It was a normal day at the gym. I left in tears.

I love swimming.

I belong to a gym, and when I go, I ignore everything else that the gym has to offer except the swimming pool.

In the pool, I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself. I don’t even have to look anyone, I can keep my face in the water essentially the whole time, doing flip turns to kick off the wall, and just go back and forth at my own pace. Its my time to think, or to not think, to just let the water flow over my body, and to gently feel the force of my body gliding through the water, feet steadily kicking, arms swooping with gentle strength overhead, pushing and accelerating me forward. I love feeling my body turn from one side to the other, back to the other. I love that I can swim gently and easily, slowly upping the tempo to a medium intermediate speed, and then when I’m ready, I sprint. I kick off the wall as hard as I can, and use all my strength to swim as fast as I possibly can. Sometimes I imagine a shark is coming behind me and I need to swim for my life. Sometimes I just become my own mermaid superhero, and there are people cheering “wow, she’s so fast!”. When I’m sprinting, I feel aggressive, as my breaths become more heated and forceful, my heart rate accelerates, the blood rushing through my body heats everything up. I become desperate and grateful for each breath of air, and my forceful, swift exhale/ inhale is exactly like the blowhole of a whale when she finally reaches the surface, pushes the old air out, and just as quickly fills her mighty lungs with fresh oxygen.

I love pushing myself through the water when I sprint, and I love the recovery laps after sprinting. I remember a time where I was sprinting, and I heard this amazing song playing in my head. Imagine the Orks from the Lord of the Rings being born out of pure evil, and as you watch, horrified but mesmerized, this amazing song plays, portending their might and power plays with long bold notes. Or imagine that song in star wars when Anakin is fighting the evil red-faced Sith lord, and there is lava everywhere, and a huge orquestral song is playing with 100 people singing in some powerful, alien language. Thats what the song was like, keeping time with and being born out of each mighty swoop of my arm through the water.

Epic, right?

Yes, its true, I love to swim.

I’ve always been incredibly happy and comfortable in the water, but it wasn’t until college that I learned the joy of lap-swimming. I have never been on a team, and I am so grateful that I had the training to learn the basic techniques of the various strokes, breathing, and flip turns that are essential to swimming laps. Its an incredible privilege that swimming is my go-to exercise, because the training and equipment and access to a pool are not available to everyone.

So, as a lover of swimming, I’ll tell you a story of something that happened in the pool today.

It was a normal day going to the gym, but by the time I left, my goggles had filled with hot tears.

It started last week.

I got to the gym, and entered the sauna, which is right next to the pool. I always go in there before I swim, because I can look wait until there is an open lane.

So I walk in, and its full of people. One man, lets call him Tim, is talking with another gentleman. Tim is telling the other guy how he just played in this tournament, and he won the first trophy of his life, and he is so proud of himself. Tim is an older man, so its a cool story.

Tim says “I won the trophy, and my granddaughter also plays, and she won a trophy and put it next to mine. My granddaughter is 8 years old and she swims too. She is a good swimmer, she is skinny, like this woman”

Tim points to me, as the example of the skinny woman.

I don’t say anything, just kind of nod, and the other man says “Well she’s not skinny, she’s fit”

To which Tim replies, “She’s perfect”

So yea, creepy. I’m not here to have my body judged, to be told I’m skinny, or fit, or perfect.

There is so much thats wrong with this situation. These guys are talking as if I’m not there, they are just happily commenting on my body!

Skinny is not always a good thing, and you shouldn’t be commenting on someone’s body if you don’t know them!

So I think all of these things, but I don’t say them. There is so much that is wrong with what is happening here, just upholding a space where men get to look at women and decide what is acceptable, and go ahead and comment on it, reinforcing fat phobia. This guy already needs to be quiet, but then he says “You must be a good swimmer, right?”

And I nod, indicating, yes, I’m a good swimmer.

Soon after, a lane opens in the pool and I jump in and swim.

