When people make drastic changes in their lives, it tends to follow big news. Cut all of your hair off? Sell all your belongings? Go on a crazy trip? Usually it’s medical or a relationship or a death.
As much as I like to think of myself as unique, I’m not an exception here. Though my road is a bit slower.
A few years ago I woke up and my left arm was on fire. Not literally on fire, but from what I’ve been told, as far as my brain was concerned, it may as well have been. It wasn’t pleasant. Lasted for a few days. When the fire finally went out, I was left without feeling in my thumb and first two fingers on that hand. I later learned it destroyed the nerves that activate one of my bicep muscles and one of my triceps muscles in that arm, such that they don’t really work any more. Herniated disc issue. Could happen to anybody, though I have some predispositions that made it fairly likely.
I was warned I would likely end up having issues with the other arm; my right arm. I was mostly in denial about that until a few years later, when I found myself suddenly unable to hold a pen. I was colouring a comic, at the time. And I couldn’t hold the pen to put the colours down.
As an artist, losing my dominant hand was a bit terrifying.
When I went to the hospital it was determined that not only did I have the disc issue, but my spinal cord was getting compressed within one of my vertebrae. There was nothing to really do just then, since any treatment would be high-risk, so we played the wait and see approach. I decided to finally start the cross-Canada trip that I’d meant to take for years, just in case. I figured I’d eventually have surgery, but life after surgery would probably be limiting, so I should do as much as I could, early.
The trip went poorly. It was poorly planned, and many things fell apart in many ways. I learned a lot, but it was a pretty epic failure.
I had a specialist’s appointment when I came back, where I was told that surgery was inevitable, but due to the risks associated with it, they would not be willing to deal with it until after I’d already lost use of my hands for a few months. By that time, the damage to my hands would be permanent, and the issue with my spinal cord would life threatening. So I should immediately stop doing anything that was a big neck impact risk, like mountain biking or any other action sports, which might speed up the process.
I was told I’d lose grip strength and use of fine motor control in my hands at some point between tomorrow and five years from now. No shoelaces or chopsticks or dip pens or DE razors or rock climbing. Quite a bit of my life had already disappeared and I had all of these new things that I knew would disappear, thought I didn’t have an exact timeline. Maybe tomorrow. There are alternative ways for me to do most things, but fine detail will be beyond me, and trusting my weight on any of my fingers will be an unreasonable risk.
I was also told that there were a lot of long-term risks from the surgery, and realistically, when I have it, I’m on borrowed time. So I’m already on borrowed time. You don’t want to know the details.
I’ve responded to all this in the only way that I know how to. I’ve started scratch-building and sculpting miniatures. I’ve been climbing and using dip pens and shaving with DE blades. Chopsticks and shoelaces. I’ve bought a truck and am in the process of converting the box into a camper so I can travel the country and do all of the art stuff as much as possible while I can. But given the 34 sqft I have to deal with, that requires a lot of big life changes. I need to be a minimalist.
But that’s not me. I need to be able to do everything. It’s kind of my jam.
So as I’ve been going along, planning to custom build screen-presses while processing all this jazz, I thought, maybe, some people might find some of the bits interesting. Maybe you want to know how to build a hydroelectric generator? Or screen-print your own work? Think about the design decisions that go into trying to do everything while having no space? Maybe you want to read about someone who is just pounding his head against the wall, because he doesn’t know how to do anything else? This is where you’ll find all these things.
I’m forced to be a minimalist by my new life. But I’m anything but a minimalist in what I do or how I live. I’ve never been good at “simple” or “uncluttered.” So join me on an adventure in trying to live with all the constraints while being free to do everything.