Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Moving Forward

Today, my old buddy Aiji came over. Bless his heart, he traveled TWO HOURS on the bus just to lend a hand. This is a testament to the glory of the RTA, New Orleans’ own public transportation system. Aiji lives about 15 minutes away.

A little back story - when my fabulous UU volunteers from New Mexico were here, we unfortunately discovered that my sills (the very foundation upon which my little house sits) had some wood rot. Bad news. We were all set to remove the bathroom window and put in some studs so I could have insulation, which would have been Miracle #4, when we found the damage. Anyway, all work had to stop and I’d kinda been in a holding pattern since then. Getting emotional, overwhelmed, and feeling like this work would “never” be done. My biggest problem was that I couldn’t find the right sized wood to replace the rotted pieces. Lumber stores don’t sell true 6-by-6’s anymore; the wood is really 5 ½-by-5 ½. I’d been dumpster-diving for old sills with no luck.

Lucky for me, pretty much everyone I know is rebuilding in some way, shape or form. My cousin Rashida told me her workers replaced sills on her house, so I went over today to see how they did it. I discovered that they used ½” plywood to shim underneath the 6-by-6. A rush of relief and clarity washed over me. And somehow that allowed me to make a decision about NOT replacing one of the sills. Finally, I could move forward! The bathroom would not have to wait.

Rashida's sill

So, today, Aiji and I worked de-constructing the bathroom interior. Since I’m going to be building out the walls with studs, we had to move the tub away from the wall. And, of course, the toilet had to come out because I’m going to be laying tile (and the toilet has to sit on TOP of the tiled floor). Aiji pulled out the wood framing around the tub. I crawled under the house and cut the drain pipe with a hacksaw. We worked well as a team and I couldn’t have done any of this without him. Without his super-human strength, that bathtub wouldn’t have moved an inch.

Aiji said he loves tearing stuff down.

I'm just glad he could lift this cast-iron tub!

Equally noteworthy, I’ve patched another ceiling. For all the work it’s taking to replace damaged ceiling boards, that ceiling better look nice when it’s finished! I have none other than my new friend Whitney to thank for that. Last week (and the week before), she came and helped out. Did I ever mention that working alone is really inefficient? So much time is spent climbing up and down ladders to get tools, measure, cut wood, get things I forgot the last time I climbed up or down, etc. Having Whitney there to help really sped things along. We were able to get that ceiling done in a morning. She stripped wood, cut boards, hammered nails, and provided extra hands when I needed them. [I wish I had photos of Whitney working, but I guess I wasn’t thinking of that at the time.]

The ceiling, before and after

As a footnote, I want to share a comment expressed by the man I met whilst visiting The Green Project today. “Women have gone too far,” he told me when I said I was doing my own construction work. He also added, “Construction is not feminine,” in response to my inquiry regarding his bizarre thought-pattern. So, thanks, sexist man. Thanks for giving me a good laugh.

The Impracticality of Passion

In 2001, my now-former employer laid me off along with 75% of the staff. Puzzled by my co-workers’ long faces and tears, I hurriedly escaped the building and went skipping merrily into the sunlight. I was FREE!! I then proceeded to enjoy the BEST six months of my life. The bulk of my time and energy was spent putting together my brainchild, a multimedia exhibition (well, I called it an “experience”) entitled “Cat Calls”. I worked harder than I probably ever had in my life… for zero dollars. The money (or lack thereof) was irrelevant; hell, everything was irrelevant – sleep and food included. I was on a mission; I had a goal, a destiny to fulfill. Then one day, my unemployment checks stopped coming and I was jerked back into the world of reality. A rude awakening, it was. But in our society, one cannot live on passion alone. I decided to leave my free-wheeling (and financially precarious) existence and accept the company’s re-hire offer.

Oh, how history repeats itself. Here I am once again, living passionately and purposefully, working harder than I ever have before, doing exactly what I want to do with my life… for zero dollars. And on the horizon, I see the Rude Awakening slowly creeping forward like the Grim Reaper with his bloody scythe. In a way, I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. The practical thing to do would be to find lucrative employment and pay someone else to finish the work on my house, but that defeats the entire purpose of my being here. I’m here to learn, to build, to dig my fingers into the dirt and create something new. But that job does not pay very well (or at all). So, I am not sure what I’m going to do next, but I’ll have to decide soon. Though living with my mom and penny-pinching have kept us afloat so far, there’s only so far a chunk of money can stretch. I am very proud of the progress we’ve made on the house, the knowledge I’ve attained through this work, and the impact I’m able to make in my community through rebuilding my house and organizing the revitalization of the community garden. But I am way past my original six-month deadline, and I have to face the impracticality of passion.

Make It Right
Finally, I want to share a photo I took in the Lower 9 the other day.

If you haven't heard about this yet, it's part of a fundraising campaign led by Brad Pitt to build 150 green homes in the Lower 9th Ward (the area that the city had originally slated to be "greenspace"). For more info, check out Make It Right's website.


kenya said...


i continue to be blown away by your accomplishments! keep on representin' for the ladies!!

kenya c.

soul searcher said...

Funny, I *just* came from the Make It Right webpage yesterday. I was afraid they were going to cover the 9th in hideous pink tents until I saw the environmentally efficient ('green') houses they have designed. i still can't figure out what the pink tents are for (temporarily housing people until their environmentally efficient house is built?).

according to a media account i read (the source since forgotten), brad pitt has pledged to match the first $5 million in donations, although the site mysteriously says nothing about this.

It's a 501(c)(3). I'm debating whether it's more efficient for my N.O. folks to donate to Common Ground or to Make It Right (where Common Ground is listed as a 'partner'). The houses themselves require $150,000 each in donations to build. Contrast that to the services Common Ground could provide with the same amount of money and you can imagine my dilemma (help a lot of people with a few services or help one person A LOT with a new home?). Of course, manify this dilemma with the fact that I will (obviously) only give a small fraction of that 150k.

soul searcher said...

have you considered investigating whether google adsense or active links which lead to consumer sites like borders or barnes & noble could make THIS SITE a revenue generator? might lessen your dilemma.

por ejemplo (for example), you could include links to how-to books that teach you how to build sills by making each use of the word "sills" into a hypertext link to a sales page at borders or b&n where a self-help book is sold. just an idea.

also, try to encourage folks to spread the word about this blog. get enough hits and it might be VERY profitable to participate in google adsense.

Sarah said...


I, too, am blown away by all the work you've done! Our home loan process means we have to pay a general contractor to do the work. I've been so busy with my own work that I can't imagine being able to put in sweat equity, but every time I read your blog, I want to get some grit under my own nails. With the holidays here, I'll have some time to do that. Oh--and speaking of, we're ready to get our fence done! Advice is welcome!


P.S. I wrote a bit about Make It Right on my blog. Generally I think it's great, but like soul searcher, I find some of the pink-whatnot a bit dubious...