Two days later, I go back for another swim, and as I’m exiting the pool, I realize that guy Tim has been there for a while, and when I get out, Talkative Tim says “How are you? See, I told you, you are a good swimmer”

I respond with a nod and a smile because I’m nice like that, and quickly get outta there to the showers.

Today, you guessed it, I went back to the pool, and about 20 minutes in to my swim, I notice Tim sitting at a bench right at the end of my lane, sitting there, watching me. Let me just say that the pool is set up so that everyone in the sauna can easily watch the swimmers, but there is a bench outside the sauna, right at the edge of the pool, and people sometimes sit there. I’m used to it, and its usually not a big deal, because they are on their phones, or just spacing out, in between going from the hot tub to the sauna.

But the fact that I had met this person on 2 other occasions, and he had commented on my body and my swimming, and now was just sitting there, watching as I came to the end of the pool, did my flip turn, and then swam away again.

If your not familiar with a flipturn, you basically to a neat little somersault in the water, in which your butt and for us ladies, our vagina, are easily up for brief viewing as we turn.

With this particular guy sitting and watching me, I felt damn uncomfortable. I felt his gaze, and I did not like it.

I don’t know if you gathered this, but swimming is an alone activity that I do. Its a small chunk in which I don’t have to interact with other humans, and that is a precious thing to have! I know its an incredibly special thing to have, and I am so grateful for it, but today, this older man was trampling all over my ‘me time’ And was being creepy. Sorry, not sorry, when an older man starts staring at a younger woman for an extended period of time, its creepy.

Feeling fully creeped out, I measured my options.

One: I could go to the staff at the gym and let them know I felt uncomfortable.

Two, I could ask some other random person to tell the guy to stop. (what? Is that even viable, that won’t work)

Three, Say something directly to him.

If I were to tell the staff, ti would feel like tattle-taling, plus I’d have to stop my workout, get out, dry off, probably put on some clothes, and go talk to someone, and maybe make a little mini spectacle of it.

I didn’t want to stop my wokout, and I didn’t want this creeper watching me.

So, decision made, I swam to the end of my lane, popped my head out, goggles on, and sure enough, he was looking right at me.

We made eye contact.

He said “Hi, how are you doing?”

I said “Are you watching me?” It was an accusatory tone that said “Hey, buddy, I see what your doing!”

His lame response: “No, I.. “

I respond: “Oh, no? You’re just working out?”

at this point I turn away from him and to the woman in the lane next to me, who is looking at me like “Whats happening?”

and I say to her “He’s watched me before. Its not my favorite.”

And that seems like the perfect moment to dive right back into the water, kick of the wall, and swim away.

And swim I do, amazed at the confrontation I just had. Adrenaline coursed through me, and I swam back and forth with a second wind of energy.

On my fourth lap back, I peek up, and sure enough, he has left. I succeeded… right?

As I swim back and forth, feeling the full strength of by body, my muscles, I think of Wonder Woman.

I imagine that this pool is full of only women, and I would have never had that aggressive encounter with a creepy man. I think of the opening scene of little Diana, skipping through her town, women surrounding her, greeting her, loving her. That scene brings tears to me because it reminds me of my all girl high school, where we loved each other and grew so much with each other, laughing, crying, living, learning, playing, being ridiculous and hilarious, becoming the full people we would be come.

All women spaces are not at the Exclusion of men.

They are at the Inclusion of the full potential of women, so that we may become completely free and fully formed people.

I am so, so glad that I had that in some of my most formative years, and it is beyond a doubt part of the reason that I had the gumption to stand up for myself against the creepy watching guy.

I imagine how much better this pool would be, if it was like Tymescaria, full of beautiful strong women everywhere, playing and laughing in the water, women of all shapes and sizes and colors and languages.

But the thing that brings quick, hot tears to my eyes is that if such a place existed, it would be hounded by creepy men, clawing at the doors, demanding to come in and ruin everything. It would not have a protective, magical shell around it preventing violence from occuring, the violence that happens when women are objectified by male gaze.

