Tag Archives: freedom

I used to be a pretty good caterpillar

by Sarah

I listened to this episode of Radiolab where they explored what actually goes on in a cocoon.  A caterpillar enters; a butterfly or moth emerges.  And in the meantime, the in between time, the being is neither a caterpillar nor a butterfly but a sort of goo.  Certain things last through the period of change–caterpillars that were taught to react to a loud noise grow into butterflies that also react. Certain baby-butterfly structures, like little wing-lets, grow in the caterpillar, and those don’t dissolve when the rest of the animal does.  But most things fall away, fall apart.  And the next things, the butterfly things, don’t grow in for awhile.

Sometimes I feel that I am this goo–neither caterpillar nor butterfly–but a shapeless being, an unsure being, not knowing of what form I’ll take next or how I’ll get there.  Our tiny house feels gooey to me sometimes.  So does my work. And where we’ll live.

I look back on times in my life when I think I had it more together, and I want that again.  I want to know who I am and what I do.  The thing about being a pretty good caterpillar, though, or even a very good one, is that you have to change.  And change is messy.

So what to do, when you’re goo?  Here are three things.

1.  Stay the Course
We said we were going to build this tiny house and we are going to build this tiny house!  Committed.  To the house.  And to doing the house now, and not doing the next thing until next time.

2.  Try some continuity from day to day, from week to week
For me, not having a schedule feels like freedom–oh!  I can do whatever I want! I’m free!  But I know that’s not so.  I know I end up mulling over what to do next, agonizing over if I’ve chosen the right thing.  I know that a schedule offers some bones, some structure.

3.  Be soft
I am soft, goo is soft, this is all very soft.  As often as I remember to, I remember to be soft, to be patient, to be accepting.  This is how I am right now.  This is how my life is right now.  I’m not that sturdy, robust, energetic little caterpillar that I was.  I don’t know what I’ll be next, or when.  But in the meantime, the in between time–which might be all time!–what about practicing softness, kindness, and not forcing?  It’s hard to be soft.  But I think it’s the thing to try towards.

Is anyone else goo-full (goo-ti-ful perhaps?) these days? Are you doing anything (or not doing anything?) that helps you withstand the transformation?

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Wow… is that a new post?

We’re back!  Sarah and I took a hiatus from blogging and building and are just now getting back into the swing of things.  The last three months have been a whirlwind of blustery New York weather, Christmas trees, and baby lambs.  Yes, baby lambs and don’t worry… I come bearing pictures!

Anne Bo-Leymb
Anne Bo-Lamb

Every year (for the past three years) a friend and I run a Christmas tree stand at St. Marks Church in the Bowery in Manhattan.  It’s a month of preparation followed by a month of fourteen-hour days slinging conifers in the cold.  The stand is open twenty-four hours a day from Black Friday until Christmas Eve, and is such a unique, enriching community-building experience.  This year a highlight for me was having Sarah come work with us at the stand.  She not only heaved Fraser firs over fences with the fellas, but also put her superb eye towards making wreaths for us.

Sarah Making Wreaths
Sarah making wreaths
Joseph and Sarah + Wreaths
Joseph + Sarah + wreaths
One of Sarah's Wreaths
beautiful wreath!

I also realized that as part of my work for the stand I’ve been building a “tiny house” on the street each year. It’s a 4x8x8 structure that can cozily hold three people making espresso (yes…there’s been an espresso machine).  This year I upped the ante with my newly-acquired building skills, and framed this little house in panels, built in a loft, and salvaged and installed a real door (in the past the door was hinges on a warped piece of plywood).  Next December…when our house is finished…who knows what new additions will be found in the tree stand shack?  Sky-light?  Running water?  H-VAC? We’ll see.

Tree Riders 'Hobo Shack'
Tree Riders’ “Hobo Shack”

Christmas trees wrapped, we flew back to California for some R&R at Tassajara, then back to the sheep ranch,where we had forty new baby lambs to keep track of. Laaammmmbbbiiinnggg Speeeeed! Out of the pot and into the fire we go.  Two of the new babies didn’t bond with their mothers (a pretty common occurrence with first-time ewe mothers) so we are feeding them twice-a-day by bottle.

