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Death Is Having A Good Season

June 12, 2018

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I gave a eulogy yesterday.

A great man lived over 90 years. He created a full and great family with an equally loving, smart and compelling woman, combining two large, fully loving families across the Midwest, Canada and history.

The funeral was a fulfiment – the 91 years of devotion and care had been layered upon layered to the point where every participant in the ceremony was both extolling and fully accurate to perhaps 400 well dressed people in Buffalo New York.

But the context extended beyond Buffalo. The media has been awash in those others we all “knew” in the 2 dimensional world with shocked reporting of those who had ‘everything” ending everything.

But they clearly did not have “everything”

No one does.

My beloved friend came pretty close. Despite polio and being ripped from Home and Hearth to run from Hitler, his 91 years was all consuming engagement, interaction and achievement.

Not just the 2 dimensional kind. He had the love of children and grandchildren, 6 siblings, and his wife and her scores of relatives. He made things, did things and loved many, who loved him too. Including me.

He also, quietly, loved God. He knew he lived in a context that was not 2 dimensional, and a good bit more than the 3 dimensional realities of our lives. That reality is now easy to dismiss as self-deceiving fantasy. You are loved, accepted and live beyond this time and place. If it was deception, it was incomplete.

Having done so much, he desperately did not want to die. He loved, deeply, the here and now. He went to wherever he was going last month holding the hand of his wife, his here and now for over 60 years. No joyous expectation of the Great Beyond, just the sad reality that what he loved, and who loved him, were leaving him over a 6 month decline in the comfort of home.

No tragedy, much to be grateful for, faith in a God who loved him too, but what was in him, all of us, is sadness. Loss. Ending.

In the midst of all the joys of money, achievement and yes, fame, there were others who found ending that love preferable to doing the very thing my friend wanted; to move the world he made forward,

But our cells degrade, no matter what we do. And other cells need to survive and sometimes kill us to live – cancers, virii, bacteria are as deadly as cars, guns, water even red scarves.

Life is a switch.

You are “On” or, well, “Off’. Or maybe it is a channel changer. We do not know. So most of us try to stay alive, liking this place. We eat less, sweat more. We avoid risk. We have doctors.

But some of us do drugs, booze, sex, gaming, binging to create a here and now of distraction – the switch does not exist if you create your own channel changer.

The ultimate remote control for your 2 dimensional life is suicide. It is there for all of us, all the time. Some end physical pain. Some end confusion. But ultimately our channel gets changed whether we want it to or not.

In that decision we weigh the values and rewards and pains and threats of our 3 dimensional lives, no matter what is there in 2 dimensions.

But for me there is clearly, undeniably, more than 3 dimensions. The reality of God is like the air I know will be there with each unavoidable breath. That reality was made present to me while I was so young that I do not have the desire to change channels. This is the channel that was given to me. It was created for me, and you.

But if you know that you made all the dimensions there are, you can change the channel, even if it is using the ‘Off” switch.

If that “Off’ switch is used, it simply cannot control all the channels if there is more than 3 dimensions. Love is not ended by any of us because it was not made by us – and it is shared, bound between more than you, more than any dimensions.

Love is clearly a dimension I do not understand. I know how deeply flawed I am, but I know I am loved. And I cannot control it. It ends up controlling me. A bit disconcerting.

That loss of controlling the essential can make those who live in 2 or 3 dimension want to get to a place they understand, and control.

The “Off” switch ends power, it does not reveal or confirm it. The power we have is not ours. The power of love has no “Off” switch, because God exists whether we are in our 3 dimensions or not, let alone the 2 dimensions we obsess over.

That love, or the loss of it here and now, causes deep pain and fear. The impossibility of controlling it, or really much else, compels some to confirm a power they never had,

Or they know these 3 dimensions are here and now, and part of that are those cells that fail us. All of us.

I will miss my friend of 50 years in ways I do not know yet, but will feel every day. Love saved my sad life 50 years ago, in many ways a gift of my friend. I wish I had some joy in knowing of some huge next channel or future, but I do not. But I have love. So do you.

When This Life Leaves

June 6, 2018

 

 

 


We all die.

Yet we say things like “life saving”, and “passing” and move heaven and earth to prolong the oldest and evilest among us. Life is The Basis for all this, the words here, wearing a Kate Spade bag or watching a football game.

