Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Resale Value

I’m kind of a real estate junkie. I get it from my parents who used to load me into the car for long Sunday drives when I was a kid. We’d drive out different rural roads or into little subdivisions, pointing out this or that feature in a house we really liked—an especially nice bay window, or Curb Appeal-worthy front garden. It was sad, though, too, because my mom was always looking for something else, something better (my dad just liked driving around aimlessly with the windows rolled down).

And this is where I break from my mom in terms of a love of real estate. I enjoy snooping around other homes out of curiosity, but I love my own. I love my neighborhood. I’m not going anywhere. And this is where we get to the concept of “resale value.” If you’re someone who’s planning to pick up stakes pretty soon, then the “experts” will tell you not to do anything drastic to your house. Only spend money on renovations that will dramatically increase your resale value (for example, kitchen remodels are worth it; bedrooms, not so much). And for God’s sake, keep your walls beige!

Now, this advice makes sense if you know you’re not going to live in a place very long. But what gets me is when people buy a house and live in it, for decades, and don’t make any of the changes they'd really like to make because they’re envisioning some potential buyer turning up their nose at those changes in some future time that may never exist. It's this conversation:

Me: It's nice that you put that huge basement into your new house. You could really use the space when people come to visit.

Other Person: Oh yeah, it would be really handy. It's all set to put a bathroom in down there and everything.

Me: So when are you finishing it?

Other Person: Oh, I don't think we will. Maybe someone who buys the house someday might want it to be something else.

Me: You just built this house. Are you planning to leave?

Other Person: Oh, no, we're never leaving this house. 

Me: ???????
Lime Green in the living room is not good for resale.
Also, check out the style mixing--the Art Deco mantle
(original to the house), plus the Craftsman sconces
I had installed, and the Victorian mirror? Big no-nos.

The first room I re-did in our house was the living room. Knowing I’d be spending a lot of time in there with the kids, I painted it my favorite color, lime green. Shortly afterwards, I hosted a book club and one of my friends exclaimed, “Boy, I’ll bet you can’t wait to paint over that horrible color!!!”

Yes, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It would probably discourage a potential buyer, but I’m not selling! I want to enjoy every minute of this house and that means making every room as wacky as I want to. I won’t get into the whole dance like nobody’s watching mantra, since you can buy that on a T-shirt, but honestly, if a bright purple front door (I did that, too) makes you smile when you pull up your driveway, do it.

Also, here it comes, the obligatory writing reference—it certainly makes sense to write whatever you want, too, markets be damned. Writing is too hard and the rewards so infrequent, it just doesn’t make any sense to pen something you’re not passionate about. While you're at it, paint your office, your closet, wherever you write, in a color that absolutely inspires you, even if everyone else hates it. They can close their eyes when they visit.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Essays and the Right to Write

This morning, I read some essays. I’m starting on a new one of my own and always find it useful to get my mind into that rhythm. Primarily, I'm reading through the work of one author who has written about relationships with children and spouses and friends and family, common fodder for the personal essay genre and similar to many of the topics I’ve written about. They were beautifully done; they made me think, about my own life and how my own views might match or diverge from the author’s. I was glad to have read them.

But then I made the mistake of clicking through to the comments and was so immediately offended, on behalf of the author and essay writers everywhere. Of course there were all the expected comments about how she shouldn’t have done/said/thought what she did. Some of these were fairly benign. And then there were the especially mean ones. For example, the person who lives in the same huge city as the author hoped he never meets her. Nice. I had a similar comment on one of my essays once, someone instead saying she was glad she lived far away from me… Thank you, and Ditto!

I’ve written on this topic of online trolling before, two years ago, when I made a resolution to write what I want, critics be damned. I’ve published several essays since then and don’t plan to stop (I have one in the editing stage with a major publication, stay tuned!). Back then, I decided I would no longer read online comments on my work, and I'm pleased to say I've kept that promise.

I’ve learned that no matter what the ratio is, of positive to negative, I’ll only fixate on the hate-filled comments, the kind words quickly forgotten. (There were a lot of kind words on her essays, too, but you see, I’ve already forgotten them.) Reading the negative comments to her essays brought on flashbacks to my own, a kind of PTSD, which was not fun.

So, new resolution: not only will I NOT read comments to my own essays posted online, but I won’t read comments on anyone else’s work either. Are we clear? Excellent. (Note to dear readers of this blog, this does not apply to comments from you; I always read those.)

