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
Tagged:

But First, Real Quick: A(nother) Laundry Room.

In my last post, I talked about renovating the back wall of my house to bring my window and door locations (fenestration, if you wanna get fancy!) into alignment with the stupid kitchen I designed, which just requires a few simple changes to every possible thing imaginable about my house.

You may have thought that getting this essential work completed(ish) would mean that NOW, FINALLY, AT LONG LAST, we are ready to dive into all things kitchen! Particularly because you know I’m liable to change my mind again and throw my life into total chaos for an indeterminate amount of time at the smallest inkling of a better idea.

Just kidding, I’M NOT DOING THAT BAD THING ANYMORE. I’M JUST TRYING TO GET MY LIFE BACK TOGETHER NOW OK? Moratorium on all ideas, please.

Also, I literally posted those kitchen plans a year ago dear god what is my life.

The problem is one that I gestured toward in my last post, which now we will really dive into: to make way for The Kitchen, I’ve had to make some sacrifices. Namely, my first kitchen renovation, my pantry renovation, having a sink on the main level of my house, my sanity, the concept of “free time,” and last but not least…my laundry room. That last one stung, because back in 2014 I’d already turned it from this:

To this:

I’ll give you a moment to get over the absurdity of this. I’m still working my way through it.

Here’s the thing, though, and I actually think it’s kind of normal: the longer you live in a house (and more secure you feel about staying there), plans change as new ideas emerge, potentials reveal themselves, and you develop a better handle on what it’s actually like to live there. I moved to this house from a 5th floor walk-up in Brooklyn where the closest laundry machines were 3 blocks away, so having a laundry facility in my house at all felt like an enormous luxury, and there was a whole little tiny room off the kitchen just for that very purpose! At the time, I don’t even remember considering relocating it to a different spot, so I renovated the laundry room.

I loved that laundry room. It was small but had almost everything I needed, and truth be told I did a really nice job on the moldings and the tile. The tiling job in the kitchen was passable, but the laundry room was perfect.

So naturally I destroyed it. More specifically, I enlisted Edwin and Edgar to handle the demo, because I couldn’t face it. Let’s try to justify what the fuck I just did with a few semi-valid points:

  1. Nice as the laundry room was, it was in the way of my kitchen plan and specifically in the way of my tiny bar sink plan and that just will not do.
  2. The laundry room was maxed out on space, for sure. A utility sink in the laundry room would be, like, next-level awesome, but there’d never be space for that or anything else, really. It woulda been nice to have a bit more room for other cleaning-related supplies as well.
  3. The laundry room was on the first floor at the very back of the house, meaning that 95% of laundry went from my bedroom on the second floor at the front of the house, down a narrow hall, down a flight of stairs, down another narrow hall, through the dining room, and finally through the kitchen and into the laundry room. HARDLY inconvenient, but not especially convenient, either. Not luxuriously convenient. I strive for LUXURY (clearly, as you can plainly see by my lifestyle of dumping dirty dishwasher into my backyard because I lack basic indoor plumbing).
  4. Back then, relocating laundry to the second floor would have sounded to me like an insane and low-key impossible feat of plumbing and ducting wizardry. I’ve learned through intervening experience that it’s not that bad.
  5. If all of this seems like a massive waste of money, let’s keep in mind a few things. First, that the most valuable thing about the laundry room was the machines themselves—the subway tile and moldings cost a few hundred dollars but mostly just a lot of my time. Second, that time wasn’t badly spent, because, after all, the room was in constant use (and looking snazzy!) for a few years and gave me lots of practice to do nice tile and moldings in the future, too.

If you remain unswayed, I simply cannot help you. I’ve done my best.

I decided, in order to make myself feel not-crazy, that the new laundry room couldn’t just be new but also had to be improved. Want a slop sink? Let’s get a slop sink in there. Want it on the same level as the bedrooms? Let’s make that happen. Want a little more space for other cleaning accoutrement? We got that too.

