Saturday, July 7, 2012

Well Grounded

How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you're carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life... you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV... the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home... I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office... and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.
                                                                                    Ryan Bigham “Up in the Air.”

After tearing up my third wall-to-wall carpet in the past year, and having the callouses, broken fingernails and lower back pain  to prove it, I needed candy.  Eye candy that is.  And what a better way to get it than a good George Clooney movie.  After downing my Naprosyn, putting up my feet and having a dog or two lie down on the couch with me,  I watched "Up in the Air". 

It’s a wonderful film about Ryan Bigham, a traveling “corporate downsizer," a person who is hired to fire people. He  lives out of his suitcase, traveling from coast to coast 270 days a year until a young recent college grad devises a way of performing the same horrendous task through videoconferencing. He is "grounded" as a result, discovering, for the first time, love for a similarly well-traveled woman and a connection to his family.

Yikes, we are our houses.

Not homes in the spiritual sense, but the physical things we live in and with.  The four walls, or in Mr. Bigham's  case, the lack thereof. I look around my own house, now without horrendous  pet ravaged wall-to-wall carpeting in the former basement office that will soon  “finally” be a media room.  It's a mess with boxes of things accumulated throughout the years:  my collection of wrought iron Snead bookends, my civil war arsenal (a legacy of my one part gambler one part history buff uncle), tons of photo albums, books ranging from out-of-date medical texts to a signed James Joyce novel, my homemade curtains, my self-refinished cabinet and a few pets just to make life even  more unpredictable.  They are all me.  Things I hold dear and will most likely outlive me. I laugh at these things sometimes.  Will my daughters keep everything as some legacy to their pack-rat mother?  How about grandchildren? Great grandchildren? Will they laugh, too, at my "Cheezus" book ( a book that takes a humorous look at Jesus images in ordinary objects) like I did when my daughter bought it for me?

I remember a long time ago, interviewing for a medical practice in the suburbs of Chicago.  I was impressed with the woman who founded the practice.  We had similar practice styles and personalities right down to our mates.   We talked for a great deal about what we wanted out of our jobs and our lives and negotiations went well.  For some reason that escapes me now, she asked me to stop by her house to pick up the final contract.  I was so glad I did.  The McMansion was lovely with a lovely manicured lawn and even a lovely wrought iron fence with a lovely intercom to announce a lovely visitor.  The house was lovely, too, of course, in a vacuous The Way We Were, "Your girl is lovely, Hubbell" kind-of way.  The nearly forty foot entry hall was a barn and I distinctly remember the odd echo as I was greeted.  Her husband never even came downstairs to see who had entered the home.  Something was wrong, I wasn't comfortable, it was too lovely, impersonal, and despite the great salary and welcoming office staff, I didn't join the practice.

In two short years she was single again and like so many physicians now, sold her practice to the local hospital.

I only partially heeded her unspoken domestic warnings.  

I am in transition now.  My house is a shambles.  My basement resembles a snow fort with so many white boxes piled up you almost have to tunnel through. If I were five, I would have a ball.  But at fifty, I just envision the bottles of Naprosyn and the heating pad I will inevitably have to use moving everything to the garage. No need to be doing those bicep curls for awhile.  The garage will be the snow fort soon so the new flooring can be installed.

In what has taken me a while others would have done long ago, but I "finally” gathered up the strength to tear up that carpet, move those boxes into safekeeping and put down new flooring.  New paint, a mix of old and new furniture will be next, then we will have our media room.  Finally.  My media room will definitely have its own message.

Afterall, my vintage “fifties” split-level is worth it. The foundation is solid. It is well-grounded. In real estate jargon, it has good “bones.” It needs a bit of renovation, retooling and certainly updating but it's still certified.  It's not a brand new house nor one that needs condemning. Its decorations reflect a mix of ethnicities.  It has good and often quirky qualities:  a roof that retains ice but melts with the slightest of sunshine,  the  black and white exterior that may have more than fifty shades of gray within, its sometimes dark corners but often bright and open rooms for the just the right guests, and its wonderful backyard which has always been open to many new gardening possibilities.

Good God, I have literally turned myself into a metaphor.

This writing stuff has gone to my....attic?

I’ll never fully be a swan nor a shark.  Unlike Ryan Bigham,  I don’t mind the weight of  backpacks whether they have mortgages or not.  Many have better character  loaded down with “Cheezus” books, a dog or two on the couch, screaming girls in the background, new flooring and many good, but not necessarily signed novels scattered about.

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like my home. 

I think I'll keep her. 

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