Tuesday, March 21, 2006

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You made that house at 15?? You were destined for crafting greatness, its so wonderful. Perfect. perfectly wonderful.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Shell said...

I know exactly what you mean! Our house stands with a mishmash of good and bad, half painted skirting boards, a toilet that wobbles every time you sit on it, water stains on the loungeroom roof, ugly blue laminate benchtops and a yard that requires major attention. You think I could be bothered with any of that? Not really, no. I'd rather read craft blogs and make animals out of thrifted fabric. =)

1:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh! I love this entry... and I love your 15 years of age handcrafts... what a wonderful little stitched up house. Who wouldn't want to live there. Thanks also for swinging by my blog and leaving the handy link... very thoughtful of you. take care, enjoy the remainder of your Wednesday & I look forward to reading much more... cheers, g

3:00 PM  
Blogger stephanie said...

As a genre, what amazes me most about craft blogs is how overwhelmingly supportive and positive and peppy they are. Everyone is just rallying around, cheering everyone else on. I don't know how to put this in terms of narrative conventions. Maybe it's a bit like women's fiction that relies heavily on the "sisterhood" concept or maybe the "housewife freed from the confines of her domestic life through art". I don't know; I don't read that kind of stuff. I do know that, while it is an incredibly kind community, when someone attempts to look at things a bit more critically, it is often met with silence. There is an incredible amount of inspiration to be found in craft blogs, but I think people are looking for comfort and safety too.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Christy said...

As a child, I too toured model homes. I'd forgotten this until I read your post, but now I clearly remember the smell of brand-new carpet, the perfectly arranged child's room, bed piled high with new, unloved dolls, the immaculate front lawn. What state was I living in at the time? I couldn't tell you. The state of displacement, I guess! That rootless state inhabited by military families for a month or two before they settle into a new neighborhood.

This flashback leaves me with a lost, unsettled feeling. I expect that will go away in half an hour, or with a good cup of tea or a call to my mother. But thanks for the memory; I'm glad it's back.

9:50 AM  

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