The 12-Foot Teepee by Marilyn Armstrong

Once upon a time, I built a teepee. I painted the door and filled it with things I loved. I made the poles, sanded each by hand, peeling the bark from each 16-foot sapling we had cut in our own woods.

Then I wrote a book about building it, and about life, transformation, and other things, some funny, some sad, some just whatever.

The manuscript for The 12-Foot Teepee took me about 7 months to write, almost as much time to edit, then a few more months to design the cover and the book. Getting it published, well … that’s a whole other story.

In winter.

This was my teepee.

It stood, through all seasons for five years. This summer, the poles could no longer support the canvas, and the canvas itself was mildewed. Its time was over and it came down.

I don’t think there will ever be another. Building it was a rebirth. A physical teepee is nothing but a bit of canvas and sticks, the rest is spirit, love, and hope. I knew it could not last forever, and it lasted as long as any teepee could in this climate … especially since I left it up through the winter … but I miss it and always will. I had some of my best hours in my teepee … the only place in my world where I could always sleep.

My favorite time in the teepee was when the snow was falling and I was cozy by my fire. It was the most peaceful place in my world.

You can find the book on Amazon, both as a paperback and in Kindle format. It is “The 12-Foot Teepee,”  by Marilyn Armstrong. You can read excerpts from it online. Eventually I’ll post some pieces of the book here. Just not tonight.

My life has moved on considerably since then but writing it was a turning point in my life.

PERFECT CIRCLE – TEEPEE IN ITS SEASONS

Daily Prompt: Karma Chameleon

by Krista on February 12, 2014

Photographers, artists, poets: show us CIRCLE.

My teepee, from its first day, all shiny and white, to it’s nearly final winter, rimed with ice and snow.

Other entries:

  1. Sight and sound of a cemetery | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  2. Karma By Another Name | The Jittery Goat
  3. Karma | Momma Said There’d Be Days Like This
  4. Daily Prompt: Karma Chameleon | Journeyman
  5. The Circle of Time – Daily Prompt | alienorajt
  6. Circle | Mara Eastern
  7. Daily Prompt: Karma Chameleon | tnkerr-Writing Prompts and Practice
  8. cyclical not seasonal | peacefulblessedstar
  9. Daily Prompt: Karma Chameleon | The Wandering Poet
  10. slightly less | yi-ching lin photography
  11. there is room to do | y
  12. Who Watches The Watchmen? | The Dragon Weyr
  13. karma and unsought gifts | gaikokumaniakku
  14. Wednesday Words | Tommia’s Tablet
  15. Karma… We Need to Talk | Under the Monkey Tree
  16. Daily Prompt: Karma Chameleon « Mama Bear Musings
  17. Vengeance | A mom’s blog
  18. In a Circle | Ana Linden
  19. Circle | Sounds of Time
  20. Daily Prompt: Karma Chameleon | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss

Daily Prompt: My name is Marilyn. I’m a teepee.

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My name is Marilyn but you can call me Teepee12. I am alive, if not entirely well. I plan to stay alive as long as the choice exists.

I never intended to hide my identity when I chose this Internet ID as a username for my blog on WordPress. I chose it because I’d been using it since 2007 when my book — The 12-Foot Teepee — was published. It was easy for me to remember and no one else wanted it — as opposed to my real name for which there is heavy competition. The perils of having a common name were never more obvious than when I tried to get a piece of my real name for use on the Internet.

I began using the Internet back in prehistory. No one used real names back then. It was considered most uncool. I went through a lot of names before starting to use Teepee12. Unlike many other names I used and abandoned, it stuck, though no one can spell it and auto-correct always changes it to Steeper (damn you auto correct!). I wish I could go back and do it over, using my real name or something close to it  The problem is that there are dozens of Marilyn Armstrongs all over the Internet, on every continent and a bunch of my namesakes recently died. If I Google me I end up  reading obituaries. This can be troubling in some indefinable way.

