Summer in a nutshell:
Back in June, struggling with tremendous change and uncertainty (which is where I’ve been living for at least two years), I gave myself permission to stop. Stop trying to figure everything out. Stop trying to make things better. Stop doing things unless they truly had to be done–so that I might figure out what it is I even like doing any more.
I think I had some idea that if I’d just stop, all the dust clouding my vision would settle and I’d find some kind of serenity and things would become green and shiny again. Or, at least, I would be able to see what is still green and shiny. And, well, yeah…what you see above is fairly indicative of how things look right now.
Most of you who read regularly followed me here from the home blog I used to write with Cane, where we (hopefully, optimistically, enthusiastically, joyfully) proclaimed that “how we do home is how we do life.”
The internets is full of people waxing philosophical about the meaning of home. My friend Laura pointed me to this (rather pedantic, privileged-perspective) piece last week that annoyed but also intrigued me a bit. In it, the writer posits that home “is a place where personal ideals are externalized or personal failures made visible.”
Well, clearly mine is more about personal failures made visible than anything else these days.
This summer we did fix some things that have long needed fixing. We finally gave up on doing anything cool/creative that we love with our entry and painted everything the same shade of brown and covered the stairs with a boring, serviceable carpet.
We got rid of yellowed vinyl flooring in a bathroom, painted the walls, and took out a plastic-covered vanity that surely replaced a solid wood one in a previous owner’s quest to attain a different sort of domestic ideal than any we ascribe to. We put in a new one that’s probably a lot like the original one.
Some of you might remember when we put some lipstick on the pig of the room that it was when we weren’t ready to replace the flooring and cabinet:
The bathroom needed new flooring and the new cabinet takes up less space, which is good, I suppose, but I’m not in love with it. I’m in meh with it. And though I don’t like to say it out loud, given the time and money we put into the changes, I think I liked the funky lipstick version of it better.
Unlike so many of our earlier house projects, these were not labors of love. These projects were done not to make a home but to fix things that would need fixing if we decide to sell the house. (Kind of amazing how that shows, huh?)
When Cane and I wrote that “how we do home is how we do life” we saw it as a statement of power: We can choose how we do home, and a complementary life would grow out of that choosing:
Want a simpler life? Create a simple home.
Want an authentic life? Create an authentic home.
Want a connected life? Create a home with routines and traditions and rituals that connect its inhabitants with each other and those who enter it.
What I’m coming to understand, though, is that this question of home/life might be a chicken/egg sort of thing: Which comes first, home or life? Maybe how we do life is how we do home–and many of us struggle to do life the way we want to.
Some of us live in poverty. Some of us live with abuse. Some of us are living out the inevitable effects of multi-generation oppression. And, even those of us who are relatively privileged sometimes get thrown a curveball that we just can’t hit with anything resembling grace–if we can manage to hit it at all. Sometimes, life throws us not a curveball, but a series of fastballs discharging from a pitching machine set to its highest speed. Then, we end up doing life the best we can, swinging furiously, knowing we’re going to miss more balls than we hit.
Sometimes, life has us so worn out that caring about home feels really beside any point that matters.
I really miss caring about such things as growing vegetables and sewing grocery bags and planning meals and restoring banged up furniture that no one else loves any more. I keep trying to “act as if,” thinking that maybe I can make the equation work the other way: Maybe if I just start doing the stuff, the caring will return and the life will follow suit.
So far, it hasn’t been that way. But as so many on the internets constantly remind me, we’re all just living in one season of life at a time, and they all pass. I’m hoping that as summer fades into fall, this one I’ve been living in for the past few years will move on, too. I’ll keep you posted.
19 thoughts on “Doing home, doing life”
Rita, I have read your blog with pleasure over the years. I just want to say I am sorry for the sadness you are feeling now. I don’t know anything to say that wouldn’t be presuming to know what you are dealing with. I said a prayer for you and will continue to do so when you come to mind.
