Special Hell 7: Stasis Crackers

What is the opposite of dymaxion?


On the hard days I get close to walking away from everything. Goodbye world. So far I have never given in. Except for that very first time…

I couldn’t take it. I just stood up and walked out of Mrs. Hackbarth’s classroom. I was sad. It overwhelmed me. I walked the perimeter of the building, kicking rocks and brushing the tips of my fingers along the brick walls. Second grade is hard.

Eventually someone must have noticed I was missing. Mrs. Hackbarth tracked me down, grabbed me by the ear and pulled me back indoors. I was in tears so despite her anger she had to calm me down. She asked,

“What’s wrong?”

How can a kid explain to an adult that you feel trapped in your own body? That light is too bright? That your skin itches and burns whenever it touches something? That everything around you seems to have the volume turned up too high? That you feel other people’s emotions more strongly than your own?

If I could have verbalized my pain I would have told her I felt alone. I would have said that something felt wrong with the world. Like I was an outsider. That everyone else seemed to know how to act, and I was stuck pretending to be something I didn’t like. I would have confessed that I wanted off the planet. Goodbye world.

Instead, I lied. The best excuse I could think of was,

“I’m hungry.”

Wrong answer. All traces of sympathy vanished from her face. She grabbed my arm and pulled me downstairs to the cafeteria. She flung open a cabinet, grabbed two packets of saltine crackers and told me to eat.

Dry-mouthed, I choked them down, wiped my tears, and returned to my desk.

It was never spoken of again. I don’t even think she told my parents. We just pretended it never happened. And I have been pretending ever since. The feelings never really stopped, I just got really good at ignoring them.

I am starting with this childhood memory because that’s how I felt this week as I reflected on what I had written about the dymaxion man, Buckminster Fuller last week. I wanted to walk away from, well, civilization. Let me explain.

Writing about Bucky got me thinking about living in a geodesic dome home. The only person I have ever known who lived in a dome home was an art professor from college. He was a big influence on my creative development, and probably the only person I have ever known who came close to embodying the ideals of Buckminster Fuller.

Although I have lost touch since graduation, my professor was recently given a copy of my book. Apparently after spending a little time with it his comment was,

“I can’t remember being so concerned with stasis at his age.”

When your former mentor reviews your book, even in an offhand comment, you take note. The word that jumps out is “stasis.” I am not too proud to admit I consulted the dictionary. It said,

Stasis: A period or state of inactivity or equilibrium.

It fits. And not just my book, this is what Buckminster Fuller fought against, too. Stasis is the exact opposite of Bucky’s dymaxion principle. (Dynamic + maximum + tension = dymaxion.) It is so rewarding when concepts come together like that, like puzzle pieces falling in place.

But that wasn’t what made me want to abandon spaceship Earth, those were just my thoughts as I performed the Google search that proved dangerous. I typed the following terms in the search box: Dome homes for sale in Colorado.

What in I saw in the search results was stasis.

Nothing. Nobody lives in dome homes any more. All that remains of Bucky’s architectural breakthrough are a handful of expensive homes built by eccentric millionaires and a bigger handful of rundown homes built by hippies in the seventies which have since been abandoned.

Bucky’s vision was a world of affordable homes that were designed for efficiency, comfort, and affordability. By that standard the dome home is an utter failure. Maybe my hero didn’t turn the Earth after all.

That thought hurts me deeply. It makes me want off this planet.

Screw the housing market. If I can’t buy a dome home, I will build my own. That would be better anyway. Another search reveals several companies that sell dome home plans and kits for the ambitious do-it-yourselfer. Perfect.

So where would I put my dome home? Not in a normal neighborhood. Noah didn’t have to worry about permits, zoning committees, or local covenants and there won’t be a modern flood that can wash all that bureaucracy away. No, it would be best to get out of town completely.

I will buy a plot of land in the mountains. Maybe Montana, or Wyoming. Alaska sounds nice. This brings up the question of employment.

I will have to quit my job.

Without a steady paycheck I will have to reduce my expenses. If I am going to make this work I will have to abandon some life luxuries.

No cable. No internet. No problem.

Since I don’t have a job, I probably don’t need a cell phone or laptop either.

I will have to sell my Fiat. An old pickup would be better for hauling materials anyway.

What about food? Since I have plenty of land, I will grow a garden. Wonderful.

Electricity? Maybe eventually I could add some solar panels or something.

Plumbing? That could be tough but I will figure something out.

It is going to be hard to sell this idea to my wife. I might be able to talk my boys into it. Could I do it without them? Hmmm.

Even after sacrificing everything, this lifestyle still appeals to me. I wake up with the sun. I tend my garden, work on my dome, and never have to interact with square-housed people. I guess it is time to get started. Abandon ship.

The first big expense (other than the land) is going to be to get the supplies shipped to my remote location. What a pain. Do I really need a dome home? Not really. Maybe I don’t even need to own property.

And then I realize where my fantasy has taken me. I started out as a guy wanting to live in an eccentric house… I ended up a homeless man wandering the wilderness all alone.

So I abandon the fantasy. I return to civilization. I choke down the dry crackers, and return to the stuffy classroom. I am once again trapped in a cell pretending nothing’s wrong.

Hope returns when I read Bucky’s words.

Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this Earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.

Bucky inspires me to battle stasis. As a designer, it is my job to create alternatives to dry crackers and the slow, inevitable march towards oatmeal. If I can embody Bucky’s ideals, perhaps my life will have meaning. Abandoning ship isn’t an option. Spaceship Earth is home.

One last thing before signing off. I feel I should ease any concerns you might have about my childhood mental health–or my current sanity for that matter. My self-diagnosis is that I was an emotional kid with mild sensory issues. I survived childhood and aside from lingering social awkwardness and easily-concealed personality quirks I cope just fine today.

Strangely, I think Mrs. Hackbarth did the right thing. Today, they would probably diagnose me with a disorder. Instead of crackers, they would pump me with pills. Instead of yanking my ear they would put me in counseling until I conform. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of real mental health problems, but in my case I am glad Mrs. Hackbarth chose the practical treatment of looking me in the eye and saying,

“Quit crying and eat your crackers.”

Thanks for reading. This was part 7 of my “Special Hell for Designers” series. Part 8 is about telepathy blockers. I try to post a story each week, so consider following me here or on Twitter if my words resonate with you. Stay creative.