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65

August 21, 2020

Remember when every major highway used to have a 70 MPH speed limit? Then Jimmy Carter saved gasoline by ratcheting it down to 55. Then, well, gas prices eased and the speed limit went back up. But not all the way back up (except in far way rural America) to 65 MPH.

Did we drive any differently because different numbers were on signs?

I turned 65 years old a few hours ago. I had 60% more mass than I am now twelve tears ago, was 40% less a decade ago than I am now, but remain defendably obese by wrecking myself 6.75 days a week on my exercise equipment.

Do I act differently at different masses?

Numbers always change, humans not-so-much. No matter who runs for president, if two run, both get the votes of over 40% of those voting. 20% of Americans smoke cigarrettes, even though they cost a great deal, and factually kill you. We, the fat, remain mostly fat no matter what numbers are on the scale.

Whether humans react to numbers, numbers change humans. My siblings never had the numbers on their transcript my father, No. 2 at Boys High in Brooklyn’s class of 1928, expected. He judged them, they reacted, he left me alone. Actually alone. Their numbers hurt them, and changed me.

When she was pregnant in her mid ’30’s my wife received different delivery care because of “maternal age”. I know people who intentionally do not address how old they are.

Perhaps 100,000 people died of our present plaque because their age changed their bodies enough to allow COVID to kill them, rather than destroy a few weeks of millions of others.

And people celebrate birthdays, when they achieved nothing more than being alive for them. I feel no joy, but I am happy that others are happy. My numbers somehow let them see me for a moment. The one human good of Social Media is that those participating connect when a day happens.

Today, like everyday I finish the cranking on my exercise bike, go to work, have dinner. But our family is together, for the last time for a few years as one of us, for the opportunities life affords us, goes away. Being tigether automatically achieves a celebration – that is enough for me.

The Season Of…What?

August 19, 2020

There are fewer people flying than at any time since 1965.

Is this a symbol or a metaphor? Probably yes. Everyone is not doing what they have done and is doing what that haven’t done. Until this season, that is stretching into half a year, with no end in sight.

A friend’s parking garages in New York are at 10% capacity. Businesses have ended. Apartments have been abandoned.

There is no honor in this. And it means our lives are changed (duh). But there are no alternatives for my daily habits since I do not binge watch and I already worked out every day. We could not have a vacation because a state said we might infect their residents, so the daily do is unrelenting.

But I could work.

There is nothing different, special, or even interesting in what this last 5 months wrought, but its reality needs to be remembered, because, someday, things will snap back to something that is not this sequestration time, but not the 63 years of my life before that.

In the last 5 months I have painted a bathroom, 2 doors and 3 windows. Refinished a countertop, 2 desks and a floor. Moved 7,000 pounds of river jacks into a dozen locations. Repaired 2 eaves. Reset a mailbox. Repaired and repainted 3 damaged walls. Recreated a magnetic catch for a large door. Used my plumbing snake, twice, for the first time in 20 years.

We would have gone to church 25 times, we could go twice.

We have eaten at the dining room table over 120 times, where it would have been 10 (at most) in a normal season. Had perhaps 40 fires in the fireplace. Played music on our normally dormant HiFi in the months we were eating at that dining room table. We even paid someone to reupholster a sofa. 

This is in addition to all the domestic stuff I would have done any other year as well.

I worked an extra day a week, making it 7. (Well I was not in the office 5 days in these 5 months that I was not able to make it in to do the tasks listed above). I am on my eighth gas tank in those 5 months. 30 actual masked meetings replaced about 140. I was virtually the only person in my office for 2 months. Since this season began, we have 6 new homes to design and 9 other new projects to do, along with the 45 other active projects in the office (no cancellations).

Since we were allow to have 5 people gather, 2 meters separated, this June we have had over a dozen 2-on-2 Distanced Dinners outside on our porch – half were with couples that had had a meal outside of their home.

This means nothing, yet. Everything above is not sacrifice, it is coping. Coping is its own reward. Coping is not heroic either. Those who go beyond coping, sitting in the siren screaming emergency vehicles or shrouded in stuff to keep disease out of themselves to cure us, are heroes.

There are always heroes, just now mystery and fear overwhelm the reasons for their sacrifice. Finding God in all of this is harder. He never left, I have just been otherwise occupied.

