Monday, June 16, 2003

We don't have a name for the house yet. We could call it the Ashby house, but there are plenty of other houses in Ashby that would answer to the same moniker. Calling it "The Old Finnish Dance Hall" would be more unique -- as well as accurate -- but as none of us know any Finnish dances, it might set expectations inappropriately.

Although it's a short walk from the town center, the house is on the edge of a forest. Having grown up in the rainy countryside of Oregon, I'm used to pine, fir, madrone, and cedar. Here in New England the trees of my childhood aren't so common; instead, we've got birch, beech, and maple -- names that are only beginning to evoke any associations in my metropolized mind.

Our housemate, Sue, has a beautiful flower garden with lupines, bleeding hearts, and a bunch of other flowers I don't recognize. Karen and I planted a vegetable garden which, although not yet a source of food, is providing some rich metaphors for our explorations of life and spirit.

The house itself is quite nice inside, with hardwood floors broken in by the frolicking feet of fancy-free fins back in the day, and more recently added skylights throughout the upstairs. Karen's massage studio could use some attention before going prime time, as with much of the house -- it's functional and improving a bit at a time.

Still no inspiration for a house name. We might find something by looking past its physical features and observing the activities of the household.

Sue, who owns the house, is preparing to enter a new phase of her life. The adjustments brought about when Karen, Rowan, Sage, and I moved in provided an opportunity for her to rearrange a lot of stuff -- out the door, in many cases. There's a lot of baggage, physical as well as emotional, to be Spring cleaned, left behind by her ex-husband. Sue is undergoing a noble struggle, reaching upwards from a mire of past and patterns, determined to reach a resting place from which to look around and see more clearly what life has to offer her. She calls this work her "transition," which is a word that comes up a lot around the house.

Karen, too, is in a number of transitions. Letting go of her previous five-year relationship is emotionally challenging, and as if that weren't enough already, I've just moved in with my own baggage, so to speak. Beginning this new relationship has been like jumping into the ocean after dipping our toes in -- we knew the water would be a little cold and rough at first, but now we're really experiencing it. We're learning to communicate with each other, which sometimes means giving up the project we're trying to accomplish in order to focus on the communication itself. Or giving up the communication in order to finish the project.

Fortunately we both love to analyze ourselves and each other, so every misunderstanding or ill-considered remark provides fodder for that indulgence -- if only life would wait for us to finish a sentence, much less an entire conversation. There always seems to be a task to be done, a meal to make, a child to comfort, or a need to satisfy, to bring us back into reality.

An important part of Karen's new life is growing her massage business to achieve self-sufficiency. We've been putting most of our free hours toward developing a business plan, marketing materials, and processes to support the growth. Having had the last five years to think about how she'd approach it once she had the time, Karen is the driving force for the ideas and goals of the business. As for me, I've been taking the role of business consultant, finally putting my years in the corporate world to use by suggesting organizational tools and providing technical services.

In parallel with business processes, we're formalizing a lot of our personal processes. We want our activities to support our ideals, and we want to make decisions with as much awareness as possible, so we're experimenting with concepts that steer us toward conscious, balanced living.

The foundation of our explorations has been the goal of self-knowledge -- the idea that discovering our own true nature is our purpose in this life, and everything we do can be used to help understand ourselves.

Recognizing meditation and yoga to be important tools for awareness, we're working on a model which gives those activities priority, along with other basic needs.

All this formalization and definition stuff is pretty nerdy, but we're both completely enamored by it, so infer what you will about us. We've got flow charts, databases, spreadsheets, project schedules, and weekly task calendars, all of which make us realize how fortunate we are to have found someone else to support us in such unconvenional practices.

Those are some of the transitions going on in the house. Then there's me. "What kind of transitions are you going through, Ult?" you ask. Well.

Changing diapers.

Karen keeps threatening to post some pictures of me holding Sage, or feeding her, or washing her bottom in the sink, so I'll try to preempt that by announcing it openly. It still takes me about twenty minutes to change a diaper (Karen does it in twenty seconds) and Sage ends up crying as often as not, but I'm learning. She's a pretty happy baby most of the time, but it's painful to spend half an hour trying to figure out what she needs while she's screaming bloody murder the whole time, only to have her stop the instant she's in her mother's arms.

With Rowan I don't feel so inept. He's apparently at an age when he's looking for male role models, so I've accrued some unearned respect on account of my Y chromosome. He can play for hours in my pickup truck, and is always offering me rides places.

"What's a purpose?" he asked me once. I think I'd been explaining what a turn signal was for; we were on the way home from preschool in my truck. He was sitting in his carseat which was strapped into the passenger seat. He was in a good mood, on account of the truck; if I ever pick him up in Karen's car instead, he crosses his arms and scowls for most of the way home.

