Earlier this week, I mentioned that I need to let go of my dream of having a backyard observatory (https://polywogg.ca/letting-go-of-an-observatory-dream/). It was based on the crash between the dream and reality, with the reality that multiple variables don’t work in my backyard:
- I don’t have space for a pre-fab observatory (normally 8’x8′ minimum);
- There’s really only one place in the backyard that works, and to make it functional, I would have to raise it up to deck level, but once there, the only options are either too expensive, too big, too ugly, or all three.
The weird part is that I’ve known it was unlikely for quite some time, and I thought it was “gone” from my plans and options. Some of it remains because I have had nothing to replace it with, to be honest. One frustrating thing for me with my hobby is that I don’t have any places nearby that I can just pop over and start observing from, with most decent options being quite a drive. So I couldn’t “bargain” my way out of the loss by saying, “Okay, but I can go HERE instead.”
Which isn’t to say I don’t have SOME options. I live in what is classed as a Bortle 7 sky (scale of 1-9 with 1 being perfectly dark skies and 9 being the downtown of a big city). But once a month, we have public star parties in Carp which is a Bortle 5 sky. The Fred Lossing Observatory is just over an hour away and is Bortle 4, as is Luskville (1 hour), and my in-laws’ cottage (4 hours). North Frontenac is Bortle 2 (!) but at 2 hours, I’ve never made the trek. I would settle for Bortle 6 or 7 with better horizons and set up options than I have now if I could get there in less than 20 minutes.
So if I already knew the reality…?
As I said, I thought my heart and brain knew I didn’t have an option in the backyard. The glitch was that I had done most of my previous calculations based on a specific form of set-up. If I set up on my tripod, I need a central space that is almost 4′ in diameter. The simple math of the tripod spread demands that much. And I was thinking the simplest set-up that I could have would be some sort of movement of my scope in full mode, so I would be using my tripod. But then I had a small epiphany that if I did go the pier route, which is quite a small footprint (no tripod legs), then maybe I could locate it in a less-used spot and stick a box around it. And I let myself get excited again about the possibility. Partly because of the ennui of the current stuck-at-home world, I let myself go all-in on putting everything I had learned into HOW I could make it work in that spot. And I did it. I found an option that would fit the space.
Then I showed it to my wife and reality crashed. Any option except that space doesn’t work for Jacob using the yard; that space only works for Andrea if I can make the box around the scope short and attractive, which I can only do if I either pay someone else an arm and a leg to build it or I could pay someone else just an arm while finding a cheap pre-fab option to keep it pretty. Cheap, functional, or pretty. I would have to pick one, which kills the project.
Which knocked me on my ass on Wednesday. Like the start of a downward depression spiral. I know the symptoms well-enough to spot them and to attempt emergency measures to head it off.
Stopping the death spiral
First and foremost, I need to give myself space to breathe. So I took Thursday off from work. An actual vacation day. I didn’t try to monitor my phone, avoided certain things on FB and Twitter, locked myself in the basement and vegged. It didn’t help that Wednesday night I slept like crap and was dead tired. Hard to tell how much of that was physical and how much mental/emotional. But I needed the break to regenerate. Ideally I’d take a week, but that ain’t happening when the three of us are locked in the same house and there’s no escape.
Second, I need to reboot my coping mechanisms. One of those is music. If my brain is going a mile a minute, one of the few things that calms it is fast music played loud. Normally I could just go for a long drive and blast tunes. Alternatively, I could go for a walk, but I’m not really up for that right now. Lastly, I could put on some headphones and let it penetrate my skull until my brain is just so overloaded, it stops thinking and just shuts down. Meditation doesn’t help, it won’t quiet the chaos when I’m this far gone. Great for maintenance, lousy for restoring my balance from scratch. Except the f***ing iTunes wouldn’t recognize my downstairs laptop nor would the f***ing headphones that I have for the laptop work. Really? Whatever. I listened to some music, closed the door to the basement, and forced myself to sing along to some of the songs. Listening is better for me as I can let my brain free associate its way to some revelations sometimes, but not this time. I had to sing to drive out the turbulence.
Third, I need to confront the emotions and figure out WHY it’s knocking me down. In particular, why THIS loss is affecting me when it is not really a loss at all. I already KNEW I couldn’t do it, so the outcome is “no change”. Why would THAT knock me back?
Figuring out my reaction
It wasn’t hard to figure out why it’s bugging me, I just had to force myself to walk through the steps.
