The House Next Door: a diary

by Jeff Oaks

March 27/

Damages so far: 

The top right corner of the housefront has lost its plaster/cement. It was patched quite a while ago, and had been looking a little weak lately, but when the contractors banged the chain link fence into one day, it clearly gave way. Its pieces fell into the trench they dug. I’m going to have to tell them I expect them to fix it. My in-laws have told me to call my insurance company first, in case they want to go after them. 
The other thing we’ve noticed is that the inside stairs, which were just fixed a few years ago, have pulled out somewhat (between an 1/4 inch to a 1/2 from the wall), making them more dangerous, more likely to break. You can see the dark places where they’ve moved away from their normal slots in the structure. 

Other lesser strains: Nerves, tempers. Michael started to fall asleep last night but then had a dream in which a gigantic crack opened up in the bedroom wall near his head. He was up after that and never quite fell back to sleep. 

Yesterday, we went downstairs to inspect the walks. He’d only been down there a few times, so when he started pointing out cracks in the plaster, I had to say, “no, that was there.” Most of that wall is plaster and stone and worse is covered by a pegboard over the big worktable done there. There was nothing more that I could see. 

My relationship to cracks is that I don’t like them, in houses most deeply, but also in arguments, in friendships, in my own personality. I’m not forgiving of any threat of loss. What I can’t prevent, I’m given to abandoning. I’m not given to optimistic scenarios of mending fences or burying hatchets. Of course one could say that I’ve crafted a teaching and administrative career out of fixing problems, of anticipating difficulties. If there were none, I wouldn’t have my job. 

I am enchanted every time someone on Facebook posts an example of the Japanese art of kintsugi, in which a broken bowl is repaired with a lacquer dusted with gold, that brokenness can result in a more beautiful object. I believe that “there is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” But those are aesthetic ideas I can’t actually live inside, how ever much I might admire them. I want my house to be safe and secure. The only light I want coming in should be from the windows. 

Poetry is a kind of kintsugi, isn’t it? Maybe all art is. A simultaneous recognition of a break with the normal world we auto-pilot through and of our ability to transform discomfort, grief, rage, into something bearable, even interesting. Am I appreciating this old house now, as it exists under pressure, or do I just want to sell it off and run away? Mostly the latter. But where in this rapidly gentrifying city would I now be able to settle?