The curse of the ninth

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This shore will always hold a mystery

Lately, I’ve vacated my house, la Chouette to do maintenance work on a family cabin. Since my dad passed away, it hasn’t been much in use. My mom doesn’t drive and I have no siblings and obviously I’m not going live in a fixed place, so we’re going to sell it. I have a lot of happy memories from this place, so I’ll hate to see it go, but I can’t keep something just for the sake of keeping it.

When I was little, this is where we’d go to get away from everything. There’s no electricity, there are kerosene lamps, an old cast iron stove, an outdoor toilet and if you want fresh meat for dinner, you’ll have to go fish (you could also try hunting in the woods, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The terrain is not for people). When building my own dream home, I leaned heavily on my experiences from summers here, such as how to make water last, what I need and what’s only distractions.

It’s also a special place because my dad built it himself, and there are numerous caring details and features that gives the cabin soul and heart.

However, in the last years before his death, and as his heart condition grew worse (that’s not what killed him, ironically), my dad also fell ill with the same madness that seems to spread everywhere. The madness of expansion over maintenance. Now, starting something new is always more fun than finishing something. And especially to a creative person. But at some point, the constant starting of new things becomes pathological.

Since I was there last, two new sun deck have been built around the cabin, one more apparently planned and a boat house large enough to live in has taken the place of the quay. There is also an incomprehensible doorway in the middle of the path to the cabin that I can’t for the life of me figure what was going to do. At the same time, the woodwork in the existing structure is, while not beyond hope, clearly bearing signs of neglect, and there is a water damage in one of the bedrooms. Still pretty easy to fix, but it’s been there for some time. Little things that needed to be done regularly has clearly been set aside in favor of new and completely unnecessary projects. Also, the cabin itself has been filled with various items that probably seemed useful in the store, but has no place or use at all in the daily life in the woods by the sea. It was a well-equipped cabin with integrity, and didn’t need to be filled with cheap junk.

And it seems everyone is building pointless things and filling every available space with junk.

Right now, there is a massive building of wind turbines in Norway. I saw them mar the landscape in Denmark and Germany, and now they’re filling the coast and mountains here. Whole islands are being covered in turbines up to 150m height, killing birds and insects and making the area uninhabitable for anyone, human or other animal. Most of these turbines are built to cater to the European marked and to the lie of cheap and sustainable energy. The lie of the plenty is destroying the planet we live on.

It’s not just the turbines. Mining, logging, road construction and the very last drop of oil, all destructive and disruptive human activity is madly speeding up, while at the same time it’s more and more obvious that the kind of world that these roads and skyscrapers and cities are made for is not going to happen. The brave new plastic sci-fi world of the post ww2 era was a terrible idea and now it’s dying. Globalism is failing, all the larger states are failing, and let’s face it, humanity is failing.

It might be, at some level, that this is the same phenomenon at play. That, in addition to the usual greed and stupidity that plague the species, humans in the ‘civilized’ world might also be experiencing the same madness that came over my dad before he died. His health was deteriorating, he must have known his time was running out. And I do think most humans also know at some level that the world as we know it is dying too. Yet I think people have a belief that if you start something, death will patiently wait and let you finish it. A belief that unfinished business will keep you linked to the world for longer, but to finish something, is to die.

As an artist, I experience this too. The fear of the finished piece, the curse of the ninth. It’s always there at the back of the brain. And of course, my own house won’t ever be finished. But it does have the advantage of obvious limitations, if I want to add a new thing, something else has to go, and I have to finish what I start. The need for change and hunger for expansion is probably present in all things,  but as I said, at some point it becomes pathological. Life might be expansion, but at some point the growth becomes cancerous (it was cancer that got my dad in the end, by the way).

But death doesn’t wait any more than life does. And you can’t cheat death, because it’s not playing a game. Even if our culture is littered with stories about how cheating death is a good and brave thing, it isn’t. Perhaps the time has come now for humanity to finish their symphony and care for what they have while they can.

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.

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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.