Tuesday, November 12, 2013


So...I haven't posted in awhile and it's not for the typical reasons. It's not because of family demands, or because I started back teaching at the University, or because I couldn't find the time. I have a very, very busy and full life, and lot's of people depend on me. But, in all honesty, that is not why I disengaged. So here is why...

Sometime in July, in the midst of full-on renovation I lost my way. It has been a constant struggle while doing this renovation these questions of; how much do you keep? what can be saved? what is within your budget to save? and then, how do you do save what you truly want and can afford to keep? When I say afford I mean this in many ways. Can you afford the technical expert who knows how to restore 200 year old wood that is rotting? Or even if you researched the methods can you afford to pay someone the time it will take to do the work? I am doing a documentary about a historic renovation (not restoration) but felt/feel/felt and sometimes still feel like I failed. The oldest part of the house, the wooden part, in the end got almost completely replaced and in the end, when I looked at all this wood that I could have tried to save I felt/feel/felt and sometimes still feel so defeated. My answers to so many of these questions were not what I expected or even wanted. But in the end, they were mine and this is my story and I hope that in telling it, others will learn from my mistakes.

In all great drama there is a turning point, so it was with me that in late July, a builder (who will remain nameless) came to visit the site and lambasted my contractor as he was trying to convince me that I needed an entirely new roof. At that point, he had convinced me that the floors were wood rotten, the beams too, and he also changed most of the siding, even the interior ones, that really just needed sanding and scraping. Watching her question him on why he didn't use this technique or the other to reinforce the beams instead of replacing them was shocking.  It made me realize how ignorant I was and how trusting.  I believed my well-intentioned contractor when he said I had to replace beams, or wood or siding. I made him explain to me his rationale and it made sense. Most importantly though this female builder reminded me, that as a woman you have to really push what your vision is. There will be men, cyaan done who will tell you what you should do with your building, but that you need to stand firm with your vision. I felt/feel/felt and sometimes still feel that I wasn't able to do that. My vision was not to have a new building, but if you replace four walls and the floor with new materials you come pretty close to having one. Some would be thrilled with that, I am not.

It was also challenging because in the middle of doing the renovation I was also filming interviews at other locations and each time I would return to the building site, more pieces of the building were gone, replaced and discarded.  I was loosing more and more control and in the end just stopped. Stopped working on the renovation, stopped working on the documentary. I needed time, to think and regroup. It was not a conscious decision to stop, but it was a needed one. When I look back at my last post in July I think "How did it get to be November already?" But during this time I was able to reflect. I have been working along the edge of a precipice for quite sometime and coping with the anxiety that brings.  I had to go back to this question: Why am I telling this story? I realized that I had projected myself as some sort of heroine that was going to save this building and save it's stories. It never occurred to me that I would also make un-fixable mistakes, and that even though someone can be well-intentioned, being not well-informed can cancel that out.

So some things I learned:
1. Know your lane. Expecting a carpinter/contractor to be knowledeable about restoring a historic building is like expecting me, a painter, to be knowledage about restoring a historic painting. It's a specialty field, with specialized knowledge.

2. Know your vision. It wasn't until the contractor asked me " This building must be really old?" when I realized he really didn't understand what I was trying to do. When I asked him, "Yes, of course it's old, why do you ask like that?" He responded that when he had taken out some of the beams he saw the mortise and tenon wooden joints holding the building together. This technique is rarely used anymore since nails and screws are cheaper and easier. This is a thousands of year old building technique that he ripped out for the sake of having something new. He didn't get that "new" wasn't the look I was going for.

3. Know your limitations.  I admit it.  I have a complete superwoman complex. I think I can do anything and everything. And that is just simply not true. There are limits to my time, my energy and my money and those limits need to be respected. If I had a better assessment of my limitations I would have had better direction and less disappointment.

So in my despair and these realization my daughter Isolde said something to me, that made things clearer. She saw me crying and asked me why. (Yes, I admit it, I did cry over this project.) I tried to explain to my five-year old about the renovation, and about throwing away too much of the material that could have been saved and she looked at me puzzled and said, "So you are crying about...rotten wood?" Kids don't tell the truth, they are the truth and the truth at that moment I had catch myself as we say. Forward and onward. I still have the bathroom, kitchenette, shutter, interior and exterior painting to do, but I have a renewed vision. My goal is now to be finished by the end of the year. Excited!

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