(I don’t know who “we” and “let’s” refers to, except it makes me feel less alone to phrase things this way.)

There was plenty of internal debate about the location of this new and improved laundry haven, but I’ll spare you the details. There aren’t that many options, let’s be real. And the best one was…my office. Which I had already renovated from this:

To this:

Take another moment to peel your palm off your face. I’ll do the same! We all ready? OK.

I had a wee little office upstairs that I stuck in a sweet bright room. It was nice and I enjoyed it.

Naturally, this too I destroyed. But less than the former-laundry-room—no reason to gut this space! As before, let’s dive into some of the reasoning that led me here:

  1. The office served as a nice “home base” for paperwork and mail and stuff, but rarely did I actually sit in there and do work. I tend to work at my laptop either on a chair or a sofa or the floor. When I do want to sit upright at a desk, I like a bigger work surface to spread out so I can make piles of papers and feel important and grown-up.
  2. When I renovated this room the first time, the goal was really the renovation itself: I thought that this was the room where I’d teach myself to scrape, stabilize, repair, and skim-coat plaster walls—a process I’d be repeating on almost every other wall of the house. This kind of came to pass, although this little room taught me that hiring out the final skim-coating is 100% worth it. In any case, I had to make the room into something, and it was too small to be a bedroom, so it became an office.
  3. I do remember, however, that the decision to make it an office was dictated partially by the fact that it was such a nice, bright little room and using it for something like a closet would have felt like a big shame! But remember, this was before so much other workmy bedroom still had three windows instead of four and felt perpetually off-balance. The den still had a crazy bump-out that felt like it might fall off the rest of the side of the house. The room above the kitchen still had an exterior door leading out to a 15-foot drop to the ground below. In context, the office was small but just seemed so nice in a way that the other rooms weren’t.

Guess what. It’s still a nice room, but now all the other rooms are nice, too! Or on their way. This is very exciting for me. So as much as dismantling another space I’d already “done” sucked, there’s a real victory in there…somewhere…of loosening up about this particular space because other rooms finally feel way nicer than this little glorified closet. It has a higher calling and that calling is washing my undies.

SO. It has been decided. Someday this will all be for the best. Now it has to happen. And it has to happen in a very specific way, because this cannot become a thing. NOT RIGHT NOW, I HAVE A KITCHEN TO ATTEND TO. This is what I need out of this laundry room renovation:

  1. Fast. Lightning fast.
  2. Very cheap. Do you know how much kitchens cost? Way too fucking much.
  3. Functional. I want/need all the major players (sink, washer, and dryer) in place, but I can worry some other time  about improving it further. I’ve considered all sorts of plans that involve tiling the floor and/or the walls, and putting in a really amazing cool sink, and building in cabinetry and other storage, and…and…and…but that’s how this becomes a thing which I have already said cannot happen right now. Stop pressuring me! Someday perhaps I will circle back and do this kind of stuff when I can dedicate the resources to it.
  4. Cute—enough. This is primarily because I do not trust myself around my own things that I do not consider attractive. If something looks nice and put-together, I’ll be less inclined to treat it badly. This is ridiculous, I recognize, but it’s also true and there’s no use in fighting it.

While the walls and floor were still in good shape (well, nothing a fresh coat of paint couldn’t fix) from my previous renovation work, there was a major obstacle: the chimney. This chimney seemed to be causing structural damage to my roof, so it was demolished below the roofline when the roof was redone back in 2013. Some time later, I demolished it further down to the attic floor. And now, I had a choice to make: leave it or demolish it all the way down to the basement floor—three stories of chimney.

For some reason, I wrestled with this decision FOR. EVER. The chimney is totally defunct. It protrudes into the room and sits where, ideally, the dryer goes. The only way to fit two machines and a utility sink into this room is for the chimney to go, and I really wanted that goddamn sink. AND YET…I hate ripping original stuff out (even if it sometimes seems like I do with wild abandon, I really try not to!), and what if someday I wanted to expose the brick?? Or use the chimney to vent…something? Or have it rebuilt from the attic floor up? This literally kept me up at night.

