All posts in: Life

Michigan!

I’m a person who naturally resists the importance of having goals, but secretly really likes to make goals. And lists. Lists of goals. Goals to make more lists.

A consistent, long-running goal of mine is to MAKE THE TIME TO GO SEE PEOPLE I CARE ABOUT. It’s also one I consistently feel like I fall short on. I’ll concede that it’s partly the house—giving up a sunny summer weekend translates to at least a few days when I can’t be scraping or caulking or painting or carpenter-ing or whatever it is, and that’s difficult for me wrap my mind around. The bigger reason, more likely, is that this is kind of a new-ish thing in my life, and I haven’t figured it out yet. This thing where the majority of my friends live in places that are different from where I live, and I won’t just see them again in the fall or on that vacation my family takes every year together, you know? You have to start working for it a little. And work is hard. Not working is easier than working. So the work of setting aside some time, planning it out, making reservations, and getting on a plane or a bus or a train doesn’t get done. And then you don’t see so-and-so until somebody dies.

So. I try to remind myself that blocking out some time and skipping town for a few days is REALLY FINE. EVERYTHING WILL BE OK. THE JOB WILL NOT IMPLODE. THE HOUSE WILL NOT COLLAPSE. THE PROJECT WILL WAIT. And hopefully when I’m back I’m actually excited to get going again…because isn’t that kind of the best feeling? I had hoped to do more of this kind of thing this summer, but ya know. Time moves fast and projects are intense and I turned around and it was August.

SO! Realizing the end of summer was approaching and I’d neglected this goal completely, I got my shit together and planned a little bop to Michigan! My super cool Chicago-based aunt and uncle, Janis and Tom, have a weekend-ish place in Sawyer, a short drive from Lake Michigan. It’s such a special place. I grew up going there every now and then, back when they owned the adjacent property and a different house which they renovated about 5 times over. At some point when I was a kid, they purchased this adjacent woodsy/prairie lot with a cute little house on it, which they renovated into a cozy guest cottage. We’d stay there as kids, making a short walk through the woods between the two houses to hang out with my cousins Tatum and Reese around the pool or get in a little gardening time with Tom. Then more recently, they sold the original house and undertook a massive renovation of the cute little guest cottage, and the result is this gorgeous place that feels at once familiar and completely brand new. Janis and Tom mostly designed the house themselves—a habit of theirs when it’s come to their own properties over the years, each somehow more beautiful than the last—which is honestly a little too impressive.

In the background of this, they also focused on stewarding the several-acre prairie, working with experts on native ecology to remove overgrown trees, do controlled burns to eliminate invasive species, and re-seed with this incredible array of native plants and flowers, which in turn has attracted an incredible array of native birds and insects. And THEN, they went and mowed paths through the prairie and created a damn sculpture park with their art collection. Tom is a collector and art dealer and Janis is a collector and an artist. So. You know. Very good taste. Lots of weird creative energy. Personal sculpture park. As one does.

The property has a few little outbuildings on it, including the cutest little boathouse thing there ever was! There’s pretty much just a mini-fridge of beer and some chairs…what else do you need?

Hi Phoebe! Such a pretty girl.

THE DEER! It’s like 16 feet tall. It’s so fucking cool.

This space used to be where my parents slept when we went to visit! It’s really weird seeing a recognizable view out the window but be in a completely different space. The collection of antique Mexican pottery is so beautiful. I love how Janis and Tom balance old and new—their spaces always feel modern but there’s barely ever anything actually new in them. My grandparents had that wild chandelier removed from their house during redecorating in the 70s—only for Janis to hang it up here 40-some years later.

Janis and I are a lot alike.

Anyway, it was a few wonderful days of hanging out, cooking, going to the beach on Lake Michigan that I love so much, exploring Sawyer, wandering the prairie, trying to infuse a watermelon with a bottle of tequila…you know, good clean family fun! I got to take my two “little” cousins (now fully grown adults!) to their first drive-in movie, and sing camp songs around a campfire with Janis and Tom for the first time in roughly 2 decades.

That kind of shit is good for your soul, I’m telling you.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! I was EFFICIENT. Also on my list of people to visit were my friends Kim and Scott, who ALSO HAVE A HOUSE NEARBY! So after a few days with Janis and Tom, I threw my bindle over my shoulder and headed over to Tree House. They actually hung out with Janis a while ago when they started looking for houses in the area, which I think is kind of adorable. “Hey Aunt Janis, can I invite my blog friends over to your house even though you don’t know them at all and I won’t be there? Great thanks!”

OMG YOU GUYS, MY HEART.

MY OVARIES.

ALL THESE VARGOS.

My two cute sweet blog friends up and made a baby since last time I saw them, and…well. Lucy is the cutest most charming little baby in the world. I got to nibble those toes! I don’t even consider myself a “baby person” but I ADORE THIS BABY.

Also, seeing Kim and Scott in these new roles as parents of a human being is just so beyond heartwarming. They’ve always been the best couple but now they’re the best parents too, and that is one lucky duck of a kid.

Of course, my other favorite Vargo (all of them are my favorite Vargo) is CC, short for Chocolate Chunk because look at her. I packed in as much CC cuddle time as possible during my short stay, during which she convinced me she was allowed to be on the bed when, in fact, she is not allowed to be on the bed. Sorry Kim and Scott!!!

(I’m not sorry)

We went to the dunes! Which was cool and also my feet melted to the sand!

GIMME DAT BABY!

Even though we both have blogs about the same kind of stuff, it was fun to get a glimpse into how the Yellow Brick Home blog-sausage is made! Kim and Scott work their asses off–not just on the renovations (impeccable, every time) but also on creating really well-produced blog content, and they do it in this hyper-organized, thorough, kind, supportive, cooperative, adult kind of way that’s…well damn. It’s serious work but not too serious, and honestly it’s inspiring to watch. They’re the kinds of friends that make me want to be better.

