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Ordinary Canary Posts

I Sound My Barbaric Yawp

I want to write you an essay that will make you laugh.  I’ll include a few pictures, to keep the visual interest up, and give you some charming anecdote or affirmation of life or at least a nod to our shared intelligence.  Things have been rather dire here at Ordinary Canary lately and I know that that gets tiresome.

So here’s a fun picture of what I look like every time I read the news these days:

4month

 

Just kidding.   That’s Baba, from when she was a 4 month old larvae that couldn’t even flip over.  I know this, because those were the days that I was able to use a camera without her immediately grabbing it out of my hands.  Those were good days– and not just because we were on our annual family vacation, in a pretty little down in the middle of nowhere.

Now we are just a few days away from this year’s family vacation.  I’ve pulled out the suitcases, though I haven’t had the heart to begin packing yet.  It has been a very hard month and trouble keeps unfolding on trouble, so finding the energy to do much of anything beyond what I need to do to get through tomorrow has been difficult.   And it’s not for lack of trying — and maybe this is just the unassailable American in me, but I keep trying to pitch it to myself that things are going to turn around any day now.  But this week, I’ve conceded that the world is just a dark place right now….and that that’s okay.

I want to write something eloquent and beautiful there about accepting the darkness, but to be honest, the only words that come to mind are that it is the very-bad no-good messed-up month.  And so it is.  Yesterday, after a comically tragic morning, I received news of the death of my uncle and there is just no spinning that into anything good.  He has been chronically ill for some years, after a cancer diagnosis, but we had thought he was doing okay.  Not great, not after the way chemotherapy wrecked his health, but okay.  The sadness of his death is mingled with shock, even if if I can’t call it a surprise.  We had hoped that he’d be with us on our vacation this year, if only for a few days.  Now his absence will be with us instead, making him present in a very different way than we’d anticipated.  He was young to die – just a few years older than my mom was – and the father of a growing girl.

Cancer sucks.

Sitting at my desk today, I found myself on the verge of tears, which is not usually my style.   I was not close with my uncle, though once I became a parent, we had a lot more to talk about and I enjoyed the text messages that he would send me from time to time.  Separated by 3,000 miles and an awkward age difference, I just never really got to know him, at least not very well.  But his death is sad and watching people that I love go through the pain of losing a brother, of losing a son, is very hard.  I am very grateful that I will be physically with them in another week anyway, even if the reunion will be sad.

This is the secret of family, isn’t it?  When I called my aunt last night, it was so comfortable to fall into silence and listening.  That is a precious, precious gift.

My uncle is not the only person I care about that has been fighting for his life.  Part of the reason his death took me by such surprise is that we’ve been looking in another direction and focusing our energy and worry and care on someone else.  It is not my story to tell, but some of the elements are similar enough to make the two griefs feel like echoes.  My cup of sorrows feels very, very full.

Sometimes life just isn’t fair. Sometimes people get sick, no matter how much you care about them.  Sometimes they simply can’t be healed, even though you’ve hoped and prayed and insisted that it must be true because they’ve been in remission so long.  Sometimes life really lets you down.

All this life-or-death business puts our other worries into perspective, even though they are big and serious.  When my mom died, at the ripe old age of 48, my outlook on life changed a lot.  I watched very nervously as my Beloved passed that age, knowing quite intimately that we aren’t guaranteed the 70 or 80 years that we’re led to believe is our right.

Robin Williams was right.  Seize the day.  Seize every precious day.

I want to die satisfied with the life that I have lived, whether it’s at 48 or 98.  I certainly don’t want to spend it sad, or angry, so at the moment, I will just keep reminding myself that we will get through all of this grief.  Perhaps in September, things will look better, even if I doubt we’ll ever forget this moment in time.

 

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A Subway Prayer

I’m on the downtown 2 train from Penn Station on a Monday morning.  It’s summer and the trains have been bunching up, so I get lucky enough to find myself a seat.  I settle into a book, half-listening to the announcements as we go from 34th Street to 14th to Chambers.  At Chambers Street, the train doors open to a platform that has so strangely silent of all ambient noise that I look up from my book. The doors open on scene of a mother and a stroller and a baby on the ground.  There’s a scream, then a chorus of screams as a rush of bodies move and surround the child, who is lying too still.

