Gone Fishin’

I’m on vacation, y’all.

Not vacation from work. I’ll be at my desk 40 hours a week, pretty much the whole summer, and straight through till Christmas, and that’s fine. I don’t need a vacation from work.  I’m on vacation from studying, thinking about studying, complaining about studying, and sacrificing fun for studying.  I am vacation from sitting long hours indoors, eating food standing up at my kitchen counter so that I can get back to sitting down and staring at engineering texts, making flash cards, grinding my teeth, and neglecting chores. I am on vacations from the words HVAC, mechanical systems, plumbing, acoustics, lighting, sprinkler risers, and electrical transformers. I am glad all of those things exist, and that someone knows how to use them. I will never ever ever be thinking of any of those things again.

Unless I have to re-take the awful exam I took Thursday in six months. I studied for 90 hours, and I was as ready as I could possibly get myself, and it was a wretched experience. Thirty hours more or thirty hours less of studying would not have changed anything. Said wretched experience was made worse by the fact that Fletch had doggie digestion issues the night before my exam. We were up a dozen times in the yard between 10 p.m. and 5:45 a.m. Two thirds of those times he was just frolicking in the yard. On one colorful outing, I was still dazed from being woken out of a sound sleep, and he bolted for a roaming cat across the street. I stopped him, but it was an unpleasant full-body experience, and I towed him back to a quieter corner of the yard and let out some unladylike and unwholesome language.

“Katherine?” I heard from the porch next door, where my bartender neighbor had just gotten off work.  “What…are you DOING?

I did not have a good answer for that.

He’s fine now. We put ourselves back together after the exam and the sleepless night, but it took tequila, a four hour nap, and a good cry. And the next day I got my hair done for the first time in three months, and drank some more tequila over in Durham with my friends, and we went to see Chatham County Line over at Carolina Theater, and that was mighty fine. The next morning Julia and I got up and pulled a Thelma and Louise, and we went to DC for 18 hours to see the Old 97s.

I’d bought the Old 97’s tickets months ago, the day I scheduled this last exam, because I knew it would be wretched, and I knew it would take being shaken apart and put back together by raucous mischievous alt country rock and roll to start feeling better. Their latest album is perhaps the worst behaved album I’ve heard in a decade. And so I love it. Right now I have a punk attitude, and although I am not personally behaving all that badly in the big picture, it sort of makes me feel better to think that others are. Even if it’s a little bit made up. Julia is one of the few people in my world who shares my deep wellspring of love for the Old 97’s. She gets it. So we went.

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And so did these two. I can’t say Fletch was, like, easygoing about his first big city trip, as he finds everything SO EXCITING, but he got the hang of it. They had a fantastic time. The city dogs wore them out at the dog park, and then Julia and I went to dinner at hipster central, then hit the 9:30 Club.

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Wanna feel just a tiny bit cooler than you really are? Have tickets for a sold out show at the 9:30 Club. It’s pretty badass in there. It’s my new favorite. I want to re-do the Lincoln Theater now so it’s the 9:30 Club. It could totally be the 9:30 Club.

And then, you know, Old 97’s.

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See the backdrop? The flaming cactus that was lit to look like the end of the world all through the night? And there were guitar pinwheels and stage jumps and honky tonk songs and he did that falling-back thing he does when he really MEANS what he’s singing. Which he always does- they all do. They leave it all on the stage, every single time, and that’s worth a trip to DC any time.

It was over way too fast.

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We took the back roads home today and found some oddities. There was a “variety mart” behind this chainsaw art display. I looked at the serial-killer signs and the disturbing carved vultures taunting a giant wooden bear and told Julia that yes, I had traveled solo around the world, and am not scared of all that much, and I was still unwilling to get any farther away from the car than required to take this photo. I was definitely not calling the number on the handwritten sign on the roof to let the proprietor know we were there so he could come up from the basement and greet us. Other than that, it was just road snacks and girl talk and farm towns and a complete absence of studying.

