Sometimes it feels like my house is all I talk about. It’s not true, but it feels that way. It’s really hard to describe to people what has happened here over the last seven years. I’ve realized lately that one of my deepest desires is to be understood and sympathized with. Don’t we all want that to a certain extent? No one likes to be misunderstood or treated differently than they actually feel. In the age of social media and technology-relationships it can be hard to feel truly connected because only part of our life is being displayed.
I used to hide my emotions. I used to act like everything was just fine all the time. I was a “closet emotional”. I realized it when I tried to open up to people as a teenager. It seemed what I was thinking in my head was way more intense than they were ready for. I was shut down a few times but thankfully I didn’t let that stop me from opening up. Some people just aren’t safe to open up with. Sometimes we don’t think they will understand, and like I said, I desire to be understood as much as it’s possible.
So why do I continue talking about my living situation? Simply put, it has been my “home” reality for the last 7 years, and what is more important than where you go to relax and escape the world? But I wanted to do something different this time. I wanted to bring to mind the good memories and crazy things we’ve done there in order to not feel completely jaded. Johnny and I have come to some really hard realizations about our life in the last month and my anxiety is very real.
Lately I’ve been feeling put off by people telling us who we are. When people only know you to a certain extent they take whatever details they do know and then peg you as that. It’s frustrating. People change, we change every single year, every single month, every single day. Never assume you know where someone is at, approach life with curiosity instead of absolutes. Some of the things we’ve heard lately:
-You guys like living dirty (not true)
-You guys like living without basic amenities (not true)
-You don't have refined taste (not true)
-You're hippies (huh?)
-I can’t believe you wanted to start a commune (not true)
A lot of people don’t know this but I am very fancy in the way I live, at least I’ve wanted to be. I love luxuries. Not in the typical sense but in the form of rituals. I love a good bath but I’ve never lived in a home with one. I love lighting candles at night. I love a clean, organized home with décor, cozy couches and warmth. I will spend obscene amounts of money on quality local food so I can prepare beautiful meals for my friends and husband. I love hosting people and if I could I would make them a full bed with a little treat on their pillow. I spend a lot of my mornings reading, drinking coffee, doing yoga and relaxing. This is how I like my home life to look.
When Johnny and I got married and moved into a house that was fully ripped apart and non-functioning it sent me into a year of panic attacks and anxiety. Everything I mentioned above was non-existent. When I was a teenager I started down the road of self-care, writing poetry and pursuing whatever I felt was noble in the world. Moving into this house made me feel like I had to put all my desires on hold. Besides that I was also learning to be married. It was a really rough year that I never really talked about openly.
What about the good stuff? Well, take all those desires I mentioned above and try to translate them into this situation. Here is that story.
There was/is a group called Jesus Radicals. This is a group of people who combine Christianity with Anarchy. There was going to be a get together in Portland for this group and Johnny signed our house up on the list of places people could stay. Well, apparently there weren’t that many houses on the list because this is what ensued:
We had about 20 people staying in our small space, which meant some of them were in hammocks out front and in tents out back. The next morning I tip toed over bodies to our make-shift kitchen and made the largest pot of oatmeal. I gathered up random cups and bowls in order to feed everyone. They were all so thankful. This was the beginning of our “hospitality house”. I felt like the space that I hated so much finally had a purpose. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make people nice beds and put little treats on their pillows, instead I could give them a couch, blankets, conversation, oatmeal and large French presses of coffee in the morning.
Over the next 3 years we had a revolving door. Meanwhile we were still re-modeling the house and living without a real kitchen. Our roommate Zach had met a lot of “crusty punks” while traveling and began inviting them to visit. These were the only people who appreciated our space and hospitality. It was all we could give and I was so happy to give it. It filled a hole in me for a while. We met people from all over the country and even some international friends. People would bring their dogs, their instruments, their buses they lived in and their stories. We’d sit on the porch and talk for hours.
We’d also work on projects and talk about all the epic things we could do. One of the projects ended up being our cooking stove, which everyone was really intrigued by. Our electric burners kept breaking and Johnny had heard of this stove design that only used a bundle of twigs to cook a whole meal. Life was never boring, I’ll tell you that. Our porch became our kitchen/living room/guest room. We’d cook on one side and people would sleep and hang out on the other side if we didn’t have room available. This is what it looked like:
We didn’t want to live this way. It just came to us. We were handed lemons and decided to make lemonade. Johnny and I are both people who enjoy really feeling ALIVE. Because we didn’t have an ideal space or a comforting space we decided that sharing it was a way to give it life and meaning. Ultimately we became dirtier people but we also became resourceful, hard working, strong, well-rounded, understanding people. We connected with a group of people who lived a completely different life than us; I think that is always a good thing. It also caused Johnny and I to really learn to communicate well. There were always people around. At some points we had people living in our stairwell right next to our bedroom. I wouldn’t say it was the best idea, but it’s what we did.
