Archive for September, 2008

Racing the Sun

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Erin and I left early this morning, 5 A.M. to get to the airport. She had been serving with the paramedics responding the the hurricane Ike effort based in Houston. I drove down there on Saturday and picked her up. Remember their are heroes among us.

I had been at the A&M football game earlier that day. The game opened with a parade of the 1,800 cadets making up the corps here. I had been given seats only 4 rows up from the field and so amid the tight formations of regiments and wings, you couldn’t escape how young their faces are. Marching in parade, some look stern, some fierce, some lost. After the first few hundred passed just in front of me. It struck me that some of these kids, these fine young men and women wouldn’t be back for their 10 year reunion. So noble, willing to give their life for a friend, or an unknown citizen. Heroic and tragic all at the same time.

The game itself was a rout. A&M led for about 45 seconds then it was mostly Miami. I left after the first half and was happy to get the call from Erin to pick her up. While she was here at Brook Hollow, she made an incredible dinner, marinated steak that was maybe the best I’ve ever had, garlic potatoes, and an devastatingly chocolatey pre-birthday cake.

Its been a busy few days, balanced between success and failure…what is the saying? Some days chicken, some days feathers? Had about an even distribution of chicken and feathers. As the jet flew East to meet the sun this morning Houston was still in the dark. Large areas to the North and East seemed to not have the street lights surrounding the airport. Still recovering, likely for years.

Not much else to report, I’m on the way to my first conference in years. The last time I tried to travel to present a paper. VT lost many good people. Being out of position when the news broke has been hard to get past. So I’m hoping for a quiet day of travel, ending with a drive from Hartford to Amherst tonight and the prospect of seeing friends from Blacksburg at the end of the journey.

So not much thoughtful text today. Stay tuned, inspiration could strike at any moment.

Take Care. Be good to each other. You never know what the person next to you has been through, or what they’ll be willing to do for you.

Life comes to Brook Hollow

Friday, September 12th, 2008

My neighborhood here at Brook Hollow is usually pretty quiet. Most of my neighbors are elderly so the only busy moments are when home health care workers change shifts. But this morning I awoke to a strange sound…children at play. I thought I was still dreaming, but peered through the blinds to see some new vehicles, and a small swarm of children triking, biking, and riding electric toy cars around the center of the cul-de-sac. It was nice, they were making the loud sounds children at play make while their parents, looking a little tired, stood by watching.

My guess is that they drove all night to make what is usually a two-hour trip from Houston, Galveston, Beaumont or Port Arthur. The afternoon and evening sky last night had been filled with unusual sounds of military aircraft and it just occurred to me that these visitors were part of the evacuated population of the Texas coast. Last night our sleepy little town was full. Lines at the gas stations, empty shelves at the stores, like a game weekend but on Thursday.

Being relatively new to the hurricane experience, all this disruption is very re-assuring amidst the weather channel’s nonstop anxiety about the coming storm. The local paper is advising us to be ready for 100 mph winds and maybe a foot of rain. But the lines at the stores and the noise in my street means one good thing. This is a safe place…people are evacuating and being evacuated TO Bryan and College Station… not from it.

Its a remarkable thing to see the photos of the interstate being cleared for counter flow (all lanes moving away from the coast) and hearing about the heroic work being done by the national guard and local volunteers. They had no choice but to begin setting up yesterday to be ready for the people who would arrive throughout yesterday and today. I spoke with one young man who was in our building in uniform. I wondered how he might feel if after all this work of building tent cities at the airport, on campus and in the park if no one came. First he shrugged and said that in the military the do a lot of training that they don’t always see a purpose to. But then he said it was a good thing for him yesterday as it helped him “live with purpose” to be working for us (citizens) on the anniversary of 9-11.

I felt sad most of yesterday for a lot of reasons, Tyler’s second trial was over, but I still won’t ever get to meet him, the to do list at work was bigger than the got done list, and I was remembering, feeling the collapse of the towers. When the attacks happened, I was a school, sharing an office with Jim. We sat dumb-struck watching the plane hit the second tower. Knowing that hundreds of lives just ended. Just like that. Then to see what as a building science teacher seemed impossible, to see the towers fall, I felt physically ill and had to go home.

