A Week in the Life

I wake up in a lower bunk. I’m in the Wanderlust Hostel in Gunnison. It’s a homey spot, a converted house in a residential neighborhood. Good kitchen for cooking in, fireplace in the living room, big dining room table, lots of funky decor and colors everywhere. The sheets on my bunk might be floral, or Star Wars themed, or have zebras on it. There are curtains strung across 2 of the 3 open sides of my bunk, and I’m comforted by the modicum of privacy they provide. Why am I not in the house where I live with my sweetie? Where we have a comfy queen sized bed with plaid flannel sheets, and the 4 walls of the bedroom give us all the privacy we want? Because I’ve taken a carpentry job you see, 3 hours away from that cozy bedroom. So during the week I’m here, in this pleasant hostel, and from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon I’m back in Paonia, living my former life. It’s a strange limbo/purgatory.

I take my clothes to the bathroom to get dressed, so that I’m not inadvertently presenting my naked body to the other women in the dorm. There’s Beth, the 18 year old who’s from Southern California and is here in Gunnison for a month to experience snow and escape her overbearing mother. She’s taking online community college classes while she’s here, and ends up getting a job scanning tickets at the ski resort in Crested Butte, the town where I work. The other bunk might be empty, or it might have a Canadian software engineer who’s about to quit her job because her American bosses micromanage her and she’s had enough; it might be Lisa, the Filipina woman who lives an hour and a half away in Lake City but comes to Gunnison whenever there’s a substitute teacher needed, pre-K to 12th grade. She says she has to take what work she can get in the winter, there’s nothing available in Lake City until the tourist season kicks in once the weather warms up. Or it might be someone who’s gone to bed before I even met them. When I was 20 I traveled around Europe after finishing a semester abroad. The trip included a stop in Athens, where I arrived quite late to the hostel I had booked. The room was big, the top bunk was very high off the floor, the sheets were stiff and scratchy, and the mosquitos were insatiable. I remember being fairly terrified, sleeping in a room with total strangers. But at 34, in Colorado, I hardly gave it a second thought.

Fully dressed in my wool base layers, work pants, fleece jacket, wool gaiter, and fleece cap, I head outside to warm up my truck. Google says it’s 0 degrees outside. I walk across the front lawn, past the trio of “town deer” who are looking at me from under the pine tree. I turn on the truck, put the heat and defroster to high. My windshield is coated in stubborn frost that, combined with direct sunlight, will obscure my vision of the road for the few blocks before I hit the highway. I scamper back in the house to grab pancakes from a container labelled “G” in the big shared fridge. I pack my lunch as the faucet fills up the gallon jug I drink out of all day long. Laden with purse, jug, and lunchbag, I head out for the day.

I eat my cold breakfast as I drive the 45 minutes to work (later, I evolve to microwaving oatmeal). I don’t like commuting, and want that time back to do other things with, but if I *have* to commute this is the best one, I think. Not much traffic at all (although when I’m running late and there’s someone in front of me who’s dedicated to going the speed limit, I’m constantly scanning for the opportunity to pass them in a more or less safe way. Here in the West, passing someone on the highway often involves flooring it as you whiz by on the left, hurling yourself towards oncoming traffic in a sanctioned game of chicken), and beautiful scenery. I’ve seen elk, deer, foxes, and bald eagles on this drive. I slow down as I reach the town limits of Crested Butte, crawl through and pretend to be a respectful driver, then punch it on the turn out of town. I twist through the beautiful marshland of Slate River Road, then turn left where the road dead ends into snow. The jobsite is up on a ridge, and it has a beautiful view of Mount Crested Butte beyond and frozen Nicholson Lake below (Private Lake, No Swimming). In a town where fully 65% of the residences are second (or third, or fifth) homes, I’m grateful to be working on a house where someone will be living full time.

Work is work. I’ve been saying to people lately that “I’m making good money, I’m in the beautiful outdoors and not behind a desk, I’m working with nice people doing what I want to be doing, and I still don’t want to go to work!” For me least, I’ve finally recognized the “dream job” as the seductive myth that it is. Who wants to work? To have to sell their labor to survive? And at someone else’s’ direction? I have plenty of things that I want to do, most of which involve effort, but working? Forget it. That said, I am definitely thankful for this specific job, with a nice boss and coworkers I can learn a lot from.