I started with the first aspect, the location. Is living in Centrepointe where I want to live? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But the “reality” (that harsh word again) is that it is the best compromise for the three of us. I’d prefer to live somewhere like Dunrobin but that wouldn’t be fair or viable for Andrea and Jacob. Centrepointe is good for them and is fine for me for work commuting, access to commercial infrastructure, etc. I don’t really DO anything in the area, so it doesn’t much matter to me as a location, I could get most of it anywhere. But it is a good commuting compromise for everyone. If I only had to compromise with myself, I would probably find a way to live farther out, with a darker sky and better horizons. There are even some spots about 5-10 minutes from where I live now that would do, but not great options for the family. Just me being selfish.
Secondly, I know that there is no real reason why I have to have the viewing option at home. Lots of people do it at cottages. I don’t have a cottage, I can’t afford a cottage, I will likely never have a cottage. So that’s on me. If I managed my money better, was more entrepreneurial, maybe pushed harder earlier in my career for promotions, I could have that cottage. But I made my choices and it is a pretty good life. Whining about it is the epitome of a first-world problem and even more almost like a 1-percenter problem.
Thirdly, even with my location, and finances, I could have an observatory in theory. It wouldn’t be perfect, it wouldn’t be ideal, but I could buy a pre-fab sky shed. Write a cheque, have it delivered, bam, instant observatory. And it would mean Jacob would lose any place to play in the backyard. I would love to have a pool, but we don’t, mainly for the same reasons. It would take up the whole yard for one purpose. And so we keep it clear for him. So why is that depressing? Because I’m irritated that I don’t get to do what I want to do, but he gets his yard and my wife gets her gazebo area on the deck. How f***ing selfish is it that I’m irritated by THAT? They’re both good and reasonable uses of the space.
Fourthly, I found an area that COULD work, at least in theory. But while I can lament the options being too costly, too large or too ugly, the real reason it can’t work is me. If I had the know-how and technical skills to build the observatory myself, I could do it at a reasonable enough cost that it would work. It wouldn’t be awesome, it wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be functional. But I can’t, because I don’t have any of those skills.
I can’t put in two 6′ posts in the ground; I can’t build a nice-looking extension to the deck that would match what we have; I can’t pour a pier and attach the metal rods and face plate I need; nor can I wrap the deck around it and put railings on. It isn’t a question of just not doing it well, I can’t do it at all. I know the theory, sure, but the wood wouldn’t cut straight, I wouldn’t know how to line it up properly, it just wouldn’t work. I build bookcases and I’m amazed they even stay together when they’re done. In high school, I took machine shop in Grade 9 and 10, and the only reason I passed either one was because there were enough marks on theory to get me over the hump. I think my Grade 10 project, a C clamp, came out at like 14/40. I did manage to make a tack hammer in Grade 9 that I still have, even if the balance isn’t quite right. I just don’t have much in the way of talents to do all that. Which normally I’m okay with, I just write a cheque. I can do that, and I know the result will be WAY better than anything I could do myself even on my best day.
But after that, after the deck is in and the pier is there, all that needs to be done is to build a small box to put around the pier and scope. There are a series of steps that would challenge me, but I could likely take my time and get it done. It wouldn’t look awesome and that’s the rub. I got all excited by the option and showed an example to my wife who thought it looked ugly. Which was true. It didn’t look great. But, unfortunately, it was also about 10x better-looking than what I could make. This means that if THAT version didn’t fly, none of my options would either. My only solution is to write a cheque again, and that is putting the price for an observatory way too high.
Not great skies, not great location, not great functionality…so why would I pay $3-4K or more to build it? Because that is the only option I would have because I don’t have the skills to do it myself.
Ah-hah, now I’m getting somewhere
That’s really the crux of it for me, in many ways. I’m trying to compromise on what I want, with functionality, with what Jacob needs and Andrea wants, and in the end, I can almost find a solution. Except it is completely out of my control because I am not capable of doing it myself.
I can’t just throw money at it and solve it. We have savings, but we also have plans for a bathroom reno, a bunch of needed yardwork, some time off if Jacob has some surgery and needs a recovery period, and a subsequent trip, not to mention plans to retire in 5 years that requires me to buyback some time using mutual funds that just tanked when the stock market plummeted (which also means I will have to work another 18 months longer than I had planned).
And yet I can’t work around it and do it myself either. I can’t buy pre-fab and I can’t build it myself. My father could have, probably. My brother, Don, for sure. Me? No.
Which is what is knocking me on my ass. I can’t realize my dream, not because of location, or layout, or Jacob, or Andrea, or cost. I can’t realize the dream because I don’t have the skills to make it happen.
Sure, there are other elements at play. Isolation. Cabin fever. A desire for some momentum. And even if I had the skills, I probably don’t have the physical stamina to do it all. Not to mention the disappointment I feel in myself that not only did I let myself get excited for something that wasn’t likely to happen but also that I am not handling it better. But mainly it is the feeling of personal failure over all.
