Small Conceits

Musings. Stories. Poems. From where I stand.


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5 Tips for Writing Your (NaNoWriMo) Novel

“Walker, your treads are

the path and nothing more;

walker, there is no path,

the path is made by walking.”

— from Caminante No Hay Camino by Antonio Machado


“Do you have any advice for writing a novel?”

The question both amused and touched me. Amused because I’ve never actually finished a novel. Touched because this friend believed I knew enough about writing one to have accumulated shareable wisdom with him. (I love my friends’ faith in me!) What he doesn’t know is that my journals and Google Drive folders are littered with abandoned drafts of sci-fi, horror, historical fiction, humor writing, poetry, non-fiction, memoirs — you name it. My writing life looks a little like the Winchester Mystery House: staircases going nowhere, doors opening out onto thin air, and rooms that have no actual purpose.

I’ve read a lot about writing over the years, believing that someone out there would have the answers I needed to finally motivate me to become the writer I think I have the potential to be. I’ve read books and articles about process, motivation, technique, theory…the list goes on. What I’ve found most successful, though, I’ve learned through failing, again and again.

My failures during National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo) have been especially instrumental in learning about myself as a writer. Writing a novel in 30 days is ridiculously compressed, an artificial situation. (Having said that, plenty of writers have eventually published their NaNoWriMo novels, as did my friend Tim, author of Davy’s Savior.) But the pressure of meeting daily word-count goals — yeah, that’s right, writing every single day, which isn’t something I find easy to do — uncovers a lot of attitudes, beliefs, and bad habits lurking in the shadows.

So, here are a few hard-won tips from my NaNoWriMo experiences, some of them offered by writers much more successful than I, and some of them things I’ve stumbled on accidentally as I wrote.

Tip 1: Don’t force yourself to write from beginning to end

I tried this. It sucks. Just don’t.

Even if you have an outline — you know, like your high school English teachers used to require — and you think you know exactly how you want your novel to unfold, you’ll find yourself miring in your own, well-planned storyline. If you insist on writing linearly, from beginning to end, when the wheels fall off — and I guarantee they will — you’ll grind to a halt and will find it difficult to get started again.

The funny thing about deviating from The Plan — whether it’s an outline for a novel, a driving route, or a vacation itinerary — is that you often end up in much more interesting places than you’d imagined existed. If you let the story unfold, it takes on a life of its own, and while that can completely blow your well-planned outline out of the water, it can also mean a more interesting character, subplot, or scene.

My first NaNoWriMo attempt taught me that writing in chunks not only enabled me to better develop my characters and story, it also allowed me to keep moving when I felt stuck. If I couldn’t figure out how to wrap up the scene I was writing, I simply picked up and moved farther down the story’s timeline — or reversed and added a chunk somewhere else that would better allow me to develop the scene where I was stuck. (Mind you, I didn’t edit — see Tip 2 — I added.) I’d either add the new material to my outline, or I’d do a little journaling around it to help set up something I planned writing later in connection to it. (See Tip 4, below, about handwritten notes.)

Had I insisted on writing linearly, beginning to end, I never would have gotten as far as I did — and I wouldn’t have a great start to a novel I plan to finish in the future, now that it’s had some time to marinate. Like, a lot of time. Um…two years. But who’s counting?

Tip 2: Write first; edit later

I’ve read this bit of advice in so many books and articles that I’ve lost count. The bottom line is that if you start listening to your inner editor, you’ll quit writing, and you’ll never finish your novel. Simple as that.

The writing doesn’t need to be a great work of art as it flows out of you (or claws its way out, in a kind of eviscerating birth, as in the Alien movies) — heck, it doesn’t even need to be good. It just needs to be written. Get it out. Get it down. There’s time later to shape it up, and you might miss writing a nugget of brilliance if you’re wrestling with trying to turn what feels like piles of poo into gold ingots before you even finish the story.