Not Good.

A Machine By Any Other Name

August 13, 2020

The old and the athletic have always known that their bodies were subject to failure. In this plague, we all know it now.

I will be 65 in 10 days, and work out, as I am now, 6.75 days a week, including a 6 month excruciating bout with tendonitis. I lost 1/3 of myself over a decade ago, and although some has returned, I have always been “Husky”, dealing with a faulty machine. And a few years ago the middle layer of a blood vessel, compromised since its formation, failed. I was in the hospital for 100 hours.

My body has been distinct from my apprehension of it. I live in a machine. Le Corbusier once said “A home is a machine for living.” So I guess I design machines every day. But these are very low level machines. Our cars, even our cell phones are machines – created to execute actions. But even the most complex at what we make for ourselves is literally simplistic compared to what we are.

Consider this: what machine operates like every living thing we encounter every day?

These machines, us, find our fuel and process and use and expel the waste.

Our breakdowns are almost always self-repairing.

Our malfunctioning causes internal modifications.

We reproduce ourselves, no one makes us.

We can end each other’s operation, intentionally.

Can any the machines we make do these things?

Now another infinite number of these machines, so tiny that they cannot be seen by we bigger ones, are in the passive hunt to extend their lives by having us provide their fuel. Their operation sometimes ends ours.

If you tried to do anything with the machine that your mind controls, you know its limits, but you also know malfunctions, breakdowns, even termination. Athletes see perfectly tuned engines simply break. Old folk like me see incapacities simply happen, with no reason except use.

The unfathomable complexity of self-creating, self-sustaining, self-repairing machines that completely infest almost every place on this planet must give us pause now that one of those machines want to break our own. The fear we have for that breakdown is mortally imperative to us. Why?

I think it is because the value of life, of living, our being is fully transcendent of any other reality, because what made us is fully, completely inexplicable. In high school, Earth Science taught us the trillions of years of cosmic evolution made the universe and our little part of it made us, starting with a lightning bolt striking cosmic goo in some lagoon, and cells we created.

Really?

As my doctor friends often say, we do not know Why our bodies are What they are, no matter how much we discover How they work. If we knew how they were designed/made/created we could do it too. But we cannot, because although we may know How many things work we have zero idea about Why we are, or the methods of our extreme complexities.

With every discovery, every pandemic, every new way to see into the machine we are, the more we know how much we do not know. There is no Reason for the unnecessary, fully interwoven complexities in full bloom around us, beyond our existence. Whether God is there for each of us, or not, excuses none of our ignorance, and it does not comfort me, as the explanation is that I am incapable of understanding.

But I am capable of Faith, just not in the machine.

The Opposite of Entitlement

August 9, 2020

I get it. I am a white, male, private-schooled, Christian, footballing, Ivy League Boomer. Demographically, culturally and factually this social group is the source of institutional racism/sexism/homophobia, governmental hegemony, economic inequality, #MeToo, and thus insufferable entitlement.

Then why do I feel outed every time I fail?

I should feel cheated when things do not go as I hoped, let alone planned. But I just feel that I got what I deserved. The universe found out that I am deeply, fully, flawed and Fairness/Justice/God simply acknowledged that. I have been discovered, overcoming the flailing efforts at achieving entitlement. But I never achieve it.

I am owed nothing.

This year I come to the end of a 25 year ritual. My wife and I justified “going on vacation” to give our children a ritual of “Off Time” amid the Extreme Performance Scheduling of parents of my generation. We had to buy that legacy because we had none ourselves.

Although we are fully sitting with the Group of Extreme White Privilege these last three score years, we had no functioning families in our lives. Other than the one we made. We both came from families that combine full dysfunction with extreme judgment. Our parents had real senses of their own failure, and con-committed consumption of addiction-level amounts of alcohol (with no sense of any error in it communicated in the generation we shared). The combination rendered all their children into sad isolation, even, eventually, suicide.

One grandmother was often quoted as saying “Live in Hope: Die in Despair.” One parent toasted at our Wedding Rehearsal Dinner “To Absent Friends: May We All Get What We Deserve.” Life was about cheating the inevitable misery that is inevitable. But misery is, indeed, inevitable.