Hold up. I have nothing to vent. I have no reason to rebuild the chimney from the attic floor, and certainly not the money. I’m not even into exposing brick chimneys like this—I think 99% of the time it looks stupid. HOW’S THAT FOR A HOT TAKE. Come at me.

Demolishing the chimney had the enormous added advantage of being able to use the remaining void as a chase for all the plumbing and electrical, without losing any space in the small dining room closet below. I realize you’d have to be pretty intimately familiar with the layout of my house for this to make any sense, so don’t worry about it.

But also…ugh. That’s so many bricks to haul out of the house. It sounded like the worst possible way to spend a weekend, so instead Edwin and Edgar and I did it together one morning during that week we were working on the back of the house. It wasn’t so bad with three people. Now the chimney is in a pile in the backyard, where I’ll have to sort through it this spring to salvage what I can and dispose of the rest. That’ll be a terrible time. Let’s not think about it yet.

Instead, let’s think about all the laundry I’m going to do in this room! Let’s think about all the ways I’m going to use that SINK!

Literally, this is the plan. Hey—there’s a plant OK?! I made the mood board a) so I’d have a way to end this post and b) to drive home the point that WE ARE NOT GETTING CARRIED AWAY HERE. I can dream really big but I’m forcing myself to dream small. See that rug? Discontinued from IKEA and I already own it. See that sink? It’s plastic and $95 at Lowes with a $23 faucet. THAT is the vibe. Functional and good enough with as few new purchases as possible.

I’m gonna rock that plastic tub sink, just you wait.

So I Re-Did the Back of the House (Again).

Here is a shocking bit of information that you have likely already deduced if you have read this blog for any amount of time: I’ve been chasing my tail a bit with my own house renovation. I’m not proud. A couple of years ago, I bit off more than I could chew. I should have known better. I did it anyway. Unsurprisingly, it bit me in the ass.

Let’s talk about it.

I bought a house with an old and truly yucky kitchen. The kitchen was the very first thing I tackled, and ya know? That was a good renovation. The improvements were inexpensive but impactful (new paint, a little subway tile, and VCT floors for the win!), and the kitchen worked fairly well.

It wasn’t the dream kitchen but it was a fine, serviceable space, and one that could have easily lasted several more years. The kitchen took kind of a beating as other renovations unfolded throughout the house, but I’d renovated it with that in mind! It would all get torn out someday but, I figured, when everything else had been done, by which time this kitchen would certainly be falling apart.

Fast forward less than two years, and I found myself single. One night, I also found myself a little drunk (related: pls excuse the quality of these photos). With the contents of my kitchen cabinets now significantly slimmed down as a result of the break-up, I was suddenly overcome with the urge to slim down the cabinets themselves. I didn’t NEED all these cabinets! And if I just took down the upper cabinets, then I could also just rip out the enormous soffits above them, and then my kitchen would be brighter and more open and happier and maybe I’d put up a nice shelf or just a cool piece of art and HOW GREAT WOULD THIS BE?!?!

Don’t drink and demo. Or do, but with supervision so you don’t do anything stupid. Like meeeeeeeeeee.

So I took down the uppers and the soffits. Briefly this felt good.

I had to re-route the electrical for the little over-the-sink light, and drywall the area that had been behind the soffit because the plaster was too far-gone. I just had to do some more patching, sanding, repaint a couple walls and the kitchen would be good as new!

I really should have taken a bath or something that night. I never did patch and sand and repaint. Instead, a few months later I seized the remainder of summer and demolished the rickety old addition off the back of the house.

Boy was that exciting.

