October 27, 2007

Questions without Answers

There was a man who sat beside me on the plane from Minneapolis to Omaha. He was a nice enough gentleman and not terribly intrusive, though obviously bored. His sole carry on piece of luggage was a ukulele in a brown felt bag and a tiny little book in his jacket pocket about fatherhood. He chatted with me to pass the time. I learned he lived in a small town in Iowa not far from Omaha, he had a son and daughter, both unwed and living in Georgia, and he belonged to The Navigators a Christian campus ministry. He learned I was a student at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, on my way home from a conference, and also unwed. This was unfortunate, in his mind.

He asked if it was my first year in college and I had to laugh. "So far from it," I told him, "it's no longer funny." When he realized I was 27, he noted there was no wedding band on my finger. We talked about many things, but always came back to marriage. He teasingly tried to set me up with his son, who appeared to be searching for a smart, attractive woman, who made at least as much money as he did. The man assumed that when I said marriage was not on the top of my priority list, career must naturally takes its place. I laughed again and told him I would probably be one of the poorest architects ever, the kind who works for clients who can't really afford professional fees and will probably pay in potatoes.

The poor man looked even more puzzled. Truth to tell, I understood his quandary since it was something I have often faced myself. I explained to him that architecture is what I'm good at, it's what I do best, but not my ultimate goal in life. My goal is to help people and I feel that architecture is the means by which I can be of the most use. I had never explained that to anyone before. Saying it felt good.

I think he doubted me, doubted that anyone could exist whose ultimate goal was simply to "help people" in whatever way they felt they could best do so. I'm sure he saw me as a hopeless naive optimistic child. I suppose I am. I often set idealistic goals, because in striving for that ideal, even if I fall short, at least I might come close.

"God has a plan for you," he told me.

"So people say," I replied.

Yet something about the encounter puzzles me still. I find myself going over it in my head. Is my "career" simply number two on my list, or is it actually that my "career" is helping people. In that case, am I a career woman? I simply don't wish to acknowledge it because of the negative connotation?

And for that matter, why are there negative connotations associated with "career woman?" I even find them in my own mind from time to time, despite the fact that I've rarely known a woman who wasn't. Yet there remains this stigma of a cold, hard person who "neglects" her family, husband, and children, or else ends up alone, a bitter, old crone - angry that the world punished her for choosing her career over her family, or that she chose to even dare to try to have both. It bothers me to be associated with this stigma.

So instead, I choose a different route - claiming to value neither career nor family above all else. Is it truly a different path, or am I just splitting hairs?

"Haven't you ever been twitterpated over somebody?" he asked.

I just shrugged.


Stuff said...

That sounds a bit like a cultural thing (the man's comments). I've noticed most Americans are quick to ask 'so what so you do?'

My sister was over here not long ago, and was asked this at dinner.

'So what do you do?' she was asked.

'When?' she said.

The question of profession isn't so important to us . . .

So it sort of seems you might sound a bit like a hippy here. In my country, I suspect people would just say 'hey cool' and leave it at that if you told them you wanted to help people.

Did you get a chance to chat with many Canadians while you where there?

Jack said...

How do you see architecture connected to helping others? Is it by creating inspiring structures, by providing services to institutions which couldn't afford them otherwise, by designing very inexpensive living space, etc. ?

I'm just curious. My career has been a technical one. Near the end of my last one, I concluded that the net result of "good for others" effort was that I had made sufficient money to help some others in need. It wasn't a very satisfying observation.

Monica said...


I believe architecture has the ability to make huge contributions in so many ways. It literally impacts everyone's lives. Unfortunately, this is a potential which is too often overlooked and taken for granted.

On a more concrete level, buildings use something 25-35% of the energy in this country. The sustainable building movement is growing every day. Making buildings of renewable materials, placing them without damaging sites, taking advantage of public transportation, using non toxic materials, passive solar design, etc., all can help.

More applicable is a desire to create buildings which are well designed. A well designed building makes the lives of the occupants easier, healthier, and happier while at the same time looking after the environment and economy.

If you want to know more, I recommend Ten Shades of Green by Buchanon (if you google it, there is a website) which explains good design fairly well and provides good examples.

Don't feel to bad about your technical job. I think we often overlook the many ways in which we help people every day. Just smiling and saying good morning can have a huge impact on someone for the better.

ND said...

Talking about good architecture:

I actually visited Taos, NM, to look at these so called Earthships.

They cost very little and can be run completely off the grid.


Monica said...


I am familiar with earthships. I agree they are pretty neat!