Then I think of the thousands of women across the world who have never even gotten a tiny taste of Themyscsira, like I did. Who are not allowed to go to school, who do not know what birth control is, who are not allowed to have autonomy over their bodies and there lives. I sob for them, because I’m so damn lucky to have been given everything I have as a woman. I do not have a life that is entirely centered around and dictated and at service to men.

It shouldn’t be this way. Women should not live in fear, subject to violence, without voice, and without choice. It is so obvious, but it needs to be said, and needs to be acted upon.

I left the pool with tears in my goggles, and felt my body sobbing as I showered.

So this is just one story, and there are more layers to it. Maybe the creepy guy was just plain curious! Maybe he was amazed at my swimming skills and, and was not being weird at all! Well, maybe that’s true from his perspective, but I did not feel like it was just tame curiosity, and I am also allowed to react the way I did, and to imagine that perhaps he learned something about watching women in public. We are not out here for the entertainment of men! We are not here to be commented on as if we aren’t there, or to be leered at! If you leer at me, even if to you its just innocent curiosity, I’m going to say something, so that you understand that what you think is simple ‘looking’ is not so simple for the person being looked at!

Another dimension to this is that I’m a skinny white lady, one of the most powerful demographics out there, second only to white dudes. So I have all kinds of fragility and weird complications and complexes about my race and gender, and even the ability to be taking space swimming laps in a public pool in the first place. I’m pretty sure us white ladies are over-represented in swimming pools. I think of last summer (right?) when the young black girl was body slammed into the ground by a fully grown white police officer, in her bikini, and for no reason at all. Sometimes I imagine teaching swimming to other women in my community, because it is such an empowering exercise. Tim is Latinx-American. So what are the racial overtones to this? Was I using my whiteness to exert myself? I imagine if Tim had been any other race, and I have to say that I think I would have reacted the same way. I don’t know for sure but I think so.

The last thing I want to say about this, since I brought up Wonder Woman, is that I fully enjoyed Wonder Woman. Yes, I saw myself in her, and yes, I see that not all women will see themselves reflected in her! I’ve always really enjoyed super hero films, I love the plot and the action and the superpowers, and the story and the emotion of it all. My little sister can attest that when we were young, I convinced her to sneak into a Batman movie in the movie theaters. It was so, so great to see wonder woman kicking ass, and I left the theater wanting nothing else than to put on some gold cuffs.

But representation matters, which is why we need a black wonder woman, a trans wonder woman, a wonder woman in a hijab! A pro Palestinian wonder woman, not a Zionist one!  I heard that the original story, Wonder Woman has a black sister, what happened to her? Can you imagine a trans superhero? A nonbinary superhero? Someone who literally does not conform to either but has qualities of both and neither? A big wonder woman, who isn’t super skinny! I know that Hyppolyta sculpted Diana out of clay, but the thing is that all women are beautifully sculpted from clay, amazingly formed gorgeous creatures we are, so all of us should be represented in our women superheroes, and not just the problematic, Zionist, white skinny Gal Gadot.

Some versions of these superheroes probably exist already, but if not lets write them into existence, then lift them up.

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Toward a new meaning of ‘mental disorder’

I am currently enrolled in 3 psychology courses, one of them called “Abnormal Psychology”. I am interested in exploring the meaning of terminology we use to talk about mental illness, because of the fact that it is so stigmatized. I invite you to read the following, in which I help liberate the term ‘mental disorder’ beyond its current connotations and automatic stigmatizing tone.

Mental disorder.

What does disorder mean? dictionary says “a state of confusion”.

So when we refer to people with a ‘mental disorder’, we instead could say that they are in a state of mental confusion. Perhaps this confusion is resulting in lots of sadness, social anxiety, extreme fear, hearing voices, or seeing things that are not there. We have names of ‘disorders’ associated with these behaviors.

Lets expand our imagination and curiosity to see this as a temporary state of confusion, where things are not quite functioning in an a-b-c, 1-2-3 manner. The fact that so many people experience ‘mental illness’, means that it is our society’s new normal state, and we are called on collectively to see our own experience as parallel with that of others.

