Wednesday, April 20, 2011

playing house

The house was built in 1907. It was an absolute wreck when I moved in. I've lived here longer than any other place in my entire life. I'm not leaving.

So why do I think about leaving?

People talk about perfection. The perfect job. Perfect marriage. Perfect kids. Perfect life. Perfect house. Perfect home. They say it over and over, loud and clear, so that you get it, really get it. They're working really hard to make sure you heard them. It's perfect, they say. And then they walk out.

I'm not immune. I've done this. I remember it well.

What happens to those who get everything they ever wanted? Whose lives have settled down into a steady state without high drama, without opera. Without major debt. Or conflict. Stuff that just doesn't work. What happens when you don't have to fix anything anymore?

"That's not why people leave," he said. "They leave because of abuse. Incompatibility. They leave because conditions become intolerable."

They don't leave because it's perfect.

They don't leave because they're bored.

He said.

It's much more fun to have a mountain to climb. To struggle together to build something new. To think thoughts that have never been thunk. Live lives that haven't been shrunk. He's a psychiatrist — did I mention that? His opinions bear the weight of clinical validity. In other words, in his professional opinion, he's always right.

But he was wrong.

And that was pretty funny, since 'boredom' was one of his specialties. Oops.

I used to have this recurring nightmare when I was little. No chases. No monsters. Nothing like that.

There's the vastness of space — darkness without end. And before you can notice how it appeared, there is a long jump-rope like thing in the darkness that shines with an illumination from within. It's not quite a snake, not quite a rope. But it's jumping — slowly — round and round. And the rhythm creates great tension until the rope flattens out into a line of light. The light of the 'or ein sof. And the light approaches perfection. And it's unbearable — until at last, it's unbearably perfect. And it can't sustain itself, and shatters. And there's the vastness of space — darkness without end. And before you can notice how it appeared ...

I was in the foster home when the nightmare started. But the dream endured. Year after year. Until I was twelve. And then it stopped.

My house is a giant art project. It's been jimmied together and pulled apart for over a century. It's been wrecked and tormented, plucked clean and beaten down. Corners were cut. Everywhere. They had called it a 'fixer-upper' when I first took a look.

"Now don't be scared. Keep an open mind," the agent said. "Imagine what it could be."

I saw it — and laughed. And then I bought it. So I showed it to my kids.

My son stepped over the threshold. A look of horror on his face.

"You expect me to live here?" he asked.

Little sister walked in. She picked up a trowelly/crowbar-like thing. I had been pulling up the matzah and puke-colored 1950s carpets.

"Where do we start?" she asked.

It was such a wreck, that we could do anything. Anything at all was an improvement. That meant all of us.

My son fixed up the garage and started a band.

My daughter painted the Tree of Life above her bed, so she could sleep under its branches.

I saved up for a furnace so we could get some heat.

Anything. We could do anything at all.

An art project.

A collaborative art project.

We weren't bored. And it wasn't perfect.

And we were really really happy.

And I could do days like that again. Not that my house has reached perfection. But it's very very close. I can feel it in my bones...

Collaboration! Building something together. An abode in which there's always something new to consider. Problems to figure out that are challenging and fun. Beauty to unmask from behind a banal structure.

Real perfection to me is a work in progress. If someone says let's build it — of course I'll say yes. Something very beautiful. That will take a long long time.

"How can you think about leaving," she gasped.

"It's easy," I said. And I meant it.


  1. You can think about leaving, you just can't consider going THERE!

  2. Maybe you're right about the amount of sage it would take to sanctify the place! But it seems to me, we've got a competent number of practitioners among our nearly-normal people — who could do wonders to the energy of the place.

    I'm open, however, to the serendipitous. And of course I'm pretty comfortable right where I am. This might not be about 'place' at all.