Monday, November 19, 2012

'Tis the season to get your ass in bed

Starbucks already has its Christmas cups out in November, even before Thanksgiving.  King Soopers (the western incarnation of Kroger, for my eastern readers) had its holiday decorations out right next to the Halloween candy in the clearance bin. Target is advertising that its Black Friday sales start at 9pm on Thanksgiving Day.  Seriously, Retail America: knock this shit off. Render unto Santa's what is Santa's, and render unto Thanksgiving, what is Pilgrims and other sanitized versions of America's founding.

The leaking of the holiday season into non-holiday parts of the calendar is part of a cultural problem noted by Ayurvedic and other traditional medicine and philosophical practitioners.  Starting in late June but becoming especially noticeable in late September and early October, the days grow colder and the daylight grows shorter and less intense. Deciduous trees lose their leaves, our plants start going dormant, woodland creatures start flying south and stockpiling food like they're preparing for a seasonal zombie apocalyse. By the time November comes, our bodies are trying to slow down to respond with these earthly changes...but we can't.  Our culture throws the two busiest, most physically busy and emotionally-charged holdays into a six-week span when we should be our most dormant.  December 21st--the shortest day of the year--is only a few days before Christmas Eve and Day, the two emotionally and physically busy days of the calendar year.  Who has time to celebrate the Winter Solstice with a single candle and a moment of quiet introspection?  I only have three more days to shop and cook OMG OMG OMG OMFG!!!

It's easy to point at our modern culture for this paradox of culture versus climate, but we forget that architectural progress has been crapping on human behavioral patterns for a little over 100 years now.  How easily we forget that by 1900, many large cities had widespread use of electric lights in both public and private buidings. Much of rural America finally got electricity during the Great Depression as part of one of the various public works projects in operation at the time. Even before television and the internet, electric lighting made it possible for people to stay up late and read, talk, dance, plot revolution, sew bloomers and lobby for women's suffrage, make moonshine...anything but sleep. Electric lighting plus central heat allows people to sit in separate rooms in the house and read, plot, etc. without having to interact with each other.  (Before central heat, everyone had to sit around the same fire and few candles for warmth and light.  Suckas.) If you no longer have to depend on a finite candle or the waning sun to tell you when it's time to go to sleep, then who will? is always open.

Our constant going and doing at the holidays isn't a product of Target and Starbucks, though they're not helping. This busyness and inability to slow down during the winter is a long time and several generations in the making.  Guy and I are doing our part this year by having turned down 50% of our holiday party obligations and by giving fuss-free gifts for Christmas. (If you're related to us and reading this, you're getting a gift card this year.  Deal with it.) The other part of unplugging at the holidays is harder, especially for me.  Work is so exhausting that most days I can only come home, eat dinner, and watch a couple of DVR'd episodes of Top Gear and Squidbillies, when what would probably be more fulfilling and replenishing is to eat dinner, work on my crafting and art projects, and go to bed at 8:45.  I'm going to try, though, to get away from electric lights and glowing screens as early as possible and to honor natural human rhythms.  Right after this episode of Top Gear, where they make amphibious cars....

Monday, November 12, 2012

A blogging conundrum

I got an email recently from an intern who used to work at Design Associates; he found me by finding this blog. He assured me that he wouldn't tell anyone that it was me, and knowing him as I did when he worked at DA, I do believe him...but he never answered me when I asked him how he figured out it was me.  I've always felt like I changed enough details about projects that someone from the outside (e.g., a client) wouldn't be able to know who or what project I was talking about, and I've generally figured that someone would have to try really hard to find the blog in the first place. Apparently, I thought wrong.

I suppose I have more to fear by talking smack about my coworkers than by talking about my projects and clients.  Even then, though, I've realized that I'd be willing to defend what I say about my coworkers (and bosses) if any of them ever confronted me about it.  But I also recognize that a lot of what I wrote in 2006-2008 was pretty angry, and frankly, it wasn't the best writing anyway.  I realize that everything lives on the internet forever, cached somewhere random and remote, even if I deleted or archived my earlier posts, but it seems as if those posts should be taken down in some way, if nothing else but for my own peace of mind.

But shitty writing and general crankiness aside, I still feel compelled to write about architecture as a profession and a practice from my practical non-starchitect working-for-the-man-every-night-and-day standpoint.  How am I supposed to do that by using generic examples? Sure, I can highlight magazine and website articles and talk about various general current-architectural-event topics, but at some point I'm just doing what every other social web commentator does. for me, the point of starting this blog was to explain how we architects do what we do every day, the pleasures and the pitfalls; the happy and the sad;  the well-budgeted and the underfunded, the good, the bad, and the EIFS.

So, I ask of thee, my tens of readers and the blogging community: what say you? What are your thoughts on my conundrum?

