The third thing that showed up during our big paper session was a sort of surprising source of tears for me. It's the practical details of everyday life, or PDEL for short. (For some reason I get a kick out of the acronym.) PDEL has been making me cry lately.
Like the other two topics, writing and love, I feel ashamed of the emotional impact PDEL has on me. With writing, I'm ashamed that I need a feeling of collaboration and interest in my writing from others who I respect. I feel like if I were somehow better, nobler, more authentic or responsible or disciplined, the lack of structure or deadlines wouldn't matter, and I would send forth perfect personal essays and wonderful articles and the great american novel fully formed on an ambitious timeline of my own. And my failure to do so means I'm somehow inept. Ick. With love, I am not ashamed of my longing, but I do feel a sense of shame at continuing to be alone when I don't want to be. Is everyone kind of secretly wondering what's wrong with me, as I show up to yet another wedding reception by myself? Or (worse) do they know, and they just don't want to tell me?
So too with PDEL. My self-image is as someone who's reasonably capable and independent. And I'm also not that focused or concerned about the material world, preferring to live in my own head and to think about people and relationships and plans and ideas, not stuff. But the fact is I live in a small house that's almost 100 years old, on a big lot. I drive a persnickety, high-maintenance, impractical car with 95,000 miles. I am cobbling together a living, barely, on a part-time salary and whatever I can make from writing or teaching private sailing lessons, tax refunds and windfalls, and until I start getting a lot more writing assignments it's not enough for the basic month-to-month expenses, let alone big repairs. I don't have a knack or a particular interest in home improvement or maintenance; I don't have ingenuity or bravery or pluck when it comes to stuff. And I don't have a partner or anyone else who cares about these things -- whether the garbage disposal gets fixed or the canoe gets moved or the termites or whatever they are eat away at the top of the garage door. None of the individual things is necessarily hard or expensive to fix, but the endless list of them somehow overwhelms me.
So what happens is I try to ignore things that I don't know how to fix or do, out of fear that it will cost too much or require too much help. And because I don't want to face the fact that I'm poor and worried. And that I'm alone. And that I'm bad at asking for help. But I only pretend to ignore them. Inside, I notice and I fret, and the build-up of little things drains me. And I want help tackling them, and not having it reminds me of how much I want a partner. Not because I want a workhorse, a gardener and carpenter, riding in on a white horse to save the day. I want a partner for bigger, more emotional reasons. I don't want to be rescued. But just because having someone else to hold the other end of the tape measure gives me the confidence to at least try some of these things. And until I tackle them the details taunt me, they remind me that I'm lonely and poor and, at least in this realm, kind of helpless.
Last week I tackled a bunch of these things. The shower drain: done. The garage door opener -- sort of fixed (although there's still a mysterious problem with it opening at random.) The yard -- tackled and trimmed, with lots more to do but at least some sense that it's manageable. My car: clean. The knives -- sharp, at last!!!! The toilet leak, the garbage disposal, the tiles coming down in the shower, the critter living in the eaves of the roof, the vines invading the porch, the check engine light: all these things are still ahead. But I recognize how much relief I get from tackling them. And I realized that friends can help me get unstuck.
One answer for me might be to sell the house and buy a condo somewhere in town. Maybe a place without a big yard, with less space and newer construction, makes sense for how my life is right now. I've been thinking about it. I'm not sure I'm ready to draw that conclusion, yet. I love where I live. I love the water all around, and the gathering space is great for parties. It's a little house, a shabby place in a working-class neighborhood, but I have a spacious little corner lot and I love the rooms and I like knowing my neighbors and having my best friends just around the corner. The yard is amazingly fertile and someday, when my mom's genes kick in I will want to do a flowerbed and it will grow wonderfully. I love the walk up the street and across to the hospital, with it's shady parklike grounds and the path down to the ocean where I sit on the rocky beach or go for a swim at night. I'm proud of being a homeowner -- it feels like one of the financially responsible things I've done, and although making the mortgage payment is a stressor, it is immensely satisfying to feel like I'm paying for something that I'll have my whole life. So it's premature to conclude that the house isn't right for me.
But I'm off balance, and I need to acknowledge the reality that my stuff needs my attention. And that I need to get help, and budget both time and money to tackling the things that break or crumble or grow where they shouldn't. I hate that stuff, but that doesn't mean I can avoid or ignore it. And tackling it is not as bad as worrying about it in the back of my head and pretending to be carefree. I don't know the solution, yet, but I feel like facing the fact that my material surroundings matter to me and require a regular dose of attentive care is a beginning.