So when the 25 year Ritual of our creation, Vacation, could not happen this COVID Year because we lived in the wrong county, versus another 2 miles away, and could not sequester and test in time (no one told us) we cancelled because we would not lie to the State of Vermont that we were not exposed to 400 or more COVID cases in said county.

Were we angry? No, not really. I felt found out. Inadequacy will out, despite effort.

I always knew that I never earned those vacation days away from duty. But I grew to deeply enjoy those we came to know there, and did come to view Vacation as just another achievement. But I never achieved the Grace of recognition where it matters, in the reality of my own perception. I was, and always had been, unworthy of pretty much every good thing.

The Original Sin that caused this broken outlook? I and my wife were born to those who felt the same way, and without any questioning, that judgment was inveighed upon their issue, fully inflamed by Demon Rum (or in my father’s case “Vat 69” Scotch. But both my wife and I grew to see that this was a fully insane verdict. Too late to change the default of incapacity that was taught to us, so we dedicated ourselves to ending it in our generation.

I think we succeeded in our children, but cognitive understanding does not translate to emotional reality to us. In a couple of weeks I will be 65. By any definition “old”, even to the U.S. Government. But part of me is now, and will be, forever, 5.

Boo Hoo. Poor privileged, self-imbued jackass. There is no breast-beating here. I am not victimized, I am just what God made me. I can stop the tradition of failing expectations by simply understanding who I am, and that I am loved despite it. That does not change who I am. But understanding helps.

In the places we prove ourselves in youth, the performance places we devote to, in order to transcend personal perceptions, like Music, grades, athletics, any organization, give forum to the flawed.

So finding a home in grades, I lived them in grammar school. There was no love back, but I loved them, in a place where there was little love. Then football. The entire reality of football is love. Those doing it abjure extreme pain to be with the others fully embracing the same extreme pain. That love is played out in thousands of teams and groups at every level, this very season.

My learned friends shake their heads when young athletes risk infection to be together in a Plague Time. But they do. The athletes know the full power of love, and are willing to risk disease and accept responsibility to not risk the rest of us to play sports. At every level.

It makes no sense. It’s just a game. Why risk your health, the health of others? Because love is worth the risk.

I am guessing many in these places know what it is to be broken, and are devoted to be in the place of wholeness that sports is – any organized life that devoted to each other. And when you are young and willing to anything to deal with the limits and deficits of youth, you do what makes no sense to the sensible.

Circumstances ended the Ritual of Vacation after 25 years of buy in. So I worked last week. It was only right.

It was all I could do.

Memory

August 7, 2020

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“We are going to The Octagon House!” my mother chirped.

I was 4 years old, I think. If so, it was the summer of 1959. My father was a lawyer, in the general practice of the mid-century that allowed him to do trusts and estates, public offerings, even a few criminal representations. But that general practice allowed him to represent the author Carl Carmer, too. And the Carmer’s invited the Dickinson’s to dinner, all of us.

So children 15, 10 and 4 we sat, beltless, of course, in the back of our new, used 1957 Fleetwood Cadillac, and we drove the ten minutes from our house in Dobbs Ferry to the Carmer house in Irvington. To a 4 year old the encounter was quizzical: this home was a dome, a monument, a singularity. It was rough around the edges, over-painted white with some grey bits, and visible patching and repairs.

We jumped out of the car and ran into the open home, which, like all the others around us, was un-airconditioned in a sticky summer. That may be the extent of my memory. But a friend who serves on a board with me was there, too. She (a few years older) remembers that night too, as her family also knew ours, and lived locally – in fact I might guess that may be why my father was Carl Carmer’s lawyer.

But the evening, that stopped for my memory, is there for my friend. “Your mother was a bit nuts – she would say whatever came out.” Her memory was also that the kids, herself included, were a little nuts too. And that the booze flowed. “Every adult was fully drunk by the night’s end.” She remembered.

And my father drove home. Three asleep in the back seat I’d guess, the triangular pivoting windows open to to ventilate the Kent smoke thru the night air.

Today would have been my mother’s 106th birthday. She died over 20 years ago, and with her died the 1,000 other nights that I never knew, despite my presence. We in the wake of chaos, survived amid unknown damage. Fifteen years becomes a short time in these older years, but it was the time all of those adults at the dinner had after the end of World War 2, a level of devastation now illuminated by the palest of its reference to the Covid19 plague, where control has also been lost.