But, before I sign off, I have to say there’s another thing that’s bothering me: So many of the comments I read today dealt with what I can only call the author’s basic right to have an opinion. Some commentors didn’t like that she seemed to be doing okay economically. That she lived in the suburbs. Had children. Etcetera and so on and so on. The basic thread was…how dare you even write about any problem you might have when you are xyz and know nothing about xyz. (Note: she wasn't writing about the problems experienced by any other group or individual, only her own.)

I’m seeing more and more of this, and as a writer I find it disturbing. In personal essay, the writer is talking about herself and, hopefully, making some larger connection to the world around her. She is not appropriating someone else's identify (in fiction, however, all bets are off). But in the comments there's a piling on of grievances, each one claiming to have more right to speak because more bad things happened to him/her. And sometimes I see essay writers laying out a list of woes before they even get into the meat of the essay, as though they need to make a case so they can get permission to write…from whom? The universe? Or just some especially angry, anonymous commentators, whose writing, by the way, seems limited to online comments?

Listen, before I get all worked up on this gorgeous, snowy morning, let me just say I’m going to keep writing what I feel like writing if it’s okay with you. If it’s not okay with you, I’m still going to do it. And if commentors have a problem with an author’s demographic profile, they should look at that before they read the author’s work, and not waste time with them and we can all build our little silo and fill it with people exactly like us who write exactly what we already think and then we can write in the comments that even though the author has a point, she is still fat/ugly/has bad hair and then we can all turn off our Internets forever, the end.

I'm going sledding.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Not the Party I Was Planning

Dear readers, I must confess something: I’ve been moonlighting, stepping out of my writing closet to work on something much bigger than my novel, bigger than any of my writing projects.

I’m building a playground.

Let me take a step back. My two kids attend a public elementary school with a woefully inadequate playground. I’m involved in the school’s parent-teacher organization (PTO). When teachers approached the PTO for help with the playground, a friend of mine stepped forward to investigate things. Soon, I and another friend, hopped on board. That was 2 ½ years ago (or, according to a misprint in a recent article, 212 years ago…and sometimes it feels like that).

I’m not going to give you all the details of this project, but suffice it to say, it has turned into a huge undertaking involving committees and proposals and construction drawings, and wine, and crying and laughing, and throwing things, and embracing, and more wine, eventually resulting in the plan for an outdoor learning and play environment like no other. If you really want to know more, we have a website for that: www.CornerstonePlayLab.org.

What I want to talk about is the party we had last week, because it was an incredible party. We were
People talking and laughing and eating cheese
celebrating the successful fundraising campaign ($600K, almost entirely from our town of under 30,000 people) and the imminent construction of the PlayLab this summer. It was a party I’d been anticipating for a long time, almost since I first became involved. This is what we call putting the cart before the horse. Guilty, sorry. There’s precedent for this in my life. I’ve done the same thing with my novel.

You see, at random moments while writing, I would sometimes imagine the epic bash I would throw when it gets published. I even started a guest list (Are you on it? There’s still time.). It was an incredibly pointless way to waste writing minutes, but it was fun. I may just dig out the list today and add a few names, because I’ve met an awful lot of new people during my volunteer work on this project. 

Me listening carefully to our
speaker and also wondering if there's
any Havarti left.
Writing is lonely, folks, especially when you live where I do with few other writers around. When my youngest started school, I planned to throw myself into my work full-time. I found this was not possible. I quickly learned I didn't want to live inside my own head for seven or eight hours a day.

This project gave me something to be passionate about, entirely outside my writing work. It gave me a community of like-minded people focused around a goal. And there was intrigue, mayhem, double-crossing (sometimes it was a damn Parks and Rec episode). I know, you may be thinking, it’s a playground, but then you may not know small-town politics like I do, or like I do, now. And I also know about fall zones and pea gravel and site drainage and all sorts of things I may never need to know again once this project is done, but who can say? Maybe I’ll write about it. Odds are good.

This blog is about creativity, and thus far, most of my posts have been about writing, and sometimes painting random bits of cast-off furniture, but there are so many ways we’re all creative in our everyday lives, figuring out how to work together, coming up with solutions, even when the solution involves something as seemingly unimportant as the width of a slide. It’s important to someone. It’s important to many someones in the case of our playground.

I’ve been mentally planning a book launch party for a lot of years, way before “Happy, Indiana,” way before the book I wrote previously (which was cast into the proverbial drawer). But this PlayLab party was everything I could have hoped for and reminded me there are so many more ways to be successful, way beyond my narrow, writerly focused ideas of success. 

And you know what else? Helping other people makes you happy. I’ve read stacks of research on happiness for my novel, and I can tell you the findings there are quite clear. So, more helping people! More parties! More wine and cheese!