Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Anywhere But Here: Or, House Hunting 701

I'm trying to come to terms with myself as someone who's never quite content, who aways thinks there's something better than where, and what, I am, and what I have.

As of January 30, 2013, my wife and I will have been married 42 years. In that time, we've lived in seventeen homes, some owned, some rented. The latest one enjoyed our occupancy for about six years--the longest we've ever lived anywhere.

When people learn this about us, they think we're nuts. Moving, after all, is incredibly disruptive in so many ways--moving sucks, it dislocates the kids from their schools, and so on. We not only know them all, we've lived them, plus some no one ever talks about  And some we don't even think we know because we've done them so many times, they don't occur to us.

Why did we do that? Though I was born in a farming town on the Feather River, in central California, I consider Reno, Nevada, to be my hometown. My family moved there in 1951. My education and professional life happened there, I was married there, and my children were born there. I had a life, there.

And we changed houses every two years or so. In 1987, we moved to San Francisco, moving about every two years, and left for Eugene, OR, in 1994, where we lived in six homes until we left for Portland (Hillsboro, actually) in 2005, commuting from an apartment in Eugene (which technically makes it six homes) and moving into Orenco Station until November 2012, when we left for Denver, CO.

Why did we move so much? Hell if I know. We usually told ourselves it was for moving up. That we were fixing the places up and selling them for a small profit. In fact, our "profit" was roughly equal to the rate of inflation, and on a couple, we actually lost money.

We bought our first home for around $30,000 as I recall. A kitchen fire and insurance claim got us a new kitchen, which turned out to be kind of fun. We also added a little family room and ultimately sold the place for around $75k or so.

At which point we moved to a horse property. We got our bellies full of that and moved back into town and fixed up a home, where we got robbed and sold the house because of bad karma, and bought another place to remodel.

Always a reason, real or manufactured.

Truth be told, I'm pretty much of a next-bend-in-the-river kind of person. Wallace Stegner would have hated me. For those unfamiliar with Stegner, the underlying current of his novels was the destruction of the American West by people looking for something better than from whence they had come, turning the new place into something more akin to where they'd left, even trashing it,  and moving on. The West always had someplace else to move to, except that it didn't.  An American myth that persists, really.

All of which pretty much plays into my me-ness and is a both a symptom and result of my failures as a person, which is, namely, wanting something I can't have. Which, my psychiatrist (if I had one) would say, so what? A dream, wanting something you don't have or maybe can't have is what propels you forward.

Which, of course, totally misses the point. It's okay to dream the impossible dream, to want something or someone that's unattainable, because if you're satisfied with the status quo, then really, you're existing more than you are living. There's nothing wrong with existing, mind you. Cows and prairie dogs do it all the time, so if that's your schtick, okay.

What's not okay is to always second-guess what you have, which I do with every aspect of my life. I hate planning a vacation, for example, because I know that if I commit and prepay for Hawaii, I'll instantly wonder if I should have gone to the Virgin Islands instead and will keep the thought all through Hawaii. If I order Mu Shu pork for dinner, I'll fall asleep thinking I should have had Mongolian beef.

It gets back to absences, I guess, which was the subject of a previous post.  Anyway.

But pick someone successful at anything--Van Gogh, Jobs, Baldwin (James), Einstein, Bonds (Barry), Brown (Tina), whoever, and you'll find someone with a clear definition of purpose and focus on getting there. It's a trait I simply do not have.

If I were to start college tomorrow and had to choose a major, I'd still check "undecided," just as I did as an undergrad forty-six years ago. And of you're undecided on where you want to end up, how can you focus on a path that will get you there?

Can you imagine Donald Trump changing majors a half dozen times? Or Hope Solo changing sports?

When we first moved to Eugene, I saw, for the first time, the bumper sticker that said, "All who wander are not lost." Know what? They are too. If these people--my people--want to make a point, they need to make a case for being lost. Or for wandering. Whatever. But don't equate indecision with life success.

But back to the house thing. Okay, in the interests of full disclosure, let's stipulate that we're both sort of house junkies (except I loathe everything on HGTV, save "Holmes on Homes"). If we were to land in, say, Vienna tomorrow morning, we'd be perusing the local real estate section on the metro by that afternoon. Send us to Martha's Vineyard, and we wouldn't be looking for anyone famous, stressing over cafes or looking at the ocean. We'd be touring Open Houses.

And if I made an accepted offer on one, I'd be discouraged within days. This is not the typical buyer's remorse. It's the reflexive, if not congenital, discontent with any decision I make. 

We made an offer on a short sale home in Denver, and within days, started talking about how we could flip it. Nothing wrong with the home. It was the neighborhood we really wanted. The home was a bit more than we wanted to pay, but hey--for-sale inventory was/is really, really low. It was new, extremely contemporary and very, very nice.

We abandoned that offer and ended up buying a lovable cosmetic fixer with a setting on a lake, and with a mountain view--to die for. But I already know what I'll be thinking in the months to come: We should have waited; we should have bought the short sale home; we should have stayed in Portland; we should have moved to Istanbul. 

Where am I going with all this?

Honestly, I don't know. And I wish I did.


  1. I love this.

    Move to Istanbul. Bring the boys. It would be so cool.

  2. It remains extremely tempting, but don't tell your mother.