So tell your internalized college professor — you know the one — to shut his or her trap. You have work to do, and you need to concentrate. (And I’m betting that critical voice in your head has never even attempted, much less written, a novel of its own, so it has no right to criticize yours.) I frequently have to turn “we are not editing right now” into a mantra I repeat while breathing deeply and forcing my fingers to just keep typing.

Tip 3: Set a timer and write until it dings

I’m not sure where I first heard this bit of advice, but I most recently heard it from Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) in her Calm.com Master Class, “Creative Living Beyond Fear.” She suggests using a plain old kitchen timer rather than your phone, which, as she says, should be nowhere near where you are working so you don’t get distracted. Then you write for that period of time — no getting up to make a cup of tea or look at email or play with the dog. Just keep your heinie in the seat and write until the timer goes off, even if it’s only one sentence, over and over…

As a twist on the concept, the NaNoWriMo site builds in opportunities for timed writing as a speed-writing/brain dump exercise, called “word sprints.” You log in and set a timer, then write as fast as you can as the seconds tick by. When the timer goes off, you enter your word count for the sprint and move on.

Again, it’s artificial, I know, but I’ve found it useful, especially when my internal editor won’t shut its loud mouth. And I’ve also used the word sprint approach when I have just 15 minutes and am tempted to head out to social media for a little distraction. (I’ve been pretty successful with staying out of there, but relapses are starting to occur, especially now that I’m making progress, which might make no sense to you unless you read Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art. Resistance to creativity is real, folks.) Instead of distracting myself, I set the timer and write until the (rather humorous) alert tells me to stop. The funny thing is that, once I’ve input my word count, I often find that the sprint has kick-started my creative energy, and I’m ready to keep writing.

Sometimes, though, I just close my laptop and go do something else for a while, letting the writing marinate for a while before returning to it. What I write next often has more texture and interest.

Tip 4: Keep a journal with handwritten notes

This is me, all me, as far as I know. What I’ve found is that writing notes by hand engages a part of my brain that my laptop keyboard simply can’t access. Moving my hand across a page, pen in hand, triggers a different mode of processing than typing does. I often switch back and forth, from computer to journal and back again, allowing the different modes to activate as necessary.

My handwritten notes range from outlines to bits of dialogue to character descriptions to notes about scenes I want to write. Sometimes they’re stream-of-consciousness conversations with myself that morph into storyline. Sometimes, they’re notes on something I’ve researched — like geographic locations, terminology, or the stages of decomposition — that I need to work on or work out through the physical, manual act of writing. Highlighters occasionally come out; color-coding occurs. Margins fill with jottings. Diagrams and maps get drawn. Oftentimes my handwritten notetaking never sees the “official” writing pages, but it informs them.

And jotting things down by hand allows me to keep writing because I’m not distracted by the worry that I’ll forget a little gem that has potential or a fact I need to check about dog behavior. Or whatever. In short, journaling allows me to…

Tip 5: Just freakin’ write

Seriously. The only way to write anything is to write it. Sit down. Open a laptop or notebook. Write. And keep writing until the writing is done.

You’ll know when that is.

Photo of journal pages

Messy journal pages from my 2016 NaNoWriMo attempt.


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NaNoWriMo: The Third Time’s the Charm

If a story is in you, it has to come out.  — William Faulkner

Woo-hoo! Welcome to my third attempt at National Novel Writing Month (which we “Wrimos” affectionately call NaNoWriMo)!

Yeah, I know: We’ve been here before. Me, promising to post daily updates of my progress. You, reading all two of the posts I actually get around to writing. Then…nothing.

Mostly because I’d stopped writing my novel.

In 2016, I announced The Demon Project. I made it about halfway through my 50,000-word target* for finishing before Thanksgiving travel completely upended my writing, and Jaqi and her Demon went into what appears to be semi-permanent hibernation. (I just read back through a few pages, and I’ll be finishing that novel someday. It’s funny stuff.)

Last year, 2017, I got no farther than announcing the title of my novel. But I’d just lost my best friend, a big, red Golden Retriever named Bodhi, and my energies were solely focused on things like getting out of bed in the morning, dressing myself, occasionally showering. Writing a novel was not a viable option.

