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Over the past couple months, I’ve developed a new mantra. When I’m stressed out, when I get daydreamy, when I feel antsy, this is what comes to me:

Tiny house. Tiny house. Tiny house.

I think the first time I learned about tiny houses—the kind that are less than 200 square feet, that are built on wheels—was this video:

I was enamored with this tiny house. Over the years, I’ve quietly explored tiny houses online in admiration, but it’s only this year that I’ve started doing so with a more serious purpose: I’m going to build one myself.

Why tiny?

Well, for one thing: why not tiny?

There are so many reasons that a tiny house appeals to me. I’ve always been drawn to cozy spaces. As a kid, I loved reading in my closet with a flashlight and building tiny forts. More than that, I loved the feeling of home. I moved a lot as a kid (not to mention as an adult), so that feeling was sometimes elusive, many times interrupted. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine being tied to one place permanently. A tiny house is an elegant solution: I may move, but my home comes with me.

And my home will contain just exactly what I need. Part of the process of planning and building a tiny house is figuring out just what that is. I know I have too much—and unnecessary—stuff. And it’s weighing me down. I want to have a lighter footprint. I want to get down to the essentials. Make room for other things in my physical and mental and emotional life.

Like community. The tiny house community (so many amazing, enthusiastic people!) and the community I will build around my tiny house. This was a big topic of conversation that Dee Williams brought to the table at a workshop I attended (more on that below). I’m not going to have every single thing I need in my tiny house. Which is actually a beautiful thing. It means reaching out to other people, developing practical and meaningful two-way relationships. I also don’t want to live in the middle of nowhere all by myself. As I think about where to build and where to park my tiny house, I’m thinking about people and connection.

I used to dream of a big house with a big library—a big desk surrounded by shelves upon shelves of books, a ladder to reach them all. Now I dream of a tiny reading nook with a small bookshelf and many fruitful trips to the library—and a ladder to reach my bed.

“Growth can mean simpler lives and more livable communities. It takes work and doesn’t just come by itself. It takes labor and development of a different kind. Part of what functioning, free communities like the Occupy communities can be working for and spreading to others is just a different way of living, which is not based on maximizing consumer goods, but on maximizing values that are important to life. That’s growth, too, just growth in a different direction.”
—Noam Chomsky

But how?

I started with an amazing workshop in Portland, Oregon, with Portland Alternative Dwellings (PAD). They’re a tiny house company (check them out on Facebook, too)—owned and run by totally awesome women—that offers design and build workshops. I highly recommend them to anyone interested in tiny houses. Dee Williams, PAD founder and a leader of the tiny house movement, is one of my sheroes and a total inspiration. I learned so much at the PAD workshop, about building principles, tiny house ethos, zoning and code questions, and more. And it was really during that workshop—learning about all the details that go into building and living in a tiny house—that my thoughts went from “It would be so cool to live in a tiny house” to “It’s going to be so cool living in a tiny house.”

The hand-decorated tool belt my dear friend made for me that I shall use to build my tiny house!

Tool belt—hand-decorated by a dear friend—that I shall use to build my tiny house!

Next came:

  1. Started spreadsheets! I named my Google doc spreadsheet “Tiny House Scheming,” and it currently has nine worksheets, from “Heart-Swelling Inspiration” to “Budget”
  2. Began following all sorts of inspiring tiny house folks, like Lina Menard, who you can find over at, and Chris and Malissa Tack of the Tiny Tack House, over at They all presented at the PAD workshop I attended, and I can tell you that they (1) totally know their tiny house stuff, (2) are super friendly, and (3) are awesome people.
  3. Paid off my credit card debt, started a tiny house savings account (with no debit card to access it), and began direct depositing a bit from each paycheck into it.
  4. Registered and am currently taking a tiny house e-course with Tiny r[E]volution to explore even more of the details of building a tiny house, to keep the inspiration flowing, and connect with other folks who are into tiny houses.

It’s going to take me a few years to save up enough money to build my tiny house, but that really works out perfectly because it gives me ample time to design and plan.

