Sunday, April 22, 2012

Summer vs. Winter, Rent vs. Own, Novels vs. Poetry, and the Entire World vs. My Sinuses

Summer vs. Winter

Yesterday, after a very long week, I woke up with a swollen throat and a nose that was both completely stuffed up and yet somehow still dripping copiously. I realized that I'd gotten cocky. The new medication had finally started to work on my spring allergies, and I began to believe that I could actually feel like a normal human being for the rest of the summer. That’s precisely the time that I caught Mr. Typist’s severe, five-day long cold. The only explanation I can think of is that I am being punished for my hubris. I am not a summer person. I burn easily, I hate the heat, I’m light-sensitive, I can’t swim, and with my stark-white legs and wobbly bits, I am not a pretty sight in shorts. And here I was, allowing myself to indulge in fantasies that this summer would be different—fantastic, in fact! Now that I wasn’t sneezing constantly, my energy would return. I would work out every night, wear breezy little dresses to work and maybe even put on 135 SPF sunscreen and “lay out.” I could wear my big floppy hat and insect sunglasses and “catch some rays.” But no. It’s clear, after 42 years, that I am not designed for summer living. I am designed for wearing bulky, earth-toned sweaters and slogging through cold, gloomy rain in mid-winter, under bare branches, with an ominous-looking blackbird squawking at me from atop a telephone wire. That’s when I’m in my element.

Rent vs. Own

Mr. Typist and I have been having the “rent vs own” discussion over the last few days, which has led me to start thinking in an uncharacteristically grown-up way about scary questions like my future and my priorities. There is a definite and unfortunate stigma against renting. The myth tells us that renters (just like people who choose not to have kids), are somehow not invested in their future or in their communities, that they are not “real” members of society, that they simply don’t care as much as owners. They myth tells us that owning a house is the only real path to financial security. At dinner the other night, Mr. Typist asked me why I wanted a house, and (to the poor man’s utter shock), I suddenly started crying. 

All I felt when he asked me that was this very old, very deep longing and sadness. It’s a feeling that has to do with finding home, and it’s a feeling that has haunted and dogged me my entire life. Someone once said the every artist has one central emotional theme that all of their writing centers around, and if that’s true, I believe that for me, it’s about finding home. It’s about finding a place where I don’t feel constantly alienated from my body, my surroundings, my society, my culture. It's tied up with a sense of not belonging, of this planet not being my real home.  It’s as though I have spent my entire life as an immigrant, and no one knows but me.

I have done a lot of thinking about how buying house, a physical structure, might either serve to heal or exacerbate that feeling. I want to believe that it will heal it, but as Mr. Typist points out, ownership is really just a delusion anyway. A house will most likely be owned by the bank for at least 30 years, and the hidden costs in time alone are enormous. After crunching the numbers, it looks like the returns would be more or less a wash compared with investing that same money.  Besides, the benefits of the freedom that renting affords us is huge. I’ve never understood why anyone thinks paying for your shelter every month is “throwing money away” as opposed to paying nothing but interest on a loan for the first 15 years. We haven’t come to any final conclusions yet, but we won’t be house-hunting any time soon.

Novel vs. Poetry

Writing the novel continues to be an interesting experience. I find that I have the opposite problem with the novel as I do with poetry—I am obsessed with producing, with getting pages filled, in order to feel like I am accomplishing something with it. I’m concerned that I haven’t developed an authentic voice for my main character yet. She still sounds too much like me. I’m going to go back this week and work further on her character development before I continue pumping out pages.

But that’s after I finish blowing my nose for the 180th time this morning. 

--Kristen McHenry

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