So, here we are, at the end of 2018. I’ve announced my novel on the NaNoWriMo site, given it a title, written a (really bad) synopsis, and I’m off and writing. In just three days, I’ve managed to make the 5,000 word mark. And I’ve promised myself that, this year, I’m not only finishing, but I’m also doing everything differently. Everything.

So, for instance, I’m participating in social events, like write-ins at my favorite library branch — sitting alongside other Wrimos, all of us with our anti-social earbuds in and a soundtrack playing while we type furiously on our computers, not speaking but building the kind of collective creative energy usually reserved for group meditation sessions.

I’m also challenging myself to word-sprints, which means setting a timer and breaking the sound barrier with the speed of my typing as I race the clock to word-count goodness. And there are group sprints on my horizon, where a virtual herd of Wrimos race each other as well as the clock.

I plan to participate in workshops on finding an agent and how to self-publish a book at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Main Library.

And, too, I’m earning my badges (the whole affair is delightfully gamified), making donations, inviting others to write, cutting my fingernails short so their tapping doesn’t bother my fellow write-in Wrimos.

This year, I declared myself a Plantser (a combination of Planner and Pantser, as in “by-the-seat-of-my-pants”) and wrote some loose outlines, ideas for storylines, bits of dialogue — then went out and started writing whatever came to mind, leaving the planned bits for days when inspiration trickles instead of flows.

Oh, and I also declared myself a NaNo Rebel this year. As I started my Plantsing, I realized that — despite my efforts to write it as fiction — this is a story best told truthfully. So, this year’s “novel” will be a memoir. I have no idea what it will be after that because I’d originally planned for it to be a “choose your own path” digital experience, but I never quite got it off the ground. For one thing, I noticed there was an embarrassing lack of story in my story. Maybe forcing myself to compress my writing process during the next 30 days will provide the impetus to do something more…extraordinary…with it.

Then, again, maybe it will be extraordinary enough just as I write it.

Whatever happens with it, it needs to come out into the light before it eats me alive. Because that’s what stories do when you don’t let them out: They fester and churn and wake you up at night and sometimes eat your breakfast or your favorite dessert, just as you get ready to take the first bite.

Stories are like that, you know. As Faulkner says, “Better out than in.” (I might have paraphrased that a tad.)

In any case, I make no promises this year regarding keeping you updated. But don’t write me off just yet. Because you never know…

 

* Correction: I originally wrote that the “required” 30-day word count was 40,000 words. The target word count is 50,000 for the month in order to claim oneself a NaNoWriMo “winner.”


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The Yurt Adventure Continues…

…over there —>

Have you ever gone hiking in the wilderness and encountered little stone cairns?  You know, those rocks that other hikers or park rangers have piled one atop the other to reassure you you’re still on the trail, still headed in the right direction?

Consider this post a stone cairn, pointing the way for you to keep traveling with me on my journey to creating a new life in the mountains.

Small Conceits began its life as my space for self-indulgence, a place to put my reflections on grief and loss and the luminosity of life as Coyote slowly left this world; a place to reflect and tell stories about what matters to me; a place for me to share my poetry when I’ve felt brave enough to do so.

But the yurt journey…well, that’s become a different animal altogether, and it no longer feels like it belongs on Small Conceits.

So, I’m moving the whole yurt thing over to a site I’m calling The Unhurried Path. There, I’ll recap and continue my story about purging my stuff and finding property and discovering new perspectives about what it means to live lightly on and in harmony with the land. I’ll also post now and again about the skills I learn and the gear I buy and the people I meet along the way.

Small Conceits isn’t going away. In fact, I plan to expand it, reorganize it, maybe even give it a new look. So if you like dog dialogues and aikido moments and random musings about life and stuff (or, for that matter, my attempts at poetry), keep following me here.

For more about yurt-ness and homesteading (or whatever it is my life turns out to be), I invite you to head on over to The Unhurried Path.

