Assessing

IMG_20141010_232953245

In the beginning, I let go of the mason jars.

I use them as water glasses. A tooth brush holder. Carriers for odds and ends. I use them for everything. But in this world, there will be more mason jars, always. And I have no more room for odds and ends. After a time I stopped bothering to set them down nicely. I dropped them into the giveaway boxes, listening to the glass ricochet off itself. Everything intact, or not. It wasn’t mine to bother with anymore. Later I looked because I couldn’t help myself. The mason jars were fine.

Then the cheese grater; the one that offered up Parmesan onto the fresh corn and tomato salad with the parsley from my garden. I brought that salad to a farm potlock once. It was the night I ran through the mud in the rain and slipped. I swam in the river in my clothes, in the rain. It was cold and flooded. It was july. The salad had been in a pyrex bowl I never retrieved from the hostess. I know how pyrex is made. All this, from the cheese grater.

Then the picnic baskets, and the utensils. The replaceable things. Pots and pans. Ornaments. Accessories. Housewarmings gifts, given for homes I no longer inhabit.

These things were easy. At least, they were easier than the rest.

And then the next box.

I held in my hands the shattered remains of my functional pottery collection; the plates I picked out individually, each one. I thought of the way regular dinner guests each had a favorite. The freshly baked bread in slices, arranged on a plate by Courtney Martin, blue, with stripes. The coffee mug made by Jason Burnett, chipper, bright, always full of coffee. There were gifts. There were hand-thrown bowls in which I’d served the best French onion soup my friends had ever eaten.

I had begun the collection years ago, deciding that not one part of my life would be ordinary. And if I was going to eat, it would be out of vessels made by human hands. The kind that had soul. I wanted every inch of my world touched by humanity. I wanted everything to be personal.

All of it, destroyed in the flurry of the last two weeks. It was too much to repair.

It felt like my heart was in my mouth, and I was biting down, again and again.

Now, it hits me. Two years of planning. Charts and savings and graph paper. This is a life I don’t know how to leave behind. This is a life I have moved toward for the last decade. It would have been different if I had been evicted from an apartment. Fired from a job. These things are fluid. You begin another one, the same way. I, however, had retreated from the world. I had rejected a 9-5 life, believing that if I needed less, I would have more time for the things I believed in. Living. I had walked out of the world and begun to augment the rules. I had believed that it could be possible for me to meet ends while teaching for free, while making art and music, while building community. I believed this with everything in me. I believed it when I directed my first charity ball ten years ago, and I believed it the day I dedicated myself to a life in a tiny cabin without electricity or running water.

When my health failed, I still believed it. When I could not get out of bed, I believed it. When my friend, the land owner, said, “Focus on your health, don’t worry about working on your house, use my bathroom and kitchen for as long as you need to, it’s fine,” I believed it. I believed that no matter how long it took, it would work out.

I believed, among other things, in people. When the family who had offered for me to build on their land for as long as I needed suddenly decided they would sell, and move to Vermont (in six months!), I believed they would see that I could direct my meager resources in only one direction: Moving the cabin with them, or continuing to build.

I believed my sincerity would gain me the benefit of the doubt.

I believed someone who loved me would never verbally demolish me, screaming at me until I crumbled.

I believed I could accomplish what I was able to when I was well.

I believed in a world that allowed for delays.

How do you come back from that?

I have been told that the sweetest thing about me is that I am a fool. That I wander into situations knowing how dangerous they are, sure I will strike that delicate balance.  I do not know how to be jaded. But I do know how to be incredibly sad.

I know that you can not walk away from something until you can understand that it is gone.

I know that this cannot happen in a day.

Advertisements

Pausing Indefinitely

wpid-wp-1443303119495.jpeg

As I sit in a borrowed room, on a mattress that does not belong to me, grateful to have my own blanket, it hits me.

My home is gone.

It happened dramatically and suddenly. It happened for reasons out of my control. It happened because I took a chance, trusted friends, and went about things in haphazard ways, as I do. And in theory, it wouldn’t have happened at all in any alternate timeline. It would have been just fine.

In another dimension, I am sitting in my loft, in my own bed, writing something very different tonight.

In this dimension, I am very, very ill.

