Love in a time of cataclysm
Wanted: Experienced couples therapist, preferably also with degrees in theology and law, for fractious, passionate pair riddled with apocalyptic anxiety, burdened with love for their children (all of them), acutely conscious of the finitude of time and resources, and fearful that the world has gone mad. Must take insurance.
Everyone told us that building a house could wreck a relationship. And we knew it was true. The rehab of a beautiful old house in Hull had been one of the final blows to Ken’s marriage. I spent part of my childhood living in one room with my family of five, with our kitchen in the garage, while our house was torn down and rebuilt around us; fun for us, less so for our parents. But Ken felt that we needed to undertake something together. It was his insistence that the relationship be something more than just a safe place to retreat from the mad world. He was not wrong. Despite all the ups and downs this past year has brought, I have never regretted throwing my energy and resources into the JP Green House.
When I met Ken, he had thrown away almost everything he owned in the process of dissolving a marriage and selling the house he had rebuilt by the sea, a place he’d thought he would be forever. Ken had moved back to Jamaica Plain and was living in two rooms in the home of my friends Ginger and Susan. He spent his days writing about climate, puttering in the workshop he created in the garage, and shuttling Eli back and forth to his mother’s. He appeared in the living room when I was taking my guitar lessons with Ginger once a week, a scruffy, handsome presence with a banjo or mandolin to add to the mix. He is the best finger-picker I have ever met.
I was in a more subtle crisis, raising my kids without much help from their father in a bubble of my own fear, which came out of my growing acquaintance with the writings of James Hansen, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Bill McKibben. And also out of my close observations of the weather.
Ken can’t pay bills on time, keep his car registration current, or manage the location of his wallet and keys from hour to hour. He can quickly and accurately spin out a logo, a story, and an angle for a campaign. He can carve an ax-handle, mow a lawn with a scythe, and make sense of the Old Testament, cast aluminum in the backyard, and play anything with strings. He’s a visionary, a man with vast talents, and deficits to match.
I am a humble and boringly rational person by contrast, but very reliable. I tend to know what’s meant to happen, who is expecting us, what state the kids are in, and whether there is anything in the fridge for dinner.
Ken collects wonderful objects from the trash, planning always to create more wonderful objects from them … at some point. I get into moods where I will throw away anything in my path. I clean when I’m frustrated; I shove things into closets. Ken spins in a complex arena of objects, projects, plans, and visions. I insist on a realistic vision of things that will actually happen. We are both idealists, and we are both uncompromising.
You might say we complement each other, but domestic life can be difficult around here: full of sturm and drang, and testosterone-ridden, as I grumble on bad days. We play subtle games of chicken, seeing how long we can each hold out before someone caves and does the shopping or the cleaning, resentfully, or steps up to the task of shutting down the video-game casino in the boys’ room to toss them outside for a taste of real childhood, or waters the garden or cooks a meal … heck, we can bicker over who should write the next piece for Grist!
At worst, you might say we are held together by sheer curmudgeonly self-righteousness (like some of the great homesteaders: Helen and Scott Nearing come to mind). At best this is a relationship of great passion: intellectual, emotional, spiritual, physical. Add to this the large, untamed personalities of our three children and the complexities of our household become apparent. We bring this into the story of the JP Green House because it is fundamental: we aim for transparency, to convey the inherent messiness of the great transitions we are all making.
This is a meeting of two raw souls, living in dark times: love in a time of cataclysm. To be continued …
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