Thanks for being there for me. I love you all for reading my stuff. I hope you’ll continue to do so.

Photo by Nick Tong on Unsplash


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(Re)Naming “The Boot”

Would a Boot by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?

“What are you going to call it? A property this pretty is going to need a name.”

Ross and Elizabeth from the county Extension Services were wrapping up nearly a half day of walking the 11 acres of wooded land I was in the process of buying. I’d contacted their office for help with assessing the health of the trees and the opportunities for growing food crops for myself in the red, mica-flecked soil on the western side of the parcel. With their help, I’d been identifying trees and plants and asking advice about siting my home. It had been a beautiful, sunny day, pleasant not only in the gorgeous fall weather but in the company I was keeping. Conversation with the pair was easygoing and punctuated by laughter. I was learning much and enjoying it greatly.

Ross had asked the question, but he wasn’t the first, and he wouldn’t be the last.

“I’m calling it The Boot,” I replied, glancing up just in time to see Ross trying to arrange his face to hide his surprised inner critique of my mad property-naming skillz.

“Uhhhh…” he began. Again: Not the first; not the last.

“So…you don’t like it,” I more stated than asked and heard Elizabeth subtly clear her throat behind me.

“Well, if you look at the aerial view of the parcel, it’s boot-shaped,” I tried to explain, my own opinion of the name starting to tarnish a tad with Ross and Elizabeth’s skepticism. When I thought about the hours of research I generally put into naming my dogs, “The Boot” was a little embarrassing. Too literal, like naming a pet “Spot” because of a dot of color on an otherwise white face or “Socks” because of white paws on a darker background. Or, in the case of my first childhood pet, Puddles. Because, obviously.

And, here I was, naming my new home, a place I hoped would hold and support me for the rest of my life and heal all those who sought peace within its bounds, based on a shape no one would ever see unless I posted the survey map on a wall somewhere. And outlined the shape in yellow highlighter. Maybe drew a few red arrows around it, just for good measure.

*sigh* Really?

A Better Fit for Crowsfoot and Pines

Months later, as I woke from a dream on a sunny morning, hours away from the tall, stately pines and masses of crowsfoot carpeting the ground beneath them, it came to me: a name with many layers and plays on words.

It’s a name that echoes the translation of my name, which is “joy” or “joyful.”

It’s the name of a stronghold for hearts seeking refuge, harkening back to the Arthurian legend I read as a young adult and so dearly love for its lessons about love and friendship and the ways they break us open.

It’s a name whose sound plays on the gardens I hope to co-create with the land, which is untamed but with its own wild food to harvest and spaces that can be lightly cultivated for growing vegetables and fruits.

It’s a lofty name for the simple life I hope to live there. But, you know, I think it fits — better than a boot, more like a glove:

Joyous Gard

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I Win the Nerd Contest

At the Home & Garden Show Yurt Break-Down

The scene: Rick and Erika (representing Blue Ridge Yurts) and I are breaking down my yurt for delivery to a storage unit until I get my home site cleared and a deck foundation built for it.

Rick, out of the blue, pauses in his disassembly to say:

“Did you know that when Erika was a teenager she was such a big Lord of the Rings fan that she named her hamster Gandalf? Have you ever heard of anyone so nerdy?”

Erika: “Heyyyy!”

Me: “In my 20s, I was such a big LOTR fan that I named my little grey rabbit Gandalf.”

Erika <high-fiving me>: “Ha! So there, Rick!”

Me <continuing>: “And I named my 1982 Ford Mustang Shadowfax. I think it was the Escort wagon I called Samwise because it was my faithful companion on all my adventures in my 30s. I later named my Toyota 4Runner Frodo. Oh! And my sister and I used to write each other letters in Elvish. And somewhere in a box is a notebook with Dwarvish runes — which, by the way, is only a slight variation of the Anglo-Saxon FUTHARK, if I remember correctly.”

Rick and Erika <gaping>: “…”

Rick <sounding slightly awed>: “I think you win.”

