July 30, 2009

Ghosts of Architecture Hall

Architecture hall has stood silent all summer, filled with no one but ghosts. And the occasional foolish grad student, which is much the same thing. Every time I walk the Link I expect to see a too-tall student sacked out on the too-short expanse of the Barcelona chairs on the second level balcony, one flip flop fallen to the floor, face hidden below a sweat-stained baseball cap. I expect to find a gaggle of forth-years on the main level, with all the tables pushed together so they can stare at someone’s misappropriated flat screen and go over the three-dimensional model of their group project, their overlapping voices echoing up to the third level, where small group of third-years gathers around the white tulip tables in the hard, curving tulip chairs to pore over some statics problem they just can’t figure out. I expect to run into professors who’ve stopped in the exact wrong spot on the mid-level landing to talk, forcing people to squeeze against the railing to get around them. There should be some misguided second-year weaving yarn in and out of the metal railings and fire sprinkler pipes in some intricate but essentially meaningless pattern as an attempt to study the manipulation of three-dimensional space. There should be sixth-years hurrying from the attic all the way down to the lowest level basement to check the project the laser-printer is spitting out and then all the way back up again, pausing only for yet another cup of coffee at the vending machines in the entry level. In the fat, square Corbusier chairs of the below-stairs lounge I expect to find an officers’ meeting for one of the half dozen student organizations which attempt, in vain, to ensure students in this college have a social life discussing studio culture or printing problems or what to put on this year’s tee-shirt, as if we all needed another. I expect the attic to be filled with the desperate punching of computer keys, the overlapping click of panicked mice, random cursing, and the muffled strains of music from dozens of different headsets, but eerily quiet for all the otherwise frenzied work going on within.

Instead the attic is dark and genuinely quiet the way only empty places can be. The Barcelona and tulip and Corbu chairs are empty. The media center and the computer lab and the wood shop stashed away in the basement are all locked up. Most of the faculty have run away for the summer, just like their students. All of the yarn sculptures and plastic bag experiments and post-it note collages have been cleared away. The Link and the Stacks are empty, the people gone.

But I still see them out of the corner of my eye. I still hear the echoes of their voices. I still keep a wary eye out as I round the circling stairs, watching for wayward professors. We get so used to things being a certain way, they become ingrained within us, habitual, karma. We keep expecting them to be the way they were. When they inevitably aren’t we feel as though somehow the world is wrong. Intellectually, I know it’s summer and the people are gone, but subtly it still feels like it should be otherwise. This soft sense of wrongness underlays every sight, sound, perception, and thought.

Now take that feeling and copy it a hundred fold. That’s life. That’s samsara. Nothing ever is quite the way we expect and fewer things yet are the way we want. Mostly, but not always, we want things to be as we expect because we think that makes it easier for us. It doesn't really.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can let go of these expectations. First we have to perceive them, all the subtle and not so subtle ways we fight against reality. Once we see them, we think to ourselves how silly that is. After all, there’s nothing actually wrong with there not being an exhausted student asleep in the Link. It just feels like there ought to be one because there usually is. When, in fact, it probably a good thing not to have exhausted students sleeping in the building. Then I can let go of that feeling of wrongness and move on without it nagging at me.

Sometimes we get angry when things aren’t the way we expect. Something ought to be this way or that way, for what we perceive as very good reasons. We feel like the world is unfair, like we’ve been cheated. Well, maybe we have and maybe not, but being angry about it certainly won’t magically make the world fair or the cheater stop cheating. That is easy to see, but most of our expectations are much more subtle than that.

Most are the ghosts of Architecture Hall, but these ghosts are my ghosts, so I’m the one who can either hold on to them or let them go.

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