The Creativity Interviews

I wanted to show that creativity can show up in unexpected places in one’s life. So I interviewed 3 people I know who I think are exceptionally creative. They come from different age levels, occupations, and backgrounds. I could write a bit more but the interviews came out so well I’ll just let them speak for themselves.

Interview 1: Georgia Barberi-my mother, age 46. Spent 10 years as a homemaker, raising me and my sister and keeping a vegetable garden to save money. She practices many handicrafts, including sewing, knitting, beading, felting, drawing, painting, printing, baking, and basically literally anything else you can think of. Her budget was tight, but she found creative ways to squeeze the most out of it, and my sister and I never knew, as we benefitted every year from homemade Christmas presents, school clothing made to our preferences, and lavish theme birthday parties (until, parish the thought, we got old enough to think that was dorky.) Throughout her life, she has also worked at various occupations, including cleaning offices, writing for a women’s newspaper, and as a companion helper for new mothers, before starting her own organic flower farm. She sells jams, preserves, flowers, produce and homemade household items like potholders and aprons at several farm markets.

Georgia’s First Flower Farm

What you define creativity as? What would you define art as?

Art is a branch of creativity. To me creativity is any time you use your own knowledge and inspiration to bring something to be that wasn’t there before.

So where does art branch off?

I think art is non-utilitarian, and should make feelings arise in other people. Whereas creativity can be used to solve everyday problems, make something visually appealing to you, or be an expression of your own that doesn’t have to reach anyone else.

Where do you get to be most creative in your life?

Everywhere. In a larger sense, how I spend my time in the course of a day-everything from how I schedule myself and how much of my time I’m willing to give to someone else scheduling me. But in terms of actually creating something…I guess I feel most classically creative when I’m writing.

Describe any significant effect getting to express yourself and ideas that are unique to you, has had on your life.

I would not be myself if I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t feel any meaning in life.

Has creativity gotten you through any difficult times in your life? If so, how?

It has, because it’s given me practical things like knitting or canning or something that kept me excited beyond the immediate circumstances…or at least kept my hands busy.  And my brain.

Where/what/who gives you your ideas? In what kind of form do they occur to you?

It depends on which kind of creativity I’m doing. With writing, I guess I’ll see something that piques my interest, and a lot of the time I’ll get a little vision…a what-if situation. Or I’ll suddenly think that two things that don’t seem connected, are connected. So it comes from thin air, I guess. But if I’m feeling uninspired, I go to Barnes and Noble (bookstore) and sit in the craft department and read ALL the books.

 

Interview 2: Margot Douillet-my sister-age 15. A student at Bard Academy, Margot enjoys studying statistics and baseball. She’s combined her two fascinations into a massive baseball statistics project that combines masses of data and historical records in an attempt to find a formula for a winning team. She also draws, writes, sews, cooks, and does embroidery. She has written on an almost daily basis since age ten or eleven, and was working on parts of a fantasy novel by the time she was twelve. At this age, her pride and joy was the flock of chickens she kept in my mother’s backyard.  She now aspires to be the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox.

 

I wanted to interview you because I think your baseball stats project is an unconventional form of creativity. How would you define creativity? Would you agree with me about the project?

I would say that creativity is coming up with your own ideas and thoughts that are new and original. I don’t think that other people would agree that it’s a form of creativity, because a lot of people have analyzed baseball stats, and there’s only a certain amount of analysis you can do. But what it all comes down to is that me and everyone else who’s analyzing baseball stats…we’re all just trying to figure out what the formula is to win more games. But the creative aspect of that is how we form all our different theories about that.

Would you say that creativity is manifested in the game of baseball? If so, in what ways?

I would say that creativity is present in baseball, and I don’t think that it’s as present as it should be. I think that baseball is one of those things where you have to follow conventional wisdom–otherwise you’re seen as foolish. I mean, if you think about it, all the managers have their different things that they do to make their team win, but almost all of those are the same. And I think that also with general managers in the front office, they almost always follow the same pattern. So I think that there’s more room to be creative.

You use statistics as the backbone of your project, and a lot of it is about seeing patterns in numbers. Would you say there is a creative side to math, or that math and creativity can coexist in one project?

