Today a bagillion people in America are celebrating a holiday called Thanksgiving. I imagine that most of you are familiar with the custom. Family gatherings, heaps of food, turkey, weird combinations of sweet potatoes and marshmallows, and pie are all key elements. It’s a good time (I like family and I like food), but it is an incredibly fucked up holiday. See above graphic (which by the way, I pilfered from facebook and haven’t a fucking clue who to credit to…so if this is your picture, let me know so I can write in big capital letters what a frickin genius you are).
In American schools they teach you that Thanksgiving is this happy-go-lucky holiday that started when the settlers (cough colonizers) and the native Americans had a big happy feast and became bffs for ever and ever and ever and ever, sunshine and kittens and lollipops for everyone! But OH WAIT. Didn’t the same settlers actually then spend the next hundred years SLAUGHTERING those people and/or making their lives miserable and ignoring every treaty ever made with them? Hmmm. Something just doesn’t add up here. I think this Adams family video says it quite nicely:
For me the holiday has become a time to remember all the fucked up shit that went down to make America what it is today. It is a day to remember the true stories behind the historical myths we tell each other. And it is a day to eat a lot of damn fine food. This year I’ll be celebrating on Sunday with a group of lovely ladies who I like the think of as the Anarchist Expat Ladies Club.
Hanging on Thanksgiving’s coat tails is a tradition come holiday that is equally, perhaps more, sickening: Black Friday, the day when the Christmas shopping season officially kicks off. Because retailers just can’t get enough of the profits that a day of shoppers foaming at the mouth and beating each other off with sticks over the day’s sales produce, they are doing a kick off on Thursday, right in the middle of Thanksgiving feasts everywhere. Which means that the one decent part of Thanksgiving (spending time with your family) is getting beaten back with a cash register.
I think that Lindy West said it best on Jezebel: “Long, long ago, in a time known as the ’80s, Black Friday sales started on a day called ‘Friday,’ at an actual hour that an actual store might actually have been open—say, 8 or 9 or 10 am. Over the years, the kick-off hours have been slowly rolling back—to 3 am, 4 am, midnight. And this year, stores such as Target, Walmart, and Toys R Us plan to start their Black Friday sales at 7 or 8 pm on Thursday, smack in the middle of the Thanksgiving dinner hour. Because fuck your turkey, MEN’S POLAR FLEECE MOCK-TURTLE HALF-ZIPS ARE 60% OFF. Get ready for Black Friday Part Deux: Black Thursday: The Legend of Curly’s Pulverized Ribcage. I am not following any of this. Can someone explain it to me, slowly and using small, nonthreatening words? Please?
“Now that Black Friday isn’t even on Friday anymore—now that it’s Black Thursday Night and Black Fuck Your Thanksgiving and Black Ha Ha Pitiful Wal Mart Slaves You Have No Family!—what is the point of it, really? I mean, hey, I have an idea! Why not just start Black Friday 2013 on the day after Black Friday 2012 and we’ll call it Black The -Entire-Year and everyone will get so many savings that Santa Claus will rise from the dead and do everyone’s taxes!!!!! Thanks, capitalism!” Her entire commentary on the subject is priceless, so go read the entire article post haste.
Walmart workers are striking and protests are being organized (a favorite is to go to a store and walk around slowly in circles with an empty shopping cart, best case scenario, in a really big group, congo-line style, in order to disrupt the shopping hell, oops, I mean extravaganza). I would say that I was protesting the event with a buy nothing day, but I buy nothing all the time, so it doesn’t feel like a spectacular statement. Are you protesting Thanksgiving or Black Friday in some way?
The number of people who live in Bauwägen in Germany is immense, as far as a tiny sub-culture can be immense. But with over 130 Wagenplätze and who the hell knows how many others—living openly in eco-villages and secretly on garden plots and unofficially in backyards. It all reminds me of the time when the magazine printed in the same office I often work from featured a photo of a woman in front of a Bauwagen. I was astounded that a kind of conservative publication would feature such a thing. My colleague had replied, nonchalantly, “Well you aren’t the only ones.” Indeed we are not.