Thank you for the kind thoughts, Linda. Things will be OK. Struggle is part of being human. Kind of a sucky part, but a part all the same.
Hello Rita , came across your blog and saw some pictures of the exterior of the split level home, do you happen to know the colors that were used we live in a similar home and really appreciate the colors . Th ask
I’m so sorry–I don’t know the colors any more. We painted that house back in 2012, and I no longer have any of my notes about that project. My best suggestion is to get a lot of paint chips and look at them in the light outside your home, and then buy test pots. Brown can be a really tricky color–it can morph so easily into grey, green, purple, or even blue.
That pig? That pig is me.
After every meal.
I love your home, I had no idea you had a house-y blog before. I feel for what you are going through right now and I love you as always.
But that pig is most definitely me.
Kari recently posted…Why Reading Isn’t Always a Good Thing
That pig is me all summer long this year! And here’s the house-y blog: http://www.thissortaoldlife.com We had a fun run with it, but I actually much prefer this old-school so-little-its-almost-invisible blog.
Love you, too. Can’t ever hate on the internets when it’s brought me friends like you.
I “see” your dead pot plants of the summer of 2016, and “raise you” my dead pot plant of the summer of 2015, which is STILL sitting on my back porch. (The 2015 petunia somehow re-grew (I didn’t know an annual would do that; perhaps it went to seed?) and is occupying a third of the otherwise very sad looking pot.) There must be something in the air: a dear friend of mine (who has gone through an unbelievably tough year) was just telling me the other day that she can’t even seem to work up the energy to water her pot plants. And oh, I so get it; that’s exactly where I’ve been this summer as well: struggling to overcome the apathy to do anything beyond the bare necessities of life. Maybe my apathy has stemmed from the unrelenting heat and humidity we’ve had in Ontario this summer, but I dunno … I’m beginning to suspect depression has been layered onto my OCD/anxiety issues; whatever the case though, a resounding YES to this sentence of yours: “life has us so worn out that caring about home feels really beside any point that matters.”
With regards to the house projects you and Cane completed this summer, for which you’re feeling “meh” or are labeling as “boring” … I suspect that unless the person doing the renos is a designer, this probably happens quite a lot. I’ve certainly felt this way too, and yet, conversely, have also felt immense frustration over the time and effort it has taken to make things “perfect” or “non-boring”. I think I would much rather have a boring project which is done (!) to one which is unique but drags on in a never-ending fashion because of indecision or other factors.
(That being said, I don’t think your stairs look boring at all; I really like how they turned out!)
On a lighter note, the pig picture (along with the explanation) made me laugh out loud, which I really, really needed today. So thank you, Rita 🙂 .
(And thank you as well for linking to that “Making House” essay. It was a very interesting read — points to both agree and disagree with — but, like you, I found it a VERY pedantic and inaccessible read.)
I am so glad the pig made you laugh! That was my intention, but I worried it was just really pathetic.
And I am glad to know I’m not the only plant killer out there. I was horrified when I looked out the window and saw them all like that. I don’t even know when it happened. Most are perennials, and I think they might come back next year. But maybe not. I think I’ll have to fold, though–cause your dead plant from 2015 beats mine. 🙂
I’m sorry you’ve been having a similar time. I know we’re in similar life stages right now. Maybe this is just part of the deal? Although I know that hot weather will definitely kick me up a few notches on the misery scale, so I wouldn’t discount that.
I’m not exactly loving my new normal, but I do have a sense that big changes are at bay for right now. (Mostly.) I’m hoping that a little stasis and the turn to fall (probably my favorite season) will change how I’ve been feeling. I do look forward to the first really good rainstorm that will be my excuse to build a fire and settle in with the dogs and a good book.
“This is not a dead pig.” Bahahaha! That sentence made me laugh out loud. I liked it so much, I may make an effort to work that sentence into common conversation somehow…even without the presence of the languishing pig picture.
