Towards the end of December, 2012, I graduated with my masters degree. Immediately after the last round of thesis presentations, there was a party of bottom shelf sparkling wine, crackers, cheese, and a few cases of beer. I remember slipping onto the quiet, snow covered porch of the architecture building, looking into the frigid St. Louis sky and regretfully thinking that I was at a kind of peak in my life. It was. I had worked harder than I had ever worked before, I had delivered a stellar academic performance, and I had discovered some unique things about my relationship to architecture and the world. Like an Olympic athlete, there was one target, a clear path, and it was just a matter of doing it and pushing myself, as if the rest of the world didn't matter. It’s a luxury, with a steep cost.
Of course, it's all artificial. I doubt I'll ever have that experience again if single-minded pursuit of intellectual excellence, especially within the confines of academia. There is a real world beyond the curriculum- debts to pay, relationships to cultivate, a world to experience, a life to lead. While there aren't as many hard deadlines as in school, every new white hair and wrinkle reminds me that there are plenty of soft ones. Five years ago, I remember feeling a little lost and more than a little burned out.
In the the five years since then, I have had a remarkable time.
Professionally, I worked in five different offices. Two of them used languages other than English as the common practice. I resigned three times. Between Mexico and Portland, I watched my wages rise tenfold plus (although I was making only a few hundred dollars a month in Mexico). I honed my skills as a graphic designer with intensive competition work in one office in Germany, and the typical high standard construction details in another. I learned about apartment buildings, hospitals, and schools. I participated in a radical renovation of an 18th century tavern, and watched ancient wooden beams and structural columns get repaired and integrated into a wholly new program. I went from an intern to a job captain, running my own meetings with consultants.
I learned German, and took months of classes. I delved into the rich world of Mexican food and history, and awakened a passion for cooking and food culture.
I returned to Saint Louis to walk in my graduation ceremony, and celebrated with family and friends.
There were some weddings.
Saori's old school friend from Tokyo got married to a Frenchman. We took the TGV to Paris and celebrated with them in mind-meltingly swanky Parisian style, surrounded by champagne.
Our dear friend and classmate Dew got married. We went to Japan and joined their farm wedding including a night bunking in the “gaijin” cabin, outdoor roasting and feasting, and joined the crop circle where the principal architect from Klein Dytham married him to the farmer’s daughter.
My mom remarried, to a lawyer from Gainesville, Florida whom she had met while at school there. Tay and I went to her wedding along with Larry's sons. They had a lovely and small ceremony followed by dinner at the Royal Palms for the ten or so of us.
I got married. Three times. Once in Japan, in a way, where the Shinto priest asked for blessings on our common house, once in Louisiana with family and a big ceremony and celebration, and once in Portland, before a judge. My wife and I planned it with considerable financial and logistical support from my family, especially my mom and uncle. We celebrated outside of New Orleans with a large group of family and friends who traveled across the country and in some cases, across the world, to be there. We were wed in front of the mantlepiece of my uncle's Tracy's house, by my uncle David. Then we got legally married in Portland a few days later because Louisiana wouldn't grant us a marriage license. Two former classmates took a long lunch from their architecture jobs, and served as our witnesses at the county courthouse.
I traveled a lot. Mexico City, Puebla, and a scattering of remote and picturesque villages in the jungly mountains in central Mexico. Saori and I saw a lot of Europe together- Munich, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Paris, London, Barcelona, Porto, Rome. Venice, where we caught the famed architecture biennale. Ski trips in Austria and Germany. In the US, I spent a lot of time in Houston, Phoenix, and Atlanta, with short trips to Indianapolis, Tucson, Albuquerque, Austin, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Raleigh-Durham, and St. Louis. One new years, I flew up to Indianapolis to celebrate with Taylor, and we road tripped down to Ponca City the next day, even as he was grossly hungover. We got to grandma Betty’s house after dark, but she was beyond excited to see us. We celebrated her birthday taking her out to our favorite Ponca restaurant.
I lost my grandmother- Betty became suddenly very ill and weak not so long after that visit, but I was able to chat with her a bit via Skype before she slipped away. Cutting short a visit from my dad, I flew from Stuttgart to Oklahoma City and drove to Ponca with Larry for the funeral. I was one of the pallbearers.
We spent a lot of time, money, and energy simply moving residences. In five years I lived, full-time, in eight residences, not even including the several weeks I crashed at Saori’s waiting for my rental room when I first moved to Stuttgart. When Saori moved to Germany, we packed up the Saint Louis apartment, sold the rest, and threw it in a storage unit by the St.Louis airport. Saori took off, and I drove across the US back to Phoenix, where I sold the car, too, and caught a flight to Mexico. In Germany, we built back up from scratch for a few years, and then sold back down to a few suitcases, a chair, and about $1000 of DHL shipping costs for the giant cardboard boxes we sent back across the Atlantic. After finding an apartment in Portland, I flew to St.Louis, unloaded the storage unit into a uhaul, unloaded the uhaul into a shipping pod, loaded the shipping pod contents back into a uhaul, and unloaded the uhaul into our house in Portland.
In addition to cooking, I got more into plants, first orchids, then succulents and cacti, and now all types of houseplants, and reaching into the yard with perennials and grasses.
I found out I am going to become a father- which sharpened my focus and shaped the direction of the jobs and the lifestyle I searched for in the US.
In many ways, Saori and I are exhausted- five years of whirlwind, of struggle every day with both foreign languages and cultures, but also the rootlessness and restlessness. What we both really want is some stability, a fixed home, to establish ourselves, to know we’re building something. I’ve heard babies are exhausting, and will fundamentally change our lives- but it’s a different kind of exhausting than flinging our time, energy, and resources out into the world in the way we’ve been doing it for the past few years- it’s investing in where we are, in our family, and in ourselves.