Kim and Scott did a little video recording during my visit, which they then cut into these cute little videos! You can check out our day of bopping around here, and a little Q+A we put together here!

Because I am seemly incapable of leaving anywhere empty-handed, I MAY have done a little thrifting. Now I will show you my items.

First up is this little piece of pottery. It’s by SØHOLM, a mid-century Danish ceramics maker. Usually with vintage ceramics I prefer one-of-a-kind amateur studio pottery (the more its taste can be questioned, the better), but hey! It fits in well.

Also, I got these primitive wooden tools. I think the one on the left is a kind of masher, and the one on the right is a butter paddle? I kind of just started buying things like these a while ago because they’re usually just a few bucks and I think they’re so simple and pretty…a little oil and bam, collection!

Someday I’ll figure out what to do with them. Stop rushing me!!!

Also I found this sweet pair of 20s/30s bathroom sconces, which for $12 for the pair just seemed dumb to pass up. It’s the kind of thing that isn’t that special, but if you wait until you NEED them, you’re at the mercy of resources that you KNOW will have them, and then you pay way more. YES in fact I DID buy two similar sconces not that long ago for the same reason. Anyone need a vintage bathroom renovated? (Oh right, I have 4 on the docket, never mind.)

Oh ALSO I picked up another yellowware bowl. I will not be stopped.

Thank you for having me, loved ones!

Here! There! Everywhere!

OH HELLO! It’s June! How did that happen?! There’s so much going on. Let’s run it down in no particular order because my brain’s all over the place.

The gang is back together! Edwin, Edgar and I are in the midst of building a large-and-in-charge wraparound front porch on a circa-1900 house in Kingston! Perhaps I should say rebuilding, since the porch was demolished long ago. So we’re constructing a close resemblance of the original porch, based on the bits of information we have—a few photos, dimensions from old tax assessment records, and the few pieces of the original porch that remained. It’s a big huge project that’s been in the works for a couple of YEARS now, so it’s super exciting that it’s finally happening. It’s also daunting! Partially because it’s HUGE at almost 800 square feet, and partially because it’s a significant addition that will completely change the appearance of this old house and I have to make it look right and like it’s always been there! Part of my job is keeping everyone occupied and PAID, so aside from this big project I’ve also been hustling my ass around town on a bunch of smaller projects that the guys can hit when it rains, or a product order is late, or whatever. It’s kinda a lot to manage.

Let me tell you a story! Last summer, I reluctantly dove into the waters of Instagram Stories while we were working on a different house just outside of Kingston. Admittedly, I’m an extremely rare story-watcher, but evidently I’m a semi-prolific story-maker. It’s fun! It’s easy! As we know by now, as much as I like to write, I frequently struggle with actually having the time to dedicate entire blog posts to stuff that I plan to dedicate entire blog posts to while they’re happening, so Instagram Stories have been a nice alternate way to document things in real time. If you’re not following me already, first of all get your life together, and second of all go find me @DanielKanter. Then just keep an eye out for new posts, I guess! I try to archive the more relevant bits into the Highlights feature at the top of my profile, if you need to catch up a little on the aforementioned porch project.

What’s that you say? A different house outside of Kingston? Yeah! I guess if you don’t follow me on Instagram, you wouldn’t have a way of knowing about the cool quirky old farmhouse the guys and I renovated last summer/fall/winter! Honestly it was another doozy—not quite Olivebridge proportions, but still managed to go from a couple changes and a bunch of sprucing up to a top-to-bottom overhaul of…everything? 2 bathrooms! Kitchen! Laundry! All the rooms! The whole outside! Mechanicals! The bulk of the work ended in February but I just did a final install last week. I have to go back and photograph it but it’s nice to have this 8-week-turned-8-month project off my plate a bit.

Speaking of Olivebridge. If you read even one of those tumultuous posts about the Olivebridge house, I owe you some resolution. We don’t have to get into all the mostly-stupid reasons that hasn’t yet come to pass, but I haven’t forgotten. Honestly the fact that I haven’t blogged about it makes me feel like the book is still open on that project—in spite of the house’s successful completion!—and that feeling sucks so it’s high time to get my shit together on that front. MAYBE IT COULD ACTUALLY BE FUN! At the very least I think it will really and truly feel finished in terms of big life events I’d never want to repeat. Ha!

5 years! So I didn’t even think about it until the day after, but Friday marked the five year anniversary of owning my house! What a journey we’ve been on, this house and I. I still love it. I’m still overwhelmed by it. There are still parts of it I haven’t tackled and a lot of other parts in some stage of progress, but (knock on ALL the wood) I think the worst of the renovation is pretty much over and that feels GOOD. The past 2 years or so were particularly rocky, but it’s finally started to feel like a real home again—my home—and I’m more grateful than ever that I get to call this special house mine.

Laundry! Kitchen! Anticipating that this summer would be exactly as crazy as it’s shaping up to be, I set some concrete goals for myself and my renovation for the first four months of the year. We can talk about this more later, but experience is a valuable thing—and it’s taught me that working on multiple major renovation projects at different properties at the same time is a recipe for inefficiency and frazzled-ness and general misery, but I also obviously can’t just work on my own house all the time. So, I try to give myself a little time between client projects to re-focus on my own stuff and get as much done as I can. May 1st became the goal for having a functioning laundry room, a functioning kitchen, and doing some MAJOR clean-up and space-reclamation everywhere else once the first two items were accomplished and there’d be a bit more room to spread out. I DID IT! Having laundry again is amazing and having it on the second floor lights up my life. The kitchen is FAR from complete, but IT HAS WALLS and electric and plumbing—enough to hook up a sink, move in a few of my old cabinets, and start using the space again AS A KITCHEN for the first time in almost 2 years. And now that my dining room isn’t also a kitchen, and my living room isn’t also an enormous glorified dog kennel, I spent a weekend just rearranging my own shit for hours and now those two rooms look and feel so much better than they have in a LONG TIME. I even had two friends over for dinner! Like I said—still a ton to do, but getting to this point of basic usability feels huge.

