How to be vulnerable, part 1

Nearly relevant, but quite pretty image of my house in its current position.

Today I spent the whole day sanding down, washing and waxing my kitchen. 

After nearly a year of living and moving, the floor boards are stained, the racks for the pots are knocked out of whack, and there’s a general air of ingrown dinners over the kitchen area.

And as I’m sanding down the pine, first with a coarse grade, then a finer, I come to thinking that while there are plenty of tools and advice around on how to seal things off and close a structure, it’s surprisingly difficult to find tools and ways to keep and maintain an open structure, or, to maintain your vulnerability while not being permanently wounded.

My house is a vulnerable structure. It’s pretty open to the elements in its construction and the materials are not impregnated or heavily treated. This is a conscious choice, to live with something living instead of building a tomb. As I said before, I’m deeply uncomfortable in most modern houses for the reason that they feel like something meant to die in rather than something built for living things. 

But a living thing needs care, it needs upkeep, and to find the balance of closing and opening is the hardest thing any living organism will face. Too open, and you’ll rot or be eaten alive, to closed and you’ll suffocate or starve.

I recall how, back when I was building, I went to get a piece of marine plywood for what was going to be the first attempt on a hatch to access my roof terrace. I went to the store, found the piece I wanted, checked the specifics, and then I asked the sales attendant if the material could handle the rain, meaning that it would not rot when wet in a hurry., as some materials do. He then regarded me with an expression as if I had made a lewd suggestion involving the two of us and a diseased aardvark. When he regained his composure, he carefully explained how I needed to buy a special kind of lacquer and a thinner, sand down the wood, lacquer it with a quite thinned mixture, wait for about two days, repeat, and repeat again at least five times with thicker mixtures of lacquer and thinner. I took a look at what the lacquer and thinner contained, panicked, thanked him for his time and left. 

There are oils, tar solutions, techniques and mixtures you can use to keep wood longer while not building a bio hazard. But a lot of this knowledge is lost and what is left is heavily guarded and not easily accessible to the common crowd or amateur builder, such as me. And most of the building industry is based on the idea that everything has to last forever, or you’ve failed. 

Of course I spin this thought further as dinner dust is clogging up my throat and dulling down my clothes. And I think about how we’re taught to do this with our bodies and our minds, making them rain proof, death proof, indestructible and by this, becoming already dead and a walking bio hazard, as most houses are. 

And we have very few tools to really maintain our minds and bodies. A lot to close them off and fixing them, few on how to care for on a daily, living basis as something living and interacting. This idea I will explore in part two, coming up.

The place of dead roads

It seemed more fun when Burroughs wrote about it.

I said that I would return to matters of life and death, and now I am. I have reached the place of dead roads. The map, inner or outer, no longer works.  I’m still hovering on the outskirts of the London cancer, wondering how to cross.

Not only are the roads physically broken by potholes and cracked concrete, blocked by constant accidents and aimless digging, but the very network of roads in this place is broken, or never worked. It is increasingly clear that the roads here were all forced upon the land and the land and rivers and lines themselves tampered with to fit human needs.

Also, the inner map and navigation system is out of function. The goals and destinations I had in mind either don’t exist or has ceased to carry meaning. The reason for this is to be found in stories.

The more I travel, and the more I move to the outskirts of mind, body and civilization, there are two narratives, two mental threads, or roads, that emerge.

One is the story of the individual immortality. Unlike Burroughs, I can’t accept the way gods and the soul is presented to us. In all the stories we know, the individual has a body that perishes and a soul that is, or has the capacity to move on to, something everlasting. Often there are gods involved. Either to hinder the process, to further it, or as something to merge with at the end of the journey.

In some narratives, the body, or a representation of it, follows the soul, recreating an image of the person. In some, the soul is moved on to another being, but usually as a whole, self-contained set of memories and ideas.

What is however becoming increasingly clear in the world, is that in the attempt to reach longevity or individual immortality, humans have ruined their hope to survive, in any form. They have eaten up the earth and taken away the matter of their bodies, removed it from the cycle to be re-used. They have killed almost all other beings to make room for their offspring, their self-images. In their ideas of gods, human shaped or abstracted, they have removed themselves from the cycle of life and death.

There are, of course, images, ideas and stories about the circle, but always tainted with the implication that the human spirit is different, better in a way.  And while people can read and understand words about becoming one with nature, we have no real stories for it, and therefor we can’t understand what it means. The closest I can think of are Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and they don’t really cover it.

