Temporary Permanence

I’m 22 years old.  In those years, I’ve moved somewhere around 19 times.  Yes, I’m an Air Force Brat; it’s to be expected that transience was a major part of my life.  Growing up in this way I came to value adaptability and independence in myself over the dependence on a community of neighbors or friends.   (This is perhaps counter-intuitive to some people who see the military as a tightly-knit group of families, but in my experience that is not always the case and besides that I have – for most of my life – been a fairly introverted person.)  My temporary existence in any one space led me to see the location where I happened to live in a very detached manner – it didn’t necessarily stir any feelings of pride or empathy but perhaps made good stories to tell people when I got to the next place.

It is a given that time breeds investment.  So having spent very little time in one place until my recent adult years I think it is safe to say that I have a keen understanding of the human need for investment in place.

Now, I am an architecture student.  I am learning to be a designer of spaces that people can invest in: PLACES.

But I find myself challenged with questions.  Who are these people?  Who invests in their neighborhood?  Who invests in their city?  Why would you invest?  Who is allowed to invest?  How do you define a cultural investment?  How do you define an architectural investment?

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Brevity

On the geologic time scale, a human lifetime is reduced to a brevity that is too inhibiting to think about. The mind blocks the information. Geologists, dealing always with deep time, find that it seeps into their beings and affects them in various ways. They see the unbelievable swiftness with which one evolving species on the earth has learned to reach into the dirt of some tropical island and fling 747s into the sky. They see the thin band in which are the all but indiscernible stratifications of Cro-Magnon, Moses, Leonardo, and now. Seeing a race unaware of its own instantaneous in time, they can reel off all the species that have come and gone, with emphasis on those that have specialized themselves to death.

John McPhee,  Annals of a Former World

I WILL Live on Mars

Whether with this program and it’s ambitious dates, or another, there will be a day when I wake up a resident of Mars.

Things that Matter

Well, in our society, we have things that you might use your intelligence on, like politics, but people really can’t get involved in them in a very serious way — so what they do is they put their minds into other things, such as sports. You’re trained to be obedient; you don’t have an interesting job; there’s no work around for you that’s creative; in the cultural environment you’re a passive observer of usually pretty tawdry stuff; political and social life are out of your range, they’re in the hands of the rich folks. So what’s left? Well, one thing that’s left is sports — so you put a lot of the intelligence and the thought and the self-confidence into that. And I suppose that’s also on of the basic functions it serves in the society in general: it occupies the population and keeps them from trying to get involved with things that really matter.

– Noam Chomsky

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What would commitment mean?

I find myself almost daily asking the same question.  What do I need in my life?

The question comes up not as a list of all the things to be kept, but as a searing, train-of-thought stopping “Do I really need THIS in my life?” whenever I’m doing something particularly heinous.  Like washing dishes or staying up until 3 am to build a model.  There is something about doing difficult things that results in a knee-jerk wishful thought that maybe I don’t have to do this.

Its human nature to think of a simpler, lazier way out.  Laziness is an essential part of our creativity.  Otherwise we would still be walking and carrying everything we owned on our backs rather than inventing the wheel.  Maybe my generation has come to value the lazy part of human nature too much.  This is why a recent Harvard study found that 56% of my peers don’t graduate from a 4 year program in 6 years.  A multitude of reasons could lead to this statistic: difficulty of classes, hatred of teachers, inability to time manage, rising tuition cost, irrelevance to the job market and probably a million more.  These reasons center on how lazy we’ve become at defining the importance of college.  It’s not enough for us to know “college is important.”  If that’s all we know then when the inevitable stress begins and we ask “Do I really need this?” the answer will be no.

My long time mentor, Augie Turak, just wrote a post on Forbes.com calling out people who are crippled by thinking just like that.  He describes the red hot heart of leadership as the willingness to commit to, not just what you’re doing, but why you’re doing it.  For me, that means that you have a reason to say yes.  I’ve been in Architecture school for a year now and inevitably when it’s 3 am and the 3rd night of glueing tiny pieces of bass wood together the question always comes up.  And I answer yes because one of the first things Augie every told me he wrote in this post:

It is not the failure to succeed that produces despair. It is the failure to try.

A person will never be successful at something if he/she doesn’t try.  Trying every difficult thing is important – more important is having a reason to try every difficult thing.  Without a reason, there is no commitment.  With a reason there is an answer to doubt.  Being committed is to be so focused on the reason that every other action is in service to that reason.  In many ways commitment is the opposite of balance, but commitment actually can’t exist without the questioning of it.  The very act of questioning, of doubting strengthens our commitment to important things that are worth difficulty (building a model) and also gives us the power to let go of difficult things that are unnecessary and unhealthy to keep in our lives (building a model at 3 am).  Laziness is part of the equation, it’s what fuels the doubt in difficult times, but we can’t be committed to being lazy.  Commitment to the idea of not having to carry our stuff means we worked hard to invent the wheel.