Did You Build It All By Yourself?

When I talk to people about my Holy Ghost building, my shed/cabin/studio in western North Carolina, invariably the first question they ask is:

Did you build it all by yourself?

To which my enthusiastic response is:

Of course not, and even if I had hammered every single nail myself, I still wouldn’t have done it alone.

Don’t get me wrong: I did a lot of the work myself, and I feel the pride that comes with learning new skills, becoming more resourceful and self-sufficient, and persevering through difficulty.   My father’s family has lived in North Carolina since before the Revolutionary War.  My mom’s family came across the ocean later from Lithuania and Ireland.  I feel the atavistic pull of pioneerism as much as anybody.

But to get too caught up in that side of our American mythos is to miss another, deeper joy: interdependence.  For every cowboy alone on the range, there’s a quilting bee by the firelight.  This myth of our ancestors—and ourselves—striking out on our own into the wilderness is just that: a myth.  The reality is that we followed trails, shared knowledge, traded seeds, circled our wagons, raised roofs together.  Even the standard-bearer of the self-built cabin in the woods, Henry David Thoreau, borrowed the nails for his cabin from a neighbor (and returned them when his experiment was finished!).

So no, I didn’t do it alone.  In fact, to consider all the people who’ve helped me, many of whom I’ve never met, is staggering.  It gives me the same sort of awesome rushing feeling I get from watching the Eames movie Powers of Ten.  Here’s a very partial list:

  •  My mom, Katherine Sursavage Holman, and my dad, Arthur Franklin Holman III.  Being in their 70’s didn’t stop them from helping me enormously.  They let me use a parcel of their land.  When I was still in Brooklyn, they tracked down my Craigslist finds and delivered them to our site, including a house-sized pile of shingles and some enormously heavy pieces of glass.  They pulled teeny tiny nails from reclaimed cedar.  My dad designed and fabricated my 10.5 ft tall windows.  My mom hauled literally tons of landscaping stones and fill dirt for my patio.  My dad hooked up a rope system so I could work twenty feet in the air without totally freaking out from panic.  My mom used a bucket and pulley system to deliver shingles, coffee, and lunch up to my platform aerie.  Each night, after a hard day’s work, we ate world-class meals together.  Nobody has it better than me.
  • My brother Bud Holman, his wife Tammy, my niece Kate, nephew Dustin, and Dustin’s friend Jake.  My big brother helped me plan on the porch of our vacation rental in Edisto, SC, and back in Black Mountain, his whole crew helped cut down and remove a dead tree that was blocking my site.  The youngest member of my team was 4 years old and the oldest 73!
  • Uncle Jim, Uncle Butch, and Aunt Mary.  Jim helped built my deck, the first part of the structure to be built after the foundation.  Along with my best friend Janice, Butch and Mary helped put up an eave wall from start to finish in one day (maybe for professional framing carpenters that’s no big deal, but to me it’s a near-miracle!).
  • Janice Badalutz also helped build the toughest wall, the 16-foot high gable with the three tall windows, and didn’t yell at me when I cut all the angles wrong at first (and second).
  • Erica Harris let me be away from home for long stretches to do this project, and supported and encouraged me every single day, and painted my ceiling, and photographed our progress, and helped me build models of butterboard, and remained open to living in the woods with me even though she is by nature a city slicker.  From Burma to Black Mountain, I want to be with you everywhere….
  • Builder and 3-D designer Andrew Jerabek reviewed designs with me via computer—the dormer, which makes a tremendous difference in the spaciousness of the loft, was his idea.
  • Jim Keenan from Hickory Nut Builders did my foundation, and everyone who sees it remarks on what a solid job he did.
  • And last but certainly not least, Will Nelson was not only a superb framing carpenter, but a patient teacher as well. I can’t wait for the next project with Will!

In another post, I’ll talk about some of the online resources I use for information, inspiration, and encouragement.