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Rescue a Life in this, Our Time of Need December 12, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, creativity, environment, the economy.
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When’s the last time you did something nice for an architect?

Architects are seen by most as self-reliant. They don’t need anything from anyone, except perhaps a patron or a client now and then.

Self-reliant. Self-confident. Self-controlled…

With their designer duds, dressed in black. And the eyewear… Not exactly a warm and fuzzy image that comes to mind. Perhaps explaining why “Have you hugged an architect today?” mugs and bumper stickers are rarely seen.

So, when asked when the last time is that you did something nice for an architect? Your answer is probably along the lines of…?

I recently put this question to a select few colleagues and contacts, these were some of the responses:

  • An architect? Aren’t there others – the underprivileged, the bereft – that require our tending to first?
  • What? I give so often I’m starting to show symptoms of gifting exhaustion.
  • When is the last time someone gave to me?
  • If I give – then I will have less and I need everything I have for that rainy day.
  • Yes, I know of a job opening and nearby – but I’m not about to tell them. I’m saving it for myself.

As my wife has long observed: architects just aren’t nice to other architects.

It’s primarily an image problem. As victims of rampant stereotyping, we know that what  motivates us is to leave the world a better place than the way we found it. It’s just that we don’t often extend to people what we intend for the environment.

Since you’ve taken the time to read this post take a moment to ask yourself: Are you your colleague’s keeper?

Are you your former student’s keeper?

Your mentee’s keeper?

Are you your LinkedIn contact’s keeper?

If you have benefited in the past by the unseen hand of others, then your answer is indeed, yes.

Do you owe it to someone to help them out in this time of need? No. You don’t.

You owe it to yourself. To give at this time. Even if you don’t readily feel as though you have a lot to give right now.

For giving is a two-way street. What goes around comes around, especially if you live in a part of the world with a favor economy.

Part of the problem, no doubt, is gifting exhaustion, volunteer and philanthropic burn-out. Part of the problem is that with so many in need it’s hard to know who to help first – so we don’t help anyone. We tell ourselves at least that’s fair. I will unilaterally help no one, so no one, so to speak, is at a disadvantage.

But that’s a cop-out. We have deeper reserves than we allow ourselves to believe. Especially architects – resourceful to a fault, walking talking human Swiss Army knives. We can give – of ourselves, our time, our contacts, insights and creativity. It only requires refocusing our attention for a few moments.

And it only takes one.

Think for a moment: Who do you know – in the profession or industry – that’s in a position to help someone else? In this economy. Right now.

Don’t concern yourself with why they should they help someone they don’t know – especially when there are so many they already know that require their attention and assistance. For one reason: Because they know you. And for an abundance of other reasons:

  • Because you have stayed in touch with them over the years.
  • Because you are connected in some way – through school, past history, and organization.
  • Because they want to do good by you.
  • Because they may owe you a favor.
  • Because they have secretly admired you and would extend themselves to help you out if given the opportunity. Because they are looking for an opportunity – any opportunity – to act from their higher selves and by your calling on them are helping them out.
  • Because they have long wanted to help you out – but never found the chance or opportunity, didn’t know in what way, or because you never came across like you needed their help.

Well – that day has arrived. If not for yourself, for someone else you know who is in need. Extend yourself selflessly, perhaps even anonymously.

He that gives should never remember, he that receives should never forget.

Recall those who have helped you out – with a letter, a call – at a magic moment that turned things around for you. This is such a moment. If not now, when?

Every architect knows an architect in need

  • A colleague
  • An out of work architect
  • A former student or colleague
  • An architect online – on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter – you suddenly see their status change; their past outweighs their current status

What can I do to help out an architect?

  • Write a recommendation – unprovoked, proactively, as a gift
  • List a nice, kind thing you can do for a fellow architect
  • Have an out of work architect  work at an empty workstation in your office and learn Revit – using tutorials
  • Ask around and identify a part-time position outside the field for an able and willing underemployed colleague
  • When I had my own firm I would secure a position elsewhere with a comparable architecture firm for an employee before letting them go. They had the option of accepting the position elsewhere. At the very least, I’d offer to serve as a recommendation for the candidate – and do a reasonable job talking them up. Without veering from the truth, architects can accomplish as much selling of their former employees and colleagues as they do selling their designs.

Why is this an issue? Why now?

  • The economy, banks not lending, developers unmotivated to move forward with their own cash; too much inventory already out there to absorb
  • We are not kind to, nor supportive of, one another; all too often of late it is every person for themselves
  • It’s as though a sign of professional pride – as in a fraternity, hazing, treat the upcoming class cruelly, because you were treated that way and so on into perpetuity – to treat our fellow architects poorly
  • One last issue why we are experiencing this as a problem is this: some believe that since professors haven’t been keeping up with advances in technology and practice that students upon graduation are unemployable – that they have to rely on practitioners to provide them with the skill sets they didn’t learn in school. No mechanism, as one architect put it recently, to keep our professors “tuned-up”, so to speak, on the emerging trends in our profession and trained to teach these aspects of our profession. As another online commenter stated, graduates are under the impression that their place of employment would teach them what they needed to know
  • There’s the perception by some of the AIA having gone AWOL (some want to rename the AIA the MIA.)

