Posts Tagged ‘mortality’

April reading:

The Big Tiny by Dee Williams

When I saw Dee Williams interviewed in Tiny, a documentary about building a tiny house, I was instantly smitten.

It's an excellent documentary.

It’s an excellent documentary.

She won my heart when she spoke of having a life where she can be “Dee, from the time I wake up to the time I goe to bed.  People with regular jobs don’t get that.”  I realized how lucky I am to have a life that does permit me to be myself, however cantankerous, and not have to put on an act, while still doing some good in the world.

Regarding being diagnosed with congestive heart failure, she said, “You have to get comfortable with who you are because who you are may be all you’ll ever be.”  And when she revealed that she had marathon watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my favourite telly show ever, I wanted to be her new best friend.

We could discuss all the nuances of the show.

We could discuss all the nuances of the show.

I was thrilled to learn that she has a memoir about building her tiny house and devoured it over a few late evenings (because it is rare to get an all day reading day nowadays).  Here are some thoughts and takeaways:


I particularly liked her description of living in a small house without heat.  Hers is only 84 square feet; mine was a great big 400 square feet.  In both cases, we had the heat off at night because we were afraid our propane stove would explode.  I love her for sharing that!

She made me think hard about clothespins, an item that we use to dry laundry outside, feeling all virtuous and electricity saving.  Dee writes “I could see birch trees growing in a forest...”  “cut down and rolled through a mill...” and iron ore being mined to make the little metal clips, and “there were any number of human workers…being paid pennies a day” to manufacture the clothespins.   She gives great consideration to the minutiae of daily life, and I appreciate it.

When she describes downsizing to 84 square feet, I remembered that my BOOKS were the main reason (other than being cold) why it was hard for me to live in my 400 square foot house.  I had to give up many boxes of books when I moved there (from an 800 foot craftsman bungalow with one room devoted to my library) into the little house.  I couldn’t go any smaller, and was glad to move into our current 1000 sq foot double wide where again I have room for bookshelves.  I still miss some of the books that I let go in 1992.


My books were crammed into the tiny house, getting damp and musty because of the cold, and leaving little room for art. Most of my art was postcard sized.

bookshelves in the new house...Gardening books have another area.

bookshelves in the new house…Gardening books have another area.

Dee Williams describes the process and pain of culling her books:



I’m also intensely connected to things that used to belong to my grandma.

some of thse were my grandma's...

some of these were my grandma’s…The words on the cabinet say “I instinctively like to acquire and store up what promises to outlast me.” -Colette”

According to Dee, the average size of a house in the UK is 815 square feet, just the size of my bungalow in Seattle, while here in the USA the average size is now 2,349.  That is appalling.

Dee writes in several passages about how she feels different from the rest of the world.  I strongly identified with this:  “I used to try harder to fit in with my friends who liked to discuss their OKCupid dating experience, or how a good pedicure can save your life.  I’d lean in and tilt my head with determined interest, and then compliment her on the color of her tonails and ask for the name of her pedicurist, or I’d fuss over the way my friend just poached an egg… But the truth is, I’m a complete ding-dong when it comes to many normal activities.”

This past year, I have completely stopped hanging out in any sort of group where clothes and haircuts and shoes and such are a regular topic of conversation, because I have nothing at all to contribute and my silence is better put to use at home, weeding or reading.

Dee writes about how only a small portion of her possessions are “normal lady things“.  I think it would be nice if possessions weren’t divided into lady things and man things so that women who don’t “fit in” to the traditional idea of womanhood could be more comfortable in this world.

How very much I like Dee’s appreciation of darkness:

In my estimation, there are far too many lights in the world; street lights, car lights, tiny lights in the glove box, front and back porch lights.”  (I might add security lights to her list.)  “I wondered if all that light was somehow causing us to forget things, blinding us to the truth that a little darkness can be a good thing.”

There is a goodly amount of thinking about mortality, because of her heart diagnosis and because of a friend dying, and since that is a subject that is often on my mind, I appreciate her writing about it most of all. “…..We appreciate everything that is predictable and safe.  Everything is clear and you can navigate around the things that bother you and steer toward the things you love.  And then someone dies and fucks the whole thing up.”  Not every book that delves into such topics makes me cry.  Dee’s did.

When she wrote about a couple of personal moments of grief, she said “I’ll tell you about them if you swear…that you’ll never asking me about them even if we become best friends who talk about everything.

Ok, I swear, because I would I would be awfully happy to be Dee’s friend.  If she ever needs a new place to park her house, maybe our back garden would do.  The sounds at night would be pretty much the same as the ones she described at her current location in Olympia:  “…the tree frogs.  And the port downtown was stewing away with any number of generators and forklifts and hustle and bustle, and whatever the hell else they do that sounds like a distant avalanche.”   She’d also hear the wind in our garden, and fishing boats going out in the morning, and she would be welcome to come in and use the shower without asking.

I hate that Ilwaco has rules preventing a tiny off grid house in the back yard.  I think you are only allowed to live in a trailer parked behind a house for two weeks at a time.  This should change, since alternative ways of living lightly should be encouraged.

If you like thoughtful yet humorous memoirs, dogs, tiny houses, and community, don’t miss out on this book.

“Whose idea was it that we should all get jobs, work faster, work better, race from place to place with our brains stewing on tweets, blogs, and sound bites, on must-see movies, must-do experiences, must-have gadgets, when in the end, all any of us will have is our simple beating heart, reaching up for the connection with whoever might be in the room or leaning into our mattress as we draw our last breath.  I hate to put it in such dramatic terms, but it’s kinda true.”  -Dee Williams

links: Dee Williams at Portland Alternative Dwellings

Dee Williams TED talk

Read Full Post »