Friends

1991 January 4

Junior Year Abroad

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etg considers the the Italian coast near Portofino in his flag-emblazoned denim jacket

Junior year of college is a fascinating time of transition. The exhilarating freedom of the freshman and sophomore years has passed, but the sobering proximity to the Real World faced by seniors has not yet arrived. You have a sense of your future direction, but not your exact route. You have learned enough to be intelligent, but lack the experience to have earned wisdom.

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1991 January 4

Questions, Questions…

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Elliot and roommate Jordan relax in their Islington flat

I shared a room in an Islington row house with another Yalie. From time to time Jacob would stay in London (which unsurprisingly was more of a happenin’ hot spot than Cambridge), and occasionally my roommate would have a friend over as well. A number of late-night confabs inevitably turned to Big Questions.

To the question “What do you want to be?”, most answers aligned with college major: English professor, investment banker, etc. Jacob’s response, however, caught my attention.

“I want to be a father,” he said.

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1991 January 4

A commune?!?

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Gathering in our dorm's common room to share some food. Stereo system visible along rear wall.

That needed some explanation, both back in 1991 and probably now. What I did NOT mean was that I wanted to be part of some radical 1960s free love back-to-Nature drug experiment zone. What I meant instead was just that I appreciated the communal aspects of college life, like sharing resources and having a built-in support network.

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1991 January 10

Planning the Future

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We did a lot more research (London is a great town for research), poring over discussions of communes, houseshares, and alternative lifestyles—not to mention architectural books, home safety and energy-efficient manuals, and self-building guides. Self-builders claimed that the care and personal attention of building your own home meant that it would be better constructed. And of course cheaper than hiring professional builders—perhaps saving as much as 50% on construction costs. All this was encouraging, if a bit self-serving on the part of the authors.

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1991 January 13

Initial Design

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While we were researching and sounding out prospective housemates, we were also tossing around blueprint ideas. Apparently I hadn’t forgotten about the large library, use of wood and stone, or even the secret passageways—they all make an appearance. Roughly a week after we first started talking, we already had a first draft of floor plans. Knowing these plans would go through endless iterations, we labeled this initial design “Version 1”.

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1991 February 2

Second Draft

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Version 2 of the communal house is basically just a re-drawing of Version 1, except this time (and from now on) using graph paper (gridlines erased here for clarity). We’re so professional! Plus, we learned that closets actually take up space, and that real architects don’t use boxes for doors in blueprints.

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1991 March 1

Version 3

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Look, walls have thickness! And we finally realized that building round walls is much trickier than building in straight lines, so the towers are now octagonal.

What else?… This version offers a basement level in addition to the ground floor and lower level.

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1991 March 23

A Call to Comrades

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The letter that officially presented our floor plans and self-build concept to prospective housemates. (Although Jacob and I were calling the house “Blackwood”, we wanted the final choice of name to be a consensus decision, hence the request for suggestions here.)

Welcome to…

…well, let's just start by saying this place needs a name. Put on your thinking caps and let us know what you come up with.

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1991 March 23

Version 4: The Grand Reveal

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Ah, Version 4… Not significantly different from Version 3, perhaps, but a major milestone. I think we decided that instead of a lower level and a basement below that, it was more efficient and cost-effective to build UP. So we split the previous “lower level” in two, putting half of its rooms in an expanded basement and half as a new second-story above two sides of the structure.

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1991 August 15

A Plethora of Plans

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We wanted feedback—we got it! There was a Version 4.1, with a radically different layout, then Versions 5 through 7 were back to the original concept. Then there was a Type II, again with a very different L-shaped footprint.

To open a window on the thought process, here are the notes accompanying Version 5:

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1992 March 23

Reality Sets In

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After months of wrangling different plans, it was slowly sinking in just how difficult consensus decisions were. I posted the following missive almost exactly one year after sending out the initial introductory letter:

Just when you thought it was safe to check your mailbox…

…OK, I know I’m the one who said it was time to hold off on these plans until we could have a professional compare them to a specific site, but

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1992 April 1

What Might Have Been

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Besides the morass of degenerating house plans, many of us were now facing actual graduation from college. Being so rudely thrust into full-fledged adult life was pretty much the final nail in the coffin of the Blackwood commune.

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1999 April 4

Jacob’s Birthday Song

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Jacob seems perturbed at the thought of hearing the same old birthday song again.

For years, the best man at my wedding said he hated “The Birthday Song” and never wanted people to sing it to him. So one year we were challenged to write a new song that he couldn't complain about. Music maestro Aaron Gee-Clough composed some music, and I bashed out the lyrics.

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2007 September 16

Translating Moscow Nights

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Moscow's Red Square at sunset

My friend Andrei, from Moscow School No. 45, got married in September 2007. Since his American wife's family was mostly from Massachusetts, the wedding was held in Salem. Large bride's party; smaller groom's party able to make the trip from Russia. I wanted to bring a little balance to the reception, so I toted along my 6-string and was allowed to serenade the couple with the old Russian standby Подмосковные вечера (Moscow Nights). Back in the mid-1980s, the opening bars were used by the Moscow radio station to introduce the evening news.

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2016 July 19

The Calm During the Storm

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International Space Station view of hurricane Ivan and the eye of the storm.

Often throughout my life, I've been told that I “radiate calm” or words to that effect, which is typically a good thing. Given the recent circumstances, though, I think there is a concern I may be taking this conceit too far. More than one person has looked at me as if saying, “Shouldn't you be more distraught?” I know this because one of the first people to think so was me.

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