2020: The Year of Vision

I started wearing glasses in kindergarten when I couldn’t see the blackboard. My vision worsened so much that by the time I wanted contacts in middle school, they didn’t yet make a soft contact prescription strong enough for my eyes. I wore gas permeable, or “hard” contacts, which were uncomfortable but at least helped my eye keep its shape to prevent further deterioration. I was incredibly lucky that my grandfather, Lloyd Guerin, was an optometrist. He made sure I could see.

But Grandaddy wasn’t the only one who valued vision. We’d often stop in to see my uncle David at his frame shop, “Omni Optical.” He’d dip our glasses in his heated box of sand and adjust them. Then he’d polish the lenses with a special cloth and hand them back. I’d slip on the warm, clean glasses and open my eyes to a much clearer world.

Uncle David’s phone number was 327-2020, a clever reference to 20/20 vision. So why not apply that to this year? There will never be another 2020, after all. 2019 for me felt like the year of arrival: We moved from our transient on-campus apartment to a small three-bedroom in a quiet neighborhood; we sold our Conway home, an emotional and financial drain; and I started my second year at the new job. Oh, yeah, and I survived another year of parenting a toddler, and am now getting enough sleep to feel inspired.

So what does a vision for 2020 look like? To be inspired, I’m looking to other visionaries. I have a hefty reading list and a smaller list of places to see, including Fayetteville’s Crystal Bridges art museum. And I’ve set creative goals, both for current projects and new ones outside my comfort zone.

Books 2019

To make all this possible, I’d like more yutori, or life space (thanks to Naomi Shihab Nye, for mentioning that in Voices in the Air). Yutori means breathing room for spiritual nourishment and personal connection, for manuerverability when, inevitably, challenges arise . . . and an openness and flexibility so that one bump doesn’t throw you off course.

May 2020 bring us all greater vision and insight!

Trimming the Tree. . . and Our Book Collection

Last year, after a rodent family bunked up inside the Christmas tree storage bin, our tree rained turds when I opened up the branches. The artificial tree, at nearly 25 years old, had lived a good life, even though the stand had been broken for years and we had to stabilize the tree using a trash can full of rocks.

We had thought we’d be living in the cabin this Christmas, so we didn’t worry about catching any post-Christmas sales on trees. A strand of solar powered lights sounded like a fun and surprisingly affordable way to “spruce” up a thorny Bradford pear in the absence of a good old fir tree.

But as we are still in our old, drafty, much-loved house, and since we needed to purge some books, we decided on a book tree. I didn’t construct it alone–a good friend with experience and a knack for balancing books is why it’s still standing on our unlevel floor.
It was harder but more fun than anticipated, and other than the nice leather-bound books and the Jane Austen tree topper, it’s made up of books we are getting rid of. Some of the books are duplicates, some we had read but did not intend to again, and others are only a library or a click away should we regret our parting. It’s only about 300 or so of the roughly 1800, but it was a serious start.
Last year I culled our Christmas decor, and this year less is more. We kicked off our holiday movie list with Charlie Brown, a reminder that it’s not outward appearances or commercialism that make meaning. We felt it was a fitting first movie for our little Ariel.

A Few of My Favorite Things…for the Tiny Cabin

I’m the kid that collected scores of stuffed animals and named each one. I had a rock collection, a stamp collection, and to this day I have my threadbare Blanky. I still regret my decision in 3rd grade to sell my Care Bear collection in a garage sale. As I grew up, I continued to surround myself with things that were special to me, whether a postcard, a painting, or a pressed flower.

My astrological sign is Cancer—the crab with pinchers. I like my shell and, by extension, my home—it’s a reflection of who I am and the things I value. I need that space to be a place of rejuvenation or else the pinchers come out.

My senior year of high school, our house caught on fire. I didn’t lose my possessions, but the experience made me ask what was really important. Had we lost everything, what would I have wanted to save? Aside from the obvious answer, my family, there weren’t very many things that made that list—a Swedish plate my grandmother gave me for a watercolor palette, my grandma’s handwritten book of poems, my mother’s quilt.

I’ve spent a lot of energy over the years sifting through my possessions and paring them down. It’s hard to choose what isn’t making the cut; it’s much easier to decide what is.

In a tiny cabin, there will only be room for the essentials and a few of my favorite things. Here’s what is on that list:

My grandmother’s oil painting on barn wood of two bluebirds.

Oil Painting of Bluebirds - Jackie Guerin

A wooden cup from my dad.

Wooden Cup with Colored Pencils

The antique jewelry box from my mother.

Antique Jewelry Box

My grandma’s glass blown “Bluebird of Happiness” by Arkansas artist Leo Ward.

Bluebird of Happiness - Leo Ward

Against these things, the rest fades quietly in the background.

The Grasshopper and the Ants

As a child, I watched Disney’s Silly Symphony (1934) based on Aesop’s fable and learned that the ants had it right: be prepared so that you don’t find yourself hungry and cold when winter comes. In other words, be industrious in anticipation of impending doom. The grasshopper was lazy, I was told, and only cared about himself. The ants mercifully took him in, but the Queen declared he must play his fiddle to earn his keep, a deal the grasshopper gladly accepted.

