Well, we’ve finally hit the most critical stage of bus conversion: painting and decorating.
Okay, okay, I’m not actually serious about this being the most critical stage of the whole process. However it is certainly the stage that I’ve been most anticipating. By the end of September, the interior of the bus was technically complete, however it remained quite rough. At the time, we dubbed it good enough. Since then, we’ve been engaged in performing engine diagnostics & improvements. Following the successful completion of some mechanical upgrades and a few equally successful road-tests to confirm the engine’s soundness, we’ve since switched gears. So far, the month of January has been about making the bus not just habitable, but homey.
Yes, this process includes the aforementioned painting and decorating (though currently, more of the former than the latter), and yes, I will include pictures. However it’s important to mention that it is also accompanied by an equally important, and somewhat more challenging task: downsizing.
When I first moved to Austin, all of my worldly possessions could be contained, quite literally, into a space half the size of my car. At the time, I had completely streamlined the material contents of my life to fit into either the trunk or the back seat of my small, Saturn Ion. Far from being austere, this minimalism was actually quite exhilarating. I had exactly what I needed and was free from the urge to accumulate more (and more, and more). For his part, Ryan had a similar experience, only involving a 1997 Honda Civic.
Of course, this didn’t last. As our lives in Austin changed shape over the years, the amount of stuff acquired increased. And then of course, Ryan and I moved in together and our two individual streams of stuff merged into one large enough to fill up an 800 square foot duplex (plus two exterior storage sheds). So now, as we prepare to move into a space that is roughly 200 square feet, each of us is having to engage in a process of discarding what is no longer needed.
I’m specifically using the word “process” here in light of a the interesting realization of just how much emotional and psychological energy we can invest into the objects that surround us. For me, a great example of this would be how hard it was to cull the clothes in my closet. (Hopefully the following commentary will dispel the seeming triviality of that last sentence.)
As any of you who know me can vouch, I’m certainly not a fashionista. Yet the objects that I seem to hold onto the longest are almost always clothing. At first I couldn’t explain why I was so attached to that dress I wore once to someone’s wedding two years ago, or that blouse I used to love wearing when I was 20, or those shoes that I only remember I own once a year at most. But then it became clear – it’s the same reason I bought a very impractical, violet chiffon sun dress from Goodwill in October. In my head I’m justifying keeping or purchasing an item of clothing because it evokes a memory of the person I used to be, or an experience I imagine having in the future. In reality, I don’t actually need to keep that bridesmaid dress or outfit 20 year-old me loved to wear in order to hang on to those memories – they’re already woven in to the fabric of my present life. Further, I don’t need to buy an item of clothing just to foster the possibility of whatever imagined experience is associated with it. The possibility is already there. Instead of buying a dress that makes me think I might be the kind of person who goes to brunch at a nice(ish) restaurant on a Sunday morning, I could actually try going out and having that experience. Or I can simply accept that, if precedent is any proof, I probably won’t be that person. (For the record, on Sunday mornings, you can usually find me on the couch doing my best to impersonate an only semi-disheveled human while grumbling and belligerently slurping coffee.)
In Ryan’s case, a similar dynamic typically plays out involving electronic parts, that he might one day, be the person who will fashion these bits and pieces into a functioning robot, or scraps of PVC piping that he might one day turn into a solar-powered coffee maker (really, don’t ask). Confronting our stuff, is in a sense, confronting past, present, and future versions of ourselves.
(Jointly, we both struggle immensely with discarding books – so much so that despite multiple trips to Half Price Book’s purchasing desk, we’ve had to actually build additional shelving units into the bus.)
So far, the act of getting rid of things has been an interesting crash course in recognizing where, and quite literally in what, each of us has invested our individual psychic energy – and how the objects we’ve chosen to surround ourselves with relate to the inner lives we’ve each built for ourselves.
And now to deliver the previously promised photos! Here are some shots of us doing work on the bus. Most are quick snapshots, we’ll post nicer, more extensive ones soon.