The Office

Yes, Virginia, a room of one’s own does make a difference. One of the (many) things I love about the new Chez Moi (I am thisclose to calling it Castle SquirrelTerror, you have no idea) is the fact that right next to my bedroom is another bedroom, which is (ta-da!) my office.

I have never had a dedicated space to write. I’ve always written in cracks and corners, or in stolen spaces–the loo in the middle of the night while the current boyfriend sleeps, the living room so I can keep an eye on the kids, waiting rooms and restaurant tables where I have to scribble fast and catch the thoughts by their tails before they vanish or I’m called to pay attention to something else, so on, so forth. I can work under incredibly chaotic conditions, and have for most of my life.

Now I have to learn how to work like this.

Outside the window I can see trees–the cedars along the back fence, the gaunt pine who stands sentinel among their row like a sergeant, the oak–at least, I think he’s an oak–snugged against the back of the neighbor’s house as if supporting it, moss dripping from his branches. It’s like being in a treehouse, especially if I open the window. Last week I took a morning and unpacked my reference books and my favourites bookshelf; as a result I can see familiar faces when I glance up. (Of course I was looking for my forensic pathology textbooks, and of course they were in a box on the very BOTTOM, Murphy’s Law of Unpacking…) The printer has been wrangled into speaking to the wireless network, the Saddest Little Bonsai In All The World is sitting in front of the window and deciding whether or not to accept its new location without losing all its bloody leaves…

…and I am kind of terrified by all this peace and quiet.

I start violently at least a half-dozen times a day, because it’s too quiet and I have to know what the kids are doing. When they go back to school I anticipate at least two panicked moments a day trying to find their silly little selves. At least the dogs are right there the entire time; though shutting the office door when they start getting rowdy means I open it up ten minutes later to reproachful gazes and slumped shoulders, dejected low-hanging heads and stubbly, hopeful tail wags.

I think it’s the idea of having a door to shut that is the most amazing. I don’t want to turn into a writer who cannot function without a closed door–for one thing, if I’m forced to work in chaos again I’d really like to not be a Speshul Snoflake about it–but I do very much like having the option of closing the door if I so choose. Often, it’s the illusion of choice that allows one to bear almost anything, even the unbearable. It’s when one is helpless in the face of the unbearable that survival becomes much, much harder.

The peace and quiet and the door to close should I so choose is a good problem to have. I can barely believe I’m lucky enough to have it.

Casa to Chez, The Final Battle

Friday dawned, yes. It was going to be a hot day, and as I looked around the piles of boxes–I’d started packing when they told me the sale was a sure thing, more fool me, there was a crushing writhing snake in my guts. Oh, I’d been through all the stages by now–fear, anger, bargaining, homicidal rage, phobia of death by paperwork, the house isn’t that nice anyway, and my personal favourite, whimpering in the corner and banging one’s head on something solid while weeping pleeeeease just make it stop… So it wasn’t anything new.

Yeah, the mortgage broker told me it was going to be stressful. What he didn’t tell me–because he couldn’t–was that a lot of the stress comes from a feeling of profound and utter helplessness. You have signed papers, written letters, provided documentation, exposed your financial (and aspects of your personal) life to a soulless worm-machine that ticks its way with tortuous slowness through a maze largely built of its own slick and foul accretions, blindly consuming all in its path and moving with no more rhyme or reason than a vengeful, lunatic sky god or blind Lovecraftian tentacled horror. (R’yleh! Fnargh! Zort! Narf!) You hear nothing for weeks at a time, and when you do hear something, it’s just asking for minutiae you’ve already provided but some impish gremlin has apparently eaten while your coffee-stained file was jammed in someone’s dusty cabinet.

Hyperbole? Maybe. But only by a fraction, mind you.

But this particular Friday, the worm-machine had apparently decided I wasn’t any more fun to play with, since I’d stopped resisting. (Well, and I was prepared to walk away from the whole damn thing and rent for the rest of my natural-born, too.) I got a call. Can you come in and sign at 1pm?

You bet your sweet bippy I could. But after I got that call, I started making other calls. Just to make sure everyone knew that we had a deadline, I was signing at 1, and by God, if there was something someone needed, they needed to TELL ME NOW OR FOREVER HOLD YOUR PEACE BECAUSE IF YOU DO NOT AND THIS GETS BUGGERED UP I WILL BE ON THEE LIKE WHITE ON RICE AND TRUST ME, SUNSHINE, THAT WILL NOT BE PLEASANT FOR YOU, THANK YOU AND GOOD DAY.

