I came to DR in April of ’02. I’m an ex-pat Texan, raised in a small comfortable southern agricultural town till age 11. Then my father got a job with an oil-refinery construction firm and from then on my family moved every 9 months or so, up and down the gulf coast. I was the kid at the back of the class whose name nobody knewbecause I never spoke to anyone, figuring there was no point in forming social connections when I’d so soon be moving on. This pattern stuck, and now many years down the line, I still have difficulty forming or maintaining connections to others, and no matter how long I live in one place it still feels temporary. But I choose to live in community (’04 will be my 10th year living in consensus-based community)how’s that work? I have no explanation unless it’s somehow related to those first years as a small-town “knows everyone” kid. Anyway, it seems to work better than being “out there” and I work at making that temporary feeling fade away.
From childhood until about ’97 my strongest interest was flight. I studied all aspects of flight: the aerodynamics of all animals, all aircraft, even sailboats, and the history of aircraft and sailingbuilding up a library of 350 books. I designed and built model aircraft by the dozens, then began flying, became an advanced level hang glider pilot and then a certified instructor, then an ultralight test-pilot, became a professional sailmaker (via apprenticeship) and began sewing-up and framing my own series of original hang glider designs. My life revolved around the cycle of designing, building, test-flying, and design evaluationleading to a new design and another cycle. Interest had become obsession.
My last completed cycle was in ’97 with test flights late that year. Then I slid downward into some sort of crisis. I designed one new project after another but couldn’t make myself commit to building any of them. Trying to self-motivate, I wrote/published a book about my design workthen created a website about it, seeking feedback/input from other designers. I got involved with a project to build a manned ultralight version of the largest of the extinct pterosaurus (36 foot wingspan and 220 pounds, living 65 million years ago), meeting the foremost paleontologist associated with the animal and examining the actual fossils at his laboratory. I worked hard at it, but couldn’t maintain the old intensity and my progress dragged to a stop. Finally, emails from other designers, paleontologists, and engineers began to pile-up in my inbox. I no longer had the energy/will to even open them.
I would get up at 3:30 each morning, get to my studio in the old art-warehouse district by 5am, log-in to my project journal, make my customary 10-cup pot of coffee, and then my process would hit some kind of internal mental wallas real and effective as the brick and mortar walls of the old building. I’d sit sipping coffee and stare into space surrounded by a dozen partially completed projects, design drawings pinned to every wall surface, and a softly whirring blank-screened computer. Fellow artists/inventors in the studio complex would stop by my open door to offer encouragement. Around noon I’d close up and drive back through downtown Houston to my 1950s efficiency apartment and sit on the fold-down Murphy bed, surrounded by books and papers from wall to ceiling on a subject that was no longer of any interest. I was drinking more and more. Consuming beer became the second half of these days. In January of ’01 I finally admitted to myself that my 40+ year obsession with flight had died. Who was I without the obsession? What would fill the empty hoursalcohol? Why was I working as a sailmaker? I had no interest in boats or the ocean.
I shut down the studio, taking hundreds of pounds of aircraft grade aluminum to the recycling center for 10 cents a pound. I sold my industrial sewing machine. I took hundreds of books, rolls of sailcloth, and the studio computer down to the Good Samaritan thrift store. After turning in the key to the bare and swept-out studio I focused on emptying the apartment.
Then other things began to shift. I quit my job as a sailmaker and did not try to find another, instead living off my savings. I began volunteering at the community gardens, attending permaculture classes, radically changing my diet, getting my food from a CSA, and collecting books and info on sustainable human ecology. I began seeing my blood-family more often, talking to my parents weekly and having coffee with my brother every Saturday morning. I even traveled out of Texas (whoa!) to visit my son and daughter-in-law. (Yes, I was once married, and had a child who grew up to be a strong, gentle man who then married a strong, gentle woman.) In late ’01 I traveled to a seminar given by Mathis W., author of “Our Ecological Footprint,” and spoke to him about human ecology. I began a search for an ecology-focused community and found Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. I applied for a work-exchange position in the gardens, and was invited to come in the spring of 02.
I finished shutting down my apartment and drove away from Houston, from Texas, from the gulf coast, and now reside in rural northeast Missouri. It still feels magical to scan the horizon without seeing the petrochemical refineries or the red-brown ozone haze. I do miss seeing my blood-family but am slowly (ever so slowly) forming connections within the intentional family of this infant ecovillage. I now have a beautiful lover/friend relationship with a wonderful woman named Laura. I work in house construction and gardening (not much call for sailmaking here). And I’m designing eco-houses and gardens with as great an intensity as I applied to the flight projects.
But I have no wish to form a new obsession. I will turn 50 in ’04 and my second half-century will be much more balanced than the first. Part of this balance is maintaining my connections to my blood-family while living so far away and leading a rural/eco/low-income lifestyle that allows me little or no travel. I now have a grandson whom I have not yet even met. Working such things out will be a challenge, but there’s a solution somewhere and I’ll find it.
I’m happier now than I’ve ever been, this is where I need and want to be, and I look forward to the future (and work to create it!) while loving the present.