do not have many options beyond love and acceptance towards the innocents, or innocence is ended by their cruelties.

When the damaged create the undamaged it is easy to inveigh the next wave of cruelty upon the fragile. It does not take much to wreck the innocent for life. Children only have love in them until a new reality inevitably enters in. That earliest of times is life at its most tender, and complexity beyond love is unavoidable. Love can be crushed instantly and forever by the terrible realities of each of us.

Here in this capture of a moment I see what was left for my sister to control, completely distinct from the cruelty of her youth, but caused by it, and I wince.

But it is self-indulgent to write this. To make the art seen here shares imponderable assumptions rendered as truth, but it what I have been left to do. I installed this wee event with my son. We love each other without qualification, created in the absence of any cruelties.

That break is what love is.

I call it God because I know, have always known, that the cruelties of broken lives were not part of the Grace I was given. I have never asked for it, but it was there. I cannot control much, but I can make things because I have been given everything.

A year of WASP shiva has given me that simple reality.

BEAUTY: More Important Than Image

October 7, 2018


5 years ago or so, I was asked to write a piece on PR and it’s role in architecture for a branch of the American Istitute of Architects. I have a fair amount of exposure over the years, not so much in the New Era of tinier venues. So I have a large footprint for a tiny firm on a variety of internet platforms.

I knew I was being asked to offer clever advice and insights to game a system of recognition that benefits the relentlessly self-promoting. Well I relentlessly self-promote. Because I have to. My work is not of the avowed Modernist “Canon” (as the picture above indicates). But additionally what I do is not so appealing to the “Neo-Traditional” Canon either. (Ditto the aesthetic Trugger Warning).

As it turns out that I get some affirmation simply because the work appeals to people that want to build, but not in this century to people who want credibility by publishing “correct” work. So I wrote abiut that.

It was up, in a corner of a corner of the Internet for a couple of years, and then vanished, for whatever reason, but under any Canon, I am only ‘correct” under one set of principles: that people find Beauty in it.

So it was wiped from view by the voice of a Canon that I was made Fellow in last year (the AIA): not just for my aesthetics but for my impact on those who design and those who might want design services:

Including a former intern who put this piece on his website and thus it survives: What goes on the Internet never dies: so you can read this:

It’s Not The Media: It’s The Work

By Duo Dickinson, AIA

A very nice woman emailed my office last week, and was interested in auditioning me to be her architect after seeing my Houzz Profile. I had created that series of images and words at the behest of my publisher before my last book. That contact was nothing new, but the process of connection was nothing like it was 30 years ago.

Every mechanism of client contact has changed, starting with HOUZZ – that now states “HOUZZ is the new way to design homes.” To me, HOUZZ is 4,000,000 images and limited enlightenment. I now have 134 “followers” and 33 “reviews” on HOUZZ, – all seemingly positive, and I do put pics there occasionally. I have not updated the written content (my office is 25 years old, and holding) and I created 4 “Ideabooks” at their behest – which I liked, but were a dead end for the site: which wanted more captioning than commentary, an act of authorship that took time in getting the deep background about the projects.

I have gotten no work from the few calls I have gotten from investing about 40 hours of staff time and 20 hours of my writing time. A lot of curiosity, but no work for this architect.

In contrast, I had over 700 calls over 15 years and had perhaps 40 projects result from one 1994 article in the New York Times.

That print exposure resulted in letters and phone calls, which resulted in me taking a slide projector to each and every home, with a show tweaked for each potential client. Back then, there were no websites to direct people to, no email to send links to articles to. Instead, I spent about $20,000 in printing and staff time a year to create full color PR packets – one for new homes and one for additions – not a home-brew “brag book”, but articles on my work, mostly written by others – 3rd party validation.