This, in turn, prompted replacing the window and vestigial fire escape exit door in the second floor room above the kitchen and insulating and re-siding the back of the house—it was a huge job and one that I wasn’t totally ready for. One of the casualties ended up being the kitchen window, a cute casement that got split up into two casements for the second floor, like so:

So I ripped the kitchen window out, put in a “temporary” vinyl window, still thinking I’d patch up the kitchen and continue to use it for another 5-10 years and this would be good enough for now.

I never did patch up the kitchen. The wall surrounding the new window just remained open to the studs and insulation for the next several months. Elegant!

Then I designed and built an entire house (I. will. show. it. to. you. I. swear.), and at the tail end of that little gig, I circled back to my own. I did this with great excitement because I hadn’t been able to put any real work into my own house for a while, so naturally I took on the biggest and most involved project this house will ever see under my care: the enormous restoration of the side of the house.

This saw the removal of two more additions and the installation of five(!) new windows—two of them in the kitchen, but a different wall than the one from the year before. Round and round we go.

In order to install these new windows, we first had to frame in the openings for them. We probably could have gone about this a couple of more intelligent ways, but instead at that point it just felt like…fuck it. Just gut it. So that’s what we did, and suddenly my kitchen and pantry were reduced to a few remaining cabinets and a sink. Which I then also removed because it felt like they were in the way of completing the next steps, which I was sure I’d be addressing imminently.

So dumbbbbbbbbb, omg Daniel.

But at least I had two windows where I needed them to be…you know, for the kitchen that still has not manifested.

Before I could really even address the kitchen, I had to actually wrap up that whole side-of-the-house-restoration project on the exterior before winter hit. I ran out of time and didn’t totally finish, and shamefully still haven’t, but I finished enough that things have been fine.

I ran out of something else around that time too, though! The money in my bank account! That exterior project was more involved and costly than I’d given it credit for, and it cleaned. me. OUT.

THIS, my friends, was a bit over a year ago, and it was truly a low point. The house was a wreck. What was left of the kitchen (appliances, some cabinetry) had overtaken the dining room. The living room was mostly just exceptionally dirty from the renovations but literally felt unsalvageable at the time, like it might after a flood. The bedroom was missing a wall. The den was missing a wall and a ceiling. I hadn’t managed to get a plumber to come cap a couple of radiator lines and get the boiler going, so I didn’t have a real heat system that winter. I couldn’t figure out how to get hot water running either (turns out the motherboard of the boiler had died!) so I took frigid showers or sponge baths with water from the electric kettle, since I no longer had a stove to heat it. This went on for months.

Guys, it was fucking horrible. In the summer, cold showers and doing my dishes on the front porch had felt kind of quaint and folksy, but now it just felt like I could not be more of a disappointment to myself and to this house. And it was my fault. Decisions I had made myself had led me here. To Grey Gardens, my new home.

We ain’t done.

I guess it was kind of OK to not have the cash to do the kitchen a year ago, in part because there were plenty of low-cost projects to keep me occupied, like the bedroom and the den. You can do a lot with joint compound and paint between bigger projects, so I just focused on that kind of stuff. Besides, there was another huge roadblock in front of really even getting the kitchen renovation started, aside from the money part: re-doing that back wall…again. Already. The one that I already did two years prior, when I thought I wouldn’t have to think about it again for a decade or so. The kitchen design kind of hinged (pun def intended) on moving the location of the exterior door, and replacing the temporary vinyl window, so the chimney could be flanked by two matching windows to the new ones on the other elevation.

I’d hoped, I think, that this would somehow just happen. Like I’d wake up and find windows and doors where my computer renderings had placed them, and then I could move ahead into the rough-ins and the finishing work!

Sadly this did not come to pass. So at the tail end of this past summer, with the goal of being able to really work on the kitchen this winter, I bit the bullet and Edwin and Edgar and I took a week and did it (followed by a few weeks of me working alone every evening/weekend…). I had a better idea of what I was getting into, so it wasn’t as bad as the first time around, and I had a bit more help. So we took out the door and the vinyl window.