Me <smugly>: “Yes, yes I do.”

Erika: “Whoa…”

(Heck, and I’m not even the biggest LOTR fan I know.)

Rick, securing the window covers before taking down the sides of the yurt, while Erika and I start on the cables.


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A Woman Walks into a Yurt

…at the Home & Garden Show

I’m so behind in my posts on the story of my journey to living a sustainable, regenerative lifestyle — and this one will likely be a surprise, given my post “To Yurt or Not to Yurt” — but it’s time to talk about the yurt I decided to buy. Yep, that’s right: I bought a yurt, and it’s currently living in a storage unit until I can get my driveway and home site cleared to put it on. (And that is waiting on a septic permit and perk test by the county health department. Goodbye plans for a composting toilet — for now. Covenants and restrictions aren’t the only barriers to living off-grid. But that’s a topic for another post.) My decision process went, as it does for most major purchases, something like this:

  1. Research the purchase, as a general concept
  2. Bookmark the snot out of links to a range of products
  3. Agonize (which includes second-guessing making the purchase at all)
  4. Research more, expanding the range of products and throwing in a few more to add to the confusion
  5. Agonize/second-guess some more
  6. Narrow the choices
  7. Almost decide, but then agonize again instead
  8. Repeat Steps 1-5
  9. Wait too long, while some products drop off the map
  10. Get sick of the whole darned thing and pull the trigger

And this is why my friends laughed when I posted on Facebook about my “impulse buy” of a yurt at a recent Home & Garden Show.

The Materials and Construction Debate

Traditionally, yurts — or ger, as they’re known in their country of origin — are semi-permanent structures made of felted yak wool used by the nomadic people of the Mongolian steppes. They have a single door-flap, a central opening at the top to let in light and let cook-fire smoke out (much like the hole at the top of a tipi), and no windows. A few purists follow this tradition, but most modern yurts are built using a variety of fabric laminates, with a few made of wood, more resembling a traditional Navajo hogan than a yurt.

Yak wool seemed a less practical (and more aromatic) choice, so I quickly focused on the dizzying array of other available materials. Fabric-based laminates leverage everything from a polyester/vinyl composite to cotton canvas, affording varying degrees of water-resistance, mildew resistance, flame resistance, and durability, among other qualities. Each fabric choice has its pros and cons: petroleum-based vs. ecologically sustainable; breathable vs. not; low-maintenance vs. maintenance-intensive. None of these decisions could be made without considering my new home’s climate and how long I planned to live in the yurt.

Construction approaches also vary greatly. Some yurts come as more-or-less “complete” kits, including decking, snap-together flooring, and insulation as part of the package, while others offer only the basic tent-like structure, leaving many of the refinements up to the adventurous DIYer. And, of course, you can buy plans for the wood yurts, taking DIY to a whole new level.

While a wood yurt would be, from my perspective, optimal for long-term inhabitation, they’re cost-prohibitive for me at this point in my journey. My concerns about condensation and mold — two battles I’ll have to fight, no matter what I opt for, living in a temperate rainforest — can be significantly decreased, even in a fabric-laminate yurt, with a ceiling fan to help with air flow and ventilation. The ventilation issue, in fact, focused my search on yurts with larger, venting domes. (And it didn’t hurt that the larger domes met my desire to gaze up at the night sky at night as I drift off to sleep.)

Size Matters

“Will it have a loft? I love the yurts with lofts. Sooooo pretty!”

“Have you seen those yurts where they build walls so you can divide it into rooms?”

“Oooo…I’ve seen some that were, like 40′ in diameter!”

So, size. I wanted something semi-permanent that could be moved, without a lot of trouble, to another part of the property and offered as a vacation rental for a “glamping” experience. (I resist the term, so you’ll just have to keep reading it in quotes on my blog. Sorry. It’s a silly thing, but I find the word ridiculous.) I wasn’t yet certain that a yurt would be my permanent dwelling choice, as I was still exploring other options. The need for portability ruled out most of the larger yurts on the market.