So far, the job has basically been waitressing with lots of heavy lifting and ladders. I have been doing a bunch of measuring and cutting, as well, and learning things along the way. It turns out, carpentry is very repetitive. Looking at the patterns of squared off lumber and engineered wood that combine to make the frame of this house, I’m struck by man’s folly. Taking unique and circular trees, processing them down into regular predictable squares, and using lots of little squares to make bigger and bigger squares that they then live in, saying “I will dominate nature! I have created order out of the chaos of the universe! I know where I’ll be and what’s going to happen there!” Foolishness. 

I put in my 8 hours (with a paid lunch – see “nice boss” above), then get back in the truck (where I’ve eaten 2 of my 3 meals of the day) to drive the 45 minutes back to the hostel. I’m likely sore, coated in sawdust, and worn out. There’s definitely an adjustment period to doing this physical labor every day, and at 9,000 feet no less. If it’s a regular weekday, I might sit silence in the truck awhile before heading into the house – I’ve become easily overwhelmed with noise, I think due to being around the ever-present buzz of power tools. I long for private space, but “settle” for cozy common areas with friendly guests. Maybe I have to wait to make dinner because someone got to the stove before me. Maybe I chat with people at the dinner table – there have been a couple of parents visiting their college-aged children, some guys getting their Wilderness First Responder certification, a former restauranteur turned day trader who explains the ins and outs of puts and calls. It’s a great way to make easy money he says, if you have money to start with (he had a $150,000 inheritance). Well, what isn’t easier when you have a bunch of money to start with? I think but don’t say.

If it’s a Tuesday, my sweetie comes to visit. We splurge on a private room to be able to reduce the cuddle deficit we’re running up, being away from each other most of the week. On weekends when I’m back in Paonia I’m often tired and grumpy – add in the stress of an impending move into an as-yet-unsecured apartment, and it’s difficult to have any carefree togetherness time. We’re generally able to pretend to be living a normal life on Tuesday nights, it’s a blessed respite. Moving into the private room for a night and then back into the dorms for two nights adds some extra work for me: I have to move all of my belongings to a corner of the living room before work, so I don’t infringe upon whoever might be taking my place in the bunk that night. Then I do it all in reverse on Wednesday.

If it’s a Friday, I take my pile of belongings from the living room (before work if I’m on top of it, more likely after work) and pack them into the back of them truck, including all my labelled food from the fridge that I’ve arranged in my insulated bag. This afternoon I’ll do the 2 hour drive back to Paonia on top of my regular workday commute. It’s a beautiful drive through the Black Canyon, but goddamn do I wish I could just relax and be someplace, be finished with all this back and forth. On Saturday I’ll wake up with my hands hurting from the week’s exertions, try to have a day off, see friends. Sunday comes too soon, and the packing up and sad goodbyes and cooking for the week in the hostel’s kitchen start all over again.

Listen to the audio version:

February 2021 Newsletter

Hello again everyone!

Life has been a whirlwind since my last update. We found out that we have to move, again, which set me off on a housing crisis/breakthrough (more details in a blog post below). The result of all of this upheaval is that I got hired for the exact job that I wanted: a carpenter’s assistant for a successful building company where the owners are nice, the pay is good, and the buildings I’ll help to create are energy efficient, non-toxic, and sometimes use natural materials! I kind of can’t believe it, but at the same time it seems like “of course! This is the natural progression towards your goal.”

Because this perfect job is 3 hours away from our current home, in the next month or so we’ll be moving from dear little Paonia to the comparative metropolis of Gunnison. Gunnison has more people and stores (and jobs), but it doesn’t have my Paonia friends or the same laid-back, close-knit, synchronistic vibe. I’ll miss it, but I’ll definitely be visiting and I’ll get to drive around amagnificentcanyon or one of the world’s largestaspen groves when I do, so at least there’s that. 