Then we removed the siding from the first floor (again) because it seemed a bit easier than all the patching that would have been required otherwise.

All of this pretty much sucked, by the way.

Once that kitchen wall was framed and the windows installed, we moved on to putting the wall back together.

One thing I never loved about the first revamp of this wall was that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to expand the corner boards. The original corner boards are 4″ on this house, which feels kind of dinky below such a substantial cornice and eaves returns, so we popped off the corner boards and cut another 4″ or so off the ends of the remaining clapboard with a circular saw. Inside the house, we added new nailers so the new ends of the clapboard would be affixed to something stable. The new corner boards are 7.5″ wide on this back kitchen addition, and 11.5″ on earlier parts of the structure. It’s a small thing that makes a big difference! And doesn’t really complicate anything if you’re doing all this work anyway.

Boom! Someday I’ll trim out the tops of the corner boards to really finish it off, but for now they look fine.

MOVING. RIGHT. ALONG! Next came the new exterior door location and the windows for the planned pantry space and the first floor powder room. Just rebuilding every goddamn wall. The new door is off-center to accommodate cabinetry in that room, and I think an exterior wall sconce to the right of the doorway will be a welcome addition and balance things out.

By the way, yeah—that new door is in what was my laundry room. Also gutted to make space for this big ambitious kitchen plan. In case you thought things couldn’t get worse! They got worse. They’re getting better again, though!

I swear all of this is in the service of someday being able to live a normal life in this house and NOT just destroying everything on a biannual basis.

That little crooked window on the left was the laundry room window. That little skinny window on the right was the first floor bathroom window. They were a funny weirdly proportioned pair, and now they are history. Down came the vinyl, down came the clapboard, out came the brick nogging and old windows, and in went some new framing and new insulation and sheathing and windows.

This is definitely the most awkward (and, thankfully, least visible!) elevation of the house, and I think it’s just always going to be something less than gorgeous. I hemmed and hawed a lot on how to make this window arrangement feel natural inside and outside the house, but ultimately the architecture is just weird—it’s always going to look like an addition, and that’s OK! I love to tear off additions, but sometimes you need them. Like, say, when they contain the only bathrooms!

So with these new windows, I aimed to make it look like a slightly more elegantly planned addition than before, like maybe a porch that was enclosed at some point. The windows themselves are the same proportion as most of the other windows on the house, but smaller (larger than what was there, though!), and the top of the windows align with the top of the newly installed adjacent back door. I also chose 2-over-2 windows, which I kinda pulled out of my ass because it just felt right and a 6-over-6 in that size is a bit much with all that lite division.

I can kinda dig hanging something between them and planting some fabulous climbing rose bush or something? That feels like a very distant goal so we have time to brainstorm.

Annnnnnnd, this is as far as I got out there! Clearly there are various things that still need doing, but all the big stuff is done. A little odd, but I’m pleased with it!

Do you like my little deck? It’s fancy. I built it in an afternoon out of scrap wood. The post rests on a piece of bluestone from the yard. Obviously I want to do something better but I had to get rid of that big drop ASAP and “something better” is not in the existing time or money budgets.

So to review, in the space of 4-ish years, we have now gone from this:

to this:

to this:

to this:

to this:

to this:

Clearly there is some finish work to return to in the spring (we don’t need to start listing it, do we?), but HEY! I know I seem crazy. My neighbors would probably concur on this. But NOW the kitchen/pantry/half-bath work can continue and—good lord willing and the creek don’t rise—I should never have to redo this again for as long as I am alive and kicking.

Let us pray.

Small Projects: Huge Fabulous Antique Armoire Edition

You know what I have to learn and then re-learn and re-learn over and over again? The joy of a small project. That’s what.

Quick. Immediately satisfying. Simple. Cheap. Those kinds of projects. I love them! Specifically, I love to over-think them, then get quickly overwhelmed by them, and then abandon them before I’ve even begun because I haven’t mentally worked out all the kinks. See? What’s not to enjoy?

