Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Yes, that’s right

Maybe it was all the freelance electroshock therapy I gave myself, but I never really had the idea of being an architect, despite all the time spent building with my building blocks, and despite the fact that when I wasn’t trying to figure out electrons, I also was a pretty darned talented artist. I suppose I just figured that engineering was more cool or something, but no matter, after graduation, I enrolled at UAB with the intent of becoming a mechanical engineer.

That intent lasted exactly as long as it took to reach calculus.

My high school (and everything further down the line, for that matter) always had a very weak math program, and although I did fine in things like geometry, the algebraic side suffered a lot of abuse. It became obvious that my struggles with higher math were NOT going to stand me in good stead, and I certainly didn’t have the motivation to actually try harder to figure it all out. So, I started trying to figure something else out. My sister mentioned in passing the idea of architecture, which seemed to be a pretty good alternative. No thermodynamics, you know.

So, I did my research and managed to get accepted (provisionally, due to my poor showing in math) at Auburn. Where, after TWO MORE failed calculus courses, I finally managed to pass one with a B! (Can’t remember his name—he was a little smart-mouthed Yankee teaching assistant, but doggone it, he managed to explain it all enough for me to finally pass it!)

And then there was Summer Option. Since I got a late start, I decided to try to make up a year’s worth of work in one quarter. It was called Summer Option, and it was a vast weedpatch of slackers and morons and brilliant kids and confused sorts like me. The work was grinding, with all the first year’s worth of learning about color and composition and history and theory and presentation and proportion and hubris, all compacted down into a three month space. Lots of long nights, lots of befuddlement. In the end, more than half the ones who started left. The leftover half itself wound up with maybe a quarter of its original complement by the time we graduated.

And to make it even more worse, three weeks before the end of the quarter I had gone back to the trailer after a particularly long evening, then was woken up by the stupid telephone before I had even gotten close to getting enough sleep. It was my sister, telling me that my dad had died.

Two and a half hours later, I was home. I stayed for two weeks, then went back down and finished my classes. I can’t remember what I made, a B or a C, but I was glad to get it.

90% of architecture school is mental toughness. The coursework in most colleges is heavily geared toward the subjective side. It takes a while, but slowly you learn that architecture is a sort of language, and it doesn’t always translate to or from English. Those horrible moments of standing in front of a jury, your heart and soul and countless long nights poured into a project, and you say the one wrong thing, the one thing that sounded so good in your mind, but came out so wrong, and your whole project goes down the crapper because of your inapt, stupid remark. Later, you do start to realize that your project was actually not that bad; you could have just explained it better. And you realize that the people criticizing you weren’t really interested in whether or not you could be successful in the real world, but were only playing an advanced game of gotcha. You begin to realize that no matter what they say, your ideas DO matter, and you come back, and you do it all again. Finally, you get to the point where you can tap dance pretty good, and manage to justify about anything from an artistic point of view.

Thankfully, somewhere in the back of my mind, I also realized that you have to be able to put food on the table—the idea of being a starving artist had no appeal. And being a child of parents who grew up during the Depression, I also felt it wouldn’t hurt to have something to fall back on, so I added on a dual-degree track in Building Science. This is the place where guys went who wanted to be contractors, and although heavy on the flannel and blue jeans, it was refreshingly free of artifice and college-boy philosophizing. And I actually learned about putting a building together—soils and formwork and concrete and estimating and all sorts of fun things—all of which turned out to be of great benefit after I got a job.

So, anyway, in the five years I was at Auburn, I managed to get two degrees, with a minor in Business, and enough hours between UAB and Auburn to have a minor in history, too, and even got to spend a whole quarter studying in Europe (Ahh, the spring of ’86—bombing Libya, attendant loathing of Americans, Chernobyl, rock bottom dollar, poisoned wine—those were the days, my friend). You can learn a lot about stuff if you try hard enough.

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