Artificial Angst

Artificial Angst

For the last six and a half years, my spouse and I have been dreaming up a home.

When we started, he wasn’t my spouse. We weren’t even engaged. Also it wasn’t a home; it was a library.

ARTIFICIAL. "Craftmanship, art, craftiness" (Latin, artifex; from ars "skill" + facere "do, make").
ANGST. "Anxiety, remorse" (German, angst); "anger" (Old High German, angust).

Images: a globe, a spiral staircase. The scent of leather binding and old pages. A hearth. Deep chairs and high, stained-glass windows. A secret turning bookcase. While I wouldn’t say the idea of a library is what brought us together, I can say it’s about as old as our relationship, and once we decided to get married, it morphed into a house.

Typically, when you talk “dream house,” you’re talking conventional building: stick frame, sheet rock. But the conventional model isn’t our cup of tea, and we're pretty passionate about tea.

For one thing, the conventional houses of our age are kind of soulless. Anyway, I’ve always been compelled by smaller spaces. Newlyweds in our first apartment, we slept in the walk-in closet because to me, it felt like a lair. This childhood instinct for coziness and secrecy has never gone away, and aside from the closets, I see nothing in the conventional house that speaks to it.

Then, what about the squirrels? In the book Root Cellaring, Mike and Nancy Bubel open with these words from Jerry Minnich:

Our children ... should enter adulthood with a basic knowledge of how to store food over winter without the cooperation of a nuclear power plant a hundred miles away. Every animal in the forest is taught this skill; we owe our children no less.

I say the same about home-building. Every other animal in the world is reared with some knowledge of what to do for shelter, each according to its needs. And each knows how to do it for themselves.

That's not true of most of us. In the woods tonight, would you know how to sleep warm? But let’s not be unfair: wilderness isn't our primary environment. Any animal would struggle to survive if you randomly switched out its surroundings. Let’s choose a more likely starting place, then. In a subdivision, next summer, would you be able to manifest a house? The majority of us, even if tools were provided, would lack the engineering experience, strength, skills or design background to create shelter anything like the one we’re currently living in.

Think about that. Shelter is one of the basics, yet most of us would not be able to make a livable home of our own. Another thing that sets humans apart from, say, beavers.


So, who cares? Well. Even if it doesn’t seem absurd or chilling to anyone else, I feel uncomfortable about this. Creating shelter is a basic human heritage, right up there with feeding yourself through the winter. It belongs to us, or it should.

So, my hypothesis: it must be possible to build my house, my shelter, for myself, in a reasonable manner, at a reasonable cost. Shouldn't that be possible? For any other species, it's not even close to a radical statement.

But if it’s not possible—if the home we’ve dreamt up can’t be accomplished by people like us without a lot of artificial props and the expertise of specialists and engineers—then maybe what we’ve embraced as normal is really quite bizarre.

Maybe we should let it go.

Maybe there's something else that would make more sense.

2 Comments on “Artificial Angst

  1. For anyone in our generation, it seems the most likely scenario is to find a parcel of land with a structure already built on it (although it is also possible to find an unbuilt parcel). And, the most likely scenario is the one we found ourselves in! I absolutely loved the land, and not the house. Do we tear it down? Start from scratch with something we have built? No way! It’s just not realistic or possible for us. So, we started from the ground up. We are currently tilling out some spreading bamboo, cutting out the blackberries that are overgrown from the horse pasture across the way, tearing out the black plastic covering the ground around the landscaping (oy vey!), nurturing the trees as best we know how, planting a (small) garden, and completely ripping out all of the flooring and doing some much needed subfloor repair (which is taking most of our time). Next, we’ll move on to walls – in some case moving the walls, in some cases tearing them down (we hope!). In 10 years, we will not have a house we personally built – we will have a farm hand’s house with a lot of really sweet history (which we are learning from the neighbors), which has been completely redone (that is the dream), by us. We won’t be able to say we built it, but we will have our touch on everything – from the floors to the ceiling. For me, not knowing how to do any of this work, I’ll have the knowledge of how to install flooring, demo the kitchen, properly trim trees, and install attic insulation. It’s as close to knowing how to build a house as I’ll probably ever get, but it’ll be remarkably more knowledge than I ever started with. I suppose my point here is to say you can, in a way, rebuild a house that is already built.

    I will say it is hard. Much, much more hard than most people think. But, my most often quoted advice lately is “Don’t know how to start? Just start. Start where you are.”

  2. OK, one more time;
    Don’t give up on your dreams.
    Look what you have accomplished within the time since you and Boots married.
    One thing that keeps me and dad continuing with our dream is much prayer, and constantly asking for wisdom and provision.
    Too, while it seems and is late in life for us to be building, it is coming to pass; and we continue to ask for God’s direction.
    Seek the heart of our Eternal Father; commit it to him; and’s all about trust