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So, this photo here is what we’re doing now, and what we’ll be doing for the next month. Fletch told me he’s on board with the vacation plan. When we’re not at work, we’ll be on the porch drinking fizzy water with frozen strawberries I picked from my front yard, and I might learn a song or two on the guitar, and tidy up the house and do some reading. I’m trying to finish The Goldfinch, and I love it, but I’m too darn worried about that kid to get very far. I’m switching to beach reads for the summer. We’ll do a lot of dog park time, and I might try to get back to my Zombies, Run! app and pick up where I left off before this last test derailed me. I plan to accomplish very little in June, other than an increase in music attendance and leisurely walks to work and maybe a little attention to finally staking the tomato plants in the garden.

The National Council of Architecture Review Boards can send me all the testing score reports they want to, but they can’t make me look at them. Hell, I have to take three more exams before October and I can’t see how it makes a difference whether I passed or failed this last one until I’d have to start studying for the re-take in November, anyway. Doesn’t change anything for the next, oh, five months, and it’s not going to ruin my lovely test-free, study-free, boring-and-tedious-arcane-textbook-free June. People are placing bets on how long it will take me to cave in and check my scores. I’m thinking that long about September I might take a peek. Until then, I’ll crank up the music, open the windows, stretch out on the couch with Dawg, and read some fashion magazines before I hit the books again in July.

May your June be likewise pleasantly raucous, and restful, and full of exactly what you need.

 

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Lie on the Earth

So I, like, really needed a vacation.

And I got one. A short one, but that’s plenty, if it’s the right short one.

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I feel beaten up by this late-winter-into-early-spring, and it’s nobody’s fault but mine. I don’t have to be taking architecture exams. I put them aside for a few weeks, because now my goal is not to finish in five months, or even, particularly, to finish. My goal is to finish and not be a crazy person. That means changing my plan. I’m at peace with that.

I went to Merlefest a day early, a day before any of my friends could come, because…well, originally there were all sorts of logistical reasons involving work travel and borrowed cars, but then in the end, I just wanted to. I made it up to North Wilkesboro a full twenty-four hours before any music started.  I got out of the car and was literally and warmly embraced by the veterans who run the campground where we go every year. I wrangled the Taj MaTent into submission, and it was comical in a stiff breeze on a bluff, as it is not as small tent, the Taj. And then I curled up in a camp chair, had Cheez-Its for dinner, and read a book I’d been trying to pick up for weeks. See if that line about the whales and the monks doesn’t make you swoon.

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And it got dark and cold, but the campground was full of both veterans and early Merlefest campers, and I had solar twinkly lights on the tent, and suddenly it was morning. There were pancakes. There were long drives out in the country. There was some poking around North Wilkesboro, which is adorable and friendly. I bought a pound cake off the counter of the DMV. And then I climbed up into the bus, and the veterans drove me to Merlefest. And, by sheer force of preparation and to-do lists and determination, by the time I got there, I was already relaxed. It was a Type A Merlefest Miracle.

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I should mention here that the first Merlefest Miracle was that my friend Joy won VIP tickets, and she totally deserved that. And then she couldn’t go- and gave them to me. I gave the second one to Julia, who’d confessed to not having purchased a ticket yet. BOOM. Like that. VIPs. “You should know that I am going to use my VIP wristband to throw myself at a musician,” Julia texted me.  “I’m going to use mine to climb onstage and kiss Merle Haggard on the face and beg him to sing me Lonesome Fugitive,” I told her. And then I amended my statement to tell her that, in fact, I called dibs on a particular musician, kind of a great one who does one of the biggest Merlefest sets every year, who looks like he stepped off the cover of a seventies album, and I mean that in the best possible way.  “He’s yours,” said Julia. “And you get all the rest,” I told her. (We didn’t actually have backstage passes. Universe knew better than that, I suppose.)

We kid. Half the fun of Merlefest is lying in fields under sun hats listening to music and catching up with each other, the four of us who go every year, and creating backstories for the people onstage. “That one spends Sundays out on his Momma’s farm, and you know he’s the kind that would bring you daisies,” Julia would say. “His favorite dessert is cobbler.” “Then I will roast him a chicken,” I’d announce. “That man deserves a roasted chicken.” It’s a fun game. That, and trying to stage a surreptitious photo with the Kilted Juggler guy who always stands next to the most crowded stages and does devil sticks or weird yo-yo things on strings to attract attention.

