where the writers are
Writing & Old Houses
The back of the house

I co-own a 100-year-old house in a village in Ontario.  I can't live there all the time, since my job is 2 /12 hours to the west, but I spend most summers and holidays here. 

Recently, I've come to realize that the nature of " home ownership" is misunderstood.  You don't own the house; the house owns you. In an elderly structure, something is always breaking down or at least needing maintenance.  This is obviously a drain on the wallet, but I'm more interested in the mental aspect of ownership.  Since the house owns you, it never totally leaves your consciousness.  The next repair or upgrade or bill lurks somewhere in your mind, behind (or hovering above) writing projects, work demands, and idle fantasies.  It  sparks inner dialogue with everything you encounter.

It also leads to some memorable learning experiences: the time the sump pump went and the basement started flooding during a winter thaw, and the plumber convinced me that I could install a new pump myself, despite the challenges of working with electricity while standing in cold water; the time a racoon managed to occupy our attic and then had babies in the wall (I eventually evicted them humanely);  the Zen-like experience of wating for calls or visits from contractors who, like one of the characters in Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Ttian, only appear during cosmological moments.

Our roof needs work.  Roofers out here are especially a fantastical species, something like fairies; you've heard of them, you occasionally see the results of their work, but you rarely meet one in the flesh, no matter how many inducements you send their way.  Now I notice roofs on all other houses, debate the merits of the metal roof vs.  traditional asphalt shingles, and cluck my tongue over houses whose roofs actually look in worse shape than ours.

 This is why having a house own you is like working on a writing project.  Currently, I'm trying to improve the plotting, and write the last quarter, of a suspense novel.  But actual time at the keyboard is only the visible surface of the writing process; potential changes and additions collide in my mind throughout my waking life (and, for all I know, my dreams as well).  Odd facts in the newspaper, random bits of conversation, other books I read join this ongoing negotation between a nascent book and my life.

 I'm beginning to think the book is writing me, and one morning I'll wake up and find I've been rewritten. If so, I hope the author makes me better-looking, and younger wouldn't hurt either.


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Thanks for sharing, John. I particularly agree with you when you write, "This is why having a house own you is like working on a writing project."

In 2002, my ex and I had to sell our Dutch Colonial due to the divorce agreement. We each went our separate ways, but in 2008 when I found out the people who'd bought the house from us were going to sell, I ended up buying it back from them. It's almost 100 years old and needs TLC, but for me, it's home. Like you, I'm a writer and I've been working on a memoir titled "Getting Back Home." Yes, this house owns me, but I don't mind being its indentured servant since the rewards are many.

I wish you well on both your writing and the house...

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I appreciate...

your reading my blog and taking the time to reply.  May your book (and house) have good foundations, a solid roof, and no infestations.