If You Build It, They Will Come
"I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed." ~ Anne Lamott
It's been so wonderful for it to really be winter around here, for the pond to be frozen, for the wood stove to be constantly burning, to be sort of reveling in the inside places. (I think we kept our fire going for about 3 weeks straight until it warmed up a bit last week, and now it's back on full force). We watched Frozen several times over the past week, which I fell totally in love with and I wrote about here. So, now after a proper binge, I am finally ready to return it to the library!
I've been thinking a lot about the life I've been putting together for the past decade, since 10 years ago this coming summer is when we first starting building our house, way back in 2008. I love that we just jumped in and did it, even though we had no idea what we were doing at the time, or what our plan would be after that. We were living with one of my best friend's mom in Fairview, during a strange transition period, and everything was in a state of flux. (I think that means I was slightly homeless, as well.)
I had left graduate school the month or two before, and it was definitely a very rough period for me. All the energy I had put intention into — my "plan" for the year or two before that — just started unraveling. I wasn't happy, at all. I didn't want to be in school, but I was scared, and confused, and trying to sort out a million questions. I'd already dumped lots of money towards it, moved to Northampton and then Atlanta, uprooted my life and my relationship, and started making really good, new friends. I was also by all accounts doing "well" in grad school, technically speaking.
But I wasn't feeling very good, and I knew in my heart I wouldn't be able to push through 2 more years of an intense MSW program.
There's a lot I could write just about that experience — how sometimes you're on one path, and you set off, but you know it's not the one for you, even though it seems like it really should be. In your head it seems like you should keep pushing on, but in your body and your heart, you feel like you're breaking into pieces each time you try to push harder. Sometimes the body speaks louder than any part of your brain can, you know what I mean?
And it was just really hard to figure that out — actually it's been a huge chunk of my life's work — listening to my body, listening to my life-force trying to reveal something to me — and it's taken a long to time to realize part of my path is really living in the not-knowing, and letting things unfold in their own way, in their own time.
Leaving graduate school, starting down another path that at the time felt fraught and uncertain ... it was one of the first times in my young adult life that I had to get really clear about what I wanted for myself (and not just everyone else.) This is one of those lessons I've had to learn again and again.
One afternoon, in the middle of all this confusion, I had this crazy thought that maybe we could renovate an old tobacco barn into a house. This barn was on my parents land, and it had been sitting and used for storage, but not much else, for about 40 years.
I remember talking to one of my good friends, Ezra, about it on a walk through the woods one summery afternoon, and he was like, "Oh yeah, you should totally just turn than old barn on your parents land into a house. You need like five-thousand bucks and some sheet rock. You'll be in there, living the dream, in no time." (Turns out it was a bit more expensive, and it took just a little bit longer than he anticipated, but we certainly felt inspired enough to go ahead with it, and poof, a decade later here we still are.)
But still, what were we drinking? Some concoction of youth, and love, and also: I knew it in my bones: I wanted something special to call my own, a place I could come back to again and again, something that was for us, something that was a part of us. Or perhaps I really didn't know what I wanted, but I was willing to to jump in because it was better than the graduate school plan I thought I should be doing, but couldn't do. I felt the call.
I realized I actually haven't written a whole lot about our barn house on this latest blog adventure very much. Here's Ben from our early days prepping the barn for the renovation. We were spending our days listening to Obama speeches on the radio during his '08 campaign, and working on the house. It's almost too cliche to call it the good old days for all the reasons, but you know. There were definitely some good vibes hanging around.
In some ways , it feels like so long ago that we started this journey, but in other ways it feels like it's still happening all the time. (Ben and I are definitely the people that can not stop renovating and DIY-ing things. In fact, this is what we do for a living, this is the space we live in AND I'm super excited to announce another upcoming project on our land, though I don't want to jinx it just yet... so wait for it! I'm sure I'll be bloggin' all about it.)
Besides thinking about all the barn/life building, I've also been doing daily writings and photo journaling on Instagram, which I've also carved out a space for on the site. It's called the January Pages, you can see it here.
Writing almost every day has been really good practice, even though I meet it with resistance (a lot). Being a creative person is strange, I've been discovering, because you just have to make room for it, even when you don't want to, or else that creative fire goes deep within yourself and starts to make a lot of noise. It starts to throw a fit, and rage about. The rage when it's bottled up leads to all sort of things I've gone through: depression, anxiety, autoimmunity, relationship blow outs, self-doubt, freaking out, hating myself... I mean, overall, stuff I've been through enough times that I'm finally getting that maybe I should just ... write. And make my life about creativity.
Let me tell you, I've tried like so many times to just clamp the lid down and put the creative flame-fire out, or worse, just not really pay attention to it at all, and it's never worked out well.
I'm trying to keep the daily writing practice relatively simple, and do it in the moments I feel the least pressure: often in the note section of my phone while Evie is in the bath sitting on the bathroom floor, hoping she won't dump water all over me in the second I look away, or late at night when the house is deeply dark, and just lit with our pink and blue heart-and-star-shaped lights hung between the posts that basically keep our house in tact. That's my favorite time to write, but I'm often too dang tired, but those late nights. They do have an unparalleled aliveness, am I right?
