Category Archives: Site Updates

Back East

Once again, I’ve decided to dust the cobwebs off this blog and bring it back to life. Over the past few posts I made a big deal about wanting to clear excess detritus out of my life, and the self-imposed commitment to maintaining a personal blog ended up being one of the things that got chucked by the wayside as I concentrated on finishing grad school. A quick rundown of what I’ve been up to in the interim:

I ended up staying out in Los Angeles for an extra semester and delaying my graduation for a year. This was due to a number of factors, mainly some problems I was having with my Structures course sequence being complicated by the university’s switch from a quarter system to a semester system, as well as my desire to spend some more time working in LA and see my project along to a more complete stage. I returned to Cincinnati in November 2012, but not before spending a week stranded in San Bernardino County while my Jeep’s transmission had to be rebuilt. (Buy me a drink sometime and I’ll be happy to recount that story. It’s a real hoot.)

Bad tranny

Bad tranny

By taking an extra year to finish grad school, I was given the opportunity to take another co-op placement. I ended up working for a mid-sized firm in New York City over the summer of 2013 and greatly enjoying it. I had actually been planning to spend that co-op at a local firm in Cincinnati, but applied to the firm in NYC without thinking I stood much of a chance of actually getting the position. The firm does great work and I felt that my portfolio was, at best, middle-of-the-pack compared to my classmates, and I was somewhat leery of moving back to NYC after getting seriously burned-out with the city twice before. To my surprise, I got hired and the job turned out to be the best co-op placement of my grad school career. While walking back to the subway one night, it dawned on me that, despite all my frustrations, New York felt at least as much like a hometown to me as my original hometown of Cincinnati. I eventually made the decision that I would try to move back to New York upon my graduation the following spring.

I returned to Cincinnati in August and spent the next nine months fleshing out my thesis project, which I had decided would be something small and manageable: a new Penn Station for New York. It was either that or a meditation cabin in Oregon. Meanwhile, I had begun the search for post-grad school employment. After several months of false starts and dead ends, I received two offers within minutes of each other late in the spring semester: one from a local firm in Cincinnati that does a lot of fairly bland workplace design, and another from a small boutique firm in New York that does mostly high-end residential and hospitality projects. I picked the latter option, and began preparing to move to New York while I finished up my thesis.

In April, I successfully defended my thesis and completed my Master of Architecture degree from the University of Cincinnati. While finishing my bachelor’s degree in 2010 was a huge relief at the time, it felt more like a formality than anything else; it was just my permission slip to enter grad school. This graduation ceremony, though, was the real deal. Looking back several months later, I still can’t believe that I actually did it.

Pro tip: When you can't win over the thesis jury with quality, overwhelm them with quantity.

Pro tip: When you can’t win over the thesis jury with quality, overwhelm them with quantity.

World of PainWith hardly any time to catch my breath after graduation, I put all my stuff into storage once again, boarded a plane to New York, and started working at the aforementioned boutique firm the following Monday… And it immediately became clear that I had entered a world of pain. The work environment could best be described as abusive, the hours were extreme, the work was unoriginal and unproductive, and the firm’s financial standing appeared to be shaky at best. I began sending out resumes again before I had even gotten my first paycheck.

In late June, I visited Chicago for the AIA National Convention. It was my first visit back there since graduating from DePaul in 2010, and the longest I had been away from the city since I first moved to the area in 1993. It was great to see the city again and renew some old friendships, and to let go of some of the bitterness I had been feeling about Chicago since I had moved away in 2007. New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are great cities that each have their own unique personalities, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have lived in all three at various times in my life.

Another benefit to attending the AIA convention in Chicago was a chance encounter with one of the principals of the firm where I spent my last co-op before thesis year. One thing led to another, and within a couple weeks of the convention I had accepted an employment offer at this firm and turned in my resignation at the abusive boutique firm. It didn’t happen a moment too soon; I had been expanding my job search to the west coast, and was seriously considering moving to Los Angeles or Portland if the right opportunity came up. I love New York, but it’s impossible to survive for long here unless you love what you do, and my first priority was to find a better employment situation. Luckily I didn’t have to move again; I’ve now been at the new job for about four weeks, and so far it’s been going well.

With my job search happily resolved, my next big priorities are to find permanent housing here in New York and to complete the Architectural Registration Exams. I’m hoping to have enough money saved up for my own apartment by around January or so, and I’m hoping to be registered as an architect within the next year or so.