I got the name Marilyn — never a common or popular name — because my great Aunt Malka died right before I was born. In Ashkenazi families, babies are named after recently deceased family members. They don’t have to be favorites. You don’t even have to like them. In fact, as was the case with great Aunt Malka, you don’t even have to know her personally. It’s just a custom and no one, including my mother, could explain why we clung to it. We weren’t  observant … but my Aunt Kate, who was indeed a traditionalist and family Matriarch, quite insisted.

My mother refused the straight “Malka” because she said it sounded like the cleaning lady. It means “Queen,” actually but doesn’t sound queenly. So she suggested Mara because apparently, to maintain the tradition, all you need is a name that begins with the same first letter sound (the Hebrew alphabet is, after all, different from English). But Mara (the root for all “mar” names like Mary, Marie, Mireille, Marilyn et al) means “bitter” in Hebrew and my aunts collectively objected because you should not name your daughter “bitter,” feh, bad luck. Ptui, ptui, ptui.

“Fine,” said my mother. “Marilyn.”

No one had any objections so Marilyn it was. How romantic! To be named almost randomly after a dead relatively about whom no one much cared. Wow. And to add insult to injury, I wasn’t given a middle name, so I had no name to which I could retreat.

I struggled with my name. I hated it. I’m still not fond of it, frankly, but I’ve at least made peace with it. No one can spell it correctly and it has never felt like me. When I was a kid, I tried to change my name to Linda, which I heard meant “pretty.” Then “Delores,” which sounded like the heroine of a romance novel. Finally, I tried for “Spike” because I figured tough would be better than dorky Marilyn.

96-Me Young in Maine

Nope. No other name. Not even a nickname unless you count “Mar” which is just a way of saying it shorter.

As for children? My son’s name is Owen. It’s become quite a popular name, but wasn’t when I gave it to him. It sounded good with his last name, a bit Celtic or Teutonic, depending on how you look at it. Everyone called him “O” from the start and still do.

At this point, my name doesn’t really matter. My identity is defined by electronic documents collected by daemons and maintained in various government and other databases. No human beings review the data. If you find errors, you cannot correct them because being you is not considered sufficient credentials. Human knowledge has no force of law any longer. I’d find that scary if I weren’t so funny.

A lot of people worry about keeping off the radar. The thing is, the radar is so inaccurate, it doesn’t matter. No one will find you because your address is wrong, your age is off by ten years, you live in a house you never owned at the opposite end of the state and have a phone number that was disconnected over a decade ago. Your email address belongs to an ISP that went out of business in 1992 and it is spelled wrong anyhow. I think you might be safer on the radar than off.

Marilyn and Bonnie

I’ve been blogging for a while now and I can’t figure out how to get my name back. I’ve put my name on Serendipity’s header and in the “About Me” section. I sign my name when I write to people. But it apparently doesn’t matter. I have become a teepee and a teepee I shall stay. A 12-foot teepee, which is the smallest possible teepee that isn’t a miniature. Pass the pipe. I like teepees, which is fortunate.

So, consider this my official coming out party. My name is Marilyn Armstrong. I wrote a book titled “The 12-Foot Teepee” and my online ID is Teepee12 whether I like it or not. Marilyn Armstrong is not available and I would have to be MarilynArmstrong00054 or MArmstrong876987 or something and that sounds too much like an android or robot … so for the forseeable future, I am a Teepee.

Teepee12 to you.

Daily Prompt: Fly on the Wall – I saw three ships a’sailing

Why does it look in this picture like the Pinta is shooting at the Santa Maria?

Fly-on-Wall to Chief: Hey, pssst. Look out on the horizon. See those white sails?

Chief: Those white things? Sails you say? They look like boats with a tepees on top. Haven’t seen any of them in a while. Well, maybe not ever. Who do you figure they are?

Fly-on-Wall: Europeans.

Chief: What’s a European?

Fly-on-Wall: Sickly white-skinned people with weapons and disease. They can kill you without even trying. They’ve come to destroy you, take all your land … that’s if you survive their diseases.

Chief: Get outta here. How bad could it really be? We’re healthy and strong. We get plenty of good food and exercise. Those ships don’t look so big or dangerous.

