Midlife showed up unexpectedly. I thought I had dealt with it head-on in my early 40’s when I spent gobs of money on a new office space that was too big for me. By the grace of God, I was able to sustain my practice in spite of the fact that it was the “Great Recession” of 2008. I had anticipated great things for my life: an expansive career full of wealth and productivity, friends, the possibility of a life mate somewhere along the way… it was all going to fall in place, as if by will alone. I had looked mid-life in the eye, and I was going to prevail.
Fast forward a few years when I found myself in utter breakdown. Business became a struggle to endure; I was working just to pay my staff and overhead; my work seemed to have no soul for me anymore; people I thought were my friends turned their backs on me; my stepmother in Florida had succumbed to ovarian cancer leaving my father alone and depressed; and I had grown battle-weary of life in New York City. As it turns out, mid-life crisis had arrived late.
Over the course of the several years that followed, I shuttered my architecture practice in NYC, took on a few projects in south Florida, and moved myself to the Sunshine State. While I was very grateful for the work, my architectural practice still felt inauthentic to me. I’d spent many years trying to be someone that others expected me to be, both as a human being and as an architect. Even after more than 20 years as an architect, I felt as if I still hadn’t found what I wanted to say in my work. In many ways, I STILL feel this way.
As my architecture work dwindled, I found myself with time on my hands and angst over what to do next. On a suggestion, I started to consider making cat towers. I’ve always loved animals, and, living with two (now three) cats of my own, I thought it would be an interesting challenge to take on. What would I build them as an architect in my mid-40’s.
It began with the Lighthouse and all flowed out from there. My first year doing this was all about creative expression. And though it remains a creative outlet, I’ve worked this past year to develop my work into a commercial endeavor, selling my work as well as having others produce some of them en masse.
And, with this transition to becoming a “pet business” and not an art project, I’ve come to learn many things that have never been in my purview: social media of all breeds, how to design a website, writing a marketing plan, where to best sell my wares, how to manufacture products….
It’s all very exciting and serves as a great new horizon for me, shifting from a service industry to a goods-based business. And I have so much yet to learn.
Yet I find myself at a familiar existential question that plagued me as an architect, and one that they tell you is essential in creating a business plan: the “why.” Why do I do what I do? I mean that in many ways. Why is it important to build cat condos that look like something else? Why do people react the way they do to them? What does it mean to where we are in modern human culture, both artistically and architecturally?
There was a time when I was creating “referential” architecture…things that hearkened back to previous styles and ornament. Yet these weren’t elements coming from a place deep inside me; they were things that other people asked of me, and I complied.
Although I was trained at a school that preached Modernism like the Gospel, I never truly felt that I aligned with it. Often I wish I did, but Modernism is incredibly rigorous and requires so much work to make something appear as if it doesn’t exist. I admire it greatly, but it’s not who I am.
But I question whether I am any further along on my path to self-realization as an artist-architect. No one is driving me to make what I make for the cats right now, so this work MUST be coming from somewhere deep inside.
However, so much of it is a reference to other real, true iconic things elsewhere in our world. Whereas the modernists and those seeking a “true” architecture in the 20th Century declared a need for form to follow function, we currently live in a world where the unreal is of import. Our digital age promotes online worlds of socialization, communication and manipulation that occur through the wires. Ever more than before, I am immersed in a world where only the visual matters and only for the moment (I have no doubt that this post will be read by almost no one, in fact).
But, for whatever it’s worth, I feel great joy in the creation of these items. Whether they serve as homage to their true physical counterparts in the world (the ACTUAL Lifeguard stands, Leaning Towers and flowers) or whether they serve to make people smile at the absurdity of it all or whether they just serve to make some kitties comfortable and high off the floor, it’s my pleasure right now.
Until I “mews” again…