On Land

Environment Information
At Rill Architects we run ArchiCAD on macOS. If you work at Rill, this is your stuff. If you don't, but you work in ArchiCAD, you may find something interesting. Anybody else, I don't know.

I am a Field Notes fan. They make awesome versions of a completely ordinary product: disposable pocket size notebooks of the type that would be given out as marketing by midwest farm/feed and hardware shops in the mid to late-mid 20th century. They make books in a different style every 3 months. If you subscribe, you get the new designs each season along with surprises. This May, a surprise was, they made a final exam type 'blue book', which you may remember from some phase of school.


I went to a preppy middle/high school for some years and my earliest memory of these books is from 8th or 9th grade.

Along with the books, which are 3x better executed than any blue book I have ever seen in the wild, comes a challenge/assignment/contest:

"Using one of the enclosed Blue Books, please submit a written essay relating a notable dramatic or humorous event that happened while you were in elementary or high school." And they list grading criteria including penmanship (in all caps), which I blame for my loss.

As we used to say in architecture school, I went around the program. This is not a memorable story from whenever, but it is a good idea IMO, and when you have an idea you should follow through with it. It is below the fold, and yes I wrote this out longhand and put it in an envelope with a stamp.

May 1983

It is Thursday of exam week so after two hours of sleep the alarm goes off and I hit the snooze and then decide to get up. I wakewalk through toothbrushing and finding some semi-unwrinkled clothes that meet the dress code, and say some erudite-feeling things to my roommate about Plato. Call this my Western Civ review. "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors." It feels like a wise use of my time, almost as valuable as actual studying. Down the hall and the stairs to the cafeteria, for three eggs and Froot Loops per usual. Then out of the Main Residential Building, across the Lawn toward the Auditorium where the exams are held. The 8:55 Florida sun forces on me an irritated squint, and I get the bright sun sneeze thing.

But instead of sneezing I wake up, of course, because I have been visited once again by the high school snooze dream fairy. I do-over the routine, stumbling into my auditorium seat with the rotate-and-flip half desk at 8:58, just as the exams with their customary blue books are being handed down the rows. These books always seem a bit off to me. They didn't have them at my old school, but they didn't have Western Civ or a dress code either, and I lived in a house with parents instead of a Building with roommates. But listen, most things are nicer here, and these blue books are so shoddy - folded crooked, cheap paper, not even college ruled. At least they fill up faster that way.

I am so tired. Coffee is still for adults at this point, and when will they invent energy drinks for 10th graders.

Why would Augustus say he had restored the Roman Republic when in fact he had founded the Empire?

We covered Rome before Thanksgiving and it's almost summer. I don't like this. I close my eyes for a moment, telling myself I'm thinking, but really I'm feeling sorry for myself and getting sleepy, so immediately I open my eyes and shake my head. I don't have the world's greatest work ethic but I know when it's time to get serious. I set the question sheet aside and square up the blue book on the little desk. I warm up the pen by writing my name and everything - now I have momentum!

This is strange. The paper feels better somehow under the pen, and the name and course boxes seem neater, with nicer lettering, like in movie credits. And, not that it matters, but aren't they usually called Exam Book or Blue Book? What does Field Notes mean? Sounds like birdwatching. God I am tired, who cares. Augustus, Republic, Empire, let's go! I look back and forth between my handwriting and the lettering, and open the book.

After decades of general prosperity and shared economic progress, inequality was growing. There was a large plurality in the nation who remained devoutly loyal, even as they worked harder while never reaching the level of comfort and security that the nation used to promise. Over the years this group began to question whether the system was working as it should, for the people it should work for.

Meanwhile, the few at the top were telling tales about how the problems in the nation, and the disadvantageous position of the devoutly loyal group, were caused by people other than them: Recent arrivals to the nation, internal émigrés to large cities, along with the differently, or insufficiently, devout. The loyal plurality ate this up, because in their version of the nation the system can't fail, since it is the best system. It can only *be failed* by the Other Groups.

This went on for a while, and inequality increased, as the few at the top continued to implement policies to benefit themselves, while spinning ever more elaborate conspiracies about the Other Groups keeping the devoutly loyal down. But while the large plurality accepted the malfeasance of the O.G., they began to notice that the few at the top had also long since emigrated to the cities their own selves.

Finally Augustus came along, out of nowhere. He was bright orange like the sneezing sun. Instead of saying one thing to the elite and another to the large plurality, he said: Not only are the Other Groups ripping you off, the few at the top are too. When I take power, everyone who is not already devoutly loyal is in trouble, big league. I love loyalty. I will rule in the name of you, the true citizens, and I will serve only you. I don't even want to hear from anybody else. Enough of the Other Groups. Enough of the few at the top, liars, fake. I'm going to wreck everything, and rebuild it, just for you. I alone can do this. Only me. My daughter is so hot, believe me, it's incredible.

What? I start-wake in my auditorium seat like I've stepped into an open manhole. It is 9:06. The shoddy Exam Book is still closed. I glance to my right and the girl two seats over has already covered a page and a half, gripping the pen in that super hard way where the index finger looks painfully bent back. I look at my desk, better not get caught glancing, they'll think you're cheating. They are very serious about honesty and integrity here, and some teachers even make you write a little pledge of honor on all your work, is how serious they are about graduating qualified and upstanding future leaders.


They said to write two couplets that summarize the story:

Hard-studied, deprived of sleep and caffeine
I somehow am shown an improbable scene
Get through this one question, I will be fine
But what the hell's up in that other timeline