It is that brief moment of an adrenaline rush upon reaching your goal. It becomes a continuous high when following your path despite the dead ends and detours that happen along the way. Paradise is for everyone – we can all strive to become the best we can be.
But nobody said it was easy.
Looking to create equity and have independence from rising rental prices, my partner Zak Miano and I embarked on a journey to build a house in 2013. We found half an acre of land sandwiched between a thriving urban city center and suburban sprawl. It is rurban – a little bit country, a little bit rock n roll – where cowboy traditions still thrive and communities are dotted with undisturbed patches of woods. Before 1967, Acres Homes was considered the largest unincorporated African American community in the Southern US. Land was sold by the acre to keep farm animals and gardens. To this day, families own large areas of land that has been passed down from generations.
Our land has never been developed. It was virgin soil covered with untouched large mature trees – hackberries, oaks, pines, etc. – towering 60 – 80 feet above you. Weeds grow wild as do spring onions, morning glories, and blackberries. An assortment of birds traverse the sky and it seems that the natural ecosystem is still in good order. There, on Lovers Lane, we had found our place.
Now that we had the land, we had to finalize the plan and file for permits. But we also had a place of our own. Instead of continuing to rent (and in part also inspired by the growing Tiny House movement) we decided to move into a converted shipping container. We called, they delivered, and the container was plopped down towards the back of the property below a thick tree canopy. Within one month there were windows, a door, insulation, sheetrock and a small kitchen with room for a bed and small dining area but not much else. 2 years later, we are still living with two dogs in 164 square feet.
The central piece in the exhibition Home at the Till Richter Museum is a floor quilt that is an exact replica of this container’s floor plan, sized 20 x 8 feet. With the invitation of 2 pairs of handmade felt slippers, the viewer can put on the house shoes and walk the floor plan to get a sense of the dimensions. Quilts are traditionally made to commemorate major life events so the medium seemed to fit the message. The piece is titled “Two Tickets to Paradise”, a nod to Eddie Money’s song of the same title. He sings
Got a surprise especially for you
Something that both of us have always wanted to do
We’ve waited so long, waited so long
During the opening, I sang my version of this song standing on the quilt with a ukulele.
“Two tickets to Paradise” suggests a sense of hope – tickets to something are always a good thing. It also denotes a destination – Paradise – which invokes images of the Caribbean, sitting in a hammock on a beach sipping a cocktail decorated with a tiny umbrella and fresh fruit.
We all want Paradise. And sometimes a stop along the road to Paradise means downsizing and living in a container for 2 years with no running water or electricity. Although us humans are naturally risk averse, I think we are all pioneers lusting after unchartered territory to look for something better. Our house is moving along and we will be moved in by the end of 2016. Over the last few years, we’ve gone from nothing to something. We’ve stripped our lives of all comforts and gradually regained them one by one – electricity, water, sewer…Forced to downsize, we’ve learned what is really important. We’ve gained from this experience exactly what we set out for: independence.
Although it’s not much at 164 square feet, the container has allowed us follow our path. We’ve been enjoying our moments of Paradise with an iced down cocktail in hand.
And then on to the next challenge.
(Houston, May 2016)