While doing some research for another project, I stumbled upon a German eco-village (for the German learners among us, that’s ökodorf) called Sieben Linden. These folks bought a big plot of land in East Germany and are living it up eco-style, giving seminars and, yup, living in Bauwägen. There weren’t too many pictures available, and I hope someday to visit and take my own, but for now, check out what they’re doing over there, tiny house-wise:
When I think about it—and I often do—the fact that living in tiny houses has become a movement is kind of strange. I mean, that used to just be the way it was, right? Normal people didn’t live in huge McMansions. Half of the time people were in homes that might be considered far too small for the number of people living in them. Nomadic peoples built shelters like the teepee. Small houses were the norm. Then we (in the western world at least and particularly in America) got all crazy and now couples live in huge, echoing structures that are so big they have to hire someone to help them clean. Fuck that.
In Germany I don’t hear people talking about a “tiny house movement” so much. Why? Coincidence, perhaps, together with the fact that most of the houses here are really frickin old, also know as from “the time before McMansions became accessible to people below the upper upper class.”
But things got out of hand and now there’s a movement that’s bringing people back down to earth. Well move this! If you’ve been around for a while, you know that my partner, daughter, and I live in a tiny house on wheels in a community of folks living in houses on wheels (called Bauwägen). There are 130 of these communities throughout Germany, and we celebrate the lifestyle. It is a choice that has allowed us to live our lives on our terms, sans the kind of jobs that make us feel trapped and uncomfortable and miserable. We celebrate it so much that when we made band t-shirts this summer, we decided to put a lovely drawing of a tiny house on them. At the time all three band members lived in tiny houses and for as long as we’ve been making music we’ve been having practice in the same tiny caravans. Not quite as small as this, but you get the idea. Tiny houses were in part responsible for us having found each other to make music in the first place.
So! If you love tiny houses, please consider buying our t-shirt! Even if you aren’t really into folk music (though if you are you can check us out here), buy ‘em for the beautiful tiny house on the front. Or buy ‘em cause you love whiskey (the back reads: “no borders but whiskey,” which is a reference to one of our songs). We had a friend screen print a very limited number of shirts at his workshop in Berlin, in sand and charcoal, and once they are gone, they are gone forever. We’ve got S, M, L, and XL (no specifically “ladies” sizes, but I find the fit good, and you can always buy an XL and Frankenstein sew that shit). And the Beard and I are currently living off of the money we make selling them, so you’d also be supporting some tiny housers and particularly Click Clack Gorilla in her further pursuit of tiny house online documentation.
how to order
Pick a size: S / M / L / XL
Pick a country (where we should ship the shirt) and note the price:
Germany 11.35 (euros)
Europe 13.45 (euros)
America 13.45 (euros) or 16 dollars
Click the link below to send us that amount via paypal. Include your shipping address in the notes, along with the size and color you would like. Wala! If you would like to send money by some other means, just drop me an email, and we can work something out (nicolettekyle AT yahoo DOT com). UPDATE: The paypal donate button seems to have expired. So please just paypal the money to nicolettekyle AT googlemail DOT com. Sorry about that!
At the beginning of fall a feeling of excitement creeps in alongside the new smells and colors. The smell of dried leaves reminds me of the start of school, of hats dug out of closets, of new notebooks and pencils, of scarves and hot chocolate, cold hands and red noses. It is a season of transition. The trees have changed their clothes and then stripped. The ground is melting into a muddy paste. The air shows me my breath in foggy clouds.
I thrive on change. It is why I like phoenixes. It is why I rearrange my living space at least once a year. It is probably also why I find the idea of an apocalypse so intriguing. I sometimes like to put myself in new situations, uncomfortable situations, just to watch myself struggle and learn and grow. But sometimes, still, it is sad. Like finding out that another member of your band will be leaving. Sniff sniff. On the upside, we also have a new bassist. At the very least, I can already feel myself drawing energy from the reorganization. (More here.)
On the home front, I am settling in. Really feeling at home in a new place takes time. There is no fast forward button. There is always a period of slowness and sometimes sadness and adjusting. Even though I have called this town home in the past, it is all different now. Another challenge, another change, another new source of energy.