So interior progress at my house will slow, but hopefully exterior work will continue. There’s a lot to do on the outside of my house—between gardening on the street-facing sides (and just maintaining what I have!), finally putting the finishing touches on the major exterior work that started last summer and the one before, and trying to get SOMETHING good going on in the backyard, I hope I can bang it out in my “free time” before fall/winter hits again. I’ve already decided that this summer I’m going to skip tearing off more vinyl siding in favor of just polishing off what’s already started—I can’t stand all the loose ends out there right now.

I have a major itch to landscape. Or hardscape maybe, more specifically? Getting the backyard just to square one was so labor-intensive and expensive that gathering the motivation (or setting aside the time, with the house itself needing so much attention!) to do much else with it has been tough. I’ve done two things that helped get my ass in gear, though: first, I asked a friend with a great garden to help me prioritize and plan and make a few decisions. FRIENDS! THEY’RE SO HELPFUL! Second, the Brinson’s invited me last minute to the Trade Secrets garden show in Connecticut, where we toured 3 amazing gardens including living legend Bunny Williams’ property, which I really just need to do a photo-dump kind of blog post about because it was so insanely good. Going to see this stuff IN MY CLIMATE (“omg, I can actually grow that too!!!”) was really valuable and the whole thing was for-real inspiring. Like I literally got home and began construction on a dry-stacked bluestone wall because I just had to get my inspo-overload ya-yas out somehow.

But don’t get carried away about my house, because there’s still Bluestone CottageI feel I owe a longer explanation about this than I want to get into right this instant, but long and short of it is—I MUST finish that house. Personally, professionally, emotionally, physically, financially—it needs to happen. I think I successfully enlisted an electrician last week, and the plumber has finally (sort of) reemerged after beginning the rough-in a YEAR ago, and my own living situation is finally back out of complete shambles, and life will go on and the house will get done and then I can stop feeling shitty about bad decisions I made when I was younger and dumber. Well, at least one of them.

Mekko is the best dog. We’ve also been dealing with some health stuff over the past few months, requiring visits to vet offices in 3 different states and a whole lotta money. It’s certainly not good but seems to be surmountable (yay!), and it’s been stressful and expensive and basically I’m trying to not freak out. I lost one dog 7 months ago. I refuse to entertain that this could resolve any way other than completely fine and she’ll go on to be the longest-living dog on record and then I’ll clone her. So anyway. That’s been awful, no lie, but could be way worse. Surgery, again, this Friday. Sigh.

I’ve bought some stuff. You know, since the last time I showed you some stuff I bought. I like pretty old stuff.

So that’s basically what’s up in my little corner of the world. What’s up in your little corner of the world? Do we want to hear about any of the above items in particular more than others? Watched any good TV lately?

8 Years!

Let’s just make this clear right off the bat: I’m not stopping this blog train! I’ve noticed that every time I open a blog post by talking about blogging, or life, or anything not explicitly house-related, inevitably a contingent of readers thinks I am trying to signal the end times. Not so! Relax! I am, however, immensely flattered and still amazed that anyone would find such an announcement even mildly consequential or distressing. But that’s not what’s happening so don’t work yourself up! It’s only Tuesday! We have the whole week for that! Pacing is key!

Here’s what is happening: Sunday marked EIGHT YEARS since I published the first post on Manhattan Nest. I think that’s almost a century in Internet-time? What a crazy thing.

Eight years is a long time, I think, for most people to stick with any one thing. Which isn’t to overstate the longevity here—I mean, this morning I fell down an Instagram rabbit-hole and discovered that Heidi and Spencer have now been married for almost NINE years, and that shit knocked me right back down to size. But still, 8 years is something. Can we just IMAGINE for a second if I had applied the same level of long-term commitment to, say, physical fitness? Who even KNOWS the heights of hotness I could have reached! I certainly don’t. But it’s sort of fun to think about.

It feels a little funny/wrong/weird/indulgent (maybe because it isssss!) bringing up this 8-year milestone at all, primarily because of all the things this blog is not. You’d think after this much time, I might have figured a lot of stuff out about blogging, or at least about my own blog, but the truth is…nope, not really. Stuff like…is there a goal here with this thing that I’m doing? Why am I doing this? How does it fit into my life?

You know that feeling that everything we do ought to be undertaken with a specific goal in mind? Yes hello. You get the degree to get the better job. You practice the sport so you can win the game. You stitch this piece of fabric to that piece because all the small efforts will add up to one hawt caftan, or whatever. But what if you don’t know if you’re sewing a caftan or a quilt or a circus tent or a throw pillow? What if you just kind of like the activity of it? That can feel a little aimless, because it is. And not very worthwhile, sometimes.

I’ve been lucky to meet and know a lot of bloggers over the years, and have always felt super out of place when a conversation shifts to posting schedules or strategies to grow follower counts or subscribers or newsletters or video content or sponsorship deals with the kind of budgets that have definitely never come anywhere near my inbox.* In 8 years, I’ve never been successful at sticking to a posting schedule for any significant amount of time. I’ve stepped away from it all for weeks or occasionally months when other stuff took over my life. I’ve never done any of the smart things bloggers do to organically grow traffic and increase shares and gain larger followings. I’ve never pitched myself to a brand. I’ve never created goals for blog-derived income or really any blog-related goals, period. Yet, 8 years. Here we are.

