Friday, April 25, 2014

Exceptional Read: The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir by Dee Williams

I define an Exceptional Read as a well written book that shakes me up, emotionally or mentally. It stops me in my tracks for some reason; challenges me to consider things that really - in my ordinary existence -  make no difference. An Exceptional Read challenges my thoughts, emotions, and spirit. I'm convinced, even if only for the span of the book, it should matter to Every Being in the Universe.  There are qualifiers to exceptional reads.  The label I apply depends on my mental engagement and my emotional response.  Your mileage may vary.

Note:  I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
My Experience:  Beyond A+
Synopsis:  Dee Williams’s life changed in an instant, with a near-death experience in the aisle of her local grocery store. Diagnosed with a heart condition at age forty-one, she was all too suddenly reminded that life is short, time is precious, and she wanted to be spending hers with the people and things she truly loved. That included the beautiful sprawling house in the Pacific Northwest she had painstakingly restored—but, increasingly, it did not include the mortgage payments, constant repairs, and general time-suck of home ownership. A new sense of clarity began to take hold: Just what was all this stuff for? Multiple extra rooms, a kitchen stocked with rarely used appliances, were things that couldn’t compare with the financial freedom and the ultimate luxury—time—that would come with downsizing.

Building a house 8.5 feet by 13.5 feet on a utility trailer doesn’t sound like a major accomplishment.  That is until you learn that an individual, not a factory, did so and lives there year round, all the time.  Oh, and the builder is a woman, 40ish, with a rhythmically challenged heart and more zest for life than many toddlers. Dee Williams’ story is about building her home and the transitions in life we all confront, and so, oh so much, more.  

It is a narrative of living beyond the limits, letting go, waking up courage that seems to nap more often than not as we wave thirty good-bye, and reaching for what could be better, if we make it so.  She is inspirational, motivational and grounded in some basics of nature none of us escape, facts are facts, regardless of our age, income or the size of our dwellings.  Her writing feels like you’re sitting on the stoop of her Big Tiny Home listening to a story she’d rather someone else told but since you asked and remembered to bring snacks and beer....

So first, she gently warns you:  “Learning new things doesn’t always liberate you. Instead, it makes you wonder if your pants are on backward or the trees are holding the sky up—it makes you question all of your assumptions and conventions.”

And then she earnestly comforts you:  “But the facts are the facts: I found a certain bigness in my little house—a sense of largeness, freedom, and happiness that comes when you see there’s no place else you’d rather be.”

For me, the thought of more with less is not new.  I raised and homeschooled six children in 980 square feet on a part time admin’s pay, debt free except for the land payment.  I don’t really plan to build my own tiny house, though I do plan to modify a shed and live with everything in reach once the nest is empty.  We have often joked about having our own little sheds surrounding a kitchen and family room that we share.  If the economy continues to bob around like leaves in the creek, it may not be a joke.  

So, I approached this book with eagerness, ready to hear another woman’s story.  I was not disappointed in the gentle narrative of living big without the weight of stuff, finding there is peace in the silence and yes, a bit of fear too.  Ms. Williams gives you enough to draw you in and leave you hungering for more, but she’s careful to make sure it’s *your* more, not hers and that is a difficult thing to do when you live an enthusiastic life.  Her genuine humility prevents this from becoming a Diatribe of How To or else the universe will devolve into a vortex of sorrow.  It is more of a Spiritual Treatise that assures you it is not only the especially awesome that could do something like this … you could, if you want.

Along the way, she tells you of her life, her wonderful friends, the world as she experiences it, the family that loves her, even on her bad hair days, and how needing to poop is really the great equalizer.  She works, she shops; she loves, grieves and rejoices, fusses over cinnamon then helps her neighbors.  Nothing odd about any of that, aside from the fact she dwells in what our society calls a tiny house and is brave enough to share how she journeyed from a three bedroom bungalow to 300 days a year of happiness.  The other 65 are days where friends, family and co-workers nod and make sympathetic noises because everyone has Those Days.

I gobbled this book in a few hours.  I’m a ferocious reader.  I will consume it again and again because it’s that kind of book, little nuggets to ponder while the mosquitoes gnaw on you and then are gnawed on by the frogs and bats.  Even if you live in a mansion, and never plan to do less, I believe there’s something in this book for you too.  A reminder that where we dwell can be part of our self-definition, but it is only a fraction of all we are, can be, maybe should be.  It really is more about what we do with the other slices of ourselves that is infinitely more important. Dee Williams affirms that, respectfully and with exuberance that is most probably contagious.

You can find out more about Dee Williams Big Tiny House at PAD Tiny Houses.  There are photos and YouTubies there as well as additional information about building your own tiny house.

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