The Courthouse, the Quadrail, the Yarn Store, and Home

What I wanted to do that day was knit, preferably for four and a half hours, the estimated time of completion for the afghan I’d been working on. What I did instead was accompany my daughter to the courthouse to take care of her speeding ticket. Interestingly, the time I spent, including the drive there and back, came out to about four hours and fifteen minutes.

To call the experience excruciating would be to overstate things, but that is the word that kept coming to mind. We spent about an hour just standing in line. The man in front of us talked a lot—about the lack of available parking at the courthouse, the idiocy of whoever green-lit the parking lot’s design, and how highway patrol officers are always so quick to pull over a decent chap like himself who is barely speeding but are nowhere to be found when reckless maniacs are running people off the road. The guy was plainly hostile to authority in general and law enforcement in particular; he kept up a steady stream of vaguely surly remarks while I silently wondered whether he would dare to say those things in front of my Uncle Gary. The presence of two officers at the courthouse didn’t seem to faze him. At one point a woman standing somewhere behind us in line was suddenly called by name and taken directly to a front desk, and Cop-Disparaging Guy, in a tone of thinly veiled sullenness, asked one of the officers what was so special about this woman that she got to cut in front of all the rest of us. For a moment it seemed possible that Cop-Disparaging Guy might provide exciting entertainment by causing a real disturbance and getting taken down in a dramatic fashion, but no. The officer replied pleasantly that the woman had a warrant out for her arrest. He refrained from adding that if Cop-Disparaging Guy liked, a similar warrant could be issued for him in order to expedite his own case.

Once we made it through the line, we filed into the courtroom, a big chilly space filled with defendants who got there ahead of us. One by one they were called to the bench. I began counting seconds in order to determine how much time was spent on each defendant and make a rough estimate of how long we’d be there. It was an average of about one and a half to two minutes per, if you want to know, which doesn’t sound like much, but there were so many of them. Time crawled. I wanted desperately to be home.

I am not agoraphobic per se. It’s only a phobia if it’s irrational, and what I have is merely a perfectly natural and reasonable preference of home over every other place. Home is where I keep my electric kettle and distilled water and loose-leaf Darjeeling tea. It’s where our dogs and cats and horses live. It’s where our vegetable garden is growing inside the fence my husband made. It’s where Jarvis the Roomba cleans the floor and sings his triumphant little tune whenever he returns to his docking station. It’s where I keep my books and blankets and favorite hoodie. It’s where I play The Goo Goo Dolls on my laptop while cleaning the refrigerator. It’s where I sit with my family and a Chihuahua and a cat or two, on the gold sofa in the office, to watch DVDs on our computer screen. It’s where I cook, and write, and knit, and sleep, and talk to the people I love most. What’s not to prefer?

I am richly blessed in that I get to stay home a lot. There just aren’t a lot of places I have to go. I order household goods online, and the kids do a lot of grocery shopping for me; my debit card is in their possession more frequently than in my own. It often happens that I go days or even weeks at a stretch without once leaving the property.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of knitting, a very home-ish activity. A few days ago I tried to order yarn online but got confused about weight and ply and such and decided it would be best to visit an actual yarn store this time. A quick Google search turned up Lucky Ewe Yarn in nearby Gruene. I texted Greg, and he proposed that we go there that very day as soon as he got off work. I think he was pleased that I had thought of an outing all by myself, and he patiently stood around the yarn shop while I asked questions of the helpful shop lady and made my selections. Lucky Ewe is a fun shop, with lots of artisanal stuff like hand-woven, hand-dyed yarn spun from the fleeces of local alpacas. I’ll probably go there again sometime, and bring home even more yarn and other supplies that will enable me to stay home and knit.

Recently Daniel laughed to see me lying on the sofa, covered down to my feet by the afghan I was knitting. I looked like I was spinning a cocoon. Maybe I was, in a way. A cocoon is such a nice concept, a protective shell under which you are free to revert to a sort of amorphous goop with your DNA free-floating around.

I had considered bringing my knitting along to court but decided not to because 1) my knitting bag and the afghan-in-progress take up a lot of room and 2) the close quarters and wonky yarn might cause me to make difficult-to-unravel mistakes in my stitches and 3) knitting might not be considered in keeping with the dignity of the court. I did, however, bring a paperback book—The Third Lynx, a Christmas gift from Daniel, second in Timothy Zahn’s Quadrail series. These books are a wonderful mix of space opera and detective noir. Zahn is a good, smart, entertaining writer; his Star Wars novels, beginning with The Thrawn Trilogy, are the best in the Expanded Universe, and the character Mara Jade is his creation. I was grateful to have his book with me, and I appreciated the irony in the fact that the story I’d chosen to comfort me while I pined for home is one that takes place almost entirely while the characters are traveling. The Quadrail is an intra-galactic rail system—a space train, basically—connecting the Twelve Empires of the known galaxy. Plucky hero Frank Compton works with a telepathic assistant to keep the Quadrail, and the galaxy, from being taken over by an alien groupmind entity. Frank rarely visits his apartment on Earth; he is constantly on the go, often spending days at a time just getting from one port to another to carry out the next step in his investigations, and continually trying to outwit the groupmind entity’s various agents while coping with the local customs of wildly diverse alien cultures and eating a lot of exotic food. Depending on Frank’s current luck and sleuthing needs, he might travel first, second, or third class; he might get a double sleeping berth with his partner, Bayta, or end up in a modified baggage car. He takes whatever level of comfort he can get, makes a home away from home, and then leaves it for another. He is adaptable and quick on his feet, and if he ever longs for the comfort of home, he doesn’t say so.

