Wordsanctuary Revisited

Musings of a writer-teacher-counselor.

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Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

I am inquisitive and have worked in writing, editing, and teaching. I am a citizen of the USA and also concerned about the world. This is an addendum to my original blog, Wordsanctuary. That's at www.wordsanctuary.blogspot.com Please check out my column at www.insidehighered.com, "A Kinder Campus." Click on Career Advice to find it. Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Requiem for a Building

As a child, the story of “The Three Little Pigs” disturbed me. But that didn’t stop me from asking to hear it read over and over. Maybe I was preparing myself.

My childhood synagogue has been torn down. In its place is a car dealership. My elementary school has been razed. In its place stands a modern school that is about to close. My junior high is no more. Manmade hills and weeds have sprouted on the land. The party room where I married morphed into a bargain store; we exchanged vows between bundled sweat socks and a pyramid of plastic pails. But marriage is a process, not a place.

A lifelong Clevelander with a soft spot in my heart for Cleveland State University , I’m also an alumna (class of 1981) and a former employee who worked as student assistant, secretary, writer/editor, and part-time teacher. I am also about to experience the loss of another landmark—at my alma mater.

An email from a fellow graduate announced that on March 20 a farewell bash was held in CSU’s University Center--for the building itself. But I did not feel like singing, dancing to the tunes of a band called Demolition, or celebrating another bit of crumbling plaster.

I know there are compelling reasons to improve CSU’s infrastructure. An urban campus needs to be up to date. I spent close to one-third of UC’s concrete life navigating jigsaw puzzle buildings and promoting communication across distant city blocks.

But I grew accustomed to the place—even an imperfect one.

I recall the first time I entered UC and walked straight through to the library. I liked UC’s five-story windows. It felt like walking through a house of light. No doubt, UC reverberated at times with railway-terminal noise. The hustle and bustle was energizing--unless one had a headache. There was insufficient elevator space when visitors converged; there were brutal nooks and crannies in the often-empty stairwells. But scaling those steps, I stayed in shape. Heating bills? I can only guess.

I asked another alumnus how he felt about the building’s planned demise.

“I never went in there,” he replied.

His education was incomplete.

That is where I was stood up for dates, fell asleep in the lounge after studying late for tests, bought donuts and coffee to fuel my work, played pool, listened to speakers like Noam Chomsky, performed as Hercules in a play. It’s where I lost my purse the day after I got engaged—to be rescued from panic (department keys were in it) when a maintenance worker found it in the trash. UC was where anyone could dream, whine, people-watch—and observe engineering students’ annual egg drops in shockproof containers flying from upper floors over the railings and down. And where bands blared on Fridays and banners hung brightly.

I will have to remember CSU without University Center . Main Classroom Building remains. Rhodes Tower stretches. The Wolstein Center flourishes; the Music/Communication Building thrives; and designer dorms in Fenn Tower make me drool. A college of health science pushes up from the ground like the first crocus of spring.

I have read that University Center was too expensive to fix. Perhaps so are my memories.

In “The Three Little Pigs” there is a progression of challenges. The wolf gets to blow down two houses that are weak—one of straw, one of sticks. But the solid brick structure prevails. The wolf then tries to get in through the chimney, only to be outsmarted by the pig who sets a fire on the hearth and puts a kettle of water on to boil. Psychologist Bruno Bettelheim wrote in “The Uses of Enchantment” that the story models ego strength and planning. A child hearing the tale learns to steel his or her will and adapt.

What if the wolf that stalks places we once called home might actually be progress, spurring us on to greater creativity and resilience?

The International Conference Center . The Kiva. The Game Room. The Shire. Never heard of them? That’s ok. The building at 2121 Euclid Avenue is going down. They’re places I remember that are no more.

What are yours?