Hank’s Diary: Spring 2012
A few years ago I received a note from the founder of the Sun, a terrific magazine of interviews, literature and readers’ writings about topics which are planned and deadlines published a year or so in advance. The magazine was on the ropes, and the founder/publisher/editor had decided that things needed to change, economically, in order for it to sustain itself. Like those great television advertisements that you can’t ever recall exactly what it is they were hawking (Jobs and Chiat-Day’s famous 1984 commercial for a Super Bowl long before the roman numeral L loomed, for instance), I don’t remember exactly the strategy offered by this brilliant man of the Sun – it might have been just a hike in the price of subscriptions in order to keep the slim magazine advertiser-free, a huge basis for editorial freedom, for sticking to convictions, virtues, rubbing away the silvery goo on a lottery ticket called Truth – but apparently it worked. Just the other day, at the end page of the Utne Reader, Eric Utne himself wrote that the magazine he’d founded was now moving to Topeka, classically not Minneapolis, after having been bought out a few years prior. He wasn’t melancholy. Hardly, far from it, more of a cheerleader – it was his baby, after all. You let your children grow up and go off to college and all you can do is encourage and advise either quietly or boisterously from the sidelines. Mr. Utne had a couple of suggestions about departments to keep, and the culture they would, he hoped, maintain, but otherwise fanned the new group to go wild, combust, experiment with new ideas. When Tina Brown, editor of Vanity Fair, moved to the New Yorker it seemed as if everyone collectively shuddered; the stakes for the magazine for literature (along with the Paris Review) with its venerable Baffert-esque stable of whinnying and brushed down writers here and then who made their names household, big screen, along with the tugging and leading and perhaps even love from two longtime editors who stood not in the shadows, but basking in the glow of the talent who actually admitted their genius in mentorship. It was all going to come crashing down – there again was that ubiquitous Chicken Little. What did Ms Brown do? To the world as well as to writing, she brought color. The covers of the Atlantic Monthly and Harpers change just about mid-generation, it seems, or each time a newly hired editor hires his colleague, the new art director.
It’s the institution, stupid.
The headmaster – in fact, John McPhee wrote a book about him, called The Headmaster, who we not altogether affectionately called the Quid, and it took me a long time to understand why we did so (it was slang for a wad of chewing tobacco, he being the player/coach of the baseball team, whose field was the only sport featured on the upper quad) – the headmaster at the school where I began my secondary school years had been in that capacity for more than 60 years. The second ever in history joined us during my senior year and suspended me (and a few other friends) for a few weeks at the end of the year. We were the first ever to be suspended, or so it is remembered, the Quid never admitting that he couldn’t turn a kid around single-handedly to be an esteemed citizen for the present and future. Anyway, we were misjudged in the grand scheme of things, 90 percent innocent – there were girls and drink – but wholly innocent of the charges, which were trashing, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, a mogul’s penthouse who knows where in New York City (I’d come from Phoenix). He – the mogul – had showed up the weekend after us, visiting his perch for the first time in an untold number of years. He had something like 12 sons, one of whom was our buddy who’d backed out of joining us at the eleventh hour, another who was in his mid-40s or maybe older, from like five or so wives ago, and many of them had been taking advantage of the place week in and out for years. We’d noticed champagne and other stains all over the place when we’d visited. The Quid would have been angry, for sure, but he might have been more lenient, understanding things about the mogul, who’d sent every one of his kids to the school. But we were a convenient example. I never minded, truthfully. I never minded. My parents had known all about it, and my penance was to go to the library at Arizona State University with coeds for three weeks in order to write a thesis-like paper. Today the school keeps pumping out world-renown statesmen, CEOs and artists alike.
I’m not physically nor emotionally running this gig for 60 or more years. I’m probably not physically running it at all any more, really, although I wish I were able. I like spending time with these students, kids younger than my oldest sons. I like getting to know them, maybe even helping them get to know just who they themselves are, or, more importantly, who they can be. I have no design on it, no real pedagogical sense, really; it drives all of the academics crazy. I can try to be apologetic for it, knowing how serious they all seem to be about their meetings and things. I’m a fan of Mockbee, Socrates, and even Rem Koolhaus, I’d guess, who refuses to teach anything he thinks he knows anything about, or so we’re told. I’m on record just about everywhere with an advocacy of Paulo Lugari’s advice to the apprehensive engineer/school head who he’d appointed to take the reins of his “village to reinvent the world”, Gaviotas, an experimentally sustainable community built from scrub by all kinds of engineers, brave and strong-willed, in the savannah of Colombia, “You only have to be right 51% of the time!” The stiff-collared of the bureaucracies of the Academy don’t seem to get that for a second.
We at DesignBuildBLUFF work with the clients in order to achieve a home that will bring souls to tears of outright joy all around. It just happened with the home we’re calling Little Water, which we constructed for a pair of invalided Navajos, parents of a friend of ours, Gary, who has helped us with plumbing for the past couple of years (I would never deny the fact that we, like everyone else, don’t give me any shit, are a political organization, just like the behemoths that we work for and with). Tears were flowing from all sets of eyes as they so graciously and ceremonially professed their gratefulness for the home, not for themselves, but for a home that will stand and protect their grandchildren, and perhaps even their great grandchildren, allowing all of them to stand just that slight bit more erect.
Recently we made a mistake by choosing the wrong client to receive one of the smallish – 1,000 square feet or fewer – pieces of architecture we design and build for them, free of charge. In the case of a person who I thought might be good for the Reservation as a whole, an educator in the midst of his PhD studies at the University of Utah, his wife a respected school teacher in the Salt Lake Valley, anxiously awaiting a return to teach the children of her own culture. He whined because we couldn’t provide him surround sound, nor a hot tub. He’s just a tiny smear, like most of us; he just wants to be bigger.
It’s the institution, stupid. It’s the students. They’ll keep scraping away at that silvery goo on a lottery ticket called Truth.