It went by so, so fast. Four days of spring sunshine and friends, and music all day and campfires at night. You get up and have breakfast made by the veterans’ wives, and head on over to the festival and drink a lot of coffee with whipped cream on top, because it’s vacation. You set your chairs up and all your extra layers of clothing in front of the big Watson Stage, and spend some time lying on the grass in front of the Americana stage, and then wander up to the Hillside and see who’s up there, or over to Creekside and catch a smaller show. You head inside for the workshops, where somebody will teach you about blues guitar, or maybe for a sit-down set with someone like Peter Rowan, who has the best hair of the festival and is just plain likeable in every respect. He made us chant along with a Tibetan singer, and wow, that was pretty fun. Sometimes there’s an act you want to see after dark, when the temperature takes a sudden nose dive from sun hat weather to three-four layers weather, and you huddle up and watch, or maybe there’s something fun in the dance tent. Mostly, though, we clear out just after dinner time, since we’ve already been there eight or ten hours and there are s’mores and bourbon and gingers and guitars back at the campfire.

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We made a bunch of new friends, and we talked for days like we haven’t been able to since last year, and we’re still not quite caught up but we’re closer. We heard a lot of bands I love, and did a little Tennessee two-step, and then we collapsed in a heap on the grass by the dance tent. We were fifteen minutes from catching the bus when I looked up at the bench a few feet away from us, next to the dance tent, just off the path coming down from the Hillside Stage. A lanky, devastatingly handsome, affable-looking rock star was sauntering down the down the hill, where he sat for a few minutes on the bench taking in the music from the dance tent and enjoying the sunshine. Just after the most popular set at Merlefest. It was….Seventies Album Cover Man. I didn’t get backstage access, but then the Universe walked him down the hill and sat him down on a bench next to us anyway.

I briefly collapsed from sheer happiness and delight.

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And in the end, Julia and I used the VIP passes to get up close to Merle Haggard, where he did sing me Lonesome Fugitive, and then out of left field I cried, like a lot, when he did Pancho and Lefty, because if anything unravels me out of left field for no apparent reason, it’s going to be old-school honky tonk, and suddenly I feel like a small child again in the back seat of the car with Dad driving, and we’re all wailing, “ALL THE FEDERALES SAY, they could have had him any day. They only let him slip away, out of kindness I suppose,” and that feels pretty great. And bittersweet. And great.

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It’s been a high maintenance stretch. I’ve been trying to “Embrace Vulnerability” while “Acting As If,” and “Being Kind to my Future Self” and “Letting Go of Perfectionism” while recovering from my first round of architecture exams, and also working on “Do Not Play It Cool” and whatever new mantra the Universe throws at me this week until I Get It. I haven’t been doing it all gracefully. It’s fine.

It’s more fine, now. There’s no other time of the year when I spend that many days that firmly planted on the earth. I sleep on the earth, I sit on the earth, I listen to music and drink coffees with whipped cream and talk to my friends on the earth, I lie on the earth next to festival stages and feel the sunshine and breeze and music wash over me. Everything that feels tense and toxic seeps down and away, and I stand up, and it’s gone. Everything I need to repair the cracks and gather my strength and recharge filters in, through the soles of my feet and every other inch of me.

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And it feels good. Good enough to get me through to next year.

 

 

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Wild Yonder

I just got back from camp. Oh, what a difference a day makes.

So my friend Meredith, and her two friends Heather and Kaitlyn, were talking awhile back about summer camp, and how great it was, and how someone should start one for adults. And, because they are the kind of people who make things happen, they did.

This, friends, is not just any camp. It’s not “glamping,” but it’s totally a camp with all the really good stuff you can get your hands on. Like, I stepped on the Bridge Bus, which made its first stop in Raleigh, and Kaitlyn introduced me around and I had a beer in my hand before I made it to my seat. A Cack-a-lacky from Fullsteam. “Hm,” I said. “This is better than the camp I remember.”