This I think, is the reason why I have been humoring some mad cap plans. We still don’t have a Wagen for Baby Pickles, and the emptiness in the spot where we would be placing it and the crazy ass structures others have built in this community have gotten me thinking. Why don’t I just build a fucking house? Right there on that spot? It would be a tiny house, but it would mean having all our spaces under one roof. It would mean lighting one fire and never having to go outside in the rain to get to the kitchen. I could design it just the way I like it, perfect every detail before we moved in.
We have been dreaming of a tiny cabin—something like a retirement plan—but why wait? Why not build a tiny cabin now? I can’t think of any reason to put it off. There is space. We have our Wägen to house us while I start scrounging together materials (and to keep us mobile after). The idea was to save money, buy land, then build, lalala. The usual way. The way that involves working lots of hours and always putting off the dream. It has long been my philosophy that putting off dreams is always a bad idea. Maybe one day we would have enough money. Maybe one day we would get around to it. But what if we didn’t? Do I want to spend my life waiting? Oh hell no.
When I mentioned this to the Beard he was skeptical. But we won’t be mobile, he said. If we get evicted or want to move somewhere else we can’t take a house with us. It’s true. That was always the plus of tiny Wagen life. But I don’t like to live my life waiting. Even five years would be long enough to justify the time and the money to do build an awesome tiny house. And we don’t need to spend a lot of money. We can scrounge. I can hound the internet for free things (one of our new Platz-mates built a lovely kitchen add-on on his Wagen from a garden shed that someone had placed an add to get rid of). I can take my damn time, and then I can get some friends together and build a fucking house. Raise high the roof beam carpenter!
It was John Darnielle’s dirty, fizzley, basement-boom-box recordings that first trained me to turn a deaf ear to scrappy guitar and to love music that did little more than tell a damn fine story. The Mountain Goats’ early recordings are the music that macheted the way for what would come into my headphones after: anti-folk. (They are also partially to blame for the folk punk, but that’s another story.)
Anti-folk music covers a whole range of sounds, but generally it’s silly and irreverent. It usually isn’t the pristine guitar licks or a perfect melody, but the detailed, satirical lyrics that take center stage. Though a lot of music snobs have a hard time getting past the musical hollowness of much of the genre, I fucking love it. LOVE IT. As a singer and a writer it was always the melodies and the lyrics that got me anyway. Kimya Dawson is one of the genre’s royalty. Jeffrey Lewis is another favorite of mine. And then there’s Phoebe Kreutz.
I discovered Phoebe Kreutz’s music quite by accident. Back when we used to be called Black Diamond Express Train to Hell, we played a show in Cologne with her. She was awesome. We played another show with her, years later, in Mainz. She was still awesome. Her lyrics were hilarious and tight. She wrote songs about books (A Bad Feeling About Anna Karenina and The Lonesomest Dove on the F). She wrote songs about straight edge kids and her ass and Queen Elizabeth and a lesbian cowgirl and someone pooping on her doorstep. All of which were hilarious and fantastic. We (being the Black Diamonds) quickly became the people at the show who could sing along to all the songs.
Well, Phoebe is back in Germany, on tour with her trumpeting companion Matt Colbourn. Last night at No.2 Records in Frankfurt Sachsenhausen they played a few ditties while the Beard and I distracted Baby Pickles by letting her flip through the rows of CDs and plastic-covered vinyl. And while they were playing, I realized that one of Phoebe’s newer songs is perfect for the apocalypse mix tape I’m always making in my head.
The apocalypse mix tape isn’t the sort of mix tape I’d play at the arrival of the end times. It is the sort of tape I’d play now, while thinking about the end times. The sort of tape filled with songs about the end times. Post apocalyptic lit for your ears. And sitting here this morning working on a blog about the concert for another website, I realized that cataloguing and sharing these songs would make a fun weekly addition to Click Clack Gorilla. So here we are, lalalalalalaLA!
