Some Fun Was Had

So I passed my seventh, and final, architecture exam.

It’s been a couple of weeks now since I got the news. I stopped at Trader Joe’s at lunch that day and bought a bunch of champagne and frozen pizzas, and had people over that night and the celebration hasn’t slowed down since.

It was a long haul. Not just ten months of expensive, miserable exam hazing, but also four years of interning before that, which followed three and a half years of architecture school. I did a couple of stretches of that on crutches; I did a lot of that through the crippling recession; I did a lot of that wondering what the hell I was thinking. Eight years, y’all- sleepless nights and decades of student debt and a less-than-ideal path through the early stages of this career. I have an uneasy alliance with the business side of architecture, anyway, and that’s a lot of sacrifices for an uneasy alliance.  I’m still not sure what I want out of this whole field, but I’m very, very grateful to have a unique job in the industry, working with very nice people, which gives me a lot of options.

I was 16 hours from completing my required 5,600 hours of interning a few weeks ago when the National Council of Architecture Review Boards sent out a notice to the whole world, stating that they felt like they’d been making the path to licensure too arduous for interns. Woo! they typed. Good news! We’re going to drop 1,800 hours out of the requirement for the next group. And downshift to 6 exams instead of 7. I cried at my desk when I read that, and then I finished the last of my 5,600 hours, and took the last of my exams. NCARB now just wants 400 more dollars to transfer my intern credits to my state licensing board.

This is the first cork I popped the night I passed:

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And I dedicated this F. O. cork to NCARB, and I drank a lot of champagne with my friends.

I’ve been trying to figure this whole year out, and I haven’t done it yet. I should have seen it coming back in January, when my favorite girls all got together in Durham to talk about our life lists and hopes and dreams and goals for the year. I cried because I had a lot of things I wanted to do, but I knew I had to start my exams. I said I’d do it, and a January tornado came out of nowhere, in the middle of our discussion, and we all ended up huddled in a bathtub ducking and covering. I’ve been slaying dragons ever since.

To hit the highlights, it wasn’t just the exams. I took the first one with a four-inch surgery scar on my shoulder, and it hurt. Before exam 2 my car died, and died for good. Tow truck #1.  I failed exam 3 and it derailed me, as I am not a person who generally fails things, but I learned. I grew. I cried some more.  Fletch bolted from me and attacked another dog, and it was traumatic but fortunately nobody was hurt. Trainer #2. Just before exam 4, my borrowed car died, and almost caught on fire, twice in weekend. $400. Tow trucks #2 and #3. Fletch bit my goddaughter,  which was a whole new level of trauma, but fortunately it was no worse. Trainer #3. Police record for the dog and ten days of quarantine, the week before exam 5. Hot water heater died the day before exam 5, $400. The HVAC died two weeks later, the day before exam 6, $4100. Borrowed car was declared unsafe to drive the week before exam 6. Tow truck #4, engine mounts and bushings and a whole bunch of other things I don’t understand, $1500. By exam 7, I was totally numb, but just for fun I gashed a tire this week in an incident of terrible driving, so the day after Trainer #4 came, I got tow truck #5, and because I have an all-wheel drive, 4 new tires at once, $750.  It seemed to spin out of control in those last few weeks of testing, like the closer I got to being free, the more flaming balls of fire were being lobbed at me from all directions, faster and faster. All of the expense, and tears, and frustration, and constant stress came at a time when I just needed to buckle down and quietly study so that I could finish my exams and THEN tackle all my problems and repairs and unruly dog issues. Life is not structured like that. You mostly don’t get to choose when your problems will show up, and make sure you have tidily cleared the decks of any other chores or unpleasantness so you can solve your issues cheerfully. The deluge comes when it comes. I’ll be patching up the damage from this year for a long time, but mostly it was just “things” that fell apart, and that’s okay. Expensive, nonetheless.

Right now, though, it’s four days until Christmas,  everything is running smoothly for the moment, and Dawg is asleep on the couch while I type in front of the Christmas tree. It’s cold and rainy outside but warm in my house, and there is nothing left to study. There is nothing that has to be wrapped, baked, or shipped; absolutely nothing which must be accomplished, other than a stack of Christmas movies which are not going to watch themselves. It’s only my second weekend of freedom, after a year of struggling under the weight of seven difficult exams, and the giddy feeling of being done is not even close to dissipating. There has been much carousing and cheers-ing and celebrating, and it’s not over yet, but for now, I’m enjoying the quietude, this Saturday before Christmas.

And I’m thinking about 2015, and all of the things I can do with an extra 15 or 20 hours a week, and damn, there are some fun things going on that list. 2014 came with a long list of disasters, and it’s left some scars, but it wasn’t all bad.

In January, there was an accidental bathtub party,

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and in February, I took myself on a writer’s retreat and started a novel.

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In March, I watched a lot of basketball and went to camp at Wild Yonder.

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In April, I took a train to Merlefest, and Merle Haggard sang Lonesome Fugitive.

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In May, I saw my secret boyfriend at the 9:30 Club.

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In June, Julia and I raced a car in Kirby Derby. We weren’t fast- we were, in fact, barely moving- but we had more fun than anyone else out there.

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In July, I went to a music festival in the middle of nowhere, and it was flawless.

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In August, there was a big wedding in Detroit, and this ferris wheel made of baseballs.

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In September, there was Hopscotch, and the IBMA, and Raleigh was bumpin’.

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In October, I made it to the State Fair, and even though it was only a couple of hours, it felt like fall for a few minutes there.

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In November, I took a surprise trip to watch my buddies run races, and we checked out some monuments, and I pretended to study.

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And then I finished, finished exams for real, and in December, there was peace, love, and joy.

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For the first time in a long time, I am breathing easy, and making plans, and taking time to sit still and remember all of the things which make me happy, and feeling grateful for all of the people who are still speaking to me after a year in which I have not been my best self for one single minute.  I am feeling, for real, like there are easier days ahead. I feel lighter. I feel free.

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Fletch joins me in wishing each of you fine people your Merriest, Most Serene Christmas yet. I am not actually sure that Fletch has not eaten Santa Claus, because as I may have mentioned his adolescence has been challenging, but for now let’s just assume a sleigh filled with good things is headed our way.

Peace to all, and cheers to 2015.

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