It was a good long ride out to camp, and we stopped and picked up people in Durham and Carrboro, and then we drove on to a farm out in Pittsboro. On the way, there was the traditional Assigning of the Nicknames. We had to go around and answer a series of questions, and the nickname was determined by consensus. The questions were, “What’s the oddest job you’ve ever had?” (Sears Tower Skydeck). “What’s your hidden talent?” (Honky Tonk.) “What’s the last vacation you took?” (Driving Route 66.) “What’s the worst trouble you’ve ever been in?” (I got pulled five times last year.) “What survival experience made you feel like a badass?” (Camping solo in a Maine Nor’Easter.)  I got done answering my questions and someone yelled out, “Miss Awesome!” and that made me feel like I fit in just fine at camp, although they circled around Honky Tonk and then landed on Nor’Easter. Which is a pretty great nickname.  Another guy got to the last question and said, and he was not even making it up, “Well, I was on the rescue team that helped bring the Apollo space mission home,” and the crowd got really quiet, and someone said, “Dude. You WON that question.”  So his name was Badass Apollo for the day.

Let’s see, after we arrived there was a nature walk.

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It was on edible landscaping, and most of the stuff you can eat is really good for you.  Violets are heart healers; elderberry is antiviral; you can make pesto out of chickweed (which is great because it’s all over my yard); rosemary is good for memory; and you can make a relaxing tea from lemon balm.

I learned some things. And then we went inside and drank more beer while we did arts and crafts. This is fun, Sean from Fullsteam is an Eagle Scout. He wore his Boy Scout shirt and brought his plaque. And his derby cars. That is the Real Deal.

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Arts and crafts was campfire sticks for later. Yeah. I put glitter on mine.

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Then there was a  pretty fascinating session down in the kitchen, where we learned to make salves/balms/lotions from natural things, and seriously, you never smelled anything so good. That is, until you walked outside after that and they were making popcorn over the fire.

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You could stand around eating popcorn with compound butter while you learned how to make infusions out of Covington vodka. And then we make cocktails. I TOLD YOU grown up camp is great.

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There was a little free time, and then we made hobo packets for dinner. That’s Meredith, tending the fire. There was sausage from Rose’s Meat Market, with sauces made by the guys from Pie Pushers and Mateo.

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Our campfire sticks looked pretty sweet, all in a row.

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And night fell, and the mist rose.

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And, yeah. That’s Django Haskins leading the campfire songs. I’ve been to some good campfire singalongs before, but when he opened with “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard” I knew we were in for something special. And it was.

ImageI could go on: the homemade marshmallows and graham crackers and Videri chocolate for s’mores, and the sparklers, and how people passed around flasks of the good bourbon while we sang, and the nice things people said around the camp fire, and the frogs off in the distance, and how the crowd was just overall effortlessly amiable and interesting and welcoming. Happy campers, all.

I booked this camp day a few weeks ago, having no idea at the time how badly I’d need a day away from everything. I tend to do this thing were I say, “I should step out of my comfort zone! I’ll totally step out of my comfort zone and try something new!” and then I recruit eight or ten friends to do it with me, and it’s fun, but at no point does anyone have to step more than six inches out of their comfort zones when insulted with a crowd of friends eight or ten deep. I’m making a conscious effort these days not to do that every time. I adore my friends, each and every one of them, and I also know that, as someone who is inherently very very very very shy, at least when I’m out of my comfort zone, I need to show up sometimes under my own steam, without bubble wrap, and spend my new experience meeting new people and learning new things. It worked out great.

And so. Beautiful day in the woods, what with the nature and the fresh air and the good people and the amazing food and soul-stirring music and the arts and crafts and healing herbs and rising mist and all.

I can’t wait to do it again.

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You Can’t Win ‘Em All, Even With A Killer To-Do List

It’s a mixed report here.

There has been studying. There has been testing. There has been basketball. There has been success. There has been failure.

The very worst part of the Architectural Registration Exam process is that it has turned me from (somewhat) normal Katherine, back into Grad School Katherine. Those are two very different people. Most of us have a default stress personality which is a flip-side, alter-ego, evil twin. My evil twin is prone to dangerous to-do lists, excessive scheduling, and powering through. My evil twin is driven and perfectionistic and scares the hell out of me, and it took me at least a couple of years after graduation in 2009 to calm her the hell down. In fact, I got a “Happy Anniversary” from WordPress the other day, for when I signed up to start a blog in early 2011. That, a year and a half after graduation, was an attempt to a) see whether I liked writing enough to do it consistently (I do) and b) hold myself accountable for getting out, exploring joyful and creative and interesting things which were not achievement-oriented, and having some fun again (I did.) I felt sort of normal and human again, pretty quickly after that.

