The Arizona Project

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I wrote a post to summarize this renovation on the night before we finished it, but quite honestly, needed some space and time away from the project, from the unrelenting heat, from the 100-hour work weeks we were (each) putting in before I wrote anything about it. And, quite honestly, I wanted a chance to talk to my wife about it. We hadn’t spoken outside of measurement and lengthy, seemingly impossible to-do lists for weeks. I needed to hear her heart speak.

In the past month, after wrapping this job, we’ve seen some of our family and friends, driven 5,000 miles to head to our annual vacation spot and back west, and have started the next job. We spent two weeks at a four-generation lake cottage in Ontario, Canada, that Ellen’s grandparents bought in 1948. For Ellen, who has spent every summer of her life at the cottage, the cottage is the place that feels most like home to her. After becoming nomads several years ago, it is now the place that I call home too. While yes, it’s beautiful, it goes deeper than that. In our years of traveling full time, we have seen the light and dark in places, and the good and the bad, and this place is light and good and then something else, too. 

It is the place that we come to heal.

Yet as we’ve come off the last eleven months - where we renovated three Airstreams (one for ourselves while living in it and moving 1200 miles mid-build), and two for clients - while homeschooling, running the business, and taking care of our daughter, two dogs, and cat, we’ve realized that the two weeks we spend at the cottage each summer aren’t quite enough to heal if we are, on a daily basis, not taking care of ourselves. 

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For the last two weeks, Ellen and I have found ourselves on the dock while our daughter and pups play in the shallows, deep in conversation. We’ve spent time alone as well, and have each taken walks or swims or paddles to think. To try to heal. Upon arrival, our bodies ached and our injuries kept us from doing some of the things we normally would right away - my broken finger, her deeply bruised and gashed shin. Yet more than the physical injury and exhaustion, our minds were drained completely. Normally, when we are here, we kayak daily, take hikes, go skiing, swim constantly, see our friends as much as possible. Yet this year, we were slow to start. We didn’t rush anything and allowed ourselves time to heal from the physical, mental, and emotional toll it took to go from laying a floor in this project…to finishing the entire build, including lighting, electrical panels, outlets, plumbing, custom countertops, and the rest of the custom build…in three weeks and three days…(after spending the previous four and a half months doing the intensive and necessary work of getting it safe, watertight, and road-ready, for it was in absolutely wrecked condition - most people wouldn’t have even touched this Airstream).

While raising a child, with no outside support nearby.

Working outside in temperatures that ranged from 110-120 daily.

While living in an Airstream ourselves that didn’t give us a break from the heat.

And while yes, it’s beautiful…we spent maybe twenty minutes with it complete and finished, taking in all we’d accomplished, before we packed our tools, hitched up our own (unfinished) Airstream, and began the 2500-mile journey to our cottage, stopping to see our parents along the way. We hadn’t seen them since Thanksgiving, where we spent a day with each set. It was all we could afford to take off from work. 

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There have been many lessons we have learned over the last year and a half of being in business together, but none more than the (really difficult) lessons we learned on this build and during our time in Arizona. Together, we decided we would be remiss if in this post I only noted the aesthetics and amenities of this space. Those can be seen in the photographs and can be read more about here. What always, always lies beneath the spaces Ellen and I create is the labor of our hands and minds, lessons learned, stories woven. This is what makes us…us. This is what makes The Modern Caravan exist in the way that it does. 

This work, we now know, is not a sprint. 

It’s a marathon. 

Scratch that - it’s a thru-hike. 

If you tried to sprint on a months-long thru-hike, without stopping for rest, water, sustenance, food, or human contact, you’d get disoriented and maybe lost. You’d get sick. You might even die. 

Our work cannot be a sprint anymore. This work, while we are able to do it in what seems, from the complete outside, like a quick minute - can only be done in that timeline if we shirk all other responsibilities in our lives. We don’t eat well, or sleep well, or give our child or pets the attention they need or deserve. We are always choosing work over family, work over time with friends, work over exercise or heathy eating habits, work over our marriage, work over ourselves. This is our fault, and we know this.

We are doing - and being - too much, all the time. 

When the job ends, our clients and followers say: that went so quickly - I can’t believe it’s over! 

For the client or the online follower, this can be a sprint (and has been). The client or the online follower  is passively observing.

For the renovator, this cannot be a sprint, because when this job is done and beautiful and complete, and it’s passed back to the client, we begin another sprint for another client. We have been sprinting on the trail for the last 19 months. For this job to be sustainable, for us to be able to go on and keep renovating for others, we must slow down. We have been learning these lessons, but never more so than now, after all that we’ve allowed of ourselves to do and be. We were afraid to stop, afraid to slow down. After all, we’re women in construction. Women in business. Women with a child to provide for. Women with all their eggs in one basket. We’ve gone hard and fast to prove we can and uphold our promises, while slowly stripping away who we are as human beings. We didn’t realize this lesson in its entirety until arriving at the cottage, anticipating healing, and finding that the two weeks we’ve taken yearly to rest and be still is no longer enough. It cannot be when we’re not taking care of ourselves at all during the fifty weeks that precede them. It was once a simple healing, a reset for the coming year, and now we are attempting to squeeze in a whole marriage, a personal reckoning, and true-family time in the all-too-short days. They’re all the days we’ve got.

