Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Partnership & Individuality

Ma’ikwe, my wife, has been building a house this year. For anyone who has attempted this, you will be able to immediately relate to how this can be a wholly consuming project, and not at all simple (see my blogs of July 29 and Aug 1). She essentially set aside or downplayed all other threads in her life to focus on house building the last eight months, with the goal of having a livable space (meaning enclosed and weathertight) before winter.

I’m happy to report that she reached her goal, and Halloween night she slept in her house for the first time. She was understandably proud of her achievement, and has been enjoying exhalation and a certain post-finish-line euphoria these early days of November. She undertook this project with no background in construction and had to perform within the stringent environmental covenants of her home community, Dancing Rabbit, where there are serious restrictions on what building materials can be used and how they can be delivered to the work site. She was simultaneously the lead designer, construction manager, in charge of material procurement, labor organizer, bursar, main grunt, and chief cheerleader. Whew.

While there is a substantial amount of interior work remaining and house completion will still be a major part of Ma’ikwe’s labor landscape in 2010, the rush is over.

Naturally enough, Ma’ikwe has already been turning her attention to What’s Next—which is a question that has my attention also. As Ma’ikwe and I don’t live together (Dancing Rabbit is an hour’s walk away from my bedroom at Sandhill Farm) it is not a slam dunk figuring out when we’ll spend time together. This calculus is further complicated by my work as a community networker and process consultant, which has me on the road about 60% of the time (which means there’s considerable potential to not be together regardless of whether we share the same mail box).

Like most couples that are happy in their partnership, we like spending time together. Our challenge is figuring out the right mix of together and apart, keeping in mind that we both have diverse interests and already had full dance cards when we launched our intimate relationship four years ago. In some ways, or course, this is an embarrassment of riches, where we need to make selections from a menu replete with worthy choices. As much as we’d like to do it all, we can’t.

Thread #1

When Ma’ikwe slimmed down her other commitments to tackle the house, one of the things she let go of was involvement with FIC, which is a major area of commitment for me and one of the venues where our lives intersected leading up to our courting one another in 2005. Much as I’ve enjoyed her involvement in the Fellowship’s work (especially as an Event organizer), it’s not at all clear that she’ll return to any FIC role post-construction.

Thread #2

While she’s continued to be my teaching partner in facilitation training throughout construction—and that’s something that both been thoroughly enjoyable and nurturing for our relationship—she’s now questioning whether that’s a calling for her in the same way it is for me (to be clear, she loves teaching; she’s just not sure that group dynamics is where she ought to be plying that pedagogical talents). Ma’ikwe and I are committed to completing the training we’re doing in NC. After that’s completed in June, it’s not clear if we’ll do other trainings together (or consulting gigs either, which we’ve done a few times).

Thread #3

The first thing that bubbled up for Ma’ikwe when she contemplated what might be most satisfying for her as an underfed interest was Art: creative writing, painting, music, ceramics, and ritual—pretty much in any combination. As her partner, I want to support her having the life she wants. When you connect the dots however, this desire to explore her life as Artist may translate into my needing to make more money, to make sure there’s enough flow to meet her household budget. That, in turn, probably means my being on the road more, which is where I’m able to make serious money.

Thread #4

Ma’ikwe’s resurgent interest in writing coincides with my commitment to starting work on a book about cooperative group dynamics that has been rattling around inside me for several years. In fact, we have fantasy about renting a cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula this summer to do a three-week writing retreat together. While it’s unclear how concurrent dates with the same Muse adds up to time together, I figure there’s something precious in there about connecting with the ebbs and flows of inspiration and written expression.

Taken all together, these threads may weave into a tapestry where the weft of my life intersects less with the warp of my wife’s, not more. I have my personal pursuits and she has hers. I have my callings and she has hers. While this wasn’t how I was hoping our lives would entwine, I’m nonetheless dedicated to her having every bit as much choice as I have, and living the life that seems most promising to her. I have no image of our partnership thriving if it’s based on constriction and my limiting her choices. While it’s not yet clear how we’ll be able to pull this all off, that’s the challenge in front of us.

It’s early days, and Ma’ikwe has not made any decisions yet about what she’ll choose. Our marriage is still young and we’re testing the resiliency of the weave, and what partnership ultimately means to each of us as individuals. While I’ve never felt closer to her than I do at this moment, it’s ironically less clear than ever how we’ll nurture and extend this precious weaving. It’s uncertain how much time we’ll have together at the loom, with one hand on a shuttle and the other in each other’s.


Quentin said...

I am surprised that you do not live together. My wife and I do and we are building a house in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mx. We work together on it. That is the fun.
I am shocked that Dancing Rabbit had building codes...I hate building codes. USA seems overrun with boring buildings and plagued with tons of codes...........Quentin

Anonymous said...

Looking at some of the housing designs at DR I do not think they have any or very strict county bldg codes, What codes they do have may not be codes but self imposed ideas for housing in their community, Where I live in CA codes are very restrictive, and call for expensive and time consuming process to get permits etc, - it forces one to almost use a contractor to weave through the county process. As far as Mexico you may not have restrictions like codes but I have heard of folks who spend alot of money bldg and then find out the land their property is on has several claims on the underlying property title- there have been cases exp. in coastal areas of folks loosing their total investment in Mexico.

All I have to say about the marriage arrangement is that it has to be challenging and take alot of trust and effort to work out over a long period of time.

Anonymous said...

I believe (not entirely sure, but I took a tour and this is what I remember) that Dancing Rabbit's building "codes", while not laws in the sense of typical building codes, are the community's guidelines to build in a sustainable manner, using recycled materials when available, and intelligent, environmentally friendly means of construction.

Ma'ikwe said...

Hey all,

Dancing Rabbit doesn't have "building codes" per se: what we have are a series of ecological covenants that we agree to follow when we become members, and some of those affect how our buildings are built. That's the closest thing to "codes". Our covenants can be seen here:

In addition, we have a process that everyone goes through. Our "warren siting" team works with each potential builder to develop plans that are structurally sound, safe to occupy, aesthetically acceptable (though the "aesthetic" at DR is more about a general sense of beauty and less about property values) and making sure that we are gradually fulfilling the guidelines that the community as a whole have developed over time that we feel will create an ecologically sound and socially rich life. This last category includes things like being a high density village and thinking about how buildings, landscaping and courtyard relate to each other to encourage both healthy boundaries and positive social cooperation and casual friendly interactions between neighbors.

This is, I think, what building codes and approval processes ought to be protecting, and are considerably less arduous (and more values aligned) than what I would have faced had I stayed in NM. They are also critical for having a long-lasting village since the majority of new Rabbits are not builders and really appreciate the help in thinking things through.

Thanks for reading and commenting! Ma'ikwe

Ma'ikwe said...

Oops.. sorry: here's the link where you can find our ecological covenants: