This old house
During the years in which I was eight through ten, my weekends were spent traipsing through model display homes with my parents and siblings, searching for our new house. Or rather, my parents were looking for a suitable design and a builder to trust, and the four of us were dragged along for lack of any other option. It can’t be true that the full weekend’s 48 hours was spent on this quest every week, but to hear my siblings remember it, there wasn’t one minute of the weekend when we weren’t begging for a pool (if the display home had one) or whining about carpet colour or begging our parents to let us stay behind to do our homework. Reminiscing about this period generally revolves around how put-upon we were, and how our parents desire to provide us with a comfortable home severely impacted our weekend television-watching schedule.
I complained with the best of them, I’m sure, but secretly I liked visiting display homes. I liked the array of possibilities. At ten, I was opening and closing cabinets testing their hinges, weighing up the pros and cons of veneer vs. hardwood, and lobbying for a mezzanine level. One of my more extreme ideas involved the purchase of six separate pre-fab structures: one for my parents, one for each child and one for a kitchen/dining combo. These small buildings would be arranged along a wooded path on the suburban block my parents had just bought. Needless to say, I had little input into the final design. To this day, my mother is still bothered by the fact that I dislike the carpet they chose for the formal area of the house: I disliked it at ten years old, and I dislike it now.
With all this behind me, you’d imagine (as I did) that I’d thrive as a homeowner. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Our house, a brick, single-fronted Victorian worker’s cottage, needs work. To be frank, it scares me how much work it needs, and how I imagined I’d be equipped to tackle it. I’m very handy with an Exacto knife and an A4-sized sheet of paper, but anything larger and I’m out of my depth. I’m afraid, I guess, of irreparably damaging the house. And, I admit, I’m also a little lazy.
It’s nothing for me to spend a Sunday morning knitting up a few rows while meandering through crafty blogs. Over the years, I’ve occasionally found myself reading a renovation blog, but my eyes quickly glaze over. These aren’t my people, admirable though their efforts. A sock bunny: yes. Backed-up waste line: no.
But truly, I should be spending my time over with the housebloggers. I don’t deserve to be here, discussing Danish paper cuts and Japanese short-rows when I have brickwork to tuck-point, grout to replace and a roof that needs sealing. All this became clear reading Stephen Metcalf’s analysis of the houseblog genre in the New York Times the weekend before last. In his article, Metcalf identifies the houseblog as a descendent of 18th and 19th century English house literature (in which a virtuous heroine of lowly birth finds herself married not so much to the right man as to the right house) and American fiction (house as monster, disguising the mouth of hell.) While most academic writing sends chills through me, this wonderful piece made me long for a discussion around the English Department seminar table: if genre relies on a set of comforting narrative conventions (according to Metcalf), how would we define those conventions for the crafty blog? Answers please, by next Friday, in no more than 5 pages.
Baby steps are required. Winter approaches, and I vow that this year, we’ll have curtains. I’ll spackle over the holes in the plaster. I’ll silicon-seal the roof above the leaky bathroom. In the spring, I will paint the front room. In the meantime, I’ll contemplate this embroidered house, which I made when I was fifteen, and was dreaming of a house of my own that would look surprisingly like the one I live in now.