Johnny and I didn’t get a lot of privacy. Our most intimate times were spent at coffee shops talking about our dreams and working through the stress of the house together. It was a weird life but we were always trying to make the best of it. At times we had 5 people living in our 2 bedroom, one bathroom, no kitchen house. One time our roommates built their own bunk beds so three of them could fit in one room:
Some of our traveling friends were regulars at our house. One day while sitting on the porch swing our friend was telling us how thankful she was for the house. She said it was incomparable to any other place she had stayed. She felt warm, welcomed and safe, like she could truly relax. This is the opposite of how the space felt to me but the fact that such a chaotic space could create that for someone was a huge success in our minds. It gave us the strength to continue what we had started. Another night we headed out to the main street to busk with our incredible musician friends. We brought the baby goats and set up on the corner near Salt and Straw Ice Cream where a huge line would form. That night we made $40 and spend it on celebratory food and drink with our friends.
Things weren’t always good. People overstayed their welcome, the house was always a mess, most of my things were still in storage, I didn’t feel like I had any space for myself and Johnny was constantly stressed by the re-model. These are the truths, but it doesn’t mean I’m not thankful for all the weird/incredible things that happened here. I’ve learned so much about myself and what I can handle. I’ve learned to set healthy boundaries and stand up for myself. I am grateful for every little ounce of luxury. I’ve also made friends all across the country and world. I’ve shared my space open arms and made lemonade.
For a short while the house looked pretty good, this didn’t last long but I’m glad I have it documented. I can’t wait till I have a space of my own where I can create beauty, organization, cleanliness, light, love, comfort and hospitality. It’s been a long time coming. And while I still struggle with anxiety and panic over our situation I am trying to remember all these good moments when the house was in chaos and we created epic memories regardless. It reminds me to find hope wherever it can be found; to create a home within myself when it is not physically available.
To all our friends and 20+ roommates whom we've shared the space with: thank you! You helped us create something out of nothing. You shared your lives with us and your stories. You are awesome! Once we have a guest house on the property I want to see you all out there!
Our Roommates and Regular Houseguests:
Anna, Bethany, Olivia, Jenny, Zach, Paul, Nate, Brittany, Adam, Hodges, Laura, Nolan, Eve, Carmen, Ben, Blake, Emily, Cory, Rochelle, Mareike, Ashley, Kevin, Kaytee, Christopher, Adam, Neil, Tim, etc.
Two days ago I walked into a piercing shop and spontaneously re-pierced my nose and introduced a brand new septum piercing to my face. To some people this may not seem like anything unusual, especially those of us who live in Portland, Oregon. Tattoos and piercings are a normal everyday accessory in this town. For me, there is something deeper. It means I am coming back to myself; re-infusing my life with where I began. This is not to say that where I was just a few months ago was a bad place; it was just a place where growth was begging to be allowed.
Everything Johnny and I took on over the last 7 years of our marriage was evoked by honest intentions. Our desire to serve and care for others was the core of our union but the truth remained: we were young and naïve. We allowed our wellbeing to take the backseat and we took on too much weight. For a while we thought the state of the world was in our hands. And while I haven’t let go of the desire to live a life that takes that into account, it wasn’t our burden to bear alone. We felt isolated from our spiritual friends as we took a very narrow path.
This stems from my childhood growing up in the church. I was taught extensively about how to be a servant but not how to set boundaries. This is a common issue in Christianity as I see people give everything they have for others and feel guilty for taking care of themselves. Did we forget that Jesus sat down and ate nice meals with friends? Or that he commonly went off on his own into nature? I love the foundation I received as a child but as I’ve become an adult I’ve had to learn how to instill healthy boundaries. Many people have seen what happens when you don’t take time for yourself and only serve others: BURNOUT.