I have a perfect view of all of this.  My seat is in the center of the train, aligned perfectly with this terrible drama.  Or, I do for a moment, before half of the people on the train rush to the door to get a better view.  The doors stay open too long, as the train operators call for help.

I stay where I am because I know that one more body in that crush will not save the child’s life, if it is still possible to be saved.  The last thing that I see before my view was blocked was the back of a woman in a black skirt, who grabbed the child and rolled that tiny body onto its left side.  The doors close.  The train moves on.

I do not know how the story ends.  My mind wants to give it a happy ending, if only to control my shaking limbs.  As the train travels through the tunnels to Park Place, I have to move to escape the discussion surrounding me.  “What happened?” a man asks.  “Probably choking,” someone else says.  “Or a seizure?”  I walk to the other end of the train, because I feel like I might throw up and I know that I need to calm down before I get to the office.  How could I even begin to explain to my young coworkers why I was so upset?  It wasn’t my story.  It is only the brushing of time and place, the overlapping of the coincidences of so many strangers in such a small place, that made me a participant at all.  And yet, it was a public witnessing of the pain of another mother, a mother that is probably not so different from me.

New York is a strange place.  The millions of people living and working in such close proximity means that our lives overlap with strangers in a much more intimate way than you ever see in less congested towns.  This was actually the third medical emergency that I’ve been touching distance from, though this was by far the most horrifying.  In the first, a young girl fainted on a subway car so crowded that we nearly absorbed the weight of her body before dropping her to the ground.  When she woke, she cried, embarrassed, and begged to go home as dozens of water bottles were passed her way.  A woman she had never met before put her arm around her and said, “Just take deep breaths.  It’s going to be okay.”  And, although I had held the weight of her body for a moment, I got off at my stop anyway.

The second time, I was buying a box of tissues for the office when a man in the line in front of me fell into a seizure.  He was at the counter, his wallet out, when his eyes rolled up in his head and he fell, heavily, to the ground.  He writhed, but I froze, not even certain why I was so frightened.  And I was frightened, in the most primal and physical way.  Just like with the subway today, others rushed to him before I did.  When he stilled, breathing peacefully, I asked what I could do.  “Go keep people from coming into the store,” someone said, so I went outside, only to discover that the job was more than adequately filled already.  I looked around and hugged my shaking arms to myself and went to work, without the tissues.

Dozens of these experiences must happen across the city every day.  And perhaps the strangest aspect of my experiences is that I would not recognize any of the other people in any of these scenes if I were to see them again.  As a watcher, I don’t even feel the right to my own emotions.  Who am I to get so upset, so frightened, so afraid? These are not my stories.  These are just things that I saw, in an otherwise ordinary day.

Tonight I will go home to my Baba and hold her as much as she’ll let me.  Without a doubt, I’ll be even more cautious of how small I cut her food and of the many dangerous things in the world that find their way into her hands, despite my vigilance.  But what made watching that mother’s pain today so terrible was knowing how little control I really have.  To love someone is to be vulnerable.  To love someone the way that I love my Baba is to be very vulnerable.  And the only way that I could handle that knowledge was to pretend that I know the end of the story that I saw today.  In my version, that child coughed out a carrot and rose and held her mother until both of their hearts burst with joy.  The end.

Amen.  Please God, amen.

 

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The Romance Begins

Since the day that Baba started day care, I’ve taken to driving to the train station.  It is less than a mile from our house, but since I’m driving her anyway, it seems silly to go back home just to park the car.  It is just as silly to drive to the station, but it means getting home 10 minutes earlier – and those 10 minutes are precious, because they are my only chance to play with Baba for a few minutes before she goes to bed.

They aren’t always the best part of my day, but I spend my afternoons looking forward to them.  When the train is late and she’s melting for bed by the time I get home, I’m always hugely disappointed.