"Well," I said, thinking for a moment how to explain the meaning of purpose. Often I'll end up trying to define words he doesn't know with even more obscure words. "A purpose is what something is for, why it exists."

"Oh," he said, looking out the window. "Like a tummy's purpose is for making babies?" he verified.

"A woman's tummy, perhaps," I chuckled. I suggested some more pedestrian examples of purpose, but he brought us back to the philosophical realm.

"What are men's purpose?" he asked as we got out of the truck. He climbed under the steering wheel and slid down the seat backwards, landing with a plop on the dirt driveway.

"Uh," I stalled. A few inappropriate answers came to mind, mostly quotes from women I've known who had particular opinions about what men were or weren't good for, but I finally decided on a noncommital response. "Well, I guess everybody has a different purpose, that's why we're all different."

That seemed to satisfy him for the time being. "Like, my purpose is to be ready for school on time."

"Well, that's one purpose," I agreed, not wanting to discourage any positive values he'd developed, "but perhaps there's also a higher purpose."

"Like what?" he asked, kicking off his shoes as we entered the house.

I didn't really have an answer that would appeal o a 4 1/2 year old, so I just offered him what I had on hand: "Well, I guess my higher purpose is to understand myself better."

"Oh," he said. "I'm gonna go play now."

We've got the kids for half the week, which means three full days on the weekend to recover. It's not that being with them is so difficult or traumatizing, I actually enjoy it and learn a lot. It's just that it's nearly impossible to do anything else. Just as Rowan is getting better at playing by himself, Sage is learning to crawl. Interruptions are interrupted; anything that can't be done in five minute increments doesn't get done at all. I can usually manage to keep the dishes under control, and Karen somehow keeps the laundry flowing, but we're lucky if we do one non-urgent task in a day. Yet each evening brings with it exhaustion. And a sense of accomplishment at making it to bedtime with no catastrophes.

Being fairly goal-oriented in nature, I've suffered a lot of frustration looking at my to-do list at the end of a day with nothing checked off. I'm learning to see the time in a more process-oriented way, recognizing that time spent focused on the needs of others is just as important, if not moreso, as checking things off a list. But if it weren't for those three days in between, I sometimes wonder whether I'd be up for the challenge. I'm gaining so much respect for those who become parents the traditional way, and even moreso single parents.

A house full of people and stuff does bring with it complexity and disorganization. "Try to focus on what works, not on what doesn't work," Karen suggests after I go through yet another round of frustration over some imperfection in process.

I seem to be harboring some extremes in my personality behind a facade of even-tempered stability. While I've been traveling, for example, I've practiced giving up control over my environment -- reducing my sphere of control as much as possible, to include only my own consciousness. Having rolled to a stop, however, the tendrils of control begin to extend, asserting themselves over people and things to create what I perceive as a web of safety. If someone struggles against this inflexible web, my reaction has been to withdraw, to retreat back into myself where it's safe. These extreme changes make it difficult to be dynamic in planning -- rather than adapting to meet unforseen needs, I've found myself giving up on the plan altogether.

In addition to the obviously enormous transition of helping to raise children, there are the more subtle changes brought about by finally settling into a home. The last five years of traveling have taught me to love living out of a backpack, and now I'm rediscovering what it's like to have stuff again, not to mention a place to put it. Although I still cringe at the idea of accumulating even more stuff than I already have, I have to admit it's kind of fun to have more than three shirts in my rotation, and to be able to listen to my music again. The biggest joy has been the feeling of creation -- that the small changes I make in myself and the environment will grow to benefit me and everyone around me. Just as traveling has helped to instill the idea of living in the present moment, settling down is helping teach that the present moment creates the future.

There's so much change happening around here, there must be a name in there somewhere. How about "Transition Pad"? Hmm, sounds too much like a half-way house. Perhaps something more subtle, like "House of the Only Constant." Which is change, of course; I guess that's more obscure than subtle. Back to the drawing board.

It does seem clear that these transitions are not just arbitrary changes that are happening, but growth -- transformation, if you will. Each of us -- Sue, Karen, and I -- have chosen consciously to make some changes; chosen to take responsibility for how we create our futures.

The idea of transformation is a nice one, perhaps something like "Butterfly Shanty," or "Alchemy Lodge." If those sound too flowery or pretentious, maybe we need something more humble, but still evocative of the idea of a place of change; "Cocoon" isn't really the right image, but "Larva Log" is kind of catchy, don't you think?

I suppose we could learn from Rowan's example when I start getting too abstract. "I'm gonna go play now."