My resolution for 2012 was to rid my life of distractions as I finished grad school. Now that that’s done, it’s time to start building again. Wish me luck; I’ll certainly need it.

Good luck cats

Diaries of Past Lives

I used to keep a journal back in grade school. It started out as a personal diary that I began keeping in 7th grade, and it probably grew to about 20 or so hand-written pages in a notebook before it was confiscated by my math teacher. He had the audacity to insist that I should be paying attention to his lesson instead of writing in my notebook about how much I hated his class. The nerve. I was told I could reclaim my notebook at the end of the semester, but when that time came, the teacher had either misplaced it, burned it, shredded it, or sent it to the FBI. Regardless, I never saw it again.

In the meantime, I had begun writing in a new notebook, picking right up where I had left off. That one continued through about 8th or 9th grade, and had grown to considerable size by the time I tore it up and threw it away during a particularly emotional episode. Strike two.

I didn’t keep a journal for a while after that, but began a new one as part of a creative writing class in my senior year of high school. We had begun the class under the direction of one teacher who gave fairly detailed instructions about what we were to write about (“Today we’re going to write in haiku…”), so there wasn’t much room for real self-expression. Things changed when that teacher was abruptly laid off mid-semester during a round of budget cuts, and our class was put under the direction of another teacher who already had far too much on her plate. Gotta love the public schools.

She’d usually let us go outside and write about whatever the hell we wanted in whatever format we wanted, as long as we had something to turn in at the end of the period. I don’t think she was too happy about suddenly having another class to teach, so she kept things about as low-maintenance for herself as possible. As it turned out, she happened to be one of the better teachers I had in high school, and her feedback was greatly valued.

I continued writing in it off-and-on after high school, and then finally made the switch to the computer about a year or so later. That continued for about the next five years or so, and I even transcribed the old handwritten journal into WordPerfect as well. Since I didn’t yet have a computer of my own, I was keeping everything saved in password-encrypted files in order to protect the contents of said files from prying eyes.

By the time I finally got my own computer, I had pretty much lost interest in keeping a journal. The old WordPerfect files were simply copied into an obscure folder in some dusty, seldom-accessed corner of my hard drive, where they sat all but forgotten.

This was years before the word “blog” was invented. When I finally jumped onto the blogging bandwagon, I was using MySpace and didn’t really feel like copying and pasting all those old journal entries onto my blog via MySpace’s clunky interface. Besides, that blog pretty much only existed to keep my long-distance friends up to date on what was going on in my life, and the details of my high school and early college years didn’t seem particularly relevant.

However, when I decided to make the switch from MySpace to the blog you’re now reading, I gave some consideration to copying in all my old journal entries, in addition to all the old MySpace blogs and other assorted blog-like writings of mine. Imagine: 15 years of David’s navel-gazing in written form, all organized by date and category in one easy-to-navigate site. How convenient for those who have far too much interest in my life and/or far too much time on their hands.

My first step earlier this evening was to open the old WordPerfect files. This proved to be a challenge, as I had forgotten the password I had used to encrypt them. I tried dozens of possibilities to no avail, and eventually downloaded some software that claimed to be able to crack password-encrypted WordPerfect documents. Since I didn’t feel like shelling out the $50 for the full-blown version of the software, I was forced to settle for the trial version, which only gave me the first two letters of the password: BA

BA? What the fuck, I thought, I don’t think I’ve used “BA” for any sort of password, ever. I then spent the next half-hour trying to think of all the words that begin with “BA” that I might have used as a password a decade ago.

Bar? No.
Barf? No.
Backup? No.
Basket? No.
Ball? No.

And so on. I was completely baffled. And “Baffled” didn’t work, either.

Finally, after dinner, it hit me: Banjo. It referred to a stupid inside joke between my high school friend Kevin and I. It tried it, and it worked. Open sesame.

When I began reading through some of the old entries, though, I realized that some things are best left in the past. Much of it was just plain juvenile, like the stuff you see on most 14-year-old’s MySpace blogs. Lots of pointless teenage angst, and lots of righteous indignation about things I considered myself an expert on at the time. (Thank God I never write like that now… Ahem.) There were also more than a few personal letters that remain nobody’s business except myself and the original recipients, and there were a few topics broached that are nobody’s business except on a need-to-know basis. Above all else, though, I realized that while my blog entries have always been written for a public audience, my old journals (save for a few early entires to be read by a harried creative writing teacher) were written strictly for my eyes only. And so they will remain.