Yeah, I definitely think that math can be creative. A lot of it has to do with how you’re applying math, and what you’re trying to figure out by applying the math.

You also practice other art forms like embroidery, writing and drawing. Would you say there is a mathematical component to art?

Yes. I mean, obviously with geometry because there’s shapes and things—I think that math is a form of art. I look at a graph of something and I think it’s beautiful. I don’t think a handwritten graph is different from a painting-they’re both beautiful. With a graph, you’re trying to express an idea, same as [with]any other form of art.

 

Do you have the same kinds of thought processes while working on fantasy baseball/stats as when doing something like a sewing project?

Yes. With both things, part of what it is, is that I’m trying to figure out something that hasn’t been done before, that I’m curious about, and that I want to try.

Interview 3-Dominic Fanelli, 26-totally awesome friend who hooked me up with a great living situation.  Dominic originally went to school to study production management and audio engineering. He designed and built an 9-room recording studio for the school he attended, only to be forced to abandon it over a pay dispute. He also does web design and plays a vast variety of musical instruments, and is a student of various disciplines of Eastern medicine and philosophy. He enjoys composing and playing music, and uses it as an outlet for work stress. “I’ve been playing music for such a long time,” he says, “I don’t want to do simple stuff. Give me some polka-rap-metal-jazz-fusion, that’s the good stuff!” He can also frequently be found staring into the guts of a disemboweled laptop, performing arcane rites by the light of the full moon and/or a desk lamp.

Pursuit of Happiness

 

 

What would you define creativity as? What would you define art as? What is the relationship of art to creativity?

I would say that creativity is a process-a process that can be used for many, many different things. And art is an existential manifestation of creativity. And I don’t think it’s a two-directional relationship; art can’t exist without creativity, creativity can exist without art. An example of that is how someone would need to use creativity to survive a desperate situation. That doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with art. And I think the end definition for me of creativity is any process that leads to creativity. So I feel like artists and builders share the same form of creativity that musicians do.

What role does creativity play in your life? What is the relationship between various applications of creativity in your life?

I feel creativity plays two major roles. One is in the context of it actually helping me overcome dramatically technical obstacles at work. Sometimes I come up against basically impossible situations and I have to use creativity to solve them. The second role is a purely artistic role. That is the way that I balance the various energies, mostly negative, that get built up from my workplace environment. Art and being able to create an existential expression of art is the most perfect means of sublimating the negative energy I have to absorb dealing with everyone else’s problems all the time, on a technical level. Because of the nature of my work, I have to deal with a lot of insane, chaotic situations.

As someone who has done a lot of work on Pursuit of Happiness[a website dedicated to teaching happiness and wellness techniques] would you say creative expression is an essential part of human life? If so, in what way?

Creativity is an essential part of being human actually. I think creativity and its linkage with the vast depths of the unconscious human mind is critical to making us who we are as humans. The dividing line between us and other organisms on this planet is that we have advanced creativity and can literally change the world around us to take on forms we imagine. No other creature has that capability.

Does web design require a different kind of creativity than music composition? Do you ever use inspiration from the same source for different things?

Shockingly, it’s a very similar creativity that gets applied. A lot of the creativity in music is problem solving, with music theory. Those same graceful methods of problem solving creatively are applied to both applications. Maybe that’s just me personally. I don’t know if other people share the same utilization of creativity but I wouldn’t doubt it if most people were tapping into that part of the human imagination to deal with some of the biggest problems the world faces. That’s why some of the best engineers and mechanical thinkers have also been natural artists and musicians, like Da Vinci and Tesla.

 

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The Money Thing

Money, so they say/is the root of all evil today.

Cash rules everything around me, C.R.E.A.M. get the money, dollar dollar bill y’all….

 

Yes it’s true, one of the biggest sticking points for many folks who want to start their own tiny house venture or other off-grid endeavour, is a lack of start up cash. According to the Federal Reserve Board, 47% of americans have less than $500 in savings, so this is you, you’re not alone. I was fortunate enough to have supportive parents and a decently paid job, so I saved quite a bit between age 16-19. Still, I ended up spending most of the money I had saved for college on the tiny house project, deciding that having a warm, safe place to sleep no matter where I went was more important than a degree that might end up being useless and loading me with debt in an uncertain world.