I am already experiencing aspects of denial, anger, and I’m trying to mitigate depression. But I’m hoping to embrace a more successful form of self-bargaining to turn it into something I’m willing to accept so I can let go of the past.
Putting my analytical hat on, there are four options that I can see. I could just let it go, with no replacement. Deal with it, don’t try to find any solution, let the winds buffet me as much as they might. I suppose that’s an option. Not a mentally-healthy one perhaps, but it’s an option. It’s going to happen to some extent anyway so I guess I can explore techniques on how to do that in a healthier fashion.
I can replace it with some modified form of storage since I can’t have an observatory. I mentioned in the previous post that I’m not in favour of putting all my gear just in a storage locker, but if I could find a way to perhaps just put the big items in there, maybe keep the expensive stuff in the garage and only make one trip, and maybe even find a shed big enough to put my scope in it in the full upright position on the mount so I could just “slide it out” easily, then would that be an option? I gave it a go. If I’m not building an observatory, then eating up more lawn space with just storage isn’t great as an option. So that leaves me the deck. With the only viable space being about 45″ x 60″. My scope’s tripod can fit in a space 43″ x 37″ x 56″ but it’s a struggle. The 37″ is the problem dimension.
Very few sheds come in a size other than whole foot dimensions. So if I go with one above 37″, it pretty much has to be 4′ … but I only have a space 45″ deep before it starts to interfere with something else. So what I really need is 3.5′ by 4′, and that’s not an available size in pre-fab stuff. I found one that came close, but it is way too tall…I want it about 5′, and it was almost 8′. Too imposing a size and potentially presenting a wind risk in a storm.
I found one option that is almost okay. But it is entirely made of wood, no shingles on the roof, and no indication if it would keep out rain. Plus, it is so tight, I doubt I could fit anything else in the shed with it. And it is almost $2000. Pass.
The only sub-option that I see is to maybe pay someone to do a custom build at some point, get it exactly the size and dimensions that work for me in the space. But that is also going to run up the cost. And, more importantly, a hypothetical “future” option that is out of my control doesn’t help me bargain with myself in the short-term. Pass.
I can reframe the question back to the original problem. Moving all my gear from the garage to the backyard takes too many trips. What can I use that will speed that process?
I looked into various carts and dollies today. Whatever I use, it likely needs at least 10″ pneumatic tires. The narrow space in between my house and the neighbour’s is rocky and even when I get to the backyard, the lawn itself is bumpy and coarse. I have a dolly already, but I’ve never put much mind to trying to strap all this gear to it. The bottom plate isn’t very deep either. Hard to see how I would get a table on it, all my gear, plus the tripod and an observing chair in one load. But if I’m doing multiple loads, what difference does it make? I’m wasting time loading up and unloading if it doesn’t really change the calculation. I might be able to find a way to leave some gear in a wagon or something? I don’t know. I’ll need to play with it. But the solution might be just to decide to go with a smaller footprint by either using Jacob’s equipment, or perhaps just taking one of my EPs to use rather than a bunch of them. Minimize the options, and minimize the load. It seems kind of pointless to have gear that I don’t use, but if I’m not using any of it now, I guess using some is better than using none. I looked at all the options online and didn’t see any ideas that screamed “pick me”. If I’m going to use the backyard, I either need to compromise or suck it up.
If moving everything to the backyard is a pain in the patootie, what if I reframe the geographic scope again? I mentioned earlier that I would be willing to go somewhere with at least equal skies if I could have a decent horizon. If truth be told, I haven’t looked EVERYWHERE that I could. I checked major parks in the area, a few other options, but nothing that didn’t have major negative aspects. But if I loaded the car in the garage quickly (it’s only a foot or two to the trunk) and then unloaded directly at the view site, it would be simpler than hauling it all to the backyard, I just would have to drive somewhere to do it. Including more use of FLO out in Almonte, I guess. Again, I need to find options or suck it up. Once the restrictions lift, I’m going to devise a search grid for every neighbourhood within a 15-minute drive of my house and see if any of the parks, no matter how small or big, can accommodate me for use. Then I’ll just have to commit to going there at least once a week and maybe once a week to FLO.
This post has been a classic change-up for me. I thought, when I started writing it, that I was going to just write about techniques that are out there on how to “let go” of something that is no longer possible. Instead, I talked my way through why it is bothering me so much and some bargaining options to help me deal in the short-term.
I’ll look into those options on how to better deal with letting go with lost dreams, and I’ll consider maybe a long-term solution for a custom storage option, but I suspect the price for that will be prohibitive. I need to get my short-term solutions going, namely ones that I can do and that I can implement on my own. Once the restrictions lift, I’ll find a new place to observe close to my house and make efficiencies for commuting out to FLO to observe more often.
I may not have the skills to build an observatory, but at least I know how to drive.