Daily Prompt: artist’s eye

Is there a painting or sculpture you’re drawn to? What does it say to you? Describe the experience. (Or, if art doesn’t speak to you, tell us why.)

In college we studied the history of Art in world cultures. We began with the prehistoric Venus d’Milo and went all the way through time right up to modern expressionism, post-modernism and all the other isms that we deal with today. But, one artist above all others stood out for me and really got my blood pumping.

Jackson Pollock.

Jackson Pollock in his studio.

Jackson Pollock in his studio.

His work, especially his early work, always seemed to be searching for something. As I learned more about his life I came to realize he was searching for some kind of piece within himself. One I don’t think he ever found. But he kept searching all his life. This still speaks to me through his art.

Autumn Rhythm No. 30, 1950

Autumn Rhythm No. 30, 1950

While most of us know and recognize his larger pieces like the one above, I actually prefer the smaller canvases that he created. The larger work is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. They are full of movement and rhythm and action and even violence. But the smaller canvas works, if you really look at them, are like packages of dynamite – contained, restrained, almost ready to explode. As if he captured all of his emotions and action into a jar and sealed it. You can feel the tightness of it.

Whenever I look at Pollocks work I FEEL. And that, to me, is the greatest Art.

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honoring my dads – happy father’s day

Many of us grow up as part of a typical nuclear family – mom, dad, sister/brother, sparky the dog and mittens the cat. In my case I grew up with not one but two dads. Later in life I gained a third. Today, on Father’s Day, I’d like to honor these three men and share how each one has helped to make me the man, and father, I am today.

Let me start off by saying that none of these men were perfect fathers, husbands or even friends. They are human and fallible just like all of us. And even in their imperfections and through all of their mistakes I will still hold each of them in the highest esteem as long as there is breath and life in me.

me and my Dad on a recent camping trip in Arkansas

me and my Dad on a recent camping trip in Arkansas – the date is a year off

First, my Dad, Tom. When I was born my mother was not quite 18 and my dad was not quite 19. This was 1980, and while teen pregnancy wasn’t quite common, we’re not talking about the 1950s either. As I’m sure anyone out there can relate this is not an ideal situation to begin a marriage (yes they got married about 5 months before I was born) becoming a husband and father all at once. Most of us like to space these things out a bit. Fast forward through all the dirt that makes up life and we get to today. My Dad is one of my best friends. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I can go to him with any problem and he will listen without judgement and without prejudice. He’ll offer advice if I ask it, but otherwise he’s always been a true confidant and a true encouragement to me through many a foolish decision I’ve made. Despite whatever has and will happen in life, I’ll never love my dad any less than I do right now.

me (13-ish), my stepfather Frank, and my mother

me (13-ish), my stepfather Frank, and my mother

My stepfather, Frank. He and my mother began dating when I was about 2-ish. Until I was grown he was the dominant male figure in my life. He and I did not always see eye to eye growing up. He was 18 years my mother’s senior, which put a considerable age gap between he and I. I was growing up in a much different time than he did and this led to a lot of….misunderstandings, to put it mildly. Me being a punk teenager didn’t help matters much either. He and my mother separated when I was 16. By this time I was starting to see some of the wisdom in what he was trying to instill in me in my earlier years. From the time I was 16 until he passed away just before my 21st birthday we became very close. I unfortunately realized much too late that he loved me no different than his own son. He did the best he could with what he had and some of my most fond memories in life are of him. I know he’s staring down at me and I hope he’s proud of the man he helped make me today. Hell, he taught me how to pee standing up. Things like that are important. 😛

My father-in-law, Duane, at the top of Pinnacle Mountain

My father-in-law, Duane, at the top of Pinnacle Mountain

Lastly, and certainly not least, my Father-in-law, Duane. I honestly can’t say enough good things about him. Obviously it’s thanks to him that I have my wife – duh. But more than that he’s been an amazing friend and spiritual father to me. I can imagine that it must have been difficult to accept his christian daughter dating an avid buddhist, but from the beginning he showed me nothing but love and continues to pour that love into me, my wife and my children. Like my own father, I can go to Duane with anything and he’ll offer the same unbiased and unprejudiced council. Over the last 8 years he’s shaped me in ways I can’t even comprehend yet, but I’m grateful to have him in my life.