Fly-on-Wall: They are BAD. Evil. You should kill all of them before they set foot on shore. Really. No kidding.

Chief: What about hospitality? We don’t treat visitors like that. We welcome visitors.

Fly-on-Wall: Make an exception. Don’t welcome these. You’ll be sorry. Very very sorry.

Chief: You know, you’re just a bug. How do you know all of this?

Fly-on-Wall: I know things. I’ve been a fly on the wall for a long time in a lot of places. And I know you shouldn’t let those bastards off their ships. Burn them, kill them, whatever. Trust me, they aren’t your friends. They bring illness, destruction, the end of everything.

Chief: (Whack) (Splat). Flies. They always think they’re so smart.

- – -

Daily Prompt: Weaving the Threads – Sharing

Sharing is many things. Sharing food, sharing space. Sharing our homes, lives, playtime, work time.

Joining together to sing, make music, celebrate. It’s all sharing. It’s life.

Daily Prompt: Say Your Name — My name is Marilyn and I’m alive.

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My name is Marilyn but you can call me Teepee. I am alive, if not always well. I plan to remain alive as long as I have the option. I apologize for any inconvenience.

A while back, I got another blogging award. It was given to Teepee12. When I started this blog, it was never my intention to hide my identity. I automatically, without thinking, entered my familiar Internet “handle” when WordPress asked for my username. I’d been using this name since 2007 when my book was published. Teepee 12 derives from the book’s title, The 12-Foot Teepee. My real name wasn’t (still isn’t) available. There are a lot of Marilyn Armstrongs out there. Most of them are more accomplished than I am and many are deceased.

I began using the Internet in prehistoric days when modems ran at 1200 BPS and no one was sure what a computer virus was. We each had a handle. No one used real names. I think it was a hangover from CB radios. I’d had a variety of handles over the years, but once the book came out, I wanted to be identified with it and so began using Teepee12. It was a poor choice. No one can spell it. Auto-correct alway changes it to Steeper (damn you auto correct!). I wish I could go back and do it over, use my real name or something close to it. But it’s hopeless.

Last I looked, there were more than a dozen of me on Facebook alone. When I Googled myself, I wound up reading a lot of obituaries with my name on them. This can be troubling. The most interesting discoveries were that all my past incarnations still exist in cyberville. I am listed as living every place I lived since 1987 when I came back from Israel. My age ranges from early 40s to mid fifties (nice). I have two Boston telephone numbers, own three houses, including one on Beacon Hill (we only rented that one), another in Roxbury.

Being oneself carries no weight. You need a computer to identify you and it can’t be your own computer, either.

A friend of ours was trying to correct his Wikipedia entry. It showed him working at jobs he never held, in states he’s never visited. Wikipedia wouldn’t let him make the corrections. It told him he didn’t have sufficient credentials to correct the entry. Being himself was not enough. You need expertise and me being me, him being him, doesn’t count. Yet  I corrected a bunch of information about some movies we watch. When asked for my bona fides, I merely said I have watched the movie a few times. That was apparently sufficient expertise. I don’t have a personal Wikipedia entry, so I don’t have to worry about it, but Garry’s brother does and I tried to correct it, but being close family doesn’t count as bona fides either.

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My mother wanted to name me Mara, but that means “bitter” in Hebrew and her whole family objected. It’s the Hebrew root for Marilyn, Mary, Mireille and a bunch of other names, so actually Marilyn means “bitter” anyhow. Technically, I should have been named Queen or something awful like that, because my real name is Malka, which means “queen” in Hebrew. I was named after my recently deceased great-aunt Malka. It’s a tradition in Ashkenazi families to name babies after recently dead relatives, even when no one was particularly close to them. Maybe especially when no one was close to them … to keep their names alive. Certainly I never heard any humorous anecdotes of adventurous Aunt Malka — or any stories at all. I doubt, other than my name, any memories are attached to her by anyone living.  I’m her memorial.