My street is near the center of town, which means that parking is often at a premium at six in the evening.  And on the bad parking days, I get frustrated, because those extra minutes matter.  But now that we’ve had an offer accepted on a house in a less congested part of town, that frustration has turned into daily rants, even though I once enjoyed living on such a community-minded street.  It has been this way with all the little things in our house, which I loved in the way that you can only love the first place you live that’s really your own.  Now, it’s maddening that the upstairs toilet takes an extra half-second to flush, because I didn’t make the chain short enough the last time I replaced it.  There’s a scuff near our skylight that I used to be able to ignore, but now can’t wait to never see again.  Walking down two flights of stairs to do my laundry is just impossibly aggravating, because this maybe-ours house has no basement.

Soon this won’t be a problem, I tell myself every time I encounter some new aggravation that never bothered me before.  Soon this will be all behind us when we are at our new house.

We’ve been trying to be careful not to call this new house ours.  Our offer was accepted so quickly that we’ve been wondering when we’ll find out some dark secret that will make the deal fall apart.  It’s a lovely house, with a grand demeanor and oversized rooms with a delightful snob appeal.  The front porch is welcoming and warm; it just begs for a swing and pitchers of iced tea on summer afternoons.  The interior is finished enough that you’d only have to do projects that you wanted, which is a fine change from our current century-old plasterwork house.  It’s on a quiet street just three blocks from the train station.  The lot is oversized…and yet we can afford it.

Something seems badly wrong here.  Is this still New York?

So we started stalking the house.  We sneak up on it, checking to see what it’s doing at different times of the day.  Does it disappear during the night?  Are there ghostly lights?  Was it perhaps part of the growing heroin problem in our county? It feels like it must be something, so we’re trying to dig up all the information we can.  Stalking the house helps, because it gave us the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the one neighbor that we’ve seen anywhere near the house (and thank goodness for dogs and their walks).  He tells us that no one has lived there since before Hurricane Sandy.

Oh, I see, we said, while congratulating ourselves on our cleverness in having already ordered our mold test.  We knew the house had flooded, like most of our town.  But no one living in it to pick up the mess?  That’s a terrifying thought.  Most of the homes in that situation now sport special red signs on them, with big warnings that it’s not safe to go inside.  Almost four years later, the neighborhood wears them like pimples.

We were supposed to have our structural inspection done this week, but the owner cancelled on us last minute, which gave us all sorts of fuel for speculation.  Yesterday my Beloved drove by the house and caught the owner cheating on us showing the house to someone else, which makes it pretty clear what the delay was about.

Still, a showing is not an offer.  Any new offer may not be better than ours; we went in high, because we understood that we wouldn’t be the only ones to notice that this house seems like a steal.  So it may end up being our house yet, without contest.  But I admit that it feels very much like the beginning of a romance, when the stakes are just getting high.  We feel very vulnerable as we wait, wait, wait and hope and dream that this might be The One.

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Gunshot Confessions

In 1992, my mother really liked Denzel Washington.

Like, really really liked him.  She liked him enough that when a movie studio was recruiting for extras for a scene in The Pelican Brief, she signed herself right up.  To our great amusement, she was assigned to be in a crowd protesting gun control.

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I can’t quite tell, but I’m pretty sure that the lady in the lower right corner with the blue and yellow shirt is my Mom.  Denzel Washington ran through this crowd.  My Mom was only a few feet away, which absolutely made her month.

 

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This is not my Mom, despite our obvious hair   kinship.  You and me, Julia.  You and me.

 

The scene was funny, of course, because my Mom was absolutely for gun control, long before it was an acceptable thing to say out loud.  She was an Army veteran, raised in a county so rural that one of her chores was riding her bike to the farm next door to pick up milk bottles for her family.  She knew a little bit about guns and counted the time she had to throw a grenade in basic training as the absolutely most frightening moment of her life.  She certainly didn’t see a reason why just anyone should have access to weapons.

No doubt, her experiences as a special education teacher in inner city D.C. contributed to her feelings.  She specialized in teaching emotionally disturbed children.  These are the kids who had been kicked out of all of the other schools, but still needed an education.  Given their behavior problems, it likely won’t surprise you to hear that their home lives were not the greatest.  Many of the children had been abused.  All of them had parents trapped in poverty and plenty of her students had parents in jail.  Some of her students, by the age of twelve, thought of jail as a place where you could go to get three solid meals a day.  I can’t remember exactly how many funerals for her students that she went to during her years in the city, but it was far, far too many.  Guns were a big part of all of that.

