By Amy Knight

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The House We Live In: A Series on Building the Sustainable Home in Tucson, Arizona

I have a poster in my apartment that says Nie mój cyrek, Nie moje malpy. That’s Polish for “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” It’s a good reminder that often, problems I encounter are not things I actually need to worry about. It was a life-saving rallying cry as I went through a divorce. It serves me well in family, in friendships, and in the work place.

Since I’m building my own house, though, I have largely felt like I am responsible for the entire circus, including each individual monkey. That’s part of what’s great about it; it’s my circus. I want elephants? We’ll get elephants! I can pick the color of the sequined costumes for the acrobats. And, of course, if one of the monkeys escapes, it’s my job to find him.

The contractor problem we’ve been having is not with the general contractors who will be in charge of the building process; it is with stucco installers, who are subcontractors. Having gone the entire week since my last post without progress on that front, Matthew and I have decided to try a new tack: make that the general contractor’s problem. Specify what we want built, hopefully in a language the installers here will speak, with as much detail about how to do it and what products to use as we can, and let them worry about it. Hopefully, the generals will want the job enough to be motivated to solve the problem. No longer my problem.

I’m sure the building process will come with a series of these kinds of negotiations. There will be my problems, and Matthew’s problems, and the builder’s problems, and surely some that move around from category to category. But I think it will help me to pay attention to which problems are really mine, and which are rightly other people’s. Where will it serve me to follow up myself, and where should I trust someone else to take care of it? It’s something I’ll have to learn as I do, balancing control and sanity. But I have this poster hanging right in my kitchen where I see it several times each day. Hopefully it will remind me to keep asking these questions.



Amy KnightAmy Knight is the fiction editor for In this weekly series, she chronicles the process of designing and building an eco-friendly house in Tucson, Arizona. The series will explore both how it’s done and what it means, from the perspective of someone who wants to do the right thing but knows almost nothing about sustainable building. Look for new posts every Monday. You can email Amy at [email protected] or leave a comment here. Visit her website, or follow her on twitter @amypknight.

Photo of ferris wheel courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Amy Knight by Richard Whitmer. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.