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.
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.
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.
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:
My ties and ballasts leave me, my elbows rest in sea-gaps,
~ Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself
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.