My life, on display

Here’s a simple test to find out if you are a robot: If, when you put your house on the market, you find yourself not caring what people say or think of your home? Then I have some bad news – you are robot. (On the positive side, you can pretty much eat all the carbs you want.)

For all the non-robots who have gone through the process of putting your house on the market? You already know what it is like to receive feedback about your home. “The closet in one of the rooms is a little on the small side,” they say. But you don’t hear this. No no no. What you hear is “The Grennan family cares so little about their daughter that they put her in a bedroom with a small closet. Is that even legal?? Let me look up the phone number for Child Services because I will be dialing them right now!  Beep boop bap bap beep…Hello, Child Services? I hope you’re sitting down!”

Now. You can tell me not to take it personally. But that’s because all you care about is munching on springs and bolts and drinking motor oil.

This process of selling a house, even just for a cross-town move, has dredged up a lot of old stuff for me.

Case in point, Liz used to make fun of me because I have this odd trait: I tend to defend inanimate objects. 

For example: We would pass some gross looking little diner on a road trip and Liz would suggest we carry on looking for something better. Which will immediately trigger the reaction in me that I must, for some reason, defend this particular diner. I’ll talk about how the awning is actually quite attractive and maybe it was just in need of a paint job and that there was something almost artistic about the burnt out Buick Skylark in front of it.

I’ve defended broken park benches, an empty lot in Jersey City, and, once, a playground where the slide part of the slide was missing, so it was just a ladder to nowhere.

We had always chalked this up another quirk of mine, because an old park bench doesn’t need me to defend its honor. 

But now, as we are in the process of selling our home, I’m discovering more about the underlying roots of my defense of inanimate objects. Because inanimate objects in my home are more than mere inanimate objects. They represent me. They represent my taste, and my decision-making, and my values. People are not commenting on those objects. They are making a snap judgement on my life.

And worse, I’ve made it possible. I’m the one who has put it all on display and invited people in for the precise purpose of judging it all. 

I don’t know how to let go of that. I don’t know how to not care what people think.

And that’s the problem with putting anything out into the world – writing or music or singing or photography. You are inviting people to judge it. And they will judge it. And I, in turn, will take that as a judgement of not just that piece of writing but of me and my own personal self-worth.

Maybe you’ll tell me I need thicker skin. But what do you know? You’re a robot. And someday you’re going to rise up and take over the world with the other robots and when you do, mark my words, our scrappy band of humans will be there to stop you.

So in honor of this reflection on homes, I will now give a taste of my life right out of college, when I lived in Prague for almost seven years. If you’re looking for odd places to live, look no further than  Prague in the mid-late 1990’s. So here we go, with…

The Top Five Weird Places I lived in Prague (in chronological order):

1. The Attic. 

In 1996, my first apartment in Prague was a room in the attic of these old people. It was as glamorous as it sounds. I don’t even remember how I found it, but I remember that it was in the middle of nowhere, they spoke no English, I felt like a wartime refugee, and that the tiny room looked like the Birthplace of the Doily.

2. The Inside-Out.

My second apartment was across from the brewery, and it was all mine. What wasn’t all mine was the toilet, which was out in the hall and shared with two other locals. Which would have been the strangest thing about the apartment except that there was also no oven rack, and when I finally was able to communicate this to the Czech landlord he came back two days later with two pieces of wood and jammed them into the oven. I told him that they would catch on fire, so he wrenched them out again and left. And that would have been the strangest thing except that the shower was a free-standing plastic affair that stood in the middle of the tiny kitchen like a phone booth that had hopped inside to get out of the rain and never left.

3. The Communist Bloc.

My third apartment was an illegally rented apartment in the massive communist apartment blocks on the outskirts of town. We took it over from some local guy’s recently deceased grandmother. The grandmother, having lived under communism for the previous 40 years, was, unsurprisingly, a hoarder. We took eighty (80!) bags of stuff of out the two bedroom apartment. She kept decades of soap nubs in a bucket to make a basketball sized lump of soap. She kept boxes of blown fuses and dead batteries. We had a Halloween party one time where people came without costumes and had to find things to dress up with in the apartment. 

4. The Closet.

My favorite apartment was 96 square feet. The bed was in a loft so close to the ceiling you couldn’t actually sit up in bed without hitting your head. The apartment fit a couch and a hotplate. It was like living in a submarine, but the location was great. When I moved out, the apartment next door took it over. I thought they were going to make it into a bedroom. They didn’t. They turned it into a walk-in closet. 

5. The UnWinterized.

My last apartment in Prague was this glorious, huge renovated attic in a historical building. It looked like something out of a magazine. And it was perfect until one day the temperatures dropped and no water came out of the taps and I realized they hadn’t thought to winterize the pipes. So that had me knocking on my landlord’s door with a Czech dictionary and trying to pronounce words that sounded like “pipe insulation” and “you need to fire your contractor.”