And! Please join us for the first Community Chat online event, this coming Monday 3/15 @ 8pm EST, on the topic of Art & Activism. Details below:

The (Housing) Odyssey | Recommended Reading | 1st Community Chat!  
Art vs. Creativity | Till Next Time

The (Housing) Odyssey

Since finishing college in 2008, I have moved 21 times across 4 states (including 3 cross-county moves) and 10 cities. And now we have to move again, for the 5th time in 15 months. Frankly, I’ve had enough. I got taken with the idea of buying land NOW and building NOW, so that we could have a good place to live FOREVER, even though it’s much sooner than I had planned on and I don’t have the skills or the means to do that yet. Read more

Recommended Reading

Here are all the books I’ve been diving into during my house-planning frenzy. I highly recommend them if you’re at all interested in designing a space for yourself based on your unique needs, using earth to build, learning more about alternative building options, or living and interacting more in harmony with the earth.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o’clock. Two days before the event was to take place he tacked a note on the door of his little yellow house: 

At 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday the 18th of February,
1931, I will take off from Mercy and fly away
on my own wings. Please forgive me. I loved you all.
(signed) Robert Smith, Ins. agent

      Mr. Smith didn’t draw as big a crowd as Lindbergh had four years earlier–not more than forty or fifty people showed up–because it was already eleven o’clock in the morning, on the very Wednesday he had chosen for his flight, before anybody read the note. At that time of day, during the middle of the week, word-of-mouth news just lumbered along. Children were in school; men were at work; and most of the women were fastening their corsets and getting ready to go see what tails or entrails the butcher might be giving away. Only the unemployed, the self-employed, and the very young were available–deliberately available because they’d heard about it, or accidentally available because they happened to be walking at that exact moment in the shore end of Not Doctor Street, a name the post office did not recognize. Town maps registered the street as Mains Avenue, but the only colored doctor in the city had lived and died on that street, and when he moved there in 1896 his patients took to calling the street, which none of them lived in or near, Doctor Street. Later, when other Negroes moved there, and when the postal service became a popular means of transferring messages among them, envelopes from Louisiana, Virginia, Alabama, and Georgia began to arrive addressed to people at house numbers on Doctor Street. The post office workers returned these envelopes or passed them onto the Dead Letter Office. Then in 1918, when colored men were being drafted, a few gave their address at the recruitment office as Doctor Street. In that way, the name acquired a quasi-official status. But not for long. Some of the city legislators, whose concern for appropriate names and maintenance of the city’s landmarks was the principal part of their political life, saw to it that “Doctor Street” was never used in any official capacity. And since they knew that only Southside residents kept it up, they had notices posted in the stores, barbershops, and restaurants in that part of the city saying that the avenue running northerly and southerly from Shore Road fronting the lake to the junction of routes 6 and 2 leading to Pennsylvania, and also running parallel to and between Rutherford Avenue and Broadway, had always been and would always be known as Mains Avenue and not Doctor Street.
     It was a genuinely clarifying public notice because it gave Southside residents a way to keep their memories alive and please the city legislators as well. They called it Not Doctor Street, and were inclined to call the charity hospital at its northern end No Mercy Hospital since it was 1931, on that day following Mr. Smith’s leap from its cupola, before the first colored expectant mother was allowed to give birth inside its wards and not on its steps. The reason for the hospital’s generosity to that particular woman was not the fact that she was the only child of this Negro doctor, for during his entire professional life he had never been granted hospital privileges and only two of his patients were ever admitted to Mercy, both white. It must have been Mr. Smith’s leap from the roof over their heads that made them admit her. In any case, whether or not the little insurance agent’s conviction that he could fly contributed to the place of her delivery, it certainly contributed to its time.”
 – the first 3 paragraph’s of Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon”, published in 1977
and one of the many works of Black literature that you might choose to dive into during
Black History Month/any and all times. 

Community Chat: Art and Activism

Thursday February 25th @ 8 pm-9ish pm EST

on Google Meet
Luke Ohlson is a filmmaker, advocate, and educator living in Brooklyn. You can see some of his work at https://vimeo.com/7cinema

For our inaugural Community Chat, we have my dear friend and all-around great guy, Luke Ohlson. He’s a devoted organizer and activist, as well as a talented filmmaker, writer, musician, and comedian. He can also leap parking meters in a single bound.

