A bit unsteady.
a short story

Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between things as they are and what they might have been.                                                       William Hazlitt

 

He's become a bit slack about things as he's got older and his wife has taken over managing their financial affairs because he often forgets to pay the bills. He's letting go and he doesn't care much about appearances any more, often doesn't change his clothes for a week, forgets to shave until the next day and is put out at finding food stains down his front. 

But he's not concerned about dying and says he's still sufficiently amused by this world to be up for another ten years of telling people what to do!  Like St Augustine he is praying, 'not yet, not yet'. His views have been focussed by the recent death of his first wife. It's been over thirty years since they parted and they hadn't kept in close contact. His reaction had been compassionate but cold water, it was all a long time ago, but he was irritated on her behalf at spelling mistakes and minor errors in her Herald obituary.   

Quite apart from being a bit unsteady, balancing on one leg while trying to guide the other one into his trousers, old age has posed some serious problems for him. He'd spent fifty years running his own practice and struggling to design better buildings, architects get better as they get older, architecture was his whole life and he was never going to retire he'd always claimed. 

But he's reached an age where no one has offered him a commission for the last five years and he's being forced to accept that he's probably built his last building.  It's a big shock, but without a client who has a site and the funds to build on it, architects are impotent. 

Drawings of unbuilt architecture can be interesting of course, but in his opinion it's only when the building has been through the fire of coping with the practical details and all the materials and colours are chosen, and all the budget ducking and weaving is over and the costs have been agreed, and the building is occupied by messy people who stick up paper signs that you can judge how well the architect has done. He is only interested in real buildings, and no one is asking him any more!

He has a regular date each Wednesday at their favourite coffee shop with an old architect friend who's writing a memoir of growing up in Java during the Japanese occupation.  They complain to one another about the current state of building design, talk politics, discuss their respective health concerns and chat up the young Irish girls who serve them. 

A young architect was having a business meeting with a couple at the next table the other morning, sketching with a black felt pen on yellow trace over a drawing of a plan while explaining his ideas. He had to restrain himself from telling the young guy that he understood, that he was an architect too!

It had taken a while for him to accept the loss of architecture as a great romantic ideal, and it was only after his novels were rejected, that his brother-in-law in Brooklyn suggested he reinvent himself with a fortnightly newsletter and get some regular readers. 

He'd had to write a fair bit in his architectural life of course, mostly reports written in that magisterial style that sound like the received word from above.  Or else they were submissions for new jobs, the adult version of children saying 'look at me, look at me' to gain attention.  Now at last he was learning to write like a real person. 

After a year he found the fortnightly discipline had been a good one and that his writing was starting to sound less formal and easier to read.  And although his intention had been to write mainly about architecture, he's been drawn into local planning and political issues as well.

He has also tried to write short stories, but even in the third person they often end up sounding a bit too personal and autobiographical.  Writing is a lonely business and although he's definitely not interested in art for its own sake, he says he gets enough hearts and minds feedback to justify going on writing.  He wants to get past that newspaper dictum of writing short sentences in the active voice with no adjectives.  What he would like to do is get past the words, to pull the audience beyond what they know to what they don't know. 

He mostly writes in the mornings and is usually in front of his AppleMac by nine and starts work once the few emails that merit a reply have been answered and he has read bits of the regular Eureka Street, The Conversation and New Matilda blogs when they turn up.  He lies down after lunch but doesn't always manage to snooze and often reads most of the afternoon; he feels decidedly let down if a day passes without reading a book for an hour.

He's aware he doesn't get enough exercise and long hours sitting in front of the computer gives him a lower back pain by the end of the day.  This was exacerbated by sitting on an unstable chair that wasn't at the right height even with a cushion, until he went and splurged on the best ergonomic Herman Miller office chair he could find and that's helped a lot.

On Saturday mornings he walks to the library with his wife' cousin and afterwards they have coffee in Carlisle Street and put the world to rights. He has over twenty years on the cousin and it's kind of him to indulge an old man's passion for politics; they get on well together.

 He sent out his fortnightly newsletter a few days ago and has already had a few responses, so life goes on.  But his mind keeps circling back to that climate demo he went to, and all those young people who not only weren't out shopping but were all texting, 'No more coal fired power stations,' to their mates; she'll be right, he thought!

Don Gazzard / December 2013