In the fall of 2006, Mark and I bought a very old house in a fairly small town outside of Houston. We loved the dormer windows and the assymetrical angles, and how the roof slanted below the trees. We loved the way it sounded in the rain and how the water gathered in big drops on the elephant ears outside. We loved that the house was 1 1/2 stories with a neat attic-turned-loft up top, and that the central part of the house was built out of cypress. And as someone writing a novel set in a Gothic town off the Texas Gulf coast, I really loved the rumor that the house was made out of the washed up timber from wrecked ships in the 1900 Galveston hurricane.

"Great," I thought, "I'll get to live inside my novel. I'll get to live with all my ghosts."

And all that was fine (minus the ghosts, darn it) until we decided during the summer of 2009 to fix it up. Even that wasn't so bad at first. We just wanted to change the ugly mint green color of the house to something a bit more subtle, and definitely not trim it with mango yellow! An external paint job, some reconstruction of the porch, and a little replacing of the rotten wood. Right?

Not so much. I'll never forget the day the contractors pulled off a couple of rotten boards to expose, well--nothing on the inside. I happened to be at home writing and saw sunlight where I really shouldn't be seeing sunlight, and then oops! There it was, my neighbor's face peering right there through what used to be my bathroom wall. "We have a problem," he said. "No shit," I said.

That was July of 2009, and since then, before the house could even be repainted, we've had to reinstall dry wall, replace rotten beams, add nonexistent insulation, and basically reconstruct whole parts of the house from the ground up. We now have a completely new porch, new front wall, new stoops, new almost everything. And finally, this past week, when we could afford to pay the contractors to finish the job, they got up to our favorite dormer window to finish the dark green trim.

Ironically, last week I had a banner week on my novel too, and got more done on the revision than in the several weeks, maybe even months prior. I finally get the structure of my story now; I finally get what I need to do to finish this thing up.

And that's the thing about houses and novels, and really anything that's big enough to dwell in. If the structure's flawed, it doesn't really matter what you do with the rest, because the whole thing's doomed to failure. If you plan to keep living there, you have to go back to the beginning. You have to rebuild and reconstruct.

Now I'm finally beginning to get excited again, about both the house and the novel. And if nothing else, I still love those dormer windows, and those certain slants of light.


Anonymous said…
So interesting that you write about houses and novels. I've been thinking about my life in a similar way. So many assumptions and beliefs that were central pillars of my thinking as a child, have gradually crumbled and shown themselves to be false... for a while I was definitely in the falling-apart stage, not knowing what to believe or what to do next.

Now I am in the process of rebuilding and testing every beam to see if it's sound. But it sure is a lot of work, and I miss the old shack sometimes, even if it was fatally flawed.


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