You get the idea. And it’s a good thing I did, too. You’d think people who did this for a living would be more proactive. But anyway.

Several smaller hurdles surmounted, I set off with no little trepidation a little late, because I’d been on the phone with someone mopping up the last of said hurdles. Traffic–oh, noon-thirty on a Friday, why do you taunt me so?–was bad, and I made it there a couple minutes behind, muttering and virtually daring anyone to say one damn word about how I was a couple minutes late when they had been stringing me along for two goddamn months.

I will say I was not in my most graceful mood ever. I was determined to be pleasant. We made small talk for a little while, then were shown into an office. The stack of paper was produced, a pen clicked into readiness, and I began to sign.

But the worm-machine wasn’t done with me yet. It made another attempt. I glanced down at a new stack of papers I was handed and my heart sank.

“There’s only one L in the middle of my first name,” I said, tentatively.

“What?” The lady across the desk blinked. “Is it…”

“These have two. Those have one, they’re fine. But these have two Ls in the middle of my first name.”

The mortgage broker said something under his breath. The escrow lady looked at my realtor, who looked at me. Our gazes met, and I think something broke inside my realtor that day.

She began to laugh.

After a second, I did too. It was just so absurd. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. Meanwhile, the escrow lady got on the phone and informed someone at the other end that she needed those documents done properly, and yes she knew it was a Friday, but if she did not get them she was going to personally visit whoever-it-was next week. Apparently this threat was deemed sufficiently dire to overcome any and all reluctance, for the corrected documents arrived less than fifteen minutes later, and her small iron-clad grin told me that she was both happy she did not have to make good on said threat…and also, a little disappointed. (Note to the fellow on the other end of that call: good job, dude. You lived to fight another day.)

Anyway, I finished signing the stack of papers, handed over a cashier’s check for *mumbleungodlyamountmumble* and sat there, waiting for the sky to fall or something.

It didn’t. I cautiously gripped the arms of my chair. “So, uh, what happens next?”

It turned out I was a homeowner at that point, but (the worm-machine had to add one last sadistic twist) I wouldn’t get the keys until the loan funded, which would be…

…you guessed it, after the weekend. A weekend I survived, and it took until Tuesday for me to finally hold the key of my new domicile in my fear-moistened little paw. At which point I was too emotionally exhausted to feel anything but weary befuddlement.

Until I said goodbye to the realtor, shut the door of what was MY house, now, and ran into the living room. I threw myself down on my back, stared up at the ceiling, and made a carpet angel. A pretty nice one too, and I spent the first few moments alone in my new house just staring at the ceiling. My ceiling. My new ceiling.

And then I cried.

But I’m not going to tell you about that.

Casa to Chez, Part III

Title companies are like copyeditors. Their job is to help. By being as nitpicky and insanely detailed as possible. It’s not their fault–house-buying is a fraught experience anyway, and making sure every I is dotted and T is crossed is a thankless task both for them…and for underwriters.

I was told the underwriters and the title company loved me, because as soon as they came up with a problem I provided the relevant documentation to fix it within an hour or so. This necessitated all sorts of bother and to-ing and fro-ing, especially when dealing with Time Bombs Left Behind From The Divorce. I suppose I should be grateful that I know everything is cleared up now, even the clerical errors breeding several trips to the federal building downtown. (I now know where the County Auditor’s office is too! They were beginning to recognize me…)

And I was told we would be closing “within days.” I was told this every day.

For two months.

Oh, wait, it gets better!

Both the mortgage broker and the person handling everything at the title company went on long-planned vacations the week we were really, truly, no-fooling supposed to close. Which meant “the file”–meaning me and the house I had grown to love and despair of ever moving into–was in the hands of people who didn’t know what was happening…

…and they requested documentation I’d sent in months before. Again. Weeping with frustration, I complied.

I was even polite.

And then…nothing.

I found out later what the hold-up was. Suffice to say there were a batch of home loans that were, shall we say, not handled correctly by a subcontractor. Wouldn’t you know, mine was among them? DEAR UNIVERSE: PLEASE TO STOP HELPING ME OUT, KTHXBAI.

This is the part where I started deconstructing. (And my writing partner started making plans to visit with two tranquilizer guns and a baseball bat just to get me to calm down.) Dear Reader, the stress got to me. I wasn’t eating, I couldn’t sleep much, all I could think of was the house, the house, the house. I was, in technical terms, wiggin’.

This went on until I broke under the strain, during a week where we were supposed to close Monday…but things weren’t ready, Wednesday was really the day, but again, things weren’t ready. I lost my ever-loving mind. I told my realtor that Friday at 5pm was my deadline, and if we did not sign by then, I wanted the papers for rescission-of-sale ready so I could sign them and be done. I would rather rent the rest of my fucking life than deal with this, I told everyone who would listen. I just wanted to make the pain stop. My realtor was frantic too. “We are so close, don’t give up now! This will be so worth it once you have your new house keys!”

I did not believe her. Because Friday dawned, bright and clear…and there was no progress to be seen.

To Be Continued…

Casa to Chez, Part II

So began round after round of looking at houses. Houses, houses, houses. I called the listing agents time and again and asked to look, and I’m sure they thought I should have been going through my own buying agent, but I was just practicing. I looked at houses until my head spun with loos, locations, schools, square footage, property taxes, homeowner’s associations, skylights, flood risk, new roofs, oh my God that yard will be a pain, can I see myself cleaning this, they want how much for this? I dreamed of ceiling fixtures and found For Sale signs springing up like mushrooms–the old selective attention thing.

There was a method to my madness. I wanted to learn what kinds of questions to ask, and get a feel for what was available in the area. And it was a real education in seeing the sorts of things listing agents would say, and I wanted to teach myself to say “no” to something that wasn’t quite right. I have tremendous difficulty saying “no” anyway, and I didn’t want to feel sorry for a house and take on a gigantic expensive sinking ship.

My realtor was worried she wasn’t doing her job, because I only called her in twice. The first sale didn’t go through–underwater mortgage meant the seller wanted more than the house appraised for, and I didn’t have a spare $20K lying around to make up the difference, so I had to walk–and the second, well.

The second one almost didn’t happen at all. I paged through listings, and it had what I wanted, but the pictures…well. It’s ugly, I thought. Worse than ugly. It’s downright objectionable. Pass.

But it was in the middle of a good neighborhood, had the schools I wanted, the price was good, and on a whim one day I decided to drive past and take a look. I lost nothing by looking, and frankly, I was beginning to think I’d never find a goddamn house that didn’t have something huge wrong with it. Maybe I’m too picky, I thought, and came around the corner, slowing down so I could get an eyeful. Maybe this just won’t work.

And there it was. The pictures hadn’t done it justice at all. I actually stopped the car on the quiet street and gawked.

It was beautiful. It was downright gorgeous. It was in my price range. It smiled at me, and the trees rustled a welcome overhead.

I drove home and emailed the realtor. This one, I said. How soon can I go take a look?

But you know, I’d already decided. The visit went smoothly, and I made an offer. My realtor was a little nervous. “This is only the second one,” she said. “You should look around a bit more.”

I just smiled. By that time I’d seen somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty houses. “I’m not going to quit looking,” I said. “Let’s just see how this turns out.”

Oh, famous last words. We filled the paperwork out, and the underwriters and title company sprang into action.

That’s when the nightmare started.

to be continued…

Casa To Chez, Part I

So there have been big changes afoot at Casa Saintcrow. I’ve been hinting at them, fit to drive everyone mad, for, let’s see, four months now? And my blogging has sadly fallen off. It’s not entirely my fault, though.

Because at the hoary old age of thirty-six, finally, despite my ex-husband and the raging impossibility of everything, as well as the fact that I’m basically a freelancer…

…I bought a house.

I bought my very first house. The Casa is now Chez Saintcrow, all-new and improved.

This all started months ago when I went in to see a mortgage broker (and a very fine one, too) and said, “Can I afford to own a house? Do I have any chance of getting a mortgage? I WANT TO MOAN ABOUT MY DRIVEWAY AND ROOF AND I WANT TO LAY AWAKE AT NIGHT THINKING ABOUT HOW MUCH I OWE A BANK. HELP ME.”

After he dosed me with chamomile tea and laughed at me (very gently) we started crunching numbers. I’ve been working my ass off for this goal for years. And when the divorce was done and the dust settled, and I finally had some savings and had repaired my credit (because the ex, oh my GOD, but let’s not talk about that now, mmmkay?) and took care of all lingering Bad Issues from Said Divorce…well, I was actually in a pretty good place.