Luke has served as a community organizer for the New York City cyclist and pedestrian advocacy group Transportation Alternatives for five years and as the Executive Director of nonprofit video and photo outfit 7Cinema for five years. He’ll be speaking about lessons learned from organizing in New York City and how these lessons inform his artistic practice, and then anyone in attendance will be able to ask him questions (aka the “Community Chat” portion). 

If you’d like to attend live, the Google Meet link is https://meet.google.com/ceq-xasy-jzw. If you’re not able to be there live but are excited to hear Luke’s pearls of wisdom, you can email me if you’d like a link to the recording or keep an eye on the website where I’ll be starting an archive of our Community Chat videos.

If *you* would like to give a Community Chat presentation, just let me know and I’ll set it up! It’s open to friends, friends of friends, and a-stranger-is-just-a-friend-you-haven’t-met-yet’s, about literally anything you’d like to present.

Art vs. Creativity

Even though “art” is in the name, Art for a New Society is specifically about helping people to connect with and develop their inherent creativity. “Why a creativity center and not an arts center?” you may ask. Here is my answer in Venn diagram form. It’s an idea that I’m still working through – my very creative drum teacher suggested adding a third circle, and making the distinction between “creativity (inspiration) vs art (product) vs practice (process)”. What say ye, creative people? Please feel free to write back with your thoughts.

Till Next Time 

I’m really excited for the day when I get to write to you and say “gee, things sure have gotten boring around here!” But alas, ’tis seemingly not to be (for now). But I will definitely let you know how the jobsite and our new life in south central Colorado are going. And if you’re so inclined, I would love to know how you’re doing, what you’re thinking about these days, or something really cool you’ve discovered recently. Do tell!

The (Housing) Odyssey

Since finishing college in 2008, I have moved 21 times across 4 states (including 3 cross-county moves) and 10 cities. Part of what I’m seeking in buying land and building a house and community center on it is stability – stability for me and Elbow and the cats, but also a definite place that artists and community members can come to again and again to explore, express, and interact.

We have to move again, for the 5th time in 15 months. Frankly, I’ve had enough. I got taken with the idea of buying land NOW and building NOW, so that we could have a good place to live FOREVER, even though it’s much sooner than I had planned on and I don’t have the skills or the means to do that yet.

But, it’s America – when you don’t have money for what you want, you just borrow it, right? Interest rates are at an all-time low! Money is practically free right now! Well. It turns out that mortgages are a lot harder to get than student loans (since 2008, anyway). And my $214,000 of student loan debt + my checkered credit history + my working multiple under the table jobs for the last year = no mortgage.

This actually all started when I thought “instead of waiting to build a tiny home on wheels, let’s just buy one so we have a place to live now.” We found one in Utah that looked beautiful, and then scrambled to find someone who would lend us $50,000 to buy it. That was a stressful Friday night, just getting rejection after rejection from lenders with an online application process, or offers with exorbitant interest rates for much less money than we needed. [It turns out, most places won’t finance a tiny home on wheels, because it isn’t considered property. The best you can hope for is an RV loan, but even then your THOW will have to be certified as an RV, which most aren’t.]

Then, in researching through my financial despair, I discovered USDA Section 502 loans – specifically for low income people, in rural areas, to buy property and/or buy/build/fix up a house. Finally! I thought. An opportunity for me, one financial institution that won’t punish me for being broke.

And yet! The couple of mortgage brokers I’ve found who will originate the type of loan that I want require things that I don’t currently have – official paystubs, for example. A 2 year part-time work history with 6 months of full-time, W-2 verifiable employment. Woof! But instead of crumbling and dodging my financial situation, as has become my norm, I decided “Ok. If this is what I need to do to get money to build my dream, then goddammit that’s what I’m going to do.” I wrote out a list of all my monthly expenses, including all the expenses that I haven’t been able to afford in the last couple of years – saving every month, paying on all of my debts, paying for health insurance, contributing to my IRA, etc. The figure I came up with is objectively not that much – $3,000 a month, which translates to about $22 an hour, 40 hours a week, minus taxes. So, I decided that working full time didn’t have to be terrible, and that I would just find myself a *good* job, one that I liked and where I was learning things that would get me closer to my goals, and one that paid me $22+ an hour.