*For the record, pretty much all blog people I’ve ever met IRL are really cool and fun and smart and mostly talk about things other than blogging.

For a long time, I felt like I was doing this whole blog thing very wrong. Actually, not even a long time—I mean pretty much the entire time. Like I accidentally created this thing that had potential to be…something…and I never got my shit together to really figure out what that thing was. I’ve never been able to figure out if this is job, or not a job, or kind of a job but totally different than my actual job, or an extension of my actual job, or what. It’s personal, but how personal? It’s professional, but how professional? Sure, I think I should be entitled to make some money off of it, but how much money? And how? And at what cost? How much time is too much time to spend on something that isn’t how I make a living, but contributes to it? Could I make it a job if I really dove into it with everything I had? Would I even want that if it was an option? Questions like this are shockingly easy to avoid thinking too much about, but I think the consequence is creating an abyss of not-knowing-ness. Without the clarity of a direction, often you don’t really know what to do. I guess you can just stop, but if it feels good…what’s the harm in continuing? For eight years.

I don’t have an answer but maybe that’s because I’ve been considering the wrong question. Maybe it doesn’t have to matter all the time what something should be, because how often in life are we honestly allowed to just not really know? Through what other mechanism can I have fun shooting the shit about stuff in my life and get paid even a little bit for it? And interact with a bunch of awesome people who want to talk about it? And make some legit friends along the way and see some amazing things and learn so goddamn much?

Maybe it kind of already is what it should be, which is a collection of all those things. That doesn’t mean it can’t be more. That doesn’t mean it won’t at times become less. But recently I realized that I was looking back on my 8 years of blogging as story of underachieving, a collection of personal and professional shortcomings, of all the things I somehow never wrote about or didn’t complete, of taking for granted what I know plenty of people work really hard for. We tell ourselves harsh stories, sometimes. But that’s one perspective, and it’s a bad take. My idea of a big project when I started this blog was building my own desk, and now I’ve built a housemaybe what this thing should or shouldn’t be just isn’t all that relevant.  The fact that we’re even talking about it at all 8 years in is worth something. The fact that it’s still fun is worth something. It actually feels like it’s worth a lot of somethings, at least to me.

This blog is, and has been, a source of incredible good in my life—this I know. And maybe a consequence of sitting for so long in that abyss of not-knowing-ness was the creation of this space, right here. This kooky little dimple of the internet where people are actually fucking nice to each other, and smart, and knowledgeable, and generous, where we can freely engage big ideas as much as fawn of pretty stuff and adorable raccoons. Sometimes I worry that acknowledging the rarity of that will come off as self-congratulatory, but honestly? I didn’t create it—you guys did. There have been almost 36,000 comments posted on this blog, and I don’t even think I’d need all ten fingers to count the shitty troll-y ones. Where else does that happen? I really don’t know, but it’s a real honor to be part of it here.

I don’t know what the next 8 years or 8 months or 8 weeks looks like with this blog, but I’d like to approach it with less concern about what I should be doing and more about what I want to be doing, since that’s pretty much all I’ve ever been good at anyway. It’s the internet, guys. We can do that kind of thing. And I hope you’ll come along for it, because I really like having you here. We have a nice time together, I think.

So from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you for these past 8 years! Year 9—let’s do this thing.

Life
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I Went Away.

A month ago, I took a trip. I’m super duper extra #blessed to come from a family who loves to travel. They aren’t really the types to voluntarily take a long road trip or bop somewhere for a weekend—they like a Big Trip. I grew up with stories like that one time, in 1984, when my grandparents took their three kids and spouses to still-Apartheid South Africa. My father fell extremely ill, so the rest of the family decided to go on safari and leave him and my mother back at the hotel—which sounds fine enough, except that the hotel was really a collection of tents outdoors. Evidently, the wild baboon population had learned to pillage the campsite for food as soon as the tourists left, and so, as the rest of the family watched giraffes graze on acacia trees and lions drink from the watering hole and the beauty of nature unfold before their eyes, my mother sat quivering back at camp, hoping to avoid being torn limb from limb by wild apes. My dad, useless and feverish inside the tent, missed the whole thing. This is just how the Kanters unwind as a group.

So several years ago, my dad got it in his mind that The Next Big Trip would be a relaxing little mid-winter jaunt down to the continent of Antarctica. You know the one, at the bottom of the planet? Where people do not generally go because it’s very hard to get to and very cold and there are no beaches? That’s the one. That’s where I went. It was fucking unreal.

In case you’re curious, here are the basic strokes: we all flew to Santiago, Chile, where we were for a couple of days. Then we flew to Ushuaia, Argentina, which is the southernmost city in the world, and then boarded a ship called Orion. The ship is basically a co-production of National Geographic and a tourism company called Linblad Expeditions, designed to hold about 100 passengers and 60 crew members. They call it an “expedition cruise,” which is essentially their way of describing a situation in which you’re exploring, kind of, while also being very comfortable and having all your needs constantly met. Once boarded and safety-briefed, you begin to sail—a term, I learned, that does not actually require the use of sails to be accurate. You sail for about two days, much of it through an area where the Atlantic and the Pacific collide to form a notoriously rough area of ocean called Drake Passage. A lot of people get seasick. I did not, because I’m better than everyone else.

Once near the Antarctic Peninsula, the waters calm and everything looks insane. Like, am-I-on-a-different-planet-level-insane. Cool blue water and icebergs and crisp allergen-free air and the occasional sea bird trailing the ship. This is where the expedition part of the cruise comes in, because weather changes rapidly and ice conditions are constantly in flux, so the captain and expedition leaders are constantly forming and re-forming an itinerary until the sail back to Ushuaia. While in/around the peninsula, they aim to get you off the boat twice a day for about 3 hours each time (these are the expeditions), and the rest of the time is taken up by eating, sleeping, attending lectures, enjoying the ship’s bar, and sailing to the next place. Sometimes you encounter whales along the way.