In light of this, it’s incredibly important to figure out how to get the most bang for your limited buck. So I’m going to lay out a few strategies I used to complete my project on a limited budget.

THE TRAILER:

A brand-new cargo trailer from Wells Cargo, the top-of-the-line trailer maker, costs approximately $3600 for a basic 6×12. After shopping around, this seemed to be the going rate with other companies, including smaller local trailer sellers. However, I’ve seen listings on Craigslist for used Wells Cargo trailers of the same size for $1400-$2000; mine was $2000. That’s a savings of $1500 right out of the gate. When buying a used trailer, make sure to check for a valid VIN number (stamped into the frame), working brake lights and turn signals; avoid trailers with frame rust of other frame damage. If you have more time, ambition, and carpentry skills, you can buy a flat bed utility trailer like this for around $1100; however, you will have to frame out the structure of the house, and this will require more time and more costly materials-not to mention more skill. But it will give you more options as to insulation and the shape and structure of the house. Weigh your options and priorities and choose accordingly.

THE TOOLS

Yes, we know your neighbor is a total tool, but you can’t use him to build a house with, as much as you’d like to use his face to pound in nails. You’re going to need a decent set of hand tools, if you don’t have those already, and a couple power tools. Here’s a list of what I ended up using in my pretty basic tiny house build:

Adjustable wrench, 16-oz claw hammer, cordless drill (this is the same one I had-never did me wrong through the whole project), screwdriver set with a couple different sizes of both flat-tipped and Phillip’s head screwdrivers, small and large flat bar, small handheld disc sander, several sizes of paintbrush (from 1″ to 3″), paint roller and tray, 7″ circular saw (also called a Skil saw, although when I use it, we call it an Unskilled Saw), chalk line, 25′ measuring tape, small Japanese hand saw (really helpful for smaller stuff), hacksaw (for cutting bolts), 1/2″ and 1″ chisels, table saw (with the right jigs, clamps, and work surface, you can forgo this and just use a circular saw), adjustable dado cutter (pretty sure it can be used with a circular saw-for several joint types used in furniture making), 1/2″ and 1″ spade bits, assorted drill bits (lots and lots. If you don’t want to blow half your budget on drill bits, make sure you get ones designed to use with metal if you have to drill holes in metal.), small cross cut saw, assorted rasps and files, assorted sand paper (60 to 100 grit, and discs for the sander), utility knife and extra blades, nail set

I’m probably forgetting quite a few, and there’s a couple things I wish I’d had, like a miter box for cutting perfect 45 degree angles. But this gives you a good idea of what you’ll need to start out. Tools can be pretty expensive, but there’s a few ways around this. If you’re buying hand tools, Harbor Freight has a wide selection for low prices. Although they don’t have the best reputation for quality, they do have a tool replacement policy on hand tools-if a tool you bought there breaks, they’ll replace it for free, according to my friend James (and hey, if you can’t trust a guy who keeps a giant snake as a pet, who can you trust?) Also, look into finding a tool library in your area, for anything large, expensive, or difficult to find. Your local Habitat for Humanity store will often carry gently used tools as well as building materials, appliances, and furniture; also, check out yard sales. If you know anyone in a trade who is retiring, ask if they are interested in selling any of their tools. Or if you have an older family member who has lots of tools but doesn’t use them anymore, offer to clean and organize their garage, workshop or attic in return for taking some tools home.

MATERIALS

I spent about $1500 on materials. Some of this cost definitely could be reduced by better planning and knowledge; I did end up with a few things I didn’t need, especially parts for the solar shower. Proper planning and measuring are the first line of defense when saving costs on materials. Figure out exactly how much square footage/length/whatever of something (plywood, flooring planks, paint, etc) you will need and purchase accordingly. Accurate measurements are VERY important here! If you have the exact measurements for each piece of a project, you can even figure out in the store how you will be able to cut the pieces from the material with the least amount of waste. Or, figure out the standard sizes for the materials you will use, then plan accordingly, using graph paper to plan out the layout of the cut pieces. For example, a standard piece of plywood is 4’x 8′. For other resources on low-cost building materials, see my post on scrap and reclaimed building materials.

