Our old house was not a fancy house. It was a good house but it was not like all the houses on the Home and Garden Channel, before but certainly not after, renovation.
Our new house is not going to be a fancy house. It will be a good house. It won’t like HGTV has been there. It will be like Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. It will be good inside, warm, and loving but not fancy.
The house that we rebuilding on the site of our old house grew rather grand as it loped along. It is ironic that after months of laborious work it will not be built. It was built in my mind. It was a problem to be considered and understood. In my mind, understanding it built it. It seems odd to me that the house is not already built somewhere and I have actually seen it. I have actually seen it; it exists as surely in my mind as it would have in a physical space.
My joy, and my curse, is that things can exist in my mind with the same liveliness as they can in a physical space. I am good at figuring things out. I have been fussing in my mind with a thorny problem for months. Today I finished figuring it out.
My spouse patiently listened to me recite the logical point-to-point pattern of the solution. I was happy. I noted to him that my mind hangs on to a problem until it finds the trail through. We laughed that once I found that path that brought together all of the seemingly disparate parts into a whole that the problem was solved and I did not need to think about it anymore. My spouse solemnly nodded his head affirming my claim that once figured it out; I did not have to fuss with a problem anymore. Flush from having solved a months-long problem, I felt smug that I was a good problem solver. I was flush with the victory of making meaning, He let me enjoy my victory for about 4 1/2 seconds and then quietly said, “Until you find the next one.”
Sadly, he knows me.
This whole problem-solving thing started when I was introduced to science in the first grade and as part of an experimental early-science learning grant. Looking back, I guess the hypothesis of the research must have been something like “if children were exposed to real science at an early age they can understand it and value it across the lifespan.” Project Leo, as it was called, worked on me. I fell in love with science. When Project Leo was completed and no longer in our school, we went back to the old ways. Soon boys and girls were segregated into science and homemaking respectively.
Perhaps that segregation taught me to carry problems in my mind. I don’t mean problems like, “Oh she lost her job and she is now faced with a host of problems”. I mean like solving math equations. For me, holding a problem in my mind is like walking with it listening for its song. It is about solving the problem, not by imposing meaning on it, but by discovering all the small meanings that belong to it. When I have found these small meanings, I can walk with the problem watching the small meanings unfold into understanding. Listen to the problem; it has a story to tell.
Building our house is like that. In my mind I collect the small meanings for each part of the story of the house. I collect the building code, the materials, the measures of the space, the budget and our likes and watch for the meaning to unfold.
The meaning that unfolds is not always what I want to hear. This problem to be solved that is our house will shelter, delight, amuse, protect and be something we can afford. It will be respectful to the land and the resources it uses. The problem that is our house has told me parts of her story but not enough. For days, the dance has shown me that our stairs are a pivot point. We can have the stairs that make sense but that dictates we have no living room, or no front door, or a bedroom beside a bath but not connected to a bath. I cannot have stairs, a front door, a utility room, and a door to the bathroom from the bedroom, not all of them. I can have some of them. The dilemma is which some. I have fussed with this problem in my mind for days. I found a way to solve the problem but it was not a solution. My staircases can be offset and everything fits. My spouse said it was “convoluted” which I immediately took to mean “tortured.” I agreed
So, today I finished the dance of potential with two problems. One was elegantly solved and is a cohesive whole, and gone from my mind. The other is solved and is not at all cohesive. It has spawned a new problem to be solved. I think this new problem to be solved is what my spouse meant when he said, “until you find the next one” one. And he is right.
It is in my nature to solve problems. I will solve this problem that is our home. It will have stairs, a front door and a utility room. It may have a bedroom beside a bathroom without a door into the bathroom but that is fine. It is, after all, not a fancy house.