It’s the Fault of the Building

It’s the Fault of the Building August 12, 2016

Was going to save this article for tomorrow, because it’s exactly the sort of thing I like to link. Light. Interesting. A thought just outside the realm of my understanding. This particular article fit the bill perfectly. I read it twice and felt the wide gap of knowledge increasing rather than decreasing. I am so spatially challenged. Give me a map and I can’t find myself anywhere on it. Present me with a room and some furniture and I wander around in a circle, with no plan at all, just moving and moving and moving the pieces until they land and it feels ok. Why it feels ok, I will never be able to tell you.

The article isn’t about maps or furniture arranging, though, which is redundant of me to say because I’m sure you’ve already clicked on the link. It’s about McMansions and what makes them externally so unappealing. It’s a really helpful piece, and there are lots of other articles on the same subject which I will shortly be perusing with all ready enjoyment.

Which is a surprise to me. There have been so many surprises about this big old house but one of the chief amazements is how much reading I have suddenly found time for. I am not, as I say constantly, a great reader, and take pleasure in many things, including bumbling my way along on the piano forte etc. etc. But I do like to read occasionally. And I have struggled mightily to do so over the last seven years–coincidentally the whole time we lived in the old house (which is younger than this one).

I chalked it up to being busy, having so many kids, being chronically behind on everything, being unable to focus, having too much to do, having so many kids, and so on and so forth. And I felt guilty about it. I’ve had nice, jolly, ever growing stacks of books strewn all over the house and only very rarely had even thirty seconds to read any of them.

What it comes down to is that the structure, shape and feel of that other house was something I carried along like a whacking great albatross on my back. I was constantly having to work on the soul of the house, and lift it up, and bear it along. And mostly I struggled valiantly, and made some nice corners and places to be. But I myself could never sit down, because the house would plaintively cry or poke at me, and so I would stand up and do something else to it.

Whereas just walking through this house for the first time produced a strange, deep settledness that I have only ever experienced in my house in Africa. That house is made of mud and thatch that requires all kinds of work to keep the termites away and the lamps lit. But you walk into the living room and no matter the state of it, you feel like sitting down to read or lying back to think. Or rather not you, because perhaps you haven’t been there. Me. I read books there, don’t you know.

That house from my long lost youth carries a person along. It doesn’t make impossible demands on the mind and soul. And so also this one. Since I’ve been here I’ve been more busy than I ever believed possible. Back and forth and back and forth cleaning out the old one. Rearranging the furniture here over and over. Trying to figure out how to get to church all of us at the right moment. Rushing around looking for lost but essential papers. I am always on my feet and barely ever sitting down. Except to read.

For real. I have literally sat down with a book in my hand and just read it for a few minutes, almost every day.

And, moreover, Elphine, who fancies herself a great reader but never does actually read anything, has been seen sitting in her window wrapped up in some version of the Iliad. Which is not a book she would pick on her own, but she has to read it for school, and she can’t out it down. She just sits there reading it.

So many actions and decisions have consequences that we can’t possibly see down the narrow corridor of time. We can imagine what problems will arise from one decision or another, but we don’t usually properly understand the present, and so can’t possibly know what will happen to us in the future. There are only a few prophets out there, and most of them are long dead.

One consequence of being able to easily throw a house or a building together, and sell something in it or sit in front of its wall mounted glorious shiny tv, is that, after a certain point, because the building is so flimsy, and cannot carry the existential weight of any one person, all those people who live or work in it have to be soothed and distracted from the building itself. You go to work. You come home. You heat up some food. You’re exhausted. And the house sits there and mocks you with its not very well considered open concept and cardboard walls. The idea of picking up a book, or doing something other than surfing the Internet, is too much to bear. The house confers no true rest and the mind jumps and jumps and jumps and finally crashes without thinking solidly about any one thing.

I’m probably generalizing too broadly. But house construction has to affect us more than we think. Driving around yesterday I passed a school with no windows. I take that back. It had two tiny windows. A gray box, with two small windows. And those children will be expected to think? And read? And learn? And take pleasure in life? Or at least cope with reality?

I could have some choice words for new construction box churches with no windows and dim lighting. Of course we worship God anywhere. Of course the soul can be lifted up in praise and the mind transcend the ridiculousness of one’s surroundings. But not unrelentingly with nary a single space where the mind doesn’t have to lug along the soul and body. The ubiquitous screens in all our hands have started to bear the weight for us. When every single shopping option is an ugly strip of huge box stores, and every house is a McMansion–well, is it any wonder that children going to college have no idea how to write a paper or read a book? The system has failed them, perhaps, but so have all the buildings they probably had to struggle along in.

And now I will return to a funny little book I can’t put down called Posh Food. What is it about? Food, posh food. Pip pip.

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