Indeed, how can there be any growth or development, without temporary states of mental confusion? It is our human nature and that of our consciousness, to contemplate the depth and extent of our world, and when we find our world turned completely upside down, it is completely disorienting, confusing, painful beyond description, and at times, unbearable to us, because we are given not just brains and a mind capable of rational thought, but a heart of compassion and love, and when our heart is broken by grief and sadness, we are thrown into confusion.

We become confused about who we are, what we are doing here, why devastating things happen. The chaos and violence which manifested the world is momentarily revealed to us, and we no longer know what home is, what comfort is, we are ripped from ourselves, tears well in our eyes and uncontrollable sobbing shakes our tender human body.

This is what confusion is.

But we also know what it is to slowly emerge from this destruction, from this heartbreak, heart-shatter. We know it, when from the ashes and rubble that surrounds, we know also the first glimmer of hope, the first inkling of love, the capability to crack a tiny smile, the warm gentle touch of an arm around our shoulder. There has never been a human life without confusion, and there has never been growth and evolution of heart and spirit, without entering the depths of utter loss, devastation, grief, sorrow, despair. The time spent in this place is immeasurable, but it is our responsibility, if we have been there, and if we emerge, it is our basic responsibility to be sensitive and aware when another enters this profound, all encompassing confusion. We must be there to let them know they are not alone. There is no judging. There is no ‘acceptable time period’ definable for how long it might take, because the journey itself is where its at. Its not about fast recovery, easy recovery. It is about embracing the complexity of the human experience, with patience, love, and an understanding from personal experience. This is compassion, this is empathy.

Next time you hear someone talk about ‘mental illness’ or ‘mental disorder’, remember what disorder means, it means things are out of order, and that things are, for now, in a state of confusion. But confusion is where things get truly interesting.

Brief Encounters

Today I worked at a local dining room at a church.

I am still new to where I live, and getting to know the area, so I wanted to help out at the dining kitchen to check it out and see how it was going.

St. Anthony’s dining kitchen serves probably at least 100 people a cooked meal, juice, fruit, milk or coffee, and there is also a large spread of food setup for people to take home with them. I spent the morning preparing and grating carrots, and then right at 11am, I was assigned to help give out produce.

We had bell peppers, romaine lettuce, cabbage, some potatoes, kale, brussels sprouts, little packs of herbs, broccoli, a few carrots, a small box of pears, and oranges, and 3 big boxes of mostly soft and ripe bananas.

Here are some brief encounters from the day:

-After a big rush of people, a woman comes up and I say good morning. She asks for a banana, from her accent I switch to Spanish: “Si tenemos bananas, muchos son muy suave, muy maduro”

“Oh si” she responds, looking at the bananas, deciding which ones she will take.

I notice her eye makeup, and compliment her, “Me gusta el azul” I say, pointing to my eyes, “es azul y morada, wow que bonito”

She perks up and smiles at me, her face lit up at the compliment, and says “Oh gracias, este es royal azul”, smiling, opening her plastic bag to put some bananas in.

There is another woman next to her, also choosing bananas. She says “son buenos para liquados” and so we are talking about the different ways to use ripe, soft bananas, I begin to mention banana bread, and then the first woman explains that you can also use mashed bananas and rub them on your breasts, and leave them for 30 minutes, “para que son mas grande, y mas duro” she explains, gesturing to her breasts with her hands, smiling and lifting her chest, showing me and the other woman what she’s talking about.

The woman next to her looks at her like, what? I’m just laughing and smiling and saying “wow I never knew you could use bananas for that, sounds nice, like a nice massage” and the first woman walks away, happy with her produce, and possibly planning to do more with it than just eat it…

The second woman says “I don’t want to change my body. This is how I am” she says, gesturing to her breasts and torso “This is how I am, and for that, I am happy with Jesus” she says.

“Yes” I nod, “Well some people want to change their bodies, and others don’t”

Later, I am busily opening boxes of produce and handing it out, when a woman comes up behind the table and says, “Hello, I used to volunteer here, can I take some produce?” so I say “Sure, go ahead”.