Phoebe’s addition to the mix tape is a song called The Day the Basement Flooded. It starts with her basement in New York flooding, and ends with the thought that, well hell, if the world ends, I want to be with you, baby. You wouldn’t think it would be possible to write a totally sweet, upbeat end times love song, but she did it. Apocalypse or not, it is one of the sweetest love songs I’ve heard in a while. One of my favorite lines:
“If the planet floods I think our little basement probably is screwed. We should move to higher ground in like a dryer latitude. And I will be in charge of weeping, you’re in charge of finding food. Cause the future’s pretty scary, and it may not be so great. But if the end of times is coming then I’m glad I’ve got a date. If we have to stat a new world cause the current one’s a dud, I hope that you’ll be with me in the flood.”
So have a watch. Listen closely to the lyrics. Enjoy.
While I’m selling Phoebe’s snake oil, there was another new(ish) song of hers that I thought you all might enjoy. Called Frankenstein, it is about the perils of science. How there are certain things that, when you investigate, turn out to be monsters. It seems like it would be the perfect anthem for anti-GMO folks. “We got what we want, just not the way we wanted.” I’ve been listening to these two on repeat all morning.
So there was an election this week in the United States. I found myself caring more than usual this time around, which still doesn’t amount to much. The women’s health issues and general fucking crazy happening there made it feel more urgent. But as Jakob Augstein says in this really hammer-on-nail commentary, “America has already lost Tuesday’s election.” After reading the piece I couldn’t help but agree. And here some details had me actually feeling involved. I mean, we do consider moving back from time to time, and voting has always been an excellent way of making people feel like they get to participate in the big decisions of their time.
The very first year I lived in a Wagen, I voted by absentee ballot. I remember sitting up on the lofted bed and reading through a long list of candidate names. Besides the presidential candidates, I had never heard of a single one. It made voting for any of them seem ridiculous, farcical. But I checked boxes (no electricity there, let alone internet for me to do quick googles of the candidates), and, miraculously, even managed to send in the papers on time. Of course I’ll never know if my vote was counted or not, but after reading something about how absentee ballots generally end up in the trash, I gave up the last miniscule, thread-bare strand of faith in voting.
Absentee voting is a strange animal. If you’re just gone for a short trip, I can imagine it making some sort of sense. But when you’ve been gone for seven years, become all but abstractly disconnected from the politics of your birth country, well, it doesn’t. Of course, in the country where it might be more meaningful, I’m not allowed to vote. (Strictly speaking I am allowed to vote in local elections but not the big ones. I am not sure if this will still apply when I get my eternal visa this January for being married to the Beard for three years.) Of course the operative word here is might. I don’t really hold much stock in voting, or, as you might have noticed, the entire current political system. Ho-hum.
Either way, I found myself breathing a large, loud sigh of relief when I read that Obama had won. But does it really matter? Augstein doesn’t think so. And at the end of a very long day, neither do I.
“Romney, the exceedingly wealthy business man, and Obama, the cultivated civil rights lawyer, are two faces of a political system that no longer has much to do with democracy as we understand it. Democracy is about choice, but Americans don’t really have much of a choice. Obama proved this. Nearly four years ago, it seemed like a new beginning for America when he took office. But this was a misunderstanding. Obama didn’t close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, nor did he lift immunity for alleged war criminals from the Bush-era, or regulate the financial markets, and climate change was hardly discussed during the current election campaign. The military, the banks, industry — the people are helpless in the face of their power, as is the president.”
“From a European perspective, it doesn’t matter who wins this election. Only US foreign policy is important to us — and Obama is no dove and Romney no hawk. The incumbent president prefers to wage his wars with drones instead of troops, though the victims probably don’t care if they’re killed by man or machine.”
There are some details that will (could?) improve under Obama’s care. But what about the big picture? What about the fact that the planet is still going to hell, that industry is destroying everything we need to live with and without our permission? What about all the wars and death and jesus shit there is so much fucked up stuff going down I don’t even see the point in doing a cursory list. When a candidate runs on a “dismantle civilization” ballot, you’ll find me back at the box.
What about you? Do you vote? Did you hear about the US election and breath a sigh of relief?
You expand and contract according to the size of your dwelling. Have you ever noticed? Get a huge living space and you find yourself slowly working to fill it up. Move into a tiny house, and you’ll become obsessed with decluttering and going minimalist, even if only out of self defense. Our Wagen dwelling was already small, and now it is shrinking.