But I’ve removed the password protection, just in case I change my mind at some point in the future.

In other news, I’ve finally gotten all my old photos organized into galleries and published on the site. Check them out via the link on the left-hand side of this page and let me know what you think. Most of them are fairly basic travel snapshots, a few are horribly amateurish, and a few of them approach something that might resemble professional quality. You be the judge. Someday soon I’ll get myself a half-decent digital SLR camera and learn how to use it properly, and you’ll hopefully see a substantial improvement in the quality of future gallery additions.

That leaves my portfolio as the one big piece of this site that remains to be built. Most of the content exists, but it will take some time to do all the usual formatting crap. I also have some minor graphical tweaks in mind for the site in general, but I’m not sure when I’ll get around to it. Stay tuned.

For now, though, I’m heading to bed.

First Blog Entry: A Brief History of Me

(Edit: This was my first official blog entry, originally posted on MySpace. Any entries other than this, such as many of the photo galleries, were originally posted elsewhere before being imported here.)

Now that I’ve joined the MySpace bandwagon and rediscovered some long-lost friends, I thought I’d post a quick rundown of what I’ve been up to all these years…. And I may as well start at the beginning:

March 1975: Born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Lived across the river in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, and attended Samuel Woodfill Elementary School.

November 1984: Moved to Asheville, North Carolina. Attended Claxton Elementary School and Hill Street Middle School.

February 1987: Moved to Jacksonville, Florida. Attended Pine Forest Elementary School and Matthew Gilbert Middle School.

June 1988: Moved to Beaufort, South Carolina. Attended Robert Smalls Middle School and Battery Creek High School.

Have some of you guessed that I was a military brat? Talk about a fucked-up way to go through childhood.

This is the point in the story where some of you MySpace friends come onto the scene….

February 1991: Moved back to Jacksonville in the middle of my sophomore year. Attended Samuel Wolfson High School, and soon fell in with an eccentric group of students who would become known as the Whigs. I didn’t know it at the time, but some of these Whigs would become lifelong friends.

Summer 1993: Graduated from Wolfson, said goodbye to the Whigs, and moved with my family to the outskirts of Chicago. My plan was to attend architecture school at the University of Cincinnati, but I decided to wait a year in order to save up some money and knock out some general education classes at the local community college. I got a job working at a Target store in Gurnee, Illinois and later at a Circuit City in Vernon Hills. Not a particularly fun time for me. Cincinnati didn’t work out, and I stuck around for another year as I gradually began to adopt Chicago as my new hometown.

September 1995: Began classes for a Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies (the first step on the road to becoming an architect) at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Also began working as an intern for Perkins + Will, a large and well-respected architecture firm in Chicago. This was my big break into the profession. Unfortunately, balancing work and school took a heavy toll on me mentally, physically, and financially over the next few years. I switched to a part-time course load, and eventually decided to take a semester off.

Around this time I became active with the Fourthcomers group at Fourth Presbyterian Church, picking up a few more lifelong friends in the process.

This is where the ride gets bumpy.

November 1999: One semester off became a year off, and, well… things started getting ugly. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was pretty deep in the throes of clinical depression. I officially withdrew from UIC, and started making plans to finish my degree elsewhere. I left Perkins + Will around the same time, and began a series of crappy temp jobs at various firms.

June 2000: I moved to Boston with the idea that I would transfer to the Boston Architectural Center, which has a program that allows students to work full-time in architecture offices during the day and take classes in the evenings. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I only got as far as orientation before my housing arrangements collapsed at the last moment. By Labor Day weekend I was facing the real possibility of homelessness, which was a huge wake-up call to me. It was around this time that I finally turned the political corner from being an angry conservative into being an angry liberal.

September 2000: I ended up moving back to Chicago on short notice, and stayed with some friends until I could get back on my feet. I ended up working for a couple of highly-dysfunctional architecture firms in the city. Finishing my degree was on the back burner for now.

March 2001: Despite what I was going through, I managed to spend a week in London, my first trip outside the US, and somewhat of a pilgrimmage to my family’s ancestral lands. What an incredible experience.

