Interesting rabbit holes lead to interesting destinations. A while ago – in the midst of some fits of frugality and the desire to move to the Boundary Waters once and for all and live out of a canoe – I decided to read Thoreau’s Walden. I didn’t finish it. In fact I barely started it, but I was taken by Bill McKibben’s introduction. Turns out I was more interested in the high points of Thoreau’s riches, rather than reading it all for myself. McKibben mentioned Your Money or Your Life, and I was sent on several thought journeys through material saturation, simplification and reconciling all of one’s disjointed life into a neat holistic package.
All the while I was working through my downsizing thought experiment, my daughter was finding her latest Pinterest passion: cool tiny home ideas. She studied compact staircases, stairs that double as bookcases, under toilet cabinets, cupboards under stairs, secret drawers under lofted bedrooms, stairs that double as dressers, trap-door closets, and every other way to eek more usable space out of a house the size of a shoebox (stairs, it turns out, are shockingly versatile). Her young architectural brain was building her dream home, one pin at a time. I decided to order her a few of the sweet books I’d seen on tiny houses, showcasing the best of the best. I, too, was excited to see how others have unloaded their lives and found solace in hobbit holes, treehouses, and other elvish dwellings. What kind of freedom that must be!
Now, you should know that the public library in our town is kept alive in great part by the circulation generated from our home. We currently have 234 library books nestled into baskets and stacks around our house. Many are honestly come by, but on any given week, our circulatory spikes might usher 15 intentional books in on the wings of 27 inadvertent orders. You see, I get a little trigger happy. On Amazon I have inhibitions, not the least of which is knowing that I have to confess to my financial software the excesses of my shopping cart. But my library’s virtual basket has no such checks and balances. I have unbridled, guiltless freedom – I load up my cart with everything that is remotely related to my initial search, and place that order with a clear conscience every time. Our wee little library stretches it’s muscles, boasting hefty throughput, and my kids stretch theirs as they carry out the 50# currier totes lent to them because the librarians didn’t want to deplete their bag stash. I sleep well at night.
This community service of mine – currently trained on a tiny house book-ordering frenzy – resulted not only in nice coffee table volumes brimming with beautifully photographed homes the size of my tent, but also a few unintended hitchhikers. The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir was one such serendipitous tagger-along.
Dee Williams has congestive heart failure, and you would be hard-pressed not to liken her personal adventures to most people’s mid-life crisis. She has gotten it into her tired head that she needs to build herself a tiny home on wheels. Probably something like my library binges gone awry. But she has a questionable life expectancy urging her onward with no regard to the ramifications of her obsession.
The Big Tiny is Dee’s story, and it is awesome. I can honestly tell you that I cried normal, garden variety tears on more than one occasion, and snot-soaked tears of laughter at least once per chapter. No, no, that is conservative… I made a fool of myself regularly in my living room – with my family dutifully listening to my stuttered, screeching attempts at reading passages to them through rivers of tears and snorts. I played the part of the local crazy lady at several parks throughout the Chippewa Valley – wiping my tears away with my sandwich wrapper, belly-laughing and hooting at no one in particular. And I was the intermission entertainment for a lucky few armrest-mates at the prestigious Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts lately – I habitually snagged a few pages during the intermissions of my daughter’s community theater debut, soliciting interest and concern (for their own well-being) from my captive neighbors. I could not pick up this book without cathartic tears of joy.
We’ve established that Dee Williams is hilarious. But how funny is she? I can without reservation set her on par with Michael Perry, one of my favorite authors, master of relaying the quirks and idiosyncrasies of life with more humor than should be allowed on the written page. Mike has written Population: 485, Truck: A Love Story, Coop, and a slew of other amazing books. If you haven’t discovered him yet, consider this your introduction.
Following Dee through her personal vendetta against the failures of her own heart is all-at-once heart-breaking, inspiring and uplifting. The woman portrayed on the pages of The Big Tiny is herself a challenge to all of us, whether or not we aspire to anything so severe as living in an eighty-four-square-foot home. She brings a crisp and fearless attitude to life, spits in the face of convention and propriety, and is truly awake to life – to her own fragile life and to the web of blessings that she finds herself entangled within, embraced within. I thought when I first opened this accidental treasure that it would teach me a thing or two about building a tiny house, but what it really taught me about was building an enormous life. That is something we should all be aspiring to.
And did I mention it’s funny?