This used to be easier before I bought my house. The whole house is one enormous project, composed of many different big, expensive, time-consuming, difficult projects. This will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future, which is OK. I bought the thing. I asked for it! I even had some notion of what I was getting into, and I did it anyway. But that doesn’t mean it’s not at times exhausting and frustrating, I think in part because you end up spending so much time and money and energy on things that at least feel much more in service to the house than to yourself living in the house. Something like that?

To illustrate, let’s consider my windows. As with the rest of the house, they are very old. All of them need work, and the work is time-consuming and a pain in the ass, and when it’s all over…there’s a window. The same window that there once was, just in better condition and hopefully better prepared to stay in one piece for the next century. It still goes up and down as before, and still provides light as before. Congrats, house! You have a restored window. Boy do I feel…like I just spent a ton of effort on something that has not made a notable difference in how I live in this house. Awesome, let’s do it 36 more times, and we’ll spread it out over many years to prolong the fun!

My house has a lot of windows, literally and figuratively. It’s part of what I love about it. It’s part of what I hate about it.

SO ANYWAY, as much as I love my home, sometimes part of me might just long for the days when I lived in places owned by other people. Then, my projects were so much more about making myself more comfy and satisfied in my living space—which is, actually, fun and exciting and ultimately the goal of this whole entire endeavor, I recognize. But for me, those smaller projects will never feel like a priority when compared to the mountain of house-things I should be working on at any given time, so I have to be extra-conscious to make time for them every now and then. Turns out enjoying living in your house instead of just working on it all the time can, actually, make the work feel more worthwhile. Huh. It’s almost like…enjoyment…feels good? And…working on something you enjoy is…fun? Big revelations here today, folks.

So let’s think back to the summer, when I bought this big armoire and then we never spoke of it again.

Here’s what I did. I bought the big thing. Then I brought it home. Then I moved all my clothes out of the chest of drawers that had been occupying that wall, put them in a smaller set of drawers, and crammed that smaller set of drawers into my closet and moved the other one to another room to collect dust. Then I moved the big thing into place, wiped it off, took a couple pictures of it for my internet friends, and…

There is no “and” because that’s the whole story. It sat empty for the next six months while I occasionally thought about all these elaborate things I would do to build out the interior without compromising the integrity of the piece (it is, after all, an antique and I don’t want to fuck it up!). I wanted it to hold a TV, but also have storage for…something…which might involve drawers and cubbies and shelves and maybe some fancy twee labels. I’d have to construct a thing out of plywood to the exact dimensions of the interior so that it could nestle right inside, which obviously I’d have to plan, build, dry fit, remove, patch, paint, install, secure…it would have to be attractive and sturdy and hold all the things I needed it to, once I figured out what those things were, which really was the first project…

Enough. End the madness. The goal was not to have an enormous empty armoire in my room indefinitely, no matter how good-looking it is. The goal was to bring this thing into my life and, in turn, see my life improved by its presence. Sometimes (all the time) I need to stop and really think about how to simplify something, because my impulse is often to over-complicate it to the point that it becomes some big thing when all I really wanted was a goddamn TV in my bedroom because TV is my favorite thing and bed is my favorite place and the two in combination just feels so right.

Here is what I did. Try to keep up.

I went to Lowe’s and bought four of these little super-simple shelving verticals. Next to them, there are little packs of shelving clips, so I bought one of those. Then I went to a different aisle and picked up 3 pine stair treads, because they were long enough, a full inch thick, and had a nice bullnose edge.

You’ve seen this kind of shelving, btw. I didn’t, like, discover anything. They’re in every old person’s house in America. For a long time I’ve considered them kind of flimsy and crappy and, I don’t know, something everyone in the 1960s decided was a good idea, like cigarettes.

You know what? IT WAS A GOOD IDEA. Not cigarettes, the other thing. I submit that this shelving is actually rather beautifully designed in its simplicity of use and install, and clearly stands the test of time given how many I have un-installed from closets and stuff over the years. Ain’t a damn thing wrong with it.

