All projects run longer than scheduled. So when I planned for remodeling the farmhouse as a two-week project, I figured it would take four weeks. But we are on week eight because we’re waiting for tile. And when the farmer and I have an argument, he says, “Go to Home Depot and buy some tile so we can take baths.”
It is useless to try to explain to him why Home Depot tile is not innovative design. He doesn’t care. He just wants to be clean. I used to think diversity was my best friend marrying a black guy. But the guy graduated from rich-kid private schools and has tenure at UCLA and, at this point, I think diversity is not skin color but rather social upbringing.
1. Accept that some people don’t care about what you care about.
It’s true that we have not been very clean during the remodeling. All the plumbing is on hold. We take showers under the spigot for the well, and I keep thinking a towel is dirty, and put it in the dirty laundry, and then a week later it looks relatively clean, so I use it.
The farmer is concerned that people will think we don’t wash. He says people in the country judge you by whether you’re clean. This is the hardest part of remodeling for him.
The painters were so offended by the idea of painting woodwork that after they did the whole upstairs they asked if I changed my mind because they could still leave the woodwork downstairs unpainted.
Also: The painters wouldn’t paint the pink bedroom until the farmer expressly approved, in person, the color of paint. (His commentary: “Don’t call me in from the field to look at paint again, okay?”)
2. Know when you have to get your way.
What we ended up with are colors that make me happy and creative.
In fact, these are the same colors I chose for my childhood bedroom. My parents were so sure that I’d hate the colors when I went through puberty that they bought everything really cheap. But I never stopped loving my bright blue carpet. (Even now I remember the crayon I used to pick the carpet color: Cornflower blue.)
3. Don’t try to change others. See the world differently yourself.
I was going to go for farmhouse chic decor. But only non-farmers like farmhouse chic: you don’t need an old bench in your house when you have four in your barn. So I decided that steampunk is a better look for me, and maybe I should sell our old barn boards — which I constantly rescue from the farmer’s bonfires — to the farm-fetish people of New York City.
4. Seek out opposing views, just to practice processing them.
Oh. Wait. Speaking of New York City, when I tell a New Yorker that I live on a farm, do you know what they ask? “How many bedrooms is the house?” Like all houses are weekend houses on the Hudson. And do you know what Wisconsin natives ask when I tell them I live on a farm? “Do you burn couches?” It’s so common for farmers to burn furniture in their yard that people in Wisconsin know which furniture makes the best fire. (Yes, we did, in fact, burn furniture. But I didn’t realize it until my nanny asked if she could have the dresser we’re not using, and the farmer said, “It was cheap wood, anyway.”)
5. Use innocuous obsessions to distract from genuine conflict.
While I’ve been waiting to unpack, I have been gardening — adding plants the Amish farmer down the highway has on sale because it’s too late in the summer to plant them.
Also while I’ve been waiting to unpack, I have been sort of unpacking. Going through books. I always try to throw some books out when I move because I have too many. In my 20s, my walls were covered in books. But once I realized that living a life buried in books is a sign of dysfunction, I’ve been trying to cut back. I still am not able to read a book from the library. I have to own it. But I am able to throw out a book if I no longer remember anything about it.
6. There’s relief: A new, jarring way of thinking becomes tame over time.
I read Fear of Flying the first year out of college, and then I realized I was missing a whole part of the literary canon, so I spent a year reading the history of women writing about sex. It was an eye-opening year, but twenty years later, the books are not as challenging. I throw out almost all the books, but I save:
Fear of Flying, by Erica Jong
The Pillow Book, by Sei Shonagon
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson
My Secret Garden, by Nancy Friday
The Story of O, by Pauline Reage
Then I got worried that the town is so small that everyone watches what everyone throws out, and people will not appreciate the literary aspects of books like House of Incest.
I told the farmer that he should be careful bringing the box to the dump because some people would think it’s porn.
“Oh, really?” was all he said. And he moved those books a little bit away from the trash pile.
Then I noticed the books were making their way slowly, one by one, to our pink bedroom.
7. Real diversity requires real patience.
The tile is not the only thing holding us up. Also the faucets. Which the farmer assumed was the contractor’s fault and not mine because what sane woman would wash dishes in an outside well for eight weeks on her own volition?
“Actually,” I say, “I need brass polished finish for the s-trap, and I have had a hard time finding it.”
The farmer tries very hard to understand why a nickel finish on the pipes would not be steampunky-y enough for my farmhouse kitchen. “I hate to end up with a kitchen that is actually ironic commentary on our farm life instead of insightful commentary.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“It’s why I need brass pipes instead of nickel. Steampunk is insightful commentary on vintage decorating.”
The farmer hugs me. He knows I’m onto something, and maybe he can wait another week. Or three.
We go up to the bedroom. We knock over the stack of maybe-porn and we bump into the chandelier so hard that it sounds like wind chimes. We pull off the duvet that I had to travel to New York City to find, and just as the farmer is about to go down on me he says, “What’s this?”
“How do you get dirt in your underwear? Were you gardening nude or something? How does this happen?”
I think about the dirty towel getting me dirty instead of dry. I think the farmer is not going to want to hear that we have no shower and no washing machine and no end in sight. So I say, “Yeah. I think it’s gardening.” And somehow, he’s relieved.