In the meantime, here’s some of that heart-swelling inspiration I mentioned before:

Bitch Issue 53

Bitch Issue 53: The Underground Issue

Looking for thought-provoking feminist perspectives, recommendations, and reflections on pop culture? Bitch magazine, a project of Bitch Media (they have an active online presence with blogs, podcasts, and more) is exactly what you’re looking for. I devour each new issue on my commute to work (don’t worry, I take the T), wondering how many people will notice I’m reading a magazine entitled Bitch, how many strange looks might be cast my way, and how many approving, conspiratorial nods I might be getting. I wonder this because I’m too wrapped up in reading to notice. From in-depth analyses of current pop-culture trends and politics to recommendations on the latest awesome music, movies, and books, they offer such a range of compelling fodder for feminists—and everyone else, too!

I love the frame that Bitch Media uses to look at our modern world and the ways they creates such rich dialogue. That’s why I was especially excited to open the new issue (53) and see a letter to the editor I wrote! After reading an article in the last issue that posited the word “victim” is a powerful tool for people who’ve survived sexual assault, domestic violence, and other forms of violence, I sent the following response:

I appreciated Carrie A. Rentschler’s desire for powerful language that can describe “the harms, injuries, and experiences of oppression and domination” (“Waking Wounded,” no. 52), but I find it curious and worrisome that she doesn’t mention using “survivor” language as a way to do that (for cases in which the person is alive, of course, such as with survivors of sexual assault that were mentioned). Using “survivor” acknowledges the negative power of oppression and domination while also highlighting the strength of the person who has endured them. In work that I’ve done as an advocate and volunteer for organizations supporting survivors of domestic violence, I’ve found such language important and empowering.

Language is so important and powerful—we use it to shape our worlds, our lives, our experiences. That’s one reason I think “survivor” is such an vital word when we’re talking about domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of oppression. And that power of language is also one reason I am so glad that Bitch Media is out there, empowering people with their contributors’ compelling words, cultivating discussion, and just generally totally rocking.

If you are still making last-minute decisions re: end-of-year donations, definitely consider donating to Bitch Media—or if you’re looking for a perfect gift for your favorite feminist friend (or maybe someone who might not think of themselves as a feminist), a subscription is an awesome way to go!

PS. Goal for 2012: submit a piece to Bitch!

Boston Massacre

We're not talking 1770 here.

One word: wow. Two more: totally awesome.

I was recently introduced to the wonder that is roller derby. New to the spectator stands, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect (since I’d been warned that it was nothing like Whip It), but let me tell you—it’s raucous, it’s exhilarating, it’s bad-ass. Thoroughly fun and riveting to watch.

I’ve never been a big sports fan—or a sports fan at all. But I am definitely now a fan of Boston Massacre, part of the Boston Derby Dames league. It’s a total experience. Clever derby names, loud music, and then the bouts themselves—so compelling to watch: the fast-paced intensity, the moves, the strategy, the blocking, the grace and toughness of the skaters. There are some really amazing players.

Bonus: dance party after the bouts in the red-carpeted Fez Room (yes, it’s really called the Fez Room; it’s the Shriner’s Auditorium).

Boston Massacre’s next bout: March 20. Try it; you’ll like it.

American Wife

Curtis Sittenfeld's newest novel

Curtis Sittenfeld is a brilliant writer. I was first introduced to her work by the short essay “Your Life as a Girl,” a heartbreakingly poignant—and arrestingly well-written—piece about what it can be like to grow up as a woman in this society. I was captivated by Prep, her coming-of-age novel about a girl with working-class roots that attends an exclusive boarding school in Massachusetts. Sittenfeld’s adeptness at conveying the anxiety and pain and wonder of adolescence is remarkable. I am especially interested in the class and gender dynamics that inform and are repeatedly examined in Sittenfeld’s work.

In her newest novel, American Wife, she takes on the perspective of a certain American first lady. Loosely based on the life of Laura Bush, the novel follows the life of Alice Lindgren, a polite girl from Wisconsin who survives a tragic accident in high school and, through a series of events, finds herself in the White House. The narrative shows how, little compromise by little compromise, a person can get so far away from certain values they hold dear, in service of others, and what it’s like to live your way into a life virtually unrecognizable to oneself. It shows what it is to be charmed, swept away, and the long-lasting effects of that. It shows how hard it is to live a life of contradictions.