(I could have probably scrounged up the wood for the shelves from the basement or the garage, but then again maybe I couldn’t have, and I’d have to break out the router for the bullnose edge, and there is something nice about the shelves all matching and not being some weird cobbled-together solution to save myself $30, and omg why am I even still thinking about this IT DOES NOT MATTER.)

Then I went home and I did something else. I installed all that shit. It took maybe an hour. I wiped down the inside of the armoire. I took out the existing clothing rod. I screwed in the verticals, like three screws per strip because the side panels are thin and flimsy so you can only screw into the thicker stiles and rails. I snapped in the clips. I cut my shelves to size (which, FYI, they would have done at the store for me if I asked/had the patience to find an employee). I drilled a hole in the back for cords to come through because we can only be so precious about stuff and nobody will ever see it.

Want to know something kind of funny? When I went to install the shelving tracks, there were already little holes on the inside of the cabinet that lined up perfectly with my screw holes! Because somebody ALREADY FIGURED THIS OUT. And screwed into the armoire, and not only did I buy it despite its compromised-by-modern-conveniences condition, it took me 6 months to notice and I don’t care even a little bit about it and anyone who’s worth a damn in the future won’t either, because it so doesn’t matter.

I’m getting worked up.

I put the shelves in. They fit.

Then I put the TV in. It’s a 40″ Insignia. It came from Best Buy. It was $200. It’s not the most amazing TV but it’s 100% sufficient and fuck if I’m gonna repack it and take it back to the store because it’s not amazing. It’s FINE and that is the attitude I’m trying to insert more into my life. IT’S. FINE. A great many things are fine being just fine. My mediocre TV is one of those things.

After the TV went in, I put in linens. I love linens. I do. I love sheets and blankets and duvet covers and seeing them neatly stacked in here makes me feel all kinds of domestic and adult about my shit. It’s that subtle difference between hoarding and collecting. Collectors store their shit well. Put it on a t-shirt.

The next day, high on my victory, I felt motivated to make the few little repairs that this piece needed. There were a few little pieces of trim that had broken off but been thoughtfully stored away in that bottom drawer, so I broke out the wood glue and the brad nailer and put them back.

I replaced the knobs on the drawer—one had snapped off in transit, and I was holding out until I found the perfect set of replacements (the original style of knob isn’t especially hard to find, except of course when you’re looking for them), but decided on this day to just replace them with the next best thing I had around. Amazingly, now I can use the drawer AND the gorgeous-even-though-they-aren’t-really-correct knobs look cute and who cares if I never replace them.

Then I wiped down the whole thing with the dregs of a can of Restore-a-Finish, which ran out before I got to the least-visible side and this, too, does not matter.

Someday I’ll have a little more Restore-a-Finish, and a couple of hours to stain and poly the shelves, and maybe the right set of knobs or even a better TV. But I’m kind of not worried about it.

Otherwise, I guess some other things have changed since last time I took photos of the bedroom? Nothing major. I move stuff around a lot. But I finally got a queen mattress for my queen bed! After spending a ton of time researching and comparing all the newfangled mattress companies, I had a nice night’s sleep at an Airbnb and found the mattress they were using for $200 on Amazon. It’s cheap and it’s firm. You can fill in that joke.

The big black and white art used to hang in the house I grew up in! It’s actually 1/2 of a diptych, but I only have a couple of walls big enough to accommodate the whole thing so in the meantime I just hung up one side here. Some people love it and some people hate it and that makes me sort of happy. It’s signed “Reizner 1975.” This is the wall I’d like to eventually add a mantel back to, since it appears one was removed at some point.

I dunno, I moved my lounge chair to another room and moved in my cutie little rocker. Nobody sits in bedroom chairs; they exist exclusively to collect laundry and fill awkward corners.

Mekko is still the cutest. Naked man is still naked.

 

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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