Friday, March 25, 2011

Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshop Quote: Kathey Wilson

"I came from a very poor North Carolina mountain family. My father worked in a saw mill and I really didn’t know that I was poor until I went to college and my suite mates gave me a cookbook that was called White Trash Cookin’ and I looked at the pictures and it looked just like my mother’s stove with the salt-shaker box on the back and the grease bucket and the refrigerator. So I had this hunger inside of me to be so much more than that, even though I was losing sight of "You know, you were ok, you didn’t know you were poor, you had a roof over your head, you had food" whatever. But in my travels in life I wanted more, more, more, more. Now where I am in life is I look back, and I lived in a 5400-square-foot house on the lake with everything I wanted, and I was miserable. Because I had not been taught how to look inside of myself to see what really truly mattered, and it’s not the house and all the stuff that you have. And one of the things that has come from my personal growth is realizing that as a human being, we don’t feel that we’re in control of a lot of things, so if we can buy all of these things, it’s mine and I can control it. So I realized for myself that’s what I was doing; that’s the only thing I felt I had control of. And now I can take those things and I’ve looked away and I’m excited about living in and building myself a tiny house and going: Wow, the most important thing is me that’s gonna be living in that tiny house and not all that stuff I felt that I needed to have control of.

--Kathey Wilson, 52, from Asheville, NC.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Difference Between Constricted and Held

Temple Grandin, the famed animal scientist with Asperger's, is best known for the development of long curved chutes designed to calm cattle being led to slaughter. The invention she is less known for is one that was made for humans: the hug machine, which she developed at 18. Her observations of how calm the behavior of cows was when they experienced consistent pressure on their bodies combined with the anxiety she felt about being touched by other people led her to develop a machine that worked similarly for autistic people. People with autism spectrum disorders are often uncomfortable being hugged or touched too long by people; it's constricting. The hug machine basically looks like a book with its spine to the ground and partially opened to a V, but the pages are big padded panels instead of leaves. A person will lay across it and press the controls to apply pressure to the body. The pressure is comforting.

Something Jay said the other day in workshop made me think about this; he said that "Human beings are attracted to containment." The more I think about it, the more I see overlap in this with the idea of being calmed by your physical environment. It's not just physical; it's psychic. Few would argue that America in the 21st century is built on a culture of fear. No one had fences around their houses until the Cold War: “The fence creates a small private world around you and yours. Today, that is exactly what communists and bureaucrats and authoritarians want to destroy: the private sphere around the person” (this sentiment from an article in House Beautiful in 1953). But when did we start thinking that the private sphere needed to take up thousands of square feet? That this would make us safer? I feel more fear in places where I don't know or have control over what's going on further away. 

Last night, I had a dream that I was moving through a long hallway, passing room after room in what must have been a large two-story lodge. There were at least 12 rooms just on the bottom floor. When I woke up, it felt like a nightmare. And I realized that this is one of the most common dreams I have--moving through buildings so huge that there's no way to grasp what's going on. And yet this is what we seek; this is our supposed respite after a long day or life of work. This woman, Kathie, who I met at the workshop the other day, commented that she remembered looking out over a lake in her 5400 square foot house and realizing that she was miserable. 

When I had a little loft in Santa Cruz to sleep in, I felt so perfectly contained. My bed nestled just perfectly between the railing and the wall. There was only space for me, some books over my head, and a little reading lamp mounted to the wall. A couple of feet above me, little windows scattered along the center beam letting in the daylight and the sounds of barking sea lions at night.

One of the things that Jay speaks about is the necessity of private spaces even in small homes. An area for every person ensures that we all have a way of being alone when we need to. But the amount that's necessary for that is so minimal compared to what most of us have. I would say that in my apartment right now, there is likely 200 square feet of wasted space. I have a living room that I seldom use, considering that I don't have a TV and my stereo is in the kitchen next to my desk nook. 

So what happens psychically when you have all this space and not enough people in it? I think it feels lonely. The things so many of us loved as a child represented tiny homes: treehouses and blanket forts. When I was a kid, my dad built my brother and I a two-story playhouse out of plywood that was about five feet long, three feet wide and had a little covered porch. We would also build tunnels in the dirt and I remember sitting at the bottom of a maybe two or three-foot deep hole, inhaling that clean soil smell, the earth cool and soft around me. All of these places were magical in that they represented a space of our own. And they were most magical when we were sharing them with someone else. 

One article I found when researching a couple of years ago that I've never been able to get out of my head was a quote by a man who said he liked to be able to be at one end of his house while his family was at the other and not be able to hear if someone at the other side was screaming. This absolutely gave me chills when I read it (I would not want him for a father). Contact with neighbors is actually one of the five main factors people list as being necessary for home satisfaction, according to Scientific American Mind. I guess I'm wondering, how much space is enough? What is the threshold between feeling constricted, being comforted and held, to feeling out of control, stifled by so much space around us?

(Blanket fort image from here.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Hello Lovah

Before I get into a full recap of the Tumbleweed workshop, I wanted to post one of my favorite little houses I've seen in the last year or so: a renovated pigeonnier in Louisiana that was posted at Apartment Therapy a couple of years ago. Did you catch that word? Yep, it was originally intended as a house for our favorite dirty birds.

Let's be honest. The downstairs is cool but holymotherofgod, look at that loft. Sleeping in a bed surrounded by books? I can't really imagine anything more magical. In fact, I've recently taken to this website run by other people mad about books: Bookshelf Porn.

When Jay and I were driving around the other day, I confessed that books are my weakness (that and my photo equipment). Then he teasingly chided me about it in the workshop yesterday, but he also remembered seeing this online and was quite taken with it as well. Going back through Texas and being able to get a larger truck to move to Tennessee allowed me to pick up a few boxes that I'd left at my parents' house when I headed for California almost four years ago. Seeing some of those volumes after so long away almost brought tears to my eyes.

There's something about a book--the heft, the ability to put a little tiny penciled star in the margin to note a passage you love, or to find a receipt marking a page to remind you that you bought it in September of 1999 at a little independent bookstore that no longer exists for a class with a teacher who is no longer alive--that I just can't throw away. It's not just the sentimentality, though certainly that's part of it. It's the repeated experience I get from reopening a book, from lending a favorite one to a friend who can have a new experience with it, that just isn't the same for me on screen.

 But anyway, back to this amazing home. Maybe Angele Parlange has a fondness for pink that not everyone would share, but regardless of that, she did an incredible job renovating this space with her brother, and the gorgeous light in it and exposed brick and rafters are so perfect.

I'm tempted to approach her about an interview and photos for my project. Don't you want to see more? Where's the kitchen? What's the bathroom like? How hot and sticky is that loft during a Louisiana summer? The people want to know.

Time Away

Hi. I'm Amanda. Welcome to the new iteration of my Closer to Home project. A couple of years ago, you would have known me as the documentarian who was working on a small house with her partner in Steinbeck country. Time and circumstance changed all that, and I needed time away from the Small House Movement to find my place again as a One instead of a Two. At that time, I was very involved and was writing for the Small Living Journal. However, the SLJ too eventually became silent, and those of us involved were so busy with other things that we mostly let it. I was busy with marginal employment and a long commute between Santa Cruz and Saratoga every day, teaching English grammar and writing classes to students in 4th-7th grades, trying to stay salient in the California economy and failing. I was also busy applying to graduate schools for an MFA in creative writing, because I knew I wanted to teach and that I needed a higher degree and experience. And I got into one! At Vanderbilt studying poetry. But I also knew that we could take nonfiction writing classes here, so that's where I am now. In my second semester at graduate school, I've found my way back to small-housers. And I am so glad that I have.