Take back the prenup

Mention the word “prenup” to a group of engaged, happily dating or even single women in America and a collective shudder will run down their spines.  Prenups are unromantic, someone will almost surely say. Why ruin the happiest time in your relationship by planning its eventual demise?

Prenups (short for “prenuptial agreements”) used to be limited to the rich and famous.  Recently, the tide has shifted.  Along with rising divorce rates starting in the 1970s, the popularity of prenups has also gone up. Adding fuel to that fire are the countless articles online instructing men about the best way to ask their fiancee to sign a prenup, including helpful tips such as ‘warning her early’ and ‘paying for her lawyer’.  The discussion surrounding prenups is predominantly geared towards men, with women portrayed as the unwilling, impractical and stubborn side of the equation.

I want to start off by dismissing the notion that prenups are ‘unromantic’.  They are one of the most romantic things you can do with the person you love.  If you sacrifice your career to stay at home with the kids, a prenup can dictate fair compensation so you aren’t left saddled with children and a rising pile of bills while you try to get back to work or school in the wake of a divorce. If you pay for part of your spouse’s education, a prenup can dictate that you receive a portion or even all of that money back.

Furthermore, just because you have a prenup doesn’t mean you’re eventually going to get divorced.  It doesn’t make getting divorced ‘easier’ in the long term. Sure, there’s now a ream of paper sitting in a filing cabinet saying how it’s all going to go down in the event that happily ever after turns into a situation worthy of a daytime soap.  But it doesn’t shield you from the emotional fallout, for you or for any potential little ones unwittingly involved in the situation.

The notion that prenups are only for men is antiquated; it’s from a time when men worked and women stayed home, when men controlled the finances, when men were the one starting companies and working as investment bankers.  We still haven’t reached complete gender equality (and I’m doubtful if we ever will) but women, do you really think that there is nothing that you own in this life that is worth protecting in the event of a divorce?

You’re now just as likely to write that bestselling novel, found the next Twitter or Facebook or become a high-powered attorney, banker or doctor.  A prenup doesn’t just protect your future husband.  It also protects you.

Take control of your assets, current and future, by sitting down with a lawyer.  Take back the prenup.

Everyone’s trying to run away

“I’m going to run away,”

were words that I used to say a lot as a kid.

the concept was pretty solid:

step 1: attempt to slam bedroom door.

step 2: get bedroom door stuck on carpet, preventing a satisfying slam.

step 3: pack backpack.

step 4: realize that backpack will not fit entire zoo of stuffed animals.

step 5: admit defeat, cry, decide that it is easier to hide in the closet or under the bed for hours than follow through with my threat.

Had I gotten past my front door I would have realized that I’d be walking at least a mile and a half before even making it out of my development.  Thanks, suburbia.

In high school I was still trying to run away.  This was when I realized the limitations of my town, which constrained me to sleepy residential roads framed by county roads packed with cars.  This was when I spent a lot of time in the woods, or out on the dock, or just sitting in my driveway.

Reading journal entries from that time make me yearn to go back and hold that girl’s hand, tell her that in ten, twelve years she’ll be sitting on her couch in Berkeley, windows open, sunlight and light flower smells wafting in, writing this entry and feeling okay.  Or, dare I say it… good.

Everyone’s trying to run away.  And it’s so easy to push away from a life you don’t want without knowing what you’re running towards.

But things are, despite it all, always getting better.   There’s no need to go anywhere; just ride it out right where you lie.

12. Get my nose (re) pierced

I’ve recently developed a really un-ladylike, embarrassing problem: I snore.

Last night I drove about six hours from Los Angeles back to Berkeley and I had a lot of time to think.  I wondered, if I take my nose piercing out, might it stop me from snoring?  Only one way to find out.

Daniel slid the stud out gently before we went to sleep and I didn’t think about it until the next morning as I tried and failed to make paleo pancakes.  They wound up being more like banana flavored scrambled eggs, but I digress.  He cleaned the stud off and then looked on my nose.. and looked.. and looked… and didn’t see the hole.

