During my second year as an art student, a teacher asked the classic question, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” To my surprise, without hesitation, I told him I wanted to wake up in a new room every day of my life. I can vaguely recall his puzzled face and pause as he processed my answer. I can’t recall his advice, though I’m certain he offered concrete rationale to quiet my future hyper-nomadic plans. I left the discussion humored by my own subconscience, dismissing any signficance to my impulsive answer and the discussion that followed. I had no interest in thinking ten years down the line anyhow.
That distant memory has recently surfaced, on replay, so much so that I am now writing of it. I wonder what exactly was going through my mind back then, and why is it that I remember that conversation so vividly. No, I don’t literally want to wake up in a new room every day of my life (though on most days I can admit to its appeal). Fresh eyes grant a certain freedom, a buoyant detachment, that bring levity and gratitude to any given moment. We learn to cultivate looking at the world through fresh eyes, metaphorically, so that we can in fact wake to a new room every day.
Lately, increasingly, I have been complaining about the dissatisfaction I have with my house far too much (after all, I have a comfortable bed and roof over my head). A friend asked me to recall what types of dwellings have brought me the greatest contentment. A trend emerged as I thought back on the many places I have called home (at this moment I can recall 25 different housing arrangements since leaving the house I was raised in). Notably, the one’s that stood out were simple. They were small. Typically one room, like a studio apartment or a tent cabin or a boat. They required me to spend more time outdoors or on city streets, due to their confinement. They required less maintenance, and restricted the bulk of my possessions. Sometimes garden space or kitchens were shared with others (making it a communal environment) while still keeping my own singular, private dwelling. Essentially tiny-home co-housing, though these places were not designed as such or given that definition. It is also important to note that I occupied most of these places with barter arrangements, working in exchange for my tenancy.
By my late twenties, I had abandoned such living arrangements, in favor of a far more traditional housing scenario. I thought it was about time, as they say, to settle down. I decided to buy a modest rowhouse in Philadelphia. I used my entire, meager, life savings. Years of hard work, self-discipline and sacrifice. The nest egg. I then proceeded to spend my free evening and weekends to renovate the interior to my liking, peeling back it’s layers decade by decade; the cheap 80’s bathroom addition, the 70’s carpet and wallpaper, the 50’s asbestos tiles…the stripping of time. I tore down walls, added antique church windows, exposed brick and rafters, restored the mantle that I found in the basement, refinished the original 1890’s pine floors, and planted the only tree to be found on my street.
I was supremely pleased with my efforts. A proud home owner. Though soon enough, I began to resent my accomplishment. So much hard work to make a place of one’s own, and yet it wasn’t delivering the sort of contentment I felt living in a tiny, musty 1950’s trailer with an outdoor kitchen and bath. I was exhausted, and honestly, I was angry.
One day I found myself full of rage toward the arduous neighbors across the way (who had been subtely torturing me since, after all, I represented the coming gentrification of their neighborhood). In an epic argument in the middle of the street, I unleashed a downpour of frustration upon a man I had been warned not to contest, for the sake of my own safety. It was ugly. The amount of anger that rose within me was shocking. The argument abruptly ended, ironically, when I shouted at him… ‘It’s about respect!!!!’ I stepped back inside my house. It took a minute for me to recognize myself.
The next day, an elder neighbor discreetly whispered thanks to me for confronting the neighborhood bullies. Now, at least, I felt an ounce of justification for my pathetic behavior. Shortly after that argument, I sold my house and moved to Asheville. In time, with admitted reluctance, I decided to forgo the dream of owning a home in favor of investing in this business (a whole different can of worms, but I won’t digress).
I need to unlearn a few things (or more accurately to stop listening to external influences), both about myself and certain makings of our culture that seem to have gone haywire. The foreclosures. The isolation. The stress-induced aspirations. The ubiquitous American Dream. This land is my land. The architecture and infrastructure that make up the majority of our American landscape, be it the suburban landscape or the home on the prairie, are a product of that dream. I have convinced myself that I am not being affected by these things…that I have risen above the program, living some sort of alternative life exercising greater freedom. But in fact there is a subtle undercurrent of collectice influence that is still guiding many of my choices, without my awareness. There is more I wish to uncover. More to unlearn.
Our basic needs for shelter and nourishment are undeniable. The pursuit of sheltering ourselves and our families with dignity, comfort and joy is worthy. And our modern landscape, a seemingly impenetrable maze of property lines, is a reality we can’t escape from. This is not to say that I will never own property or a home. However at this given moment my intuition is telling me to avoid it all together, for my own sense of happiness and freedom. Or at the very least to inhabit a (tiny) place that practices mutual aid and support amongst a greater community. I want to live lightly on the land, in so many ways. That is the dream I aim to keep.