As for rooms and lofts: The yurt Bodhi and I stayed in over a year ago, in Virginia, was divided into a kitchen, a bathroom, a downstairs bedroom, and a very roomy bedroom loft — which we had to reach using a beautiful iron spiral stairway.

Bodhi couldn’t even begin to manage the stairs, so we slept in the bedroom on the first floor, which was situated under the loft. And which also meant that we were sleeping in a conventional box of a bedroom instead of under the beautiful central dome with its view of the stars. (Insert sad trombone here.)

Our struggle with the stairs highlighted the fact that neither Bodhi nor I were getting any younger, and adding stairs at this life stage seems silly. Moreover, dividing a yurt into rooms flies in the face of why I wanted to live in a yurt in the first place: the cozy feeling of being held in a circular embrace.

So, my yurt needed to be small-ish, without walls and without a loft I’d one day be admiring from afar on the first floor because my arthritic knees won’t carry me up those pesky stairs.

A Yurt of One’s Own

And, so, we arrive at the Home & Garden Show in Charlotte, NC.

In the 18 months or so since I’d started my research in earnest, I’d followed my decision-making process right down the path to standing in a yurt with Kathy Anderson and Sharon Morley from Blue Ridge Yurts — which was where I’d essentially started, except back then it was at their factory, and now it was at the show.

I’d planned to start with at least a 24′ yurt, potentially adding two 20′ yurts later — one to use as a bedroom (for privacy) and the other as a dining-/craft-room — so I wouldn’t feel so cramped over time. I wanted to start slightly larger because I knew that the first yurt would be the only yurt for several years, assuming I did, indeed, decide to make yurts my permanent housing solution.

But there I was, standing in a 20′ model yurt, and Kathy and Sharon were offering me a reduced price, and I was shaking hands and making appointments to have it broken down and delivered to my storage unit, and we were laughing, and…

…that’s how I acquired my yurt. My yurt.

Wow. I really own a yurt. *swoon*

Yurt at the garden show, with Rick getting ready to break it down.

Yeah, I know: This is a GUY walking into a yurt. That’s Rick, Yurt Dude Extraordinaire, from Blue Ridge Yurts, getting ready to break down and deliver my yurt to storage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 


Learn more about Blue Ridge Yurts by visiting their New! Improved! website at http://www.blueridgeyurts.com

BTW: Their recent website upgrade removed the link to an article about the material they use, which is made to California-approved standards for fire-resistance. I figure that if Kathy’s and Sharon’s yurt fabric can stand up to regulations in a state where wildfires are a common occurrence, I can probably feel pretty good about it, too.

 

 


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A Word About “Unrestricted Use” Land

…And that Word Is: %&#?@!

The situation is actually kind of funny, in a way — and a cautionary tale, in another. It certainly highlights my inexperience (and naïveté) with buying raw land. The land I bought — The Boot (my nickname for it, based on its shape from the air) — was listed for sale as “unrestricted use.” Rife with possibility, n’est-ce pas? So it seemed…

“That’s great because it means you can do anything you want on the land,” folks said. “You can just pitch a tent and live however you like on it!”

The prospect was exciting to me because I knew that building my new life would be a multi-phase endeavor, as time and finances allowed. I wasn’t concerned about living in more primitive conditions than most folks might enjoy because my ultimate goal is to live as lightly as possible on the land. For me, this equates to some combination of:

  • Digging and excavating as little as possible
  • Living off-grid, using well water, solar power, and composting toilets
  • Catching, storing, and using rainwater run-off from roofs of any structures on the property
  • Foraging where possible, with small gardens to supplement my food supply
  • Erecting structures that minimized my ecological footprint, as best as possible
  • Offering a “glamping” experience that would allow guests to enjoy the natural beauty of the property without having to set up their own camp

Smaller, more affordable properties I looked at came with covenants and restrictions and were often situated in growing developments, where almost none of these things would have been achievable. Unrestricted land, where I could shape my life around the land without making too big a dent in it, seemed the perfect solution.