It was also the nineties, when D.C. was commonly referred to as the murder capitol.  I remember joking about that with my friends, as though we were somehow tougher because we were living in such a dangerous environment. The summer of 1994 really sticks out in my memory, because it began with a Romeo-and-Juliet style suicide between two twelve-year-olds that were forbidden to see each other.  After that, it seemed as though there was a drive-by shooting at least once a week.  It was the first time we’d heard the phrase road rage, where people were so angry at being cut off in traffic that they were pulling out their guns and shooting people.  To this day, I still cringe whenever my Beloved loses his temper and shouts out the window at other drivers, because I presume that they will have a gun.  It was that frightening to live through.

Right before I left D.C. for New York, the tri-state area was brought to its knees by a 17 year old with a rifle.  Just reading through the Wikipedia article now, fourteen years later, leaves my heart pounding in my chest.  The list of shootings read like a geography of my childhood.  The first shot, through the window of a Michael’s store, is the store I used to walk to as a kid.  I spent hours there, looking at all the craft items that I wanted to try but could not afford.  Two of the victims were murdered on the streets where I grew up.  Another was shot only a block and a half from where I was attending college at the time in Virginia.  The management of the apartment complex that I lived in sent out a memo to the residents, urging extreme caution as we went about the neighborhood and recommending limiting our time outdoors.  I remember people volunteering to pump gas wearing bulletproof vests, because folks were that scared.  One morning I was over two hours late for work, because the police had stopped the eight-lane Beltway and were investigating every single car in their desperation to find the killer.  When we learned that it was a teenager pulling the trigger, it was simply impossible to process.  That is how a single gun ended sixteen lives and brought an entire city to its knees.

When another murderer walked into Pulse in Orlando last week, I was on a plane home from Ireland, where I’d just spent a week trying to answer the question of why Americans are so in love with their guns, because Irish people simply don’t understand it.  Irish law is very restrictive with guns, while still allowing some shotguns for hunting.  Most knives will get you in trouble, if you don’t have a really good explanation for having it, so the idea that we can walk in to a store and buy a gun that’s advertised to be able to shoot 13 bullets a second is simply incomprehensible to them.  (I have since learned that pragmatically your finger really couldn’t fire 13 times a second, so the real rate would be more like 3 bullets a second.  I remain in awe that this is what we’re talking about.)

I have watched the public mourning of the Pulse attack with no small amount of sadness, but mostly I have watched it with a deep and intense anger.  Is it any surprise that we’ve had another shooting on this scale?  Is it any surprise that eventually it would target LGBT folks, given a political climate where anti-trans bathroom bills are not only voted on, but actually passed?  The mourning is proper. It is good.  This is a national tragedy.  It should be mourned loudly and publicly.  But what bothers me most is that in the last 72 hours, as I write this, 56 people have been killed by guns, per the Gun Violence Archive, which syndicates and counts reported incidents of gun violence in the media.  Over 6,000 people have died so far this year.  1,200 teenagers have been injured or killed, as have 262 children under the age of 11.  148 police officers have also lost their lives.

And it’s only June.

Where is the outrage?  Where is the mourning?

We are in the middle of a rise in gun violence across this country.  According to a recent DOJ study, homicide rates have jumped 17% in the nation’s 56 biggest cities.  In my home town, after a decade of falling crime rates that almost created a sense of normalcy, violent crime has increased every year since 2011.  That’s the just the crime rate.  It doesn’t count suicides or accidents.  Reported accidents accounted for nearly 2,000 incidents nationally last year. In April, one of those accidents injured two people right on the same floor of the same building as the pediatric office where I take Baba.  Because, apparently, responsible gun ownership means bringing your gun into the same building as a pediatrician’s office.  In talking to gun owners, I’ve heard a lot more stories about accidental discharges that weren’t reported.  Accidental, that is, if you get over the intentionality of having a gun in your hands in the first place.

