No Foot Left

thumbnail_000_0056I originally joined Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) in high school to get out of doing any real exercise. I was willing to squeeze my fat, adolescent body into a uniform once a week if it meant limiting my exposure to the track. Once I was in, I realized that I really liked the structure that the program provided, and so began my love for the armed services. Sure, you get yelled at and belittled every now and again, but that fit with my already-low view of myself, so I didn’t mind that so much. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I found it funny on a lot of levels.

After my freshman year, I stuck around and started getting more involved with its many extracurricular facets. I started out in Academic Team, which was a lot like the ROTC version of Academic Decathlon – memorize stuff and take a test. I did well in that, and got to go to competitions where I watched my friends who were in unarmed and armed drill team, and who competed in relay races, and pushup and situp competitions. True to form, I thought, “I can do those things better than those people are doing those things,” so I joined each of them one by one as I shed the baby weight (growing helped, but I think my overly-competitive nature did more to get me in shape than anything else).

Soon, I was spending most of my lunches in the NJROTC room. I was hanging out with my fellow cadets after school. My first girlfriend was ROTC. So was my second. And sort of my third. The small set of people I still talk to regularly – all from JROTC. It’s safe to say that it was one of the most formative parts of my teen years.

I excelled at all things NJROTC. I got medals and ribbons and promotions; I was given command of the armed drill team and the academic team in my junior year. Unfortunately, this coincided with my discovery of the satisfactions of delinquency. I regularly chose not to go to class that year, as staying home to play videogames, going to a movie, going to the beach, or pretty much any other activity was more appealing to me than school. I’d still show up for practices and ROTC classes most of the time, but my grades in everything else suffered because of my absences.

The amount of pushups I was doing as a reprimand for my misconduct also helped get me in good physical shape, but did nothing for my grades. I finished junior year with two D’s and two F’s, meaning I had passed only a third of my classes that year (I still got 4’s and 5’s on the AP exams, so I got college credit for the courses, just not high school credit). But who gives a shit about grades? I was set up to be part of the Top 6 (the highest ranking folks) in ROTC in my senior year, and that’s all I really cared about.

They announced Top 6 at the end of the yearly competition between all of the classes. I sat on the bleachers and listened to the names of some of closest friends read out over the loudspeaker – six names, none of which were mine. It felt like I got punched in the gut. I thought there must’ve been a mistake. I clearly had the most command presence, and if there was gonna be a popular vote, I would have won it hands-down. I ranted and raved and punched shit, then got called into the Commander’s office (the retired Naval Commander who taught the high school class), and had it all explained to me.

“You passed hardly any of your classes, Farrell,” he told me in a stern tone.

“I got an A in ROTC! Doesn’t that count for anything?!”

“Sure, but you can’t say that you’re modeling good behavior and leading from the front when you’re failing so many of your classes. At some point, you’re going to have to acknowledge that the rules apply to you, too!”

I didn’t. I couldn’t. I stormed out of the office, and out of JROTC. Well, not immediately. I stuck around for another semester as the dedicated nuisance of the unit. I continued my string of bad behavior, and I used my leadership potential to negatively influence anyone who would listen. Was I good? Sure, I was good at all of the same things I had been good at previously. Was I a good leader? No, I was not. My anger blinded me and got in the way of any self improvements that I might have made. After leaving the unit, I still hung around like some latchkey kid, pretending I was too cool for everything.

I went on to get the ROTC scholarship after high school, but I think it was too late for me at that point. Misconduct was my norm, and once that’s got its hooks in you, it’s hard to turn away from – being bad does truly feel so good (until you have to deal with the ramifications). Were I shooting myself in the foot in a more literal way, I think it’s safe to say that I’d have had no foot left fairly early on. Then at least I might have stopped.

No, You’re Flighty!

I occasionally have difficulty focusing on things. Right now, for example, I am at work – the place where I imagine most people spend their time doing work. But what am I up to? Well, I’ve been checking out what credit cards I might qualify for in spite of my shitty credit score, I’m editing a short story that I wrote recently, and I’m writing this blog post. I’m pretty sure none of my coworkers read this (except the one that checks my screen every now and again to see if I’m working, who is clearly just being paranoid, and whose suspicions are baseless), so I feel pretty safe discussing my delinquency.