Even though it is universal, the sense of our own inevitable end triggers terror, dumbfounded befuddlement and the deepest of sadness.

For a pet. For a royal. For a parent. Whether it is Kate Spade hanging herself despite extreme success and a family and health – or Dwight Clark who spent a decade slowly losing his fully athletic life – we all die. And pass judgment on the dying. Because we lose all alternatives once the focus of our thoughts is at room temperature.

I speak at a funeral of someone I deeply venerated on Monday. My fully mysterious sibling died last year. As I know more and more people, more and more of them die. But now all deaths who were on any media are available to us. The drunk driving victim. The child with cancer. The assinated presidential candidate from 50 years ago.

Death and taxes may be a known reality in every life, but I have not kept up with every year’s taxes and sometimes find out that I overpaid and underpaid. I kinda have a part in their transaction.

Now I work out every day, take 4 pills, do not smoke. Irregularly drink – and only take those 4 pills.

But I may die in a minute.

So when I talk at the funeral for the man who had a long and thoughtful end of a long and graceful life I say, “thank you”. But when my sibling ends his life after 15 years of absence I simply say “I am sorry.” Because there is no more conversation. They have changed only to memory.

Each death becomes a parable. A judgment. A self serving measure. Each death tries to answer the importance and consequence of our own lives.

But I can not, ever, understand my parents. They died decades ago, fully shrouded in their rationalizations of miscalculation, rejection of the simple love of of their children, one’s immersion in a terrible childhood and alcohol – all so complicated that I cannot make myself a victim – let alone turn them into villains.

My friends still spend time mourning Princess Diana, or blaming her, or her husband’s family. We seem to need to learn from the inexplicable. An impossibility.

I do not know why my friend’s 91 year old cells degraded to the point where the engine of his body was unsustainable. I do not know why some of Dwight Clark’s cells made for a cascade of growing incapacity. I do not know why some cells in Kate Spade’s brain thought to make a noose out of a red scarf.

And all those boys on the beach 73 years ago, today,

They all died.

Because we all die.

But we do not want to, despite the outcomes.

News

June 5, 2018

Recent Work

 Getting Done in Westchester

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.

                                                                                                             

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Insanity

June 1, 2018

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We all have them. Nightmares. I had 6 or 7 in a row an hour ago.

Awake at 2, then “asleep” for a couple more hours…

During which I met with Donald Trump, who was smaller, nicer, and who tolerated a contentious call I had with someone. His young son came into the room and he and I had fun, Donald looking on. He had a slight German accent, more the more informally the conversation went. As I had to go, I left, and he said “I knew I liked you when I heard how you handled that call.”

As I left, I wanted to call David Brooks, who would be interested to know that what I had seen agreed with his latest article, including the accent. I left, and was completely lost, again.

The scene changed. I was at a reception in a hotel or airport, eating some desserts, on China, which I held after I left…and had no where to put them as I walked the streets. Of New York. Or Cornell. Maybe Europe.

I spilled those plates as I was told  “Just put them in any restaurant”

I walked into into a room, I was taking my architecture licensing exam. This part for HVAC/insulation. I had not studied. It was brutal. They described the method of computation on each question, but I could not follow it. Two hours went by. I was failing completely.

I was then, almost instantly, at my parents garage at 79 Oliphant Avenue. I was figuring the building out as it was an uphill garage opening, and a lower level walk out, just like the client’s garage I was working on the day before…it was vexing, inscrutable, somehow I just could not get it.

The world between these worlds was blackened, with some sound, but not understood. I was always in flight, failing, with no understanding, alone. The damage done at 79 Oliphant Avenue lives on, in my nightmares, really because I have few, if any other dreams.

I kinda get that this unrelenting terror, blinding episodes of failure, incapacity, illogic, dark imagery, were all part of my broken growing up.

Something was, indeed, broken in the 1960’s and never got fixed. Probably cannot get fixed. But that break comes out every night – despite the next 50 years, which are mostly of love and getting things done. I remember having no other types of dreams.

Grace saved the waking hours, but not those when I am asleep. Which is real?

Freud desperately concluded that both cocaine and dreams were the key to understanding some deep, intimate, intricate reality within each of us. That desire to feel bliss and understand the maddening incapacity to register all but the obvious to the insanity of the inexplicable in our lives is, for many, why therapy, binge watching, dope, bourbon, sex and politics are so potently part of so many lives.

