Saturday, May 18, 2019

House Showing with a Dog and Cat

I thought it was hard with two little kids. The call from the realtor that potential buyers are on the way, leading to the tear through the house with a laundry basket, scooping up clutter--toys, the day's mail, a dusty dropped pacifier-- dumping all of that in the car, plus the kids, then a final run through the house, switching on lights, hitting every surface with a dust cloth, hiding the laundry.

We'd hang out in the park those days.

Or if it was raining, a trip to a McDonalds playland. Something fun to de-stress after what I'd just put everyone through. My son still had psychological scars from earlier house-showings. Back when I was pregnant with his sister and wasn't supposed to pick up heavy things (him) or bend over too much, I sent him scurrying around with the laundry basket. Basically lied to his darling three-year-old face that if he didn't clean them up, his toys would be taken by the Strangers Who Wanted to Buy Our House.

Today I'm on my own with the laundry basket, the cat moaning in her carrier, the dog anxiously panting a step behind me as I hide the kitty litter in the garage, scoop up her chew toys, Windex smudges off the floor.

The dog doesn't need me to tell her that Strangers are coming. She can smell them.

Speaking of smells, according to our realtor, you want your house to smell good. Baked cookies or bread? Great idea. A cutting from the lilac bush in the front yard? Also, great. But not both! We don't want competing smells. Otherwise the buyers will think you are trying to cover something up.

There's a delicate balance in the showing of a house. Shed all clutter and evidence that humans actually live here (shampoo in the shower, family pictures), but you don't want the place to be completely empty or people will have a hard time envisioning themselves in it.

It's all about the first impression. Apparently, buyers make up their minds in the first few seconds of stepping into a house. I believe this. Over the past few weeks I have been walking into strangers' houses and making up my mind fast.

It's driving my husband crazy.

Example:

Husband (stepping inside): This is nice--

Me (stepping back outside): NO!

In one case I wouldn't even let him stop the car. A million years ago our first realtor told us that before you make an offer on a house, you should always stand at the front door and take a look at the house across the street. That's the view you're going to see every day.

And what was across the street that made me want to keep driving? Let's just say that whoever lives there thinks it's a cool idea to hang a picture-window-sized-poster with one name on it. (hint: it starts with a T and ends with a p)

Have I mentioned that we have lovely neighbors across the street from our present house?

We also have really nice neighbors next door. So nice, in fact, that they have invited me to hang out at their house with the dog and cat while strangers sniff our home and make split second decisions about its value.

The cat moans. The dog groans.


After the strangers leave, I gather everyone up and we head home.




Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Grass in the Garden

For ten years I yanked it out by the roots. Now, I am letting it grow.

The raised beds are gone, the paths lining them grassed over too. The place where the magical green beans rose up, the tendrils twirling around my wrist whenever I walked past. The purple cabbages blooming in the corners. The neat rows of lettuce. The patch of borage the bees loved.

But that will come back. Already I spy the telltale leaves poking up here and there. We can't erase all trace of ourselves. 

The previous owners left behind a cluster of seashells by the front porch, lines of dried sage leaves on the door ledges of the bedrooms. I wrote the sage into a book it was so strange. 

We found an empty suitcase in the attic. Flower bulbs hidden in the back flower beds choked by weeds. The house where I grew up had writing on the wall. Maureen was here. I left behind a bolted lock on my bedroom door. 

House-hunting over the weekend we walked through a backyard where someone had buried a pet, a flat rock on the mulch the only reminder. And the ancient house downtown with the grapevines growing out back. The original vine came from Hungary, the realtor told us. The old woman who lived here made communion wine for her church out of the grapes.

Don't worry, he said, those vines will be easy to yank out, grow some nice grass. 

That house needed a good hundred thousand dollars worth of repairs. New electrical wiring. Probably loaded with asbestos, lead and who knows what else, but here I am thinking, Could we make it work,

tend to the grapevines, keep out the grass?




Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Top Ten Reasons I Love Working at the Library

10. Books! -- to shelve and take off shelves, to check in and check out, to organize and arrange, never mind sneaking a peek at the front flap or scanning the back, and all of those chats with patrons, did you like this one? What's your favorite by this author? Ooh! I have been meaning to read this, do you recommend it?

9. We also have dvds and cds and magazines and newspapers, and then there's the array of digital resources. Did you know that with your library card, from the comfort of your own home, you can stream a movie, flip through a magazine, download a song or a book?

Yeah, me neither, until I started working at the library. (For reference purposes, see: Kanopy, Flipster, Hoopla, and Libby.)

8. But wait, how much does a library card cost? (This is an actual question I got the other day when I was working at the desk.)

The answer: It's free!

7. And speaking of library cards, this is one of my favorite things to do at the library. Give someone a library card. To the woman above who had apparently never been inside a library in her life. To the man from Brazil who had just moved here and proudly showed me his passport and utility bill with his address. To the four year old who wanted to check out her own books. To the two boys who were helping their non-English-speaking mom apply for her own card. I love that moment when I hand them their new card and the little brochure that goes with it and say, Welcome to the library!

