Big Breath

I was being mindful.

I took a deep breath. It was full. Full of brightness. Full of late Spring. Full of fresh spice and basil and grass clippings and the secret sulfur of lighting bugs. Because there has to be a scent that accompanies those blue yellow sparks.

I took that deep breath. After my Yin class. I take that class on Friday at six. (Except if I have a drinking date.)

I take that class to take all the sit out of my ass. That solid compression that is the spring coiled. But not coiled to spring. Coiled to set. That which needs to be undone.

So, (if I’m not boozing early), I work to fold into shapes that I hold for eight to nine minutes. Shapes that I’m supposed to surrender to. And shapes, that through and with my breath, I push away thinkings. Of the week. Of my weakness. This is a battle. I believe I’m at stalemate. But I try.

And now I’m on my back porch. After that class. After cooking that beautiful trout. After drinking more of that Cave de Lugny than The Spouse. And I took that big deep breath. It was a big breath.

The breath of contentment. The breath of gratitude. The breath that exhaled lightness because there was no oppressive heat or humidity. That breath that was truly deep, and natural, and of bright green flora, of freshly spayed dirt. And that was grounding.

And as I took that delicious and nourishing breath in through my nose and, just before I welcomed it into my lungs, a huge moth hit my right cheek.

It was huge. At least it felt huge. My right hand raised to swipe it away. And my breath, that beautiful and perfect breath, receded early. Too early. And I’ll have to try it again.

I did. And, now, there is rain on the horizon. I can smell the ozone. I can smell the earth. And it’s heavier than the other try.

But it is still beautiful.

Something to Think About

A stylized image of my new kitchen wall. Lots of windows. Lots of light.

Yeah, I know. I’ve been radio silent for a while. Sorry. Turns out I learned that I’m not a HGTV-lifestyle type blogger. I know their ilk since I’ve been reading their blogs–their posts on trends and their how-tos written with folksy familiarity. The edgier ones smattering in some cuss words. The more wholesome peppering posts with sweet kiddos and doggos. The rarefied have chickens, which lay heirloom coloured eggs. Their kids have blonde ringlets festooned with sweet bows. They also serve up recipes. And dinner parties hosted at a clearing in their personal thousand acre woods lit with strings and strings of round bulbs powered by some mysterious source of 1% energy.

Nope. Writing about construction progress and current project status with accompanying pictures isn’t my forte. Not because I dislike that genre. I’ve definitely binge-watched many a remodeling series, hungrily following each episode to the great reveal. And, also, not because I don’t have scores of photos chronicling this journey.

I just can’t write it. Nope. This Doc does musing, angst, comedy and more thinking. Show and tell? Not without a point to make. And in the fast forward pace of this remodel, there hasn’t been much brain space left to make my points.

Sure there have been some decisions. And some real walls. And moments of beauty.

Like that moment when I walked upstairs to our bedroom and looked through the new window. Our bungalow is a classic story and a half, but when they rebuilt the walls and ceiling they recovered about eight inches of head room at the dormers. The construction team raised the windows up, too, and we have a new view to the outside and a more airy inside.

Taking in the new vista, I placed my fingertips on the newly drywalled and primed walls. I looked at my hand and recognized the perfectly familiar meeting of the knee wall angling to meet with the roofline. I suddenly ran through a series of memories–of painting that wall, of moving the bed (once moving the head to meet it, and once rotating it on the side), of steadying myself on it on groggy mornings.

Relief. My house is still here. I didn’t ruin it by stripping it down to its sticks. When I exposed its very bones. The house, its soul, still remains. I felt it in through the gypsum plaster that marked the newly finished corner. It told me it was okay.

Then there was the moment I needed to select cabinet hardware. It was more than a moment, to be honest. My wonderful design lead from the design-build team emailed me links two websites. She told me to pick out a few, and we’d order one of each to see what works.

There were literally THOUSANDS of choices. Overwhelming. So, I did what any modern Doc would do. I googled, “What to look for in kitchen cabinet hardware?”

Turns out that there are some things for the practical-minded to look for. First, there is a difference between knobs and pulls. Knobs are little and pulls are bigger. Bottom line, you don’t need to be as precise with your grab if you have pulls. Also, there are categories of pulls. There are bar pulls, handle pulls, finger pulls, cup pulls and arch pulls. Bar pulls can get caught on wayward pockets. Cup pulls can get full of the goop from your dirty hands that open the drawer to grab the extra whisk.

Armed with my new data, I downselected to handle pulls that were black or bronze and added those categorized by “industrial” or “rustic” style. And, still, there were hundreds. I started scrolling the options.

