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The wind is rising. We must try to live.

Ten years of column writing means I get to choose a poem for a title
by Steve McKee on May 16, 2014

It was ten years ago last month I started writing this column. Thus begins decade number two. My first column was about how to turn a walk-in closet into a full blown dressing room without too much trouble. Not bad, that column. They’re all available online. Just go to and look for the “architalk” button on the left side. (Really, please do!) I work pretty hard on these things and it would be good to know they have a life after the day they’re published in the Herald. Favorites include one titled “You, the tile shop, the decision.” The column called “A Benicia Sense of Place” got the most email responses ever from readers. Another fave of mine was “How Venice got its Mojo.” These titles are but a small sample of what is available at my website. All ten years worth. With color photos and everything!

I’ve finally submitted an updated photo of myself, which is presumably now looking out at you a few inches away from these words. Ten years of age have been added in one fell swoop. With this, I have now fully outed myself as a grey haired person. I always liked the forty-five year old Steve, but the fifty-five year old version seems to be hanging in there well enough, at least for now. There are trips to the gym three days a week for spin classes at five thirty in the morning. Many people cannot fathom doing a workout at such an ungodly hour, but I really like it because I get it over with. As a result, I never ever go through a day needing to somehow fit in a workout. Not ever. Melody joins me and we keep each other honest. Travel is the only acceptable excuse for missing.Steve 2013

And speaking of travel, it has apparently become a new favorite subject of mine to write about. Why not? What’s not to love about traveling? Being in new and different places somehow opens me up to seeing things anew. Even seemingly mundane things become interesting. (The stairs in Amsterdam sure are steep and narrow . . .  but that doesn’t slow down that old waiter. Look at him fly up and down that thing.)  I’ll never have a fancy car because I’ll be spending money on airfare. As long as my body can hold out.

I noticed that the forty-something version of me had such deep philosophical insights as: “Well, I guess I’m about halfway through my stay on this crazy merry-go-round.” And now the fifty-something version of me has thoughts more like: “Yikes, I only have about fifteen years left to do active stuff! Time to get a move on!” As a result, ideas for adventure, large or small, will most likely get the green light from me. Hence the travel.

The wind is rising. We must try to live.

Those two sentences are from a poem by Paul Valery titled “The graveyard by the sea.” It’s a sort of zen version of carpe diem, coming from a French man in 1920 who spent some powerful moments one day at his hometown cemetery, where he knew he would be buried someday. I like it enough to name my big gala ten-year column after it. I found out about that poem when it was mentioned as inspiration for the animated movie “The Wind Rises,” the 2014 film by master animator Hayao Miyazaki, one of my favorite artists ever. They say this is his last film. I say the world will be a slightly worse place without him making movies.

It turns out that “The wind is rising. We must try to live,” also makes for the perfect message to text to my sailing buddy Chris when it feels like it would be a good day to take out the Hobie 18. Maybe fly a hull while we’re at it. Since I work for myself, I get to take a break to go sailing every once in awhile, just like I “get” to work seven days a week, something I tend to do, thanks to the fact I have a home office and there are always projects due. It’s a good thing I like what I do.

I have occasional meetings with clients in their homes and visits to jobsites that get me out in the world, otherwise I would be largely passing my days in a seated position manipulating pixels on a screen. That’s right – hour after hour . . . pixels.  I say it that way to elicit sympathy from friends, but I know better. I move lines this way and that way, but in those lines are human life itself. I am no more merely moving pixels about an electronic screen than William Shakespeare was merely creating ink squiggles on a page. There are entire worlds happening in those squiggles and pixels.

During the days that I am fine-tuning the design of a house, my mind lives inside that finished house. I love doing that, tweaking to improve tiny nuances of how a house will live. In my mind, it is a totally real place, complete with shadows and pools of light and footsteps heard and views opening up around corners. Then those drawings get sent out for construction and I’m off to a different project. A fun moment happens months later when I get invited to see the finished house and I’m instantly back in the reality of that house, except this time it’s in dazzling 3D and there is a fascinating sort of deja vu as all that nuance comes rushing back to me.

Lester on his way to the top

Lester on his way to the top

There are endless things to write about even with just my own house. On the north side of my home there is a big picture window right up against our apple tree that lets me watch my big tabby Lester take his usual route up the various limbs until he gets to the launch spot that allows him to access the roof and all the territory it must represent to him. At ten years of age, he is still a totally cool and sturdy cat who likes to explore. This is his house too, known very well to him with shortcuts behind couches and good places to lounge about, out of danger but with good views of the action. There is the also the dog-centric view of my house, more focused on being able to see front yard intruders, and enjoying obscure sources of drinking water found in garden buckets (apparently much more interesting to drink than the usual dog dish water in the laundry room!)

Columns. I have multitudes of them in me. Here’s to ten more years.



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