This is a book that’s hard to put down and hard to let go of when you’ve turned the last page. That I would ever say that about a book loosely based on the life of Laura Bush is testament to Curtis Sittenfeld’s serious talent for effectively portraying the complexities and nuances of a person’s life, including the rich inner life.

I just ordered the anthology This Is Not Chick Lit, a collection I’m excited to check out that includes a piece by Sittenfeld. It will have to wait until I’m done with my newest read (which I just started and am already mesmerized by), though—The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.

Amelia Earhart and her plane "Old Bessie"

Amelia Earhart and her plane "Old Bessie"

While on a recent adventure, I saw the new film Amelia, all about the life of Amelia Earhart, an amazing, pioneering female aviator who captured the attention of the nation and the world before her 1937 disappearance in the midst of an around-the-world flight. While I’m glad I saw the movie, I have to say that I was disappointed. As so many mainstream films do, especially when women are the main characters, it seemed to unfortunately overemphasize her romantic entanglements. From what I’ve been told of Amelia Earhart’s life, there are myriad aspects that could have been expanded upon—and all for the purpose of more compelling storytelling. I would have loved to see more of her childhood and gotten a clearer vision of where her love of flying and her independent spirit stemmed from and how they took root. I would have loved to have a more nuanced sense of the role her family played in her life and the effect that they had on her—good and bad—more than the few throwaway lines that were mentioned. I would have loved to get a wider view of the professional work that she was up to and her work with the Ninety-Nines, a group of women aviators that still exists today. And if you’re going to spend all that time concentrating on her romantic relationships, I would have liked to see some development of their foundation so that when they’re being played out on screen, I actually am emotionally invested in them. Whether it was acting chemistry that was off or whether there just wasn’t enough introduction or set-up, I wasn’t pulled in by either of the romantic story lines, which made the focus on them even less tolerable.

There was one moment in the film that actually had emotional resonance and stuck with me: Amelia is flying solo across the Atlantic, and it seems as if she’s not sure she’s going to make it. The look on her face as she finally sees land, all the emotions conveyed in a series of seconds—relief, joy, amazement—that whole sequence was really well done.

So why am I glad that I saw the movie? I think it gave me a small taste of Amelia, and despite its flaws (perhaps in part because of them) made me eager to learn more about her, to gain a fuller picture of her life and all that it contained. I’d like to seek out more well-rounded and richer accounts of her life and work. Any suggestions for further Amelia reading/viewing? And if you’ve seen the movie, what’s your take?

Feel free to check out the film, the official Amelia Earhart site, and the Amelia Wikipedia page (which includes theories on her disappearance).

I love WAM, and this is the icon they're using, but I must say that I cringe at the "RU?"—it's just too much.

This past spring, I attended the WAM! conference (I know, it’s like an old Batman cartoon—wam! pow! kazaam!). What is WAM? Women, Action, and the Media, a yearly conference for journalists, activists, and everyone else, dedicated to strengthening women’s voices in the media. Imagine hundreds of women writers, bloggers, filmmakers, journalists, and activists coming together to discuss all sorts of topics at the intersection of the media, activism, and feminism. My favorite panels I attended this spring were:

And in addition to awesome sessions like this, there are free film screenings by Women Make Movies. And the opportunity to connect with other amazing women up to exciting, important work in the world. Plus, the conference is just a starting point. As WAM director Jaclyn Friedman says, “Every day, WAM!mers help each other place op-eds and articles, get powerful media jobs, leverage new technology, hold the media accountable, produce and promote books, films, and other projects, get stories told about our lives and work, and change the very structure of the media itself.”

Up until recently, WAM was a project of the Center for New Words, a Boston nonprofit whose mission is to use the power and creativity of words and ideas to strengthen the voice of progressive and marginalized women in society. But now the Center is transforming into WAM, which will be an independent national organization that will launch local chapters, build a thriving online community and resources, and continue to produce a yearly conference “creating an unstoppable force for gender justice that will change the media landscape for good.” Totally awesome.

This also means that 1) they have to postpone the next conference until 2011 and 2) they really need financial support at this critical transition time. If you think they’re as cool and important as I do, consider chipping in.