6. This cool packing-up of books we have to do. (The library where I work is part of a consortium with a bunch of other libraries and all of the libraries work together to ship books out to each other, so every day we are fitting and stacking and organizing bins in this way that I totally get a charge out of.) I think because it reminds me of playing Tetris.

5. Questions. These are like puzzles and even the patrons asking the questions sometimes know that it might be hard to find the answer. For example: What's that book that was mentioned on NPR a few weeks ago or a few months ago and had something to do with a dog and a hurricane?

Or

Did I read this book? (Fun fact: we can't actually answer that question because there's no way to see a patron's book-checking-out history. Which is a good thing, actually, because, the Bill of Rights.

4. Book Recs. I LOVE THESE! Usually it's a parent looking for a read-alike to a child's favorite book or a person waiting on a sequel and needing something else to read in the meantime. Sometimes it's just a lonely person who you can tell just

3. wants to talk, and guess what? They have come to the right person at the right place for that!

2. Because we are Open to All. See:



Those are the words etched in stone over the entrance to the main library downtown since 1907.

1. That day I was working in the Youth Services section and noticed the quiet little girl sitting by herself while her father was on his phone and I asked her if she wanted to do our famous Very Hungry Caterpillar Scavenger Hunt and she nodded, and I gave her the clipboard and she marched off quietly searching, and then I forgot about her for a while, and then she came back after finding all of the hidden items and had an extremely difficult time choosing a prize from our prize box, needing to touch every single item at least twice before making her final decision,

and that was only after I told her that if she came back another time, she could do the scavenger hunt again and pick out another prize.

A few days later when I was working upstairs, the same little girl marched over to the desk and held up her prize and spoke to me for the first time, smiling when she said:

"I came back."


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Finishing my book and finishing my book and finishing my book and finishing

my book.

This one's been a tough one to finish and I don't know why I am surprised. It was a tough one to start. A tough one to keep writing. Tough to finish the first draft. And the second draft. And now this third draft...

The letter from my agent, the one where she wrote me six single-spaced pages of notes that I might want to consider, that was tough to read. And tougher to digest. I started working part-time at a bookstore during the writing of this book. And it was tough to adapt to a new writing schedule. I found a library job in the morning and taught myself to work in the afternoons. I found a library job in the afternoon and now I am teaching myself to write in the mornings.

There are a million reasons every day for me to not sit down to work. The dog wants to be walked. The house wants to be painted. My daughter wants to graduate from college. Meanwhile the book spins around inside my head wanting to be written.

I started this draft last summer. Now it's almost May. Outside my garden's been bulldozed in preparation for our move. It was too big, too overwhelming, I thought, for a potential buyer to want to mess with.

Once, when the kids were younger and I hadn't yet been published and was suffering from an almost insane level of desperation and desire, writing feverishly book after book after book, submitting and collecting rejections, pinballing between absurd confidence that one of these damn stories would eventually sell and despair. That was when I came the closest I'd ever come to quitting.

It lasted a week and then I was back at it.

I have one chapter left to write.

(And okay, a few earlier scenes to fiddle with.) Then I'll send it off to my critique partner to get her thoughts. Another revision before sending it off to my agent. In all likelihood there will be a new single-spaced letter of notes I'll want to consider.

I will consider them.

New grass is coming up in the place where I once had lettuce. Along the edge a defiant asparagus stalk pokes out to tease me.


When I'm finally finished, I already know the story I'll work on next.




Monday, April 22, 2019

Painting over cracks

this weekend, after a week of workmen tromping through the house, repairing drywall and measuring for new carpet, freaking out the dog.

She's not too thrilled about the painting either. So much disruption, moving around the furniture, the loud vacuum. Also, she's wary of the stepladder. I climb it with my paint brush, painting the same walls I painted twelve years ago when we first moved into this house. You really get to know a house, make it your own, when you paint it,

that close examination of the baseboards, the crawling around on the floors and reaching toward the ceilings. The kids were in school back then, jumping into the middle of a school year in a town where there aren't many new kids.

I'm listening to podcasts while I paint. Fresh Air interviews. A man who wrote a book about climate change and how our window to save the planet is closing. The emotional lives of primates, how chimpanzees have masculine societies and bonobos are led by females. We don't know what to make of that, says the interviewee, so scientists tend to focus more on chimpanzees.

There's a heap of dust behind our bed when my husband and I move it away from the wall. And ha! Now I know where all of my missing bookmarks have fallen, night after night, reading in bed. Our daughter's room has three layers of paint. The purple color I originally painted it--it was the first room I worked on-- trying to make her feel at home in our new home. A sunny day in October, her first day of school, I walked to pick her up (Walked!!! I had been so tired of the forty-minute car drives) She refused to talk to me about her day. Crawled into her bed and sobbed and what do you do to fix a pain like that, except to say,

You made it through. 

A few years later she asked me to paint her room a cheery blue. And when she went off to college, I turned it into my office, painted the walls what is called Sand 3, the same color I used in the house we lived in before this one. Like the iris bulbs from the previous garden replanted here, the lovely sand paint will move with us again.