I Don’t Think that Word Means What You Think It Means

“Uhhhh…you know you’re going to have to dig a septic system, right?”

Ross and Elizabeth, from Cooperative Extension Services, and I were paused in a tiny grove of dying hemlocks, where I’d asked for their opinion on it as a potential home site. My reasoning was that the trees were dying anyway, so cutting them down to clear the site would have less impact than other places on the parcel. I’d mentioned my plans to use a composting toilet so I wouldn’t need septic. Ross and Elizabeth exchanged glances, then Ross spoke up.

“If you have water pumped into the dwelling, you have to have septic coming out. Health deparment regulations.” Ross finished.

“But the land is unrestricted use. My understanding is that I can pretty much set up camp here if I want to,” I replied. Ross assured me that the county health department and I had different ideas about the definition of unrestricted.

I’d planned to do some research, but my sweet Bodhi’s passing just two days after consulting with Ross and Elizabeth engulfed me in a grief and depression that crippled me for months on end. Instead of investigating further, I rather robotically went ahead with the closing. Believing as I did — as I do — that this land and I were somehow meant for each other, I buried my head deep in the sand, telling myself I’d figure it out later.

It’s later.

“Oh…that’s Illegal”

Ross was the first to poke at my definition of “unrestricted use.” Sam, the fellow I consulted with regarding road improvements and home site clearing, seconded Ross’s warning. I dove into the county website to review the regulations I should have reviewed before buying The Boot. (Gotta love hindsight!)

And, dang it all: Composting toilets truly are illegal in my county.

OK, I thought, I can still phase this. I’ve heard of other folks (in other counties and states) who’ve put a Porta-Potty on their property or had a permitted outhouse installed as a temporary measure while they built their home. I filled out the septic application so I could get the perk test I needed, just so Sam would know where to excavate my driveway and home site in the meantime, and called the county health department to ask about options. The information I received was pretty simple:

  • Composting toilet: Illegal.
  • Outhouse: Illegal.
  • Porta-Potty: Illegal.

“But I don’t plan to make any of them permanent solutions!” I told the woman on the phone, exasperated. (Not strictly true in the case of the composting toilet, but my vision was beginning to…evolve a bit.) “I live three hours away right now, and I just want to be able to live on the land so I can get started with the work.”

“Well, what did you plan to do until your home was built?” the woman asked.

“I was basically going to camp,” I ventured.

“Ohhh…” she replied, “camping on residential land is illegal.”

“What?” I gasped, my options not only dwindling but becoming increasingly expensive.

“Well,” she asked, her tone efficient and practical, “where would you go to the bathroom?”

“Unrestricted” Doesn’t Apply to Pee and Poop (and What Else?)

Yep, folks. It’s all about the waste. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to live like an animal, peeing and pooping, willy-nilly, wherever I darned well please. I have neighbors, after all, and I really like them.

But technology for septic-less toilets has advanced considerably, offering a dizzying array of hygienic options. Processes for handling the transformed waste — be it composted, incinerated, or turned into white doves to release at weddings* — have also come a long way. Some of these technologies and processes have been developed, in fact, to relieve squalor in places where plumbing isn’t possible. And, as our rivers, streams, and oceans become increasingly polluted, we need more eco-conscious ways of managing human waste, in all its forms. Septic systems solve part of the problem, but not all of it.

The biggest — and most paralyzing — concern for me, however, has less to do with pee and poop, specifically, and more to do with my broader fears: What other rules and regulations have I missed that will become a barrier to living on The Boot? Will I be able to build my new life in stages, as I’d planned, or will I have to figure out how to fund all of it at once?

So, for those of you wondering why I don’t poop or get off the pot with this dragged-out adventure of mine, my answer is: Which pot? And what’s lurking under the lid waiting to bite me in the butt?

 

* I might be kidding about transforming poop into white doves. In case you wondered.
View from the tractor road, late winter.

The road out, where coyote, deer, and bear poop without restrictions. But I’m not bitter.