Up the downsizing staircase

This morning, I read in the newspaper about a very grim alternative to downsizing: A formerly wealthy married couple in their 50s, involved, alas, in some shady money operations, jumped to their deaths from a Manhattan hi-rise. In the note they left behind, they cited an inability to deal with  “financial reality.” Having lived with less-than-optimum “financial reality” all my life, it didn’t seem to me a good enough reason for that final swan dive. The only solution to money problems, usually, is just to keep on living, anyway, and hope something good and unexpected comes along. Because sometimes, it does.

However, planning for the worst-case scenario (living on the streets, writing small bits of prose and drawing pictures in exchange for food), we are making downsizing plans of our own. I don’t really like that term, with all its negative connotations, implications that we were too dimwitted to set aside enough for our old age—never mind that we did everything we were supposed to do, but the market went and crashed, and the world went and changed on us. I like to think that while we are downsizing financially, we are upsizing in a spiritual and emotional sense, in the best sense of that phrase, money doesn’t buy happiness. Well, we’ll see how that all goes…

The first step in this whole process is deciding what we really need, as far as everyday living requirements. We’ve already decided not to move out of state, or very far from where we live now, simply because, when it comes to family, friends, and work connections, this is the best place for us to be. Those dreadful New Jersey taxes aside, there are, contrary to popular belief, affordable, downsizeable, properties in this state—I know, because I’ve been looking. We’ve been flirting with the eastern edge of Pennsylvania, but it looks like we will land somewhere between Paterson and the Delaware River. We’d prefer to be in an actual community, a walkable  town, not in the middle of nowhere: Because it would be nice to give up the second car, and the annoyances and expenses connected with that.

But here’s what we don’t need: A formal living room or a formal dining room, a “master” bedroom, more than 1-1/2 bathrooms, a giant lawn, a gourmet kitchen, granite countertops, ecologically-sourced hardwood floors and any of the other frippery you see on those home-network shows. I don’t need a “showplace”—no one we know would impressed by that. I used to think I’d love a big kitchen, only because in the houses I grew up in, the kitchen was always the nerve center of the house, the place where everyone congregated, no matter what. But now I realize that just one big room could handle a multitude of functions: Eating, cooking, dining with friends, watching TV, reading…This was all made clear to me several years ago, when (back in the days when we could splurge now and then) we rented a little house for a week near the summit of Kilauea volcano in Hawaii (it was actually cheaper than booking a hotel room). It was basically one large room, with a loft bedroom above, and a few little rooms in the back, and a 6-foot-wide porch wrapped around the whole little house, all 5,000 feet above sea level: I thought it was just perfect, except, of course, it was on the side of a still-active volcano.  There’s no volcanoes here in New Jersey that I know about (although we do get the occasional earthquake), but I’m hoping to find one of those sweet little houses, perhaps in need of a bit of repair, hereabouts.

What we need, simply, is a place to cook, eat, sleep and work. And occasionally entertain. Separate workspaces, to avoid any possibility of divorce. Frank, being in the graphic arts, needs more space than I do; I only need enough surface space to open up my computer or spread out a notebook. But we do need space for our books. Oh my God, we have a LOT of books. We seem to acquire them constantly, and try to keep up with weeding out what we don’t need anymore, making frequent and generous contributions to the local Book Barn charity, but we’re still knee-deep in them, most days. I have the books I need for my writing, plus all the books I love best (too many to count), and cookbooks too, and Frank has his fine art, history, military, and then our joint General Knowledge books, and we’ve ended up with a library that is bigger than those in  many small municipalities. Obviously we will have to do a great deal more weeding, but I’m afraid most of those book will have to come along with us. We can always try to sell them if things get really dire…

So that’s what we need. But there’s a few wants, too, we hope to squeeze in: My husband can speak for himself, but for me, there has to be at least one bathtub, somewhere in the house. We don’t want a lawn to mow or sidewalks to shovel, but I feel I need some outdoor space, if just a small deck or square of patio. A full porch is even better. And though we rarely use our fireplace, I would still like a hearth, preferably one made of fieldstone—it’s my one irrational desire, one big room with one big fireplace. That, and a view of nature: Trees, lake, hills, but I know that’s considered a luxury. Again I think back to a former residence: My first apartment, as a single woman living in Brooklyn, was a fourth floor walkup, only two rooms and a bath (which rarely had hot water), but it had the most spectacular view of Manhattan from the back window: I could crawl out on the fire-escape and there it all was before me, the whole entire glittering world, waiting for me to conquer it. That view actually nourished me, kept me going during what was surely the most difficult year of my entire life. But it ended happily, with me meeting Frank… A good view is really a therapeutic thing. And it would be nice to have, at this point in my life.

So in the next few months, we’ll be looking at various options—cottages, condos, townhouses, even prefab homes, but I suspect our future home is out there somewhere, just waiting for us to discover it.

 

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I’m back…and nothing’s changed! Well, almost nothing…

So, The Persistent Writer returns, after a two-month hiatus. Trust me, I needed that break, to help myself get my personal priorities in order.  Although I was all set to completely revamp this site, maybe add some flashy graphics or a new concentration on Social Relevance, in the end I decided to follow that old chestnut of a cliché: To thy own self be true. The more I thought about it, the more resistant I felt to making this space resemble in any way a ‘marketing’ or ‘branding’ site for my books. Because we don’t have enough of those?!!! The crisis in self-publishing seems to be reaching its boiling point this summer, and it seems only a matter of months before Amazon steps in and starts gate-keeping, and sorting out the chaff; I don’t think pushing yourself on the reading public, no matter what your talent or ability is, is going to help.  I just want to connect with my readers in the simplest way possible. I’d rather do it face-to-face, but that seems to have gone out of style, along with snail-mail letters, as everyone hides timidly behind keyboards and computer screens. Well, onward…

Work-wise, I seem to be pretty much where I was when I left off in late May, though I have more language students now, and less time to write. The biography is chugging along, I’m enjoying the work of it immensely, the research and the writing, but publishers are still largely ignoring my book proposals. I’m almost convinced now that publishers do not actually read query letters and book proposals anymore; they say they do, on their websites, but in reality, they dump everything into their trash—both real and virtual—as soon as it arrives. Which explains the dumbfoundedness I encounter six weeks or so later, when I ask for an update on my query. And let me tell you this, Catholic publishers—who should be the most compassionate and mindful of all publishers—are the WORST! I don’t know how decent Catholic work actually gets published anymore, but frankly, there’s not so much of that around when you come right down to it.

But I don’t want this blog to devolve into a rant against the Establishment, so here’s a hint to future posts. My husband and I are working on a project of our own, which is, simply, The Rest of Our Lives. We want to make what remains of our lives meaningful, but also satisfying, which basically means, no longer taking on work and jobs we don’t want to do just to pay the mortgage and bills. It will mean, ultimately, moving in with Lady Poverty—a close, but annoying, companion most of our lives—but we’re Franciscans at heart, so we’ll make it work. As long as I can continue to write, and Frank can pursue his art and history and other  projects, we can be content. The first, and most onerous step is dealing with the shelter issue, so we are slowly, gradually, grudgingly preparing our big old suburban house for sale. Not until next year, though; it’s something, for emotional reasons, we can’t rush into. We’ve been here for a quarter of a century, so it’s no easy task. We do love it here, despite that capriciously cruel river across the street that keeps wanting to find its way into our basement. But the house is the single thing that keeps us living above our means, so it has to go. And it’s a little scary, not knowing precisely where to go next. But we have plenty of options; and maybe my next book will be The Persistent Writer’s Guide to Downsizing.  But more on this next time.