TOW VEHICLE

What you use as a tow vehicle will depend on how much, what distance, an over what terrain you plan to tow the tiny house. For starters, get a good idea of the total weight of the trailer so you can choose a vehicle with a proper towing capacity. Some junk yards may have a truck scale that you can drive your trailer onto and have it weighed; this will have the most accurate results, so it doesn’t hurt to ask around. Then, think about where you’ll be towing the trailer. Will you be towing it short distances, over back roads, or very level terrain? If so, you can go fairly close to your vehicle’s max tow capacity. But if you want to tow long distances, on busy highways, or over hilly terrain, you want to make sure your vehicle has enough power to accelerate fast enough to merge and climb hills. In this situation, also consider getting a truck or SUV with a special towing package (this includes features like towing mirrors, electrical connector, tow hitch, and transmission cooler.) Research the tow capacity of various vehicles, and choose one that fits your needs. If you’re towing your trailer a short distance only, don’t go overboard. For example, a four-cylinder Toyota Tacoma has a tow capacity of 3500 lbs, more than enough for a small house trailer. Choosing a smaller vehicle will ultimately save you money both on purchase and fuel costs. Keep in mind, however, that a truck or truck-based SUV can tow more than a car with equivalent engine displacement due to features like a heavier-duty frame. If you have your vehicle choice narrowed down to a few models, you can often find vehicle-specific discussion forums where people share their experiences with towing and answer questions. As for getting a tow hitch installed, shop around and compare quotes; Uhaul locations are nearly everywhere and offer affordable tow hitch installations. Mine ran to a little under $300 for the hitch receiver, hitch, ball mount, pin, and wiring harness. I would not trust a used tow hitch-don’t take a risk on your house and belongings just to save a buck.

Anyway, good luck, thanks for reading, and, uh, happy budgeting.

 

 

The Antipreneurial Spirit

(As inspired by this AdBusters article )

So what is an antipreneur? Pretty much the opposite of an entrepreneur, or at least what that word has come to mean nowadays. I would like to nominate “entrepreneur” as Most Obnoxious Overused Word of 2016 (runners up include “selfie”and “disrupt”.) The original definition is someone who starts a business with the intention to grow it as much as possible, and assumes most of the risk. Nowadays, though, there’s many ways around assuming risk when starting a business, if you are in the right place with the right connections. And judging by the recent actions of self-described “entrepreneurs”, such as jacking up the price of a drug sold by their pharmaceutical company 1000%, leaving some who depended on it to lie unable to afford it, to misclassifying employees as “independent contractors” in order to avoid minimum wage laws, overtime laws, giving benefits, and overhead costs….”entrepreneur” has come to mean “smug, narcissistic scum of the earth who only sees things for their monetary value, and will stoop to literally anything to make a buck.”

I knew and worked with a couple people for a while who were possessed by the entrepreneurial spirit; much of the time they talked about the monetary value, potential or actual, of the things around them; about things they had owned, bought, and sold in their lives, and the costs involved in each; and about how to make more money. They also talked about getting in a lot of fights, or having things stolen from them. I may own nothing of value, I said to them, but at least I can sleep easily at night. They were otherwise great people, hard workers, etc. but I could definitely see how being all twisted up around the almighty dollar was bringing them all kinds of trouble.

It seems like the Entreprenurial Spirit possesses a special sight that enables it to see everything in terms of its monetary value. I, on the other hand, don’t really have this second sight, which is why I’ll probably never be what our society calls “successful.” I definitely see things in terms of their usefulness, but it’s a usefulness that’s totally detached from any concept of money (which is, after all, just one big joke that everyone’s in on). For example, a whole morning spent doing nothing more than lying under a tree staring up through the branches at the clouds may not get me any closer to Fame and Fortune(tm) but it’s certainly valuable; it makes me happy and well-rested. The Antipreneurial Spirit sees and thinks in a way that’s chaotic, organic, squishy, wild, crazy, and beautiful. The Entrepreneurial Spirit seeks to quanitfy and control everything. Its secret fear of death, the ultimate loss of control, causes it to latch onto acquiring the biggest pile of things or the most power. Unfortunately, this is just the kind of thinking that is destroying our planet, draining its natural resources, and throwing everything out of balance-the lack of any ability to say “ok, stop here, this is enough”, the belief that infinite growth is not only possible but desirable. But anyone with sense knows that infinite growth is impossible-eventually we run out of planet to consume. And if the ideas of the antipreneurs can’t stand up to the future, it will eat both the past and the present.