As work began on my home, my health declined, and construction nearly halted. I never anticipated being this ill at the age of thirty-two. Something funny happens when you look in a mirror and cannot understand why sometimes you are unable walk, or use your hands, or think straight, or eat dinner. It is like being out of your body, watching yourself incapable of things that should be easy. Things you must do. It is like you are living two lives: The one you imagined you would live, and the one you are trapped inside of, and you are not present for either. Not entirely.

It happened gradually. And I thought, Well this will just have to take longer. And I still wrote lists and made plans. And I still needed an income. So, every day, I woke up and made the choice between working on my house, and trying to make a living. Every day, I chose making a living. I chose it in every way I could, unable to work a normal job. I chose it in creative ways, in odd jobs, in small art commissions. At no point did it ever occur to me that this house would not be finished. Daily, the donors who helped me raise money to begin initially were on my mind. I am still working on their thank-you gifts. I held them in my heart, and they kept my hopes and plans alive. If I was disheartened, I would still do this because they believed in me. And I lived in that unfinished home for months, content to do it, because someday this was all going to be a funny story I would tell. About the process. About months without running water. About nothing but plastic over the insulation. If I remained this sick for the rest of my life, if it took years, this home would be mine.

Now, I did not own this shell that I was converting into a home. I was renting to own. And if I had owned this thing when the property agreement fell through eight days ago, I would not have been able to afford to move it. I would have had nowhere to move it to. Sometimes, you have to take chances. And sometimes, when you do, the risks are so minimal at first, until they are not. And sometimes people are not who you thought they were.

And if you ran around expecting that everyone you ever met would disappoint you, you’d never really know anyone well enough to find out. I don’t live like that. If you’ve ever met me, you know this.`

What happened, and how it happened, is not important.

I spent four days being devastated. I spent two days being furious. Now my heart is broken, as I look at my plans and notes, because I have let you down, gentle friends. These voices creep in at the edges of internal dialogue, and they are incredibly cold. Oh look, one more thing you didn’t finish, they say. Years of planning. Years. Oh my God, years. One year of actualizing. Six months of living in this thing. I realize now that I needed this house because I have never had a home. Because nothing has ever felt like it was mine. That I have lived my entire life feeling displaced, desperate to escape the cottage I grew up in, jumping from temporary to temporary, never unpacking everything. That I have, since I was a little girl, had a suitcase packed for Just In Case.

I have that suitcase, now. I am living on the kindness of others. I am nearly thirty-three years old, and I may have to move in with my parents- something I have never done in my adult life. I have a box of my grandmother’s China, and nowhere to put it. I have a collection of treasures I must give up because there is nowhere safe for them. I can’t sleep because there is nowhere safe for me. And I have learned that the most important things I own actually fit in my pocket. A pen. A ring. A glass pendant with writing on the back. A passport. A photograph. But I will tell you something:

This is not the end. This is a pause. There will be a tiny house, and your support will never be forgotten. Expect mail. Expect all my love and gratitude. Expect my support when you launch your next adventure. Know that you are with me. We are in this together, you and I. Still. Even now that I am left with blueprints and sentences that begin with “I was just about to…”. This is not over. This is not over, because I owe it to you. This is not over, because I am tired of things falling apart. This is not over, because I am sick, and I am sore, and I go to sleep at night imagining home.

From my journal, May, 2010:

“What you wanted was a little house. One so small that it only fit you inside it. Then, you could crawl into it and take up all the space, and you would not be lonely because there would never be room for anyone else. You bought the bed because you were unremarkable, and the floor was not safe, and the windows were not safe, and nothing was yours. You bought the bed so that something could be yours.

You bought the bed so that if the world flooded, you could turn it into a boat and float to the top of a mountain where you would live forever alone, making bow strings out of bed sheets. And although there would be no one left to find you, you would be Lucky To Be Alive.

You bought the bed so that if the sky fell down, you would have something to crawl under.

It was In Case of Tornadoes. It was In Case of Forest Fires. It was In Case of Heartbreak. It was In Case of a Plane Crash. So that something could be yours when you had forgotten to take your toothbrush and your phone with you. Somewhere to go when your welcome wore thin, and it was cold outside, and there were not enough blankets, and the whiskey was all gone, and your cheeks were wet. At least there would be the bed.