I do not understand why we have to sleep at all, let alone why we dream. If dreaming is the reprocessing of the damaged parts of my brain, never resolving, but continuously reliving those intense inadequacies, is even further down the rat hole of the inexplicable.

Most of those insane interludes I do not remember, but the evidence of a drenched pillow is sometimes there to remind me that part of me is in perpetual turmoil. In the daylight I can get much done, love well and be loved – know God and be in a world I can embrace as benign – with no anger or victimization: I feel the guilt of the underachieving and ungrateful, but I work against that, hard.

But the world of dark dangers persists.

It was a long day before these particular night freaks occurred a few hours ago, I had eaten well of rich foods, so exhaustion with a belly full of delicious animal fats may have caused the psycho-physical Petri Dish for this mental ick to grow in…but I wish it was not part of my life. But not enough to play it safe with commitments or cuisine.

So I am left with a metronome of nightly insanity. So real it causes panic, fear, terror. But never joy, or even relief.

Maybe that is heaven.

It’s Just…

May 26, 2018

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Harvey Weinstein is a freak, made caricature – and was frog-marched onto commemorative pillows yesterday.

I am 62 years old. About his age. I am no beauty, I am loud and am too fond of the quick joke and have unintentionally offended any number of people in that pursuit. But I have no understanding of the pathologies of the “Me Too” victimizers. Maybe because I had a sad Mad Men childhood it never occurs to me I have power beyond surviving.

But I was also adolescent and collegiate in the belly of the Sexual Revolution.

In 1975 I was with about 60 other new Resident Advisers training at Cornell. It was the ’70’s, I was 20 years old. Cornell had perhaps the most aggressive Women’s Liberation Movement polemic manifest in its faculty anywhere: so the wave of gender politics being front and center in my undergrad years was both natural and supported. It’s training of the first responders to the needs of in loco parentis was fully integrated into a progressive outlook of sexual liberation.

We newbie RA’s were instructed that sexual activity was not to have any gender assumptions applied to it, that the factual right to have orgasms was not male, it was human. To that end, there was a session where we were walked through the mechanics of sexual parity, of the clear signs of rape and sexual abuse, but also the de-prude-ing of sexual gratification – that sex, that was once a male-defined servicing of masculine biological need, should be viewed as a natural act between any adults (gender, number, specific acts all openly expressed and fully embraced).

Needless to say, after almost a decade since the Summer of Love, the experimentation and exultation of sensual expression was in full flower in 1975. It was pre-AIDS, and our intrepid group was being trained to be the best helpers on the ground to the other young students – including the fact that it was a time that asserted that gender roles were simply wrong, especially in sex.

Amid the full and frank presentation preparing us to have a value-neutral embrace of any and all modes of sexual expression we would encounter as Resident Advisers, there was a pause, and we were asked asked “Any Questions?”

Not being shy, I raised my hand: “Thanks for all the information, but where does love enter in these relationships?”

Silence.

“Well, that’s not really the point. This is not about love it’s about sex. We are talking about sexual equality, not love.”

Silence.

So I dropped the emotional side of physical contact between hormone flooded young bodies, assisted by booze and drugs, and now popular culture, engaging in a  a rip tide of sex not seen before or since. The 1970’s were the Golden Age of Sexual Expression. Casual sex was everywhere, all the time. Where I was an RA it was simply not important who was sexually active with who, either.

But in my role as the lowest level mental health professional, I never had any of the social issues of gender roles come up per my training, but had an unending number of deep romantically infused crises, fully charged with unfettered sexual expression – including one suicide attempt I interceded in.

It was not only the “traditional” lovers in the freak outs that were part of my daily dealing with peers. There were many who were unhappy, dissed, or just depressed when offered sexual sharing was rejected: I know because I sometimes did the rejecting. Sometimes.

There was, and is, a simple truth in the Revolution that liberated the limitations of the sexual animals we are, just as in “Brave New World”, and that the physical feelers are more important than the meaning of any emotions towards anyone else. Of course in a positive sexual sharing it engages both feeling and felt, hopefully completely indistinguishable – but just like my Resident Adviser trainer at Cornell, we all tend to miss the greater meaning of any act beyond it’s mechanical feasibility. It’s just easier.

The vile imposition of anyone upon another, violently using power, damaging in its impact of many levels is indefensible. But the damage is worse in sexual abuse because love, or the lack of love, or perhaps more accurately, the reverse of love, takes a very bad situation and makes it evil.