The first one I liked was $20. For one cabinet pull! Some long drawers could require two. I could easily spend thousands of dollars in kitchen hardware. I immediately added a downselect with an upper dollar limit to accommodate my budget. There were still a bunch.

My search and selection process could have consumed hours. I stopped looking after I found four that I could like. I slapped myself. Really, Doc? What’s a “good” cabinet pull? For items that, to be honest, I can’t tell apart? I cut and paste links to pulls, hit send and haven’t looked back. Don’t ask me what I chose. I don’t even know if my selections come in the right size. I’m praying that the pro makes sense of my design idiocy.

Then there’s that color moment. Last time I painted was the unfinished refresh of our bedroom. I know exactly the day I stopped painting. September 11, 2001. Just never got back around to it. I lost interest in color around the time I lost interest in the project.

Now I have to choose colors for all the rooms in the house. Someone said to paint it all white or taupe or greige or some neutral. But I have pro-painters using fabulous paint at my disposal. And I’m not moving the furniture to paint again. This is my moment.

I don’t want my house to have that flipped house gray with white trim. Or that creamy builder white. No. No. No. I walk into the open houses for the new crappy condos popping up all over my neighborhood and feel nothing but coldness. I check out the newly rehabbed homes with their cookie cutter granite countertops and cheesy cabinets and their achromatic walls and feel empty.

Ours is a 1915 bungalow that traditionally had that craftsman/arts and craft palette with muted vegetable colors of squash and pumpkin and greens tinged with yellow. Colors with names like ochre and olive, walls to be framed in natural wood.

I imagined walking in the front door with the brown stained wainscoted walls topped by that yellow squash color, turning to the muted yellow green in the living room and stepping into a pumpkin dining room. I started pulling paint chips for this warm, autumnal color scheme. I found historical palettes online and assigned colors to rooms. We’d paint a few samples on the walls before making a final call.

One problem. I don’t actually like those colors. Sure, they were better than the colorless “new house” look I was railing against, but they actually brought me down and closed me in. I wanted colors that had warmth but a cool vitality. Back to the google drawing board.

I decided to back up. What colors make me happy? What colors did I want to be surrounded by?  What colors looked good together and flowed from room to room, too? I flipped through Design Seeds, focusing on how the images made me feel. I dismissed photos, not looking at palettes. I pinned the pics I liked. I saw that my aesthetic had a clear pattern. Now I have a bunch of paints to try on the walls. My starting point is authentic.

So, sure. There’s been stuff rolling around in my brain, some causing strain and some stirring emotion, but none with much of a tale.

Yesterday, I took my regular foray to the worksite that will soon, once again, be my home. And my excitement was definitely tempered. After weeks of daily transmogrifications–of sticks being formed into walls that became rooms and closets and hallways and entries, of a huge rectangular box that time-lapsed into a kitchen lined with cabinets centered with an island and framed by a light wall, of the hole between the upstairs and the basement bibbidi-bobbidi-boo’d into a grand staircase–things have slowed down.  I’ve entered

The trough of disappointment.

This is the part of the hype-cycle. The part following the peak of unrealistic expectations. Stuff is happening, but we’re waiting on the delivery of the grout, and there is some challenges with the cabinet install, the basement windows had to be reordered and there will be some painstaking craftsmanship that will go into the creation of beautiful trim (no prefabbed trim for this project).

Meanwhile, I’m studying the project calendar every day. Sometimes more than once a day. Okay. Always more than once each day. As if by looking at the schedule it will move ahead. I walk into the house daily, on my way home from work. The actual days have shortened to leave me only a few moments of light before it switches over to night. Next week there won’t be any daylight moments on my way home.

This is the time where you can see the finish line, but there is still a grueling distance ahead. This is the time when I want to be on the other side of that line.

I want to move home and figure out where to put my colanders and to hang my winter coats in the closet. I want to unpack my waffle maker that I stored in the basement. I want to line up my spices in the new kitchen and put the good dishes on the dining room table. I want this computer to be on my new wooden desk in the office. I want to place my shampoo on the bench in the upstairs bathroom and put my hair dryer in the new closet.

I’m really done with this project. These last few yards need to be ground out, but the excitement has faded. This week anyway. I’m ready to move in and move on. I know there are more finishes and more surprises that will get me back in the game. But now, today? I’m wishing that I could buy a fifth of brown patience liquor.

I hate waiting.

Gutted

I was showing a friend pictures from our demolition. The friend’s friend had an op-ed she needed to share. One that bit.

“So, if you hate your house so much, why don’t you just buy a new one?”