Truth be told, I almost never want to hear about other peoples vacations, and this is not a travel blog, so I feel inclined to stop talking about it now. I got to go do an amazing thing. I feel really lucky about it. I wasn’t allowed to touch the animals. I was allowed to touch the ice. I learned a lot, and I love my family.

Altogether, we were away for three weeks. Which went quickly, but still seemed like an insane amount of time to be, like, a grown-up but not responsible for anything. To detach from normal life and experience something so…unlike normal life. So even though it was more physically/mentally involved than, say, 3 weeks on a beach, it did give me some time to just…pause. And think. And take stock.

Get ready, I have a lot of feelings.

I am not a person who naturally does that. I’m more of a busy-body, going about life with an urgency and focus reserved only for whatever is calling out the loudest for attention. Of course, the quieter things don’t just disappear. More often, they fester and grow somewhere just outside my line of sight, lurking off in the periphery.

Maybe this is why taking breaks usually feels stressful for me: it means pausing whatever is currently holding my attention, stepping back, and surveying the bigger picture. It means looking at that stuff in the periphery. Confronting the stuff that’s been flying under the radar. To me, that’s fucking terrifying. Overwhelming. It makes me feel absolutely horrible.

I’m not actually convinced that it needs to be this way, or that it will be forever, but it has for a while. And I’m not just trying to whine—it’s just me, telling you, that I’m recognizing a problem, which in turn effects this blog, and I’m working on it. And maybe some of this rings true for you, too, and maybe we can work on it together.

A few weeks ago on December 31, I was scrolling through a few photos on my iPhone when that “On this Day” feature popped up. I tapped on “On This Day: December 31, 2016”—New Year’s Eve, exactly one year prior. I had taken exactly one photo, of my friend’s front door when we arrived for her New Year’s party. The wreath from Christmas was still hanging up between the panels, and underneath was a black bumper sticker with white text reading, simply, FUCK 2016. I remember walking up to that door, laughing a little, and thinking something along the lines of “amen to that.

I also remember thinking the same thing about 2015. And maybe 2014, too, although some distance has made it more difficult to pinpoint exactly why. I know I felt that way about 2017, though—in a really big way—which quickly made me concerned that just maybe some of this feeling could be attributed to the common denominator of those years of my life: me.

Well, shit.

2017 was a rough ride. I am so not trying to play Misery Poker here. I’m well aware that there are enormous swaths of the population who have it a whole hell of a lot worse than I do. My life is actually pretty terrific, especially through the lens of blogs and instagrams and whatnot. So let’s dispense with that, for a sec.

I can take you through it, kind of. Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States. That sentence alone. What a thing to be playing out, like some sticky fog that’s in and around and over and under everything. It’s such a dark, horrible, oppressive, depressing and inescapable feeling/backdrop/preoccupation/threat. Many of you can probably relate. Some other stuff went awry, too. A big project I thought I’d be developing kind of vanished. Renovation plans I’d made for my house, derailed. Plans I’d made for bluestone cottage, still unfinished. A future opportunity that fell through at the eleventh hour. This other small job I ended up taking that turned unexpectedly large. A project we didn’t get to before the weather turned. The attempt to wean off my anti-depressants (why, Daniel, why?). I over-committed. I got distracted. My dog died. I messed up with my blog. I let people down. I still don’t have a kitchen. Anxiety won.

Avoidance and anxiety go hand in hand, I guess. At least for me they do. I’m attracted to motivational statements like “nothing will make you feel better except doing the work” because I know they’re true and I also know they are counter to how I act when I encounter anxiety. A lifetime of it (and several years of its sleepy, somehow even less fun companion, depression) taught me to avoid anxiety in order to make life more manageable. This is not unanimously a terrible strategy: if snakes make you anxious, avoiding snakes is not such a bad way to live? There are plenty of other valuable things you can spend your time dealing with than the thing that you don’t like. If you never hold a snake, does it really matter?

The strategy becomes intensely problematic when pretty much everything makes you anxious. Like little tiny things and also really big things. Hello, my name is Daniel Kanter. I have not been doing great, thank you for asking. I’m trying to be better.

Take, for instance: this past summer, I started working on a house for a couple of clients. I haven’t talked about it here. I wanted to, but client gigs are fast-paced and draining and don’t leave a lot of time for blogging—that is true. But that doesn’t mean there’s literally no time—I also wasn’t making it. After spending 8 hours a day working on a renovation, it’s difficult to then want to spend several more hours thinking about it, writing about it, editing photos of it…and so I didn’t. I didn’t write about anything else, either. For a few weeks this felt good.

Some handy self-deception quickly took hold. I wasn’t being a lousy blogger, I was just taking a step back from blogging. Because I’ve been blogging for 7+ years and I can take a few weeks if I want to. Nobody would notice, probably. The story I told myself was that I just wanted to focus on the work, without the distraction of a broader group actively commenting on something in progress. I told myself I didn’t want to be influenced by what I thought readers would want or expect to see (which is puzzling, because I don’t really think I am normally? this isn’t an actual concern of mine?) and just focus on doing right by the house and the clients. I told myself that blog readerships create a certain kind of pressure—whether the content-creator is aware of it or not—to keep doing the thing that’s gotten them recognition or did well on Pinterest or whatever in the past. This, I told myself, is why it can seem like a lot of bloggers show a stunning lack of diversity in their creative output, and I did not want to fall into that trap by prioritizing the constant need to be sharing whatever I was doing over just doing the best job I could at the thing that I was doing.