In the summer, or any of the warm months for that matter, our house expands to include everything outside. We eat outside, we sit outside, and sometimes we even set up an extra bed and sleep outside. The size of our home swells from seven meters by 2 meters 20 to infinite. Our Wagen house becomes more of our posessions’ dwelling than ours.
But as the cold approaches that space slowly begins to recede. We eat a few more meals indoors every week; the chairs are wet. It stops being light until 10 pm; we watch a movie rather than sit around the outdoor table. It is like the ebb of the tide. With the lap of each wave things contract another few steps until you find yourself living with three people in a shoebox.
This is the first year I have felt the Wagen constrict, and it is tempting to blame it on the fact that we now live here with three people, small as the newcomer may still be. However, looking around today, it is pretty obvious that it has a lot more to do with the way we’ve set a few things in here up. Today I found myself fantasizing about a complete renovation, about removing every single object inside, repainting, rearranging, and then only putting the most important, lovely, necessary items back in.
When we decided that Baby Pickles—though at the time she was about the size of a matchbox—would sleep in bed with us, we decided to enlarge our bed. Originally it was flush against one end of the Wagen—Wägen tend to be about the width of a mattress length—and so we slept with our heads against one wall and our feet against another. For the new super enormo monster bed the mattress stayed in the same position, but we added an extra bit of foam at the feet, and laid across them in the other direction. That is to say, with out heads against the narrow wall of the Wagen and our feet facing out into the room. A couple of feet of space were lost, but it was so worth it.
Later, I built a shelf slash dividing wall facing the bed—a place for our television and clothing to live. This made our Wagen feel like it was made up of two small rooms. The effect was pleasant, but it increased the amount of time we spent dancing around each other trying to get in or out or to this shelf or that. Still worth it.
Then the Beard built a raised platform that came out about 2.5 meters into the Wagen. The reasons were twofold. One: create storage space (under the platform). Two: create a space where Baby Pickles could crawl on the floor without getting cold (the floor is the coldest place once the weather cools down). Both have been successful, but while the Beard uses it often, I rarely set foot upon it. So for me it has taken our Wagen down to a five-meter number, minus enormo-bed, a small space for one, let alone three.
Today we suffered yet another loss of space and an attack of the worst possible kind in any house. Mold. It had been growing on part of the wall under the bed for some time, and we had been postponing removing the boards on which it was feasting for lack of a car long enough to get us replacements from the building supply store. But our spot in Frankfurt seems to be extra damp and when the Beard noticed that the instrument cases beneath the bed were all soaking wet, he took it as a sign that it was time to either act or sign the place over to the spores. Action it was.
Air wasn’t circulating beneath our mattress, so his first move (after clearing everything out under the bed and throwing away a ton of stuff) was to move the bed a foot and a half away from the back wall to create some ventilation. Now the bed is claustrophobically close to the dividing wall slash clothes shelves, and we’ve had to get rid of a number of things to make the situation tolerable. But at least the moldy boards have all been cut out and thrown onto the bonfire pile.
With the house shrinking, I’ve gone into super efficiency planning mode. I just hope that come spring I’m still motivated to put some of my ideas into action. I’m seeing a fresh paint job, less chaotic shelving, and nets hanging from the ceiling to hold worn-but-not-dirty clothes and Pickles’ toys. I’m also seeing some massive decluttering, starting with the flea market this weekend where we’ll be running a table. And people say spring is the time for cleaning.
PS The picture above is an older one of our main Wagen. I can only hope this winter looks as quaint. So far it just looks like a hell of a lot of mud.
PPS I just realized that the bed expansion and the clothing shelf building happened in the opposite order, but oh well nevermind.
“A novel about the end of the world which makes you glad to be alive.” That is what it says on the cover of my edition. They had my at “end of the world,” but “glad to be alive”? How was a novel about the end of the world going to make me feel glad to be alive? Now? With this earth-destroying, soul-sucking system in place? With corporations pushing through legislation to ban the labeling of GMO foods? With people being arrested because of the books they own? With pollution and more pollution and even more pollution? With factory farming and mountain-top removal and Mitt Romney? Oh wait, maybe a novel about the end of the world is just what would make me feel glad all over.
