Archive for January, 2013

When the House Is Falling Down

A contractor prepares to do repair and maintenance on my house.

A contractor prepares to do repair and maintenance on my house.

It isn’t, but it could be.

This is not an attempt to compare my situation with my house with those who have lost their homes in natural disasters, or by other means. It’s just that the house is such a potent symbol for one’s world, one’s life, one’s self. Termites eat away. Paint peels. Clutter lies about. Dust accumulates. Everything is what it is, and everything is a metaphor for something else as well. I’m not certain what all of this has to do with my state of mind when I’m writing. Does it depress me? A little. Does it shame me? Not like it used to. Would I really want everything to be perfect? I don’t think I would.

Having a house perfect costs money, and it also takes time. Most significantly, for anyone who works at home (like a housewife-writer), it means contractors and other life forms intruding on my peace and quiet. They have questions. I need to make sure I give the right answer and that they understand me. Sometimes, I don’t know the answer. They could be speaking Neptunian, for all I understand. “Just do it!” I say, but it is not enough. Everything takes longer than you think it will. There is the warping of time. Twenty minutes is really ninety, in the land of contractors.

They make noise. They move things. Some are better at cleaning up after themselves than others.

All of the above runs through my brain when I contemplate home maintenance. As a result, I often procrastinate having things done, in order to maintain the peace and tranquility I crave. I get away with this, mostly. I am married to someone who could live through the destruction of Pompeii, and still think everything was just fine. He might notice a change eventually, maybe. (“Didn’t we used to have a wall here? How long have we had lava pouring through our dining room? A volcanic eruption? Really? When did that happen? You didn’t tell me!”)

I cannot give in forever to my procrastinating nature. The house really could fall down. Also, disrepair and disorder carry their own burden of chaos. At a certain point, you have to take care of it. And when I do, when I really take care of a problem, I feel as though I have tamed a dragon. I do a little dance when the formerly broken thing has been put right. But my latest dragon-taming success had to do not with structure, or plumbing, or cosmetics. It had to do with the digital world of Cable TV.

The more s&*# we have, the more that can break. All those computerized goodies we can’t live without. And we really can, except to do so really will make our lives a lot more work, and a lot less fun. It me takes one-tenth the time to pay bills than it did in, say, 1990. About one-eighth the time to make plane reservations. In a little tiny device, I carry a telephone, still and movie camera, address book, calendar, bookshelf full of books, calculator, road maps of the entire world, photo albums, notepad, yellow pages, multiple messaging systems that did not exist a few decades ago, a big chunk of my music library, information from around the world, including weather, sports, news, traffic reports, and opinions. Oh, and I can shop from my phone, too. And play games. I would have required a small panel van to carry around all those functions in 1990. But if I were driving a panel van around with all that stuff in it, I would know what I had. I would feel its weight, and understand the difficulties in its maintenance.

I don’t understand and don’t want to accept the difficulties of maintenance. My electronic magic toys pull me away from attention to the tactile: termite-chewed wood, rodent chewed cable, and paint sloughed from house trim like dried-up cake frosting. The digital world is like air. It is invisible, or nearly so. It is my personal magic wand that has seduced me into thinking anything is possible, that I am Mickey Mouse in a wizard’s hat, dancing in Fantasia.

I am reminded the broomsticks are impossible to control.



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Endings and Beginnings


In stories, we (usually) go Beginning to Ending. In the calendar, we focus on the other direction: Ending to Beginning. We see how the last year turned out, and immediately press ourselves to write a better life story this time around. I don’t do normal New Year’s resolutions. After all, it isn’t really a new year or a new day…it is, to paraphrase Janis Joplin, the same bleeping day or year, the Earth spinning on its axis and revolving around its middle-aged, medium-sized star, with neither pause nor demarkation. As I begin this post, on the morning of December 31, it is already January 1 in many parts of Asia. We cannot say for sure when a day or year has begun, because it depends on where you’re standing.

In a different, more practical sense, new days and new years are real, and felt in every cell of the body. Night and day, sleep and wake, winter and summer, each determines a group of activities, chores, and states of mind. This morning, I will walk, and grocery shop, which makes it a regular day, like any other Monday. Ditto this afternoon, when I will do laundry, a little house cleaning, write for two hours, and cook dinner. Monday, the arbitrary first day of the work week.


And now it’s January 2, yesterday having flown by in socializing and resting. In spite of having a larger than normal number of chores to do, I find myself immensely relieved that the holidays are over. I did not like the holidays this year. On my snail-mail Christmas ¬†letter I sent to a few people, I said that I had, in fact, gotten into the spirit, but that turned out to be an untruth. Not a lie, exactly. I believed it at the moment I wrote it. I don’t know why it happened that way, but here are my ideas:

One: Tuesday is not a good day for Christmas and New Year to fall upon. Both of the other two people in this house, the ones with regular jobs, had to work Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, and go back to work the day after. Not a big deal for New Year’s, but for Christmas, and all its preparations, it made it kind of lonely. I am accustomed to doing the vast bulk of household and holiday prep work, but the work week this year isolated me. That also affected others’ moods, which in turn affect me, etc., etc. This year, Tuesday sucked as a day for Christmas to fall on.

Two: I like my life. I am thrilled to be Chief Domestic Engineer and Resident Unfinished Novelist. I enjoy my daily routine of wild speculations and comfortable mundanity. I strive for a routine just loose enough to allow for spontaneity and changes in plan. Christmas overwhelms and shoves that all aside. This year, I strove to keep up as much of my spirit-sustaining routine as possible. Didn’t do so well on the exercise, but I did keep up my writing schedule, taking off only Christmas and New Year’s Day. Yay!

Three: Christmas has changed. Where we used to have big family gatherings, the gatherings are now small. Where holiday prep chores were shared among many, they are now done by only a few. I am not old, but I am old enough. Enough to feel the aches and pains, enough to have my hand cramp up while I’m hand-mixing the dough for cookies. Enough to notice that there don’t seem to be any of those old-fashioned Christmas stores selling simple, old-looking ornaments, so that those that broke this year weren’t replaced.


Now it’s January 3, and I’m not yet into the new year. This year feels like the beginning of a narrative that doesn’t know where it’s going. These first pages must be setting up something, but I’ll be darned if I know what it is. Characters are wandering in and out, and I can’t tell what roles any of them will be playing. Beginning premises all seem too thin for plausible or interesting plot lines. All I have so far is that we can’t get high-def CBS, and our cable company doesn’t seem to be able to help us. This puts our February Super Bowl gathering at risk. I mean, I can watch Dr. Phil in standard def, but the Super Bowl? I don’t think so.

As far as writing goes, having finished the most recent draft of my novel, I have put it aside to write a synopsis of a second novel idea, which features some of the same characters. I know that plotting it out will help me when I go back to the third draft of the first book. It is a tedious and nerve-wracking process, at least in its prospect. Once I sit down, it’s not so bad. I can’t outline very well, but I can do a fifty-page synopsis.


The year is beginning like it doesn’t know where it’s going, but I need to stick with it for a few more pages, give it a chance to gather momentum. Let the characters wander in and out, and let the plot unfold. Happy New Year!

One of the odd ducks I ran into in 2012.

One of the odd ducks I ran into in 2012.

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