Archive for November, 2007

Autoblog

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

So, suppose I wanted to write an autobiography. Where would I start? With my own birth? With my parents? Grandparents? So much affects who I am but the stories in my head are limited – only second hand accounts of the last two generations and a failing memory of my own experiences.

I was born in 1949, the first child from a union between a WWII Navy officer and a society girl from Houston. My father’s father had come from Germany in 1848. My mother’s family had been in this country for a long time. They met in Houston, where my father lived briefly before the war with his brother, a contractor, helping design houses. It was a time of debutant parties and tennis matches and my mother said my father, a terrific dancer, was flirtatious and handsome.

My mother was the last of 5 children, the other four considerably older than she. She was raised by nursemaids and had audiences with her parents rather than loving interactions. When I was growing up, my parents always said, “Children are to be seen and not heard.” This notion was apparently the child-raising maxim of the pre-war era, and it certainly trickled down to my psyche.

My father was the baby of a family of 6, his closest sibling being 10 years older than he. His mother was 45 and his father 65 when he was born, and my sense is that he learned to expect to get whatever he wanted. This also trickled down to my psyche.

How these things affected me is something I think about from time to time. Sometime I can see it clearly, but other times I’m sure I act how I act without even being aware of it. We humans feel so smart, knowledgeable, capable, but we are really rather unaware and imprecise.

How does one do something autobiographical? Chronologically? Interrelationally? Randomly? Who would even care to read it? The beauty of a blog is it doesn’t much matter. This is supposed to be a design blog, but what the heck. Perhaps I’ll add a little autoblog.

Studying for the LEED exam

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

When I was in my 20s, my friend Mark and I had went back to the land, settling on a 20-acre plot in north Idaho. To make ends meet, when summer ended we left our little utopia to find jobs. One year we went to Missouri to work as field hands in my parent’s apple orchard. Our job was to prop up the fruit-laden branches to keep them from breaking under the weight of the ripening apples and, as we walked from tree to tree, we saw vast black flocks of birds migrating south across the river, heard the song of the autumn cicadas in the unmown grass, and smelled the fragrance of the sweet apples as they ripened to juicy perfection. Overly poetic perhaps, but the experience made me an environmentalist.

Now I’m a designer and I’m still passionate about how we treat our environment. Sometimes it feels as if I’m too small to do anything that might help, but I do what I can, and right now I’m studying for the LEED exam. Some of the others studying with me confess to being overwhelmed and baffled by the material, but it comes fairly naturally to me. Although I know there is disagreement about whether LEED is the most effective way to encourage sustainable building, the rating system has good intent and I applaud it. Perhaps it’s not perfect, but it’s a start and I want to learn the system and teach my clients.

I’d like to think that if enough of us designers learn all we can about the need for sustainable design, we can eventually turn our clients’ heads and, perhaps over time, the message will spread and become part of the way business is done. We need it. The cicadas still emerge, but I’ve noticed that the endless skies of birds are gone and the apples are largely tasteless. I don’t know if we can get them back, but we have to try.

Humiliation

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

Caroline Hax (who I think is very astute) responded in today’s column (Washington Post, Sunday, November 4, 2007, p. M2, col. 3) to a reader’s question with an observation that gave me one of those “oh, yeah” moments. The question, like most of the ones she answers, dealt with relationships. She says, “There is a general power structure to dating. Even when the ultimate goal is commitment, the person who asks someone out [and here she admits she is talking generally about men] has, roughly speaking, two intermediate goals: getting sex and avoiding humiliation.” She then says, “Once a woman commits to a man . . . the power shifts. Now it’s her turn to fear humiliation.” [Pause] . . . Of course. That’s exactly what’s so terrifying about relationships.

Humiliation. You feel it if you think you’re in love and he only wants benefits. You feel it when your middle-aged spouse runs off with a 20-something bleached blond. You feel it when you get all flustered if someone of the opposite sex even talks to you, it’s been so long. It’s a feeling to be avoided at all cost.

But, avoiding something at all cost means there is a cost and how do you tell if the cost is too high? How do you balance the almost certain humiliation that will occur at some time or another in a relationship with the benefits that the relationship might afford? How do you let the humiliation and the fear slide off your back and not turn you into a hermit? Can you get over it?

I have answers to most things (right or wrong), but not this one. Still, it seems like some sort of breakthrough to have a concept to mull over. Maybe understanding what is so terrifying is a good start for a change.

Heels

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

This morning I took one of my pumps to the shoe repair guy. Another customer ahead of me saw the 3″ heel on my shoe and immediately told me of a show she’d seen about how terrible high heels are for our feet. Somewhat rude on her part, perhaps, but it’s nothing that all of us women don’t know. Yet we persist in wearing these heels. It’s part of the uniform of power for women. Men have their silk ties, well-tailored suits, and wingtips. Women have distinctive jewelry, well-tailored suits, and high heels.

But high heels also embody a dream. Not a dream of attaining business status, but a dream of being drop-dead gorgeous – of being noticed, admired, and loved. Power of a different sort. When we are children, it’s a dream for a happy-family future. When we’re young adults, it’s a dream for passion and romance. When we’re middle-aged, it’s a dream for some reminder that we haven’t gone completely to the dogs. We know this romantic notion is just a dream. We know that believing too strongly in this dream puts us at risk for a lot of disappointment. We know it’s unrealistic, but I don’t know a woman who doesn’t harbor this dream in some form, even the most hard-boiled among us. So, high heels may be dreadful for the health of our feet and backs, but they make us feel as if something about this crazy dream just might be possible.