Of Grammar and Other Things

Syntax You know my intimate details: my commas, my periods, my exclamation points. How can I hide from you? Shared syntax, parallel structure, semicolons. You know my rhythm: my iambic pentameter, a-bb-a, my ups and downs. You have read the … Continue reading

Architecture: A School of Thought for Survivors

Life-Lesson #10

“Who We Are”

Countless times I have sat at my desk in the design studio and thought to myself, “What am I doing?”

Usually, I mean this question literally, as on some occasions in studio when the delirium has hit me like a ton of bricks and the model I am working on begins to resemble Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917. Today, I am thinking of this question more figuratively.

So far, the toughest years of my life have been the ones I’ve spent in architecture school. The long hours, the sleepless nights, the brutal critiques… Oddly, the number of times I have thought about quitting architecture school has only been more than a few: once during the spring of my freshman year with the worst professor I had ever had, second, my sophomore year when I had been working on a final project in Design Studio III, and now, my junior year, finishing my first semester of graduate school (as I am in an accelerated masters program).

It’s funny, all design students share a common “secret:” if you haven’t thought about quitting architecture at least more than once, you’re insane. We all (design students) walk around with the weight of our schoolwork on our backs – some of us literally carrying our plexi glass and matte board! At the end of the day, I think all design students want to be architects; whether or not we get there is the insurmountable foe that we dream does not exist.

As architecture students, I think we all carry the concern that, even though we will have worked our chops off in school, we are somehow pitifully destined to become “CAD monkeys.” Twenty-somethings that sit behind a desk all day at a computer, drafting floor-plans for a firm, using one of the most basic design softwares called Auto CAD, working from 9am to 5pm. On the flip-side, we also worry that we will become highly successful, depressed architects that have no time for their families or friends, and are instead consumed by the mundane repitition of clients, deadlines, and projects.

Projects…

Pretty depressing stuff, right? Well, recently, I have thought of quitting. In my head, I constantly calculate my future, weighing pros and cons that really only seem like cons: I either become a “CAD monkey” or a really successful, yet pitifully bitter architect. I think the only thing that has kept me going is one simple concept:

WHO. WE. ARE.

Those three words make up the ending of a sentence told to me when I was literally at my whit’s end. Only a few weeks ago, during the crunch-time of my first final in my graduate design studio, I had a real melt-down. Sitting on the bed in my brother’s apartment during Thanksgiving break, the night before my flight back to Miami, I thought to myself,

“I cannot do this. I cannot continue to work this hard, be this exhausted, be this drained. I can’t do this anymore.”

That’s when I reached for the phone.

“Renzo, I am so sick of all the work we have to do. Please tell me not to give up,” was the text that I sent. A classmate of mine, taking the same studio that I was, I reached out to Renzo because he was a friend. While waiting for him to respond, I texted Jasmin, another close friend of mine telling her, “I don’t want to wake up tomorrow.” The last person I texted that night was a very close friend of mine named Franchesca, asking her to pray for me.

While waiting for Renzo’s response, I remember feeling hopeless, scared that I would not be able to complete all of my work for the upcoming deadline, and entirely spent. His response to me was, “Danyealah, you cannot quit. That is not who we are.” I remember looking at my phone and feeling baffled. “How could he possibly know who I am? A quitter? Was that even what I had meant?” Then, with hot tears rolling down my face, a light-bulb went off in my head.

That is not who I am.

The next thing I said to myself was: “Who am I?”

Befuddled with a myriad of thoughts, I was unable to answer this question at the time. Now that the semester has ended and winter-break has begun, I have had a some time to give this question some true thought. So far, I have started by reflecting on the parts of myself that I know: I am a dancer. I am a singer. I am a caring friend. I am a poet. I am a Christian. Fair enough! Now, for the soul-searching… I have decided I am not a quitter. It is not who I am. I determine the person I am willing to be, and at this point in my life, I am most certainly not a quitter. What I am is a survivor. I would be lying through my teeth if I were to tell you that graduate school is cake – it’s not. Architecture school, in general, is just one of those things I have to push through in order to get to the position I desire. That position is definitely not behind a desk in the back of someone’s office, punching in codes from 9am-5pm. The position I desire to be in, is a position from which I can help other people. After all, that is my understanding of what architects do – we help people. We provide the opportunity for an enhanced quality of life through the means of design. That is who I am – a person willing to go through the fire, to come out with a degree that allows me to pursue a passion of helping other people.