Also, those that denounce the spirit, do so in everything, because to them, if humans can’t have a soul, nothing can.

I like living as much as the next squirrel, eel or badger, I enjoy having a body.  I’m rather attached to it. But the body is made of matter, of cells. They come from something, from somewhere. From what you eat and drink and breathe. All human practice surrounding life and death has been an attempt of closing these cells off, hindering them to go back to the earth. To encapsulate them in stone, to freeze them in space and time, to burn them before the fungi and earthworm get to take back what we have borrowed. Because we do borrow all our matter from the earth. Not from your parents or children, not other humans, not some god. From nature. From everything that we construct ourselves of.

We are told that the pyramids are great achievements, that human immortality is a good and great goal and it isn’t. It’s a horror. It has always been and can only be a horror.

And all the things we are told to want are somehow linked up to this. Every item, every garden, everything constructed or spun as a story. Everything we think we know and think we want. The whole idea of self fulfillment, contrasted to being ruled over by gods or humans and given as the only option to this, gives rise to dreams and images that can only be sterile still life. We think of the scavenger and of rot as something vile, but it’s our only way to reach anything close to immortality. To be part of life and death once more. Your roads are broken because your stories are broken.

Human civilization holds nothing for me and the wild, the real, the world that balances itself, is temporarily ruined. And human tampering with it only makes matters worse, because it is done with the same, broken stories as guidelines.

To possibly slightly twist the meaning of the words of Poe; The play is the tragedy man and the hero the conqueror worm.

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Coming up: The need for a new apocalypse.


What’s in a name?

I’m not naming my wagon La Chouette, or little owl, just because I like owls. Or because of the snasne doorhammer that I got on etsy.

Whooo? Me?

I’m not sure where to start here, so I’ll start at the end.  My dad died last autumn of a very aggressive lymphoma. It only took a few months from the first symptoms set in, and all attempts of treatment were useless. He died at home, surrounded by family. I keep repeating that to myself whenever the tragedy of it all starts looming.

His family name was Uglehus, which in Norwegian literary means owl house. Thus the name of the wagon.  My full name is Tone Uglehus Wasbak-Melbye. Wasbak is my moms’ maiden name, and at some point, my dad took his moms’ name, Melbye. I’m not really sure why. I was little and my family has never been talkative.  Well, not about important things. Anyway, he was a carpenter. He worked most of his career as a music teacher, but he was trained a carpenter. So while I don’t have any kind of building experience myself, I did grow up with the building of a cabin and the house my parents lived in. And endless projects planned, half-started and dreamed of.

I mean, endless. The house, where my mom now lives, was and is full of materials, bits and pieces, treasures my dad gathered in stores, on sales, in bins, at the sea side after a flood. He was, like me, the creative sort. Half the time he was not really where his body was. Of course, quite a lot of projects were finished, or practically finished. But for every finished project, there were ten castles in the air.

So, my dad died. And left a house full of dreams. And so I thought I’d build a new house partly out of those unfinished ideas and lost treasures, partly out of things new and only my own. Halfway between the old and the new world, between the former generation and whatever I am. Between the practical and the impossible. Part legacy, part something different. And part mystery, because I’m not telling why the name is in French and you’ll never guess.

The wanderlust bit is mostly mine, having the house on wheels, keeping on the road as much as possible, no destination in mind. Although my dad did love driving, far and often, and was probably a lot more fond of travel than he let himself be. Perhaps, like me, he didn’t really like traveling, just wanted to keep on the road. There is a great distinction there which took me years to find out and which I’ll get back to inlater posts.

My house then, is made from materials I have bought and chosen for mostly aesthetical reasons, and things I found in and around my parents house. There is also somewhere in this an echo of a lost world that perhaps never was, a world from my childhood that I never got to claim as my own before it was driven away by the light of modernity. A world of warm shadows, of quiet evenings and the sound of rain, a world as dark and fuzzy as a charcoal drawing. I would like to call back some of this. Not to look to the past, but because the future we are presented with was dated over a hundred years ago anyway and we need to decide on a new one.

And I know I’ll probably fly too close to the sun with this project, as one does with the mad dreams of the former generation. But I do hope that the old owl gets to fly at least just a little bit. Also, unlike Icarus, I’ll be carrying a tool kit to make repairs on the way.