Today I have a house and that house is warm and keeps my family safe and dry and protected. And though my stress and anxiety runs deep these days over being judged, maybe I find a way to be grateful for even the little things that I’ve been given and blessed with, like normal sized bars of soap and insulated pipes and toilets a doily-free environment.

And also, the next house we get we better be buried in because I never want to go through this again.

By | 2018-04-04T12:04:11+00:00 April 4th, 2018|14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Marcy Prager April 4, 2018 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    I understand how your house is a reflection of you and your family. We also moved, just once, and it was torture. We are empty nesters now, but almost every memory we have had as a family is in this house is precious. The artwork has been carefully placed. Every piece of furniture has been carefully chosen. I have two rooms with hand built-in library shelves for my books, my children’s books, and the books I have amassed for the classes I have taught. My son and daughter always come back to our house. My grandson spends almost every day here now. My house reflects our lives, and I cannot move to “down-size” because it would be too painful. Everything in here has meaning for us. Our home is where our hearts are.

    • Conor April 4, 2018 at 12:55 pm - Reply

      I totally get that. We talk about how our home when we are much older will be smaller but I find it so hard to let go of this stuff.

  2. Kim April 4, 2018 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    Absolutely awesome awesome writing! In spirit of having a thread that might be almost as enjoyable to read as your writing, I am dropping in the 5 places I lived in London after Andrew was born.
    1) Gloucester Park Corporate Apartments. I had a 2 bedroom which had both an extra bedroom and a shower I didn’t find until 2 months into my lease when my wife showed up with our 8 week old and did a proper tour of the home. She didn’t understand how I could live in a place without opening all the doors or without looking up when I was reading in the bathroom (the shower was straight in front of the commode).
    2) 15 Dawson Place. A basement apartment in Notting Hill where every other home were massive single family double fronted mansions and we were the only renters in a multifamily home. Awkward because an old man lived on our block and he would bring his huge dog over to our front steps to poop on our walk. He was sort of surprised when one of the Americans (I will leave you to guess which one), returned that poop to him because he might have just misplaced it…
    3) 4 Margaretta Terrace. A 3 story Georgian townhouse in Chelsea that we liked so much we offered to redo the kitchen so we could stay. The English landlord that that was crazy and kicked us out.
    4) 18 Chipstead Street in Fulham. A “Lion” House that was so big that we had a whole wing of the house that we never used. Someone broke into that house and stole Crista’s handbag, opened all the windows, took my wallet, and left all the windows, and doors open. I thought that I had done that after a pub crawl and just closed the open front door that morning and went to work.
    5) 3 Margaretta Terrace. We got revenge on the next door landlord and bought the next door house and properly renovated the rabbit warren of rooms into a proper home. We go by there every time we visit London.

    Conor thanks for writing the way you do!

    • Conor April 4, 2018 at 12:57 pm - Reply

      This is tremendous! I feel like apartment stories are like old car stories – everyone has such a rich history. I want the Kim tour of London….

  3. Liz April 4, 2018 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Yes, having your house for sale feels a bit like open heart surgery while you are awake. (Thanks Marcy for validating!)

    Kim, love the London tour!!

    Conor, please always keep writing. It’s who God made you to be. (And I love you. And, oh, you know what? I love you. And also…I love you. 😉

    • Conor April 4, 2018 at 12:58 pm - Reply

      Open heart surgery!! Totally. We’re in this together!!!!

  4. Tara Fallon April 4, 2018 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    Great story…. also I defend all park benches and awnings in jersey city it’s our pride!!

    • Conor April 4, 2018 at 12:58 pm - Reply

      Chill Town JC Pride 4-EVA!!!!!

      • Tara Fallon April 4, 2018 at 1:26 pm - Reply
  5. dorian April 4, 2018 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    Our house was on the market for a year and a half before it sold, and every one of those days reminded me of pulling a band-aid off reeeeeeeally slowly. But, it just takes one…they’ll walk in and love every single piece of your house. Praying that comes sooner rather than later. xo

    • Conor April 4, 2018 at 1:16 pm - Reply

      This reminds me that I think you guys really need to move back to Connecticut. It feels like you’ve made a huge mistake moving away and I am here to correct that for you. You’re welcome!

      • Liz April 4, 2018 at 1:21 pm - Reply

        Thanks Dorian!! We miss you so much!!

  6. Joan April 5, 2018 at 3:03 am - Reply

    Can’t stop laughing. Maybe I should pray instead.

    • Conor April 5, 2018 at 8:52 am - Reply

      Keep those prayers coming!

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