b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG-3425.JPGI'm writing in a hobbit hole, off the grid, on a mountain side in Northern Washington. The setting couldn't be more perfect. There's still some snow covering the ground at our elevation, steep sagebrush hills framing the horizon, a shimmering mountain lake reflecting the setting sun. I want to write about joyful things or find beauty in difficult things, but the only words that are coming to me are “I am so exhausted.”

 

Today I slept and slept, the underground dwelling shutting out every trace of light. I went to bed early last night, got up to watch the sunrise, went back to bed for several hours, got up to eat, took a long nap, went for a walk, napped again, and still, every bone and muscle in my body is tired. It has a name, this feeling, but I don't want to face that it is happening again. I was just recovering, and now I'm back in this place. A place called Burnout.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG-3444.JPGSince I can't focus on anything else, I pay attention to this feeling. It's a heaviness in my body that has little to do with all of the pounds I piled on in recent months of stress eating. Gravity seems more pronounced, like the earth is pulling on me with more force, trying to curve my spine, bending me toward the ground. The air feels thicker, denser. It settles on my shoulders like the straps of a backpack, digging into my flesh, forcing a groove into my muscles. Breathing feels harder, as if I'm in my scuba gear lowering myself into the depths of the ocean.

 

I want to stay curled up in this hobbit hole forever, shutting out the rest of the world, only peeking out through the safety of the thick, rounded windows.

 

“I don't want to do this anymore”, I hear myself think. But I don't know what “this” means. I pose the question to myself.

“What is it I want to quit?” I ask.

“Everything”, my body answers.

“Everything?” I ask.

“Yes, everything.”

 

I stop breathing for a moment, watching my chest fall flat. No movement. Nothing. But I can still feel my beating heart and soon my lungs hurt. I suck in some warm air, the smell of the propane fireplace irritating my nose.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG-3424_20180402-190048_1.JPG“I can't quit 'everything'”, I say to my body.

“You can do less” it replies.

I notice how shallow my breathing is. “I'm already doing that,” I say.

“It's still too much” my body insists.

 

I pull in more air, enough for a noisy sigh. My partner turns and looks at me. I'm OK, I signal him and he returns to his book. I put down my computer. I don't want to write anymore, it's too much effort. I go back to the bed, maybe to read some fantasy, maybe to take another nap, whichever takes the least effort.

 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG-5322.JPGMy sinuses hurt. My throat is sore. I woke myself up snoring last night. I didn't used to snore and it bothers me that I do so now. I drag myself out of bed and analyze our snack supplies. Chocolate for breakfast would be a really bad idea. I eat some fruit instead. Selfcare. A small success. I did something.

 

I refuse to give in to depression. You can't get depressed when you're on vacation in a hobbit hole. It wouldn't be right, I can't let it happen. I take more pictures of the hobbit house. It's gorgeous and the attention to detail is stunning. Every single piece of furniture matches the décor, from the tables and chairs down to the mugs and spoons and tissue boxes. I don't have much energy, but it doesn't take any to pretend I'm in Middle Earth, so I slip into the fantasy and enjoy the experience.

 

When it’s time to leave, we head into town and order arugula and goat cheese crepes for second breakfast and chocolate nut butter banana crepes with superfood hot chocolate for Elevensies. I've rarely eaten anything so delicious and my taste buds help me push away depressing thoughts.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG-5260.JPGOn the long drive home I become uncharacteristically quiet. I stare out the window and reflect on our trip. I hadn't planned this getaway. I was researching natural building techniques when I came across the website for this hobbit hole. I'd seen it online before, knew it was a vacation rental, but it is always booked a year and a half in advance. When I saw an unexpected cancellation the following week, I booked it on a whim. I thought we'd use the trip to study natural buildings, which would make this sort of kind of like a business trip, more or less.

 

That didn't happen. There was no natural building to study. To my surprise the hobbit hole's construction was very conventional. Common building materials were used to build a rectangular structure that was then mostly covered in soil, making the top appear rounded. The curved walls and unusual shapes were all an interior design job, not structural features. Conventional, straight angles were concealed with curved, painted plywood and rounded facades.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG-3401.JPGI gained more than a few interior design ideas, but had a hard time accepting that the construction was so normal. I had been looking forward to seeing how rounded spaces could be built into a mountain. I did not expect to find evidence of a box like structure in a hillside excavation. I asked my partner about it. He said the rectangular shape made for much easier construction. Materials would be cheaper to come by. Standard designs and common engineering guidelines could be utilized.

 

“So it's really just a box”, I say to my partner as we're driving past still blossomless orchards. He shrugs. “It's just a box”, I repeat as the highway winds its way higher into the Cascade mountains, snow covering distant summits. “I can't believe it's just a box”, I say again. The road follows the rapids and curves of the Wenatchee river. “I'm just having a hard time believing the hobbit hole is built into a box”, I repeat for the umpteenth time. “Why can't I get over that? I mean, it's an amazing place, but it's actually a box. An amazing box!” I exclaim as the forest gives way to barren plateaus and dry, rocky gullies.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG-5305.JPGAm I disappointed that the hobbit hole is “just a box”? Yes, kind of. But am I disappointed in my trip? No, absolutely not. Did the hobbit hole fail to meet my expectations? Yes, by falling short of them but also by exceeding them. I didn't learn anything about earthen structures and natural building techniques. But I also didn't expect to find such an otherworldly and beautiful place.

 

I can't stop thinking about it. I'm coming to see it as a metaphor for my burnout. Complexity. Juxtaposition. Nuance. The hobbit hole is simple and complex, just-a-box as well as a stunning work of art, made of 2x4s, concrete, and caulking, as well as magic, creativity, and beauty. I hold both, my disappointment and my exceeded expectations. Neither cancels out or invalidates the other. Both co-exist beyond either/or, yes or no, good or bad.

 

I enjoy embracing nuance and paradox. It makes my life rich, diverse, and meaningful. But recently I've become afraid to express myself, fully and authentically. It seems like our culture increasingly condemns nuance and complexity. We are supposed to pick a side, one side. We should identify as either pro- or anti- so others can know if we are with them or against them, if we qualify as one of us or as the other.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG-5306.JPGMy exhaustion stems from my refusal of letting myself be forced into one box or another. I am worn out from rejecting projection after projection, negating stories which cast me in one of two opposing narratives. I know that I'm not alone. Many of us are weary. Many of us are afraid of speaking our truths, too tired to risk being attacked by opposing sides, each condemning us as the other.

 

I hunger for more complex ways of interacting with one another, deeply honoring our differences, agreeing to disagree, seeing our shared humanity even in those who oppose us. I long for a movement that truly honors our diversity, that celebrates nuance, that is unafraid of depth. I dream of writing inspiring manifestos for such a movement, rousing calls to action. But I'm tired, weary down to my bones. All I can do is to reflect on my own complex and authentic experience of a hobbit hole that is just-a-box as well as a slice of Middle Earth on earth.

 

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