 

The Vogons from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are the most believable villains ever

Wow, a short post!

Pictured below: the ugly face of the faceless bureaucracy.

vogons

Vogons: They don’t care about you or your values, they just want to demolish your planet to build a hyperspace expressway.

In most science fiction or fantasy epics, the central conflict is a nice satisfying definitive struggle between good and evil. And usually, the forces of evil are driven by a passionate hatred of everything the good stands for. The bad guys come in with guns blazing, ready for a fight, and our heroes must struggle to defeat them. And sometimes they even conveniently explain their nefarious plans! But if you’ve ever watched or read Hitchhiker’s Guide, you’ll know the Vogons aren’t like that. They just. Don’t. Care. They love bureaucracy and paperwork, and to them the protagonists are not enemies but merely an inconvenience. They don’t even get a chance to fight; the planet is just destroyed instantly to make way for a hyperspace expressway. You wanted to do something about that? Well, the papers were on file on some other planet for several centuries, you should have gone there, gotten the papers, and gone through the proper procedures to prevent it. You didn’t know? Well, too bad, that’s just the way things are.

 

And that’s how it is with most of the opposition we face in life. We can’t just go in and kick ass until our problems are solved, because we’re up against a vast, faceless, passionless bureaucracy, a monolith of That’s Just How It Is. Your “enemies” don’t hate you, they just simply don’t care. Whether it’s the insurance company jerking you around about coverage or jacking up your rate for some obscure reason, a job prospect that says they want to interview you and then never calls back to schedule an interview, or a car buyer who promises you cash in hand then backs out and hangs up when you call them, life is full of such struggles. It’s frustrating and unsatisfying to deal with them. You can’t MAKE someone care. The only way you can fight apathy is by simply not caring yourself, and moving on to better things, and that’s the struggle I have every day.

Passive Solar Water Heater/Shower

Oh boy, here goes another  dense, boring how-to post, you think. Great. Why can’t we have more stories about your ex, or Renaissance faires, or something cool and fun? But bear with me here, because I’m about to show you how to build your own solar shower. And there’s PICTURES! Even one of me demonstrating the shower! (Sorry, it’s pretty g-rated.) The instructions given here will help even the most distractible person with zero plumbing knowledge (that’s me!) build a working solar shower. A shower built with the dimensions specified will hold about 7.5 gallons of water, enough for a decent shower including washing your hair. It won’t get hot, but it will get warm enough to be nice on a cooler summer night.

But wait, excited readers, before you get started you will need some tools and materials. Tools for this are pretty simple: you will need a power drill with a 1 1/2″ hole saw bit and a star bit for driving screws, an adjustable wrench, pencil or other marking tool, 60-grit sandpaper, channel lock pliers that will accommodate a 3″ object, and I think that’s it. For materials, you will need:

10′ section of 4″ diameter ABS pipe (the black plastic stuff)

1 1/2″ ABS female adapter

1 1/2″ ABS cleanout plug

2 4″ rubber end caps for pipes

Metal pipe hanger strapping– you can also buy this as individual pipe hangers with a loop for the pipe to go through and a screw to hold the loop shut, I recommend getting them in this form but can’t find the right part on the Home Depot website.

3/4″ bulkhead fitting (ABS, of course. This might take some searching around.)

6-10″ garden hose (don’t just cut a length from a longer one, make sure it has the adapters on both ends.)

8  1-1/2″ self-tapping screws

Dramm sprinkler head and shut-off valve (product #10-12365 and #10-12349 in their catalogue.) Don’t try to use another type of sprinkler head-this works best for low water pressure.

Nice big tube of flexible watertight caulk (I used Through The Roof) and caulk gun

Roll of pipe thread sealing tape

Can of ABS glue (do NOT use glue designed for PVC pipes!)