After some poking around, we found it only to discover that the stud would only slid in halfway.  So there I was, standing in my kitchen, scrunching up my face like a chipmunk while Daniel had one finger up my nose as he tried to slide the stud in with the other.  No luck.

So now you know: a nose piercing will close up in less than twelve hours.  Tomorrow I’ll be paying the heavily pierced lady at the downtown Oakland tattoo parlor another visit.

Oh, and I’m STILL snoring.

10. Run a Half Marathon

Happiness is a journey, not a destination.  Much in the same way that running is a journey and not a destination, although I’d be a dirty liar if I said I wasn’t thinking about the finish line every step of my 13.1 mile adventure around Golden Gate Park and along Ocean Beach two Sundays ago.

I’ve thought of a couple inspirational ways to write this post and cross number ten off my list, but every one of them has come out boring and banal.

I’ll leave it at this: bedraggled, soaking wet, and with aching legs, I crossed the finish line in two hours and one minute, having run every step of the way, and spent the rest of the day curled up in my boyfriend’s bed nursing legs that were constantly reminding me of the abuse I’d heaped upon them.

The aching faded after two days (except some irritating knee pain), but the sense of accomplishment has, happily, lingered.

Boat Thoughts (Stream of Consciousness Style!)

I watched the sun set over the marina a few minutes ago.  It started to get chilly so I moved inside, flipped on a lamp and curled up on the couch/bed.  I spend a lot of my time doing work in my bed anyway so this setup seems ideal.

There’s a barely perceptible rocking motion that I’m still not used to.  My brain is like, WHAT IS THIS.  WHY ARE WE FAILING TO CONTROL OUR MOTION, BODY.  GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER.

The live aboard lifestyle would definitely be a change for me.  I’m already a minimalist but this would be extreme survivor style minimalism.  Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little.  But my life is pretty comfortable right now the way it is and hey, remember how I know absolutely nothing about sailing?  Right.

I like the way the air smells here.  It’s not salt water but the bay has a certain aroma that I can pick up after I cross fourth street headed towards the pedestrian bridge over I-80.

And the birds.  Ducks, egrets (?), seagulls smashing oysters (?) on the dock.  Maybe someday I’ll find the birds irritating.  But for now, it’s a nice soundtrack to a peaceful night.

Life isn’t fair / Towards a millennial manifesto

If you were born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, congratulations!  You’re a millennial.

Being a part of this generation has many implications, almost none of which are very positive.  Recently I’ve been inundated with articles like these, plus many more about how to motivate your millennial child to get out of your basement or make a plan for their lives.  We millennials are portrayed as passionate loose cannons who feel deserving of accolades but are unwilling to work our way up, as dreamers that cannot apply themselves, as technology obsessed, unfocused and pampered.  We’ve been ruined by the adults who told us that everyone is special and wonderful in their own perfect way.

There’s a grain of truth in all of this.  Every kid on my 5-6 year old soccer team got a medal at the end of the season.  I’ve been told at various points in my life that I am a gifted writer, creative, mature beyond my years, a fast learner, an empathetic friend and daughter.  This mantra of specialness has allegedly made us into entitled brats, or so the media says.

But by being taught that everyone is special,  we were also taught to see everyone the same.  I don’t want to veer off into some middle-class white girl tirade about diversity or how I never saw color or religion because frankly that’s not true and never will be.  What I did see was that if I had something special to offer the world, so did everyone else, no matter how externally different they might seem.

My mom was born with a birth defect that left her physically and mentally different.  She couldn’t look after us without help from my family, couldn’t play too rough on the playground, couldn’t finish college.  I watched her be discriminated against in the job market and stared at by strangers.  I watched people see her struggle to get a shopping cart or reach something on the top shelf and then awkwardly look away.

Growing up my parents were frequently telling my brother and I that life isn’t fair.  I didn’t understand it at the time.  Why CAN’T life be fair?  If I do my homework and follow instructions and behave myself, why shouldn’t good things like stickers and candy come my way?