This is what happened with Johnny and I. We tried to live out of our ideals without the boundaries and ended up resenting our situation. I will spare all the details of our situation and give you the bullet points:
-Johnny and I have only lived alone for a few months in our marriage
-We have had 27 roommates in 6 years
-We have hosted over 100 people in our house
-Meanwhile our house was fully ripped apart with no kitchen for 3 of those years
The first time we realized we needed to do something for ourselves was when I miscarried a pregnancy 2 months in. This was during a time where we had no kitchen and people were living and staying with us. Ultimately I am an introvert who does not like to be around people during emotional times. This was awful for me. I told Johnny that it was finally time we do something for us. This led us to planning a 2-month pilgrimage to South Africa. During that trip we were inspired to come home and save up to buy land. Unfortunately this meant we continued to live with people in order to save more money for that dream. Now that we own land we realize it may not have been worth the neglect we showed ourselves for 7 years.
My neglect also brought on my allergies. The stress of the house coupled with all the dust and mold I was breathing in during the remodel triggered my hereditary predisposition to allergies. Thankfully nutrition and self-care has saved me from that “life sentence” but I don’t ever want to go back to that place.
That said the time is now. It’s the year of Johnny and Bailey and we’re coming in hot. We have never really allowed ourselves any luxuries so a few of the things we’ve done for ourselves so far:
-Johnny bought me a massage for my birthday
-We got gym memberships so we can go sauna at night
-We’re extending our tiny house in the backyard so we can fully live in it and are separate from roommates. Up until now we only used that space to sleep in and as our living room. Now we will have all the amenities.
-We are both letting ourselves relax more and do things we love…just because
-Johnny has bought “new” clothes and started dressing how he likes.
-I have cut my hair off for a change and pierced my face.
Also, we began confronting things and people in our life that we’ve been avoiding. We are being more communicative with the people in our lives and setting healthy boundaries so we don’t slip back into the place we were.
These may seem like simple little things but it’s all helping us go back to the chill people we were before we tried to take on everything. I will always want to be a servant in my life but if I speak of the importance of self-care and boundaries then I need to put that into practice.
I felt like I lost my power over the last 7 years. I felt like I lost a part of myself that I love. These simple piercings are another reminder that I have some control in my life and that I don’t have to withhold “luxuries” from myself anymore. These simple acts make me feel more like myself, more in love with my husband, more in control and more able to help others because I first cared for myself,
Many of us, as children, were advised to choose our friends wisely. Throughout my schooling, it was common knowledge among my peers who the “trouble-makers” were. Had I begun to gravitate toward these kids, I’m sure my mother would have stepped in with some words of warning. Similar advice was given in church. I can remember viewing my friendships with “non-believers” as primarily serving the purpose of conversion. My goal was to be a good influence, in hopes that they too might accept Jesus as their savior. Whether this advice was explicit or not, I cannot say. It was certainly my understanding. While I now see missionary-friendship as problematic on many levels, the advice I was given was sound. As I reflect on my life over the past seven years, my marriage serving as the point of demarcation, I realize that the purveyors of such advice were right. As I understand it, the point of such advice was to protect me from “bad” influences. It turns out that the people we choose to spend our time with end up having a great deal of influence on us. Sometimes that influence solidifies us in our values and beliefs. Other times, much to the chagrin of my childhood authority figures, we find ourselves thinking and believing the very things they were trying to protect us from. Like much religious instruction, the source of this guidance is fear.
Growing up, most of my friends were from church-going families. The town in which I lived had, at one time, more churches per capita than any other U.S. city. The odds were in my favor. After moving to the “big city”, I was exposed to a far more diverse crowd. The evangelical mindset I moved with persisted. Living in the city provided, so I thought, many more opportunities for “sharing the gospel” than the small town I had moved from. I was in heaven, or hell rather. Just as feared, mixing with the heathens was not without its consequences. The short version of the story is that I now find myself with a worldview vastly different, in some ways, from that in which I was instructed as a child.
The ways in which my past and present worldviews do not differ are significant. As I was taught, my goal in life is to be a loving, humble, generous, and caring person, the life and teachings of Jesus being a source of inspiration and guidance in this endeavor. The primary difference is the manner in which I hold my worldview. Before, I held my beliefs in a closed hand, fists clenched tightly. As clenching tightly will do, this stressed me out. As far as I knew, there was a single right way for me to live my life, and I was going to figure it out.
I am fairly confident in saying that my departure from a fundamentalist understanding of reality has been the single most beneficial change I have ever undergone. Becoming somewhat comfortable with the infinitely complex, mysterious nature of the world, god, the universe, and reality, has been so much more rewarding. I have finally succeeded in my quest for an answer to every question: most often it is “I don’t know.”
To repeat the advice I was given, choose your friends wisely. If you’d like to maintain your worldview, values, and beliefs, stay away from people who don’t share them.
Bailey Patrice & Jonathan David