Ouch! That throw away comment from a grinning stranger really did burn. It freezes, too.

I, in my shock at that unthinkable thought, objected. Too much, in retrospect, methinks. Too much because her unwelcome comment was based on her observation. Of the evidence. That I provided.

Looking at the photos of the bare and picked over bones of the edifice I had sworn to protect I thought, “What hath I wrought?”

The next day, I hesitated as I stepped onto the porch as part of my daily construction inspection. I gingerly inserted my key. I slowly opened the door. There was almost no floor to speak of–just a bunch of planks that forced me to leap from one to the next at the risk of falling through to the basement below.


And I’ve been stuck here. Right here. For two weeks I haven’t been able to move this post forward. Not able to skip past it. Because I can’t skip it. It has to be dealt with. I have to deal with it.

Usually, I have posts and pieces of posts trolling through my head–all of the time. I sit down and tap them out and hit publish. That’s how it works. Sure, there’s a bit more than that, but not the writer’s black hole I’ve had.

Usually, the hardest ones come out the fastest. Usually.

I’ve been stuck in the unusual.

I’ve reopened this page again and again. I’ve tweaked some words, moved a comma about and walked away. I’ve sat down with a brew in hand and a strict self-imposed deadline to put a bow on it. Three beers later, I successfully avoid any accomplishment. I’ll do it tomorrow. I don’t.

I’d walk into the house and take more photos. I’d look at the skeleton of the house, and see that the specimen is incomplete. Some of the bones are missing. No floor, not just exposed joists, but an entirely missing kitchen floor. No stairway to the second floor, the ladder carefully balanced over the canyon of the basement stairs.

The radiators were all piled up in the former toy room, like the mountains of blocks, legos and Hot Wheels from a recent past.

This week the siding was torn off. The chipped paint along the thin wooden boards were stacked in dumpster number six. Or are we up to seven boxcars of the house toted away? What could be left?

I didn’t know what gutting the house really meant.

GUT: to clean out. strip. decimate. ravage. ransack. disembowel. eviscerate. empty.

That was it. Empty.

I haven’t been able to come to terms with what I’m doing to the house. I started counting what was staying.

  1. The roof. (Which we replaced 8 years ago).
  2. The foundation. (Which is getting parged to shore it up.)
  3. Most of the original sheathing that was diagonally hung, keeping out the elements. (It’s being covered with some kind of new-fangled water impervious wood and then foam insulation and then new man-made siding.)
  4. Most of the original posts and joists. Many of which are being sistered with new, man-made materials.
  5. All of the woodwork and trim in the living and dining rooms. The fake fireplace mantels are STAYING!
  6. I saved the floors in the first two bedrooms, now known as the den and the office. (Over objections of some/one. I can’t let them all go.)

I’m looking at this list and the house that I swore to protect that I can’t recognize and I start hearing Obi-Wan telling Luke that Luke’s father is now more machine than man.

And then I get to thinking. And I feel better. Because in the end, Darth Vader was alright. He kept his soul.

Publish!

Autonomy

A shot f some tile samples---black and white hexagon, if you must know--and a snippet from the kitchen drawings.

Dear Lord Jesus, please. Please help me. Please help me breathe. Because I think that I might have stopped. I’m not sure. And I’m worried that it might have been long enough to have killed some brain cells. You know, those cells that let you think. Like those ones that are responsible for decisions.

Like, do I like the tile pattern? Sure. It’s awesome. So how about it in the bathroom? No. It’s nice, but I was thinking of something simpler.

Like, you said storage was important so we have cabinets to the ceiling. But how will I get the platter from the ten-foot cabinet? Oh, there’s a ladder we can store in the toe kick. And it’s cool because we can have it so when you kick it slides out.

And, there I am, wondering, what the hell is a toe kick???  Oh. That.

But my guides are amazing. They are keen listeners and they are interpreters, too. They are accommodating and kind. They make me feel smart instead of stupid.

And then I’m home. Am I still stupid? I wonder if I’m like a baby who demands his way and feels a win because a wise adult pointed me in a direction that I thought was my own. That was what I wanted, wasn’t it? And I am content–like a thumb sucker with half closed eyes, aimlessly and with direction curling a lock of hair around my opposite index finger. Wait. Did I just shit myself?

Post #335

From the AMTRAK: Emergency Brake. Open this cover. Alarm will sound. Pull handle down.

I started writing something earlier today. And it was hard. Hard to think about and hard to write about. But, at least to me, worth writing about.