So I prequalified (which was amazing, seeing the amount of money someone would trust me with, but hey I wasn’t going to complain) and then looked up with big eyes and said, “Okay, so…what do I do now?”

“Now,” the broker said, “you find a house.”

“Oh.” I blinked. “That’s it?”

“That’s it. Get a realtor and find a house. And remember…” He fixed me with a steely glare, and I began to feel faint.

Christ, is there more paperwork? “What?”

“Buying your first house is the most stressful thing you’ll ever do.”

“Are you kidding? I have kids.” I laughed and breezed on out of his office, feeling ten feet tall.

I should have listened.

…to be continued…

Anxiety Dreams

Johann Heinrich Füssli 053

I dream in Technicolor, and I often remember them. Dreams stick in a little dusty file cabinet in the back of my head, and often I’ll incorporate them into stories, or they become the tiny bit of grit around which a story will build itself up in nacreous layers.

Last night’s dream offerings (at least, the ones I can remember clearly) were both pretty obviously anxiety-based. The first was a violently-yellow schoolbus out in the middle of a weed-strewn field, and inside there were hostages (children or not, I’m not sure) that it was my mission to rescue. I was driving up to the bus in a convertible (so not the proper vehicle for a rescue run) and thinking worriedly that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do when I got there.

The other was of a homeless girl struggling to survive in France, probably via Breakfast in Babylon, who ended up being bitten by a vampire much less handsome than Max Schreck. She was desperate to figure out what to do, and at that point I realized I was her sister. She bit me, but there was no effect, and we went from place to place keeping her out of the sun and looking for a cure…until the other vampires showed up and I found out I was stronger and faster than I had been.

Still, it ended up with her getting staked. Not very fun at all.

So yeah, anxiety dreams. Dreams where I have to protect or rescue someone, but I’m unable to do so. If there’s anything guaranteed to drive me to distraction, that’s it. Although…that last one does have potential for a story.

In other news, it’s the anniversary of Jane Austen’s passing. I kind of feel like watching Colin Firth smoulder a little in that Pride and Prejudice starring him and Jennifer Ehle, who was the best Lizzie Bennett EVAR. The bit where he stares at her after she rescues his sister from embarrassment, my goodness but it makes me melt every time. *flutters a little* All in all, it’s probably a good cure for a night full of anxiety dreams.

Over and out.

Meaning And Discipline

Why I outta!!!!....Come any closer and I'll smash yer face
law_keven / Foter

I have been practicing forbearance as an art form lately. Really, if someone would have told me that adulthood was comprised of being calm and polite until one had a grip on the situation’s short hairs, then pulling hard while smiling sweetly, I would have been even more eager to get here.

I mean, I was eager for “childhood” and adolescence to be done anyway. To me, being a child/teen was being helpless, at the daily mercy of chaotic, unpredictable, and hurtful forces. Adulthood is the same, really, except having my own car keys and bank account gives me the illusion of being in control. As long as I have that illusion, I’m chilly. The perception of having some sort of say in one’s own life works absolute wonders, much as Frankl posits that finding some meaning in even the most horrific conditions can save a psyche. (Or, if not “save,” at least keep it from disintegrating completely.)

Anyway, I’m on the home stretch of a Major Life Change, and almost able to speak about it publicly. There will be hilarious blog posts in the future, I’m sure. But for right now, I’m exhausted and finally feeling like I have some sort of control over a situation, and it relieves a great deal of pressure. I’ve been using writing as a decompression during this whole thing, and struggling with the fact that one must have mental and emotional energy in order to write.

At different times in my life, writing has been confessor, framework, best friend, jealous mistress, lifeboat, parent, faithful lover, teacher, outlet, defense, weapon, and a million other things. The bare act of putting the words down, that mundane sorcery we take for granted, has been pretty much all things to me. The worst bit about the stress I’ve been under is some days, the words have to be chipped out of my cranium with a battle axe. Groping for a word, struggling to find any word at all, is one of my personal versions of hell. As the stress has receded, it’s gotten better–but the habit of sitting each day and refusing to leave until the words come, however molasses-slowly or blood-painfully, has been the only thing keeping me nailed to the chair so I at least get some of them out. This is why I harp so endlessly on the subject of discipline–if I hadn’t had that habit, God alone knows how painfully lost I might have been. It actually makes me shudder.

Anyway. Time to do, again. Hey, on a completely unrelated note, learn some new things about rabies! *shudders once more*

Over and out.