Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Carolyn Kremers: The Non-Conforming House

Carolyn Kremers

I've never written for a blog, ever.  I'm someone who usually drafts her poem or nonfiction by hand on a lined white notepad, then types a copy and fiddles with it—for days, weeks, years.  If I journal, I do it by hand or, if near electricity or desperate for time, on my laptop.  Occasionally I find myself journaling unexpectedly in an email message turned-into-letter.  That's the thing: I never know where my writing will go or where it will take me, what doors it will open.  Or close.  It closes some doors—barring me from being outside on a glorious fall day, for instance, or even from noticing the weather out a window—when my mind and body and whole soul are transported far away and deep down, into the draft or the revision of something magic and alive.

I guess blogging could also be like that—transporting—since it, too, is a form of writing.  I guess I'll find out.

Anyway, I've set up a few guidelines for myself ("constraints," as my rhetorician-friend Sarah Stanley would call them):

1.  Each blog will be short: 750 words or less (I hope).
2.  I will write the blog during the week it is due, not sooner (not beforehand).
3.  I will limit the time I spend, using most of it to draft and only a little of it to revise/edit/polish.  (Polish!?  I think that may be a forbidden word in the blog-world…)
4.  The four blogs will spin variations on "the non-conforming house."  (Okay, I admit:  I've already been thinking about this part—for about six months now…)
5.  I will trust that I can do this.

Well, here we go…

I live in a non-conforming house.  Literally, figuratively, personally, professionally, language-wise.  Mostly, I don't mind.  It's not an easy way to live, but it's the life I have chosen—or more likely, the life that has chosen me.  Perhaps when I was younger, I thought about this a lot—my life: what I would do with it, where it was going, where I wanted it to go.  Now that I'm nearly 63, I don't think that way much.  The path has revealed itself and it continues to, whether I know it or not.

Perhaps that's [rats! The plumber just knocked on the door and brought in five cardboard boxes of Versi-Foam to set by the Monitor oil-stove and keep the boxes warm, till he can spray the foam on the new pipes outdoors and keep them from freezing this winter—yay!  And now I can't remember the rest of the sentence.  And there will be more interruptions today, as there have been since July 22, when the contractor RhettG began this work on my cabin.] 

So.  Well, as I said, the path of my life continues to reveal itself.  And it is non-conforming. (But what is non-conforming?  Non-conforming to what?)

I've latched onto this word—sometimes with laughter and glee, sometimes with resignation—ever since April, when I discovered that non-conforming is what my credit union calls this house, and what every other credit union and bank that I contacted for the next two months called it. 

There are several ways a house in Alaska (or a person?) may be labeled non-conforming.  My 17-foot by 20-foot log cabin (with stand-up-able loft) received the moniker because it had "no fixed foundation" and "no toilet."  In fact, I was trying to get a loan from Alaska USA in order to replace the foundation, which was an untreated wood beam lying on the ground on the uphill side, plus untreated spindly posts propping up the house on the downhill side, all visibly rotting into the Earth.  And I also planned to install a toilet (actually, to add on a real bathroom, including a toilet, and move the shower from the living room into the bathroom.  Etc.)

At the edge of Fairbanks, this cabin hides on two acres of birch forest on the northwest side of a ridge.  The property borders 90 undeveloped acres to the west—a meccah for moose, fox, spruce grouse, darkness, and the northern lights.  Until April, I had simply thought of this place as home and as a beacon of change—global warming unfolding, technology marching on.  While searching for an institution that would give me a loan, however, I learned from a realtor that my house qualifies in even more ways as non-conforming.  (Isn't that always the case?!)  But we won't go into those here.  The rotting foundation and recently renovated outhouse—inherited from the Denali Community Center and painted dark red inside, with a white cathedral ceiling—these are enough.

Non-conforming.  Yes, in the eyes of the powerful banking world, at least.  On dark days when much of this construction effort seemed to be going either awry or nowhere, I have wondered if I made a grave mistake.  Was I reckless and naïve to imagine that I might have—might deserve to have, might manage to have and dream of having and, therefore, could have—a fixed foundation and an easier way to deal with winter in Fairbanks and with growing old(er) and wise in Alaska?

Fairbanks did have the rainiest/wettest June-July-August on record, and that did present challenges for everyone involved in construction—not to mention many dark days.  July 22 seems long ago, when the first of 21 birch trees were felled here and limbed, including my beloved 90-year-old-growth elder, the one that John Haines said must be the same age as he.  Not all days are dark, though.  And all days of rain in the Interior give way eventually (or have since the Pleistocene) to snow.  And to the return of the shining moon…



Carolyn Kremers lives in Fairbanks and teaches part-time in the English Department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  Her books include Place of the Pretend People: Gifts from a Yup'ik Eskimo Village (memoir), The Alaska Reader: Voices from the North (anthology co-edited with Anne Hanley), and Upriver (poetry).  Upriver was a Finalist for the 2014 Willa Award for poetry, from Women Writing the West.

1 comment:

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

Carolyn, Your voice pulled me right in and I look forward to your next posts -- from the former resident of a non-conforming house that bedeviled the local realtors.