But these fragments of memory were triggered yesterday by the picture at the top of this piece, on Instagram and Facebook. I saw, perhaps 25 years ago exquisite pictures in a preservation magazine of the Octagon House fully restored in its shimmering glory now seen on the internet.

Architecture is a touchstone for the rest of life. Events are birthed and harbored with our environment as context. So the shape in print, now cybered, fully colorized, rose to electrify the bits of memory that survived so much time and alcohol. The chaos of children in full rampage as their parents drank themselves into a state of rationalized incapacity is all that remains in me.

But on January 1, 1960 Carl Carmer published a book, intended for “young adults” celebrating Henry Hudson (I think). The timing, I think, was perfect for that dinner to trigger a dedication of that book –  to “The Intrepid Explorers, Susie, Win and Duo Dickinson”. He saw us briefly in 1959 thru the haze of booze and smoke, but we are immortalized by his printed words.

I wish I knew what it meant.

 

Smack In The Middle Of “Ordinary Time”, With You.

August 6, 2020

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Humans make things. If not, as an architect, I would be out of a job.

We made the calendar. And mashed potatoes. And religion. I love mashed potatoes, and the Episcopal Church. And we all have the calendar others have made for us. The making of a calendar for the Episcopal Church means that we are now in “Ordinary Time” that half year of non-events. In the calendar, Christ was born 4 months from now, He was murdered 4 months ago, and this eight months of not-much is dubbed by that calendar “Ordinary Time”.

But this is not an “Ordinary Time”.

For the first time in a hundred years of wars, racism, pollution, technological explosion and governmental revolution humans are fraught with a plague that we had no part in creating, and, seemingly, limited ability to cope with.

Once in five generations is not “Ordinary”.

And here in Connecticut we had what was a hurricane, but no more, when it passed by in 6 hours – where it did more damage than the last full blown hurricane did that hit us a decade ago. Not “Ordinary” indeed.

We are not “Ordinary” either. In the hundreds of billions of years here, no other species has made so much out of what they had no hand in making. We are the Kings Of Our Own Glory, and we are idiots, so ignorant of our fragility that we are shocked, shocked, when things just don’t go the way we had planned. When it is not “Ordinary.”

Well, this week of no electricity, no hugs, no air conditioning became an event in “Ordinary Time” for those os us who added the insult of a non-hurricane hurricane to the mocking of our hopes since the advent of “Ordinary Time” this year. We have no power, indeed.

God has made us know what we always sorta knew: that we are not in charge, no matter how much we take charge of what God has left for us to do. Not a good realization for a megalomaniacal architect.

What we do not want to know is that life itself is the “Ordinary Time” made for us. We did not make it, let alone we ourselves. No matter how outraged we are at the things we make, a presidency, racism, climate change, bad mashed potatoes (which do outrage me) – we can only be legitimately angered by what we have done to ourselves.

I did not choose to be born, none of us did. My white, male, Ivy privilege was given to me. As was the cruelty of a family where children were brutalized by a parent’s alcoholism and another’s assist in that that brutality (it turns out to the point of suicide.) I did not ask for those things either. We do not control what we have been given.

No, we did not make Covid19, and no mattter how well we cope, or do not cope, may be a subject of anger and hate, but the disease, the non-hurricane, the beauty of the birds, even the gifts of God that I use every day to make things, are not made by us.

What we find intolerable is that it is “Ordinary” to be powerless beyond our own reach. I wish I knew what to do beyond work. It is the seminal gift God gave us – applied action. It is all that I have, and all that I have ever had. And even that was a gift, I did not earn it, either.

We may lose the Events we pin our work to, but working simply to be able to work is what we are left with.

It has to be enough. It is all we have.

Fair & Balanced

August 5, 2020

“Life is not fair.” Said Jimmy Carter about 40 years ago.

At 95 he must feel the second half of his life has validated that comment. At least this year.

Unlike his there is a presidency filled with radical hatred. From all to all. A plague. A murder, on videotape, over 9 minutes, by those taught, licensed and paid to stop murders. Now a semi-hurricane – wind only – cripples some places. At least ours.