But now I’m testing, and I can tell it’s making me crazy because my to-do list on the computer has gone from the basic weekly tasks, to a three-page word document including a million incremental steps for each task, which is attempting to control every moment of my time for the next month. I made myself stop at a month. That is at least some sign of humanity. I can also tell it’s making me crazy because I was in my office a week before my last test, and my throat suddenly hurt, and then I realized for about ten seconds I was not able to take a deep breath, and realized that although I’ve never had a panic attack, this is 100% how they start. So I stopped thinking about how I was going to fit 6 more exams in before June, and I got a cup of coffee, and I took two days off from studying.

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The Balance is Hiding

I feel a little better today.

Not because of the brutally cold winter rain taking place at the end of a brutally cold North Carolina winter, and not because the exam stress has let up; in fact, it’s gotten much worse, but I’m getting used to it. Getting up an hour early to study at my desk before work starts feels like a reasonable thing to do now, and racing home at 6 to walk the dog and study until bedtime has become more feasible, but only if I have managed to run a week’s worth of errands and make a week’s worth of meals and have a week’s worth of  work outfits ready to go during the weekend. It’s fine. It’s temporary. I hope it’s temporary.

I skimmed back over the last few posts, and wow! Someone is working through some serious architecture anger. It’s not the first time since the crash of the industry a few years back that anyone has expressed any disillusionment. It may not be the last. But the key is, I’m working through it. Fighting the process has only been making it worse, although I daresay embracing a really bad attitude has been enjoyable enough to make it more entertaining. For the record, there was a really fun post in the middle of all that, one which involved a Pie-Off and Secret Celebrity Judges and a huge party, and it was a smashing success for all concerned. About twenty-five people had pie hangovers for three days or so, but we survived to tell the story. And I DID tell the story, and I hit “publish,” and poof! Gone. It disappeared into the ether. Never to return. I was too tired to start again.

After the party, I picked up my books and studied some more. Did I say at one point I wasn’t even going bother talking about these tests? Oh, gentle readers, I hope you weren’t optimistic enough to fall for that. Sorry. It’s happening again.

The first exam was last Friday, and I was feeling very false-confident, fake-it-till-you-make-it about the whole thing. I put on a black leather jacket and confidence-building boots, and I went and got my nails done with the thought that, if I had to sit and type for four hours, at least I could steel myself with some reassuring Girl Armor. I chose the vampiest red they had (actually a color called Wocka Wocka, which was a big point in its favor) and then I had a very nervous lunch and downed a sixteen ounce coffee at Third Place, and went to take the exam.

Prometric Testing is not really concerned about making you feel like a Special Snowflake. In fact, you are made to feel accused and shady the whole time, and other than all of my motor vehicle infractions, I am not used to being particularly shady. It’s not pleasant. They made me take off my black leather jacket, leave it in a locker with my keys, sat me in a chair at the end of a row of people, and we scooted down one-by-one, musical chairs style, closer and closer to doom.  I wanted to turn to the guys on either side of me and say, “What are YOU in for?” but I was afraid that would get me extra monitoring from the testing staff.  When it was my turn, I was fingerprinted four times on a special keypad, security wanded, had to show that I had nothing hidden in my boots or pockets, and was told that I would be videotaped for the duration of the test.

After all of that, the test wasn’t that bad, except as soon as I sat down I got a sniffle and was afraid to ask for a kleenex, so I was just the most annoying person in the room until the break. The mandatory break was excruciating- they make you get up and leave for fifteen minutes, and you get fingerprinted and wanded again and turn your pockets inside out on the way in and out, then you sit back in the row of plastic chairs and stare at the clock until you go back in for the second half.

I finished an hour and a half early, and that included checking all of my answers and verifying every single measurement on the drawing section. I wasn’t sure whether that signaled disaster or success. But I passed.

