Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Boy Meets Project

As time, so much time, plods along, I've forgotten all but a few moments of the school days (up to December l969; not counting all the classes, seminars and training sessions after that), and each of those are about a memorable or pleasurable feeling.  Sort of Wordsworth's definition of poetry, right?

And of those moments, only two occurred in the classroom, which should tell one something (seems like real life is outside the drawn lines; most everything inside them is suffocated).  I will never forget the day in Renaissance history class in the old, dark first-floor theater of the Shafer Court art building when Professor Blake held forth on the medieval German minstrels, pronouncing, in detail, the name Walther von der Vogelweide.  I was in awe of his theatricality, perfect in that environment, and his passion for the weird and wonderful human story.  The other brings us to today's topic:  in another arena-like setting in the new Pollock building, the beloved art history professor let us free-range on a project to be delivered in any media or by any method our creative, anarchic little minds could come up with.

I was drawn in immediately.  A chance to do your best in front of a group of smart, engaged people who were interested in exactly what you were interested in?  If you've ever given a presentation to people who could care less (that's most of the time, isn't it?), well, even at that young age I saw a rare opportunity to floor it like Thelma and Louise.  I picked African art as subject (intense visuals) punched up with a soundtrack crafted to each part.  Old bud Bob Antonelli happened to be working in the audio-visual department at that time, so after I recorded music and natural sounds on my own reel tape machine, I borrowed from RPI's stock some P.A. and slide projecting equipment with his expert help (zoom lenses -- yes!).

All set up on the due date, the lights were dimmed and I proceeded to scare (and maybe inspire) my fellow art fans with images of contorted masks, elegant animals, and gleaming bronzes to the sound of menacing drums.  Dr. Bonds really liked it, too; that meant a lot from someone we all respected.  But I had to understand the import of that moment, feeling that it was a rarity.  I did learn a life lesson right then, though, as psychologist Abraham Maslow has described:

Even if all our other needs are satisfied, we may still often expect that a new discontent and restlessness will develop, unless the individual is doing what he or she is fitted for.

As a hungry student, all my needs were certainly not yet satisfied, but I saw that a goal of becoming king of the hill (success) would only lead to an emptiness, because enough is never enough.  A sense of well-being and satisfaction comes from doing what you are -- but first, you have to find, seize or make the opportunity to do so when you can.  "The more we believe ourselves to be in control, the happier we are," says psychologist Gary Marcus, and I think the best way to be in control is not as CEO, but as -- strange as it sounds -- a project manager.

I found, in many subsequent situations in life and work, that process -- idea/breakdown into parts/working in a circle/construction/final product, under one's own control  made most any sort of school or work situation yield satisfaction and meaning.  An oral-history project for a graduate education class was realized using then-new portable videotaping equipment; an experience as exhilirating as making your own first documentary film -- but at no cost.  As a challenge or due to necessity, or both, I found  many times that even a daunting project could be done inexpensively and efficiently through creative scrounging, digging out the talent around you and learning new techniques (and it was amusing to see some people's surprise).  It was also a blast, even when the content itself wasn't inspiring (like building 18 server rooms in a new downtown building, solo).

Things I haven't done are holding planning or status meetings or use computer power; even after Excel and project tracking software were available, I made up Gantt charts on my $1 surplus sale whiteboard, and in the past two years planned our home renovations on 1/4" x 1/4"-squares blue graph paper.  In defense of such Old School methods, if when they built the new admission/gift shop area of the museum when we expanded years ago, they had used the computer-generated plans instead of my handmade paper one, there would have been an 18" gap right in the middle. Due to project planning, we moved everything from one floor to three while reconstructing and lighting large exhibits with not one bit of waste, damage or mismeasurement.  No committees, no management from the Board; just diagnostics, attention to detail, one legal pad and one tape measure.  I think my method's validity was confirmed when the Marriott Residence Inn hotel I worked for 1994-1999 was renovated by imported contractors under the direction of the absentee owners in Florida.  I had more fires to put out than Detroit's finest.

Don't have any big projects these days; just small restorations (like the 60-year-old Sunbeam Mixmaster now as good as new, and my 1985 cheapo Harmony guitar brought back to glory, both done by others who are much more knowledgeable and skilled).  I am working on one that's solely mental, learning about music, which most people did when about 50 years younger.  But I've been busy.



1 comment:

  1. Keeping busy is keeping the mind active. When cabin bound one must find something to keep interested. Music, writing, artwork, and whatever crosses your mind will keep you away from the daily business of crazy items of the world. Drink heavily.