January 21, 2010

Living With Dedication

Living with dedication is easy. Living with dedicated people is a little more interesting.

The fire alarm had been going off for a while. I’m not sure how long because I was editing a column with one of my young writers and didn’t look up to see what all the flashing was about until we finished. No one seemed to pay it any mind, so I did likewise, bidding goodnight to my columnist and turning to peruse today's letters to the editor. A few moments later a new arrival announced that there were fire trucks outside. Two photags immediately jumped up, grabbed their cameras, and headed upstairs. My attention finally having been pulled away from my computer screen (I always expect to hear that shhh-POP! sound that comes from a suction cup being removed), I decided now was a good time for dinner, only to find all of the eating establishments in the food court evacuated and closed. I returned to my cube and reached for my coat with reluctance. January after dark in Nebraska, need I say more?

“The food places upstairs are closed, so I’m going out to get something,” I told Adam, the news editor who takes up one corner our cube quad. “Do you want anything?”

“Why are they closed?”

“I guess they’re evacuated due to the fire alarm.”

“Should we be evacuated?” he wondered mildly, shuffling through his nightly stack of yesterday’s editions from other college papers.

“Well, I didn’t see any signs of actual smoke or fire, or any uniformed fire people running around, so I’m not too worried.”

“Do they even know we’re down here?”

I shrugged. The Daily Nebraskan occupies a mazelike space of interconnected open offices in the basement of the Nebraska Union on City Campus. It’s part cube farm, part frat house, part art studio. “I don’t know, but I’m sure they’d do a very thorough sweep if the building were actually on fire.”

Adam returned the shrug and I headed out into the cold for dinner. We never did evacuate and by the time I returned the fire vehicles were gone and the entire event was barely a blip on anyone’s radar and not even a momentary interruption of the nightly news cycle.

It’s much the same as the atmosphere at Architecture Hall. It’s not a place anyone really feels they ‘chose’ to be. It’s just the place they can’t picture not being. It’s a “where else would I be?” place.

Now that the fall Hyde studio has vacated the central portion of the Attic, the thesis students have set up house – literally. They managed to acquire one of a pair of sofas that have been floating around the building for as long as I’ve been here, alternately biding time in visiting professor’s offices and various studios, along with a few of the ubiquitous experimental chairs. (Honestly, why are we still redesigning the chair? If we haven’t gotten it right by now, and the never-ending number of famously uncomfortable architect-designed chairs seems to bear this out, I have to conclude we aren’t going to.) Add a television, wheeled drawers and carts serving as coffee tables, and a gaudy painting complete with gaudy frame hung on the support column behind the sofa and we’ve got ourselves a living room. In the next area over, all it takes is a queen sized air mattress to make ourselves a bedroom. We already had a kitchen consisting of the sink in the corner, microwave, several dorm sized refrigerators, coffee machines, toasters, and hot pots scattered throughout. Everyone is settled in for the year, with sleeping blankets and pillows tucked up in corners for the anticipated 2-hour naps following unavoidable all-nighters.

I stopped in a few times over winter break, mostly only to run maintenance on my computer (a welcome change for prior years of working straight through), never to find the college empty, even when the University was officially shut down – and the heat turned off. There were always a few students and more than one professor passing time bent over their desks or downstairs cursing that no one had refilled the vending machines this week.

And it’s not just that people are here all the time, it’s the people themselves. They really are brilliantly dedicated and I love being around them.

“Monica is getting back into the swing.” I posted on my Facebook status today, thinking of how the second week of the semester is going.

“And then the weekend comes…” my friend Christine commented.

But it doesn’t. I don’t get weekends. Saturday is just a day where I go to studio in the morning instead of work. And the places I go, the Attic, the paper, is full of like-minded people. They work hard and play hard, and half the time there isn’t much difference between the two.

I realize then that I’m very, very lucky, because dedication is only easy when one has the opportunity to both know and do those things that one couldn’t imagine not doing, if given a choice. Not everyone knows that or has the courage to do it. Worse yet, sometimes the may know and have, but culture conspires against them, creating expectations of "productivity" and "contributing to society" and "fitting in."

I can imagine not writing, not designing, and sometimes I can even imagine not thinking (my favorite pastime), but all of those imaginings make me sad. If those things should come to pass, I figure I’d get over it, but I’d grieve. That’s attachment for you, a cause of suffering, our First Noble Truth, but there’s a flip side to even that coin (if you'll parden the falsely dualistic metaphor). When I remember that I can write, I can design, and I can think (at least, I think I do), I feel very grateful for these things. I don’t need them, but I have them anyway, so it’s all gravy.

What makes dedication easy is the knowledge that it would be harder to live without these things I feel dedicated to than it is to live with them.

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