Fathers can come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes by choice and sometimes by fate. But however they come into our life we must not take for granted what they have to teach us both through instruction and through example. No father is perfect, none but God, and we shouldn’t expect them to be. But we should love, honor and respect them as long as we’re able. Happy Father’s Day to all the Dad’s out there and all the Dad’s to be.

Daily Prompt: Fantasy

The Tooth Fairy (or Easter Bunny, or Santa Claus . . .): a fun and harmless fiction, or a pointless justification for lying to children?

Growing up I believed in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny (I was actually born on Easter Sunday, so that was huge for me). I believed in Fairies, Spirits, Angels and all manner of what we call fantastical beings. And not because my parents necessarily went out of their way to “lie” to me, but because as children we see more than what is just at face value in the world. We believe in what some would call fantasy, because for children it’s not fantasy.

More than that, these “lies” that parents tell their children about the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, etc are not lies. These fantastical figures have roots in historical fact and cultural tradition. These are important to carry down through the generations to preserve our heritage. Without these traditions, without honoring the past in this way, we effectively delete our roots as a culture, as a people. And, honestly, how many kids do you know that were irreparably damaged because they found out Santa was just Mom and Dad staying up really late? Yeah, no one comes to mind for me either.

Daily Prompt: Erasure

You have the choice to erase one incident from your past, as though it never happened. What would you erase and why?

The answer for this is easy:

NOT. ONE. SINGLE. THING.

My life is a cumulative achievement made up of all the choices that I have made throughout my life. The good, the bad and the ugly. If I was able to change an incident or a choice that I made I would fundamentally be a different person today. Perhaps I would be a person who wouldn’t care about the Daily Prompt, in which case you wouldn’t be reading this right now. Perhaps if I could change my life I would make the wrong choice and I would be worse off for it.

The bottom line is you can not change the past. Nor should you want to. Do we all do things that are unfortunate, mean, illegal or just wrong? Sure. The point of life is to move beyond those mistakes and missteps, learn the lessons that are offered in those moments and make better choices down the road.

You are who you are for a reason. Rather than focusing on what you could change, accept who are you, love who you are and make choices that will hopefully make your life and the lives around you better.

Daily Prompt: Seven Days

You wake up tomorrow morning to find all your plans have been cancelled for the next seven days and $10,000 on your dresser. Tell us about your week.

Only one thing comes to mind – 7 Days, 7 Cities.

For years I’ve had a list of the top ten places in the US I want to visit. This list includes cities that I’ve never been to but have always wanted to visit, and if I had a week off and $10k in the bank I’d make each day count like a mo’fo. So here’s my list in order starting with Saturday and ending with Saturday.

1. Seattle, Washington (with a brief trip to Victoria and Vancouver)

Seattle-Seattle_4

2. San Fransisco, California

san-francisco

3. Denver, Colorado

Denver Skyline, summer

4. Coby, Wyoming ( closest town to Shoshone National Forest)

Shoshone-National-Forest1

5. Bellvue, Idaho (closest town to Craters of the Moon)

arches-park-014

6. Chicago

© 1999 EyeWire, Inc.

7.Alamogordo, New Mexico (outside Lincoln National Forest)

lincoln-national-forest

In case you can’t tell, I REALLY like the outdoors. I could easily spend 7 days in EACH of these places and not get my fill, but hey. So, what would be your dream week with $10k to burn?

Daily Prompt: Places

Places. What are places? Do you have a favorite place? Is there a place that you need to go, to get away, to clarify, to download, to decompress, to escape or just to BE? I imagine for most of us the answer would be yes. It certainly is for me. Living in Florida there really wasn’t a “place” for me to go to accomplish any of the above listed things. It was more a state of being that I had to go to, a refuge in my own mind. That state has always only be achieved when running.