I know it’s not just an aversion to work because I have this issue in my free time, too. At parties I’ll bounce from group to group interjecting what I deem to be meaningful contributions to each conversation, then I’m off to the next cluster of people to brighten their lives. When I’m watching movies or TV at home, I’ll also be scrolling through shit on my phone. I’m listening to audiobooks or NPR when I’m driving, walking somewhere, playing videogames, or hanging out with my dog.

Do I have an aversion to silence? Is it my mind that’s unquiet? I feel  like I really enjoy silence at intervals, like when I’m hiking or… Actually it’s pretty much only when I’m hiking. Even then I’ll listen to audiobooks for large portions of my hikes, but for the really strenuous portions where every part of me hurts, I need silence. I need to be completely physically exhausted in order to entertain the notion of meditation. Though I’m not sure I’d call that meditation because in that state, I fall back on simple, looping thoughts to keep my limbs moving.

Immediately after the uphill, when the ground evens out and the push is over, that’s when my mind seems to be able to shut itself up for a minute. That’s when I’m able to come to an epiphany if there’s one to come to. After chewing on whatever my repetitive thought choice was at length, when my breath is quick and labored and my body aches, that’s the sweet spot.

As I’m typing this I’m realizing how long it’s been since I’ve been in that mental state. My thoughts leading up to now have largely been around a need for healthcare coverage so I can medicate myself to attain it, but I’ve completely ignored the potential that I’ve been landlocked by concrete for far too long. I need to get out, get away, get moving – that’s the medicine I need most right now (and probably always).

Thanks for going on this little mental journey with me, Reader, you’ve been a real help. Maybe we’re both flighty.

Frank Lloyd Writing

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In middle school and high school I spent a lot of my free time on computers. I played a lot of video games, but I also put in a lot of time on architecture and computer aided design software (yes, I’ve always been this nerdy). I’m a proponent of art in all its forms, but I’ve always had a soft spot for architecture. I love how tangible, interactive, and practical the end product is.

This weekend was Chicago Open House – an event put on by the Chicago Architecture Center where architecturally significant buildings are open to the public. In the spirit of the event, and in line with my love of the craft, I went to tour the former home of one of the American greats – Frank Lloyd Wright. I love his work (pictured above), but I also love what a weird dude he was – an artist in every way.

He was raised in a broken household like any good artist, and mom had him play with geometric blocks, and put up pictures of cathedrals in his room as inspiration (or strong-arming depending on your vantage point). He enrolled in the University of Wisconsin, and by 19, he dropped out, moved to Chicago, and began work as a draftsman at an architecture firm. By 22, he had begged $5,000 away from his boss to purchase his first plot of land to build his first house – the one I visited today.

He raised his family there while his designs leaked into the surrounding town of Oak Park via his neighbors/clients. He took full responsibility for the aesthetic in his homes, even after the design phase was over. He designed dresses for the women to wear around the house. He would buy a vase for a client to put on a mantle, then send a bill, then drop by occasionally to make sure they hadn’t moved it. If they told him the roof was leaking onto their desk in the office, he told them to move the desk.

In his early 40’s, he wooed the wife of one of his clients, and they whisked away to Europe, leaving their families and his business behind. He also left behind all of his debts, as he usually didn’t pay his bills. When payday rolled around, he bought a new piano instead of paying his employees. But he was in love, and I totally get how going Europe with a new love interest sounds better than dealing with any of that.

Eventually, he married Mamah (pronunced May-muh), and they moved to Wisconsin. One day while Frank was away on business, one of the servants of the house murdered seven people – including Mamah and her two children – and burnt the house to the ground. His family would later say that a piece of Frank – the warm, loving one – died with her that day, and the egocentric side of the artist took the reigns from then on.

Together with his third and final wife, Olgivanna, he started an architecture commune complete with drama circles, dance groups, and Sunday morning gospels. He died of a tummy ache (abdominal pains and attempted surgery) in April of 1959.

The man was a genius, and like all geniuses, he was weird as could be. Standing in the home that he designed and built at the age of 22 was awe-inspiring, and I won’t waste my time trying to describe it to you – the flow was perfect, the mix of detail and simplicity was elegant, and the materials were all locally sourced. All I can really say is that I certainly wouldn’t mind living there, even if it meant wearing a dress of his making, or keeping that ugly vase on the mantle. The guy knew what he was doing.

“Every great artist who ever lived is a philosopher. My work is great insofar as its philosophy is sound,” he once said. Well, it seemed pretty sound to me (design-wise, at least – many of his structures were plagued by his overconfidence and attempts at coming in under budget, but whatever – art, right?).