So I bought it. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Even though I hated the title. Even though I wasn’t entirely certain that this author wasn’t also the author of a lot of bad crime novels. (He wasn’t.) Buying a book on a whim is a calculated risk. I don’t like to keep books around that I won’t read again and again, and I don’t like spending money on things I don’t really need. But I had a gift certificate. I took the risk; I played the lotto. And I won, I won!
The Dog Stars is your classic post apocalypse (PA) story. It is nine years out, and a few survivors are doing their rather lonely thing. Some things are broken. (Note to future PA-book-writing self: Heller mentions automobile gas going “stale” i.e. unusable after a few years. True or false?) Some things are not. This book’s two star survivors, Hig and Bangley, happen to have a whole solar-powered airport as their batcave. Besides being attacked from time to time, they seem to have the whole survival thing down. Hig even has a working plane. I suppose it is all plausible enough.
While the book was a fun and quick read, with a sparse, easy-to-swallow style, the author is a real subject of interest. The Dog Stars is Heller’s first novel. Usually he spends his time doing totally fucking nutso white water rafting trips, doing “adventure writing,” and secretly filming assholes who are (were?) murdering a lot of dolphins in Japan (The Cove). He built an off-grid adobe house in the middle of nowhere. He certainly sounds like a man who is ready for whatever is coming, and it all felt like street cred that stood behind the book, making it stronger.
At the end of the story, some crazy shit happens and some nice shit happens. And did I feel good about being alive? I mean, I guess I don’t ever actually feel bad about being alive, but the thought that a book was going to create a deluge of posi-ness was going a bit far. Sounded a bit cheesey. Well, it was. Cheesey. It was. Impossible. But I really enjoyed the book, and the ending was fun and made me feel just fine. Particularly as it involved a world that no longer contained a lot of the bullshit that makes me ache with sorrow for ours. And maybe that is exactly what they meant.
Winter is long and grueling, in its way. But in its way it is also the coziest season. It is the best time of year for laying in bed under the weight of six blankets, for drinking tea and mulled wine, for the crackle of fires, for reading six books at once.
I have wanted a glass-fronted wood stove for a long time. Once upon a time in Mainz we had traded wood stoves with a friend who had a huge stove but only needed to heat a small space. We had a tiny stove and needed to heat a larger space. So we used the big wood stove and he the small. But before we moved we traded back. It would have been fine, but. Then there was this offer to buy a wood stove with a glass door from our friend. I was all “hells yeah!” and after a little convincing, the Beard was too.
Cod, isn’t it beautiful? I can see that from my bed.
It is an Italian brand, Nordica, and they make all sorts of wood stoves that sort of look like flat screen tvs with names like Plasma and Fireball. According to the friend who sold it to us (never used) you can get all sorts of awesome wood stoves cheap at Italian building supply stores.
At first we were uncertain about how it would work. With the kind of wood stove we had before, that most of the folks we know have, you have two doors. One opens on the burning chamber, so you can put wood in. Another, lower, smaller door, opens on the ash tray and the bottom bit of the burning chamber. It means you can light all the paper you’ve stuff in under your kindling from the bottom, which is nice. If you were to leave the upper door open it would smoke you out of the house. You could also open the bottom door to get an extra stream of air running through, which makes for a livelier fire when things are starting to slow down.
The new wood stove just has one door, the big glass door. Well, that’s not true. It has a lower door as well, but it only opens onto the ash tray, and you can’t get at the bottom of the burning chamber to light the paper from below or poke a dying fire with a stick. Maybe it would smoke a lot, every time we fed the fire? Maybe it would be a big pain in the ass? Maybe the glass door would be black in a minute flat? Nope, it was awesome. Is awesome.
You do have to clean the glass regularly though, if you want to keep enjoying the view (about every four days and water doesn’t cut it). It is like a little nightlight, flickering pleasantly, then fading to a low, deep glow throughout the night. We have practically stopped watching tv (though this has a lot to do with Baby Pickles) and now we have the fire. Remember when I went on about how fires are the original television? Still think that.