Then a man comes up and I greet him and he begins taking produce, when he strikes up a lively conversation with the former volunteer. My ears perk up and listen to the words, not identifying it as Spanish, or even closely related to Spanish. They finish a cheerful, small conversation, and the woman goes towards the coffee. The man stays, filling his bag with produce.

“What language do you speak?” I ask

“Farsi” he responds, smiling, and then he explains all the places where Farsi is spoken: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, “and along the border with Russia” he says. “Syria too?” I ask, “Yes, Syria” he says.

He tells me that he speaks 4 or 5 different languages, and then we begin talking about all the people leaving Syria.

“There is something very wrong there” he says “A big problem, lots of killing, its not going to end soon.” I nod my head “Yes, there are so many people leaving, going to European countries from there, thousands of people, women and babies” The images from the war and the refugees come to my mind, and I am so grateful to finally be talking to someone about it, rather than just reading articles and pictures.

“Yes” he continues “And in Europe, they want to stop people from coming. They want to just block people from coming” I say, “But they are not going to stop coming, they have to leave, they have to go somewhere, there are so many people, they will keep coming”. “yes” he responds, and then he asks me if I have been to any European countries, and tells me where he has traveled. Then he tells me with a little money and a little time, I should travel there, and visit, and that when I am older I won’t want to travel. “Ok” I say, smiling, we say “nice to meet you” and he walks away with his produce.

Later, I am helping to serve coffee. An older man with some white scruffy beard and a squashed baseball cap comes up to order his coffee. I pour it into the paper cup and had it to him, saying, “Here’s your Starbucks, or Peets, whichever one is your favorite!” just for a little joke. He responds, “McDonalds!” with a toothless smile. “Ok, its McDonalds coffee!” I say, and as he walks off, I imagine him enjoying this delicacy of McDonalds coffee.

Little later from that, another man comes up, I give him the cup of coffee, and say “Here is your starbucks, or peets, whichever one you like better” and he responds “Well, neither of them are good, but I guess Starbucks is the least toxic of the two” and I say “Yea Ok” and then he says “Did you know that coffee and tomatoes are almost identical genetically?”

“No I didn’t know that, but they are both acidic, right?” I say.

He says “I am very allergic to tomatoes, I’m allergic to almost everything in the nightshade family. Tomatoes, some peppers, potatoes”

“Wow thats a lot of allergies” I say.

“Yes, I must be allergic to coffee too, it just doesn’t sit right with me, but hey” he picks up his tray with food and cup of coffee, “I’ve been eating allergies all my life! Gotta eat food”

“Yep” I say, and he walks off to enjoy his meal, even though he might be allergic to some of it.

Stories

Last night, I sat around a bonfire with friends.

A man there held his baby son, and a dog ran around the fire, sniffing at the food at people’s plates.

The man with the child said to the host, “Did you tell the dog that my tribe eats puppies?” he said with a mischievous smile, jiggling his bouncing, gurgling son on his lap.

“Yes, we should tell him!” She replied, laughing and smiling, and went over to join the children who were busily working on cracking nuts open.

The man turned to me, “Its true, there are times in my tribe where a puppy will be eaten, but the puppy must volunteer to be eaten” the man continued. He mentioned earlier that he speaks Lakota to his son, so I assumed he is a Lakota man, and was referring to them.

“How would a puppy volunteer to be eaten?” I asked, my curiosity piqued at the idea of a dog volunteering to sacrifice itself.

“I have no idea!” the man said, with a small laugh, “I’ve never seen it happen, but..” he gazed into the fire, and glanced up at us “There is a story, do you want to hear the story?”

Sure, we agreed. I sat next to a new friend I had just met, and we listened to the story, which went something like this:

Once there was a great drought, which greatly distressed the people. Because there was no water, all of the animals left, and the people were very hungry. The people hunted elk and buffalo, but because of the great drought, all the animals were dying or were just gone. The only animals who stayed were the dogs. The loyal dogs stayed with the people, stayed by their side even though the drought was very bad. The people were very hungry and did not know what to do.

