This morning my wife shouted out something, indiscernible but urgent-sounding, from somewhere upstairs. I knew it was some sort of call for my assistance where I was in the kitchen downstairs enjoying my first cup of coffee. I lumbered up the back staircase to the second floor to find her in the bedroom staring at the the ceiling above my dresser where the steady drip, drip, drip of falling water slapped a piece of paper sitting atop it. Another roof-leak. We gathered the buckets and towels positioning them as best we could to catch the water while I texted the roofers we have come to know better than one really should know their roofer. No one can come right away so as much as you don’t wish to look at the damage the water is causing, your eyes are drawn to the widening stain on the ceiling and the blistering paint on the walls. We’re talking roof repair, opening up the wall and ceiling to dry, mold remediation, new drywall and paint. Still I try to avert my eyes, a nearly impossible task, because this disaster is in our bedroom and the office my wife has adopted since the start of the pandemic, directly above it.
We have been living in a 150-year-old house for the past 18 or so months in a neighborhood full of historic homes where some have spent decades restoring these unique second empire-style classics. It wasn’t that long ago that the neighborhood was blighted and many of the homes boarded up. Now, these ornate, three-story homes are selling in just a few days. As one who had never owned an historical home- well, technically our San Diego home was a registered historical home but it was built around 1930 or so- Hell, I’m considered an historical artifact in California!- But, again, as one who has never owned a truly historic home, it seemed like the coolest idea in the world to purchase one which had been on the market for many months. Yes, it needed some work, but, I was now mostly retired and what a great way to spend my time, I thought.
This morning I was flooded, as it were, with an assortment of thoughts. Anger was a central theme that ran through many of them- I was angry with myself for buying the home on impulse without having done all the due diligence that purchasing an historic home requires. Don’t misunderstand me, I love our home and our neighborhood and our neighbors are quite wonderful. But the decision to buy was impulsive. In my defense, I flew to St. Louis in early February 2020 and was more than a little under the weather. In retrospect, I wonder if it was an early case of COVID. Touring these homes, I felt I needed an oxygen mask when I reached the third floor. I had just a couple of days to find a place, and I wanted it to be different and unique which is what I got after sealing the deal in just a few days.
I have to say, I am feeling impatient with my history of impulsive decisions. For example, I just might have considered that a fixer upper may not be the wisest move for one of the least handy people on the planet. The truth is, I cannot tell my wife I intend to repair some broken item around the house since she knows there is a good chance we’ll be calling someone to repair my repair work plus whatever I had attempted to repair in the first place.
Anyway, the roofers will be out here soon and the job will be bigger than we had hoped because the previous owner was just a tad handier than me but not a crackerjack repair man and patched damaged areas with barely enough skill to hold things together until the house had been ours for a good year.
The roofer chuckled as he looked at the roof patches on the second-floor roof we replaced six months back. He’d seen it all before- it was the familiar ‘new homeowner-without-a-clue syndrome’. “It needs a new roof.” he announced. Contractor after contractor said the same thing. “New roof!” I whined about all this to my neighbor who smiled, and explained, “Oh yeah! These places are money pits.” Then he laughed. I laughed with him as if I had known this all along. “Well, of course they are! That’s why we bought it! Hahahaha!”
1870 was a long time ago and these beauties, known as “the painted ladies” for their colorful exteriors, are high maintenance. And you know what? It is what it is! Still, I have felt depressed all morning about this specific piece of “what is”. A Beatles song came to mind that in a peculiar way inspired me to sit down and write not really about the woes associated with owning an old house, but something quite different.
I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go
-Fixing a Hole, The Beatles
My mind likes to wander, perhaps needs to wander, I’m beginning to believe, for sustenance. The hole in the roof today, the hole in the roof a few months back, the replacement of sinks, bathroom vanities, lighting, painting continue to make this home more beautiful each day. But I have allowed these things to impinge upon a basic need for musement. Yes, musement, a rarely used word, is one about which the 19th Century philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce, a contemporary of William James, wrote:
“There is a certain agreeable occupation of mind which, from its having no distinct name, I infer is not as commonly practiced as it deserves to be; for, indulged in moderately, – say through some five to six percent of one’s waking time, perhaps during a stroll, – is refreshing enough more than to repay the expenditure. Because it involves no purpose save that of casting aside all serious purpose, I have sometimes been half-inclined to call it rêverie, with some qualification; but for a frame of mind so antipodal to vacancy and dreaminess, such a designation would be too excruciating a misfit. In fact, it is Pure Play. Now, Play, we all know, is a lively exercise of one’s powers. Pure Play has no rules, except this very law of liberty. It bloweth where it listeth. It has no purpose, unless recreation.”
He goes on to write:
‘Enter your skiff of Musement, push off into the lake of thought, and leave the breath of heaven to swell your sail. With your eyes open, awake to what is about or within you, and open conversation with yourself; for such is all meditation.’ It is, however, not a conversation in words alone, but is illustrated, like a lecture, with diagrams and with experiments.’
So first of all, the purpose of this article is to pledge that while fixing the hole in the roof is a matter I must address, it will not “keep my mind from wandering where it will go”. Musing is simply too fundamental to our makeup as human beings to set aside, especially as one grows older. There are things to think about, matters to be contemplated, ideas to be considered, and those things we possess the capacity to create. Some of this we may not anticipate or even be vaguely aware lies before us. These matters may require us to enter our skiff and push off into the lake of thought where heaven promises to swell our sails.
Over the upcoming weeks I will be sharing my musings with you. I don’t know if it is appropriate to say I hope you enjoy them. I do, on the other hand hope that you will read them and perhaps inspire you to set out on the lake of your thoughts where the breath of heaven may catch your sail.
-David L Heaney