Tuesday, June 13, 2006

All Tapped Out

It was the last week of term. I knew what I had to do. I knew what I had to do, and I still couldn’t make it happen.

Fall semester, fourth year. I was in a studio that actually excited me. I was reading texts that intrigued me. It should have been the perfect chance to prove myself. It would have been the perfect time to peak.

It wasn’t like I failed studio, like I showed up with nothing. But I ran out of gas. I had pushed hard all semester long, and like a marathon runner who’s come out too strong, I watch as some fellow classmates blew past. In then end, they had what I couldn’t summon. So, even now, three years later, I look back with some regret.

It was a fascinating dynamic, that studio. It had, grouped together, the top designers of our class. All of them, but one, which was unusual; it had been the unwritten school policy to spread them out as evenly as possible. But, they were all there, raising the bar.

The studio took time to pick up pace. For the first half of the semester, it often felt like I was the only one there. The others seems to breeze in here and there, make some pretty cool sketches, and mosey on there way. So I saw it as my chance; I was a process guy, so this meant I had the extra time to develop my work to match.

But the constancy took its toll. And, by the end, while I was finding myself drained, everyone started to pick up the momentum. With two weeks to go, things got horribly complicated.

My parents, in a loving, but ill-considered, gesture, had made plans to visit. Visit during the traditional push for final review. And, well, instead of asking about the timing, they booked their tickets, and dropped me a phone message about three weeks before they would arrive. Now tell me, what do you say to your parents, who have carved out time to travel well over three thousand miles to see you? “No” isn’t an option.

So they arrived for a five-day stay. I took the weekend off to take them around. But, once the week began, they would see their son for a couple of hours in the morning, when I would take them to breakfast, and for a couple more hours in the evening, when we would meet for dinner. In the meantime, they were on their own. I tried to plan things for them to do, though I have actual idea what they did. But, let me tell you, my house was never more clean then for those few days, when I tidied up for their arrival, and they decided to clean to some more, probably as a way to waste some time. But, that was it. I would be in studio by 10 am, out at 6 pm, back around 8 only to go home at 3 or 4. And repeat. And repeat.

I hate to admit to it, but I was relieved when they flew out late on Wednesday. It meant total dedication to work. But, in those few days, the work level in studio had completely transformed. Where, before, there was little in the way of final presentation work, now, as I returned to my desk, I found beautiful models rising, some amazing drawings starting to be laid out. I was behind, very behind.

It was a blow to my own momentum. And it got worse as I watched others work around me. One student, in particular, made it an impossible task to ever catch up.

He was an exchange student, from Singapore, with an incredible work ethic, and the ability to go for hours, dare I say, days without rest. And, in that final week, as I sat in our computer lab, fumbling my way through my AutoCAD drawings and a feeble attempt at a computer model, I watched as he cranked out work, like an unstoppable machine. It was a constant sound of clicking, the blurred motions of fingers, the hard staccato of the space bar being beaten into submission. In a few hours, I saw a plan become a section become an interior become a full-fledged, fully-rendered masterpiece. I think I cried, just a little.

I remember asking him how he did it…how he left after me, only to return just after I did. He chalked it up this his mandatory military training, the necessity to perform without the luxury of sleep. And, for a moment, I found myself wishing for the same training, the same rigorous behavioral modifications. I wanted to follow his lead, to find that second wind by matching his pace. But, my attempts had the opposite effect. Suddenly, everything seemed pointless, futile. And, when the final day arrived, I finished, but not like I had hoped, not like I had imagined.

The review went like other reviews. At least, that’s what I imagine. I don’t know. I was lost in a haze. Moments, I remember, but not much more. Not if I responded well, if I sold myself. Not of comments, or the general reception. I only know that, days later, I was still in that haze. And it didn’t lift for quite some time. In a way, maybe it still hasn’t.

Architects always say that passion for their work drives them along. So I wondered, after that final review, if perhaps, I was just not passionate enough. Perhaps, like a marriage, I had reached that rocky period, where infatuation ends, where the honeymoon becomes the daily grind, and the soft-glow of romantic idealism gives way to more harsh realities.

That studio, having followed another particularly hard studio, had killed a lot of my enthusiasm, even while it teased me with its possibilities. And maybe that’s what bothers me so much. What I imagined as my moment became anything but. And the studio that interested me most – well, it resulted in my weakest work.


Blogger Jane said...

You aren't alone.

I haven't commented here before but this piece brought back memories of my final year of diploma.

I was in an inspiring studio with tutors who brought new texts, new ideas on urbanism, etc. I was inspired but when it came down to the final 2 months suddenly i was paralysed by the pressure. All of my training should be reflected in this final project, it should be my best work. All inspiration left me, I started to panic. Madness after all the years of all-nighters and crits. I think my energy reserves just ran out, like yours!

I passed Part III 2 years ago and have been working for 5 years but I still regret that my final project was nowhere near my best work. All you can do is learn from the experience!

I really enjoy your blog. Hope your have a good summer after the reviews are over.

10:45 AM  
Blogger the silent observer said...

Hi Jane...thanks for sharing...it's nice to know I wasn't the only one to have this experience...glad you've enjoyed the blog...and thanks for your wishes, although my "summer" won't arrive until my program finishes in september....

4:16 PM  

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