My Road to Creativity, 7: Back to Construction

Loomis Brothers General Contractors was a large commercial firm with a number of returning clients plus competative bidding on other projects in Cedar Rapids and surrounding towns. My job was as Construction Engineer which required me to do estimating, soliciting sub-contractor bids, managing the budget and logistics of the work as well as scheduling and on site management was a steep learning curve and was stressful. 

Along with my new jobe being stressful, my father passed away the first year after I had started this new job. That didn’t help at all.

That aside, the work was interesting and demanding. I had a good mentor who showed me the ropes and soon I was on my own, estimating and managing a number of cost plus client jobs, Then I bid on and won my first contract. I was on top of the world, accepting all the pats on the back I could get.

I continued on with night school, receiving my associate degree from the community college, then enrolling at Mount Mercy College since they also had a full array of night classes.

I was fooling around with photography in the early 1970s and discovered Edward Weston’s Daybook, a journal of some of his work, which inspired me to begin to journal myself, hoping that it might inspire my creativity. 

My mind continued to expand especially after taking two required philosophy courses. After the second one, I really began to question my life, religion, everything, wondering if this was all there would ever be.

I majored in art, which I was good at. But, while I mastered much of the ability to draw and some of the technical aspects, I struggled to create anything original or, what one might say, creative. I could copy and do good work with the guidance of my teachers, but not create anything original on my own. I was envious of my fellow students and their ability to come up with new and interesting subject matter, while mine was dull and boring. I loved art, but it was killing me inside. I graduated in May of 1977.

That summer, I built a house in the country, some ten miles outside of Cedar Rapids. When I say I built it myself, I am not lying. Albeit, I did hire some of my carpenter crew to help me on Saturdays, especially with some of the heavier work. I hired contractors for specialty work such as dry wall, electrical and plumbing. I had good access to tools I needed from the construction company and  got some rock bottom prices from my subs. We moved in October that year.

I discovered “Be Here Now, Remember” by Ram Dass in the one small book store in Cedar Rapids which I frequented often. The content blew me away and I read it several times. It turned me on to meditation and I signed up for a Transcendental Meditation course that was popular at the time. So I was then meditating twenty minutes morning and evening. That and journaling would change the course of my life, but not for some years down the road.

I was going to the public library and devoured everything they had on Buddhism and Hinduism as well as several other esoteric ‘isms. I started realizing how confining my catholic faith was, relying on fear and guilt to keep the flock in check. I liked that eastern religions, especially Buddhism, were based more on love and compassion and personal responsibility rather than shame and fear. 

Somewhere in all this I found time to read Hunter Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Hells Angels” and Kerouac’s “On the Road”, “Dharma Bums”, and “The Subterraneans”. I discovered the beautiful poetry of Gary Snyder. 

I felt I was riding a knife edge between the rigidness of being a construction engineer and the freedom of these writers and their stories. I continued journaling which was now being interspersed with my poetic ramblings and my longings for something else.

I had started running back when we lived in the city, mainly going out in the evenings for a short run and more extended runs on Saturdays. After we moved to the country, I started getting up early in the mornings to get in a few miles, but on weekends, I was doing ten plus miles a day. Running made me feel free, like I was in charge of my life for a while, something I didn’t feel otherwise. It helped with the stress and kept me somewhat sane.

There were no close friends or anyone I could really talk with about philosophy and art which is all I ever wanted to talk about I woulod either bore everyone or was over their head. I became pretty much a loner, relishing my meditation time and my runs, especially long ones, when I could be alone with myself and my inner-self. I kept gravitating towards art, reading, frequenting art and crafts shows where I felt a deep envy towards those artists that were really somehow doing it.

I was making good money, but the stress was catching up with me. I was increasingly unhappy with the life I was living, constantly feeling the pressure from work, managing sometimes multi-million dollar construction projects. The required attention to detail was overwhelming sometimes. I wasn’t sleeping. I was dealing with ulcers. The only way I seemingly was able to escape was through self-medicating with alcohol. I wrongly thought that moving to the country would help. It didn’t.

All I wanted to do was paint, to do art, to create, but what little creative energy I had was gone with the long days of juggling money, schedules, job-site personnel, sub-contractors, estimating  . . . numbers, numbers, numbers . . . and maintining sanity.

Sometime, maybe in 1979, I took a three night workshop in graphic design which I thought might be a way to move out of my stressful work environment. While my art degree laid somewhat of a foundation, I found out was that I needed further education in design in order to become a graphic designer, but my appetite was whetted.

In researching design programs, I saw Iowa State had one. I also decided that since I already had a bachelors degree, I would apply for graduate school. I was required to present a portfolio of my work, so I put together a crude poorly presented portfolio of some of my undergraduate work. I had no idea about good portfolio presentation and, in retrospect, my presentation was horrible. I would only be admitted to graduate school after taking some entry-level design classes for two quarters. I would then would have reapply and go in front of the graduate committee to be reviewed for admittance. 

I went on an Outward Bound Course out of Leadville, Colorado in January of 1980. Spending time cross country skiing and camping in 10 feet of snow somewhere 11,000 feet with twelve other souls gave me the where-with-all and strength to pursue this mad adventure at the old age of 39 years old. 

This was a huge gamble for me who liked everything to be predictable and knowing what the future might hold. I resigned from the construction job and left for Ames the end of August

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