Score 1 for list-making, visualization, and femmifesting: in 3 days I start my new job as a carpenter’s assistant for a home builder in Crested Butte, at $22/hour. It’s perfect! (Besides being 3 hours away from where I live now…but, I know it’s the correct next step on my path.) I’m excited to learn how to build homes, including the timberframe and straw-clay types, and to get that much closer to building my own dream structure. Check back for updates!

January 2021 Newsletter

Hello everyone, and Happy (?) 2021!

If you’ve been thinking “wow, I haven’t heard from Gina about Art for a New Society in a while”, you’re right! Somehow, it’s been 6 (six!) months since my first email. I’m going to attribute the delay to the pandemic, and political upheaval, and the stress of moving (I live in Colorado now!). In any case, I’m happy to be writing to you about all the wonderful things that have happened since July.

Firstly: There’s a website now! www.artforanewsociety.com. I received some feedback about the last email being overwhelmingly long, so with this one I’m including the highlights and linking to the more detail-rich posts on the website. Read through the whole thing, or click on the hyperlinks below to go directly the section of the newsletter that interests you most.

How was Yestermorrow? | You live in Colorado now?

Brief Election Thoughts | Thank You, Donors! | Zine Update | 2021 Vision

Till Next Time

Yestermorrow is the Bestermorrow

I had a rare and wonderful experience at Yestermorrow: I learned a lot, from kind and knowledgeable teachers, alongside interesting and dedicated students. The campus is surrounded and infused with Vermont’s natural beauty, and filled with thoughtful architecture. It was inspiring to be in a place that had been designed and constructed with such obvious care and creativity, and I was delighted by the incorporation of nature/natural materials, and all of the unique architectural expressions to be found on campus. Read more

If you’re interested in a day-by-day rundown, you can check out Art for a New Society’s Instagram account here (even if you don’t have an Instagram account).

Colorado Rocky Mountain High

August: I visited my friend Brian in Boulder. When I had first had the idea to go to Colorado, in February or so, I thought I would come to check out different neighborhoods in Denver, to see where we wanted to live. But by the time August came around, I knew I didn’t want to live in a city. I had just come from my Yestermorrow experience, very hype on my tiny house community center dream. Brian happened to be living with a couple who had built their own tinys in the past, and they were kind enough to tell me about the experience. I told them about my vision – buying land, building on it, creating Art for a New Society – and said, where do I go to do all this? They replied “Paonia,” and I said “Great! Where is that?” Read more

Brief Election-Related Thoughts

No one is coming to save us. Not Bernie, not AOC, not the ghost of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and certainly not Joe Biden. But! We can (and must, and will) save ourselves, by practicing care and respect for everyone, including ourselves and the people who are on the “other” side of our manufactured ideological divide. Our best hope is each other. We here at Art for a New Society will keep our focus on making obsolete the US billionaire class and the neoliberal US politicians (Democrat and Republican) who serve and protect them. 

How will we move towards our new society? We will practice collaboration, outside of imposed hierarchies and the prevailing white supremacist hetero-capito-patriarchal paradigm. We will practice decolonizing our minds. We will practice responding to people’s growth edges with compassion, and not toss them away via cancellation. We will practice listening, emotional intelligence, vulnerability. We will practice caring and loving. We will practice apologizing and forgiving. We will practice mutual aid. We will heal and strengthen our imaginations, to better invent an equitable, joyful future and a more delightful present. We will connect to each other, and to ourselves.

But most importantly: we will accomplish all of this through play, through daydreaming, through goofing off, through laughing, through sharing, through dancing, through music, through joy. I am so excited and so honored to be facilitating such a space, at the exact right time.

Thank you, Donors!

Since July, 15 people have generously donated over $1,000! Much gratitude to Alex, Brian, Dorothea, Emily, Henry, Jess, Josie, Julie, Manoj, Minky, Rosamond & Lou, Sarah, and Traci & Martin. If you haven’t yet received your hand-printed thank you card, it’s on the way to you (if you sent me your address, that is)!

If you’d also like to give the gift of energy in the form of money, you can still use Venmo (@gina-purri) or PayPal (paypal.me/artforanewsociety), but you can also use the fancy donation form on the website! Or if you’d like to contribute something a little more concrete, I have a wishlist on the website with books, games, and other fun things that I’m looking to add to the community center’s resources. Check it out, there’s some good stuff in there!