Frankly, it required more nuance than I had to give to it today. I have decided that I’m going to defer this post for a little bit. I still want to write it, but it deserves a bit more research and thoughtful thinkings and a better articulation.

You might be surprised that I do that, Loyal Reader. Surprised that this publication includes research and thinking and rifling through options and analysis and then writing. I realize that much of what you read here may seem like a simple stream of consciousness. And if I were to tell the truth, which is my preference since I am lazy and lying takes a lot of work, I would admit to at least my share, if not more than my share, of raw and emotive work. Even these, though, take some cognitive and creative effort. I’m not kidding.

That said, there are many posts that I wrestle with deeply. Posts that I start with gusto but then lose steam. Sometimes the energy is gone after a paragraph or two. Other times it is writing that simply doesn’t coalesce. It might have concepts or sentences that are brilliant, but it either doesn’t hang together with the rest of the words or just doesn’t have enough form to be cogent. While that may also surprise you, Loyal Reader, that is that I hold back when something sucks, it’s just a confession about how bad my writing can be.

In this case, though, I have something that I want to say and I want to say it to you, Loyal Reader. But first, I need to make sure that it will stand up on it’s own and that, second, if you object to my thesis, you will at least have enough to object to. I don’t want to leave you unsatisfied, or worse, dismissive. Truly your indifference is the most painful.

So, for today, I will only share with you a little about my process and a hint of something yet to come.

What Time Is It?

Part of a clock. An older clock. With Roman numerals.

Today is the birthday of The Beast, which means that it’s eight weeks until Christmas. I know this because he was eight weeks old when we got him, that date of arrival being the day after Christmas. It’s not complex math, but it is math nonetheless.

Birthdays are markers of time. What is it that makes an anniversary important? That one-year mark? Why do we track them? And celebrate them? Or, in the case of sad anniversaries, sometimes we simply note them. But we’re just acknowledging another rotation of the earth around the sun. And something that happened on that exact day in a prior rotation. Put that way, I’m like, “Why do I care?”

I’m not so good with time. I can only remember the year my father passed away based on the fact that I broke my foot at the end of that year. And I only know the year I broke my foot because I walked for two and a half miles to go see then Senator Obama’s speech at American University. It was the day that Ted Kennedy endorsed him. That was for 2008 election. I remember because my physical therapist said that I was cured after he found out I walked that far. It was slow, but I did it.

So time for me is related to events, and how those events relate to something else I can pin a date to. I need to do some kind of backwards, inside out calculations. With an abacus. I only know how old I am only because I know how old the Big Guy is, and then I add thirty. As soon as I lose track of his age, I won’t know how old I am.

It took me about fourteen years before I could remember the year we were married. It was amusing at first, but then became embarrassing. So I had to work really hard to remember the actual numbers–without backing into it. Sometimes I still forget.

I am amazed and impressed that ancient peoples created calendars to mark the comings and goings of time. They figured it out and made events and myths about the named epochs–which we call years. Maybe they were driven by preparations for different seasons. But that story only makes sense if you live in a part of the world with seasons. I bet I could study this.

Anyway, they say that a dog year is equivalent to seven human years. And that is DEFINITELY a ridiculous concept of time. I still got The Beast a special treat. And I sang him happy birthday and told him he was a good dog. He didn’t really care about the date. But he ate the treat. Woof!

Et Tu?

President Obama and Laura Bush watch first lady Michelle Obama embracing president George W. Bush at the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Who are the Americans in this picture?

“I, too, am America,” said the president. The President of the United States of America, that is.

He didn’t just say it once. He said it twice, but it seemed like I heard it at least four times. How ridiculous that the democratically elected leader of the free world would say it even once.

But that’s because since he became president, some have been trying to delegitimize him. To say he wasn’t American. That he is other.

I can’t tell you why. I don’t doubt that there are multiple reasons, and I’m sure that different people have different justifications and different combinations of pretext.

But thinking about it, when folks see people as other what does that mean? If they are other, are they not people? Are they animal? vegetable? mineral? monster? Does that make it easier to dismiss that other? To strip from them their humanity, their fears and struggles, their dreams and loves?

It’s pretty easy to be an American, though. In fact, we’ve welcomed people who are tired or poor. We’ve embraced huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We’ve provided refuge to the wretched from another country’s teeming shore. We’ve provided a future to the homeless and those tossed by tempest.

America has work to do in order to live her ideals when it comes to people of color, people of non-Christian faiths, people who have different abilities, people who are poor, people who don’t fit heteronormative beliefs, people of different backgrounds.

But who is that “America?” Is it other? Is it not her people?

I, too, am America.

Ouch.