Someone interviewed me the other day. ‘What was the biggest obstacle you faced?’ She asked. We were sitting on a rug under the shade of an olive tree surveying my mud house, which will presumably never actually be finished.
Obstacle? By and large, I haven’t really suffered too many major obstacles. There were small annoyances, like running out of money, or the weather not following my timetable, but these were challenges rather than great iron doors slamming in my face. They often forced me to dig down and find skills I never knew I possessed, or slowed me up and stopped me from making any number of mistakes. No, money, weather and time are not insurmountable obstacles. They are the crucial limitations of the physical world that shape any creative project.
But, there was an obstacle, a slobbering, great beast of a hindrance. As I sat, my dog gnawing relentlessly on a stick by my right leg, it welled up inside me in a bubbling wave of frustration. It’s a hurdle I seem unable to get over. And it is still driving me crazy to this day. The biggest obstacle I faced, still face, and that anyone who dares to create anything faces, is the seemingly endless deluge of naysayers, hell-bent on darkening your day.
‘It won’t work.’
‘You can’t do that, such and such will happen.’
‘Olmaz!’ (Turkish for all the above)
The chorus resounds, on and on. Where does this incredible onslaught of negativity come from? And what is behind it? Why, when someone has never even thought about trying to do what you are already doing, when not even a single letter has been typed into Google, does he or she find the audacity to say ‘it won’t work’? I’m dumbfounded by it to be honest.
I’d say, for pretty much every single thing I’ve done on this piece of land, there has been a squad of head-shaking, sighs of disapproval, or snickers behind my back. And if I had a pound for every time I’d heard the word, ‘can’t’, I’d be starting a Mud empire by now. First, I was told I couldn’t live alone on a mountain in a tent because I’d be murdered or raped, or snakes would bite me, or heaven only knows what else (I camped for eight months and I loved it), next I was told I’d never survive up here without water (I managed for two years thank you very much). As far as earthbag building goes, my house has apparently been falling down ever since I laid the first bag. I was told, including by architects, that under no circumstances could I build a house without concrete foundations (the house has survived a 6.1 quake in perfect condition), people said the walls were going to melt in the rain, that it would never be strong enough, some ‘friends’ turned up and even tried to push the
walls down just to see (I believe they bruised their arms).
I realise I may be on the verge of ranting here, but I’m starting to feel like Joan of Arc hacking her way through droves of invading skepticism. My right eye is beginning to twitch at the mere mention of the word ‘can’t’. And I can quite see myself pulling the next unsuspecting naysayer up by the lapels
and roaring, ‘Have you actually TRIED this?’
The reason my voice is now rising an octave and I’m exhibiting a few traits of persecution complex, is that words have power. When someone is in the process of creating something new, a positive mind-set is crucial, and this ‘can’t, won’t, you’re mad’ type doomsday mentality can scupper a project before it even gets off the ground. Yes, telling someone they can’t do something is just about the worst thing you can do for them, no matter what your intention (and I’m dubious about that, too). Because you are actively helping them fail. It stops them in their tracks. It makes them feel at worst incompetent, and at best marginally unhinged for daring to step out of the herd. They waste precious time and energy doubting themselves (Can I really live in a tent? Can I build a house? Perhaps I can’t. Probably I can’t. I’ve never done it before. Perhaps I’d better give up.) Everyone has more than enough hesitancy of their own, they hardly need some other clever dick to pop his head over the flimsy parapet of faith, and add fuel to the fires of self-doubt. Which brings me to what I assume
is behind this bird-brained ‘can’t’ attitude; the insatiable need for people to cut down anything created by another in a subconscious effort to boost their own flagging self-esteem.
Let’s say your project didn’t work out how you planned. Perhaps your earthplaster crumbled, or the windows fell out, or the whole construction was sucked down a sinkhole. So what? Would it have been really so much smarter never to have tried, to huddle within your comfort zone and play it safe? I say those who shy from the edge wind up bored and dissatisfied, hence why they have nothing better to do than tell you, ‘No, you can’t.’ And when things do go wrong, as they do from time to time, then you’ll see the truth in the smirks lurking behind the naysayer’s veil of concern. They actually WANT you to fail, simply so that they can be right. And that, quite frankly, is just not cricket, if you ask me.
So, that is my greatest obstacle. And if anyone else is daring to build from the earth, that will probably be your greatest obstacle too (unless you chance to live in North America, where folks say ‘awesome!’ and ‘hey, that’s great!’ instead). Forget about the rain, and the roof rafters, the weight of the bags, or your lack of experience. What you need, throughout, is confidence. And sometimes it’s hard to find. There is really only one thing to do about it, spend less time with the wet blankets, and more with those who believe in you. And your solace may well be online communities of people who are actually doing things, instead of just flapping their tongues.
The latest in the firing line of ‘No, you can’t’ is my organic garden. Apparently, you can’t grow plants using broken down manure from your composting toilet because a) they won’t grow, b) you’ll contract bacillary dysentery from your compost, c) you have to be a goat to make decent fertilizer(?)
To see how the above is all patently nonsense, please look at my organic garden to find out the easy, clean and healthy way to grow vegetables.
Atulya K Bingham
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