I’m not even saying that these thoughts/feelings/theories are incorrect. But I am recognizing them for what they mostly were: justifications. I was vastly underachieving at something that’s important to me, so I created noble-sounding reasons to avoid feeling that failure-anxiety. That doesn’t work for very long.

And so, the anxiety-avoidance cycle. It’s a self-sustaining system that never fails to compound. I didn’t just not blog. I pretty much pretended that I didn’t even have a blog. Like I didn’t even know what blogs were! I focused on “the work” (of playing contractor for a relatively short-term freelance project), and whenever I thought about writing a blog post, anxiety told me that I’d first have to sign into WordPress, and then I’d be confronted with the comments I’d missed—at this point, there might be somebody asking if I was OK, or dead, or stopped blogging entirely, or accusing me of only posting because of X, Y, or Z, or even just telling me they missed my posts—and any of those things would make me feel worse. So I didn’t look. Instagram became anxiety-provoking, too. Other blogs. E-mail. Texts.

It’s almost like the longer you avoid something, the scarier it becomes. FANCY THAT.

This anxiety-avoidance-anxiety loop told me that all of you must hate me. That I had been letting everyone down, and even if/when I did write a blog post, or even post a picture to instagram, it would be met with anger and resentment for having disappeared, or something. Or something—because as much as I can try to explain the specific fears behind anxiety, it’s never just one thing or one bad outcome. It’s all of them. And then, what do you even do? Like, I can’t not post for a few months and then just come back with some whatever post about whatevers-town. It should be awesome. Creating something that you feel confident will be universally viewed as awesome by a reader that already hates you is, you guessed it, anxiety-provoking primarily because it’s probably impossible. So I kept…not doing it. I actually waited until a blogger friend was in town, handed them my phone, rattled off my password, and asked them to moderate months of missed comments for me. I couldn’t face it. Having given it some thought, that’s…crazy. But it’s kind of how I’ve been about stuff.

When Linus died, I knew I had to tell you. It took me a few weeks. Part of that was because I was very sad, and grieving, and not really in the headspace to sit down and write a eulogy, but another part of it was the anxiety-avoidance thing. The loop that actually had me convinced that even on that post I was likely to receive a barrage of guilt and shame for being a shitty blogger, and I couldn’t deal with it on top of mourning my dead dog. Of course, you didn’t do that.

You never have. If legitimate fears need to be backed up by evidence or past experience, this fear is not legitimate. None of my fears about blogging—or most things that make me anxious, really—are all that legitimate. But that’s not how fears born of anxiety work. They’re not rational but they are persistent. They’re exhausting.

I hate this thing—this anxiety surrounding blogging and you. It’s not just a problem with blogging—it’s a problem in other areas of my life, too, in many cases for longer than this—but blogging? That’s new. I’ve always liked blogging I think because it felt separate from the anxieties of everyday life, like a relief from it, not an addition to it. So this thing where I can’t even sign into WordPress to check comments? It’s extremely unpleasant. And ultimately counter-productive, if the goal is to not feel like shit. Avoiding the thing that’s making me anxious is not helping. It’s making it worse.

In other words, I need to Stop That. Here and elsewhere in my life.

Reflecting on this past year, and the few preceding it, have me feeling a certain urgency to not feel this way in another 12 months. Also 9 months after that, when I’ll be 30. I don’t want to still be in this place, where anxiety still wins and everything feels like it has one or many loose ends to tie. So I’m, like, consciously trying to change my approach to things? I’m trying to take control of this situation. Make it better. It’s not just going to happen.

I want to get back to having fun—with life, with my house, with my work, and with this blog. I miss sharing. Not sharing doesn’t make me feel good; I know this now.

So since I’ve been home, I’ve been trying to get into some new shit. I started going to acupuncture. We’ll see. I made haircut appointments for myself every month for the next year. I did a huge purge of digital clutter and reclaimed 170 gigabytes of hard drive space and avoided the need for a new computer. I’ve been aggressively getting the house in order. I began posting to Instagram again. I started a book club where all we do is indulge our secret fascination with self-help books by reading self-help books (//hoping we get something out of it no lie). I’ve been cooking more of my own food (my makeshift situation would be funny if it hadn’t lasted so long and was therefore so embarrassing/upsetting) and trying to take better care of my body. I’ve been working on creating boundaries at work and trying really hard to stop comparing myself to the success of others. I’ve been making goals and outlining plans and trying to give myself some goddamn tools to succeed. And I’m writing this blog post, and that’s something.

So that’s where I’m at. They’re steps forward. I’m trying, and I’ll keep trying. It’s good to see you.

I hope your 2018 is off to a good start. I’m excited to make this one better.

Life
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My Buddy.

Back in March, Linus went through a rough patch that landed us, late one night, at the emergency vet’s office. The situation didn’t look promising. In discussing treatment with the doctor, there were a lot of qualifiers—“if he even makes it through the night” or “if we can administer his medication”—that kind of thing. Before departing, the vet warned me of the “difficult decision” I would likely be faced with in the morning, if nature hadn’t run its course. It was devastating. I was a disaster.

For me, grief tends to take one of two forms. There’s the more typical version: a lot of crying, wallowing in general despair, foggily moving through the motions of everyday life when loss is all you can really think about. And then there’s the arguably more productive kind, wherein I distract myself with some large but detailed task in order to fleetingly create the illusion that something in this terrible fucking situation is within my control and that things may, eventually, return to normal. On this night I gravitated toward the latter. I’d recently read the majority of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo—a 200+ page self-help volume that could (ironically, perhaps) easily be condensed to a set of bullet points in a pamphlet. Kondo’s book promises a better life if you can train yourself to abide by the simple principle of keeping only that which “sparks joy” and disposing of, literally, anything else. This is a person who threw her hammer into the trash but found that a cast iron skillet worked just as effectively for driving nails into the wall if she felt compelled to hang up a picture—so maybe take it with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, with Crisis Zone emotions coursing through me, I started in on my entire wardrobe. That’s how I found myself months later getting dressed for a wedding, only for a vague recollection of donating my joyless suit pants to surface. Grief messes you up.

