Friday, February 17, 2006

Blind dates

I’ve never been on a date, but I’ve had several relationships. And they were intense, mind-bending, psychologically-trying periods of time – all which spit me out older, wiser, and a bit more mature (or jaded, depending on your perspective).

Imagine, every week, seeing this new significant other, waiting with baited breath, anticipating their words, their thoughts, their opinions. Imagine the emotional highs and lows, as some dates go extremely well, each of you in sync, finishing each other’s sentences, connecting through shared ideas and inspirations, while others are train wrecks, ending with harsh words, criticism, and a broken spirit.

But this is not a romantic relationship, one with dreams of long-term monogamy, the exchange of rings, or final walk into the sunset. It is an intellectual entanglement, one between teacher and pupil, where equal parts admiration and intimidation stir together to illicit some rather strong emotions.

Within an architecture studio, the design professor is the alpha member, setting the tone and atmosphere of the term ahead. And it is a dominating position, one that holds sway over the eager young students looking for guidance and insight into a strange and foreign world.

It is a scary proposition, at the beginning of each new term, this blind date that you embark upon. What do you know about this person that will take over your life for the months ahead? Rumors from others, bios you find on the web? Maybe, like a crush, you’ve done a bit of stalking, learned all you can about their behaviors and habits, their ideas and theories. And you enter the studio, hoping to have a bit of a leg up, an edge, since you’ve idolized this person for years and years. Either way, there’s no guarantee on the outcome of the relationship.

I like to think that I was lucky…that my relationships with my professors rarely, if ever, bordered on dysfunctional. I wasn’t the student to ignite their professional passion, whose work they would promote through their studio and into the architecture world at large. I was the solid, trustworthy backup – one that you could count on to do the work, do it pretty well, and ultimately make you look pretty good as a teacher.

But there was one relationship that was a pure disaster. It was a result of incompatible personalities, ideals, interests, and…well…you name it. I and my professor (in this case, professors) just never clicked in any meaningful way, which ultimately resulted in me not understanding them and them not really caring what I did.

In the three long months I spent trapped in an obviously bad match, I had, perhaps, five actually conversations with those figures meant to guide me. And, feeling neglected, I got angry, and I got defensive, I got annoyed, until finally, I just blew them off. Not the best way to make a positive final impression, but like any bad break-up, there are times when you just don’t care. And you cross your fingers that you never run into them again.

And while I like to think of them as being completely at fault for failing to do their duties as my professor, I know that I too am culpable for the outcome. After all, relationships are two way, are they not? And perhaps, since much time has passed since this awful period, I can now see that there were chances for me to change the relationship we had. But I was young, and ultimately naïve, towards the role my professors would have in my life.

Where I was looking for a bit of hand-holding, being a virgin to the ins and outs of studio life, the professors were looking for those bold enough to take lead of their work, and define their own ground. The professors might not agree, but it would at least give them something to work with (or against). I was too eager to please, too eager to make sure I was doing what I thought they wanted. And, ultimately, it was exactly what they didn’t want.

So now, as I work around my thesis, I try and remember this little lesson. I am in charge of my work. I own it, I create it, and finally, I answer for it. So, while outside input is always nice – a way to gain better perspective about the work I am doing– it is, in the end, up to me to direct where I head and what that means. It’s time to be bold. And I think, this time around, I am old enough to realize it.


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