 

Ok, first order of business is figuring out where to hang your water heater. Choose a location that will get lots of sun during the day, and provides a mounting point at least 8′ off the ground. Now, you’re going to make a hole for the fill cap. SLOWLY drill a 1 1/2″ hole in one end of the pipe with the hole saw; if the drill bogs down in the plastic, just back off a little. Clean up the edges of the hole with sandpaper to remove little plastic shreddies. Now, put the female adapter over the hole-this is going to be your fill hole. See how it doesn’t sit flush over the hole? We’re getting to that. Now, wrap the sandpaper over the pipe with the gritty part facing up. You’re going to run the female adapter over the sandpaper until you sand enough of a curve into it that it sits flush over the pipe. When that’s done, put it over the hole you drilled, making sure there’s no gaps between the adapter and the pipe. Now, glue the adapter over the hole, using the ABS glue. Make sure to carefully follow the instructions on the bottle-that stuff sets FAST! Also it’s quite toxic, so keep kids and pets out of the way. Once it sets up, paint a thin layer of glue on the outside of the joint. Let dry undisturbed. Once this is done, screw the plug into the adapter-you now have a filler cap. IMG_20160717_145815282_HDR

You’ll end up with…this.

Now it’s time to assemble the hose end. Screw the shutoff valve and sprinkler head together, then attach them to the hose. Unscrew the two halves of the bulkhead fitting. The sticking-out bit (for lack of a better word) that screws into the round bit will be the part that passes through the rubber cap. place this part towards the bottom of the rubber end cap, trace around it, and cut a hole for it with a sharp knife-make the hole slightly smaller than the fitting. Push the fitting through the cap so the threaded part is on the outside. The hexagonal bit should be on the inside. Also note: there are two gaskets in the fitting, make sure one goes inside and the other goes outside! Tighten the bulkhead fitting as much as you can-you may have to grip one side with the channel-lock pliers and turn the other part. It’s threaded backwards, so turn left to tighten and right to loosen. When the fitting is tight as it can go, run a bead of sealer around the edge, between the fitting and the cap. You will probably need an adapter to attach the hose to the bulkhead fitting; take both parts into a hardware store and they should be able to tell you what part you need. Put pipe thread sealer tape on the threads of the fitting and the end of the hose. Then, take the rubber cap and put it on the end of the pipe, tightening the bolt on the little metal band around it as much as possible. Once it’s all attached together it should look like this-

IMG_20160717_145728232_HDR

Put the other cap on the filler end of the pipe, tightening the metal band with the adjusting bolt as far as it will go. You’re now ready to hang up your solar shower. Put the 4 pipe hangers in place around the pipe. Next, mark off where you’ll hang the heater. You’ll need it to be at least 7-8′ off the ground to get a good flow. You will also need to hang it at a slant. Mark off the position for the fill end 3-4″ higher than the drain end. Space the pipe hangers out evenly, making sure they have a solid support to go into, like joists or a trailer frame. Line up each hanger over a support, and mark out spots for 2 screws in each hanger, marking through the holes in the hangers with a pen or pencil. If you’re putting this on a trailer, line each hanger up with the metal bars that make up the frame. Next, take the heater down, and drill pilot holes for screws. Put the heater back up, making sure the hangers are lined up right. Rotate the pipe so the fill cap is facing up and the bulkhead fitting/drain is facing down. Have someone hold the heater up for you while you drive the screws in. Don’t let go until you’re sure the pipe will stay put! IMG_20160717_145831834_HDR

(I actually attached mine to the roof. If you do this, put a bead of sealer around the screws to avoid leaks.)

 

Congratulations, you now have a solar water heater! You can fill it with a bucket and a funnel, or run a garden hose directly into the filler cap. IMG_20160717_145928590_HDR

And here’s the shower in action! Happy summer, everyone!

I Moved!