No one could take it from you, because it was too big to steal, and too much of a hassle. It was a pretty good plan, you thought. At least there would be the bed.”

Now, I have even given up the bed. And I will cry over this, because I am a woman who feels everything so deeply, and it is impossible for me to just walk away from a burning bridge while it is still in flames. I have to watch. I have to stand there and wait for every last piece of it to become ash fine enough to stick in my lungs. I have to see the entire things collapse, in all its cruel glory. Just In Case.

March: Moving Into 200 Square Feet. This Is Happening.

This is happening.

For three months I have lived out of suitcases and boxes piled in an old school bus. I bought a bed for $35 and a poem. I made contacts with people who had barn wood and pallets and tile for my awesome plans to make the interior of my house with these things. And nothing went according to plan. Nothing.

Once upon a time, I began an Indiegogo campaign asking for help so that I could get this place livable by winter. All winter, I was going to draw the promised illustrations for my generous donors. I was excited. I had all these plans.

Here’s the thing. We don’t get to decide how stuff is going to work out. I think I’ve never known that more than I know it now. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I decided to just stuff myself head first into the proverbial human cannon. It took me six weeks to find any of my socks or knickers. I still don’t know where my pillow cases are. I danced in snow at 12,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies. I quit my day job and went through my exit interview wearing socks I borrowed from the 7 year old I nanny. I bought a pair of really stupid sunglasses in Missouri. I got really, really sick. IMG_20150326_215425 Yeah. It’s been like that.

I spent the winter either ill, or out of town perusing last minute business opportunities. My friends rallied (again), and put up the rest of the insulation. They covered the insulation in plastic. If it weren’t for them, I would still have another month of work ahead of me.

I’m excited for this. I’m excited to embrace the weird topsy-turvyness of it all. I’m excited to live in a house without interior walls. A house without an actual kitchen sink. A house that will evolve under my own hands, slowly, in small steps, while I sleep in it.

I must wrap this up, now. About ten days ago, I sliced one of my fingers to the bone, and I have no feeling in part of that finger. It feels really weird to type.

December 31st; I Live In A Bus and I Burned My Couch

wpid-wp-1420173932954.jpeg

I live in a bus, now. This was not the plan. Everything I own can fit into the last quarter of an old yellow school bus. It is comforting, knowing I can take up such little space. I am aware there are some people who can pack their whole lives into a backpack. I know what I am doing is not really that revolutionary. But I have been dragging dreams and memories and furniture around my whole life. And over the years, I keep leaving these things in ditches and driveways and other people’s apartments and pockets.

So, on the last day of the year, I am going to tell it backwards. Later, I will tell you why I live in a bus next to the tiny house, instead of the house itself. Later.

I am Here. Writing this, drowning fruit flies in my champagne. Right now, I want to talk about leaving. About how easy it was to fit myself into such a small space. About how it was easier than I ever thought it could be.

I have packed and unpacked my life so many times. I have lived in this house for two and a half years- the longest I have ever lived in one home as an adult. I participate in all these packing rituals. As I put things into boxes, I hold them in my hands, look at them, and remember Everything. All The Things. Books. Photographs. Suitcases full of trinkets. It is an exorcism. It is a rehashing. It is very painful. And it is something that I need to do. Because every time I leave a place, I am a little sad, and a little furious, and a little frightened.

I didn’t want to do that anymore. Not this time.

I paced circles in my house, wanting nothing more than to never see anything I owned ever again. This is how I knew I was ready. I stopped caring about any of the things.  I just wanted out.  This time, as I looked around me, I literally asked myself how hard it was to make arson look like an accident.

When you are actually fantasizing about burning your rental house down just so you do not have to ever look at your belongings again, it is time to ask for help. I called my friends. They came. They arrived with wine and 90’s R&B. I have never done it this way before.

The first things, we burned in the yard. The couch where I slept after the accident. The blankets I wrapped myself in when I was sad. The jeans I wore when I had starved myself to 105 lbs, and was sure I would fit in again someday. My tape measure. My diet pills. Gifts from ex boyfriends and ex friends. Chairs. Tables. Everything that weighed my heart down. Everything I did not need anymore.

It was the single most wonderful thing I did this year.