The first one was probably the Least Pleasant exam of the seven, the most deadly dull and irritating. Partly because it was the first, and starting hard things is, well, a hard thing, but also because it’s all contract documents and liability and construction administration. That, in fact, was most of what I did at my last job. It’s possible that had something to do with my bad attitude about that particular test. The next two exams are probably the Most Interesting, and they deal with actual design issues. The drawing sections are getting more challenging, and there are a lot of ways to fail immediately. After that I have the Scariest, and then the Hardest of the seven, and then the last two are Highly Technical, and Highly Intimidating, and then I’m done. Unless I have re-takes.

Nobody cares about any of that. It is, in fact, all pretty deadly dull, but it will eventually be over and I can return to better things. Fletch would like that. He’s the only person who is less happy about the Architectural Registration Exam than I am. (See? See how I wrote that without cursing? Surely that represents progress?)

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So, I believe I mentioned that I was earmarking the first quarter of this year for preparation and regrouping. I’ll have to say, cruising into March, that it’s been fairly successful.  I’ve eaten a lot of salads, started a novel, done some long-range planning at work, and done some unpleasant paperwork, from exam registration to taxes to paying off my credit card. I’ve been to the dentist, gotten contact lenses which actually allow me to see clearly, and gotten the full-body scan at the dermatologist I’ve been putting off for a year or two.  She removed two offending freckles on the spot and sent me to a plastic surgeon for the other one. I thought that was a bit extreme, until I saw the seriously impressive Frankenstein scar I have now, and I dreaded all of that but it’s checked off the list, too. I spent an hour and a half last weekend wrestling with software to convert iTunes so I could use them on my new phone- and now I have music, and therefore- ZOMBIES, RUN. I’m ready to start again.

In preparation for all my Zombies, Run missions, I’ve been doing a lot of yoga to try and get my knee where it needs to be for some easy running. I’ve been so frazzled and scattered I haven’t been very mindful in class, but just being in a quiet room for 90 minutes once or twice a week has been a big help. Just before the first test I had reached the point of anxiety at which my hair was tingling, which is probably not all that healthy. We were doing Dancer’s Pose, which involves holding your ankle and kicking back as hard as you can and reaching skyward with the other hand, until eventually you tilt forward and see your foot over the top of your head. It’s hard, and most people fall out a lot, because trying to pull your foot up over your head is not always a graceful maneuver.

The teacher was watching us fall out of the pose and get back in, and fall out immediately, and she reminded us that we should be kicking backwards with all our strength, while reaching forward with all of our strength, and that eventually we would even out.

“You’ll find the balance hiding in the tension,” she said.

It’s so easy to lose, and so hard to maintain, and she is so right.

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The Weight of My Not Caring Would Sink A Ship

Studying for my seven architectural registration exams is going great. Thanks for asking.

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Fortunately, nobody I know is foolish enough to be asking, at least not more than once, because I want to think about this as little as humanly possible, pass each stupid exam by a point, move on with my life, and then never think about this again.

Yes. My attitude is poor. I taught school for a decade. I know a poor attitude when I see one. I know a counterproductive attitude when I see one. I won’t even go through the whole thing again, my disillusionment and financial angst at paying $250 to apply to START these tests, or the $210 I’ll have to shell out for the first one, and each of the six more after that. The $10 that almost broke me was the last $10, the fee to access the practice software for the test. You can access it for free if you have a 1980’s era computer, but if you have a modern-day, newfangled 64-bit computer? The testing board is not set up for that.  $10 please. You’ll have to use the cloud. Whatever the hell that means. I no longer care. I cried one single tear of rage, paid the software fee, and started studying.

The first few studying sessions did not go well, in that the angry black cloud over my head prevented any information from getting anywhere near it. The larger problem is that, after a 10 hour workday, arriving home at 6:15, trying to walk the dog, feed us both, and sit down by 7:30 and study, I have very little left in the way of mental or emotional resources. The lowest point so far was a couple of weeks ago when I took my study guides to Lily’s on a Saturday and thought I’d sit in a corner with a beer and a slice of pizza and enjoy some pale winter sunshine and pleasant background noise.  I was so miserable and frustrated and angry that I realized I was in danger of crying in public, and then that I was actually crying in public. It was very localized, and you wouldn’t have known it was happening except for the occasional removal of tears in a super subtle way and the fact that I was hiding behind my hair and staring intently at my book.

