Monday, September 29, 2014

The Big Tiny

I just finished reading THE BIG TINY, by Dee Williams, the story of a woman who built herself a house that's smaller than a typical parking space.

I have been sloooowly downsizing (by reducing my possessions, not my living space), but sometimes I fantasize about going even more drastically into simplicity. Interestingly, Williams's chief joy in her tiny-house experience would not be mine. She revels in the physical experience of building the house herself. I admire that capability, but to me the building part would be a chore, not fun.

For most of the book, her tiny house is settled behind her friends' larger houses, and she helps them with chores while they let her use their indoor plumbing and internet connection. Therefore, the tiny house is not a hermit's refuge. Instead, it facilitates community, a little neighborhood where the inhabitants of the three houses are in and out of one another's space all day long. It reminds me of stories from mid-20th-Century urban environments, where a couple might live in one apartment with their grown children downstairs, their siblings in the next building, their parents across the street, etc.

Student debt is increasing, the job market has been shrinking, and wages are stagnating. With the empty nest therefore growing less common, perhaps the extended-family living situation will make a comeback, with "family" sometimes including friends.

I'm hearing more and more about tiny houses lately--an interesting follow-up to the McMansion era. What's next?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Winging it

I'm a planner, a scheduler, a listmaker. I like to know what I'm going to be doing and when. I rarely like to just wing it.

(Which makes it all the more interesting that when I write fiction, I don't really outline, but write my first draft by rambling, wandering impulse. Curious.)

However, on my recent trip to Hawaii, we didn't have every day planned out. We knew a few things that we wanted to do, and we had certain flights to make, but other than that we were free to make up an itinerary as we went along.

And we kept having to change direction. It was too hot to do a hike we'd planned; some trails were closed; one trailhead parking lot was too full; a restaurant wanted us to wait too long for a table; we didn't know how we'd react to the altitude of Haleakala; we didn't know what we would find at the end of a certain road; we weren't sure we could find the trail we were trying to find; we didn't know if the tide would be high or low when we got to a certain beach.

We kept having to adjust on the fly, which is ordinarily something I hate, but this time it was all right. This time I even enjoyed it. I had coconut pie on impulse, at the moment when I saw one in a display case that looked good, and it was just what I wanted. We sought out a green sand beach on impulse. We had a beautiful desert walk that wasn't even on our radar the day before. We found little beaches and gardens hidden away from crowds, giving us the sense that these places might have materialized just for us.

Once when we were wandering the streets of Honolulu in search of a good place to have brunch (and despairing a little that there seemed to be so many more places to shop than to eat), I decided to sit down on a bench or a planter or something because I was tired. I was tired at the moment, so I sat at the moment. And then I looked up, and right in front of me was a whole rack of free magazines listing places to eat in Honolulu. We grabbed one, looked up a place, and found a great restaurant where we ended up eating twice.

The reason I'm a planner is that I often find the searching and flailing that goes with spontaneity to be annoying, a waste of time, an energy suck. But this whole trip was a case of accepting and living with what presented itself whenever our preconceived ideas didn't work out. It was a case of enjoying what was in front of us at the moment. We changed our flight from Oahu to Maui at the last minute because we got to the airport early and thought hey, why not try to hop on the earlier flight as stand-bys? And we caught a beautiful sunset because of it. We showed up at the Hilo airport and there was live music playing in the lobby. We ran into a park volunteer who told us how to find a certain place we'd been looking for. We wandered into a park ranger talk and ended up hearing a nose-flute solo.

Taking what comes was such a persistent theme on this trip that I began to suspect it might be a Life Lesson for me. Goodness knows I have been needing such a lesson when it comes to writing, because none of my writing plans in the past year have panned out. I have started asking myself: What happens if I work with what's in front of me, instead of what I wish I had, or what I thought I should have by now?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


I've been trying to carry some of my vacation mindset over into my regular life.

When going slowly, paying attention, giving people time, and prioritizing quality over quantity, I find that I have to give up the ticking clock, the compulsion to check everything off a list, the race to "keep up." Some things really can wait.

I can't do all the things all the time, nor do I have to. I have to keep reminding myself of that.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


I have just returned from two weeks away from the electronic life. I watched a few TV weather reports and checked my phone messages once a day, but other than that, I didn't touch a digital device and didn't miss them at all. I kept a travel diary which I wrote longhand; I read paper books.

This is something of a first for me. While I do enjoy interacting with people online, and missed those personal connections, I really didn't miss the total internet experience the way I have during previous offline vacations.

So I'm thinking about that, and what it means for me, and how and where I want to spend my time going forward. Unplugging has always been valuable for me, and this time, I suspect, even more so.

In the meantime, it's good to "see" you again. :-)

Thursday, September 4, 2014


A few times a year, I like to unplug from the various online networks to which I belong. I like the people with whom I interact online, and I do miss my online communities when I step back. But there's something refreshing about it, too, about taking time away from mouse and cursor and screen.

It's that time again, so I'll see you later this month. In the meantime, if you have major news, please leave it in the comments, since I probably won't be able to catch up with the posts I'll miss!

Monday, September 1, 2014

New roads

One of the hardest things for me to believe is that endings are followed by new beginnings. All my life, I have been an opponent of change, a nostalgic, a person who clings to things. I never assume that newer will be better.

There is some basis for this, of course. Plenty of change in this world is for the worse, and much of it seems to be pointless: change for the sake of change. But there are changes for the better. And some of the things I value most in my life right now are things I would not have if I had not let go (sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not) of what I used to have.

Over time, I've become a little more accepting of change. I've gotten a lot more willing to part with material objects, and have been doing an ongoing downsizing/decluttering project at home. But I still have a hard time trusting that a situation that has stopped working for me can be replaced by something better.

In hindsight, it's easy to see the turns I should have taken sooner, or with less trepidation. But when the turn is in front of you and you can't see around the bend, it's impossible to know whether a dead end or a beautiful new scene lies ahead.

Eventually, the choice is whether to sit staring at the washed-out bridge on the old route, or whether to try a new road. I keep reminding myself there are new roads, for all that I get focused on the most familiar one.