I haven’t been posting anything because I’ve been busy because…I MOVED! I’m now living on the grounds of a local resort that’s been closed for years. Some of the buildings are beautiful and up to date, but many are dilapidated and decaying, giving it a crazy awesome air of mystery. There’s also miles of hiking trails and lots of gardens, some of which I’m going to be taking care of. I’m basically doing a work exchange in return for staying there. I’m helping with the veggie and flower gardens, doing a little night security, and occasionally testing the pool. The owner is hoping to fully refurbish the resort as a center for workshops on Eastern philosophy, qi gong, yoga, and meditation; my friends who work there convinced her to let me stay on the property in my trailer. She was interested in my goal of a low-impact life. I’m still a little in disbelief this is finally happening, and I’m really grateful to my friends who convinced the property owner. Here’s a day of my routine there:

Wake up, turn on my little stove, fry a couple eggs, and brew up a pot of coffee. Sit in my canvas chair drinking coffee and eating eggs on bread, still half asleep. Fill my water bucket and my solar shower from the outdoor tap on a cabin 10 feet away from my trailer. Stumble down to the tree where I’ve rigged my aerial silks, stretch and do a few tricks-I might have to take it easy, as my hands are pretty sore. Walk to the garden, passing a giant raspberry bush and pausing to eat a few berries…spend about an hour yanking weeds  from between the herbs. It’s slow going, the sun is hot, and I’m getting a blister from weeding; still, it’s satisfying  to see the herbs freed up from their weedy tanglement. As I walk back to the trailer, I cross a field of thyme, its aromatic purple flowers visited by numerous bees. It’s good to be back in the shade under the tree where I’ve parked; I do my dishes from breakfast, only using a little water. I spend a lazy few hours reading, including a book on bike repair. I think I’ve finally figured out the brake problem on my bike. I tinker with the brakes until they’re properly aligned, slapping away bugs the whole time. Before I know it, it’s time to grab a quick avocado sandwich before heading off to work, which turns out to be 6 hours of grinding boredom; not too busy, but not slow either. After work, I’m drained. I’m also jonesing for a pizza and some mindless Netflix, but it’s too late at night for one, and I don’t have electric or internet for the other. On the other hand, I’m getting a fair tradeoff, I think, looking around at the property under the light of the quarter moon that hangs in the sky like a flake of gold. I splash myself off with tepid water from the solar shower, brush my teeth, and head off to the mansion to retrieve the keys from the key safe. My first stop is the back of the mansion, where I lock up an open door and turn off some errant lights in the beautiful wood-paneled library. Then, I slip quietly through the dark to the pool building, and check up there; the pool is beautiful but spooky in my lantern light. I make sure the sauna and lights are off, then lock up. I walk across the property to the presentation hall, AKA the Tally Ho, passing the tree where our resident owl roosts. I check for its eyeglow in my lantern light, but don’t spot it. One door of the Tally Ho is open to the night air (and marauding bugs) so I close it, suppressing a little shiver as I walk under the creepy horse head sculpture mounted above the fireplace. After finishing my rounds, I put the keys back in the key safe. My exhaustion begins to settle in for good now. I walk past one of the most extraordinary view s I’ve ever seen, the mountains to the north framed by trees and lit by the moon and stars. I wish Tim was here, but I have to leave that thought be for now, and I’m just too tired to deal; back in my trailer, I sink into bed and fall asleep ignoring the buzzing of a mosquito in my ear.

What is dignity (and do I have any anymore?)

I recognize that I’ve been a wicked, naughty blogger and haven’t posted anything in quite a while. Lucky for you, not only am I posting once again, but I’m also going to explain in this very post why I haven’t been posting anything.

I’ve been doing way too much navel-gazing lately, way more than is healthy, and I’ve been thinking over one thing in particular: what is dignity, and do I have any of it? Does spending a large amount of time being pretty undignified make me someone with no dignity? I guess that’s a little like the age-old question of whether doing bad things makes you a bad person. I fall somewhat into the school of thought that says doing bad things makes you a bad person. After all, if, for example, you incite a massive genocide thinking it will improve the society you live in, you still are evil, even though you did it with the best intentions. But this definition can be slippery too. There should definitely be a consideration of motives when we try to decide whether something or someone is good or bad. Dignity is kind of similar, and brings up similar questions; lately, I feel like I’ve been losing mine, and I wonder if I had any to begin with.

Dignity, according to the dictionary, has several definitions: 1. “the state or quality of being worthy of honor and respect,” 2. “a composed or serious manner or style”,  and 3. “a sense of pride in oneself, or self-respect.” All three of these definitions are something I want to live my life by (maybe 2 less so…) but lately I seem to be falling down on all counts. And it all centers around my behavior regarding the love of my life, and the fact that he broke my heart.