As for the rest of your post, I will offer up that oldie but goodie…”hang in there, slugger, and keep swinging”. Sometimes these journeys last longer than we’d like, sometimes we come out of them all of a sudden, and sometimes we just gradually realize one day that…oh, hey, things don’t feel like they suck so much anymore. 🙂
I will also say, I think the fact that you care enough about your home to care that you can’t really bring yourself to care right now is one of the amazing things about you. You would be surprised how many people don’t care that much about the place they live. To some it’s just a place to sleep. To me, my house, my home, is another character in my life. The fact that you care about making a home is one of the reasons I have always felt a kinship towards you. I have been building a writing project about my home in my brain for over a year, but every time I think I’m going to start working on it for real…I make a million excuses and then I just don’t. Probably, because I’ve built it up so much in my head, I’m scared to start it for fear it won’t turn out the way I’m dreaming it. I can be really hard on myself sometimes for continuing to put it off. But, today has been the first autumnal-y day of the year here. I’ve opened all the windows and let the cool(-ish, if muggy) breeze blow through my house, bringing with it all kinds of fresh hope and promise of a new season. And with that I’ve cut myself some slack. I’ll start my project when I start my project and that will be the right time. I hope you will continue to cut yourself some slack and remember you’ll start enjoying things you used to about your home when you start enjoying them and that will be the right time. May the breeze of fall head your direction from here. 🙂
Shannon recently posted…Use The Iced Tea Spoon
First of all: The pig is perfect.
I spent Saturday washing quilts that were made by Tom’s mother, to make sure they go on the beds in the newest room in my house, so that when his kids come to visit there are familiar objects and a sense of belonging. This is important to me, because it’s important to them.
I have somewhat the opposite problem going right now in that I can’t seem to feel “meh” about anything in the middle of merging households. Every object seems as emotionally fraught as those quilts on the bed. And it is is exhausting. “Meh” would be a welcome relief. Perhaps it’s just finding a comfort level with a new normal, but right now it’s a weird combination, a fine line between new and strange, exciting and stressful, and arguing about how many clothes hangers are just too goddamned many. I’m looking forward to a day when home is just “home” again, and not this stage setting for one big transition after another.
At other times you’ve written about lulls in your creative process, or your enthusiasm for projects, or both, and came to the conclusion that you just had to be patient with those phases, wait them out. This is a longer, more serious phase, but perhaps the same philosophy applies? Is it okay to just let the meh wash over you? Perhaps it’s the protective coating you need right now until you work through all the changes and losses. I sense that “act as if” might be difficult for you if it feels inauthentic. Sometimes you just gotta be where you are. That part stinks sometimes. But I have faith that you will get there, my friend.
Laura recently posted…Return to April
Oh, you hit the nail on the head (cause I know you’re handy with hammers like that): I want “home” to just be home again. I think I owe you an email message–because there’s more to say than there’s space here. For now, I am wishing all of you a good launching. (Which is not necessarily the same thing as a happy one.) I’m pretty sure you’re in the midst of one. I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed for you. Metaphorically, anyway. I can’t really type with crossed fingers. 🙂
I’m having a love affair with your pig.
And find myself in a bit of the opposite problem. We’ve been here for 4 years (the second longest I’ve lived anywhere) and I just want this place to feel like home already. And I don’t want to sacrifice my vision and I don’t want to wait any longer and I don’t want to live within a budget (it’s a decidedly pick two situation). So I’m a bit of a dervish. It’s getting there and like you, I love fall and find myself more able to take on “home” because it’s where I want to be.
I killed my flower baskets and potted plants this year too. And left the seeds I was going to plant in the cupboard.
Hoping the change of seasons brings us both a lot less of the meh!! (I do like your entry way a lot though.)
I had no idea the pig would be such a hit. (Maybe if I did my chances of going viral would vastly improve.)