Then Creator came and said, “If a puppy volunteers to be eaten, then you must eat him.”

There was a buffalo skin with hot stones underneath, and water in it, and the water was boiling. Suddenly, a puppy jumped into the boiling water.

Then the people ate the puppy. Then the rain and the water came back, and the animals returned.

“To this day, sometimes the people will still have puppy soup, but only if it volunteers to be eaten” said the man.

“Wait, a dog, or a puppy?” I asked.

“A puppy” he said, “In my family, we tell a lot of stories. The way we tell the stories is that the parents or grandparents will tell stories to the children, and every now and then, they will ask the children to tell a story, to see if they remember it.” the man said “Its great for long car rides!” he added.

“Yea that sounds great for kids on a long car ride” I replied “I know a lot of good songs to sing in the car for kids”

“Yea, but stories teach them lessons” He said, and at this point, his baby son was wiggling so much that he had to get up and walk the baby around.

As he left, his comment lingered, and I was thinking how its true that stories teach lessons to children. I imagined this man and his family, and the vast repertoire of stories he must know, going back to his childhood, and at any moment, he will tell the story. And his older daughter will tell stories to the young son, and the tradition he learned as a child will be passed on to his children.

I recently heard a woman say that today the modern culture is one which is divorced from its stories. We have everything else imaginable: technology, cars, food, everything to survive, but we will not survive as a species without stories. We are a culture living divorced from myths and legends that past peoples lived in the midst of. We must bring these stories back, if we are to surmount the fantastically difficult challenges we face right now.

I heard this woman say this earlier in the week, and then last night I met the Lakota man with his baby, who shared that story with me. At the end of the story, as he walked away, I was left with a wanting feeling: I want to know more stories.

I have consumed stories my entire life, ever since I learned how to read, which was pretty early. In fact, all my siblings are very literate, very articulate, huge vocabularies, super well read. Our home was rich with books. I consumed them almost like I was breathing them in. All the Roald Dahl books: Matilda, the BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate factory, Danny the Champion of the World: these are all books that I read over and over. The whole Harry potter series, again I read each book over and over. The babysitters club a series where there is a cool group of teenage girls who are all friends and who babysit kids in their neighborhood.

I can’t tell you how many hours I spent in the library reading books.

So, yes, I have certainly consumed a huge amount of books and stories in my life, but how many stories have I told other people? How many stories was I told as a child?

I’m certain that stories were read to me, from books, but not too many were told just from memory.

The stories that were told out loud to me from memory were family stories: logistical things about the lives of my parents and grandparents. “Your grandfather started a business, the business made parts for airplanes, it was very successful.”

“Your other grandfather taught art at one point, and took his kids around the world visiting and traveling to different places, sometimes on a sailboat”

Here’s one from my mom: “I remember as a kid going to Tahoe with all my brothers and sisters in the backseat of a big station wagon. My dad was such a serious driver he didn’t want to stop for anything. Someone got sick, and had to vomit out of the window, and he just kept driving.”

Yep, thats a true one, courtesy of my dear mother. Well, it certainly tells me something about the character of my grandfather, who I never met because he died when I was one. Certainly there are other stories about him, yet this was one that my mom told me, and its stuck with me.

So there exists a disconnect between the stories I was told, about real lives and real events that happened, and my need for fictional, mythological stories.

I am drawn very strongly to stories, I want more and more of them, and I constantly have multiple books checked out from the library. Yes, I am a voracious reader.

But how many of those stories, by literary authors, would I be able to tell my 3-year-old niece? How many of those stories would I actually want to tell her?

As much as I enjoyed reading those stories, sometimes over and over, how many of those stories are truly mine?

I read so voraciously because I am responding to a void inside of myself, which demands that I figure out who I am and where I came from, and how I relate to and am connected to the people, places, animals and whole world around me.

I think its true that people need stories just as much as they need food and water.

Whether its the political stories they follow on the news, the family stories they learned and create everyday, the books, magazines and articles they encounter, the never ending Facebook feed in which people tell tidbits of their lives to each other, or the stories they tell themselves about who they are and what their dreams are.