2 years ago, I met the love of my life inexplicably through an ad I posted on Craigslist. I had just broken up with my first boyfriend ever, and having no experience outside a very serious and somewhat stifling relationship with a man over twice my age, I decided to try and experience more of what the world had to offer in that department. So I posted an ad on Craigslist personals looking for “a casual hookup” (Yup, directly contrary to Definition 2!) As we shall see, what resulted was much more than A Casual Hookup but still much less than an official relationship. Anyway, out of the 400+ spammy, scammy, poorly spelled, and occasionally scary responses I received, one really stood out: one guy claiming that he was also a baker, but was probably too old for me, and just wanted to talk. So we started talking, and found out we had a lot in common. We agreed to meet up at the bakery where he worked. He then offered to show me his house, located on a huge historic property where he was caretaker. He later said he had just planned to show me around the property and send me home with a lecture about not meeting strangers from the internet, but conveniently enough, the house happened to contain a big soft bed, and Sex Happened (as it tends to in such situations) without a lot of forethought on the part of both parties. After, we sat around listening to the fireworks being set off at Tanglewood, a few miles away. So you could say literal fireworks went off when we met. Pyrotechnic displays of patriotism aside, I was basically hooked from Day 1. Whenever I was around him, I got really, really, really stupid. Like a bunny rabbit caught raiding the lettuce patch, I was so transfixed by my obsession with, uh…tasty lettuce, that when the proverbial lettuce farmer came along and discovered me munching, all I could do was sit there shaking, awaiting my fate, too dumb to run while I could. We saw each other on and off for about a year and a half, punctuated by epic arguments (he wanted to be left alone, I felt rejected, etc.) until finally the day came when I was expelled from the lettuce patch for good, my little bunny rabbit spine snapped, my little rabbit heart broken. He said there was no way anything could happen between us again, and then a month later he announced he was back together with the woman he had a relationship with before he met me. “I’m lucky that she gave me a second chance,” he said. “She’s the love of my life-don’t try to compare yourself to her, because what I had with you is NOTHING like what I have with her.” This is where I proceeded to lose my little remaining dignity. Have you ever heard the expression “being floored” by something? I was quite literally floored by my loss. I would spend hours crawling around on the floor sobbing loudly whenever I had the house to myself, crawling into corners and trying to disappear. I went on epic benders, getting stoned half the day and drunk the other half, saying about two words to an actual human being. I cut myself and tried to pass off the angry red lines as gardening injuries. The worst was the emails and texts I would send to him, begging for a second chance, beating myself up over what happened, saying I would do anything, ANYTHING, for him to change my mind, saying I wished I could die and come back as Her, the Girlfriend (Official Version).

And what was the worst part? Certainly not the pain I went through. The worst part was the brief glimpses of objective reality I had, where I could see I was blowing the whole thing way out of proportion and airing my dirty laundry in front of my friends, family and co-workers, some of whom had expressed respect and admiration of me. Worse than getting my heart broken was allowing my dignity to slip away. I was falling down on all three definitions of dignity, but the worst was the third: I could see my ridiculous behavior that even my loved ones couldn’t-the drinking, the cutting, the crying and sniveling-and lost all respect for myself.

Maybe that’s a bigger part of what the trailer is: trying to regain some of my lost dignity by building something new, something I can respect myself for. It’s also a reminder of the most fundamental truth about dignity: if I can’t respect myself, then who can respect me? Thinking of my accomplishments on the trailer project helps me hold on to my dignity in times when I can feel it slipping away. I can respect the Lia who built her own bed and cabinetry, not the one who rolls around on the floor in 3-day unwashed clothes holding a half empty bottle of Jack and weeping and moping over her ex-whateverthehellhewas. I remind myself that dignity is just a transient state of being, that both are the same person, and that I should just try to hang on to my dignity and not give up if I lose it for a little while.

 

Plus, I can’t write while I’m hating myself.

 

Thanks for reading! Sorry this seems super off topic, I promise you’ll get more trailer stuff soon. I’m working on a solar water heater right now, will try to get some pictures but no promises. I’ll at least post build details on that.