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April 08, 2004: TUS Interview

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We've been doing interviews over at The Usual Suspects for a few months now. My second one was just posted over there, so I decided, in lieu of an actual entry, I'd reprint it here.

An Interview of Jenipurr, by Locust

  1. Your home seems to be very important to you. You bought land and had your house custom built. Why did you go that route?

    Years ago my coworker was looking at buying land and building a house, and showed me the house plans she and her husband had found online. I was intrigued so I started poking around. I stumbled onto the plans for my dream house, but at that time I wasnít in any kind of position to even consider it. But I bookmarked the site, and in a weak moment I sent them some money and had them give me a rough estimate of how much it would cost to build that house in my area. It was always in the back of my mind when I first started looking at houses with the intent to buy, but I didnít start considering it more seriously until I looked around on a whim and found out that land was not only available, but something I could afford. And in some kind of strangely amusing twist, I discovered that I could afford more house (and construction loan) by building it than if I were to buy pre-built, even with the same down payment. I called around, there was this quarter-acre lot available in a lovely neighborhood, I found a general contractor who was perfect, and suddenly all the pieces fell together.

    Do you think that having done it that way makes it feel more like home?

    I suppose in some ways it could. Iíve never actually owned a house before so I really have nothing to compare it with. But having it built to our specifications does mean that it was a completely blank slate. Anything that was done to it was done because we wanted it. I didnít have to inherit someone elseís idea of style. But even then it took both my husband and I a few months before we started feeling like it was truly our home, and not just this incredible house someone else was being nice enough to let us camp out in for a little while.

    Do you see it as something that's done or something that's ever-evolving?

    Something I very quickly realized is that a house is never complete. Owning a home means that you own a never-ending project. Itís just up to you to decide how complicated and detailed your project wants to be. For example, we had them paint the entire thing white, just because I knew it would take us a long time to decide what to do in all the rooms. The tree on the wall in the breakfast nook is a long-term project. The sky detailing in the master bathroom is a long-term project (although I did actually buy the paint, so Iím one step further down that path). Simply filling it with furniture is a long term project Ė one that will probably never end. Weíre about halfway done with the backyard, and once thatís completed the front yard gets ripped out because we both want to replace the water-guzzling grass with more drought tolerant, native plants. There are discussions in the works with some electrician friends to completely rewire the computer room.

    And that only covers the little things. If I had lots of money I would completely remodel the kitchen and laundry room. Weíve talked about eventually building over the garage to extend the house and provide another room (like we really need more space, but need and want are two entirely different things). There are so many changes we have pondered, and thatís after only a little less than three years in the house. Give me another five or ten years and Iím sure my list of projects and changes will be even longer.

    The important distinction is that I find this kind of thing fun. I never let myself consider what could be changed in any of the places I rented because I knew it wasnít mine to play with. The simple fact that we *own* this house is very freeing. I only wish I knew more about construction so I could try to do more of the bigger stuff myself.

    Would you do it again?

    Definitely. Of course, I have a short list in my head of all the things I would do differently the next time we build our house, but I have a feeling that would always be the case, no matter how many times we repeated the process. The beauty of having the house built is that we were free to make changes as we went. We werenít restricted by someone elseís vision of what the house would look like or be. It was an overwhelming experience, especially since I hadnít a clue what to do for most of the circumstances we faced, but our general contractor was wonderful, and walked us through everything without once making us feel like we were stupid.

    Can you ever imagine leaving?

    Yes I can imagine it. No, I donít want to. I love our house Ė even with all the things I might want to change about it. Part of it may simply be that this is the first place Iíve ever lived in that is truly mine, but most of it is because it suits me. Iíve already poured a lot of love and work into the house to make it uniquely ours, and I know that will only continue as the years pass.