All in all, it is the simple things in life that sometimes pave the way for a much broader understanding of who we are. In my case, it took my friend Renzo simply telling me that I was not a quitter, to nudge me toward a more hopeful frame of mind. Indeed, I have learned to persevere. What I offer to you, my reader, is to never give up. As my grandmother would say, “Keep on keepin’ on.” And as my friend Renzo would say,

“Never give up. That is not who we are.”

The Black Crayon in the Crayola Box

Life-Lesson #9 Everybody Has a Story A tinge of self-hatred arises when I think about the color of my skin. When I was younger, I was made fun of because of the darkness of my skin-complexion. I remember being nine, … Continue reading

Dancing with the Scars

We are all wearing masks:
Showing up to the show,
Dressed in our insecurities.

The waltz plays,
We hear the music,
The show begins:

The shortest skirt in the room
Twirls in and out of pain,
Seductively seeking attention –
Anyone to lick her wounds.

The largest ego
Swallows down his faults,
While burping up his pride,
Strategically searching for a woman –
A trophy-girl to mask his pain.

Won’t you step out onto the dance-floor?

We are all on stage:
Watching our wreckage put on an act,
Smiling at our emotional bruises,
Dancing comfortably behind our masks.

At the Jousting Match

Life is a game we play:
A tossed ball, a forgotten frisbee.

Memories fall out of a set like broken toys,
Chess pieces topple over into dust.

Life is a monopoly board, abandoned.

Figurines in a set,
Marbles in a box,
Dolls on a table…

Life:
Our magnetic tug of war.

J.C. – NOT J. Cole

Life Lesson # 6

In all my years of living, the best gift anyone has ever given me has been their friendship. My luck with friends has been spotty. If I listed all of the ways that I have been wronged by the “friends” that I have had, it would be pointless. I’d spiral into a frenzy of anger and unforgiveness; I’d be a wreck. The people in my life who have been real friends to me, the genuine, loving, listening friends have indeed made all of the trashy ones worth the pain. In all honesty, it is hard for me to talk about relationships. I spend a lot of my time giving my time to other people – people that I care about. I have had to negotiate the benefits of silence during times when all I could think of were hurtful, poisonous words to describe the way I felt after a broken friendship. There have been times in my life when I literally could’ve spit venom into someone’s face after enduring the hurtful remarks, the selfish attitudes, and the envy spewed at me from a person who I identified as a “friend.” As I reflect on all of my past relationships, I cannot help but think to myself, that graceful restraint has been a downfall. What really, do you say to a person who you consider a friend, when they begin to belittle you, admit that they are jealous of you, and fueled by their own insecurities, mock you?

What do you do?

As far as I know, there seem to be few remedies for emotional scars from broken relationships that actually heal those scars. In fact, there are so few remedies that I have determined there is only one elixir for the emotional turmoil that breeds from brokenness…

LOVE.

Yes, I will sit here, type this long, drawn-out post, and tell you that the only way I have healed from the wounds other people have caused, and wounds that I have allowed them to cause, is by taking a heavy dosage of love. I practically bathe in it – and saying that is an understatement. I mean, I really could just sit and around and spit fire all day about how I feel people have wronged me – I could claim my victimhood like a virulent infection and say, “Hey! Look at me. I am a broken mess because I have been mistreated by a number of awful friends.” As ugly as that sounds, many people live their lives with the armor of victimhood wrapped tightly around their hearts and minds. I tell you today, that even though I have been wronged,

I

am

not

a

victim.

And neither are you. It might sound a little harsh, but understand, harsh intentions are completely absent from this post. Because of my life experience, I can openly say that I do not wear the mask of victimhood. Although I have scars, and some deep wounds, I am more than a conqueror because of love. Yes! The “L” word that we often misconstrue, jumble up, and even believe does not exist. Love exists, friends. And it is powerful. Essentially, I am a testament to this: the good friends that I have had, the real friends, have loved me back to emotional health. The real friends that I have had have wiped my tears and listened to me drone through my most painful stories about low self-esteem. My real friends have loved me. Though far and few between, my real friends have loved me out of the bitterness, out of the unforgiveness, and out of the sarcasm I projected. Friendship has been the best gift given to me; it’s value is immeasurable, precious.

