It’s 6 a.m., and I’m in my writing spot, a cup of coffee by my side, my terrier mix circling next to me, trying to find just the right position to settle into for the long haul. My laptop is on my lap, but I haven’t opened the file still called “idea" although it's hovering at 50,000 words, as I’ve done every morning for months.
Instead, I’ve opened this one. A blank slate. And I’m typing this, whatever it is.
I both hate that my mind does this—insists on a divergent path from the one she and I have agreed upon—and have learned to respect it. This is my mind saying, Nope! There's something else you have to do first.
The trouble is that at this early moment, I don’t know what it is.
Or rather, it’s so many things, they’re warring inside me, like a classroom of insistent hands raised high: pick me!
Yesterday, after years of planning and some financial scrambling over the summer to make it happen, the kitchen remodel began. Approximately six feet from where I’m sitting, a wall of painter’s plastic is taped, floor to ceiling. Beyond it, where for eighteen years has been a beige and blue linoleum with a square repeating pattern, are bare boards, laid on the diagonal. Under that--my rat terrier and I both peered into the largest of the knotholes, inspecting--is the crawlspace beneath my house. It's an area that my twin fears (of the dark, and of tight spaces) keep me from thinking too much about.
There are other changes, too--the wall separating the kitchen from the dining room is down to studs, nothing but a spindly wooden skeleton from which dangles electrical cords and a disembodied light switch. Yesterday, picking my way carefully across the bare boards to the laundry in our garage, I was surprised to find the switch hanging there, even though that was where I’d flicked it on every morning for eighteen years. Things look different when the context changes. I can already hear myself saying, this was where the gas line used to be. There was a wall here, can you believe it? And the tile: lime green with a red stripe!
The physical changes are the most obvious, because remodeling a kitchen while you (and your husband, and two confused terriers) are living in the house means that everything else has moved too--the refrigerator is outside, plugged in via a long and janky extension cord. The microwave and a temporary pantry have been set up in what no longer looks like a music room but an odd assemblage of furniture--dining table, chairs, ironing board, printer, crockpot, electric kettle. In a Facebook post the other day, I called it sub-glamping, although maybe “camping inside our own house” is still a better, if less elegant, descriptor.
The remodel is no doubt why I haven’t slept well in a week, worried about what they would find in the walls, under that scraped-up linoleum. (Just a few weeks ago, our neighbor, probably intending to be helpful, told us about the expensive and time-consuming process of her asbestos removal.)
But as sometimes happens, I feel all the areas of my life converging at once. (I was, years and years ago, an English major, and seeing symbolism everywhere is how we roll.) The kitchen remodel--tear it down, build it back up--feels like a symbol of other things, ones I’m not even able to name right now. I’ve been cycling between an anxiety that wakes me with a pounding heart and a bone-deep exhaustion that settles in after things that shouldn’t be that exhausting--two back-to-back classes, a long wait in line at the grocery store.
Maybe tearing down the walls isn’t the best thing for you right now, Paula.
But then again, maybe it is.
Paula Treick DeBoard