Here’s the collection so far for the Radical Reading Room. Feel free to write me with your recommendations!

Zine Update

The zines are printed, and making their way into book boxes and onto community bulletin boards across the country! After a minimum of searching, I was happy to find a black-owned print shop quite near our place in PA. They did a wonderful job and were super helpful, check out DuBose Printing if you’re in the West Philly/Western Suburbs area!

If you’re interested, the pdf can be found at dismantlingracism.org, and if you’d like a physical copy email me at howdy@artforanewsociety.com and I’ll send you one!

Book box in Havertown, PA
Book box in front of the World’s Largest Easel in Goodland, KS
Lions’ Club Bulletin Board in Hotchkiss, CO

Coming Up in 2021

Till Next Time

So! There you have it, all the exciting developments from the last 6 months. I’m honored by your patience, and your attention, and your enthusiasm, and now that I have this whole newsletter/website ball rolling I’ll be sending a monthly update on the 13th, maybe also on the 27th if there’s a lot to report on. Feel free to email me anytime at howdy@artforanewsociety.com with comments, questions, concerns, art or thoughts you’d like to share. I wish you all good health, and safety when you need it, and challenge when you don’t.

The Community Center Vision

BY 2023

I’ll be designing and building a tiny house in Colorado that will house me and my partner as well as the community center. It will be off-grid*, which will 1) provide an example of a livable alternative to dependence on oil and gas, 2) make the community center a low environmental impact operation, and 3) keep costs down, helping to make the center financially sustainable in the longer term. It will be made with as many non-toxic and salvaged building materials as possible, and it will respect and integrate with the landscape.

The physical space will be designed to inspire people, to make them feel comfortable. The design of a space hugely impacts how we feel and how we act there. Jay Schaeffer, in The Small House Book, describes my hope for the community center perfectly:

Our sense of home comes from within us. It emerges when we enter an environment with which we can identify. It can surface whenever we feel safe enough to be completely ourselves – beyond all insecurity and pretension. For a place to feel safe, it must first earn our trust. It must be honest. Home is our defense against what can sometimes seem like a chaotic and demanding world. It is a fortress built from the things and principles that we value most.

Our home for creativity will be full of art supplies and instruments, all mixed in with each other. Anyone will be able to come and explore whatever takes their fancy. Unscheduled time, daydreaming, and goofing off will be given high priority. Process, not product, will be valued. We will model Non-Violent Communication and emotional intelligence. In our Autonomous Creativity Zone, there will be no meritocracy, no commodification, and no questions about anything’s “marketability”. People can go literally any other place for those things. People will be treated as creators, collaborators, and community members first; not consumers. Local and visiting artists will come and give formal workshops that they’ll be well-paid for, or just share their skills with whoever is hanging out. Local and traveling musicians will come perform on our stage. We’ll have a garden where we grow our own vegetables and flowers; plus chickens and maybe bees.


The current design includes ground-mounted solar panels, a bio-gas system, a graywater system, and a rainwater catchment.

BY 2027

The functions of the tiny house have been externalized to other buildings on the property that I’ve designed and built: artists’ cabins to house visiting artists (this may include an artist residency of some kind), an art studio, a music building, a building workshop, a library, a common kitchen and eating space, and who knows what else will have developed by then?

While I want to live in and provide for people a creative retreat, I want as many people as possible to be able to experience our alternate reality. To accomplish this, we’ll have a Creativity Van chock full of supplies and instruments that can travel to and navigate city spaces, and perhaps we’ll collaborate with some nearby schools to bring afterschool or in-class arts programs to their students (developing confidence, at a young age, in your ability and right to be creative is crucial).

Colorado Rocky Mountain High

August: I visited my friend Brian in Boulder. When I had first had the idea to visit, in February or so, I thought I would come to check out different neighborhoods in Denver, to see where we wanted to live. But by the time August came around, I knew I didn’t want to live in a city. I had just come from my Yestermorrow experience, very hype on my tiny house community center dream. Brian happened to be living with a couple who had built their own tinys in the past, and they were kind enough to tell me about the experience. I told them about my vision – buying land, building on it, creating Art for a New Society – and said, where do I go to do all this? They replied “Paonia,” and I said “Great! Where is that?”