Forgive me if that sounds bitter.  I am bitter.  I am bitter because I’ve been watching people shrug their shoulders at gun violence for my entire life, as if it is some kind of natural force that we can do nothing about.  It is not a hurricane or cancer, which, as it happens, are problems that we spend millions of dollars each year to address.  It is a problem entirely of our own making.

And the worst part, of course, is that our Congress has enacted legislation to prohibit gun violence from even being studied.  I laugh when I hear people talk about Hilary Clinton’s terrible complicity and corruption in giving speeches to Goldman Sachs, because that seems so trivial compared to such an outrageous law.  Why aren’t we marching in the street and screaming about the incredible pull the NRA has on our politicians? It is literally killing our kids.

I am not a gun owner, nor will I ever allow guns to come into my home.  You can undoubtedly tell me a million ways in which my understanding about guns is wrong.  I know this, because I’ve been talking to gun owners endlessly to try to come up with some sort of meaningful change that would actually work.  But without the ability to even study the problem, we are all making wild guesses at to what would actually help.  Ban assault rifles?  Sure.  It seems like a reasonable step.  Limit the number of bullets you can put in it at a time to ten?  Sure.  That would give the victims of mass shootings a greater opportunity to overpower their attacker.  It just doesn’t address the bigger problem, where over 31,000 Americans are shot in an average year.   A national database for background checks would have saved the eight lives in Charleston.  National gun laws, rather than the regional hodge-podge that makes the stricter laws completely useless would also be a great step.  D.C. has a handgun ban, after all, which means nothing when you can drive 10 miles in any direction and legally purchase one, then drive it right back over the border and into your home.

Even just instituting licensing and training, like we do with driving, would be a huge step in the right direction.  And that’s something that most of the gun owners that I’ve spoken to can get completely behind.  I know that I live in a democracy, and that compromise is the name of the game.  That has to come from both sides.  We seem to be stuck on the first step, which as any addict could tell you is recognizing that we even have a problem.  When you start looking at how we compare to other countries, I don’t see how you can possibly deny it.

And maybe, when we’ve actually managed to get fewer guns on our streets, NYPD recruitment posters won’t have to look like this one any more:

 

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I passed 19 guns on my commute this morning. The NYPD had the biggest ones…just in case that’s your thing.  (If you don’t recognize the location, that’s Grand Central Station that they’re posing in with their guns and their terribly fashionable pants.)

 

There’s just got to be a better way than this. Doesn’t there?

It seems that we may never know, as the Senate voted down four proposed reforms just last night.

Useful Links

 

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In Another Life by Julie Christine Johnson

InAnotherLifeWhat happens when love lingers long after death?  This is what Julie Christine Johnson asks us in her debut novel In Another Life, which is a genre-bending tale set in the Languedoc region of southern France that explores the many varieties of love that we encounter during our lives.  Johnson combines a contemporary love story with a dramatic retelling of one of the darker periods of Christian history, when the 14th century Catholic Church launched the Albigensian Crusade to wipe out the Cathars.  Never heard of the Cathars?  Neither had I, which was a fascinating aspect of the novel.

The Languedoc region was the home of the Cathar faith, a medieval gnostic Christian sect that incorporated reincarnation into Christian doctrine.  Johnson centers the medieval events of the novel on the assassination of of the Archdeacon Pierre de Castelnau, a 13th century ecclesiastic whose death launched the crusade.  But those are just the facts that we’re handed down from history.  Johnson guides us through the last years of the Cather resistance by introducing us to Lia Carrer, a modern day graduate student who is writing her doctoral thesis on the Cathar faith.

Newly widowed, Lia Carrier returns to the Languedoc, where her closest friend, Rose, has settled as the wife of a successful wine maker.  Wounded and still grieving the seemingly accidental death of her husband Gabriel, Lia moves into Rose’s guest house and returns to work on her doctoral thesis.

On her first night in France, Lia is startled by the sight of a man at her window, who disappears by the next flash of lightning.  He’s quickly replaced by a Bonelli’s eagle, a bird so rare as to be facing extinction.  It happens so fast that Lia isn’t entirely certain what she’s seen.

