Have you ever read Michael Pollan's book A Place Of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams? I'm a big Michael Pollan fan, having been introduced to him through The Omnivore's Dilemma— a tremendous read, and the book that launched him into the public consciousness. I've made my way through a number of his books since that first introduction, including this, his second book, written in the mid-nineties about how he built a tiny writing hut for himself in the woods behind his Connecticut house. He begins the book this way:
A Room of One's Own: Is there anybody who hasn't at one time or another wished for such a place, hasn't turned those soft words over until they'd assumed a habitable shape? What they propose, to anyone who admits them into the space of a daydream, is a place of solitude a few steps off the beaten track of everyday life.
What was inspiring about this book to me personally was that Pollan was so ill-equipped to build his own backyard hut from scratch. As a writer, editor, and life-long lover of words, Pollan wasn't handy. He wasn't a DIY weekend hobbyist. And yet as he thought about creating a space for himself, it become apparent to him that, though he was completely ill-equipped, he had to build it himself... precisely because he was so ill-equipped. He writes it this way:
For someone as attached to words and books and chairs as I am, gratuitous physical labor wouldn't ordinarily hold much appeal. Yet I had lately developed--in the garden, as it happened--an appreciation for those forms of knowledge that seem to yield most readily to the hands. Different kinds of work, performed with different sets of tools, can disclose different faces of the world, and my work in the garden had revealed a face of nature I'd never seen before, not as a reader or a spectator. What I'd gleaned there was a taste of what the "green thumb" has in abundance, this almost bodily sense of plants and the earth that comes from handwork, sweat, and a particular quality of attention that involves very little intellect, but all of the senses. It reminded me just how much of reality slips through the net of our words, and that time spent working directly with the flesh of the world is the best antidote for abstraction.
I understand this desire. As a writer and a musician, I live in words and ideas, and though we feature a lot of DIY projects, gardening How-Tos and the like here on Re-Nest, I often find myself gazing wistfully from afar. I want to use my hands for more than just typing. I want to understand how to make things work. I want to create and change and build.
Pollan finished building his hut. You can see the photos here. He got a good ten years out of it, too, and actually wrote 1/3 of The Omnivore's Dilemma in this cabin before he and his family moved out to Berkeley. It makes me imagine what I might one day be able to accomplish, given a little land and a place to call all my own.
You can get the book here.