The fire was huge. It was bigger than me. As I watched the flames reach up into the night, I got close enough for my lips to blister. This, I thought, is what it looks like when there is no going back. I am accustomed to changing direction often, and assuming it is always possible. When there is a fire, you can know the end result. You can be absolutely certain. You can never get those things back. You can never say, “I’m sorry, will you please come home?” You cannot look them up in a phone book and ask if they still live where they used to and invite them to have a cup of coffee and catch up. When things burn, they are gone.

Oh, for the love of all that is precious, thank goodness.

I can easily fit into 200 sq ft. It is possible. I can fit into less. I am reminded of a story I wrote that was rejected from the only literary journal I sent it to in 2010. It’s a story that I came across by accident recently. One I had forgotten I ever wrote.

What you wanted was a little house. One so small that it only fit you inside it. Then, you could crawl into it and take up all the space, and you would not be lonely because there would never be room for anyone else. 

It’s unnerving, I think, when you discover you’d forgotten you’ve always wanted something.

I know what I own, now. If I measured myself by the things that I own, it would go like this:

I am made of three typewriters and three hundred books and thirty-seven lipsticks and one pair of really amazing black pumps and six pairs of leather boots and jewelry made by silversmiths I have known and one collection of bird skeletons and one collection of skeleton keys and a wooden box filled with buttons and many drawings of maps of places I invented and one ukulele and one guitar and one borrowed electric piano and a one suitcase full of ball gowns from when I had occasion to wear them.

So I sat on the floor of that little house, the place that had been my home for two and a half years. In that little house, I wept on the floor. I laughed in the loft. I sunbathed in the yard. I drank wine in the bathtub. I read books and wrote songs and took photographs. I made the most delicious French onion soup my friends had ever eaten. I mourned deaths. I drew my future. I drew my past. I drew the city that lives inside me. In that little house, I made so many mistakes, I cannot begin to compile them in any organized way. It was the first place that had ever really been mine. And now I know that when something is yours, really and truly yours, it doesn’t mean anything. Even if it is wholly yours. Even if your whole heart is in it, and it is where you feel safest when you sleep. Even if it envelops you and rocks you calm after days that feel like heart attacks. Even if it is wonderful. It doesn’t mean anything. Even if you know your way around with your eyes closed in the dark. Even if it is almost perfect. It doesn’t mean you will not have to leave.

Just wear a pair of really good boots. I have six pairs. Because some things, you don’t let go of. Even if they take up a little extra room. At the end of the day, it’s about what choices we have. Because there really are fewer than we think there are. I’ll keep the boots.

wpid-photoeffect_1420150922892.jpg

Step One: Waiting For The Guy To Do The Thing

Here it is! Isn’t it sweet? Isn’t it just little, and likable, and perfect for me? My friends, K & S, have made it all possible with the gift of this opportunity. Without this, I would still be pinching pennies, waiting. This little building already has a history. It’s only a few years old, but it has sheltered friends and kept treasures safe. This building is going to make a good, sturdy, cozy place for a lady like me.

IMG_20141009_170321 (1)

I have the insulation. The Indiegogo campaign runs for eight more days, and I must wait for those funds, but I have the materials to begin. Why on earth am I not holding a staple gun right now? 

Here’s the thing, friends. The cabin is now at the bottom of the hill. It needs to get to the middle of the hill.

IMG_20141009_170359

Now, dragging small buildings around isn’t really my area, and my friends who own this particular property (and the building, in fact), are doing a wonderful thing for me. They are dealing with that part. What this means, however, is that I’m a little vague on the details.

From what I understand, there is a mysterious man we call The Sam. The Sam is probably a wizard, but he disguises himself as The Guy Who Hauls Buildings. I have never seen him. I don’t know his last name. This is not exactly odd. I live in the land of handshake contracts, and “approximate” ETA’s. Everybody else seems to know this guy. The Sam has the Big Truck. The Sam will Haul The Building. He’s done it before, and he will do it again.

This might be building dragging season. He might be very busy. I don’t know when this wizard is coming to move my house, and I must wait for him to do it in order to begin insulating. Mister Wizard Sam, if you can hear me, would you possibly do it before next Saturday?