This time I need my reading glasses to do the painstaking work around the trim. I listen to an interview about the Spanish American War. Paint the walls marred by the built-in bookcase, and did you know our government tricked the Philippines into thinking we would help them defeat the Spanish? More Filipinos died in that war than in the American Civil War.

The most tedious part of painting is the prep-work, the removal of light switch plates, the patching of nail holes left behind after taking down all of the pictures.

Only we know what hung on these walls, the graduation photos and family trips, a visit to the college my husband and I both graduated from, that time we took the kids to visit the place, the four of us smiling against a backdrop of ivy covered bricks, the children so young then. It was right before we uprooted them to move here, I think.

A podcast about the Russian hacking of our election. A discussion about what makes kids resilient. We'll be back at the same college in a few week to see our daughter graduate, the four of us together again.

A quick trip before moving on to the next house with new walls to paint.


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Book boxing

Assignment:

Box up the books in my office.

The thought being that my husband can take down the built-in bookcase and I can freshen up the paint on the walls, making the room "pop" as our realtor likes to say.

I figured it would take me like, an hour to box up the books, and then I could tote the three or four boxes downstairs and stack them in the garage, a nice surprise for my husband, who's away on a weekend trip.

Flash forward three hours later and the boxes are stacked where I packed them (WAY too heavy for me to tote), on the floor in the office, which isn't exactly popping at the moment.

Also, it took seven big boxes to fit the books and I'm still not finished emptying the shelves. (note to self: Don't get side-tracked by the Marie-Kondo Does this bring me joy? question. Or I don't know. Maybe it is a good idea to ask that question. Already I'm thinking about how I am going to have to unpack these same boxes at some point in the near future. Do I really want and/or need all of these books?

And this is only one room. We have a built-in bookcase in the living room, bookcases in both of the kids' old bedrooms, a bookcase in the kitchen to hold all of my cookbooks and gardening books. Fun fact:

When I was growing up, I had only two small shelves of books.

The complete set of the original Trixie Belden series, 1 through 16, a handful of paperbacks I'd bought at Scholastic book fairs over the years back when you could buy a book for less than a dollar, one leather-bound volume (not sure where I got this) of America's Best Loved Poems, and

Linda Goodman's Love Signs.

When I was twelve years old it was my favorite book. I have no idea why, but for most of my middle school years I was obsessed with astrology, memorizing all of the signs and symbols, their respective characteristics, and the most suitable match-ups of the signs in both friendship and in love.

I mean, I'm a Cancer. It makes sense that I would want to know, what with Cancers being so sensitive and self-reflective.

Anyway, I remember reading and re-reading Linda Goodman's Love Signs, taking copious notes, building lists in a notebook of all of the people I knew and their signs, and analyzing how best to interact with them. For example, the boy I liked in middle school was a Sagittarius, a fire sign and clearly not a good match for Cancerian me (water).

Which turned out to be prophetically true (although I had to date that bozo for nine years to be completely and totally sure.)

Weirdly, Linda Goodman's Love Signs is the only book I took with me from home when I went 1250 miles away to college. I kept it on a small shelf in my dorm room, not believing in astrology anymore, but every once in a while, paging through it to look up a person's sign and see if he might be a good match, more out of habit than anything else. (Example, the boy I met senior year, a Capricorn (earth), was a much better choice for watery me, according to Linda Goodman, and I quote:

"you can see there are powerful magnetic forces pulling these two together from the start."

which also turned out to be prophetically true because reader, I married him, and now he's on his way home and I'm hefting boxes of books around in my office, thinking about how the only book I own from the first eighteen years of my life is this one,


before I slip it carefully into a box.






Sunday, March 31, 2019

What to write about when you don't know what to write about

well, there's always what's been going on during the week.

The job you quit, for example, the one where you shelved 500 books every day, a dream job for a writer and reader, the meditative routine of sorting books and finding books, the never ending circulation loop, the quiet,

and the job you started, 

at another library where you won't have to shelve much at all, but instead, do the kinds of things you thought you'd be doing in the first place. Helping patrons pick out books and doing searches through the catalog, checking in books, a conversation with a little girl about what she is reading that spirals you back for a moment to your own childhood,

and the rush back and forth between both jobs, which overlapped for a few days, the writing conference you helped plan, late nights of sorting folders and counting lunch selections and tallying up money, fielding the last minute registration questions, and then the day itself, one moment of quiet in the back of the auditorium when you remembered why

you do this. Write,

except first, you have to clean the entire house because you're putting it on the market and there might be a buyer stopping by to walk through it IN TWO DAYS, which means deep deep cleaning, digging through closets and under beds, trying not to get sidetracked by a folded note in an old sixth grade backpack, a stuffed bunny once loved, tossed on a shelf, gathering dust, 

and finally finally finally

the book you've been working on for nearly two years, the seemingly endless picking your way through scene by scene, sometimes sentence by sentence, getting stuck and somehow getting unstuck, the ever-present fear that maybe this one won't sell either, but suddenly a flash of excitement: 

You understand what it is now. 

And for today, anyway, that's all you need to keep going.