Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It depends on what the meaning of "useful" is

Tomorrow, we're having a handyman come to the house to loook at and give us an estimate on building an extra sound wall in our bedroom.  After seven years, two fans, a white noise machine, and three tenants next door, we've come to accept that no one is going to be quiet enough for us on their own, and we're just gonna have to suck it up and build an extra layer of acoustical protection if we ever want decent sleep again.  So, I'm having to do some cleaning in the bedroom to make it look semi-acceptable for someone I'm not related to by blood or marriage to see.  And I'm hard pressed to muster up the energy.  I had a burst of about fifteen minutes where I got some clutter cleared, but ultimately I'm here, in front of the computer, writing this post instead.

That's not to say I've been getting into my writing, that is.  You know, the writing I was all excited to do in my off-hours since we're only allowed to work 36 hours a week at Design Associates.  First off, I can never seem to get my Friday afternoons free--seems like the only time the clinic people I'm doing the master plan for can meeting is Friday afternoon.  So, I'm trying to leave early at another time, but I really wanted Friday afternoons.  Longtime drinking buddy and counselor of mine, the extra-fashionable psychologist Vinnie, suggested that I take Wednesday afternoons instead.  Evidently, there's some research that says it's better to take a break in the middle of the week instead of a long weekend.  Whatev.  But regardless, it seems that my chores are finding their way into my "free" time--taking the cats to the vet, grocery shopping, housecleaning.  Which would be fine if I'd take the time on Saturday or Sunday instead to do my writing, but I"m not.  I mean, I'm getting a couple hours done per week, but I'm not clocking the mad time like I thought I would.

And the house still isn't clean.  After writing that bit about clean your house first before you remodel, I got a little amped to do some straightening up around here.  I usually catch a housecleaning/purging bug in January, and I do end up yoking its strength and actually getting rid of stuff and cleaning what's left, but this year?  Not so much.  I have to wonder (and am almost positive) that this lack of enthusiasm has to do with the lack of rest I got in November/December 2008 and early January 2009.  I've evidently misunderestimated (to use a word courtesy of our outgoing president) how much I count on my downtime, and how much more of it I need than I used to.

A major part of my identity is about being useful.  Am I doing anything useful?  Am I producing anything useful?  It would seem around here that I'm not.  When I do, I notice that I get really resentful and exasperated.  As in, "does no one else in this house know where the Swiffer is?  Really?"  Or, "does no one in this office read their email?  Are you freaking kidding me?"  It would seem that I'm resisting the urge to be constantly useful and productive, even when I'm following that same urge.  It makes me very tired, and it makes me want chocolate.

At work, on and off for the past few months, I've been creating typical healthcare rooms in Revit.  Jann gave me the idea to do it, so I can't take the credit for having that much foresight.  The idea is that someone, preferably someone with a lot of knowledge about healthcare, builds in 3D with Revit (which is really the only way you can draw in Revit, in 3D) every kind of room you see in a hospital or clinic: operating room, substerile, clinic exam, scope/minor procedure room, unisex toilet, patient room with a family zone, patient room without a family zone, trauma bay, ED exam, LDRP, and every imaging modality.  I've spent the past couple of days doing the imaging rooms: x-ray, rad/fluoro, CT, nuclear medicine, and MRI.  I actually built a CT scanner machine in Revit, and it looks pretty badass if I do say so myself.  In building these rooms, I'm having to look over different projects I'v done to see how big each of these types of rooms was, what kind of casework they had, what kind of sinks, how many of which medical gases, and so on.  I then have to put all these things together in a drawing/model form so that if someone had little or no experience with healthcare architecture, they could look at what I've done and get an idea of how to big to make these rooms and what each room should have in it and what it should be made of.

My feelings about this have vacillated, but the longer I work on it, the more I forget that what I'm doing is overhead, not billable to a project per se.  At times, I've been feeling guilty about this, and then I even freak out a little and start looking around like a camera is watching me, and I wonder who is watching me and I realize that no manager has asked how I'm doing or what I'm doing lately.  And then I panic a little.  Just a little.  I don't hyperventilate or anything, but I do freak out a little.  Then I realize that Jann asked me to do this, that there's not much checking in to be done, that after four or so months without a project my bosses all know that I'm without a project, that in their meetings they know I'm working on this, and that if I've been mostly overhead for the past four months and I still have a job...then it's okay.  I mean, I could still be laid off, I suppose.  But what I'm doing is actually pretty damn handy.  After the rooms are built with all their equipment and whatnot, Jann asked me to compile lists of questions to ask your client and your consultants when you're working on these project types.  Based on the work I've done at MHRC and Wheatlands, and based ont he work my colleagues have done over the past few years, that should be a pretty good list.

It would appear that I'm still useful, just not in the way I've previously defined it.  Or perhaps I'm redefining "useful" to be more inclusive of what Stephen Covey calls work that is "important but not urgent." Or perhaps I'm redefining useful as sitting on the chaise with the cats perched on me while I flip through my latest issue of Southern Living.

1 comment:

2H said...


Somehow this shows your devotion to your WAD audience, that you are unable to address the most basic household chore without having to addend to us. I picture us, your readers as your children tugging at your apron strings, wanting your attention – creepy.
It sounds as if you are building the most amazing and coveted Revit library of hospital spaces. I wouldn’t be surprised to read somewhere in the news “Daring Raid Executed by Rival Design Firms on Server of Denver based Health Care Design Studio.”
I’ve seen two philosophies to design;
One says that you create a master plan, an overarching idea that is evident from 30,000 ft. and that macro idea guides the thinking down to the selection of the shelf pegs. The opposite approach says that you begin at the micro, find some aspect of design or space that is clear at the intimate, human level and allow that to guide the concept for the macro. Does the fact that you are doing individual rooms make as statement about either approach, or is master planning for facilities and the design of individual spaces two completely independent things?