September 2002: I left Chicago once again, this time for Philadelphia. I had been accepted as a transfer student at Drexel University, and had landed a promising job at a firm in southern New Jersey. Over the next few months I was making good grades at school, and for the first time in my career, I was in charge of designing a real building from the ground up. I had also become active in the Episcopal Church, and fell in with a group of Canterbury Club members who would become close friends. I also bought a decent car for the first time, and moved out of temporary quarters into a nice apartment in Philly. Things were finally looking good… Until the floor collapsed out from under me.

March 2003: Precipitated by the sudden meltdown of a relationship, depression reared its ugly head again, in a big way. My house of cards began collapsing all around me. Over the next few months I had quit school again, lost my job, had my car repossessed, and was in real danger of losing my apartment as well. Once again I felt like I was on a downward spiral. I remained unemployed for the next 11 months. The silver lining in all this, though, is that I was finally forced to seek treatment for my depression. While there’s no cure and I’ll probably have to deal with it for the rest of my life, at least I began to gain some degree of control over it, and things have been much better for me since then.

February 2004: With my unemployment benefits about to expire and with no job prospects in Philly, I moved up the road to New York City in search of greener pastures. I found myself living in a shithole of an apartment in Brooklyn, and later an even worse shithole of an apartment in Manhattan while working for a couple firms in Midtown. One bright spot in my life, though, was my involvement in various activities at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which soon became (and remains today) the center of my spiritual life. A few more close friendships made here.

November 2004: Despite my involvement at the cathedral, life in the pressure cooker of NYC was taking its toll on me, and I was once again feeling the itch to finish my degree. After losing my second job in NYC, I used my severance check to buy a Jeep Cherokee, packed everything I could fit into it (and threw away anything that didn’t fit), and moved to Eugene, Oregon. My idea was to eventually transfer to the University of Oregon, but what I really needed was some time in the wilderness to get my shit together. Although NYC wasn’t right for me at the time, I still see myself returning there someday.

March 2005: After three months of exploring the Oregon Cascades and doing some serious soul-searching, I decided that I still had a lot of unfinished business back in Chicago. It was time to stop running from my problems and get my life back on track. As luck would have it, a good freelance opportunity with an old friend in Chicago arose, and I soon found myself back home and beginning the process of rebuilding my life. That summer, I began working for an architecture firm in the River East area.

March 2006: I began classes at DePaul University’s School for New Learning, a flexible program for adult students to earn their BA degrees on a part-time basis. So far I’ve been happy with the program, and I’ve been getting excellent grades. In the meantime, I began the long and painful process of paying off the mountain of debt I had managed to accumulate over the past few years.

October 2006 and Beyond: After about a year-and-a-half back in Chicago, I seem to have reached some degree of stability in my life. I’ve been working at the same firm for over a year now (longer than I’ve held down any job since leaving Perkins + Will), while it’s an incredibly dysfunctional firm that comes with a great deal of stress and frustration, it’s also been a good learning experience and I have a good chemistry with most of my co-workers. If nothing else, it’s at least given me some much-needed financial stability while I pay off my debt and finish my BA degree.

If all goes well, I’m hoping to have completed my BA this spring or summer. After that, the plan is to start grad school for my Masters of Architecture degree, which I need to obtain in order to become a registered architect.

Do I have any regrets? Of course I do… Over the past ten years I’ve made some stupid choices, burned more than a few bridges, and have had some pretty fucked-up attitudes about many things in life. But part of growing up means learning from your mistakes, and I like to think I’ve learned a lot. No doubt I will continue to make more mistakes and bad decisions in future years (including a few of the ones that seem to be a recurring pattern), but when all is said and done, I really wouldn’t change a thing about any of the above.

Now that I’m in my 30’s, I’m feeling the itch to settle down and sink some roots, rebuild a few of those burned bridges, and restore some lost friendships. This foray into MySpace is part of that effort.

What does the future hold? Hard to say at this point, but chances are I’ll be leaving Chicago again next fall for grad school, since neither of the architecture programs in town excite me all that much. The only question is to where. I’m planning to apply to Cornell, UPenn, Harvard, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Oregon. Where I actually end up going is anybody’s guess, but right now I’d consider Cornell my top choice.

My long-term plan is to eventually start my own architecture firm, and right now New York City is the place I most likely see myself doing that. But then, the one major lesson I’ve learned from all the above is that the quickest way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans.

In the meantime, feel free to come along for the ride….