Edited to add: A blogging colleague commented that my work here would likely not be considered libel for two reasons: 1) I make no monetary gain from the site, and 2) I've changed names and identifying details.  Further, I imagine you'd have to know me personally to be able to figure it out as opposed to being a complete stranger--that's the only way you'd have enough details to piece together. That being said, I still started looking through my old posts from the beginning of the blog and deleting a few...but not many.  Mostly what I ended up deleting so far are posts about clients that made me crazy, but overall (again, so far anyway) I stand by anything I've said about coworkers or bosses.  To be fair, I haven't gone through the entire blog archive (and I haven't gotten to posts made during the recession, some of which were pretty bitter).  Ultimately, blogs in particular and life in general are about being accountable to others for our words and actions, and if I'm called upon to be accountable for anything I've said here, then I'll have to face that music.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Random things that make me happy

Lord knows Shorty loves to bitch about stuff, but I recently realized while attempting to meditate that I have a pretty damn good life and there's a lot out there to enjoy. Lest you think my whole life is boo-hooing about white-girl problems, here's an extremely-abridged list of things that truly make me happy.

  • Top Gear, the British version on BBC America.  Few things actually make me laugh out loud spontaneously, and this show is one of them.  Watching Jeremy, Richard, and James hack up old cars, slide around a track and wreck things, and "take the piss out of" each other is a wonderful way to unwind in the evenings after ten hours of architectural bullshittery.
  • Ink! Coffee. Roasted in Vail, Colorado, their 6610 Blend is strong but low acid.  (Translation: it cleans me out but doesn't give me a stomach ache.) Their coffee shops are clean and modern but cozy. Their staff is casual and hipster-ish yet professional and always pour a mean cup.  I go to the one in Cherry Creek North, but they have several around Denver and in the mountains.
  • Kitteh pictures from my sister.  Nothing makes my day like random pictures of one of my sister's several kittehs roaming around the house, nomming something from her plate, playing on the sofa, or snoozing in a cuddle puddle.  Epic. Wuv.
  • Homemade Greek Pizza.  Use either a Flatout! Wheat tortilla or a Boboli crust (or a rolled out pillsbury thin pizza crust) and top it with chopped up cooked chicken, quartered artichoke hearts, sliced kalamata olives, a little shredded pizza cheese, a little crumbled low-fat feta cheese, and some thawed or fresh spinach (red peppers or sundried tomatoes optional).  Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for about 7-8 minutes, and top with fresh oregano when you pull it out.  Slice up and devour.  Pass out from the awesomeness.  Repeat as many nights in a row as you like.
  • My arms. Since I dropped a few pounds this year, my arms have started looking super-cut.  Not only do I love the way they flex, but I love the fact that I can suddenly lift some pretty heavy stuff without breaking a sweat.  Looks like the new fitness routine is paying off.
  • My husband Guy.  Sometimes, when I'm feeling proud of my arms, I'll run into whatever room in which Guy is sitting and start flexing and yelling, "You just won VIP Tickets to the GUN SHOW!! EHN!!!"  And Guy doesn't laugh--he just plays along and yells back, "Oh mah GAHH!  GUNS!!  It's the Guns of the Navarone, muthafucka!"
So what makes you happy?  What odd pleasure, great or small, gives you a lift?

Monday, November 5, 2012

I could do my work if it wasn't for my job

My suspicions were recently confirmed about my workload as an associate: it includes lots of meetings and lots of things that barely have anything to do with architecture. I spent my first two weeks trying to get caught up on St. Ermahgerd while scheduling and sitting through employee reviews. Over the course of those reviews, it came to light that there were some serious issues still with Prudence's management of the interior designers. There were some meltdowns and hissy fits, (several of which were justified, in my mind), and several folks made counteroffers to their proposed raises.  Meanwhile, the associates kept not meeting for their weekly get-together with the partners because we were trying to get reviews done.  By the time we had an associates' meeting again, I missed it for being in an actual project meeting. 

Longtime readers of WAD know how much I hate meetings.  I. Fucking. HATE. Meetings.  Meetings are events where people take minutes and waste hours.  Things don't really get done in meetings, and I base the quality of my day on how much useful activity and tasks I've actually accomplished, not talked about.  To me, an ideal meeting is 20 minutes long, decisions are made, and everyone leaves with one or more tasks to complete.  The meetings I've been getting pulled into over and over lately are 30-60 minutes long, and I'm not sure everyone's leaving with a clear direction of what we're all supposed to do. Many of the meetings I've ended up in don't have a focus or start ping-ponging around in terms of topics--it's just a recitation of the latest brain droppings or panic from the latest shitstorm that has brewed.

The sad truth about white-collar work is that the better you get at your job, the higher you rise in the ranks, and the more meetings you attend.  The sad truth about architecture as a profession is that, more often than not, the better you are at it, the less you actually get to do it. So now, instead of working on planning and programming and healthcare and life safety codes for 42 hours a week and healthcare studio development 1-3 hours a week, I work on planning for 36 hours a week and sitting through exhausting-ass meetings 6 hours a week.  And I can't daydream off in these meetings at least for a few minutes at a time, like in a project meeting when the engineers start talking about VAV boxes--these are meetings where I have to focus and listen to stuff I don't care about, just in case someone says something that I care like hell about.  So at the end of 90 minutes, I'm exhausted and irritated, which is not a good combination.

I suppose my next challenge is to figure out how to steward my energy better. I'm just getting 6-6.5 hrs of sleep a night right now, which clearly isn't good for me and isn't allowing me to rest properly.  It's interesting that my next challenge/goal/achievement actually has to do not with doing something but with not doing something--just resting.