Thursday, April 21, 2011

Introverted Earthbag Nerd

It's been a rough month with many setbacks, especially financially.  I've been slowly realizing that I will not be able to start building as soon as I'd like, because my money will be tied up in other things.  One of the setbacks is that I was hoping to get out of my lease two months early at the end of April, but the landlords decided they would let me out at the end of May instead.  So I still have one more month of rent and bills to pay before I'm free to spend money on building-related things.

On the bright side, however, I've been getting free bags from a brewery, and I'm actively seeking other free bag suppliers.  I now have somewhere around 200, I'm guessing.  I just started counting them yesterday.

There are many bags stuffed inside each of the ones you see here.
 For those of you not familiar with the earthbag method, one of the issues you have to deal with is poky-outy corners on the bags, which make plastering more difficult.  There are different ways to address this:  1)  "diddle," or poke in the corners, 2) diddle the corners and then pin them for extra hold (there are different ways to do this), or 3) turn the bags inside out.

Since I have nothing better to do to move my building project forward right now, I've decided to use method 3 and do it now, and this way, it will save time during the actual building process, because I won't have to stop and diddle every bag.  I decided that if I can't start building, I can at least do something that moves things in that direction.

So I sat in my backyard, in the glorious spring sunshine, and turned 54 bags inside out.  The bags come from a few different suppliers, and vary in their ease of insideoutability.  Some of the bags are fairly stiff, and  the standard thing seems to be that when they're sealed for shipping, they are sewn across the top with a mixture of red and white thread, which is really thin string.  In what I've come to think of as the Good Bags, it's fairly easy to cut the strings at one end, and pull on the white one, thereby easily unraveling the whole business.  Indeed, in these bags, I rarely had to do that, because it was obviously easy enough for the brewers to have done it themselves.

The Good Bags: nice and soft, easy to open and turn inside out
However, with other bags, there would be evidence of the brewers trying to unravel the string, only to give up and just slash across the bag with a knife.  Or else they'd manage to unravel up to a point that allowed just a big enough opening to pour out the grain, leaving me to take the one pair of crappy scissors I could find, and fight with the rest of the string.  If you've ever had to remove a hem, you have a pretty good idea of what this task is like.  Tedious.

But you know what?  Earthbag nerd that I've become, I enjoyed every moment of working playing with these bags.  Obviously, the ones that were already fully open were more pleasant, but the overall act of preparing my bags for building was immensely satisfying, partly because of the sense of continuity it gave me, that I'm doing something that the future me will thank myself for.  This act of turning the bags inside out, at the very beginning of this project, is directly related to one of the very last steps - plastering the walls.  I couldn't help but think about that, imagining myself in the plastering stage, and the whole thing just gave me a sense of wholeness and fulfillment. A full circle feeling.

My afternoon's work.  Notice the pile on the far right; these are plastic liners that the Good Bags have, and which come out intact, meaning I have a bangup supply of kitchen trash bags now too.
I've said I'm going to try to avoid being too philosophical/spiritual on this blog, but I just can't help it.  I think in metaphors, for one thing, and that just is a part of everything I do.  And so, I have to also mention the rumination I indulged in yesterday about the metaphor of turning bags inside out, or as I'm now calling it, "introverting" them.  You can see where I'm going with this, I'm sure.

I tend to be an introvert, and when I'm forced to deal with people and the world too much, I begin to lose it after a while.  The need to retreat within becomes almost as great as the need to eat in its sense of urgency.  This is part of why it's been a dificult month for me, because it seems like I've been around other people constantly, especially with all the work I have right now.  That's why, yesterday when I found myself alone in the house for once, it was so lovely to sit outside and introvert bags, defying the stressed-out Nazi taskmaster within that tells me I have to be "on" 24/7.  And it inspired to me contemplate that in this case, introversion makes the item in question more functional, ultimately more efficient in fulfilling its purpose.  Just like me.

From another angle, I've felt "turned inside out" lately in the sense of feeling exposed and raw.  Which, as unpleasant as that can be, I've come to respect as a useful experience in increasing awareness and true groundedness.  Because it forces me out of the stories in my head and into the moment; it makes me look to reality for a solid place to stand rather than to my beliefs.

Another tangent of my thoughts was about the journey of the bags, and how I get to participate in that and repurpose them.  I enjoyed thinking about the places whose names are printed on the bags, like Germany, the UK, and Belgium, and also about their purpose of transporting grain to be made into beer, and all the many people who will enjoy that beer.   The bags could have been just thrown away after they fulfilled their function, only to sit in some landfill until the sun decomposed them, but instead, they will be refilled and resurrected into something with a much more abiding purpose.  Again, this strikes me as a good metaphor for life (and a timely meditation with Easter just around the corner).  How often do people feel stuck on what seems a dead end road, certain that we know exactly where we're going and what we are and are not capable of?  A few months ago I had no idea I'd be buying land and a bus and building a house; I thought I was stuck in Renter's Hell indefinitely.  But like with these bags, it only takes some imagination and hard work to create a whole new direction.

As you can see, introverting bags became valuable to me in ways I had not anticipated when I sat down to do it. I had begun to fear that the serendipity had run out, but yesterday showed me that I have to actively participate in it before I see it, construct a house for it to move into, so to speak.


  1. it's all about the process :)
    and when one has a dream, even the most insignificant tasks become something 'greater'
    one step at time, one foot in front of the other, and you will get there

  2. I was thinking about you just the other day because you have not blogged in a while. This is a big project and there will be many delays and setbacks. Learn to enjoy the journey and the end will come quickly. But you must enjoy the journey or you will be overwhelmed. The learning and the knowledge passed to your children will carry them through their lives. A home is like most human made items, a series of individual systems that work independently and together as a whole. When you research and study each one, you can build it. When you are finished, you and your boys will reap the benefit of what you have learned. If something breaks down or needs maintenance, you are the expert on the system. I was wondering about water on your land. Do you know how deep you may need to go to have a well? If it is not too deep, a solar pump and a storage container will make a lot of difference in the other types of construction you do. If water is available, you can build a small waste treatment system for your bus. If you are interested just let me know, and I will show how to build one out of 2 plastic barrels and 1 – 10’ section of 2” PVC pipe and 2 - 90° elbows. Total cost under $50. I truly believe that we should share our knowledge to help each other.

  3. It is lovely to see your blog this evening. Sorry for the delay with the rent. Bravo for advancing your project by introverting your bags and pondering their very meaning in your life at this point. You seem to have had a very productive time in their company.
    Many blessings on you and your project.

  4. We went with the same method for our bags. Invert, then diddle the corners in. It's interesting how spending time working on natural building will help 'ground' a person. Our weather is finally cooperating, so we were going over all the tasks that need done this building season. At first it was a little overwhelming. But soon the labour felt good. Taking a break and sitting in the centre of the dome I felt 'a part of' the place.
    It's good to see you are making some progress. 200 inverted bags is a heck of a good start.

  5. Kel - You are so right! Thank you.

    Lou - Thanks for sharing your wisdom and encouragement. I won't be digging a well as there's a community well I'll be hauling water from. I'm definitely intrigued by the wastewater treatment system you mentioned. Could you email me at to talk more about it?

    Claire - Thank you! I love having you alongside on this journey :)

    Muddome - I'm curious; you turned the bags inside out AND diddled? Glad to hear you guys have been able to get back to work; from reading your blogs, I know how bad you've been itching to.

  6. Love your post, Pol. Progress is measured in different ways on different levels, but it is progress.

  7. jicky - Thanks, that's a very good point.

  8. I've gotta say, non-philosophizing promises aside, I like the metaphors and how you're aware of them. :)