But that’s OK, we were home because the plague cancelled our one-week-a-year-vacation. It is the time when we realize that “On the one hand…” does not have the other half of its couplet, “On the other hand…”

We have one side, and it is, for most, the wrong side. There is no “Fair & Balanced” there is only what is. No veneer of control. No entitlements fulfilled. Only righteousness in the inevitability of the imposed truth.

Whatever that truth is, we do not know it, despite our fear and anger.

Time to rake the storm’s harvest off my driveway: the leaves grown in full hope of energizing a tree, then falling on their sword at season’s turn. This season has only one turn: not what you expected.

No Vacation For The Wicked

July 27, 2020

I will not ride a bicycle this year. Or swim. Or canoe, kayak or read a book. Or eat a stick of bacon.

COVID19 Kills. And reveals and wrecks entitlements.

5 days before we were to leave for my annual One Week Off, we found out, through internet clicking (not through anything anyone sent to us) that COVID19 Rules extended to us, the mask-wearing, social distancing, priviledged elderly.

The State of Vermont declared that anyone entering the state from any other state’s county that has had more than 400 new cases in the previous week must have sequestered for two weeks or a single week with a negative COVID test directly prior to the visit. We checked with our beloved (and extremely expensive) Annual Sanatorium, and, well, yes. The sworn certificate testifying to our compliance was to be filled out “under penalty of perjury” was a requirement to hand over to our Shangdi La upon check in before we spent all that money. Well, the rest of it, after we had already sent a large deposit in November.

We live in New Haven County. It had new 519 cases last week. Two miles from our home, just across the Hammonassett River, the neighboring county has under 400 cases, and we could drive gleefully north. No matter that Connecticut declared “Construction” (including “Design”) “Essential” – accurately enough that I have not gone to the office for a total of 4 days out of the last 140. 3 of them so I that I could do the COVID Chores that have filled these months. We have no cancellations of work we had as architects and many new things to do of all types – pro bono Good Works and Full Homes and tiny projects. And I met a dozen payrolls, and payroll taxes. And paid our bills. I applied for no loans, but did receive some printed dollars, invented by congress, and a return of $57 from my auto insurance.

So living in my office, 95% of the time alone, going to construction meetings in masks, 2 meters apart, plus endless Zoom calls, and receiving and sending drawings to and from 6 full time employees in over 200 emails a day, plus scores of remotely sent printings – with everyone working from home – until a few, for some days, in the last two weeks – has proven that even a week’s sequester could not have happened, no matter when we found out about it. I had two monthly gas fill ups and once a week since then. We followed the rules.

So rather than lie, we do not have a vacation for the first time in 25 years.

We started this with 3 and 5 year old children – going “for them” – me with some plague I think may have been walking pneumonia, and found Bliss. We did any number of work-arounds to get those 7 days off, even working through 3 office faxes a day while there in the first decade, dozens of emails all the day long after that.

But I ate three meals a day (versus 1.25 normally) worked out 3 Times a day, often for over 6 hours, so that my BMI remained in the “Low Obese Range”. I would buy 4 or 6 books and read several chapters in a few of them. I would simply not be in the office. I could ride a bike, swim, kayak, canoe, just sit in the sun.

When our sons left we continued on as a couple (they demurred return). And it had become the Ritual neither my wife and I had growing up in truly sad families. A reality that meant the random weeks off, several times in my first 40 years seemed like ubdeserved islands of obtainment, not part of our lives.

I know thus means the next 365 days will be different following a “No Vacation Year” – 15 years ago, after enormous prep in a very tough time creating drawings for a large, important, project, I had set up a hard schedule hand-in-glove with two employees. A first, highly prepped, all important deadline simply went unaddressed in my absence, no communication. When the the weekending employees returned on the Monday that kicked off my vacation week, I fired the employee (who despite a decade working for me had missed other deadlines after oathing, well in advance, that all was understood), and nearly fired his manager. So I took over, remotely. Vacation over.

But I lost the week to being virtually in my office from my computer while at the place that was once a retreat, that now now been invaded.

Over the next year I realized that I was essentially worn out sooner, longer and with less humor, until the Next Week Off.

I know, “Boo Hoo, poor white priviledged jackass” – true that. The tiny violins are playing. After an hour of learning that there would be no vacation I began setting up a schedule for next week that had been defered, and at 64 I know that this one week will be remembered for the comically selfish reasons of those who are not sick, make enough money to pay the bills and have a family.