What isn’t fair is that I was given a perfectly functional body that I spent years abusing, despising, because I wasn’t thin enough or blond enough or good enough, while my mom, with her sweet, kind personality was given a body that has been attempting to hold her back since the day she was born.

This is what millennials need to grasp even more so than the fact that we aren’t special.  Life. is. not. fair.  And everything that we’ve been given in our lives, from the shoes in our closet to the safety of our neighborhood, is a gift that most days we don’t even recognize.  Our minds are occupied with who posted what on Facebook, hungry for the latest technology or concerned about progressing through the milestones of college-marriage-children.

So this is what it comes down to, my fellow wandering millennials–

Be grateful for the things you have.

Work towards what you want, even if you aren’t sure you’ll want it forever and ever.  Just pick a direction and go.

Ignore the haters, the nay-sayers, the dream-crushers.

Carry yourself in a way that exudes confidence, not arrogance.

Refrain from judgment.

Engage those who are different from you.

Measure your worth in the good you do, the people you help and the care you take to truly see the world through another person’s eyes.

Introvert guilt

Introvert guilt: a feeling felt by introverts who leave or avoid social activities to spend time alone.

This weekend I went on a trip for the LA studio class I’m taking next semester.  Every time I sign up for a class trip like this I’m excited until sometime midway through day two of highly structured group activities that run from 9 am to well past 9 pm.

Some people thrive off of this kind of environment and I can see why.  It’s dynamic and somewhat invigorating to constantly have people to share your opinions with.  It’s not meant for people who mentally recharge best in a quiet, empty room, maybe with a book or television for company.

The world is not designed for introverts.  It’s designed for people who enjoy, even need, packed days and constant company to fend off loneliness.  Our culture has an obsession with the idea that sociable = happy and “anti-social” = unhappy.

When I opted to go back to the rented condo at nine pm on Saturday night instead of going to a gallery opening, there was this awkward series of questions about how I was feeling (“Fine!”) and what I was going to do (“Run, read, catch up on email…?”)  But I ran the gauntlet and ended up curled up on my twin bed, noshing on hummus and veggies and reading American Gods.   

And gosh, I was so content.  I woke up the next morning at seven am, stretched, and worked out for almost 90 minutes.  I was a ball of happy energy all day.

Still, I felt a little guilty.  As it turns out, Danny DeVito was at the club that my friends went to after the gallery opening.  And after that, everyone went to get authentic LA Mexican food.  Maybe, maybe you missed out on something, my brain said.  Maybe you should have gone.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Everyone functions in a different way.  On a different night, going out would have been a great choice.  After eight hours of discussion and conversation and group meals I was ready to quietly spend some time alone.

I fought back these guilty feelings and just.. let go.  This is who I am, and it’s not hurting anyone if I want to spend an evening alone.  If anything, it enabled me to better contribute to the next day’s discussion as I felt reenergized.

Introvert guilt– not worth my time.


On Bullshit, Architecture and Locale

I think information should be layered in our environment.  Cultural information.  Not didactically.  It should be an integral part.  When I say layered, if you are interested, you extract it.

– M. Paul Friedberg

I generally don’t like listening to architects talk about their design philosophy.  As a historian, it rarely tells me anything illuminating and tends to wind up coming out sounding eloquent but vapid and meaningless.  Even the great Louis Kahn is guilty of this– I doubt many people really ‘get’ what he meant when he said that a brick wants to be an arch.

The fascinating thing is that it’s part of some unspoken code of architecture that nobody can call them on it.  Architects (and academics!) consider a good conversation or a skillfully written paper one that involves a slew of ten cent words, with bonus points issued for words like orthagonality or interstitial.

Some might call this jargon and argue that every field has it.  I call it bullshit and argue that for a profession so concerned with urbanism and the human condition, why are we so incapable of speaking in a manner that the common man can understand?