When a building falls, when a building fails, its like the failure of four to five thousand years of human accomplishment. Not just technical accomplishment, cultural, societal, educational, it all fails at that moment. In that instant. I think that’s part of the reason why conquering armies of prehistory would knock down walls and once inside tear down and burn the buildings, a way to underscore that they had succeeded and those inside had to pay the price for their own failure.

I didn’t know anyone in the WTC. But you can’t help but think of what was going on inside during the minutes between impact and collapse. Thousands trying to get out, people helping people keep up the long journey down a smoke filled stair, and making room for the people moving UP the stairs INTO the fire. We walk the streets with heroes next to us every day. They don’t ask for anything from us except to move out of the way when they’re on their way to answer a call for help.

I’ve put Tyler into my hero list. His simple act saved my daughter. Her acts worked to save him, but like with many heroes I think she couldn’t save him. Unlike collapsed buildings, when hero’s aren’t able to do what they work desperately to do they don’t get to be rebuilt from the ground up. They have to carry the weight with them for a long time.

Right after 9/11 my daughter was preparing to move into ground zero to support the SAR teams there. In the end she didn’t go, but with her local EMS responders, pulled extra shifts to backfill for the rescue squads who moved north into new york. So I have two heroes … heroines? … in my family. A source of enormous pride for me and something that keeps me alert when a local hero, an everyday hero asks for something. You don’t question it, you just do it. And be happy to help.

So as the storm approaches, thousands of local heroes are being called upon, to fly into the storm and pluck someone out of the water. Or to feed and shelter the displaced and water the dogs and cats left behind. If you see one, please say thanks.

Sounds like a tricycle pile up in the cul-de-sac got to go. Stay safe you-all.

Home at Brook Hollow

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

It is amazing and reassuring how the infusion of energy and love can transform a simple space into a memorable place. My daughters spent the last week at Brook Hollow and left me with books arranged by how interesting they seemed, a blue wall and a purple couch. They also filled the house with the scent of garlic and chili and left me with a bit of “survival” leftovers. Coming home to music, hearing the spirit in their banter, and the tchotchkes wedged into the raked joints of the fireplace made Brook Hollow into Home for a few precious days.

I returned home today/tonight to a dark, quiet house, lit only by the light of the digital pictureframe with my daughter’s images. I just returned from a screening of “Artemisia” a film about the first woman admitted to the Florence Academy, the first woman commissioned to paint for the emerging class of patrons in Renaissance Italy. Every scene was a portrait, vivid colors, deep textures, impeccable compositions. In the film, Tucci the mentor shows Artemisia to see by rich descriptions of the world around her, the “void” as she called it before she could see the world through the eyes of her mentor’s words. Seeing is believing they say, I think this film makes a strong case for believing as seeing. So if I believe the energy my daughter’s invested in Brook Hollow, I can see a home emerging.

Before the film was a long meeting, filled with spirit, passion, commitment to ideals and experiences intended to enrich students who are years beyond their 4 year college degrees. Serious questions emerged about the future of education, about the value of the model that has served architectural education since it emerged from the studios of the master artist. Like Artemisia, the ideas proposed today have the potential to rock the foudation assumptions we take for granted… or maybe we really believe in them… or are reticent to consider change… probably a bit of all of these things. Following this passionate discussion, we considered names of people to ask for advice, to guide us. Glen was wise in asking for the broad range of points of view. Those who live in our profession, those who are steeped in our discipline, as well as those who know little about our inner professional dialogues. I offered the name of a poet I heard speak after the unspeakable happened to us at Virginia Tech. With a few carefully considered words, and backed by a passionate commitment to university, she lifted us up off our knees, acknowledged the pain we would carry all our lives, and then brought us forward, onto our feet and into a future. “We ARE” she said over and over, “WE ARE VIRGINIA TECH” she reminded us, and left us prepared to move forward, to take on the challenges, to be worthy of the gift of life…it was seriously impressive.

In technical universities like TAMU and VT we sometimes wonder what those artists among the engineers are doing, why we invest in them, what they contribute because they don’t get funded by NSF or NIH? But that afternoon in Lane Stadium, hearing the students begin calling the Hokie nation forward from the pain, I realized we couldn’t survive without poets. So be nice to them, take an artist to lunch, it might be strange to you today, but it might just save your university.

If you haven’t had a chance to hear these words by Nikki Giovanni, you can find them here

Take Good Care, Look after your friends and family
Mike