No, I deserve none of it, either way. I earned none of the health, or really even the money we have, let alone finding a place that “fit”. I, and you, were given these things, because we are alive to have them. Life is given to us by things we cannot explain, so when it is threated, millions of the best and the brightest are struggling to understand one tiny virus, in order to prevent it from infecting us. For half a year. With no solution, just an accute understanding that we only know what we know.

I will be more exhausted in these next months, but who cares?

Not COVID19.
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HOME: Winners & Losers of COVID19

July 22, 2020

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LIVE! THURSDAY, JULY 23, NOON! 89.5FM http://www.wpkn STREAMING

Its a long, hot, COVID19 summer: we are basting in our reactions and, mostly, in our homes: Let Us Share Them!

Radio Legend Bruce Barber, AIA President George McGoldrick, Former Mayor of Trumbull, Tim Herbst, and Arts Doyen & Journalist Lucy Gellman vet WINNERS & LOSERS in our weird season: Some proffered awardees:

WINNERS OF COVID

The table: we are no sitting at them, joined, but also socially distanced by the,

The window: they fully connect us to the world that we now appreciate

The thermostat: so much time doing little physical activity, we know know where it is too hot, or too cold

The Front Porch: The elevation and the railings make “distancing” social and friendly, but safe.

The Grill: Restaurants are still scary, even when you are outside, but outside cooking is just plain fun.

The “Extra” space: The walk in closet becomes your ZOOM cal studio, your guest room becomes your office, your basement becomes a retreat.

Cook Books: Who knew?

Zillow: All the joy of vicarious home porn viewing, with none of the guilt facilitated by by Sequestration

LOSERS OF COVID

The Sink: All the day’s consumption has the byproduct of dirty dishes to deal with.

The Home Gym: It is all to often more guilt than motivator

The Coffee Table: The collector of all those projects you start, or think about, but never do, but never get rid of, either.

The Home TV: After 4 months you may become allergic to Binge Watching.

The Bed. A trap and Harbor for the COVID Night Terrors (and the terror of anticipating the Night Terrors)

The Great Room. Home Schooling, Zoom Calling, Multimealing pollute the flowing space as it it was New York Harbor in 1976

Zillow: Everyone Lives In A Better Place Than You.

The Sweet Smugness of Judgment

July 16, 2020

My home growing up never even had wall AC units, let alone central air conditioning. My mother was barely 100 pounds and sweat like a Teamster, I am more than twice her mass and still effervesce with one son who has Near Beer Levels of Body Fat.

When we built our home, we eschewed air conditioning to the point have having casement windows – so no humming metal boxes hanging off our home, either. And we saved enough money to actually build our home before we were 30. And Global Warming.

No, we did not deserve it. But my wife and I knew that our in utero offspring did, so we bought a “Pinquino” roll around AC unit for my wife’s pregnancies, and used it until it died in a few years next to our bed.

But otherwise, we went cold turkey into Global Warming. So we have a 100 amp electrical service. And lots of fans.

But more, the “Walk The Talk” hubris of living a truly Green energy profile, one that does not throw money (which is carbon, BTW) at photovoltaics, thermal wells, or Bamboo flooring. We Just Said No to optional energy use. And live in shorts.

Now, the ironies of circumstance that made cheapness a virtue, now make moral superiority life saving.

All experts predicted that the light and heat in the this half of the globe’s summer would dampen the impact of the Covid19 Virus, unlike when we were cooped up in our heated homes, exchanging our local atmospheres and spreading infection while staying warm.

I had felt a twinge about 5 years ago when a European heat wave meant that millions of those living in ancient homes, who were also ancient, who simply never thought to have AC in a temperate European Climate, were fully endangered, thousands to the point of death by the raging heat. That was a little, well, disturbing as we are a half generation away from hot weather morbidity.

But now, now, that we universally are constricted and righteously convicted of our ethical and intellectually superiority in distancing, sanitizing, masking and, well, our superiority, have found out that those cooped up in 72 degrees while the world’s at 95 are as selfishly callow as those not wearing a mask in a meadow.

The South Shall Rise Again as a Covid19 Hotspot, while we sweating mid century Comfort Deniers smugly open our windows to the burn. And make our atmosphere less likely to kill us.

I love the smell of Superiority in the Morning, it smells like Sweat.