Doing justice to complexity: a love affair with a tiny house

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ribcage

I Cannot Find My Tiny
for Dean Young

In the age of horses, everyone was
born with their own tiny pony to protect.
It was a large responsibility and they
felt themselves crumpling under the weight of it.
To keep their ponies safe, the people
carried them deep inside of their chest cavities.
They called them Tiny.
Everywhere, people ran wild across the prairies and
then they would remember their Tiny and crumple.
And then gallop once more and then again
they would crumple. The sound of the crumpling
was very pleasing, but the rest of it was not.
The landscape looked like a western,
all of the people either galloping free like the cowboys
or else crumpled in little mounds like dead Indians.
In their Tinies, they knew what was missing.
They were very insecure.
If I were there now, I’d say, “I feel funny.”
I’d say, “Please, let’s go for a trot.” I’d say, 
“Just let me into your ribcage.”
And you’d whinny at me.
That is, if I even knew where to find you.

~ Rebecca Bridge

I came across this poem a couple years ago, long before I had ever heard of tiny houses. I was looking for something meaningful in my life and was taken with it’s longing and evocativeness, it’s raw, tender passion.

During the twelve hour drive back to California, I had a lot of time to reflect back on my first month of construction. While tiny houses and simplicity are often uttered in the same breath, I learned there isn’t much that’s simple about the building of a tiny house.

complexity

hmmmm… 

Recalling the poem, I realized that building a house is a lot like growing a relationship…

Adding and tearing away layers

An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use
the word “love” — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved,
a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.

It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.

It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

~ Adrienne Rich

There’s a certain intimacy in building a house. It stretches you to the point of exhaustion. You learn how you react to constant new challenges, to mind numbing tedious tasks, to things going awry. In the way of the best kind of relationships, it gently makes you question why you are the way you are, to understand what’s behind the immediate reaction, to help you peel down through the layers of your psyche, your childhood, until you find some answers, which you can maybe, just maybe, choose to change or else accept as part of your complexity. Either way, you’ve learned something about yourself.

For example, I got well schooled in letting go of expectations. I learned long ago that it’s dangerous to have expectations; you’re almost always disappointed. Much better to be open to any possibility and be surprised. But did that stop me from expecting I would have a roof up by the end of the month? Nooooo. Even as I revised my expectations repeatedly downward, I constantly came up short. Well, okay then. Why was it so hard to let go? Why did it matter how far I got? I don’t have a particular deadline I’m trying to hit. It’s my own drive I was grappling with – what’s behind that? Sometimes it’s useful, sometimes it’s not. It’s part of my complexity and the trick is learning when to let it rip and when to let it go.

Another thing I was confronted with was asking for help. I’m still struggling to figure out why that’s so hard for me. While an independent streak can be a boon sometimes, other times it’s just plain stupid. I found this out as I hung off a ladder trying to hurk 4′ x 8′ pieces of sheathing vertically into place and get them clamped down. I suspect the tiny house is going to cure me of that reluctance before too long.

As you shape your house, you realize it is shaping you. As you cut wood to shore up its walls, it’s tearing down your muscle fibers so they grow back stronger. I think I know my house inside and out, but each additional layer I add creates new aspects to understand; it’s ever growing, ever changing, constantly teaching me.  We are helping each other achieve our full potential.

At the same time, building a house strips you down to who you really are, no hiding. I switched over to taking showers at night to wash off the sweat and grime. I would usually fall asleep right after, waking to some very creative hair sculptures. After spending my life fighting my wavy, wayward hair, I began to look forward to how it would choose to express itself the next morning. This is who I am. l realized I liked this me. Who cares if I scare small, unsuspecting children and make the dog howl?

Shelter from the storm

It’s not all about challenges and looking intensely inward. As with any good relationship, there is a deeply satisfying comfort and joy in being with each other. Each morning and evening I would sit in my house and soak it in. It made me giddy. It felt right. I felt at peace. I had been worried that the sheathing would make it feel too closed in, but I found it was just the opposite (at least with three walls sheathed). It’s windy in Hood River, very windy. When I step out of the house with my cup of tea, the teabag tag stands straight up like a kite. The first time I sat in my house with the sheathing up, the wind was roaring by the two big open garage doors. But inside my house I felt completely protected. I experienced the first sense of being sheltered and safe in my house. It was a very good feeling.

What I love about designing and building a house is that it uses both the left and right sides of your brain and all of your body. It pushes you in every direction. You connect emotionally, intellectually and physically with it; it’s completely gratifying. You feel very alive and full of passion. It’s a bit mystical.

sheathing spirit

sheathing spirit

Resonance

As I drove home the remaining screws on the last piece of sheathing before I reluctantly had to stop, the sound of each one grew deeper until the the last screw gave an impressive basso profondo thrum like the booming mating call of the sage grouse. The walls were tight as a drum and the echoing vibrations reverberated through my ribcage. It was very moving.

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three sheathed

When you’re in the throes of building, you lose sight of what’s happening to some extent. Stepping back at the end of this first stint, I was a bit in awe to see it really there, no longer a well-worn figment of my imagination. It’s lived in my mind for so long, it’s startling to see it, to be able to touch it, stand in it. It’s an incredible feeling. A very dear friend knew exactly what I was going through and sent me this, capturing the emotion so perfectly:

Space and Time! now I see it is true, what I guess’d at,
What I guess’d when I loaf’d on the grass,
What I guess’d while I lay alone in my bed,
And again as I walk’d the beach under the paling stars of the morning.

My ties and ballasts leave me, my elbows rest in sea-gaps,
I skirt sierras, my palms cover continents,
I am afoot with my vision.

~ Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself

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fire light hills

It was achingly hard to tear myself away and drive back along the river, over the mountains, down the hot central valley. Back to the noisy urban life and my sedentary desk job. But I have my newfound muscles as a reminder of this last month and a sliver of my tiny house so deep under my skin I’m not sure it will ever come out. And an even deeper sense of connectedness and satisfaction.

I hope that you, too, may find a way to be afoot with your vision, whatever it may be.

Categories: construction, thoughts on tiny | Tags: , , , , , | 21 Comments

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21 thoughts on “Doing justice to complexity: a love affair with a tiny house

  1. Ash

    Whether or not our paths ever cross again, I feel you are a kindred spirit on this life journey. So glad to have met you and to have been present for the germination of this incredible adventure of yours.

    • Hi Ash – I’m sure our paths will cross again…I’ve always wanted to see TN. I wish you all the best on your cross country travels and creating your farmstead. May there be many goats in your life. :) Warm regards, Kate

  2. Kate, I wrote a blog post that lingered in draft mode for quite a while, but I feel compelled to share it today because I just your post on Naj Haus called Doing Justice to Complexity. It resonated with me because you write about how complexity and intention help us understand ourselves better. Thank you for articulating so beautifully why we do difficult things that help us examine our intentions and get better at figuring ourselves out! (http://thisisthelittlelife.com/2013/07/27/simple-living-vs-intentional-living/)

    • Thank you, Lina – I just commented on your blog. I find what we learn about ourselves the most interesting part of the whole process!

  3. Alison

    What a beautiful post, Kate. You really are making the MOST out of building and blogging. When you decide to do something, you do it very well. No shortcuts, nothing slipshod. Congratulations on your tiny house progress so far, and thank you again for sharing the adventure–both external and internal–with us here.

  4. Beautifully expressed. You’ve summed up the feelings I have about building my own Tiny home, feelings I didn’t know how to gather coherently. Thank you for taking the time to put together this post.

    Parker

  5. leepera

    Thanks so much for sharing, Kate! Beautifully written and, like Lina, this really resonated with me. Plus, you shared my absolute favorite Adrienne Rich quote…

    • Thanks much, Lee – glad you liked it. I just read your Storytelling and Siding post (http://boneyardstudios.com/2013/07/20/storytelling-and-siding/) and watched your video, and both resonated with me too. I love how you raise to the forefront the importance of creating the lifestyle you want – not so much the financial freedom but how you engage with others. Very perceptive and well done. I also appreciated your comments on the emotional ups and downs and trying to balance the building with the rest of your life. I’m only a month in and am already experiencing some of that. I look forward to sharing more stories, with you and other women builders especially, as we find our respective ways along a similar path.

  6. Suzannah Kolbeck

    It is interesting to see how many people we “know” through tiny houses who have come to comment on this blog. It is beautiful and profound to me on many different levels. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Suzannah. The sense of community has been an important part of the tiny house experience I hadn’t anticipated. I’ve been following your story from afar, deeply moved by what you’ve been through and inspired by your and La’s perseverance. It’s nice to connect and I hope we can all meet up in person at some point.

  7. Well said. Great words as we struggle through a few delays on our own tiny project, and and an afternoon spent wrestling with a saw blade. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks, Mitchell. My mantra is quickly becoming “everything takes ten times as long as you think”! Hope you get things up and running again.

  8. Dee williams

    In a thousand ways this reflects my own small experience. Tiny house, big adventure. Kate, you are so rad for noticing that your blood now runs w a bit of sawdust imbedded. THAT is gonna open up a big ‘o can of whoop ass on how you view the world, your community and most humbly, yourself. Cheers! You are my hero! Dee

  9. Scott Sewell

    Reblogged this on Life On Mundane Lane and commented:
    I want this!

  10. Hi Kate!
    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and moving post – I love your awareness around how this process of building up our little structures also strips us down and challenges us to ask for help! We all fight our own war but I feel like you and I might be fighting a few of the same battles :-)

    I’ve just finished the sub-floor and ready to start building walls on my tiny house – I’m basically where we started the workshop on your house – and it’s taken me at least 3 times as long as I had planned to get there. And I slowly learn to let go. This weekend I hope to have two walls up, maybe I will but more likely another ‘teacher’ (what I previously called ‘problem’ :-) ) will come along and say “Hey, check this out over here…” and I’ll have my walls in 2 or 3 more weeks.

    I have been so busy starting my own build that email has piled up and I didn’t respond to your message post Dee’s workshop – thank you so much for sharing your house with us all and trusting us all with your wall framing! It’s so great to see a fourth wall and the sheathing! You have done some great work and I truly admire your ability to wrap up and leave the tiny house alone for awhile – that would be a stretch for me!

    Now I have rambled :-) Take care and look forward to when you are back at it.

    Benn

    • Hey Benn, good to hear from you! And I’m glad to hear you’re well underway, even if it feels like slow progress. Yes, I can relate so well. But it sounds like you’re taking great care with your building and in the long run you’re going to appreciate that.

      After a month of non-stop building, it was good for me to step away so that I could get some perspective on it and re-group, but it’s been absolutely excruciating not being able to work on it when I want to. Fortunately I’m headed back up next week for another stint in which I hope to finish sheathing the walls and get as far as I can on the roof. We’ll see ;)

      Good luck with everything and keep me posted on how you are doing. And again, thanks so much for helping give dimension to my tiny house!

  11. michelle

    Wow, what a beautiful post. I am in the beginning stages of dreaming about my tiny house. I am already feeling some of what you wrote about, I can only imagine what will happen when it becomes tangible. Cheers to you and your adventure!

    • So glad you liked it, Michelle – thank you. It is indeed an incredible adventure. Just finished up my second building stint and have the roof mostly framed. There have definitely been challenges, but I’m still in love with it and it’s exciting to see it taking shape. I wish the same for you with your tiny house journey!

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