When I was nine, our TV broke. “An act of God,” my mother commented facetiously. On a stormy night, lightning struck our house and fried the poor thing. For years my parents had admonished against television watching anyway, only allowing my brother Hountor and me to watch movies. It went without saying that the machine would not be replaced. Bored was a dirty word in our house. “You’re not ‘bored,’ you just haven’t found what to do yet,” was my mother’s response in my more feckless moments. As I sat around that summer, pondering the possibilities with thirteen hours of daylight, I started daydreaming. I wished more than anything that my dad would build me a tree house. He had been a carpenter; it wasn’t that he was unable. Maybe it was the lack of tall trees in our New Mexican yard. Over the years I had brought up the possibility of building some sort of platform in a juniper tree. Nothing had transpired. If only I had a tree house, I could live out the adventures of my childhood dreams!
Then it occurred to me, why couldn’t I just build a tree house on my own? Yeah! I could build things; I had just seen my father remodel our house; I knew the process. A tingling itch overwhelmed me, and energy bubbled from my exponentially expanding imagination. I started moving around, fidgeting to circulate this idea fizzing in my head. I looked at our yard. The trees were still not suitable for a platform. I couldn’t change that, but what about a playhouse on the ground? I sought out the pile of leftover adobe bricks from the remodel and calculated about how many were available. Just enough for an eight-foot by six-foot house, a little room for me to play.
Scouring the empty space in our packed dirt yard, I traced off the square footage and began digging a foundation. It was hard work! New Mexican earth is not soft. I soon enlisted my best friend Aaron and my little brother to help with the digging. We soaked the earth with water, eating watermelon while we waited for mud to form. Then we continued. All day for a week we dug and dug. It was finally time to start the actual building. By the end of the summer, I had convinced my whole family and Aaron to help out. My dad even got invested, going to the home improvement store to buy tarpaper for the roof and cutting custom vigas. We salvaged an old door and cut it down to ten-year-old size. As I sat on the flagstone bench, my feet resting on the brick floor I had laid over sand, and looked out the back window, I thought back to that tingling feeling that started the whole project. That was the beginning of my addiction to dreaming about—and completing—projects. I have since used this technique to think up projects in American and African cities alike. It has served me well and I love the feeling, even though it can be all-consuming it I let it get out of hand.