She started with a story: She was on a plane coming home from South Africa. The man sitting next to her asked her what she had been doing there. Contemplating whether she wanted to get into that conversation with him, she turned the question on him. He replied, “I was in a golf tournament.” Oh, what the heck, why not, she figured. “I was there doing work as a radical feminist lesbian,” she told him. He was taken aback, and hemmed and hawed, asking, “is radical really necessary?” and “aren’t men and women already equal really?” She spent the rest of the plane ride writing a poem for him, which she performed last Friday night at Word X Word. It was amazing. It offered a litany of examples of the ways that women are oppressed and treated unequally in our culture, ending with the words: “and that is why I am a radical feminist.”

Alix Olson is profound and hilarious, full of fire and strength. Totally right on. Her performance left me excited and fired up and ready to ask questions and challenge the status quo. She also performed “Womyn Before”:

On Friday, towards the end of that piece, she elicited names from the audience as she quietly chanted “womyn before me.” Urging us to break through the initial silence, she motioned with her hands for us to shout out names, saying, “I believe shyness is a tool of patriarchy.” I made the first contributions that popped into my head: Ani DiFranco, Frances Perkins, Eleanor Roosevelt (I feel a future post coming with a more extensive list!).

I’m new to Alix’s work, but I just ordered a few CDs, and I am totally excited to dig into her stuff. Some initial pieces to check out (lots of YouTube out there): America’s On Sale!, Picnic Table, Cute for a Girl, Subtle Sister, and Armpit Hair. Any recommendations?

To round out this post, here she shares a few words on feminism:

This past week was the first annual Word X Word Festival in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, organized by Jim Benson of Mission and his crew. Five nights to celebrate and experience words, written, spoken, and sung. Such a genius idea, so well pulled off.

Shira Erlichman

Shira Erlichman

The first of two spoken word events I had the chance to check out featured the multitalented Shira Erlichman—poet, musician, and artist. My friend Angela, who booked her for Take Back the Night in Amherst, told me that I would love her work, and she was spot on with that prediction. My take: Shira’s awesomely inimitable voice, rhythm, words, and presence speak to the richness of life. From charmingly playful to honestly serious, she is powerful, she is delightful, she is fiery. She leaves you wanting more (upon encore, she asked the audience if we’d rather hear another poem or another song; we replied, “both!” and she graced us with just that). While I’ve only gotten a small taste of her work, I can most certainly tell you this: she totally rocks.

And she’s even so cool as to have answered a few of my questions over e-mail—you, too, will be captivated.

What are some of your favorite words? (Me, I’m a big fan of inimitable, querulous, and weltschmerz.)

Shira: In linguistics class my freshman year of college, we studied compound words, and my life was changed. Compound words take the cake. Hopscotch, eyelash, see-saw, hammerhead. I love the minds that thought: one word is not enough! Let’s use two! Highrise, see-saw, chill-pill—they are tiny poems. Once you start to notice them, they’re everywhere. Following close behind compounds are: float, sink, sift, rub, sweep—words that somehow sound like the movement they signify.

Two things that make you happy and two things that make you angry?

Shira: Two things that make me happy are my girlfriend and riding a longboard. Two things that make me angry are not understanding my feelings and not understanding computers.

What do you hope people take away from experiencing your work?

Shira: At times, especially with sad pieces, or awkward pieces, or confused pieces, I hope they sense that someone else has gone through what they have gone through—that they feel connected, to themselves, to me, and to the other people in the room sharing the experience. On the other side, the laughing side, the silly side, the poems and songs that walk on that dock, I hope they feel lifted from the fog or sadness they’ve felt, that the song rubs the mud off their shoes, that they laugh. I hope the work opens a window they didn’t know was there. Perhaps they thought it was a brick wall. Perhaps the window suddenly floats over an ocean inside them. Most of all, I hope people leave feeling less alone.

Random factoid about one of your songs or poems?

Shira: I wrote the song “Bronze” in poet Jon Sand’s parents’ house in Ohio while on tour. “Your Life is a Kaleidoscope” was written on the way to and from the bathroom. “Daddy’s Parking Lot Sermon” came out in one sitting, almost 100% as it is now. The first line of “Power Out” (“Our TV medicine is dead, dead, dead!”) is the title of a song by my brother, Shai Erlichman.

Who do you think totally rocks?

