March 6, 2012

Unpacking My Baggage Library

One of the big life lessons I've learned in recent years is that there's a place for compromise, but you have to protect that which keeps you sane.

For one thing, I learned that when house hunting, he who throws into the pot gets a vote on the house specs.

My mother, who gave me the down payment on Castle Secondmost, had no firm dealbreakers.  Though as cat owners, we both had a preference for a vestibule so that we could follow the wise example of the zoo and implement a two-door system.

All I wanted--really wanted--was a small yard and a full-size bathtub.  After a decade using my old apartment's cramped facilities, I found myself anticipating conferences and vacations largely because I would get to take a bath instead of a shower for a few days.  Bliss.  Worth even an airplane ride.

My ex, whose financial contribution to the purchase of the house came in the form of vaguely talking about selling some of his rarer Magic cards, absolutely insisted upon two bathrooms.  (He's a very nice man, really, just not what you might call a "planner.")

Now, as I have written before, finding a house with conventional bathroom facilities in the affordable parts of the East End is somewhat like finding a moderate Republican in office.  It happens, just very rarely.

So I passed up every single-john real estate listing.  Some of them were suitable in every way, other than having one bathroom, and gosh knows I couldn't afford a major construction project like installing a brand-new one.  One completely rebuilt roof later--rebuilt after a leak that sprung first in the second floor bathroom, natch--I shake my head at the memory of that naive, solvent young woman.  I do that a lot as I'm standing in my shower, which is attached to an even more ludicrously tiny tub than resided in the apartment.  I would do it while standing in my yard, except I have a small concrete pad just about big enough for a Weber grill and a picnic table, if you aren't too picky about having chairs around it.

Yes, thirtyish Me, I wish I could warn you.  Paneling covers many sins.  All that glitters is sometimes duct tape.  Honey, on so many levels....  you should have followed your gut and your heart, and sooner.

Well, to be fair, there was one more thing I wanted in a house.  A library.  That, I got.

Oh, it took absolutely forever to unpack.  You can imagine.  After a nonstop crush of home repairs and the small matter of my career going in wildly unanticipated directions, not to mention cleaning up the detritus of said obviously doomed relationship...  well.  Can't honestly say I've been in a big personal organizational mode.

Mom rode to the rescue.  She wrangled with what had become the de facto storage room; she liberated our beloved bound friends.  (Books, I mean.  Don't get the wrong idea.  Though I looked at one Bloomfield house with mirrored walls that I still have to wonder about.)

The shelves are arranged and leveled; the books are organized according to category.  And when I look at those shelves, packed with memories--good Lord I don't even buy everything I read, how can there possibly be this many?; when I think of something I would like to read and can find it rather than realize it's hopelessly buried in one of dozens of cardboard boxes, it all seems pretty bearable.  I am not home unless I have my books.  They made me, in many ways.

There's a marvelous and famousish Walter Benjamin essay called "Unpacking My Library."  If you're a reader at all, do yourself a favor and track it down; you'll recognize a brother.  I must ask you to join me in the disorder of crates that have been wrenched open, the air saturated with the dust of wood, the floor covered with torn paper, to join me among piles of volumes that are seeing daylight again after two years of darkness, so that you may be ready to share with me a bit of the mood--it is certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation...  really, go find it.  I'll wait.

I look at this house as a monument to some of my worst choices; I see it through because that's what you do with life's wrong turns.  Correct as you can and persevere.  My library is a monument, too; a monument to the clear and pressing need to take time to read, to think, to listen to yourself.  The finest instruments of measurement and navigation need regular calibration; such flighty and complicated bits of equipment as human beings just haven't a chance to land safely without it.