For now, I am comforting myself with obsessive planning. A friend has just promised me “more pallets than you can possibly imagine,” and this means I will make furniture and floors and anything else I can think of out of pallets. I already own some beloved furniture, and I am reading about how I can modify it for living small. I’m playing with graph paper and floor plans. I’m making lists of things that have to be done, and in what order. I’m remaking the lists. I’m drawing shapes for mosaic foxes.

I am very clearly antsy.

I want to do a multi-media floor. I have been reading articles about others who have made their floors out of pallet wood. What I want most of all, especially for the walls, is reclaimed barn wood, I think the floor will be my first priority. I’m hunting for ceramic tiles for a floor that will be part ceramic mosaic, part wood.

And I am practicing being patient. Because there are times to take action, and there are times to wait for the house-dragging wizard to arrive. I’m trying to remember which time this is.

IMG_20141010_232953245

This Is Happening: What I Learned From Crowd Funding For Myself

Three weeks ago, I launched a 30 day crowd funding campaign to sponsor the very, very basics needed for me to live in this shell. When, in the first 24 hours, nearly half the goal was met, and I was beside myself. I think that somewhere inside, I really doubted the entire $1000 would be raised. I made this video, thoroughly grateful. (I am still thoroughly grateful.)

I want to be clear about something. I did not ever intend to crowd fund this project. I did not feel like I deserved to. I thought that in our economical times, people can’t afford to throw money at things that aren’t their own necessities, and who am I to deserve it, anyway? I pinched all my pennies. I pinched them, and I pinched them, and I sold things I owned, and I finally had what I thought would be enough to outfit this place before winter. And in two weeks time, some really boring emergencies ate all my house funds. So I asked for help. You can see my Indiegogo campaign here. Now, I’m not a stranger to fundraising, branding, or marketing, but I was still a little nervous about asking for money for me. Plus, I can’t remember the last time I’ve been able to afford to donate to someone else’s cause. I was utterly terrified.

Nasty little monsters who live in your head will try to talk you out of it. 

There’s no way anyone will donate to this, I thought. If I launch this campaign everyone will think I’m needy and asking for stuff I don’t deserve, I thought. My financial problems aren’t anyone else’s problem, I thought. This project isn’t worth funding, it’s just my stupid house, I thought. I haven’t done anything substantial for anyone- ever- and no one has any reason to support me, I thought. I can’t do this anyway, I don’t know how to do any of this stuff, I thought. Something else will happen, and I will fail, and anyone who donated to this will have supported a failed project, I thought.

Those thoughts don’t go away. I still think these things, I still worry about these things, and I still find myself totally unworthy of all this support. Here’s the bottom line: Not trying is dumb. And for as brave as I can appear, I’ve spent a lifetime talking myself out of opportunities because I was convinced that I didn’t deserve them. But it’s not up to me to decide who deserves what in this world, and if this was going to be the only way to make this house happen, a little embarrassment and sheepishness wasn’t a good enough reason to not try.

Social Media can be a wonderful platform for support, information, suggestions, and encouragement.

When I wrote my Indiegogo campaign, I realized I had to be completely honest. I need to live in a tiny house because I can’t afford to live anywhere else, I say. The obvious response will be, find roommates.

I can’t do that, I say. What do I assume the response will be? Stop being a baby. Suck it up and do what you gotta.

I have some pretty vanilla mental health issues. It’s nothing super exciting or exotic. I don’t get Sybil status. I don’t meow like a cat, or eat dirt. My issues are painfully uninteresting. The problem is, you probably will never notice them unless I tell you about them. Saying, I have to live alone, is not enough, anymore. People want evidence. People want reasons. People want justifications. And usually, when I start to explain, I watch eyes glaze over, and that’s really okay, since it’s not anyone else’s business.

Except, this time it was. Because I was asking for everyone’s help.

I have a super-sized dose of PTSD, medicate-able anxiety, a sleep problem, and debilitating panic attacks. Stress and fear make me throw up. I am sensitive to over-stimulation. My entire social self is built around protecting you from me. It’s why I’m so funny. I’m friendly, and I like people. And I’m very choosy about when I go out, and what state I am in when I do it. I have spent a decade fine-tuning everything about every aspect of myself in order to control these things, protect others from them, and manage my fears, reactions, and triggers in private. The times when I am least successful in doing this is when I live with another person. Simply stated, roommates make me throw up. It’s not you, kiddos. It’s me. If my home isn’t my sanctuary, I totally, thoroughly, absolutely lose my cookies.