He did make it through the night. In Brooklyn there were emergency vet offices that remained open 24 hours a day, but no such option exists here—meaning that for real round-the-clock care, you have to transfer back and forth between the vet that’s open during the day and the vet that’s open at night. We did this for a few days. Having dealt with my clothing, I moved onto my books.

His situation hadn’t improved, medical options beyond his normal regimen of pills had been exhausted, and the doctors felt that there was nothing left to be done. And that if I wasn’t ready to make that Tough Decision, I should consider taking him home for one last night—where, they warned, he was likely to pass on his own accord. So that’s what I did. I wasn’t ready, not remotely. And in spite of his condition—unable to stand or walk and exhibiting no appetite—something inside me felt that he wasn’t, either. Maybe he’d turn a corner. And so I bundled my roughly 15 year old dog in my sweatshirt, hoping for just a little more time.

Within 24 hours, Linus stood up. He walked around a little, and started to accept food in the form of boiled chicken breast and rice. He wasn’t keen on returning to his regular food, so in the ensuing days and weeks and—to the shock and awe of the staff at the animal hospital—months, he gained back the weight he’d lost on an increasingly elaborate diet of chicken and rice and raw beef tripe and human baby food and the occasional can of sardines. Long ago, I’d made a simple pact with this dog: as long as he wanted to stick around, I would do whatever it took to take care of him. Which, honestly, is a helpful thing to remind yourself of when handling raw beef trip first thing in the morning.

We needed more time, and we got it. Remember how I said this was back in March? That’s March 2016. A year and a half ago.

Linus stumbled into my life at the ripe age of around 10 (I’m taking for granted that you’ve read everything I’ve ever written, which is maybe unrealistic, so here’s that whole story) back in 2012.  The gist of the story is this: a tiny dog in horrible condition was mid-capture by Brooklyn police; a woman interrupted the encounter because she believed the dog lived on my block; I happened to pass this woman while she was trying to return the dog home; the dog didn’t live there after all; she couldn’t keep the dog; I volunteered to take care of the situation; I did so by eventually deciding to keep the dog. That night, I sat with him on the bathroom floor in my Brooklyn apartment and, for seven hours, worked to free his little body from what looked like years of matted fur and filth. Looking back later, this struck me as a bad idea on a number of levels. Imagine it: being taken off the streets by a strange person, brought to a strange place, and being subjected to hours of what was surely uncomfortable and painful grooming and bathing at the hands of that strange person. He should have bit me, and I couldn’t have blamed him. He should have cowered in fear and confusion. He could have given me rabies, or infested the apartment with fleas or bedbugs. But he didn’t do any of those things—instead I remember his patience and seeming understanding of what I was trying to accomplish. I remember him starting to lick me with this determined fervor, like he was trying to return the favor. When I nicked his paper-thin skin, he yelped once and licked my face, as though he knew it was an accident and forgave me immediately. After it was over and time for bed, we tried to confine him to the kitchen for the night but instead he stood by the door and barked until I let him into the bedroom. All he wanted was to be close.

I didn’t know how much I would grow to love him. I’d always had big goofy dogs, but after getting cleaned up Linus looked like he might have fallen out of some rich lady’s Prada on the Upper East Side. He didn’t chew or fetch or tug or really play at all. At the dog park he just sort of trotted around on his own. And despite what people will argue, teaching a dog that old new tricks is…well, he wasn’t interested, so I didn’t push it.

His joys were simple and small. Occasionally if he was feeling particularly active, he might start humping a throw pillow. He liked shredding (but not really eating) leafy greens like kale and lettuce. Sometimes he could really get going on gnawing a pizza crust—a rawhide for the dentally disadvantaged. But mostly, he just wanted to be close to me—really close—at all times. Even as his faculties dissipated, he somehow maintained the ability to detect my absence and track my whereabouts as soon as I would leave him alone in a room, even if he seemed to be sleeping soundly.  Evidently, this is a common trait with small dogs—to bond really strongly to one person, even in a family setting—but I couldn’t help but feel like he was abnormally fanatical about me. Maybe because the feeling was mutual.

Without question, he was the most good-natured animal I’ve ever known. One thing that always stuck in my mind about the account of his rescue was that allegedly officers were afraid to approach him because they didn’t want to get bit. Because he was showing his teeth and snarling. “He looked mean.” I literally cannot imagine this, because Linus greeted everyone—man, woman, child, dog, cat, rabbit, etc.—the same way: eyes bright, head upright on his stocky little shoulders, ears alert, scraggly little tail wagging in this circular helicopter motion that pretty much defines that phrase “I can’t even.” Exquisite cuteness aside, I think this is what I most love and cherish about Linus. That thing, right there—that approach to the world—that even now I have a hard time articulating.

I never got to know what the first decade of Linus’s life looked like, and I highly doubt I ever will. All I know is what I can surmise from the condition he was in when he found me, which remains hard to think about. That somehow my little man ended up that way. That someone allowed him to. It’s the kind of shit that can fuck someone up—human or animal. That can make the world seem scary, or threatening. That can make people seem bad and untrustworthy. That can make the task of survival feel like an extended exercise in fear and reclusion and anger. It seems to me that it takes a certain rare and resilient kind of character to bounce back from that. To move on from it all with love and kindness and the ability to trust when experience has taught you the opposite. I think that’s called grace. I think that’s strength. And bravery. I think that’s being a total badass. I never thought a 12 pound dog could show me that.