There is a great deal we can do for ourselves – be proactive, network, keep up with colleagues outside the office, contribute to your alma mater so that they will be there for us in our time of need .

We are architects. If we are not for ourselves, who will be?

The Talmud may seem like an unusual place to look for wisdom on this point, but I cannot imagine better words than these two last thoughts to carry within as we support our fellow architects:

Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.

And this,

He who carries out one good deed acquires one advocate in his own behalf.

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The Dead Fish Museum December 10, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types, career, creativity, essence, fiction, identity, possibility, questions, transformation.
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What’s in your Cart?

That’s right, the Amazon.com shopping cart. The button with a shopping cart in the upper right hand corner of the home page on the Amazon website.

For most of us there’s an accumulation of items we’ve put on the Cart over the years under the wishful words Shopping Cart Items – To Buy Now.

My current subtotal is $1850.20

With this Important Message: Please note that the price of The Dead Fish Museum has increased from $11.25 to $11.70 since you placed it in your Shopping Cart.

I don’t recall what The_Dead_Fish_Museum  is – or why I placed it on my Cart. Or when. Which is the point of this post.

First a bit of back story. The other week I helped a friend out – made some suggestions on Skype about her in-progress house design in Revit – and she rewarded me by email with a generous gift card to be used at my favorite World’s Largest Online Bookseller.

It was the nicest gift I have ever gotten. In part because it was unexpected. In part because having helped was its own reward. In part because it was exactly what I wanted. And yet…

Critiquing someone’s design is hardly work. File under Joy, not Labor. And overlooking the questionable ethics of accepting rewards for performing work voluntarily and deciding whether to spend the loot on me, my family, or even on my friend, I immediately went to the Amazon.com website to shop.

That’s when I realized that I have 67 items in my Cart. I started adding to the Cart several years ago, around the time Amazon stopped removing items from the Cart and allowed them to accumulate, naturally, as they do in my basement and attic.

So, with the funny money (14 digit Gift Retrieval Code) in hand, I went shopping.

Rummaging through the items on my Cart, going back in time, is like slicing through a tree of your life to observe in the rings you’ve accumulated over the years; whether they reveal a harsh or mild winter followed by a barren or fruitful spring.

The Cart represents a timeline – of what it was you wanted, what once caught your eye or imagination, what you once desired. And unlike Amazon’s Wish List, the Cart is meant only for your eyes alone (and in rare instances, such as this, those belonging to readers of this post.)

Running down the list of items in my Cart inevitably patterns emerge. I have a tendency for example to look at – and place in my Cart – Buddhism books in the late fall. Every late fall. And poetry to help me get through the Siberian expanses of winter.

Every winter.

What follows are a few items in my Cart, annotated from memory of why they are there, what I was thinking at the time I placed them in my Cart.  Things I couldn’t afford at the time or saved for when I came into some cash. Things that speak to me.

Science Is Fiction: 23 Films by Jean Painleve DVD

Both my kids currently want to become marine biologists, if not entirely sure what that means. This Criterion Collection of short films set to the musical score of Yo La Tengo might be something we can share on cold winter days. The x-ray image of a seahorse on the cover is enticing. But will my kids watch it with me? If they wander off after one or two short films, do I really need to watch 21 short films about fornicating sea creatures? Verdict: Maybe the library will get it…

True to Life: Twenty-Five Years of Conversations with David Hockney by Lawrence Weschler

I cannot imagine a better use for a book, or time better spent. Verdict: Buy it.

Between Fire and Sleep: Essays on Modern Polish Poetry and Prose by Mr. Jaroslaw Anders

After 9/11 irony was dead, and humor was all but annulled. Poetry alone seemed to speak to those who needed consoling and Polish poetry spoke the most clearly and deeply, especially Stefan Garczyński, Zbigniew Herbert, Czesław Miłosz and of course Wisława Szymborska. Now that the urgency has passed, it would be nice to know how they manage to work their magic on us. Verdict: “Nice to know” is not reason enough to purchase.

Secrets in a Box (Adventures in Art) – Joseph Cornell

Verdict: Wait

Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki by David Chadwick

The story of how Buddhism came to America. Verdict: It’s late fall…Buy it.

Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis: Opportunistic Architecture

A good-for-you book. Nurturing. I would get this for myself when I felt the need to return to what it was that truly matters to me. When it’s no longer about keeping the lights on and paying the bills, showing up at the train platform every morning in my rain slicker. When I finally get around to purchasing this book it’ll be to honor the architect of old, to benchmark how far I’ve wandered off the path, or how long I’ve remained on it, to remind myself where the path is and how I stay the course. Verdict: Jury’s still out…

These, along with The Dead Fish Museum, are some of the things in my Cart. What’s in your Cart?