  2. You've got an eye for moments, as seen in your photoblog. What catches your eye when you go to take a photograph?

    Shortly after I started Cat's Eye View, I heard an interview on NPR, in which they were discussing the new technology in cellular phones, especially phones with cameras. The interviewer pointed out that digital photography changes how we view taking pictures. Instead of trying to capture a memory, digital photography allows us to simply focus on just catching the moment. Iíve kept that in mind when I take pictures, even when theyíre pictures not specifically meant for Cat's Eye View. I try to find things that seem interesting; something in the shot that might be worth a second glance. I like catching people (especially little kids) when they donít even realize Iím taking their picture. Posed shots are never nearly as vibrant to me.

    Have you ever seen something in a photo you've take that you hadn't noticed before?

    The best example of this would be the picture I took of the flowering pear in our front yard. Iíd taken the picture of the blossoms on a branch against the sky, mainly to have a clean background for the flowers. But when I saw the picture itself I was struck by how brilliantly blue the sky actually turned out.

    What's your favorite of the photos you've taken?
    Iím not sure I can pick just one. I took this one at the State Fair last year (got permission from her parents to take it) and I love the story it tells Ė all the colors and the blur of activity behind the stroller, and the little girl whoís just had enough. This one was a lucky shot Ė one of my coworkers had pressed his face on the window and the next day the light hit just right so that we saw it. I was thrilled the shot came out. I like this one because of the contrast in colors (and okay, so I admit I covet those boots). And finally, this one should be fairly self explanatory (I so rarely manage to get sunset pictures to come out so well).

  3. You've described yourself as an agnostic with a spiritual side. Where does your sense of spirituality come from? How would you describe it?

    Back when I was in high school, we had a long term substitute teacher in English who really drove a lot of us nuts. One classic case was that after a test, he told us that if we could show him where in the book it said that we were right, we would get credit for any questions weíd missed. In my case, if I was right, the information did not exist in the book at all. So I asked him to show me where, in the book, it existed. He refused, insisting I had to show him the section to prove my case. But the entire point of my argument was that the information did not exist. My very proof was that that it wasnít there at all. Ultimately he won because, after all, he was the acting teacher and I was just a powerless student. But the whole point of this story is to clarify how I feel about faith, and god(s) and supreme beings, and celestial master plans, and all the rest. I canít just take someone elseís word for it. I need real, defendable proof.

    I think that the problem is that I am incapable of complete faith. I am, for the most part, a purely logical thinker, and I cannot grasp how I am supposed to take something as huge as the existence of some supreme being on faith, without any proof whatsoever. I am currently taking a bible study class at the church where we attend because I want to understand the book better, in the context of how strongly it has impacted our cultures and societies for so many centuries. But I still cannot grasp how I am supposed to think that this book equals proof. If there is no god, it is just a book like any other book. Simply writing a book about something does not make it true.

    However, I realize that there is always the possibility that something truly does exist, and I do think that there are things out there beyond what I can see or touch or feel. I deeply enjoy theological discussions with people who are open-minded enough to want to debate varying theories without feeling the need to insist that their way is the only way. I am leaving myself open to being persuaded one way or another, because the search itself is so interesting.

    Have you ever had to defend it and, if so, to whom?

    Luckily Iíve never felt that I had to defend my inability to believe, although I have been asked to clarify it many times. I think, just as I have such a hard time understanding how others can believe without question, some people with deep faith cannot understand my position either. I will admit, however, that I get a secret glee out of stumping the bible-thumpers who go door to door by asking them to prove the existence of a god without using their bible. I have yet to find a single one who was even willing (or able) to try. Somehow, that seems kind of sad.

    Do you believe you could ever move toward atheism or formalized faith, or is agnostism where you'll always be?

    I have a feeling I will probably always remain staunchly agnostic. There is a part of me that wishes I could find the peace that my friends have with their own various religious faiths, and I wonder if I will ever be able to understand or accept things based purely on faith. Thus, I go to church and I read the bible to try to make sense of it all. I listen to people of other faiths and ask them questions and have, at times, been in the position of having to explain facets of Christianity to non-Christians as well. I accept that I will always be searching for a better understanding of faith, but Iím fine with that. The existence, or non-existence, of a supreme being really doesnít matter much to me one way or the other. But I know Iíll always have the curiosity, and the need, to figure it out for myself.

