Carolyn Kremers: The Non-Conforming House

Carolyn Kremers
never written for a blog, ever.  I’m someone
who usually drafts her poem or nonfiction by hand on a lined white notepad,
then types a copy and fiddles with it—for days, weeks, years.  If I journal, I do it by hand or, if near
electricity or desperate for time, on my laptop.  Occasionally I find myself journaling
unexpectedly in an email message turned-into-letter.  That’s the thing: I never know where my
writing will go or where it will take me, what doors it will open.  Or close. 
It closes some doors—barring me from being outside on a glorious fall
day, for instance, or even from noticing the weather out a window—when my mind
and body and whole soul are transported far away and deep down, into the draft
or the revision of something magic and alive.

I guess
blogging could also be like that—transporting—since it, too, is a form of
writing.  I guess I’ll find out.

I’ve set up a few guidelines for myself (“constraints,” as my
rhetorician-friend Sarah Stanley would call them):

1.  Each blog will be short: 750 words or less (I
2.  I will write the blog during the week it is
due, not sooner (not beforehand).
3.  I will limit the time I spend, using most of
it to draft and only a little of it to revise/edit/polish.  (Polish!?  I think that may be a forbidden word in the
4.  The four blogs will spin variations on
“the non-conforming house.” 
(Okay, I admit:  I’ve already been
thinking about this part—for about six months now…)
5.  I will trust that I can do this.

Well, here
we go…

I live
in a non-conforming house.  Literally,
figuratively, personally, professionally, language-wise.  Mostly, I don’t mind.  It’s not an easy way to live, but it’s the
life I have chosen—or more likely, the life that has chosen me.  Perhaps when I was younger, I thought about
this a lot—my life: what I would do
with it, where it was going, where I wanted it to go.  Now that I’m nearly 63, I don’t think that
way much.  The path has revealed itself
and it continues to, whether I know it or not.

that’s [rats! The plumber just knocked on
the door and brought in five cardboard boxes of Versi-Foam to set by the
Monitor oil-stove and keep the boxes warm, till he can spray the foam on the new
pipes outdoors and keep them from freezing this winter—yay!  And now I can’t remember the rest of the
sentence.  And there will be more
interruptions today, as there have been since July 22, when the contractor
RhettG began this work on my cabin.]

So.  Well, as I said, the path of my life
continues to reveal itself.  And it is
non-conforming. (But what is non-conforming?  Non-conforming to what?)

latched onto this word—sometimes with laughter and glee, sometimes with
resignation—ever since April, when I discovered that non-conforming is what my credit union calls this house, and what
every other credit union and bank that I contacted for the next two months
called it. 

are several ways a house in Alaska (or a person?) may be labeled non-conforming.  My 17-foot by 20-foot log cabin (with
stand-up-able loft) received the moniker because it had “no fixed
foundation” and “no toilet.” 
In fact, I was trying to get a loan from Alaska USA in order to replace
the foundation, which was an untreated wood beam lying on the ground on the
uphill side, plus untreated spindly posts propping up the house on the downhill
side, all visibly rotting into the Earth.  And I also planned to install a toilet
(actually, to add on a real bathroom, including a toilet, and move the shower
from the living room into the bathroom.  Etc.)

At the
edge of Fairbanks, this cabin hides on two acres of birch forest on the
northwest side of a ridge.  The property borders
90 undeveloped acres to the west—a meccah for moose, fox, spruce grouse,
darkness, and the northern lights.  Until
April, I had simply thought of this place as home and as a beacon of change—global
warming unfolding, technology marching on. 
While searching for an institution that would give me a loan, however, I
learned from a realtor that my house qualifies in even more ways as
non-conforming.  (Isn’t that always the
case?!)  But we won’t go into those
here.  The rotting foundation and recently
renovated outhouse—inherited from the Denali Community Center and painted dark
red inside, with a white cathedral ceiling—these are enough.

Non-conforming.  Yes, in the eyes of the powerful banking
world, at least.  On dark days when much
of this construction effort seemed to be going either awry or nowhere, I have
wondered if I made a grave mistake.  Was
I reckless and naïve to imagine that I might have—might deserve to have, might manage
to have and dream of having and, therefore, could
—a fixed foundation and an easier way to deal with winter in Fairbanks
and with growing old(er) and wise in Alaska?

did have the rainiest/wettest June-July-August on record, and that did present challenges
for everyone involved in construction—not to mention many dark days.  July 22 seems long ago, when the first of 21
birch trees were felled here and limbed, including my beloved 90-year-old-growth
elder, the one that John Haines said must be the same age as he.  Not all days are dark, though.  And all days of rain in the Interior give way
eventually (or have since the Pleistocene) to snow.  And to the return of the shining moon…

Carolyn Kremers lives in
Fairbanks and teaches part-time in the English Department at the University of
Alaska Fairbanks.  Her books include Place
of the Pretend People: Gifts from a Yup’ik Eskimo Villag
e (memoir), The
Alaska Reader: Voices from the North
(anthology co-edited with Anne
Hanley), and Upriver (poetry).  Upriver
was a Finalist for the 2014 Willa Award for poetry, from Women Writing the

1 thought on “Carolyn Kremers: The Non-Conforming House”

  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Carolyn, Your voice pulled me right in and I look forward to your next posts — from the former resident of a non-conforming house that bedeviled the local realtors.

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