She backed away from the glass with a curse of surprise but stopped as something white flashed just beyond the window. In the space between heartbeats, she saw the face of a man. Moonlight revealed fierce dark eyes and the etched planes of cheekbones. A seeping black streak marred the left side of his face, running from his temple down his cheek to the corner of his mouth. The palm of a hand came into view, reaching toward her. Her own hands flew up and smacked the glass as adrenaline, warm and electric, seared the weariness from her bones.

It should not — and does not — surprise the reader when Lia recognizes that face at her window as Rose’s new neighbor Raoul d’Aran, who has quite a few secrets of his own.  Woven into the events unfolding in the 21st century are scenes from the 13th, where we learn of Raoul’s history as a winemaker, husband, father and leader of the last Cathar rebellion.  As the plot quickly moves forward, Lia begins to see, impossibly, how the deaths of her husband and of the 13th century Archdeacon might just be intertwined.

Although the intrigues of medieval Church history might seem like a hard sell for a modern audience, Johnson brings enough of the personal into the 13th century events to make them relevant and alive.  It is, above all, love that moves the story forward and a shared grief that draws Lia to Raoul.

A gust of cold air pulled at her hair like the fingers of a ghost, tossing it across her face. Lia tucked the loose strands into her coat collar. “Your wife’s name was Paloma,” she said. Raoul winced, as though the sound of her name caused him physical pain. “What were your children’s names?”
“Bertran was my son,” he replied. “Aicelina was my daughter.”
His simple declaration broke her heart. There is no other way to say your loved ones are gone but was and were. “Those are old Occitan names.”
“My wife was from Languedoc, like your family.”
“Do you have family in Languedoc still?”
“No. There’s no one left.” His answer was a door clicking shut. Quiet, but final.

One of the best qualities of the novel is Johnson’s love of France, which comes through in the vividly depicted setting.  Drawing on her background as a wine buyer and frequent traveller, Johnson fills the novel with delightful sensory details that take the reader away.  Why not indulge in some of the delights of French wine country?

Lia walked into the covered pavilion of the marché. Fish caught before dawn released aromas of the sea that mingled with the scent of vanilla-sweet crepe batter on a hot griddle and the sultry whiff of cumin and cardamom as spice merchants opened their bags. A tiny patisserie stood tucked between the long, refrigerated cases of a cheese-monger and a vendor of cured meats. The shop specialized in the pastries of Catalunya, the territory just across the Spanish border that shared so much of Languedoc’s history and culture, and Lia made her last purchases there.

Delicious.  Don’t you want to go to France?  Isn’t this why we read?

Johnson’s writing is rich and the story line interesting and adventurous, filled with just enough of the mysticism between past and present to keep the pages turning.  Lia’s love and appreciation of the finer things in life are a delightful escape from the humdrum, but the real reward of the novel is discovering how the Cathar story really ends.  In Another Life brings a relatively unknown period of history to life by filling it with memorable characters and a love of the Languedoc region that will make you want to book a flight immediately.

  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
  • Publish Date: February 2, 2016
  • Paperback: 368 pages

 


Genre: contemporary, fiction, historical fiction, women's fiction
Subjects: christianity, france, grief, love, medieval, religion
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A Home Away From Home

home sweet homeSelling your house is a strange business.  We’ve had our house on the market for the better part of a month now.  Another way of phrasing that is that we’ve had our home on the Internet, where strangers get to casually thumb through pictures and judge our furnishings taste.  Nearly every day, people that I don’t know have walked into my bedroom, taking a look at some of the most personal details of my life.  For the first two weeks, before we saw any offers, I have to admit that this idea of judgement was laying heavily on me.  I am not generally a very self-conscious person, but day after day of knowing that my house was not good enough for the many people that walked through it left me feeling strangely vulnerable.

That’s emotion for you.  We’ve been going to open houses, so I know well how the psychology of a buyer goes.  We have yet to see  a house that has really excited us, for some pretty arbitrary reasons, so it’s hardly surprising that other people would feel the same about ours, is it?

