Saturday, February 22, 2014

Doing Right by the House

Remodeling the laundry room

Two weeks ago my husband and I showed our house to a potential buyer, a referral from one of our studio guests. Our house isn't on the market yet; we're not done remodeling, but that didn't bother her. She had remodeled four houses with her husband over the years before he died, and in months of looking for a home on our island, she hadn't found anything she liked.

Then she saw our house. She truly appreciated the choices we made, understood our efforts to stay true to the 1950's design using currently available products, and said several times that we'd “done right by the house.” She also told us about several homes she toured that hadn’t been done right by—a wall of windows boarded up in one case.

Staging our living room

It was this awareness of doing right by the house that struck with me. It’s not a phrase my husband and I have used ourselves, but it’s been our intention for this house that we live in, the project house we are working on now, and the homes we will renovate in the future.

Doing right by the house is also an attitude not everyone shares, something my husband and have begun to realize as we expand our interactions with others in the business of home renovation. For some lenders and investors, flipping homes is about making a quick buck; expediency and price are motivating factors, not what a house “deserves” in order to maintain the integrity of design.

The room divider and hardwood floors original to our house

The woman left our home with plans to buy it. Late last night, we heard it wouldn’t work out, but it was a wonderful experience showing it to her. Not the usual circumstance for sellers who are asked to disappear from the house while strangers tromp around with agents and look at forms to tell them what they need to know about the house. There was a human connection: we shared bits of our story, and she hers. We all wanted to do right by each other and this house.

I was disappointed when I found out. I cried for a few minutes. I wrote in my journal. Not because I don’t think our house will sell on the MLS, but because it would’ve have been so easy to write up a contract with her and know something, one solid thing, about our future.

I had no idea when I titled my blog This or Something Better two and a half years ago, that the title phrase would be an ongoing operating principle and mantra. But it has grounded me when I get preoccupied wondering what’s going to happen next. I don't know and not knowing, which used to terrify me, has become familiar, an ongoing opportunity to live out my faith in a way that goes beyond words and proclamations, it strips away everything that isn’t essential.

“I don’t blame her at all,” my husband said reacting to the news about the buyer.

“Me either,” I said, “It would just be nice to know one thing about our lives.”

“I know one thing,” he said. “I love you.”

“And that’s the most important thing,” I answered.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Here's a Tip: Join a Writing Group

Here’s a tip: if you want to be buoyed, affirmed, celebrated, and connected to the creative spirit as well as those in your midst, join a writing group. And I don’t mean a critique group. Join a group (like an Amherst Writer’s and Artists AWA workshop, or one based on their principles) where you open a journal, or the lid to a laptop, or prop up your tablet, and write whatever comes to mind and heart in a room full of other people who are doing that exact thing, a place where no one is set apart, no one is exempt from being vulnerable.

Leave the dishes in the sink and the children with a sitter. Let your fingers fly or your hand sweep across the page for twenty or thirty minutes, as you write whatever comes without censoring. Listen to the comforting tap of other keyboards, the scratch of other pens, the occasional cough, the quiet tears, Kleenex shedding from the box, tearing of a tea pouch, the hum of central heat, as you would listen to the wind or expressway drone or your refrigerator hum after midnight.

And then, once the bell has rung or the leader's voice has summoned you to stop writing, look up from your spiral-bound notebook, patterned journal, metal and plastic electronics, and feel the vibration in the room. Smile at your radiant companions, all of you blinking and slick from sliding in and out of another dimension.

When the convener asks, “Who would like to share?” sit back, take a deep breath, and have the audacity to read those fresh-formed words aloud. When you’ve finished and the room is silent, stop your voice and hands from shaking, and listen to the response:

No judgment, no criticism, no mention of what is weak or confusing, no judgment about subject matter or language. Instead, you receive only positive responses: what is strong, what is memorable. Your voice is honored. Your words are heard and held in complete confidence (you will never hear your writing discussed in the supermarket or church parking lot). The focus is on the writing, not you; the story, not your life; the poem, not your circumstances (in the AWA method, we assume everything is fiction unless the writer tells us differently).

Whether the words are fiction or non, they are brave and honest and true, and the room is filled with wisdom and humor and original expressions and the dazzling raw power of first thoughts and drafts. You have the great privilege and gift of listening to stunning writing by the best and most humble writers you will ever meet. Stories and poems that may never be printed in a book or a blog, words that might only be uttered just this once before they’re safely tucked to sleep.

There is more light in the world because you have brought what matters to this table: your authentic self.