And then I felt stupid for feeling this defeated about taking a series of exams which are MY CHOICE, nobody is making me do this, nobody is even ASKING me to do this, and nobody but me will ever care if I DON’T do this. So I’m doing it, but nothing says I have to attempt any measure of grace about the process. After crying into my beer at Lily’s, though, I had a come-to-Jesus meeting with myself and decided I had to Cowboy Up. In fact, I bought a t-shirt. I wear it when I study.

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“The only way out is through,” Julia told me the other day when I was in full-on rant mode.

“Not true,” I told her. “There is a really, really, really easy way out. It does not involve me taking any tests.”

I’m taking them. But not gracefully.

For my first test, the Whose Fault Is It exam, I’ve made it up to “mediocre” on my practice tests, so I think if I took it right now I’d pass, barely. I have a little more time. I’m finding that the most obnoxious part of the test format, so far, isn’t the deadly-dull content about contracts and litigation and spec writing. It’s that it’s so, so poorly written, deliberately obfuscating and with lots of tricky tricky little word puzzles. No educator would be allowed to use an assessment instrument this badly written, and as a former educator, I find it mean. I’M STILL DOING IT. Still without grace. I am at peace with that.

Yesterday, though, I flipped through the hundred-page architectural history review booklet. That, right there, is a test I would love to take. I’d love every minute of preparing for it. I wouldn’t have to prepare, though, because I aced Architectural History and a-plus aced World Architecture, and then I was a TA for both classes, and I loved it all over again. There isn’t an architectural history exam in this series of seven. They don’t even consider it important enough for an exam, they just throw a question or two into each of them to see who went to grad school. And to me, architectural history around the world is the whole point of architecture. It’s why we do what we do. It’s why people build what they build, how they inhabit the public realm, what matters about each culture enough that we carve it into stone, from the dawn of time up until right this minute. The history of architecture is the history of humanity, and that is why I did this.

There were a hundred pages of hand-illustrated buildings in that review booklet, from prehistory up through the most famous examples of modern architecture, and as I flipped through it, I realized at one point or another I had visited well over half of them. The Erectheion. Giza. Sagrada Familia. The Pantheon. Fallingwater. And I got chills thinking about what architecture does, when it is done well.

Ask me about the difference between a performance spec and a prescriptive spec. I can tell you. Ask me where the footings go in relation to the frost line. I can tell you. Ask me what type of insurance each party in a construction contract must carry. I do not care about any of that. But I can tell you.

Or. Ask me what it’s like to walk through Zanzibar’s Stone Town, with the buildings so close you can touch them on either side of you and it feels like a maze, especially if the undersea cable to the mainland is cut and you’re navigating by candlelight. It’s magic, and the hand of every culture that passed through it is visible, and it’s a beautiful urban space. Ask me what it’s like to climb Borobudur at sunrise. It’s terrifying, and the weight of what you feel radiating from it will knock you back a step or two, and then you reach the top and you’ve never experienced anything so peaceful as the sun rising over the valley mist.  Ask me what it feels like to stand inside the Farnsworth House, which makes no sense from the outside. It’s utterly connected to that beautiful little river, which you can’t see from any pictures of the house I’ve ever seen.  Ask me how people behave when they stumble from the narrow walled streets of Siena into the wide public space of Il Campo. They go a little bit wild, which is what happens when you give people procession, compression and expansion. It’s astounding to watch. Ask me what happens at dawn of the winter solstice at dawn inside Newgrange passage tomb outside of Dublin. I can’t tell you that for sure, because you have to win an annual lottery to get in, but on a regular day? You feel like a druid with powers to summon the return of the sun, its warmth, the cycle of new growth, and a return to spring.

Ask me what architecture means, and I could write a book about that.

Think I’ll take a few tests first.

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Yes. You’re All In It.

*peeks head around corner*

Oh! Hello. It’s been awhile. Long enough that I feel awkward, like I bumped into you in the grocery store when I just dashed out to get something embarrassing like toilet paper, and I haven’t washed my hair because it’s Sunday, and I still have half my pajamas on under my sweater. And then I do the nervous-talking thing, because that’s what you do when you run into people and you’re half in your pajamas, and you talk yourself into a hole and then everyone wants out of the conversation.

