A Look Back

I am a thinker, a reasoner, and a questioner.  This is an asset in many ways and a great burden in others: I can wear myself out without moving a muscle, just puzzling and debating and agonizing inside my own head.

After the past couple of months, I need to take a break while I contemplate the future of this blog.  There are so many reasons for this that I won’t bore you with the details (if you want them, please e-mail me privately.)

While I do this, I’d like to leave you with something to read, though; nd I thought it would be appropriate to go back to the very beginning of my writing career – the Cooper Chronicles, a series of weekly e-mails I sent during my time in architecture school in New York. 

Sometimes things are clear, and at the time it seemed very clear that I loved writing, people loved reading it and I should continue for as long as possible.  None of those things seem clear thirteen years later, so my hope is that a break, coupled with some inspiration from my past self, will provide that.  I’ll continue to read your comments, of course (one of my greatest joys!) and I’ll be back in a month, God willing, with a fresh perspective and a plan.

So, without further adieu: the story of a little girl in the big city.

august 23, 1998

well, the time has come — the time is now — for me to move on.  i’ve been slowly packing my life up into cardboard boxes and duffel bags, gathering up the memories, the hippie skirts and the kitchen utensils for loading into the car.

this letter is an introduction to the latest phase of my life. in less than 24 hours i will be leaving for college in the east village of manhattan, going to study architecture at “the cooper union for the advancement of science and art.”  it’s a disproportionately long name; there are only 30 freshmen architecture students, and about 850 in the whole school — which offers art, architecture and engineering majors — combined.

if it sounds like i know anything about what i’m doing, don’t believe it.  i have no idea what to expect.  in tenth grade i experienced an architectural epiphany and decided that i had to try it.  never mind that i had no experience in the field, had never taken an architectural drawing course (or any kind of drawing, for that matter) and my father was saying things like, “if you think you’ll get to design houses, you’re wrong.  you’ll end up restructuring storefronts for wal-mart!”  i was hopelessly smitten.

as in any love affair, though, i was unsure.  what if i got to school and discovered i had no talent for it?  what if i *didn’t* get into school at all?  where was i going to school, anyway?  was i supposed to be worrying about these things?  to his credit, my father eventually reversed his position on architecture; in fact, i never would have applied to any of those schools if it hadn’t been for him.  he was the one who bought the college catalogs and “u.s. news” ratings, called his architect friends, and got the inside info on where to apply.  i had thrown up my hands in despair a long time ago, back when i was being inundated with piles of mail from schools that all looked good to me.  cooper union looked better than any other on paper, because it was free.  every student who was admitted got a full academic scholarship.  of course, they neglected to mention the price of living in manhattan.  the other catch is that it’s not so easy to get in; for me, it required a miracle.

the criteria for admission is primarily how one scores on the home test that they send out.  i have no idea what they were thinking when they looked at my scrawls — i also have no idea what i was thinking when i drew them.  i think i was trying to be even more ambiguous and bohemian than their instructions were (example: “Box Two.  Self-portrait with no reference to body.”  huh?), but i’m not sure.  maybe they were just tired of my once-a-day phone calls for a week to find out if i had been accepted or not.  (i was sure i had been rejected; i just wanted confirmation.)  either way, i got home from church one fateful friday night to find a message from dean richard bory on my machine.  he apologized for the delay (“i’m sohrwy i haven’t cooled soonuh”) but, to give me “some cause for celebration,” i had gotten in.  whoo-hoo!

somehow i had gotten into the school of my dreams.  i visited it the next weekend … i was awed by the urban atmosphere, the spacious studio and the number of body piercings on our student guide.  i had to go.  we took out loans, signed housing forms — and i got a hepatitis vaccine, which the doctor explained was “always good for kids who are moving away.”  (yikes!)

so soon we’ll be on the road … wide-eyed innocent me in the back seat, surrounded by family members and bags that wouldn’t fit in the trunk, off to a much bigger world than i’m leaving behind.  i have no idea what to expect.  i haven’t even met my roommate yet — she’s been traipsing about europe for the summer and just flew back this afternoon.  i don’t know if there will be a piano that i can play when i’m frustrated with schoolwork and need to vent.  i don’t even know what i’m going to eat for dinner on my first night without parents.  (but it will probably involve bagels and hummus, if i can find somewhere to get dried chickpeas.  i’ve heard that manhattan is famed for gourmet food, but the only grocery store we visited last time had aisles so small you couldn’t turn around inside the store.  you had to inch your way out sideways.) 

i guess that’s what’s so cool about this stage of life.  there are so many choices to make.  if it turns out that i hate living in new york city, i’ll transfer somewhere else.  if i discover that architecture is not my “bag,” i’ll change my major.  for now, though, i’m following something that started as a fancy and blossomed into a dream.  i can’t wait to find out where it takes me.