Being a productive member of society should mean contributing something. Often, however, being “productive” is translated as earning money rather than finding a vocation. Earning and spending money is the best way to contribute—keep the movement going, the motor running. Never mind the beauty passing along the way.

But for me, the greatest commodity is not money, but time.

Earning money is only “worth my time” insofar as it pays my bills and keeps me from defaulting on my debt. Because I value my time, earning money for the sake of having money to spend doesn’t feel like a good trade. I would rather not spend money in exchange for more time.

People who know me well see that I struggle with balancing the industrious ant and the creative grasshopper. Can one be both? Is the grasshopper’s laid-back attitude the very material from which his music is made? Were he more industrious, would the music be as sweet?

Sure, the ants took in the grasshopper and fed him with food they had worked hard to gather, but when it was snowy and too cold to go outside, when it was impossible to leave and gather and be industrious, who do you think was entertaining the ants with his fiddle? The grasshopper provided a valuable service—something that could enrich the ants’ lives.

I suspect that the fable presents two extremes. One group suffers a spiritual hunger, the other a physical. It takes both groups to satisfy the needs of the whole.

I’ve never been afraid of hard work, but I am drawn to something simpler. Life in a tiny cabin will mean less expense and less debt. With less house to maintain and less pressure to earn earn earn, I’ll have more time—more time to notice, more energy to love, more space to write.

Less is More

Yellowing grass and scorched leaves signal the approach of another school year. Something in the air has changed, and though we’re barely into our hottest month, summer slumps toward autumn. This summer was one of rain followed closely by heat. I knew that if the cabin weren’t built by June, it would have to wait.

Chuck will soon resume his two-hour commute, and we’ll hope for a mild Labor Day weekend to erect our tiny cabin. At the moment, the heat doesn’t matter much anyway: he’s got syllabi to construct and a couple articles to finish. His middle child will be off to college in two weeks, and there are plenty of last-minute preparations. The youngest has started daily band practice twice a day, and the eldest will be giving birth in early October.* It’s a season of change for our family, one only navigable with pause.

To a certain extent, we’ve hardly paused. The first steps toward a tiny cabin involve getting our current house in order. We’ve gone through boxes of computer cables, outdated paperwork, and old clothes. The laundry room is currently at a level of cleanliness that makes even my mother proud, and I’ve set up a cozy (albeit cluttered) home office.

It’s been sunup to sundown work, yet I’ve had more time to read for pleasure (Greg Brownderville’s Gust), crochet baby blankets, and, yes, play some old school Dr. Mario.

Baby blanket

*Since writing this post, my step-daughter has had her baby–two months early! Though Alexander is only 3 pounds 15 oz., he’s doing well.

Letting Go as an Act of Faith

Let me be clear: I have a LOT of stuff. I keep things because I think I’ll need them at some point. Or better yet, I tell myself that the Styrofoam container or rubber band from the broccoli will one day be upcycled for some creative purpose.

I can be a hoarder sometimes.

Except that I’ve been living in Gainesville with only a carload of possessions. Now, three years later, I’m back with the stuff I mainly didn’t miss while away. I missed people (and cats), not things.

I still like my stuff. It’s a huge, fleecy blanket I feel safe in.

I was never a Girl Scout, but I wholly subscribed to the motto of being prepared for everything all the time. That is, until I realized a dark motive—the need to be in control.

I wanted to believe that with enough planning, I could prevent disaster. I could hide in preparedness, in distractions—anything to avoid shining a light on that underlying fear. I was terrified of the buzz of busy-ness dying down, of having the security blanket yanked away.

Letting go of things has become, for me, an exercise in acknowledging that I have enough—more than enough. That things will be all right. Or that if something terrible happens, there was nothing I could have done anyway.

That there is only love, and this moment.

Why a Tiny Home?

Life is too short for housework. Living in a 2400 sq. ft. home with three step-children and three cats, I used to spend at least ten hours a week on housework alone. That was on top of the 40+ hour grind. While earning my M.A. in English and then working as a college instructor, I did a lot of work from home, frequently feeling the tension between a dirty kitchen and a stack of student essays.

I experienced seasonal depression. If the weather outside was nice and I was indoors all day except the length of time it took me to walk to my car, I felt an overwhelming despair. I didn’t recognize the cause for a long time.  But my family can verify: I was irritable and angry.

I reset myself every spring with a week in a tent on Petit Jean Mountain. In 2008, a two-week camping trip to the Southwest—meeting with Hopi and Navajo artists and storytellers—was healing and spiritually orienting.

Now I wonder, “Why immerse myself in nature only one week a year?” The decision to build a tiny house in the woods did not happen overnight, but now I see that I have been evolving toward this lifestyle for a decade. At first it was scary to revise my ideas of success and safety. Then I felt freedom.

Ten more hours a week will be much better spent tending a garden, sitting on the porch, or going fishing. Maybe the next ten years won’t fly by as fast as the last ten did.