I would be remiss if I did not give all credit to the best friend that I have ever had. His name is J.C. and he’s such a nice guy. His dad sent him to me from a very far place. You see, his father saw the best in me. He literally loved me so much that he sent J.C. straight to the doorstep of my heart. When I first met J.C. I was wretched! I was so surprised at how much he cared for me, even when I abused his love. I cursed his name many times, told him him that I would not be able to trust him, and even turned my back on him time after time. But, in those moments he held me with such gentle tenderness that my heart had no choice but to melt in admiration for him. He has known me for all the years that I have been alive – our talks at night and our sweet conversations in the morning revive me. He has not only loved me back to life, and out of all of the sick mess that I’ve endured, he is love itself. Clothed in grace and rich in selflessness, Jesus Christ has been the best gift of love and friendship that I have ever received.

The Beauty of Being Heard

Life Lesson # 4

Today’s post is all about the beauty and quiet strength that comes from listening to another person with your heart.

I want you to think about the number of conversations you had with another person today – five, 22, or maybe even 50, depending on what you do for a living. Now, think about the number of conversations that you overheard – you know, when you became bored at work and simply found your thoughts trailing into the conversation of your co-worker who was on the phone, or the two people sitting across from you on the bus, or at the park.

Think. Remember. Contemplate.

Of those personal interactions that you either engaged in or overheard, or the ones in which you were being nosy (giving ear, where your ears weren’t invited), how much of the conversations can you say you actually remember? Was it the way the person was standing that peaked your interest, or was it the one button undone on your co-workers shirt that grabbed your attention more than the topic of conversation itself? My point is this: we never really listen to people – at all. But, we are excellent at pretending we hear and appreciate every, single word slipping out of a person’s mouth. We nod our heads every few seconds to show the other person we are politely interested in what he/she might be saying. Some of us even focus on looking another person directly in the eyes – or right between the eyes – so that they are as fooled as we are, and believe we that are focused and engaged. Oh, and let us not get too serious, because when we are getting “down to business” with another person, we furrow our brows as if to signify,

“Yes, what you have to say is completely interesting to me, and I could not be more intrigued at every word you’re saying if I tried.”

When I myself, want an individual to believe I am hanging on each syllable and every breath transpired, I lean inward (invading only a small fraction of their personal space) curl my hand to my chin, furrow my brows, and then BAM – there I am, looking entirely engaged, seeming as if I am participating wholly in the conversation. What I know is that this is a big, fat, bold-faced lie… At least sometimes.

On some occasions, I think we actually do hear people. We hear the agony in their voice when they are stressed, we hear the tense curtness in their voice when they’ve been overworked, and often we hear the illicit sadness in their voice when people are depressed. Our ability to hone in and really listen during the moments when people need to be heard the most, is an incredible gift that we possess as human beings. The truth is, we need to be heard and we need people to listen with their hearts. Yes, that pumping, vibrant, beating thing in your chest that has grown cold due to years of hurt, or, imagine this: years of not being heard. I invite you today to listen to at least one person, with your soul invested in what he/she is saying. Instead of doing what we normally do, listen with half our ears and our hearts still parked perfectly in our chests, I challenge you to do just the opposite. Most of the time, we do not even realize that we aren’t listening to people. What we are actually doing is thinking of our next response to what the person has said 30 seconds ago, with our minds typing up our next interruption. I guarantee that you will be amazed at the numerous benefits that come when you listen to someone.

Imagine the stories, ideas, creative knowledge, recipes, good ole’ days stories, your-mom-used-to-do-this tales, and when-I-was-your-age anecdotes that blossom from the beautiful exchange two people can have when they are both listening. On the flip-side, imagine what it feels like to actually beĀ heard. Imagine how much more rejuvenated you’ll feel knowing that you’ve taken part in sharing words with another human being (perhaps someone you really care about) and that those words have been received and digested by the both of you. Oh, the beauty of simply lending more than an “ear.”

Oh, the beauty of actually being heard.

Listening