Lemon-Scented Bivouac  

Fatherly and, eventually, teacherly blather. Also: graphic design, baseball, synthetic fabrics, jug band music and, lord help us, the occasional politics.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002  

I'm back in the classroom volunteering these days, but not today and not yesterday. Ostensibly the reason is the small batch of freelance work I have to do, but I could always do that work in the evenings, abandon the work on my Downstairs Screenprinting Concern and make sure I was in the classroom every morning. Why haven't I? For one, when you're watching someone else's classroom you're the passenger, stomping on the floor because your instincts tell you to brake, feeling a bit sick that you can't drive.

It's also no fun being in public schools when the news comes down that their pay raises are taken away and they'll have to pay more for their own health care. One teacher I've been volunteering with told me he may have to go back to California because with the signing bonus that the (desperate) Cali school districts are offering he could pay off his car. As it is, he can't make the payments. Or maybe he'll go to Reno; there are some nice areas around Reno.

I don't know what happens next, for me or the profession. Triangulating from this spot in history, the future of teaching looks like the present state of home health-care workers: Ridiculously low-paid and thus attracting only the least-qualified; subject to very long hours and high stress; and little considered by the public at large. It doesn't fire up my will to get out there and watch the classroom, I can tell you.

  posted by Andy @ 9:41 AM §

Sunday, December 15, 2002  

Today the unbearable architectural monstrosity a few doors down from us had an open house. Since this was a tour mostly for architects, our neighborhood was flooded with pretentious hyperneat honkies and their cell phones. If you haven't seen the place, it's the typical architecture-magazine brushed-metal look, with lots of corrugated metal walkways and fashionably tiny windows (the window in the kitchen is six feet wide and two feet tall, and you must be some sort of philistine if you think that's too small).

It also has a freakin' Jaguar parked in the living room for everyone to see. It has a little toilet room -- about three feet by three feet -- with a door with a window in it. It has the obligatory featured-in-an-architecture-magazine enormously tall bookcase fixture that blends with the staircase, although at least a quarter of the bookcase is inaccessibly high and another quarter is under the industrial-metal stairwell, which allows shoe dirt to shower onto the head of anyone choosing a book (we watched the shoe dirt cascade ourselves).

I could go on, but my point is that architecture, like any other practice of any complexity, embodies a lot of values. I've been enjoying reading Christopher Alexander and his talk about a pattern language and, although he blows a lot of the same architecture-magazine snot that's so irritating from the sniffy types, he does a very good job of bringing values into the discussion. The way a room is laid out, the way an angle invites you to sit or drives you out of the room, is directly related to how you think humans should behave in the world, and what we should want them to do.

This house we toured today embodied, almost exclusively, values I didn't know I hated so much until I saw them laid out that way. There's pretension, sure, but there's also the expensive car dominating the person who might want to eat a bowl of cereal in the living room; the thoughtless borrowing from cultures without honoring their traditions (a crappy metal "Japanese" style bathtub, for starters); the non-working bookshelf as display item. Mostly there were uninhabitably strange rooms that would probably look good in photographs but clearly hated when humans walked through them.

And it's also in the middle of a neighborhood of Craftsman cottages like our own. And it cost $802,000 to build.

  posted by Andy @ 10:46 PM §

This, I swear to God, is the banner across the top of Washington State's page on "government":

This graphic may be best enjoyed if you sing the lyrics of the old Talking Heads song:

I see the states, across this big nation
I see the laws made in Washington, D.C.
I think of the ones I consider my favorites
I think of the people that are working for me

Some civil servants are just like my loved ones
They work so hard and they try to be strong
I'm a lucky guy to live in my building
They own the buildings to help them along

  posted by Andy @ 9:18 AM §

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