We just passed the five-year mark here, and with the most recent projects we’ve tackled all the things we once loathed. Cane still lotathes the kitchen cabinets, but I don’t. I mean, they are ugly plastic, but the work well and the kitchen feels good, so I’m OK with it all. I think it just takes time. Yeah, that pick two thing. It took time because we weren’t willing/able to throw down a lot of money right away. And as for vision, well–we never had a really clear one. All of which is to say…I don’t know how this “making home” thing really works, but I think it takes time! I hope you’re able to do some things this fall that feel like movement in the right direction.
I’m so glad you’re the kind of person who kills flower baskets, too. And leaves the seeds in the cupboard. It just makes me like you all the more.
Are you still going to put your house up for sale, Rita? That might explain why you feel “meh” about some of these repairs. Of course, how we want to do things and how we end up doing things are often two different things altogether. It’s somewhat depressing to have to face that truth.
I disagree that a less than perfect home is a sign of personal failure. When you have three surgeries in a 17-month period (as I did), a lot of things are left undone. I’ve spent all summer trying to catch up with three years of housecleaning and gardening. I have a long way to go yet and my back problems aren’t helping a bit, but I’m staying optimistic.
I’m surprised that writer brought up Iris Murdoch’s messy house. She died from Alzheimer’s in the end. I’m sorry, but all those perfect homes on perfect blogs have dirt underneath the carpets, too. I’m not fooled one bit.
I don’t comment very much, but I do think of you often. Stay resilient.
It is nice to hear from you. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been through such a trial. I would never think that a less than perfect home is a sign of failure. If anything, I intended to be sarcastic; I don’t think dead plants really mean one has failed. (Well, maybe failed to keep plants alive, but not Failed.) I hope that you are healing and that the surgeries will leave you better able to do the things you want to do.
Hi Rita, I’ve been quiet on the Internet this summer but I’ve been reading along and thinking of you and sending you good thoughts.
I just wanted to say that “out loud” as it were and also say that this post really resonated with me.
I have always loved your “how we do home is how we do life” formulation. There is a real sense of empowerment to it, the idea that starting with creating a home that speaks to us can have a snowball effect in helping us create a life that inspires us — and also the idea that our homes should reflect us, not trends or manufactured images of perfection.
You’re right that it can be a double-edged sword though, and that it works in the opposite direction (how we do life is how we do home). I don’t think this has to all be negative though. I think if you live life in a deep and complicated way, then your home is likely to be “complicated” in some sense too. I know that for me there are certain un-done home projects that reflect ambivalence or denial or what have you about life. I think that’s just the way it is, I look at those flower pots of yours and I see a badge of honor of just how hard you’ve been working emotionally. Much love to you.
Sarah recently posted…Last of the summer, first of the fall
Sarah, your last sentences made me get choked up over my lunch today. Thank you for taking the time to write out loud. It has surprised me, how much just feeling seen has meant to me the past few months. So glad to see you back again.
I’ve been thinking more philosophically about home lately than I usually do because I’ve been reading a lot of full time RVer blogs….and it’s a common trope in those to regard the very idea of wanting a house with disdain. If you care so much about stuff that you can’t fit everything you own in 150 square feet then you’re an inferior person. Which I guess is just sort of a common way of thinking about whatever outside the mainstream choice one makes….parenting, diet, education, etc…it’s more powerful to say I’m making the best choice full stop than to say I’m making the best choice FOR ME. Umm. I thought I was going to be able to tie this back in more gracefully when I started writing it….yesterday. But it’s something about how you talked about having the time and energy and resources to care about your home, aesthetically speaking, being a luxury, but also a positive thing. Because I think–not just in the world of full time RVers–there’s an idea that’s prevalent today that minimalism is inherently superior. Umm. Okay, I’m stopping now, because apparently fully formed thoughts are a luxury I don’t have time for these days….Anyway, thought provoking post as usual, and one of my favorite things about your blog is how you NEVER post dead pig photos. Keep up the good work!
I will make it a point to keep dead pigs off the blog. Just for you.
And I think about 95% of the world’s conflicts could be eradicated if we could all get on board with adding “for me” to the end of declarations about the rightness of our choices and positions and actions. I nominate you for President.