I hated my name as a kid. It was a stupid name and no one else had a stupid name like mine. All my friends were Susan, Carol, Mary or Betty. Marilyn Monroe did not make me feel better because at no point did I bear any resemblance to her. I renamed myself “Linda” for a while because it meant “pretty” and I thought it might rub off. Then I decided Delores was much more romantic. By the time I was a young mother, I told everyone to call me Spike, but no one ever did. I never even had a proper nickname. People too lazy to say all three syllables call me “Mar,” but that’s not a nickname. That’s just a shortening of a longer name. Why won’t anyone call me SPIKE?

Instead, I have become Teepee, which is a very peculiar thing to become at this late stage in my development.

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I’ve been blogging for a while now and I can’t quite figure out how to get my name back. I’ve put my name on Serendipity’s header and in the “About Me” section. I sign my name when I write to people. But it apparently doesn’t matter. I have become a teepee and a teepee I shall stay. A 12-foot teepee, which is the smallest possible teepee that isn’t a miniature. I suppose I don’t really want to become Giant Teepee. That would carry other implications.

For the record, my name is Marilyn Armstrong. I wrote a book titled “The 12-Foot Teepee” and my online ID is Teepee12 whether I like it or not. Marilyn Armstrong is not available and I would have to be MarilynArmstrong00054 or MArmstrong876987 or something and that sounds too much like an android or robot … so for the forseeable future, you can call me Teepee.

Teepee12 — that’s me.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Home – Fire at the Heart of the Tepee

For five winters and six summers. I had a tepee. I built it with help from my son, husband and granddaughter, but mostly, I built it myself. I never lived in it full-time. The lack of plumbing or electricity required I begin and end my day in the house, about 150 feet away. Nonetheless, the tepee was my home in a way no place before or since has ever been.

I peeled her poles with my draw knife, one pole at a time. I sanded them, sanded them again and coated them with water seal. Fourteen poles for a 12-foot tepee, 12 for support, and two to work the smoke flaps. Completing the poles took me the entire summer of 2007. While I peeled the poles, I thought about life, the meaning of things. When I was through peeling the poles, I painted the designs on the tepee door, based on drawings I found of old tepees. The front was a buffalo shield, and inside, I painted a big circle and filled it with a heavy coat of white paint. Then each member of my family dipped a hand in paint and pressed it into the circle so the tepee would know who lived in the house and would be at home in the tepee.

My granddaughter loved the tepee almost as much as I did. She spent many afternoons and nights with her own friends by the fire.

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Winters are very cold in New England, so I became one of the best and fastest fire builders you could imagine. Working from a stack of wood, I could produce a warm bright blaze in under  2 minutes. I was good. Speed was critical. With the snow falling all around the teepee and temperatures hovering around zero, you had to get the fire going very quickly or your hands would be too frozen to do it at all. And may I add that I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t build a campfire while wearing gloves.

Tepees don’t need chimneys. The shape of the tepee is very efficient. If you have set the smoke flaps properly, the smoke will be drawn up and out, leaving the air in the tepee warm and  comfortably clean.

Once the fire was up, the teepee warmed quickly.  All I had to do was feed logs to the firepit and poke it occasionally, jiggling the logs to remind the fire to stay awake. My granddaughter and her friends became adept at keeping the fire too, so after a while, I felt comfortable trusting them to have a fire without supervision.

Above all, my favorite times were spent alone in the teepee by the fire. It got so warm even in the depths of winter I needed to keep the flap open, and sometimes had to sit partially outside because of the intensity of the heat.

The tepee, by the fire, was the most peaceful place I’ve ever known. Warmed by the fire, silent except for the crackling of the logs, I could lie there on one of the three beds covered with blankets and big feathery pillows and do absolutely nothing for hours at a time. It was pretty in the tepee. I had made a peace pipe and decorated it with leather and feathers. In a Navajo bowl, I burned sweet grass, sage and cedar which somehow increased the sense of peace and rightness.

The tepee survived well for those years, not at all bad for what is really nothing more than some sticks and canvas and when finally, the weather defeated my tepee, my son quietly took it down without requiring that I help dismantle it. I was grateful. I’m not sure I could have done it.

This was the fire at the heart of the tepee, forever and always my symbol of home. My home.