Do you see recurring patterns? Long lost interests or secret fascinations that were put on hold to take care of more urgent – but no less important – matters at hand? With the holidays ahead – and the promise of at least some downtime – what would you pluck from your list? Carpe diem translates literally not as seize the day but rather “pluck from the day.” What will you pluck from your cart to enliven, to enrich your day?

The Wisdom of Booklife December 4, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, creativity, fiction, management, optimism, survival, transformation.
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Money may not be able to buy you love but it can buy you – and those you live and work with – some happiness. How much happiness can $10.17 buy these days? It turns out – quite a lot.

You need not be a writer to enjoy a remarkable and inspiring new book, Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer, by writer, reviewer, editor, publisher, anthologist, filmmaker, agent, animator and blogger Jeff VanderMeer. The perfect book for the writer in your life, yes but in all actuality I can think of no better book for non-writers to read, especially as we’re nearing year-end, the time we ritually consider changes we would like to make in our own lives for the coming year.

Booklife, Foodlife, Worklife, Lovelife, Whatever. This book will – in less time, with less effort and for less money – give you the Xlife you’ve been looking for. Not in short shrift but for the long haul.

As with all books on writing you can read it two ways: to learn tips and tricks of the trade, or to be inspired. As the author wisely suggests: Keep one eye on the matter at hand, and the other on the horizon. Advice or insight, this book is no exception.

For seeking inspiration, and for extraverts in particular, the Public Booklife section will be of more interest – whereas for those more introverted (fellow architects?) the prospect of putting yourself out there – online or off – just the mention of it will raise heart rates. Introverts will enjoy the book’s Private Booklife advice on how to be more productive, effective, balanced and generally happy.

But as we’ll see in a moment, it is in the combining of our public and private selves that we are most likely to find paradise.

First an aside: When I need a pick-me-up, as I sometimes do in these particularly challenging times, I bypass the ginkgo biloba and go for some soul-soothing and inspiring Anne Lamott or Carolyn See, two desert island-worthy authors whose writing-cum-inspiration books will help anyone off their islands, desert or otherwise.

But back to Booklife. First, a qualifier – and this grain of salt is more like a boulder. Substituting the word “Booklife” for “life,” the book makes the relatively unremarkable claim that the ideal life harmoniously combines a public life (marketing ourselves and our work) and a private life (strategies for getting our work done.)

As we all try to balance our public and private selves and all more or less do this – some more overtly, others more seamlessly – this will hardly be an earth-shattering revelation. There are those who would argue that balance is detrimental to achieving goals – including the creation of lasting work. Balance is the enemy of creativity.

That “marketing” today is malleable and ever-changing, involving a heightened presence on social networking sites and new forms of self-promotion, doesn’t change the fact that it is still essentially selling.

And a thousand suggestions for inspiring greater productivity doesn’t change the fact that writing of all kinds involves two things: butts in seats + writing. Period.

But then again the billion dollar diet industry would vanish overnight should people follow the simple – but almost impossible to practice – dictum of exercise + limiting caloric intake.

Since writing is no easier than dieting, writing books will continue to be written as long as people need to lose weight. To this point there is even a popular writing diet.

As the burden of book production and publicity today falls primarily on authors, I took special interest in the Public Booklife portion of the book.

One online reviewer noted, “BOOKLIFE serves as a much-needed corrective to the sad ‘market your book like a carnival huckster’ approach too often found in books of advice for writers these days.” An example of shameless (more overt, less seamless) self-promotion (on a new media social networking site) would be if I were to right here, in this sentence, not-so-subtly mention that I am currently writing a book for publication. Oh, and when it comes out want you to buy it and tell all of your friends.

With the advice contained in Booklife, moving forward no one would ever again need to self-promote in such obvious fashion. A relief to this blogger who prefers more subtle nudging.

So what then makes Booklife so remarkable?

The author is unflinchingly honest, forthright, avoiding what he calls “rah-rah” sentences, saying it like it is. The author’s website describes this guide to sustainable careers and sustainable creativity as “the first to fully integrate discussion of the role of new media into topics that have always been of interest to writers.” But this isn’t what makes this book remarkable.

What makes the book remarkable is that it explores questions we all could be asking ourselves this time of year:

  • How can you use social media and the internet?
  • How does the new online paradigm affect you and those you interface with, or wish to sell, inspire or change minds?
  • How can you find the time to both create and promote you work?
  • What should never be done?

Additionally, Booklife will help you

  • get from point A to point B, whatever your destination or goal.
  • accomplish, wrap-up, complete and finish – especially for those who habitually start things but seldom if ever close the deal.
  • balance your personal life and career – whatever it is.
  • set goals for yourself in the New Year ahead.
  • and those around you to be happier – because you will be happier and better balanced.

Booklife is like a travel guide for destinations that you alone determine and focus your compass on.

Perhaps most of all,

Booklife serves as an uplifting, honest and resourceful survival guide in these Zombie-festooned, 2012-dystopic, troubling times.