We are in a buyer’s market, as well, so I know that my strange little house, with its unique architecture and zoning, isn’t going to be for everyone.  We’re in a semi-detatched, which means that we’re one side of a duplex.  It’s like a townhouse, but not when it comes to appraisals.  And that’s going to make the next week or so really interesting.

We’ve had a decent offer.  It should give us just enough money from the sale to find a house with most of the things that we’re looking for.  There are no guarantees, of course.  An offer is not a sale.  Our realtor is currently negotiating with the buyer to see if we can’t inch up the purchase price.  They could walk away.  Since there are no comparable sales, the appraisal could come back with a weird enough number that the buyer’s mortgage falls through.  Still, we’ve gotten hopeful enough that we’ve started the motions towards a new mortgage.  I’ve been looking at houses for sale for so long that I actually got bored of it, but now I’m trying to convince myself to start doing my research again.

Long Island is insanely expensive, so we’ll undoubtedly have to make  compromises.  We’re not afraid of renovations, but I have to admit that there’s a part of me that is mourning the idea of leaving my renovated and finished house and starting all over with another fixer-upper.  Our home, at this point, is perfectly customized for us.  Who wants to start that over?

I keep coming back to this image that I had as a girl of what my life would look like when I had it all figured out.  It’s just flashes — a house with a waterfront view, where waves break against a rocky cliff.  My legs, in grey leggings, underneath an oversized blue sweater.  A desk facing the window, where I would spend my days quietly writing.

In none of those images were there other people or houses.  I longed for space in the way that only a lifetime apartment dweller can.  To have a home where you don’t hear the arguments of your neighbors, imposing on your solitude?

What bliss.

Now the real estate market is down, which will help us in buying, but certainly isn’t going to net us the hundreds of thousands in profit that people enjoyed during the real estate bubble.  And, even though it is a buyer’s market, I see house after house where it’s clear that the sellers still are thinking in terms of housing bubble prices.  We’re trying to be more realistic in the hopes of selling reasonably quickly, which does seem to be working.  Still, it’s depressing to look at the top of our rather generous price range and see 70s fabulous houses on tiny lots, with neighboring houses clustered all around.  That mirrored wall in the bathroom is retro, right?  Who doesn’t want to watch themselves…well…

Obviously I will not get that wood-floored ocean-facing desk of my dreams.  I certainly won’t get that isolated house on a cliff, where I can ignore the world around me, while watching the most peaceful part of nature.  And why should I?  Wouldn’t it be selfish to hog such a view?  But I can’t help but dream of a room of my own, a space where my desk will look at something more beautiful than a basement wall.  We have to be in the New York area for now, because our careers need it.  But it won’t always be this way.  There will be a time when I can step away and find a little town where I can have my house on a hill, where I can replace my crowded train commute with a walk to the garden.

In the meantime, we’ve just booked a quick trip to Ireland to celebrate a family wedding.  Although I really wanted to go, I initially found the idea overwhelming, because there were things to plan and sort and figure out.  Then I found an apartment in Malahide, which is a quiet suburb of Dublin that’s right on the coast.  We’ve rented it, because it is near friends that we have not spent enough time near in years.  Today I found that I could think of anything but getting to it and listening to the quiet inside it.  Our house will come and go as it will, but one thing that I can count on is that I’ll be walking along the shore in Ireland in just three weeks time.  I can’t wait.

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Human Moments, No. 8

The moment is right.  The days of slow percolation are over,  as the months of procrastination disguised as thinking have finally come to a close.  The notebook with the rapidly jotted notes is taken from the commuter bag and consulted, with a final nod of satisfaction at the contents.

The writer has an hour, a simple hour before her train pulls into the terminal, before she has to turn into someone else for an entire work day.  She competes for a seat by the window, in a carriage with few people in it, in the hopes that no one will talk to her.  The train whishes-whishes-whishes as it speeds along the miles, and she focuses, thinking about the plots and the scenes and the characters that she’s imagined for weeks prior to this final moment.

At last, she begins.  She opens her computer and clicks open the program that she’ll spend the next year working with, gnashing her teeth at, sweating blood on.  It pops up a dialogue box.

“File name?” it asks.

“Crap,” she mutters.  The entire process grinds to a halt, while precious minutes tick by.

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