All of that is to say, I haven’t been writing much. More correctly, I have been writing quite a bit, just not right here. It’s not personal, and I’m doubting anyone has really noticed, anyway. But I write 40 hours a week now, and I like it and can you believe they pay me for it? Salary plus benefits, plus free coffee and a lovely view? But after an 8-6 day of writing, I’m cross-eyed and used up, sometimes. And I walk Dawg and get us both fed and then lately I sit down and study things like contract administration and architectural liability and specification codes, and I am so toxic about this examination process that I am trying to keep that contained over here and not unleash my vitriol about it all over the internet. Again. 

Abrupt subject change, I have been wrestling alligators all weekend. Not all weekend- some of it I spent on a chain gang, using a pickaxe to upturn rocks that were 3/4 of the way buried in hardscrabble dirt. Part of the weekend I was on a ship adrift in the Bermuda Triangle, wishing for wind, or celestial light by which to navigate. There might have been an albatross. I don’t know. At one point I was rock climbing with a heavy, heavy pack, and I was pretty sure I was going to plunge to my death, but I didn’t. When I needed a break I swam the English Channel and back.

All of that is to say, I had a lovely weekend. And I am slam exhausted, as if I had done any and all of the things above, and not just sat in a lovely place with a lovely view and typed, which is what actually happened.

Image

I started a novel.

When last I dumped a great deal of awkward emotion upon you, I believe I mentioned that this was the only Life List goal to which I was willing to commit this year. I am proud and relieved to say, I have achieved it. Not the novel. The starting. The starting was terrifying.

The weekend, though, was exactly what I needed. If you’ve known me any length of time, you probably know exactly where I would go to start such an endeavor, and that’s where I went. It’s not a secret place, and it’s not my place, but I’m also not going to talk about it, because now it is my Special Occasion Writing Place, and I’m not sharing my little part of it. There was a river, and good coffee, and that’s all I wanted.

I don’t have any plans to get all precious about the process, really. I know that the best writers make space for writing in their everyday lives, and they do it consistently, and that’s how you get a book written. That, eventually, is what I will be doing. But I believe you have to start something important with at least a little bit of ceremony. The starting gun, the Nascar flag, the Opening Ceremonies, whatever. So I went, and found a river and enough solitude to sit quietly and gather some thoughts. 

I told Scarlett O’Hara what I was doing, because she goes all worst-case-scenario when you try to be evasive, and if I hadn’t told her she’d just have imagined something far more reckless and tragic than writing a novel. Her first question was, “AM I IN IT?” and my answer was, “Well, you are NOW.”

And, we have an opening scene.

Kidding. There was a lot of cursing after that, on my part, but after feeling unjustly accused and writer’s blocked and interfered with, I was able to issue a reminder that a novel is, by definition, FICTION. And that I would never, ever, ever be discussing it again.

And here I am discussing it, but only enough to say that, in my humble opinion as a professional writer, a phrase which I throw around a lot when I’m trying to prove that I Am Qualified To Do This, a good novel is about nobody, because it’s fiction. And it’s about everybody, because it’s no good at all if there isn’t something universal in it. Is anyone going to recognize themselves? No. Will it be recognizable as a story of its place, and of its time, and of its writer? Will the characters feel things all of us have felt, in some form? I surely hope so. 

So, you know, if you all want to go ahead and pick out your pseudonyms, and your favorite personality foibles, and exactly what it is you plan to be doing in this novel of mine, go ahead and shoot all of that my way. It will save me a hell of a lot of time, and will really speed this process along. Because I have no plot, no defined characters yet, no idea what exactly is to come; I do, however, have twenty intense pages of notes, themes, character fragments, and ideas. And some of it, unless I am mistaken, has potential. Some of it is good, even.

And that, gentle readers, is where I have to kind of set this all down for now, because I have seven fucking architecture exams for which I must study, starting with the Whose Fault Is It exam. But beyond all of that, I now at least feel like there’s something better, and it involves creating, and thinking about more important things than litigation and waterproofing and ventilation tests. It involves real life, although everything in this book will be made up, wrought from this little brain, typed out with these two little hands, and I hope parts of it are good.

I can’t remember when I’ve been more worn out. Night, y’all.

 

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