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bad news/great news

Reading an article in the New Yorker about British writer Anthony Powell, who in the Fifties bought a “fixer-upper” country house in Somerset and tried to fix it up himself. I can only imagine what an ancient British “fixer upper” involves, not the least of which is some kind of heat. Anyway, his wife apparently said she wanted an image of the house engraved on her tombstone, because “its inconvenience would be the direct cause of my death.”

Today, I felt the same way about my beloved 131-year-old wreck of a house, as Kevin and his helper Ed followed the trail of termite destruction all around my dining room. I had thought the main floor would be spared chaos, but today everything had to be taken down and stored under plastic sheets as they ripped off boards and drywall, to discover the familiar circuitous destructive paths of those hated bugs. Horly, a young man from Zambia whom JM has hired to do our computer drawings, dropped in and understood completely; apparently nothing in Africa is built of wood because of termites.

However, as JM cheerfully points out, thank God we found it when we did. Kevin and Ed also ripped off drywall under the skylights where there’s water damage from leaks, no trace of termites there, just rotten because of water. The drywall dust was showering everywhere, I couldn’t find my clothes which are stuffed into boxes in the basement, and I felt I’d made a huge mistake, should have moved to a nice clean new tiny tidy condo, before this house was the death of me.

Yesterday, the new steel post holding up my second floor, and the bulkhead about to be demolished

More termite damage all along the edge of the dining room plate-rail

My lovely kitchen today – Kevin and Ed at work.

In fact, I’m lucky to have wonderful help – Kevin is efficient and smart and Ed is delightful. Today Kevin took time to look at my kitchen faucet, which was replaced only about a year ago but which had never worked properly; the trickle of water it emitted was infuriating. After he’d taken it apart, we decided just to go buy a new one, he installed it, and there’s water rushing out in a stream! A miracle!

The upstairs is stripped clean, tomorrow my bed goes downstairs and I establish a new way of living.

My office jammed with furniture and boxes

My bedroom jammed with almost nothing, empty tomorrow

THE GOOD NEWS: Yesterday, in the middle of all this, I emailed a query to an editor I’d met socially in the summer, telling her about my nearly-finished memoir and asking if she’d be interested in seeing a bit. I expected to wait three weeks for a tepid reply. Today, as Kevin’s power saw was ripping out rotted drywall and dust spewed everywhere, I received a note, telling me she was glad to hear from me and would be happy to see the manuscript when I’m ready to send it.

I haven’t even had time to digest what this means – that a major editor wants to see the work. Of course, she may – she almost certainly will – decide it’s not right for her house. But what a huge gift that is: an open door. I compare finding a publisher to walking down a long corridor of closed doors, knocking in vain. Well – today, a door opened. I may not be asked to walk through it, but the door opened, and that’s a gift. Merry Christmas!

Once we’re in a routine here – Kevin and Ed rip my house apart and Jean-Marc comes over to fuss about details – I will make my own routine, which I assume will mean escaping regularly to some quiet, dust-free place, a library or coffee shop, where I can work and think.

So this house may not be the death of me, after all. Just, we hope, the death of a great number of termites, who have been enjoying its juicy deliciousness heretofore.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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