The career not taken

Douglas said something very kind below about my bee-adorned mailbox, which happened to touch on the central crisis of my life.

Though a successful architectural student, I wasn't cut out to be an architect. I have no gift for arranging spaces to be beautiful or surprising. My gift instead lay in working out floor plans in two dimensions, and solving problems, and taking standardized tests. (It's a little-known fact that standardized tests are designed to measure how close the test-takers are to someone exactly like me.) I love the good architecture created by other people. But figuring out that architecture was a blind alley for myself was the most wrenching decision I ever made: dropping out of the graduate school that had awarded a full scholarship. I drifted for a long time afterwards before stumbling onto law school. Then in every single interview for three years, I had to answer the question, "Why did you drop out of architecture to pursue law?" Though I eventually worked out a brief answer that seemed to satisfy people, the choice occasionally bubbles to the surface to this day. There is a haunting line in a Leonard Cohen song: "The skyline is like skin on a drum I'll never mend." For whatever reason, the compulsion was unanswerable.

We were told in architecture school that we'd be shot if they caught us reading "The Fountainhead," but the horse was long out of the barn on that insidious romantic message.

I was meant to be a decorative artist, probably: in an earlier age I'd have made sure that all the handmade items like swords and doorknobs and keyhole plates were properly embellished, like those gorgeous Scythian tools carved with reindeer. My bee, for instance, lit me up on all registers, as something worth doing in its own right. He makes me happy every time I drive up to my gate. In contrast, no building design of my own creation ever once inspired me with a burning desire to see it built. I figured, an architect has to be practically willing to die to see his stuff go up, or it will never happen, it's such a difficult process. In my heart of hearts, I didn't like my designs. How would I persuade a wavering client to buy and build them?

Here's a mosaic that lights me up, in the Houston Intercontinental Airport, designed and executed by Dixie Friend Gay. It took a year's work from four artisans and 1-1/2 million pieces of glass tile. This definitely would be a job worth having. Check out the other views in the link; this work is on a long, undulating wall. I want one.

Never cared that much for law in its own right, but I could make a bazillion bucks and retire early, and a passion for identifying logical flaws makes me a good brief-writer and law review editor if not an all-around good lawyer.


bthun said...

Yup, Douglas is correct.

After reading your comments on practicing law, I now have a different view of my attorney's remarks to the effect that I should consider the study of law as my next mission in life. Hmmm...

*looks back over a lifetime spent in the IT industry*
All I know is that sometimes you have to work at something you might not enjoy with every fiber of your being. The circumstance, as well as duty to self and/or others, plus honor, not to mention self-respect requires it of one.

Blessed is the soul who toils over something simply for the joy of the labor, and gets filthy lucre out of the endeavor to boot! =8^}

Tex, I think your artistic ability, IMHO, might place you in that last category.

Grim said...

So, what you're saying is that you'd like to volunteer to decorate my swords?

BillT said...

I used to work with a guy who drew exquisite, whimsical pen-and-ink cartoons of insects. He wouldn't sell them, but he'd give them away in a heartbeat.

He also taught me the finer points of backblading a slag-paved construction road with a D-8...

Texan99 said...

Would I decorate your swords? In a heartbeat, if it can be done in a medium I understand, which doesn't include metallurgy or engraving. Though maybe I could learn engraving.

BillT said...

I'm sure Grim would be amenable to anything you'd suggest, T99 -- engraving, enamelwork, gold wire wrapping, inlays of enchanted gemstones...

Grim said...

Sure. Just take Tolkien as your guide:

For ancient king and elvish lord
There many a gleaming golden hoard
They shaped and wrought, and light they caught
To hide in gems on hilt of sword.

On silver necklaces they strung
The flowering stars, on crowns they hung
The dragon-fire, in twisted wire
They meshed the light of moon and sun.

Texan99 said...

Find me a supply of mithril and I'll get right on it, as soon as I finish the calligraphy on my niece's wedding invitations.

I used to know some SCA types who made their own chain mail. As I recall they cut tiny lengths of coat hanger wire and bent each link by hand.

douglas said...

For that I'd suggest chemical etching techniques like electrolytic etching.
or simple acid etching

As for your potential architectural career, apparently all you were lacking was a good sized ego... would cure you of worrying about if your designs were good enough ;)

I suspect you just didn't like the assignments you were given- which to a good extent shapes the results. Perhaps you would have been happier at a different school, perhaps one more traditional (hard for me to say not knowing where you went). As for liking your designs, I rarely like them once they're done- you always feel something could have been done better, some compromise went too far, etc. When you look back on old work, there are few you really are outright proud of- and I think it's that while they may be competent and functional, you strive for more. It's the part of an architect that's like an artist- of course, one has to keep in mind (and I tell my students) that the great artists work like crazy, and produce a lot- including a lot of garbage, but out of that 5% give or take will be good. We tend to think that the greats had some incredible talent, but really they usually worked like crazy and we end up only seeing the edited results where it's only the best 10% of their work tops.

Still, if you're producing things you enjoy, living well, and sharing with friends, well, what's to complain about, eh?

Texan99 said...

I'm afraid it was worse than that; my ego is pretty huge about things like this normally. I don't mean that I thought well of my designs but felt they weren't perfect. I mean that I thought they solved many problems to my complete satisfaction (and got me high marks that I felt I deserved, as well as a scholarship to Princeton graduate school and entry into every Ivy League graduate program in the country) -- but they were boring and ugly, as in, if someone built them next-door to me, I'd be annoyed.

The school I attended for my two years of undergraduate study in architecture was Rice. I thought they gave us very interesting projects. They sure didn't encourage us to be boring. I'm pretty sure the problem was right here with me.

I might have done well teaming up with someone with great visual imagination, and making his/her designs work structurally and practically. Even when we built and designed our house here, we started with a traditional vernacular design and fiddled from there.

Law worked out financially, but if I hadn't left my firm when I did, I'd have gone right out a window.

MikeD said...

Chainmail is dirt easy to make. It's just labor intensive as hell. I don't know that I'd use wire hangers, but the simplest method to get rings is to get wire in the gauge you want (and in the material you want), prepare a steel dowel with a hole drilled through the circumference at one end (the dowel will be the diameter of your rings). Insert the dowel into a high torque low speed drill. Grasp the wire firmly with a gloved hand (mostly to avoid the mess, but some small heat will be involved as well) and SLOWLY spin the drill while guiding the wire around the dowel.

Once you've got a spring-like coil of wire, take out your handy wire cutters and simply cut along the length of the coil. You'll end up with a bunch of equally sized rings. Then it's simply a matter of making the "cloth" by fitting one ring to the next and butting the ends together to close the loop. Butted chain needs more frequent repairs than welded or riveted chain (as butted rings have a tendency to fall out under use), but is less time consuming to make.

Texan99 said...

They either thought was cheating or (more likely) didn't own a power drill, because I remember them wrapping the rings by hand -- using modern steel pliers, of course.

Mithril is better.