My tendency throughout my whole life has been to seek out and consume, almost inhale stories and books, like I am breathing them in. I have a very well worked muscle in my brain which allows me to go through books with ease, encountering ideas, places, people, characters. To journey through the book and enjoy a quite, gently simmering, humming pleasure throughout it, which is calming, relaxing, and is entirely comfortable, because its a coping reflex I have developed and often turn to for comfort.

But this inhalation and consumption has a limit. I cannot exist as only an intellectual being.

If I have been consuming so many words, maybe its time to learn how to exhale. To learn how to share stories, write stories, tell them out loud.

Its not something I learned as a kid: I never had an elder look at me and say, “Ok, your turn” like the Lakota man did.

I also cannot steal stories from others, and pretend they are mine. That would be rude.

I think I remember Isabelle Allende speaking about her writing process: she said that stories simply arrive to her, and then she goes ahead and writes them.

Dear stories out there, you are invited over to my place! I live over here, next to a big ocean on the other side of some hills. When you come, I’m not sure I will recognize you or know exactly how you want to be told, but I will do my best. I don’t want to hurt anyone in the process of writing you, I don’t want to steal you from somebody else. I will do my best to listen to you honestly and openly, and not try to fill you with too much bullshit or crappiness or force you to come out before you are ready, that would be super rude. So like I said, you are all invited over to come and hang out. Can’t wait to meet you all and get to know you better!

Alright… we’ll see how this goes!

I’m a builder

I am a builder.

I love to make things.

Its what I’ve done since I was a small child. When I was a kid growing up, I remember a big blue plastic box filled with blocks. Wooden blocks, some square, rectangle, triangles, different sizes and shapes. Sturdy wooden blocks, light brown wood, I loved stacking them next to each other and on top of each other.

There is a picture of me at age 8 or something, awkwardly squatting next to a ‘block city’ I had built. My little city covered the whole table, and buildings and towers and roads. The towers were topped with triangular blocks, like fat arrows pointing upward, somewhat haphazardly. I was very proud of the roads I built in that city, because they ran on the table, and then down off the edge of the table, onto the floor. I can’t remember how I did that, maybe with linkin logs that attach together, Then when the roads reached the floor, they kept going, and I built little stop signs in the roads, to remind the cars where to stop.

Years later, remembering this makes me cry.

I’m not sure why I start to cry when I think of my little child self building a city out of wooden blocks, but not too long ago I remember breaking down with the memory and saying over and over to myself: “That was me, I loved to build. I was a builder. I built cities. Thats what I love. I love to build things. I am a builder. I am a builder.”

I’m not sure if I was saying these things out loud or in my head, but somehow those words hit me very strong, and bring tears to my eyes, blurring my vision as I write this, and snot to my nose, making me need to run out of the room and grab a handkerchief, lest tears and snot drip down on my keyboard.

I think the reason I begin to cry when I remember this memory is pretty obvious.

The little girl in me who loved building cities out of wooden blocks, stacking one next to the other on top of the next, that little girl is still in me.

I’ve been ignoring her.

I’ve forgotten her.

At the moment when I remember her, and see her again, I begin to cry because I recognize that she was abandoned.

Such a cheerful small, happy, passionate wooden-block laying girl should not be left behind and forgotten about.

People talk about finding something to do that makes you truly happy, that makes you forget that time is going by, where you are completely absorbed and forget everything else. I played with those blocks in a way that allowed the wild landscape of my imagination take form and shape in the real world! We are all born with an active imagination and a desire to move our bodies, and make things.

Recently I heard: “The imagination lays the tracks for reality”

We have to imagine it before we can do it.

I’m not sure of what I was imagining as a kid when I built those cities out of wooden blocks, but to be sure, there were stories in that city. The height of the towers, the structure of the buildings, the curves and edges of the roads. The corners, and especially the edge of the table were the roads didn’t just end because it was the edge of the table, but rather kept going, off the edge of the table, straight down until they got to the floor, and then once they were on the floor, the roads kept going.

