Naomi Neal, Kathryn Stresak, Dorian Gomberg, Ed Vlcek, and Brad Krautwurst are Shimer students participating in the Shimer Internship/Mentorship (SIM) Program. They regularly post updates about their internship experiences.
My day-to-day life changed radically last week. Even if I hadn't started working at the eco-pool construction site, even if I hadn't gotten some welcome distance from my computer, even if every detail of my daily tasks had remained the same, this would have been a very special week for me because I started waking up at, and sometimes even before, five in the morning. This might not seem like much, but I think that it's changed my outlook on everything. I've always entered a new day somewhere in the middle, I realize now. When I see both sunrise and sunset, the day carries a greater sense of potential and a greater sense of malleability. I feel in control of how my time passes.
But of course, more has changed than my sleep schedule and my outlook. I spent the week working with four experienced builders on the simultaneous construction of the eco-pool and destruction of the existing structure, which will provide a skeleton for the pool's fence and poolhouse. They introduced me to a wide variety of new skills and fields of knowledge: mixing concrete and mortar, pouring concrete, the various uses and methods of application of mortar, using a nail gun, using a power drill, using a power grinder as a saw, the proper way to remove nails from old boards... the list goes on.
Though I managed to contain it most of the time, I must admit to a certain feeling of insecurity about my inexpertise. I think, however, that this insecurity only served, in the process of practicing each new task, to heighten my pride and satisfaction upon learning how to do it, and reaching a point at which I could seamlessly participate in the flow of the crew's work. The work--both the learning process and the physical doing of it--was both hard and rewarding. I remain excited about the possibility of working with my hands professionally someday, and seeing a tangible impact of my creative exertions on the world around me, i.e., of performing concretely Arendtian "work."
I'm still chugging through the first of my Tryon-related books for the summer, having managed to get thoroughly enraptured by another long novel (the newest Haruki Murakami). Cultivated Wilderness, lent to me by my TFI boss, Scott, is a very weird book. When Scott first gave it to me, he said, "It was written by an architect, so..." and perhaps that explains some of the strangeness. The author's general idea (I think) is that every place on the earth implies layers of relationships of human beings with one another and with nature. It's written in a highly anecdotal style, which can be hard to follow, but I think I'm starting to see what he (Paul Shepheard) is doing with his anecdotes. While describing the history, both human and geological, of every place he visits, he also describes his own experience in that place, along with the people he meets there and what they say to him about the place, and these personal conversations become just as potently determinant of what the place is, for him, as the historical and physical factors. Very Shimerian.
Another of the week's experiences to file under "Shimer Applies to Everything" was the cognitive resonance I felt, when, near the end of the week, I sat in on a conference call between Scott, Ed Noonan, and a third architect, who were discussing plans for building a new house at Tryon. The course of their conversation was, it struck me, just the same as the conversations I'd witnessed between my supervisor on the building site and his two workers, and still more astonishing, very similar to the flow of conversation in a really productive Shimer class. The interlocutors, be they architects discussing a theoretical house, builders debating the placement of a column in the immediate space, or students creating a structure built of ideas around the octagonal table, have to imagine the finished project. They have to live, in their minds, in a place that doesn't really exist yet (be it a house or the global communist state) and look for all the potential problems and all the potential ways to solve them, measuring the solutions together against the imagined space to come.
In the chapter of Cultivated Wilderness which I last read, Shepheard visited the artificial islands built over the past hundred years in the Netherlands. The original plan there, apparently, was to build five of them, and over the course of the twentieth century, four of them were completed. Construction of the fifth had not, at the time of Shepheard's writing, begun yet, for reasons unspecified. He devotes a page or so of the chapter to speculating on the various possible explanations for this delay, many of which make a lot of sense. I, however, would like to respectfully add the suggestion that, now that so many years of discussion between planners and builders and ordinary citizens have elapsed, there remains little need to actually build the thing. It already exists, within the dialogue.