Brian, bless him, was game for an impromptu 3-day road trip to this teeny mountain valley town. When we arrived we felt the vibe immediately: very creative, very positive, very synchronous. We parked in front of what turned out to be an artist residency in Terence McKenna’s old house, if that tells you anything. There’s a diner! And a movie theater! And a Thai food truck! We were convinced pretty quickly. We decided that day to move to Paonia in the fall. Elbow, bless them, was excited that I was excited, and not only willing but delighted to move to a small town in the mountains. 

I had heard that housing was difficult to come by here, so back in PA I was continually scouring the town Facebook group for potential rentals. The few that I did see all declared “no pets!” – prospects seemed grim. Then one day I saw a reply to a post someone else had made in search of housing. The reply-er had an off-grid tiny house on the Gunnison River, 30 minutes outside of town. It sounded perfect!

We talked, he said he’d be happy to have some cats to keep the mice away, and gave me the hard sell about the cabins being “very popular, lots of people have been coming by, I can’t hold one for you without a deposit…” We had rented an apartment sight unseen before, when we moved to Flagstaff, and it had worked out well then, so surely the Universe would provide for us again with this house?

Long story short: we paid him 2 months’ rent for a cabin that was just a frame at the time, with the promises of “it’ll be done in a couple weeks here, just a couple more weeks…” Every couple weeks it was going to take another couple weeks. There were warning signs but in our excitement we/I chose to ignore them.

September: After a couple months of searching and test driving busted up old trucks, I flew to Nashville to pick up a truck that Elbow’s dad had found for us in Indiana. If we were going to be rugged mountain adventurers, and I was going to be doing construction work, certainly we would need a pickup truck! I drove back to Philly (only running out of gas once, on I-81 in Virginia), took 3 days to build a shell I had designed over the bed of the truck, crammed lots of our possessions in the back, set the cats up in the cab, and took off for Colorado. (Elbow would follow me out a month later, after finishing up their work with the Census.) The first drive to Pittsburgh was harrowing – would this thing I had built from 2x4s and plywood, that I’d glued and screwed every inch of, make it down the highway without breaking apart or flying off, and causing certain death for the poor fools who were driving behind me? It did! It stayed securely fastened and in one piece all the way to Colorado, much to my relief and semi-amazement.

Yestermorrow is the Bestermorrow

I had a rare and wonderful experience at Yestermorrow: I learned a lot, from kind and knowledgeable teachers, alongside interesting and dedicated students. The campus is surrounded and infused with Vermont’s natural beauty, and filled with thoughtful architecture. It was inspiring to be in a place that had been designed and constructed with such obvious care and creativity, and I was delighted by the incorporation of nature/natural materials, and all of the unique architectural expressions to be found on campus.

I helped build a whole tiny house! This included several construction firsts: using a nail gun, marking layout and hammering joists together, installing a window, rolling out bituthene and screwing on roofing panels.

My tiny house knowledge and designing abilities advanced quite a lot. Here are the drawings I went in with:

And here are the designs I made after 2 weeks of training:

Please note the inclusion of a suspended meditation circle! 

It turns out that Vermont has very few building codes and even fewer building inspectors, which attracts creative architects to the area and results in lots of whimsical and refreshing buildings. My class took a socially-distanced tour of a house that different classes of Yestermorrow students had designed and built over the course of 10 years – it was a trip.

I also befriended the classmate whose tiny house we built (hi Abby!) – she was kind enough to give me a tour of her beautiful property and the houses there she had built herself. It was really inspiring to meet someone who had bought land, cleared it, and put up one house and then another on it, and is now working on creating a 5-house affordable tiny community. Meeting an actual person who had done something like what I’m going to do made it seem much more attainable.

While at Yestermorrow I also was lucky enough to take a weekend tadelakt workshop with Liz Johnson, a mistress of the field. Tadelakt is a plastering technique that involves lots of rubbing with precious stones, and results in surfaces that have a water resistant finish. It’s very cool! Also very finicky – apparently tadelakt is the diva of the plastering world.