Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Garage Band

I am writing from the garage, where I spend most of my time, because it is adjacent to the house, and because there is food here, in the garage.

I'm not going to write about the privileged woes of kitchen renovation. Instead, I thought I'd strike a less plaintive tone, and extoll over the change in perspective that living in the garage can generate.

If you're like me: human, you are a creature of habit. You have some kind of routine. For example, I used to spend most of the day in my home office, where I would work on various things, pay bills, write blogs... occasionally meander off to the kitchen or the bathroom, or the barn. In the evening, I had my favorite spot on the couch between the dogs, my feet propped up on the coffee table, a cat stretched out on my legs.

But now, I'm in the garage. The cats are in my office. I don't want them to escape, so I don't go in there until the construction guys leave, and I liberate the cats.

The animals are disoriented and upset. I have to be a pillar of strength for them, so they are with me constantly. The cats have each other, but for some reason each other doesn't work for the dogs. It's not enough. They only model and amplify each other's anxiety. There's no cuddling.

When I take my stall-bound horse out for her daily walks, I can hear the dogs wailing in the garage. They destroy the peaceful meditation of grazing, but I feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for the construction guys who have to listen to them barking. But the horse needs her walk, and there is only so much I can do.

I meant to talk about how refreshing a complete change of perspective can be...To really get out of my routine entirely and spend time somewhere unconventional....

In the garage, there is a grill, a microwave oven, a Coleman stove, a lawn mower, a generator, a motorcycle, a couch, lots of tools, shovels, even a refrigerator...Everything I need to cook and consume food, to mow the lawn, to sit, to travel....It's all here, smooshed together between unpainted panels of drywall and cement flooring partially covered with cheap area rugs.

Why are we even bothering to renovate the kitchen, when we could just rent out the entire house on Airbnb and live here, in the two-bay?

I have canceled several weeks of Blue Apron--not because I can't spend 45 minutes cooking anything I want in the garage, but because I don't enjoy washing fresh produce in the bath tub and dicing and chopping with knives I have wash, later, in the bathroom.

The garage does not inspire me to cook from scratch. I prefer to start in the middle of the process, somewhere very close to the end.

Meanwhile, since I can't go anywhere without the dogs, I find myself returning to writing tasks, which are intrinsically endless and frequently fruitless. But what else am I going to do? I can't spend the whole day on Facebook--which, by the way, along with Instagram and email, do not always give me the good feeling I crave. I find that bad feeling (not enough Likes) is more potent than the good feeling (Likes).  Or, maybe I only crave the good feeling when I'm already not feeling good.

Eventually, I remember that satisfaction is best found elsewhere, and turn toward the old reliables:  Writing brings satisfaction that feels real. Even paying bills conveys a sense of having achieved a thankless yet necessary task.

I have resumed work on a story that I started in 2005. It's still not good, but it could be good. I still think it could be good, so I return to it time and again, to see whether I still think it has potential.  I see that it does, and so I work on it, and I don't know until the next time whether it's any better for it. Twelve years later, it's still not good. But I do feel that it's getting closer.

Someone who admired my grandfather once said that his reach (my grandfather's) exceeded his grasp.  Generally speaking, that expression is not a compliment. But the admirer tried to frame it as one, saying that it was because my grandfather was so full of discipline and talent, a true Renaissance man, always pushing himself, stretching, reaching for the next challenge...that his reach exceeded his grasp.

In violin, my grandfather's reach exceeded his grasp. He was lousy at it, and never played in public. But even in moments of high defiance, my dad would never have said that his father's reach had exceeded his grasp.

It is a tricky thing, to take an established expression and turn it on its head, forcing it to mean something else. Very few people can get away with that kind of high-handed audacity with language. My grandfather's admirer did not succeed. His reach exceeded his grasp.

But that is how I sometimes feel, as a writer. Am I trying to write something beyond my reach?  Or does my talent fall short of the standard-height bar?  That is the question, and I don't mind asking it.

Some questions have to  be asked again and again. We may decide that we don't want to have more children. But a month later,  we want one more child. Maybe we want to return to school, but maybe we take a plum job instead.  Maybe we want to get married, but five years later, we wish we were not married. (Is marriage a closed question? Or does it become a question of divorce?)  Maybe we want to live on the East Coast for the rest of our life, until it becomes too expensive to stay home with the baby.

Like so many things, writing remains an open question. We all ask ourselves whether we're doing what we're meant to do. Are we leading full lives? Or have we somehow robbed ourselves of purpose?

Routines, comforting and constant as they are, must give way to new visions of how things could be better. For a while, we may install ourselves in the garage, between couch, refrigerator, and motorcycle.

Stripped of the placating influence of aesthetics (in pursuit of greater aesthetics), I find myself, like the dogs, discomfited by the unfamiliar space and loss of routine.

But unlike the dogs, I know there is more to life than routine. And though the dogs cannot imagine it, there is even more to life than me. That's the perspective part--being forced to see what life looks like without walls where there used to be walls, without the usual shape to the day and hours, the placement of couch and TV, the familiar comforts of home that had been within our reach.

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