  4. You seem to have an incredible sense of community. Has it always been that way? Are you someone who gets invited into the communities of others or do you make your own? Is there anything you'd change about the way you are connected to the people around you?

    I found this an interesting question, if only because itís something Iíve struggled with for so long. After college it seemed like I spent so much of my time feeling isolated and disconnected. I know that a large part of this was due simply to the fact that my job had me on the road all the time. Plus, by the very nature of the work I was doing, I had to refrain from forming anything more than casual friendships with the people I worked with because as a consultant, I would always be the outsider. Add to this the fact that all my friends from college gradually moved away, either physically or mentally (into a different stage of life than I was in) and I spent a lot of years feeling as if any chance for strong friendships had slipped away. Itís only in the last few years Iíve finally started to feel as if I actually belong somewhere. Itís helped that Iíve had a series of jobs that have not required the kind of extensive travel I was dealing with before. It also helped that we moved to a community where I have a vested interest in putting down roots and trying to make lasting friendships. Overall, I think the main thing is that I finally have the time to put in the effort. Integrating into any community of people requires time and energy, and when youíre constantly on the road itís really hard to make that happen.

    Right now Iím one of the biggest driving forces behind getting a social group going for people our age at the church where we attend. Itís been a difficult process, but also very gratifying to see that itís finally starting to come together, and it has underscored the fact that social communities require someone willing to take the time to make the effort.

  5. You keep journals and you've done NaNoWriMo. What compels you to tell stories?

    When I was younger I used to carry around at least one three-subject notebook with me at all times, and I was forever scribbling stories into them. I often had several different stories all going on at once, and there were times when it seemed like I couldnít write fast enough to get them all down. I still have an entire drawer of those notebooks of half-finished stories, and every once in a while I drag them out and read through them, just to remind myself that once upon a time I actually could write fiction. I think perhaps the reason I have done NaNoWriMo twice now is to try to kick start that part of the brain again. There are still stories lurking in my head that I want very much to get out, but I just donít seem to have the ability to translate them to paper anymore. NaNoWriMo is my once-a-year test to see if I can get just a little bit further on overcoming that block.

    These days, however, my sense of story is based more on what is going on around me, and not so much all the little what-ifs in my head. Part of that is probably due to the fact that I have always been very good at the type of writing that is meant to explain things so other people will understand Ė research papers, reports, user manuals, any type of non-fiction document that might be needed. In fact, a lot of my work in the past few years has focused more on this type of writing. Part of it has also been the online journal, which Iíve kept now for over four years. I enjoy having the journal because itís a place for me to continually practice my writing skills; to find ways to turn the things around me into something that someone else might be interested in reading. Iíve had a need to write for as long as I can remember, but now I focus more on how I can write for the journal.

    Is it something you look for in others, their ability to weave stories?

    The ability to weave a story in a way that makes even the mundane seem interesting is something I know I will work on for the rest of my life, and since itís so important to me, it does become an important aspect in how I view others as well. Iíve been trying to get my sisters to take up online journaling because they both are good writers and I think they would enjoy having that outlet. I have also tried to encourage my mom to write down her experiences as a chaplain because she always wrote the most wonderful letters when we were kids Ė full of humor and all the little details that made them fun to read.

    Is it part of how you define yourself? Do you see everything as a story?

    Yes, and yes. I think I have always considered myself a writer, even though the writing I get paid to do (reports, presentations, white papers, etc.) might not be quite what I first envisioned Iíd be doing when I was younger. Having the online journal keeps that designation firmly in my head. There is always a story to tell. It might not be the most exciting story when it comes to the things I do for work, and it might not be fiction when it comes to the things I write for fun, but nonetheless, the stories are there. Itís just up to me to get them out.

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