As anyone who’s reached this point with a pet can likely attest, caring for a geriatric dog can be challenging, particularly when the health issues begin accumulating. Due to his background, we’ve always had our share of medical challenges—starting with probably never having seen a vet, been vaccinated, neutered, trained to live in a house or eat dog food; the list goes on. His teeth were so badly rotted that nearly half of them came out during his first cleaning. His first night off the street, Max and I quickly noticed a muffled, huffy kind of cough that we feared might be contagious to Mekko, but learned was actually symptomatic of a collapsing trachea—a condition evidently common among small dogs. “Imagine your throat is like a camping tent,” I remember the doctor telling me, “and then all of a sudden the poles collapse. That’s more or less what’s happening.” Great.

Shortly thereafter, a heart murmur was detected, and then congestive heart failure entered the picture with an attending handful of prescription medications designed to keep his ventricles pumping and fluid from building up in his lungs. His liver and kidneys began to struggle—difficult to treat because those medications would interact poorly with the ones for his heart. At some point, any advances we’d managed to make with potty training went out the window, and the composition of my trash can became about 50% used diapers (or, more specifically, an unbelievably absorbent female incontinence product called Poise Pads that I bought by the hundreds, which happen to be the perfect size to line a “tinkle belt” made for dogs). Gradually he lost the great majority of his hearing, reacting only to very loud sounds. His sight, too: the left eye was declared worthless, while the right seemed able to detect changes in light and the movement of large shapes. He began to have a difficult time with his right front paw—arthritis, perhaps. He lost a few more teeth. The doctor thought he might have emphysema. At home, I wondered if he was afflicted by canine dementia, since he seemed unable to recall why—other than sunbathing—we spent time outside at various points in the day.

I realize to some people this all might sound crazy. Like I’m a Crazy McCrazy dog person who couldn’t accept what was plainly obvious. And at various times, I struggled with this—because I don’t see myself as a Crazy McCrazy dog person who would prioritize my own selfishness over the suffering of an animal. Quality of life is a hard thing to evaluate, particularly when the one living that life can’t speak for themselves. But he really did still seem like a happy dog, content to live out his golden years with his ten pills a day and his diapers and his collection of plush beds scattered around the house.

There are people who adopt elderly dogs on purpose, which I find exceedingly admirable. At 22, I know I wasn’t one of those people, and at 28, I’m still not sure that I am, though I wouldn’t dismiss the idea out of hand. If you’re a dog person, I probably don’t have to tell you what terrific companions old dogs can make. But the inconvenient and surprisingly taboo fundamental truth about adopting an older dog almost goes without saying : the more time that’s behind them, the less they’re likely to have ahead. So in taking responsibility for that life, you’re also sort of immediately confronted with the inevitability of death. Which, of course, could apply to all living things, but I think is much easier to ignore when you take home a puppy instead. I realize this probably sounds miserable—to live constantly with this sort of unpredictable specter of death, looming ahead at a distance that feels impossible to gauge. But I think in some ways it’s the opposite. You’re forced to face the thought of it, and as a result it becomes less scary. Less threatening. Another part of being alive. Time is precious and beautiful because of its limited quantity. Because it runs out.

Blunt as it might sound, I sort of hoped but also fully expected Linus would someday die in his sleep. It just seemed to fit with the order of things: this dog that slyly worked his way into my life, who followed his own rules and never seemed interested in observing mine. Who could bark endlessly—never, not once, out of fear or aggression, but because he wanted something and “no” did not register as an acceptable answer. Linus’s way or the highway. I always had this idea that I didn’t really own him, that he wasn’t really my dog. He had this whole past that belonged only to him. He might live in my home and accept my care and affections, but he’d still never really be mine. The idea of choosing to end his life for him seemed, for a long time, like an impossibility. It just didn’t fit.

After that scare in March 2016, it seemed apparent that our time left together might be very short.  He’d go through a few difficult days, and then he’d bounce back, and part of me began to believe that maybe he really would outlive us all. But the other part of me—the part more acquainted with reality—recognized that the time we had left, at this point, was borrowed, and I had to accept that it would soon come to a close. That he’d no longer be here. I think he fought for so long to make sure I was ready to handle that. That I’d be OK.

About a month ago, Linus’s slow decline seemed to speed up rapidly. It started out essentially the same as episodes we’d weathered before, but this time just felt different. I can’t really explain it. We went to the vet, who calmly and quietly confirmed what I already knew. It still hits you hard, to hear it. It’s still shocking to be presented the option of either doing it right there and then or waiting. I realized I’d spent more time trying to ready myself for the time after this—going home to one dog, filling one food bowl, being alone on the sofa while I wrote or watched TV—than the moment that precipitates it. The one where you have to say goodbye, the one that I hadn’t anticipated because I still expected to find him one bright morning, lifeless in his bed, gone on his own time. And again, I found myself unprepared.

There’s a Yiddish phrase that translates to “the way it begins is the way it ends,” and maybe the reason I deluded myself into expecting a different ending to this story originates from my misreading of the beginning. We decided to go home. The doctor could come to the house the next day. I held him all night and into the next morning, which turned into one of those perfectly crisp but sunny fall days where you’re warm as long as you stay out of the shade. We bundled up and sat in the sun for a while, and he seemed content. It’s weird, trying to fill that time when there’s an actual countdown. It feels really fast and really slow at the same time.

The doctor arrived. Mekko settled into a chair across the room. I held him close to me, and it ended the way it began—with him in my arms, safe, and granting me all the trust in the world that whatever I was doing was the right thing.

Choosing this conclusion wasn’t a punishment, I realize now. It was a privilege—one that he extended my way the night he walked into my life and chose to trust me. Chose to love me. Chose to be my dog.

Being your person was one of the great honors of my life, my handsome little man. I miss you more than words, and I’ll love you forever.

Life
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