Monday, February 28, 2011

January 2011, Notions of Identity Shift

The beginning of 2011 met me with a bombardment of costly obstacles. In mid-January I planned a trip to Maine and was getting ready for it when a final hurdle threw me on my face and required that I delay my trip indefinitely. As I was pulling out a parking space one Friday evening after work, the rusty front suspension of my little Toyota pickup gave way. One of the control arms separated from the chassis and left the truck only three wheels the stand upon. The front end sunk to one side and the wheel splayed itself out sideways. It was grotesque, like a dog trying to stand on a fractured front paw. I managed to get it back into a parking space on the Cabral pier in Provincetown and set a jack under the frame so that it would sit level. It would be an incredible pain in the ass to fix but a bigger problem began to reveal itself as I probed around with a flashlight at the rest of the suspension and steering components. The undercarriage was a mass of rust. More of the same kind of problem would plague me from here on out if I chose to hold onto the little truck. It was not safe to drive anymore. I had been lucky that it broke when and where it did. Had it happened two days later while flying down the freeway on my trip to Maine I may have been killed.
Such a shame. I had grown fond of the scrappy little Toyota but I would need a new truck before I could resume my work on the house sculpture.
I have always had strong emotional connections to cars. I felt a sense of tragic loss in relation to my little Toyota pickup. The damage was too extensive for me to fix myself with my meager set of tools and lack of any sort of garage space in which to work. I would also need welding equipment for a job this extensive.
For now, I would just replace the broken control arm where it sat on the pier. I've done this sort of work on other vehicles before and it is usually an easy job in itself, but this time it was extremely difficult. All of the bolts were frozen with rust. During the time between it's breaking down and my beginning to take it apart, there had been a heavy snow and the plows had pushed all the snow from that section of the lot against my truck. I had to dig out an opening just to get started. Working outside in the snow and icy wind of the pier was not so pleasant, but with patience, perseverance and long underwear I finally removed the old control arm (in two pieces) from the chassis. The replacement part was still on it's way from California so I couldn't put it all back together right away. Even once I did, I could not drive it safely.
My only real option here was to trade it in on something newer. Over this option I ruminated with conflict and prejudice over the market of used pickup trucks. I wanted an older truck but in this part of the country that would mean simply replacing one rust bucket with another. I hated the idea of driving around in a late model vehicle and wondered how I would even afford such a thing.
Reality persisted, however and I could only borrow Sarah's Saturn for so long. On one of our mutual days off we took a drive into Hyannis to look at what was available. We soon came across a 2003 Toyota Tundra with low mileage and little rust. It drove like a dream. All in all it was like a brand new vehicle and I could just barely afford to buy it by financing a chunk of it. We looked around at some other dealers but could not find an equivalent. For some reason I was hoping to buy a domestic make but everything in my price range seemed like junk. In the end we went back and bought the Tundra. I could not take it home then as I still needed to fix my little truck (for trade) and was still waiting for a replacement control arm to arrive in the mail. During the period of days before I could take home the Tundra I was filled with regret and self reproach for making such a purchase. Aside from worries of it costing too much and having the gas mileage of a V-8, my greatest internal crisis concerned the hit to my identity. I'm a loner, a rebel who drives old jalopies that no one else has the courage to drive; usually beat up old cars built in the 60's or 70's. That is who I am...or rather, that is who I was... Too many external factors seemed to be conspiring to change me, and yet they are not external. I made this stuff happen. I am not anymore the loner I aspired to be. I am no longer a single guy, I am now married and must think of the "unit" before myself. Now this truck has come along (which is exactly what I need, it even has a wood rack) to continue building the house in Maine, but it is not me... even as I now drive it around I feel like I am driving someone else's vehicle. And I can't help but wonder, am I living someone else's life?

Now it may seem that I have gone off-topic. This account is supposed to be about a nitwit and his attempts to build a house sculpture. Not about some nitwit who bought a new pickup. But as the endeavor of building this house is concerned, with all of the traveling and salvage operations involved, a pickup truck as a tool is of primary importance. It is essential to this project and how I identify with that tool is just as important.
From the beginning of this undertaking my goal has been to build a house; not to have a house. My point is to experience the process as a work of art is experienced. The vastness of essential tools and duration of the project itself allows me a rare opportunity and one that to me is of highest importance in the experience of creating art. I am using this project as a sort of measuring stick against my own identity. Every piece of art that an artist creates should in some small way change him or her. There is an outlet of energy in the creation process. The artist is changed from the time he/she began the work to the time of completion. Usually, that change is practically unnoticeable. In my experience of painting a picture or making a tattoo, the time and resources expended are relatively small. I do not feel like a different person from beginning to end. Also, my usual executions of visual art are small in scale to my own physical being. Until the house sculpture I have never had the experience of being encapsulated in my own creation as I am creating it. The feeling is sublime; an unexpected stroking of my ego but beside the point. This particular piece of art has all the usual characteristics of a piece of art plus one more that many do not. It is of use. Its use is part of it's identity and therefore part of my identity as the creator. To me a house is a nest, a place in which to raise a family. A great deal of the thought involved in building this thing concerns how a small family might use it.
I am now about three years and three months on this project and I estimate the house is about one third of the way finished. I have worked steadily spending an average of about 5 days (70hrs.) each month working on or around the house. I have spent far more time than that thinking about the house. In fact, since the conception of this project I have thought about little else. Each interval between visits is a mental winding-up of thought and intention. The constant visualization of assemblage and function is shifting my brain chemistry. I am watching this thing change me.
It is mentally and physically painful to spend long periods of time away from it as I have not found a suitable outlet on which to unleash my pent up energy where I live on the Cape. When I do finally have my chance to work on the house I pour everything I have into it, working without pause sometimes 12-14 hours a day until I am too exhausted and sore to move. I always start out jubilant and full of energy but finish the last day of each trip lonely and depressed. Upon arriving back at my home on the Cape I am weary but happy to be greeted by my wife and a hot shower. The next day, however I always awake with a feeling of regret, like I could have squeezed in one last day of work and I long to go back. I feel mentally pushed around in all directions by this project of my own creation. It owns me. In the process of building the house to accommadate it's purpose, I am personally changing to fulfill the role of accommodation; or in other words I am becoming what the house needs for it to live up to its purpose.
My identity has shifted from that of a single, self sufficient guy (with no aspirations to be anything else) to that of "Husband"; which is cool. I like being a husband, but from there my personage has recently taken another promotion to that of "expectant father". How cool is that?
This latest news is at present too big for me to fully comprehend. It's good that I have several months to prepare. I just know that more excitement and change is on the way. My identity as I have known it, is shifting such that I am not even so much "me" anymore as a unit of me, her and "it": a family. I am becoming just what the house sculpture needs before it can be complete... for it to live and be part of the family. So what begat what?
I expect that being a supportive father will require much of my resources and is sure to bring many surprises. Among other things I wonder, how will I find the time and money to continue construction? I don't know. But it must continue. It is of absolute importance to bring this around full circle by finishing construction and living in it, thereby bringing the house to full completion; the very dream that hatched this new reality!