This, however is not the entirety of my being, nor does it define me. Now that it’s been explained, we can move on. There were more, way bigger, way more important reasons for my desire to build a tiny house, and I wanted to talk about those things.

When I gave the real, honest, open truth about this in my campaign, I expected to come up against a backlash. I expected people to say, Well, you seem fine. I expected to be called over-dramatic. Selfish. Spoiled. Instead, people said things like, I know how to do what you need to learn to do, and I will teach you, and, this thing you’re doing is cool, and I want to be a part of it. Information rolled in. Ideas rolled in. I got texts and phone calls and emails and smoke signals and pigeons with Pig Latin notes tied to their feet!

Whatever my own elephant in the room is, it’s always going to be way less important than I think it is. Nobody cared that I was half crazy. What they cared about was that I wanted to live a life that was not defined in cash value. That I wanted to choose the Need Less Money option instead of the Get More Money one. That I wanted to try something else, and that I was willing to undergo some discomfort to get it.

What matters to people is the soul of the project. Imagine that. Instead of making my limitations the center of the conversation, I learned to state them, and then go on working within the parameters. It does no good to keep saying, I am different because of this, or, I can’t do it that way because my brain does this. Okay, then. Fine. Now let’s get on with the Thing We Are Doing.

People you don’t think know you exist are paying attention.

You know those people you haven’t seen in ten years who are kind of in touch with you over social media, but not really? I have some of those. They’re very nice people, and I like knowing that they’re doing well, but it’s not like we hang out. Suddenly, with the launch of this project, people I went to high school with were getting involved. High school, people. Do you know how long it’s been since I was in high school? But there they were, offering supportive notes and donating funds. I never would have thought anything I am doing would have any relevance to their lives. I was stunned, touched, and amazed by the generosity that came pouring out, not just from my close friends, but from people who haven’t seen me in a really long time, and weren’t best buds with me to begin with. It was undeniable proof that people will come together for something they find worthwhile, and you can’t know what that will be, so you may as well go ahead and see if it’s your thing.

People who love you can do some crazy generous things.

If all that wasn’t enough, my parents supplied a grandiose icing-on-the-cake moment when they not only funded all the insulation I needed, but went to the store, bought it, and hauled it back to the building while I was at work.

In the midst of all the giving, you should give something, too.

You may or may not have been the recipient of a drawing of Rupert the Cat in the last year. If you’ve been ill, or if you’ve had a rough day, it’s possible that I might have drawn something for you that looks like this.

Keith

Rupert the Cat has some interesting ways of showing affection, but he’s well-intended, I promise. Earlier this year, I began a series called The Secret Life of Rupert, and, more recently, branched into a series called Dwellings. In Dwellings, I explore the idea of inhabitable spaces. Naturally, all of these illustrations feature Rupert the Cat. In exchange for donations of time, help, cash, or materials, I offered one of these original illustrations to each donor.

Now that construction is about to begin, my drawing is at a halt. I will be creating the rest of these illustrations over the winter inside the house my friends and neighbors helped make possible. It’s not much, but it’s a memento. And it’s my sincere thanks. And it’s all I’ve got. Except for the future, where I’ve got your back.

I don’t, for a moment, want you to think I’ve done any of this by myself. Today, with 9 days left of the campaign, $1105 has been raised. I am speechless. Thank you. In two weeks, the funds will be released to me by Indiegogo, and I will be able to purchase the necessary materials. In the meantime, the insulation ain’t gonna install itself.

“Mom, I’m Moving Into The Shed,” and Other Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

I wouldn’t say that my parents are edgy. They’re kooky, but they’re very appropriate. My mom came of age in the late fifties, and as a result, I was raised with rules. I was not allowed to ask boys to dance. (Boys ask girls to dance, not the other way around.) Socks and underwear were to be folded before being put away. I did not leave the dinner table until everyone was finished eating. I come from a family full of Eastern Europeans who, so to speak, pretty much just got off the boat. Let’s not confuse them with family of humorless toads. Think My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Except there are a (slightly) fewer of us, and we’re not Greek.