Top of Pinnacle Mountain

Top of Pinnacle Mountain

But now, living in Arkansas, there is a actual place I can go. The top of Pinnacle Mountain, which is, quite literally, around the corner from my house. And, there’s nothing particularly magical or mystical about Pinnacle. It’s a mountain, much like any other in this part of the US, but for me it’s the first I’ve ever climbed. It’s the highest peak I’ve ever sat atop and quite frankly the first time I made it to the top was….well, magical. It was quiet, serene, peaceful, majestic, and a little humbling.

IMG_3181

So, when I sat down two minutes ago to write this post, it got me thinking about the idea of “place” and not just in the sense of identification, but in the larger sense of having something more, something intangible that evokes a response from people. As architects, it’s our job to design and construct buildings. These building serve a function, provide a necessary service to society, but more than the visceral function of a building we are creating places. If we’re not thinking beyond the basic requirements of our client’s needs for a building and moving on to the larger context of the impact on it’s surroundings, then we have failed to create, we have failed to improve and strengthen the larger fabric of our society. We have failed as architects if we do not at least try for something more in our practice.

Daily Prompt: Happily Ever After

happiness is in your hands

happiness is in your hands

“And they lived happily ever after.” Think about this line for a few minutes. Are you living happily ever after? If not, what will it take for you to get there?

This is usually a question that gets asked of us by our spouse. “Are you happy?” “Are you ok?” “Does this dress make me look fat?” Wait, that’s not right…. Either way, “happiness” as defined by my good friend Webster is “a state of well-being and contentment”, or “a pleasurable or satisfying experience”. These are rather vague and esoteric definitions and can mean just about anything to and for anyone else. Today we’ll try and keep our focus centered on the realm of professional happiness in Architecture. What does it take, what does it look like and where can it take you – these are the avenues we’ll travel down together.

Now, obviously if the Webster definition of happiness is purposely meant to be vague, than it stands to reason that professional happiness in Architecture also will be vague. And this is mostly true. Professional happiness is going to be different for all of us. None of us are wired the same and we all take pleasure from things in different ways.

What it takes:

What it takes for me to be happy in my professional career can be summed up in two areas: first, feeling a sense of worth and value at my workplace; and second, being challenged often at what I do.

The feeling of worth and value can come from two places as an Architect. First from your boss (unless you are the boss in which case I would hope you value yourself) and second from your clients. If your clients do not value your services then they will not refer others to you and by extension you will most likely not be very successful. If you’re working for a firm it can be difficult to feel that sense of value. Most times you will need to do something to stand out from a crowd, to prove yourself continuously in order to gain trust and eventually value. This is not an ideal situation and usually leads to finding new positions elsewhere.

Being challenged can also be challenging. Not all projects are glamorous…well, lets be honest, few projects are glamorous. But all projects, if seen from the proper perspective, offer unique and interesting challenges and problems to solve. Solving them efficiently and effectively is, in my mind, key to a sense of professional happiness. Something as simple as a bathroom renovation within an existing home can be very simple, but also very challenging in it’s execution. Perhaps the home sits on a slab and breaking that slab would kill the budget. How then do you deal with the placement and rearrangement of new fixtures? Small issues like this, which occur on all projects both large and small, allow us to flex our creative muscle and devise new and interesting solutions to mundane problems. This, sometimes above all else, makes me happy, and maybe even a little giddy.

What it looks like:

What does professional happiness look like? How does it work in practice? Well, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve already seen the answer – it’s up to you to find joy in your professional career rather than waiting around for either your boss or clients to give it to you. It has to be sought after, pursued and snatched from the air. In this country we have a right to pursue happiness, not a right to happiness itself.

If, as an Architect or designer, you can’t find joy in the mundane of professional practice you’ll never be truly happy even when those glamorous projects do come around because you’ll be bitter and resentful and more importantly BORED.

Where can it take you:

If, however, you can find the kind of joy in the mundane and monotonous, then you can do anything, create anything and build anything. Your boss and your clients will value you because you value yourself and your work. This will lead to new projects, new responsibilities, new challenges and new happiness.

In the end, happiness, both personal and professional, is in your own hands. You can choose to be happy and find joy in what you do and the people around you, or you can choose not to in which case….well, I feel very sorry for you indeed.