I do not cheat on my wife of 37 years because I am a Christian, I just cannot do that. I could not cheat on a girlfriend in the Garden of Carnal Delights of the ’70’s either. For me there was no moral component in eschewing multiple partners, it just was too weird and complicated to even be an option.

“It’s just sex.” I am sure Harvey Weinstein said that to any number of women he victimized. The phrase may be the single biggest lie I have ever had to deal with in my life – even if in those 2 years as an RA sex was revealed to have a power and baggage no philosophy or Canon can overcome.

We now see that despite all efforts to sterilize sex from love, it is a futile effort at control. Sex will never be a recreation devoid of collateral impact. We connect to each other, and, absent  knowing that each of us are made in the image of God, sex can mean devastating abuse. The truth of our essential humanity means that sex means more than pornography.

I am at a loss to see how it could have ever been seen as anything else, but then again I never did drugs either.

 

 

Bonfire of the Memory

May 19, 2018

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Tom Wolfe had the name of an 18th century author and the absurd affect of a dandy.

But his presence, and now death, are catalysts of memory.

The Wolfe Era is most often a chuckling embarrassment of shoulder pads, suspenders, outsized eyeglasses, cocaine and Merit cigarettes. Boomers were in budding bloom and New York City seemed to be their Happy Place. Design had opened up beyond white abstraction, women were in ascending power, and it seemed that the fax machine, Sony Walkman and 8 Show VCR recordings off cable TV promised a new wave of technology.
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Kids were sometime later. AIDS was not raging yet. We were happily deluded in wine and cigars, MBA’s, and Nouvelle Cuisine.

Into that came the Dandy, fully 25 years older than me, spewing venom on the mid-century “Whites” (yes, males, but actually their buildings, too). The snark was dripping from his book about architecture “From Bauhaus to Our House”
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It was sassy FU to an entrenched elite that had had a strangle hold on everything architectural since World War 2. But it was as brief and deep as a 1978 one night stand or a coke high.

Just like my generation rejected the counterculture and hippie revolutions of fighting the Vietnam War and not shaving, many saw the hip righteousness of Wolfe’s bitchy send up of the comical architectural fashion mobs that are always there. These mockable posers were just this century’s mass pandering behind defendable images and words. He created a new alternative: those architects who saw and used the intended irony of history, humor and human idiosyncrasy to make some interesting buildings. And many bad ones.

But the glib basis of rejection was unsustainable.

The emperor may have no clothes, but unless you have a suit that fits, he is still naked when outed. PoMo’s clothing was as arch and costume deep as Wolfe’s suit. But the humor, history and humanity were joyous to embrace in making things.

It meant imitation of correct Modernism was simply an excuse because there were huge new (and yet ancient) areas of aesthetic manipulation that made for richness, fit and subtleties few abstractions can realize.

But polished bright brass was not a precious metal. Al Sharpton stretching out his cheeks and jogging sweats in bloviation was a cartoon character amid deep and disturbing cultural warps of centuries’ generation. Wolfe’s Post Modernism was a one liner of mockery to a real problem of deep absence from popular culture that mid-century Modernist Canon desperately sought to reject.

Well, people like Vincent Scully, Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Charlie Moore had the Ivy chops, intellectual depth and writing skills to call out the absurdities of pretension in a bloated hierarchy of the defendable in fine arts architecture. Modernism was pretty easy to draw compared to its predecessors, and its aesthetic was also easy to apply and no existing anything around it needed any attention.

If everything is abstraction, and history is dead, and we are called, in fact morally required, to reinvent the human condition, it meant that architects were key to our future, the culture’s ultimate progress. Wolfe cat-called that affect, but revealed more in stilted silliness than offering thoughtful alternatives.

So the brief, loud veneers of a couple of decades of Not Modern was soon crib killed by its own cliches and shallow mimicry. That baby of invigorating design of the Post Modern Burp was short lived when it was thrown out with the bath water of delighted irreverence marked by Wolfe in his book.

But Wolfe’s death is now largely cast in remembrance of his book “The Bonfire of the Vanities”. It perfectly captured the pivot between the “Captains of the Universe” where “Greed (and those shoulder pads and suspenders) is good” and the grimey brittleness of the Greatest Generation’s world coming to an end.