I wasn’t going to let the limit of how big the table was also limit where the roads in my city were going, heck no! The roads had to keep going, because that’s what the story called for.

Plus it added a cool special affect, a multi-layered affect to my city, and I was playing with different levels, seeing how the structures interacted with each other.

At this point, I think its time to remember that little girl.

I imagine visiting her, and saying ‘hi… thats a really cool city you built’

She’ll say ‘yea it has a lot of buildings and roads. Some of the houses and towers are bigger or smaller. And there’s a bridge right there’ and she points to a longer block supported on each side by square blocks.

‘Does the road go under the bridge?’ I ask. She nods, and points to where the road is going.

As we look around the grand city that she built, and she shows me around all the roads, buildings, towers, stop signs, and everything, I am so grateful to see what she has built. Most of all, I am greatful that I remember her again. She isn’t gone. She’s right there.

I remember you, I say. You aren’t forgotten. You aren’t abandoned.

You are a builder, I say to her. Look at what you’ve built. You should keep on building things.

What do you want to build now?

Together, we take a breath, smile, and begin building.

Building a Greenhouse

This is a project that I managed while I was the Farm Manager at the Farmhouse. I got a small grant to build a greenhouse, so the first thing I did was reach out to UC Davis, to consult the experts. I met with 2 UC Davis affiliates, both who were very experienced in greenhouses, and went through a design process.

After discussing the various options, we decided to renovate the back barn ‘overhang’, which looked like this:

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Back barn ‘overhang’. 16′ tall at its tallest point, 40′ long, main structure wood and tin

After assessing the main structure, we developed a plan to retrofit this overhang into a combination greenhouse and shade-house (or ‘lath house’).

At about the same time, I had gotten connected to an organization called the Northern California Construction Training, which provides construction training for people coming out of prison, and others interested in learning the trade. They agreed to bring their crew out to the farm to do all of the labor to build the greenhouse, what an amazing contribution!

We scheduled a ‘Demolition Day’ as phase one of the project.

 

So by the end of that initial workday, all of the tin had been removed from the 2 walls, revealing the framing underneath. We discovered that some of the long, 20′ pieces of lumber were cracked, so I added 2 20′ 2x8s to the list of framing lumber to order.

To ensure good drainage, we decided to put a 2″ layer of gravel at the bottom of the greenhouse, so that was the next step. I called a landscaping friend, Doug, who volunteered to bring his tractor out, to scrape and grade the ground, and then to spread the gravel. I made sure that the gravel was delivered (from CL Smith trucking company in Woodland) before Doung came.

Do you remember that thing in the playground where you could sit at a little seat and scoop up sand with a little bucket and then drop it? I loved playing with that as a kid, so this was my adult version of getting to do that!

After the ground was scraped, the old dirt and rocks and concrete chunks removed, and the new gravel was put down, it started to look really nice, like it was coming together!

Here is a picture of the pile of lumber that was delivered: this would become the new framing of the 3 walls we would build as the greenhouse/ shade-house combination (the wood stacked against the wall is the old wood from the wall we had taken down, pretty rotted/ full of nails, but still decent)

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Next came the first building day

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Then, after these walls were all put up, it was time for the polycarbon!

It was a hassle to get all the huge pieces delivered from Greenhouse Megastore, because they were too big to fit onto the roof of my truck, so big thank you to them for volunteering to bring it themselves (and the fasteners) directly to the Farmhouse!

Now the fun really began, as we began to attach the polycarbon to the framing..

After the polycarbon was attached on the two walls, as well as the inner 3rd wall, it was time to begin putting up the 1x4s to become the shadehouse:

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Finally, when the polycarbon and 1x4s were all installed, it was time to build the doors, and hang them.

Here is the crew inside the finished greenhouse

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It was so amazing to be a part of this project, and there is so much more to it that is not pictured here, but it was a collaboration of many different people and groups, and I think it turned out very well!

Almost as soon as the greenhouse was built, we began starting seedlings in it, which were transplanted in the field right next to the greenhouse..

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