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Frank does not carry a knitting bag.

Maeve Binchy once said, “You have to live in your mind or imagination in your writing, more than you do in your real life. I’m a matronly, mumsy woman, and if it was all about me and my cats, it would be boring for the readers, and that’s not the way novels are made; there’s no tension or drama.” A lot of fiction is set in exotic locales and concerned with danger and trouble (though I would add that there’s plenty of tension and drama to be found in home-like settings as well), but I think most of us prefer the actual reading of novels, however far-flung their settings, to take place at home, in the most comfortable and familiar of places, with a hot drink and perhaps a cat or two. C.S. Lewis said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

The chilly courtroom was far from homelike. Time wore on as name after name was called, none of them my daughter’s. At one point the judge cleared things out a bit by saying that everyone who planned to plead not guilty should go to another room. Cop-Disparaging Guy left along with maybe one or two others. We waited, and waited, and waited.

At last it was Emilie’s turn. Her traffic violation was not a particularly egregious one, but because she was under eighteen—a mere two days under eighteen at the time of the court date—I had to be there too. We spoke to the judge for our minute and a half and then went to another room where we again sat and waited.

Finally, finally, we were released. Emilie drove off to meet a friend, and I took my frazzled nerves straight home. As I walked to the gate, the horses, Monte and Pippin, came to meet me. I petted them over the fence and immediately felt better. Then I went inside, put on my aqua hoodie, and felt better still.

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Edith Pargeter once said of her home, “This is where I put up my feet and thank God.” Yes.

Of Houses, and Dreams, and the Chambered Nautilus

I have a recurring dream in which I discover new rooms in my house–not the house I actually live in, but some other house which belongs to me in the dream.  I turn a corner, open a door; and there is a room I have never seen before!  Inevitably I think, Now I can have a writing room.

I love this dream.  It is a message of hope, I think, of untapped reserves waiting to be explored, of possibilities previously unimagined.  It fills me with a sense of energy, freshness, discovery, and renewal, even more than dreams in which I can suddenly breathe underwater or fly.  Doorways and corridors open up where none were before, revealing chamber after chamber of lovely usable space–an inner space, secret and mysterious, like the compartments in the shell of the chambered nautilus, a sea creature which I understand is very good at math.  This clever cephalopod builds its own environment, adding new chambers to accommodate its growth, spiraling its shell to the tune of some fancy irrational number known as Phi, which is the ratio of two consecutive Fibonacci numbers.  (Go figure.)

nautilus alive

Personal environment, a sense of place, is important to me.  My taste in architecture favors old houses with window-seats, dormers, and odd little nooks and add-ons.  I have never lived in a house like this.  Our current house is 1620 square feet of very open floor plan.  There is little wasted space:  no foyer, almost no hallway, certainly no writing room.  Here I have lived for nine years with a husband, three children, two dogs, up to two cats at a time, and assorted rodentia (domesticated).  The rooms are spacious and full of light.  Even the surrounding countryside is spacious:  a flat, wind-swept prairie, with a wide prospect all around.  Quite simply, there is no place to hide.  We have homeschooled from the beginning (the children are sixteen, thirteen, and twelve), so we are all here together much of the time, knocking around the house, competing for space and hot water and computer time.

All this is funny, because I love seclusion, and hidey-holes, and woods, and hills, and hollows.  As an artist, I confess I sometimes feel, though I really know better, that I have a birthright to solitude and private spaces.  (Didn’t Virginia Woolf have something to say about this?)  Yet I deliberately chose this location and this house plan.  (Greg had quite a bit to say about it too.)  It was the right choice.  At the wise age of thirty-eight, I understand that if throughout my adult life I’d had license to indulge in all the privacy and quietude I thought I needed, I probably would have grown into a confirmed nutball, with little of interest to write about.

What privacy and quiet time I get usually come early in the morning, or (ironically) in a crowded Starbucks, tucked into a corner with my laptop and noise-canceling headphones (and ceramic mug from home and lumbar pillow, and a shawl to take the edge off arctic-blast air conditioning).  And it has been enough.  Indeed, God has blessed me abundantly with a beautiful family, meaningful work, and the drive and wherewithal to put words to the page or screen.

If the Lord wills and the creek riseth not, we will soon leave this house for an even smaller one:  two small bedrooms, one bath, tiny kitchen.  Do I feel any sense of constriction at the prospect?  Not at all.  I feel the world opening up before me like a newly discovered chamber.  This move is part of a change of lifestyle that we have dreamed of for years.  We are returning to the land where Greg grew up, in order to become professional farmers.

The plan is that Emilie and I will move down first, in order to clean the house and get it comfortably habitable.  Meanwhile, Greg, Daniel, and Anna will stay in our current house, finishing some home repairs, mowing the grass, and generally keeping the place presentable for prospective buyers.  At first we thought both girls would make the move south with me, but when I considered what sort of diet the guys were likely to subsist on in such a case, I suggested that Anna stay and cook.  At thirteen, she is already very capable in the kitchen, and I believe the experience of planning and executing meals for three people will test her mettle, and prove it.

Emilie and I may move as soon as early June, with a dog and a rodent or two.  After years of dreaming and planning, we are about to get a foot in the door.

And that door, I think, will open to a spacious chamber, with room for us all.