Shira: I think The Whitehaus in Jamaica Plain, MA, totally rocks. Kate Bush totally rocks. Devoted and passionate teachers totally rock. The Cantab Lounge audience in Cambridge, MA, totally and completely rock. They do not hold back, they want you to win, they root for world peace—the ultimate ability to rock. People like that totally rock.

Where can we see you perform next?

Shira: From mid-September to late November, you can see me perform with nationally touring Elephant Engine High Dive Revival. Specific dates will be up this month at You can also check out my website for dates for this tour and beyond.

* * * * *

A prediction of my own: you’ll want to listen to the video above many times over.

Oh, and she plays the ukulele, too. That’s just cool.

Big thanks to her for being awesome, in myriad ways.

More on the other Word X Word performance I attended, featuring spoken word poet Alix Olson, to come.

If your answer is no, I’m not surprised. I had never heard of her until my friend Gabe enlightened me. Get this: first female Secretary of Labor, first female Cabinet member, hugely instrumental in so much of the New Deal that FDR gets credited for. I just finished reading a new biography about her, The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience, by Kirsten Downey. Highly recommended.

The Woman Behind the New Deal

The Woman Behind the New Deal

As Downey lays out in the compelling (in that I-just-have-to-keep-reading kind of way) prologue, FDR called Frances Perkins into a meeting to offer her the position of Secretary of Labor. She told him that she would accept the position only if he backed her up on achieving the following:

  1. A 40-hour workweek
  2. Minimum wage
  3. Worker’s compensation
  4. Unemployment compensation
  5. Federal law banning child labor
  6. Direct federal aid for unemployment
  7. Social Security
  8. Revitalized public employment service
  9. Health insurance

By the time she left office, items 1–8 were complete or in the works. She spearheaded programs that people today take for granted. She immensely improved the lives of working men and women in our country, in especially rough times. She even fought to allow more refugees from Germany into the United States as Hitler rose to power. All this in a culture that often dismissed her based on the fact that she was a woman. And a culture that barely remembers who she is now. Here’s to remembering, celebrating, spreading the word, and continuing the legacy.

Check out the Frances Perkins Center.

So have you heard all this business about the ambush-style disruptions of town hall meetings convened to discuss health-care reform with Democratic senators and representatives? Coming to a town hall near you, courtesy of the far right; organized, promoted, and bankrolled by conservative lobbying groups and certain Republican political leaders and talking heads. Forget productive, democratic debate and dialogue—let’s all just shout like crazy, misinformed people and not let anyone else talk! Makes me anxious just watching the videos. And I would call it nonsense if it weren’t ruining people’s opportunities to get the facts on proposed health-care reform, honestly raise their concerns, and constructively debate the issue. And if it weren’t getting increasingly disturbing. Check out this video with Rachel Maddow’s take on the latest rhetoric. My two cents: give us a public option! (Please note: that exclamation point does not imply or endorse any kind of off-the-wall shouting.) For further coverage, check out the following articles (thanks to MoveOn for referencing them in an e-mail today):

Speaking of Rachel Maddow, I am going to see her give a free talk at Jacob’s Pillow (I know, it’s a random venue) tomorrow! My excitement is uncontainable.

Rachel Maddow at work

Rachel Maddow at work (from The Rachel Maddow Show's Flickr photostream)

A (totally incomplete) list of why I love Rachel Maddow:

  1. She’s incredibly intelligent and articulate.
  2. She’s strong, out, and rockin’.
  3. She provides a much-needed progressive, liberal voice in the mainstream media.
  4. She’s a goofball.
  5. She makes me feel a little less crazy in the face of so much that goes on in our country.
  6. She’s got great glasses (though she doesn’t get to wear them on air enough—too reflective, in the shiny, not the pondering way, apparently).

I leave you with one of my favorite recent Rachel Maddow clips: Correcting the Record on Race, a follow-up to a conversation she had with Pat Buchanan a few days earlier on her show.

PS. Rachel’s been spotted with one of my mason-jar cozies. Seriously.

PPS. Further fun reading on Rachel Maddow:

And just one more thing—you can download the podcast of her show, or watch all the segments you want online, for free! If it were otherwise, I just might have to get cable.

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Partly It's the Boots is ever-evolving (just like me)—opinions, wonderings, projects, freewrites, fascinations, adventures, and the like. Not to mention current events, feminist perspectives, lefty politics, LGBTQ equality, and much more.

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