Monthly Archives: July 2014

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I am pretty mad at some people that I don’t know. Which, I guess, is better than being mad at people that I do know. This is what people I don’t know did to our house:

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No, no—they didn’t put ugly plywood up over all our windows; we did that. However, they did smash through the window and siding to get to our tools. And possibly to get to copper, which wasn’t there anyway, because we are already doing a perfectly fine job destroying our own house, thank you very much.

The whole thing is a bummer, though it would have been worse had a wonderful neighbor not intervened. The tools they took were rescued from the pawn shop previously and I’m guessing they will end up there again. The Pawn Reaper has been hovering over our sweet little biscuit joiner and router (or whatever those tools are called, ask Kyle), determined to take them away.

But tools aren’t the worst of it. What upsets me most is the smashing into the house itself. Fundamentally, houses are wood or brick shells designed to keep us safe while we sleep. It’s never pleasant to be reminded that our protection is fragile. Also: have I mentioned renovating is hard and our house doesn’t really need more problems?

This summer wasn’t supposed to be about setbacks or failure. They are momentum killers, and we have massive projects we need to build up to. We’ve been focusing on Easy Wins in the New House; redoing closets and changing out bathroom vanities and laying flooring (see pictures of Easy Wins below). Which, while not being as enjoyable as doing the normal things that normal people do, is nothing like lying in damp dirt rebuilding a foundation.

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Small steps, with more still needed, but at least in the right direction. And then the break in at the Old House. Which is why I started thinking, “it’s like one step forward, two steps back,” because—mostly—I think in clichés. But I realized that couldn’t be right, because then you’d never get anywhere, so it had to be “two steps forward, one step back.” And then I realized I really didn’t know which phrase was correct, so I Wikipedia’d it.

It is an excellent Wikipedia entry, in that it is incredibly short, incorporates Lenin and multiple frog fables and a link to the Times of India, and is probably entirely made up. And what I learned is that both phrases are in usage, and the difference is whether you are making “arduous progress” (two steps forward, which is the original phrase, courtesy of the “Frog in a Well” fable) or “retrograde performance” (one step forward, the phrase Lenin preferred). I am choosing to believe that all of this is Arduous Progress. What can I say? I’m a crazy optimist.

Which, I think, is what urban living requires. A long time ago I read Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan, and what I remember most is his discussion of maximizing the possibility of serendipitous occurrences by living in a big city. He is not wrong. But it is also a profoundly optimistic suggestion (coming from someone who has been labeled a “renowned pessimist”) because living in a city, big or small, means maximizing all human occurrences. Some of which are wonderful. For the first time since college, I have great friends who live within walking distance. Some of which are terrible, like break-ins and graffiti on the old home you are desperate to restore. And some of which, like the “Frog in the Well” wiki article, delight me for their sheer randomness. A neighbor hands me a four-leaf clover. I find pancakes flopped in the front garden. The child who gives Godiva (who is barking madly) his ball as he leaves the playground.  In case, he says, she does want to play someday.

Or, this: the other day, a drumbeat from the park coaxes me out of my renovating routine.  I stand in the street with paint-spattered hair and watch a bridal party couple, the woman in a long blue dress and carrying a fan, dance down the aisle to the African drums. If it’s not exactly two steps measured out, it’s still a pattern I recognize, the shimmying forward and backward and forward and backward. The slow, inexorable progress.

Eventually they do make it and spin off to the side so that other couples can carve their own path down. But even if they never made it—even if they got locked in that forward-backward shuffle for who knows how long—I don’t think they’d care. They’d call it dancing.