A large part of what I believe is wrong with design is the simple fact that there is a massive disconnect between the architect and the people inhabiting the spaces he/she designs.  Almost all of the interventions, particularly in public urban places, that make a space into something unique and reflective of the community are initiated not by architects but by either local artists or residents.  This disconnect can be traced back to architectural education, but that’s an entirely different post.

Whenever I visit a new place, the elements that stand out to me aren’t monumental or part of the canon of architectural history.  It’s the love locks on the fences of Cinque Terre, the subversive graffiti in Berlin and the metal plaques with quotes from Joyce’s Ulysses placed throughout Dublin.  Those little changes in the environment initiated by nobody noteworthy enough to give a lecture at a major university that seem, to me, so much more significant than the most lauded monuments of contemporary design.

I heard the above quote from M. Paul Friedberg in a podcast (99% Invisible) where he argues that we should be imprinting our poetry, our history, our culture upon the built environment.  What if every designer could rise to the challenge of putting a little bit of local culture into their work?  Would that lead to an architecture that is truly for the people?

Eternal Return

I fell into a wikipedia black hole today and stumbled upon Nietzsche’s idea of eternal return– basically, that time is cyclical (non-linear) and everything that is happening now has happened before and will happen again.  

One of my close friends who I’ve known since I was thirteen took his own life last week.  Grief is described as a linear journey, a march through Kubler-Ross’s five stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance).  Denial carried me through until I landed in Philadelphia and Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold’ came up on shuffle.  Anger surprised me because I’ve always felt that individuals have the right to choose to die in the face of intractable illness, believing that the people close to me were exempt.

I’m finding that grief, like time, isn’t linear.  I feel normal one moment and the next I’m thinking about something funny he said to me or the way he laughed.  I’m just starting to believe that he’s truly gone forever, although I feel like I lost him a few months ago when he stopped responding to my text messages and attempts to stay in touch.  It’s impossible to shake the feeling of guilt, of responsibility, though I’ve tried to take that negativity and apply it to talking to my friends about how I’m always there for them.

If time is cyclical then maybe it’s not so romantic to think that I will see some part of him again.  If the universe is host to such infinite possibilities, I’d selfishly pick the one that kept him here with us.

Final Office Hours Reflection

It’s the end of RRR (“Reading, Recitation, Review”?) week here at Berkeley.  I’ve spent the past 48 hours parked in front of my computer screens, finishing up my science and technology paper and generally feeling pretty drained of all coherent thought.  End of the semester brain, am I right?

I finished grading my student’s final papers before turning my attention to my own, so I decided to hold one last office hours session so they could come pick their papers up.  So far, most of the students who have showed up for their papers have also wanted to discuss the course, their feelings towards the study of history and also (and most flattering!) ask me for advice.

Teaching has been everything I expected and simultaneously entirely different from what I thought it would be.  I went into teaching having been told that architecture students don’t care about history, don’t care about this course, and will do anything they can to avoid doing the work.  I think that assumption is the result of our brain’s ability to hold onto negative events and impressions more so than positive ones.  Or, perhaps I just had a great bunch of students who did want to be there and did care about improving their work over the semester.

The second expectation that this semester shattered was the view of teaching as a secondary, lesser obligation that comes behind research.  This is a strongly held doctrine in academia: you can teach anyone to teach, but you can’t teach anyone to do original, compelling research.  Even if this is true (I’m not sure if I believe that anyone can teach) it teaches graduate students and young professors to devalue experiences in the classroom and ignore the positive benefits of becoming invested in the education of their students.

It’s true that some students don’t care, but you don’t teach for those students.  You teach for the ones who are interested and engaged, the ones who want to learn something and broaden their minds.

Gosh, that’s a little cheesy.  But I’m sticking by it!

I’m excited to teach the second half of the survey next semester.  It’ll be wonderful if I have some of the same students in my section, especially if I can snag the ones who like to talk during discussion.   Till then, I’m excited to spend a few weeks not having to learn and teach something new every week. Winter break, here I come.