So the last month has been spent catching up on work with the sheep and lambs and observing the cycle of birth and death (to be continued in another post I’m sure).  We’ve also been tying up loose ends from 2013, and doing some all-important planning for 2014 – house planning, work planning, well-being and health intention-setting, financial planning, and more.  We erased our window, re-categorized some things, and believe that we now have a plan that will take us at least until July of this year…if not Christmas 😉

The tiny house is back to being built nail-by-nail, and Sarah is studying to be a certified interpreter (English-Spanish), and we’ll be posting here as we go…

Now…some sheep.

Our little wether, Cupertino.
Our little wether, Cupertino.
Cupertino and Anne Bo-Lamb relaxing by the tiny house.
Cupertino and Annie relaxing by the tiny house.
Lullabies from Lamby-bies.
Lullabies from Lamby-pies.
Cuper grillin me, as Annie looks on approvingly.
Lambie yawn
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Lambs napping in the shade

The Discomfort and the Freedom of Not Knowing

The hot Sonoma sun beat down on our shiny black trailer, our sunhats, and our neatly placed two-by-fours.  Those 2X4s had not come easy.  2X4s (as I learned only recently) are used to make studs, which are like the bones of the house.  The first part of framing the walls is cutting the 2X4s to the right size and nailing them together.  We’d spent most of the previous day working with the building plans to accommodate our salvaged windows and our trailer, which seemed to be slightly narrower than the one in the plans.  I can’t imagine how it took us so long to adjust the plans for that first wall, but I’ll just say I haven’t seen so many fractions since the third grade, and there are many hidden dimensions, overlaps, and extra spaces that need to be accounted for.

Nicola, our architect friend, stopped by to say hi.  I asked him about one of our assumptions–that our trailer was two inches narrower than the trailer in the plans.

“No….” he said, “The wall extends for an inch beyond the trailer on both sides.”  And he went on to show us how the wall in the plans was designed to be wider than the trailer.

“Okay,” I said, trying to sound cheerful and resilient and ready to start all over again.  When Nicola left we set the 2X4s aside and took a long lunch break. We barely spoke except to say, “disheartened… demoralized… disappointed.”

Joseph muttered, “Of course, I should have known.”

I sat with my complete unknowing, wondering, “What makes me think I can do this thing that professionals do?”

It is so uncomfortable to know so little, to work so hard to try to understand and then to fail and have nothing to show for all that work.  It’s hard enough in general to not fall victim to imposter syndrome (when people, especially women, underestimate their own expertise), and now I’ve taken on a project where I really don’t know anything.  I don’t even know what some of these tools are called!  The challenge is to withstand the uncomfortable feeling of incompetence.  There are lots of things I am good at, and wouldn’t be more comfortable to just do those?

Seth Godin says, “Learn something new for no apparent reason,” as part of his artist’s path.  As we get older we are less and less comfortable with starting at the beginning. We feel we are too old to be true beginners.  We feel silly.  Like when you are learning a language and meet young native-speaking children,

“That four-year-old speaks better Spanish than I do!  With a perfect accent!”  In fact, she speaks better Spanish than I ever will.

The challenge is to immerse myself completely in this learning, even not seeing how it connects to what I’ll do once this project is over.  I need to learn as much as I can so I can do this project right now, whether or not I ever do it again.  This can be frustrating and demoralizing… but maybe it can also be a kind of freedom, a kind of bemused awe at the myriad things I’m not an expert in, but can now appreciate the depth of skill of someone who is.

It’s even a bit of a relief to know nothing.  I am just a person who never learned to build and is now, for some reason, trying to do so, stumbling along putting together a durable, square, impermeable house.  If I mess it up it doesn’t say anything about my value as a person.  My ego has nowhere to stand.  Occasionally she gets a bit of a toehold,

“Aha, I’m actually not bad at measuring and cutting 2X4s on the chop saw.”  But then they don’t fit!  What happened?

All this humility is uncomfortable, exhausting, and… good practice.   After our lunch break we started again–back to modifying the plans, measuring, cutting.  We finished our first framed wall the following afternoon.  We can do it, but slowly, slowly.

When you’ve started something as an adult and a true beginner, how was that for you?  Did you enjoy the freedom to fail?  Or were you frustrated by not being able to do what others did so easily?  Or some combination?

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2X4s, properly measured, cut, and arranged, at last