15 years ago I created a website on a Homestead platform. It is the dumbest of sites that I refuse to transition to a Flash-based movement/fade/sound/video nightmare that crashes potential clients’ IPhones and expectations. We update every month or so, costing about $1,000 a year in time. Many (but never architects) gush “I LOVE your website”! To be user friendly is better than to be beautiful, it seems. The most obvious change since cyber land invaded my efforts at client contact has been the mode of communication; now most email, some call, but we receive almost no letters (although one was in the mailbox last week, and I met them last weekend.)

I also entered, and enter, a few competitions each year to few good ends.

Although I have never paid for advertising or pay-for-play/vanity publishing, I do offer my services up for charity auctions and put ads in charity event programs. We also email blast articles/writings/awards to lists of stakeholders (perhaps 700) via Constant Contact once or twice a month – with a 40% “open” rate and few “opt outs”.

Whatever we have done it has worked – in about 30 years we’ve had over 900 clients who have built over 700 things. I have never laid an employee off, missed a payroll or a mortgage payment – I, personally, have no money, but hey, its 2014 and I am an architect. Our office has between 40 and 60 projects in some stage of reality at any given time, and we do build about 70% of what we start.

The big change that has been wrought by the “new” media is not the number of new jobs – that seems constant despite the rollercoasters of boom/bust – but in the fact that by pre-screening us people know what I do before they reach out. One 1990’s slide show victim was so uncomfortable looking at what I do on the slide projector that she leapt at the chance to have me stop, and leave.

Just like 30 years ago I still personally visit everyone interested in any work of any size. I never charge, but if visits require travel costs those get covered. The net-net is we get about one contract for every 3 visits – versus the pre-website era where we signed about 1 in 5 potential clients to do the work.

Now, however, 20 plus national shelter magazines have dwindled to a few, a book or two a year trickles out of a few publishers, and so I now have the most fun creating a blog solicited by the local newspaper, that has had over 64,000 visits in 4 years with zero advertising. No work has ever been generated by it, but people say they like it, and Karma may just accrue to branding.

At the behest of a literary friend of friend of mine I created a Facebook site, early, when mostly celebs and media freaks were on it, and now I post writings and projects there every day. I have over 1,500 “friends” about half of whom I have never met. Similarly my publisher wanted me to do a Wikipedia page that hasn’t been updated in 3 years, and I have no idea what it does.

My publisher said “you should be tweeting” so I do: photos and articles and links everyday ( – I have over 600 “followers” without paying a service to gin up the numbers (apparently quite a business). There seems to be a few people finding my blog thru it, but otherwise its reality is inscrutable to me.

More important than all the social media efforts I actually do what I believe in: meaning I am on 7 not-for-profit boards, contribute work, either fully or partially to about 1/4 of the projects in the office that are for not-for-profits, give copious amounts of free advice with zero expectation of getting work. This extends to radio where I cohost a show and being the architecture critic for the local paper.

Of course, writing 7 books and having a long resume of honorific factoids helps but all of this PR effort, all of it, is meaningless without 3 essential realities:

1) We do work that is, objectively, interesting and competent – shallow trendiness or safety-in-pandering or design-for-the-camera is not in my genome.

2) We partner with clients and create a personal relationship that survives all the ups and downs that occur in life and building – our open-ended, client-based design process takes longer, but it creates a deep trust in the value of my work.

3) Despite all the media I employ, it is a guileless, transparent effort without an agenda. It’s an open book practice, where I talk frankly about our focus, process, failures, as well as strengths.

So tomorrow I show my work to those people who saw images on HOUZZ, not with pictures or articles but in person, up-close-and-personal, visiting four sites, at their request. That personal touch is only possible because those four clients whose homes we are visiting experienced the follow thru that should follow every successful public-focused act of self-promotion.

Because it’s not how you present the work, or the rush of getting the work that matters, it’s how you actually do the work, and the value of what gets built to those who build it. If the product fits the site, meets the budget, loves the clients, and does not leak: you will get more work. If it does not, you will not have new work based on what was built – no matter what the hype.