And I feel so much better when I just keep at it. It's helps me make space for my ever-present feeling states and creative parts, and it's also a really powerful reminder of the life I've been building with Ben, and now with Evie, AND with lots of other people in the mix as well.
We hosted an ice-skating party last week, and there's really nothing more fun than seeing your community out in 20 degree weather on your land, skating on your frozen pond, roasting hot dogs on a little fire we built beside it, hearing everyone's kids squealing with delight in the background (and then having the ensuing expected meltdowns). Then running up to the barn for whiskey drinks, chili, wood stove warm ups, and more squealing sounds of delight and exhaustion. It was pretty fulfilling.
Some of these people that were on the ice with with us were also at your wedding which happened on our land, and some have had 1, 2 and some going on 3 kids. More than a few of those kids were skating last weekend, too. It made me think about all sorts of ways I've spent with people on our land, at this pond. The night we got married we set candles afloat on this same water, and lit the sky up with lanterns, and swam in the moonlight. It was June, not January, and Evie wasn't here yet, but I remember setting a lantern into the sky calling in a soul that I knew would find us someday, and she did, almost exactly 3 years later, on a similar day in late June, with the fireflies glistening, and the land alive with life and beauty. It's always felt like she must have been a little twinkle ✨ in the sky that night.
Someone wrote me the other day, after they had seen pictures from the ice-skating gathering and said, "You guys are pretty dreamy, you know that?" And I felt it again. Like, yeah, maybe we really are. But I also know part of the dream is accepting there are lot of shadows, too, and weaving it all together in the most authentic way I can. It is the dream, and it is also really real. Building a life, having a child, learning how to love yourself, finding your way again and again, showing up for yourself, in your life, loving your people, it's all an undertaking. It's really no small task. But, ahh, when it comes together, well, yeah, that's the stuff I live for. It's not just about marriage and kids, though that's an undeniable piece of it for me, it's also about something stronger yet more subtler you can only catch glimpses of every now and again, and maybe since my dad's heart surgery in December, I've been noticing it all again.
I'm the first to say that building this life, and building this barn-house, and building relationships, having a kid, has all has required a lot of work, intention-setting, therapy, community building, access to money and resources, supportive parents (and a little bit of craziness!), a partner that is pretty darn handy and was able to start a business with his skills, and a lot of luck and fortitude in many ways.
It's also required a willingness and desire to basically be on somewhat of an epic house-building adventure the whole time, and things aren't always in tact. I know to me it sounded super romantic the day Ezra said all I need was 5K and some sheet rock to renovate this space, but hmmm, some days it just is hard. Example: We have no other way of heating our house but through wood, which has worked out well for the most part— but there have been winters we have run out of wood, and Ben has literally been chain-sawing up a tree up behind our house so that we could stay warm for the next month. We had a manual composting bucket system for many years, using a old school bucket system, and now a "regular" composting system that does most of the work for us (which is a huge upgrade), but it's still very different than a regular flush system. We have a water system driven by a spring in on our land that no one understands except my dad, though we have slowly figured it out over the years. We have had so many times our water and power have gone out, I stopped counting. We've had farm animals that have escaped, and been escorted home by the police. (yes, really.) We've had gardens that have been great, and others which we've just ignored and they just die. We've let things go at times, started projects and not finished them. We still haven't put siding on parts of our house because we're too short of cash and time and energy. We wing it, a lot.
"The Notorious PIG" and "Albert Enswine" - our wedding pigs
I've had many meltdowns around all this, and we've had many fights and moments of, "oh my god, why are we doing this!!??" There have been times I wanted to basically burn the place down and move into a condo, or a studio apartment with nothing in it but a yoga mat, a succulent, and a laptop and no on else, and/or move to an island very far away from both my husband, and my parents, with either just my girlfriends, or another boyfriend all together. This is real life, ya'll, and I love my family so so much, and as I've discussed before, I've had some stuff to work through on my journey. REAL LIFE.
But lately, I don't know what it is, I'm sort of back in love with barn. I think I noticed maybe for the first time that I have been building a life, not just living any random life, and it's sort of the one I imagined way back when, when I was leaving graduate school, and I didn't exactly know what I journey I was embarking on, but I knew that I wanted something real, something dreamy, something beautiful, something I could lean into with all the mad, crazy, real parts of myself.
Right before Evie was born, we added on a huge front porch, so even though right now it's too cold to be out in, I spent basically 2 years nursing her in our front porch rocker, staring at my baby, staring at the pasture, staring at my baby, staring at my phone, writing on my phone in my notes section because I couldn't get to my laptop. (still happens, as I said above.)
She learned to sit up, roll over, crawl, stand up, walk, and now she's running up and down in and doing dance moves I can't even pull off. I can't wait to get back out there in the Spring.
doing yoga on the porch... with our trash in the background. But of course!
And this old barn. It's turning into a whole life. It's beautiful, even with it's quirks and the draw backs. It's awesome.
It's a lot of work. And in just the right light, on a rainy afternoon, with the lights glowing through the windows, and the sky the kind of blue you've been waiting for all day, well is is pretty dreamy. I don't know if we are living the dream, or we've just built a life. It's certainly not perfect, but dreamy? Yas.