Needless to say, I’m the weird sheep in the family. I’m the one who makes seemingly nonsensical decisions often and recklessly. Is there a method to my madness? Of course. Do I land on my feet? Totally. Was I relishing telling my parents about this one? Nope. So I didn’t for some time.

My mom religiously uses straws when we eat at restaurants, and will not drink from the rim of the glass. Why? Because germs. I grew up in a house with a flushing toilet. We changed our toothbrushes every three months without fail. We disinfected everything, ever, on a regular basis. And now I was going to explain that I intended to poop in a glorified 5 gallon bucket and save it for the flower beds? The reaction I expected was similar to the one I got when I was 5 and told my parents I was going to discover undiscovered land somewhere in the world and live on it. (I refer to this as my Fern Gully phase.) My mother, ever the realist, said, That’s a nice thought, honey, but it’s not possible. 

My mom is real hip to technology, so when I told her over the phone that I was going to build a composting toilet, she got on her little Samsung and zipped through all the basics. By the end of the conversation, she seemed totally on board, although the whole what you do when the bucket is filled issue has not exactly come up yet.

My dad’s first question was, Why don’t you just go live in a camper? Admittedly, that’s legit.

First, I explained that I was not building from scratch. I was transforming a shed. I suppose I could have used a better word than shed. I could have said shell, or cabin. But thinking before I speak is something I am diligently working on, and something I am not always good at. I said shed. 

When I visited them in Wisconsin last month, every time I mentioned the shed, I noticed my mother turning a unique shade of nauseated. What I did not know at the time was that my parents and I have very different ideas of what a shed is.

My parents were envisioning something like this.

old industrial building in rural montana

And they were very quietly, politely, respectfully horrified. They thought their sweet, darling, slightly insane little girl and her army of cats (and one coyote) were moving into the Clampett’s out house. I think there was at least one point where my mother actually pictured me wearing a bearskin onesie while eating a raw rabbit with my hands.

That’s not even a little what’s happening here, but I’ll let you sit on that image until a later update.

Also, my dad shoots from the hip. If you’ve met my dad, you certainly know the sweet, funny, somewhat shy, mild-tempered man who raised me. What you may not know is that my dad knows his stuff, and has a mental Rolodex jam-packed with every relevant question in the book. He actually carries all this information around in his brain. All the time. He thinks of everything. Constantly. Lately I’ve considered the possibility that my father might actually be a time-traveling benevolent genius machinist with a secret pet clockwork Jack Russel Terrier for a sidekick. Mom and I never really did know what he was up to in the garage all those years.

How big is it? How are you going to insulate it? Where are you going to put it? How much rent will you pay for the plot of land? Are you putting it on cinder blocks? What tools do you have? Who’s going to help you? What are you using for interior walls? How will you heat it? How big is it? How will you fit your things in it? What vehicle will you use to get your materials there? What materials are you using? Will you have electricity? How? Will you have running water? How? What if the pipes freeze? How much will that cost? How much will THAT cost? What is the roof made of? Is it galvanized? What’s the exterior made of? Is it treated? With what? Who owns the land? 

One right after the other. That’s my dad. He’s also an expert shot with a 22, and I don’t ever recommend being a rattlesnake in his range of shot. The wonderful thing about this is I can be assured that, without a doubt, if there is anything, ever, that I haven’t thought of, he will think of it. And if I’m smart enough to listen to my father, he’ll catch my mistakes before I make them.

My mom, on the other hand, thought of the important things. You see, she raised me with a unique sense of how things should be done. When guests came for dinner, she offered Turkish coffee afterwards in the demitasse cups I now own. Because of my mother, I know that it’s important to have a second set of sheets, and a set of guest towels, and an extra toothbrush waiting in the wings. My mother knows this stuff. She’s an expert hostess. So she wanted to know, Where will people sleep when they visit? Where will people sit when they come over?

I’m on my way to answering those questions, because, like my mother, I do love to host. My first extraneous hurdle will likely be the question raised by my extremely efficient father, who asked, Do you have to take care of that land? This, from the man who spent my childhood trying to convince my mother that it was a good idea to fill the whole yard in with cement, because mowing a lawn was a waste of his time, and he wasn’t afraid to admit it.

First, let’s build this house.