That’s because of the dirty little unspoken buzzkill of the architectural hype industry – that, despite HOUZZ and the New York Times, 90% of the contracts we sign have come from some level of personal referral, not PR and self-promotion – new school or old school.

The article happens to have the benefit of being true. But the best part of the piece is its introduction:

“A great article written by the first Architect I worked with. I still remember my first task…building a stick model of a staircase.

Damien Busillo October 28, 2014

I grew up in Madison, Connecticut. A small, rural beach town along the coast of central Connecticut. While attending Architecture School in Savannah, I would always return home during the summers to get a jump start on the Intern Architect requirements. My first taste of this industry was working for Duo Dickinson, architect, in 1999. His insight, knowledge, love of work, and leave-your-ego at the door approach to being an Architect has stayed with me to this day.”


September 30, 2018


I have come to believe that those broken, I think, are like Linda Ronstadt’s great belted out “Heart Like A Wheel” – “when you bend it, you can’t mend it”. High functioning has suited my purposes pretty well these 63 years, but the gist is a misfit where others have a perspective that I just cannot.

Like innumerable Boomers, I had a “Mad Men” family. It crushed several in it. No one was undamaged, even unto death. I may be the lone simulation of registering with a day-to-day world, but I know that getting things done is not feeling completion, let alone happiness.

I think we are in a national exposition of brokenness. Two Very High Functioning (on the back end cusp) Boomers have their bent wheels on live television for hours for everyone to see. Both plead victimization, – one by the other, the other by the system he trusted to buy into and simulate wholeness.

So it was The Week of The Hearings, was followed by the Week of Day of The Hearing which will now have the week before the FBI finding: all centered around broken lives and wrecked moments. It gets a bit overwhelming in the focus. I long for a simple recognition that the pain is there, it is permanent on one level, and we, I at least, am incapable of making life happy-clappy, but I, at least, go on.

Despite having been fairly crushed by the high-functioning yet angry and acting-out alcoholism of our father, I have moved on, another child made a very circumscribed life that minimized risk, and the other, well, took her own life after years of failures at happiness.

I only “get” the impossibility of unbending the wheel of my childhood when I can fully take in the overwhelming humanity that is, finally, all I am and all of us are. No achievements make that possible, even having the Grace of our own children (which my siblings could not risk). No grade, drunken revel, sexual ecstasy, or haircut can undo the basis of everything I do: where I have been. Just like the two broken folk that are starring in the reality TV show we see before us.

But I can be a human, as such a failing human, because all humans fail. Some badly, others wrecking others in their failure, but the flooding commonality of failure can be a way to get it to a place we can deal with. Listening to some, it is only extreme, abiding punishment of the benders that is sufficient to convey the impact of the bad acts that were imposed on others.

I am sorry, but I cannot do that.

Like Jimmy Carter who said this week that he prayed for Donald Trump, I know I am no better than anyone else.

So involving no one but me I pray this passage below every week in some fashion, the prayer I said as soon as I could say anything, probably in 1959 and did for the next decade until I thought I could grade and football and college myself to get to a place that simply was far enough away from the bent wheel that I was OK. Only I could only go anywhere riding on that bent wheel.

Others’ errors had bent it. I did nothing. My siblings’ wheels were bent too: and the benders of these wheels had deformed wheels themselves. I am guessing we are all, all of us, wobbled by bent wheels – just some more than others. That is why these words, as read in 1959, still crush me now, as they did then. Because I cannot control much. I cannot make the life I simulate. But these words, 500 years old or so, were written and said and crushed an infinite number of those who heard and said them too.

They were, we are, in this together.

Fixing is not an option, but understanding is possible.

I do not presume to judge, but grokking these words can make the victim see the wheel bender better, and those whose wheel is bent unto full dysfunction can see the Grace that is not a ledger sheet of proportional punishment. I wish I could be righteously angry at those who damaged us 50, 60 years ago, but I just cannot.

I cannot understand them, ever. But I can understand this about me:

“ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.”