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In speaking our truth, we are indeed artists and craftswomen doing specialized, highly varying types of work on 40-60+ year old vintage trailers that need to be done with proper care, and to that end, we are strong, capable, and intelligent women who are creating beautiful and functional and highly desired spaces. It’s time to stop being afraid of what might happen if we slow down and treat ourselves with the respect we deserve. What kind of work might we do if we were able to take our time? If we could work from a place of rested, strong physical health and emotional well-being? If we can produce this caliber of work while broken, what might we be able to create from a place of wholeness? What could we do for others, for all of you, if we had the time and energy? I can’t even imagine it. I, for one, am excited for change. 

It is now time to hike with care and intention, not sprint without stop, with fuzzy brains and weary limbs and emptied packs of sustenance, dromedary bags without water. We are going to take our time, and put in the hard work, just as we always have, but we will be slower in it. We will remember that we are not just artists and craftswomen, and we will instead prioritize being mothers, wives, and human beings. We will remember it is okay to exist outside of work, and that those who respect us will respect and acknowledge that we aren’t just laborers. That this work must be done with care and intention. We can only continue doing the work at our personal standard of high quality for years to come if we step back and change things for the better. This must come in the form of slowing down and taking care of ourselves and our bodies and minds and family along the way. Only if we do this can we continue on in this work that we’re so passionate about, because passion can only take you so far. Burnout is real, and we’re seeing it up close. 

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If you are wondering why we’re sharing this in lieu of a traditional “reveal” post, please know: we started this business from a very real love of creating together. The Modern Caravan wouldn’t exist without us, without our story. Without our marriage and romantic relationship, there is no business, no pretty Airstream, no photos of which to re-post or pin or be inspired by. Without our romantic relationship, we never would have decided to sell everything we owned and travel. We never would have bought an Airstream to renovate all those years ago, or realized how the art we were both longing to create was not a separate entity from each other, but that our talents and shortcomings both worked synergistically when we created that first-and-then-the-second Airstream. There is story and love and life wrapped up in all that this business and these projects, these art pieces, are. We don’t want it any other way, and to do this business from a place of disengagement doesn’t sit well with us. We tried that, and the story began to slip away. We don’t want to lose the wonder of the work we love. The story, our love, the creating of art as a couple - this is what makes The Modern Caravan special. This is what makes it worth anything at all. 

We are so often told that we’re living the dream, and we’re always quick to rebuke the myth. No matter how passionate one is about the art form they’ve chosen to create, or how much they may love their work or their lifestyle, to do what we’ve done in the last four and a half years has taken continual sacrifice and continual hard work. No dream worth having is without these things, and no one arrives at a dream, and to live within one, one MUST continue to sacrifice and work insanely hard to keep their ever-evolving and ever-shifting dream ALIVE and THRIVING.

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We share these truths because they are important, especially in our culture of immediate-gratification, and ever more so in the growing trend of the very Airstream-life we live and breathe. Hitting the road doesn’t erase your problems, no matter how many songs or pieces of fiction or Instagram accounts may lead you to believe, and renovating an Airstream and making it shiny and picture-perfect is not the arrival point. (Quite honestly, if you think it is, and you think that a follower count or throw pillows define you or your journey in some way, we’d advise you step away from the social media beast for awhile and thoughtfully reconsider.)

We share these truths because we have not arrived, and we are still in the throes. We will always be in the throes, but we now know it doesn’t have to be quite as hard as we’ve allowed it to be. 

The build itself, the work, the sacrifice, and then all that comes after - the lessons the road and life will teach you, when you are open to receiving them, are to grow you - to deepen your understanding of life and love and the world around you. These are the things you should be looking for. These are the lessons we look for. These are the reasons to do anything at all, and underneath every beautiful photo you see of our work is the culmination of years of that very sacrifice, the kind of work that makes you feel you cannot breathe or go on another day but then you do, story, the desire to create, and the love of two people who found a way to create together. It is more than an arrival. It is more than aesthetics. It is not a finish line. This is why this post is important - one can love the beauty of the spatial art we create, but what lies underneath the finished product? What is the truth and the story of the space? We lose this in the photographs, the likes, the comments, the oohs-and-ahhs, the follower count, and the finished product - unless it is called to light. 

What about the hands and bodies and minds and hearts of the people who created it?