The ironies of the era are not lost on me. I lived them. In fact, I and my intimates lived “Bonfire” a decade before it happened in print. The moment was made clearer and more absurd by Wolfe’s novel 10 years later.

It was 1975, Christmas break. I was briefly home from college with my parents in the suburbs of New York. The love of my middle college years joined us. She, 20, was a perfect young lady – congressman’s daughter, a College Scholar at Cornell with me, with a fully formed and loving family of a century or two of upstate New York provenance, and pretty as a button. My parents loved her, and wanted to fete her, with me, with their friends, who, having gone to Princeton, had access to the Club on 44th Street (43rd?).

After the meal, at the classic, Modern dining hall, we toddled to our family 1968 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser Station Wagon and ascended up the highway through the Bronx for the 30 minute ride to Dobbs Ferry. All good. My father had behaved in the presence of my visitor, and we would soon be in each other’s young arms.

Then the car stopped Cruising.

The pleasant Ivy Midtown Buzz was instantly replaced with the fears of an alternative universe that was crashing into our 65mph portal.

The lack of power meant my father quickly exited off the elevated highway. He rolled, powerlessly down the ramp to a lit gas station at about 10pm. The station sat at the bottom of the off ramp, and it was in the 180’s of Bronx Streets in 1975. For my parents, it might as well have been the the battlefields of Cambodia, filled with Khmer Rouge.

The Hispanic owner was of the gas station could not have been more welcoming. He immediately got on the phone as the four of us, insanely Caucasian, huddled in the early winter chill.

A cab was called and he promised to “fix the car.” (It seemed there were blown rings and roached cylinders.)
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The cab came, whisked us away to the suburbs, and within a week my parents had a “new” (from somewhere) engine in our car – for the absurdly low cost of $400 – cash. Reality was both polite and effective, versus the grinding fear of the unknown.

In our Bonfire there was no explosion of cultures, values, egos, and drama. There were humans who were vulnerable, those who were honest, help was given, gratitude and cash was exchanged. It was, in reality, no Bonfire.

It was before AIDS, the S&L Crisis, even Law & Order.

It was life. No snark despite the complexities and ignorance of everyone involved, my relationship ended, the car finally died, as did my parents. As did Tom Wolfe. But my life has had a 43 year continuance, so far.

HOME ALIVE

May 13, 2018

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PODCAST! https://soundcloud.com/wpkn895/home-page-radio-home-alive LISTEN

Homes are a given. The endless stream of places to live on the American landscape are now a cultural expectation, and have become a symbol of entitlement to some. The average size of US homes has been on a march from 1,000 square feet to well over double that while the rest of the world does not have the solo home astride it’s own lot as an iconic value.

Some architects and critics understand the interesting place that homes have in architecture and America, and where architecture can be in the a new media world. HOME PAGE has two of the best and brightest in describing where homes are in culture and where they may be going. Things are changing in the next generational embrace of how humans inhabit, and these young minds are at the edge of our perception and evolution of homes in America.

Kate Wagner is the creator of the viral blog McMansionHell, which roasts the world’s ugliest houses from top to bottom, all while teaching about architecture and design. Since its launch in July 2016, the blog has been featured in a wide range of publications, including the Huffington Post, Slate, Business Insider and Paper Magazine. Outside of McMansion Hell, Kate is a guest contributor for Curbed, 99 Percent Invisible, Architectural Digest, and The Atlantic. She is currently a graduate student in Acoustics as part of a joint program between Johns Hopkins University and Peabody Conservatory, where her focus is in architectural acoustics during late modernism.

Architect Stephen Chung is based in Boston and has taught at Cornell, Syracuse, the Rhode Island School of Design, the University of Texas at Austin and Yale University. Stephen received his architecture degree from Harvard. But Stephen Chung is also the Executive Producer and Host of a television show for public television called Cool Spaces: The Best of New Architecture. In the show, Stephen leads viewers on a tour of the world’s newest and most provocative architecture. http://www.coolspaces.tv Stephen has appeared as on-air talent for many design programs on HGTV, Travel Channel, Fine Living Network and the Showtime Network. He also hosted a series of videos about architecture for the American Institute of Architects and hosted the live TV Broadcast of the National AIA Convention called “Architect Live” for many years.

Two remarkable voices in how the home is perceived and is changing..HOME PAGE will look ahead to where we are going…