The Fabric of Fantasies
This morning I awoke to the most delicious fantasy.
I dreamt I had window coverings.
Some of you have been to my 1970s-era, once was a sort of cabin in what are sort of woods, has had a few too many owners who thought they could revamp things on their own, funny little house, and you know that the entire front is floor-to-vaulted-ceiling windows and there are windows all along my back bedroom wall as well.
When I moved in, the house behind me was being built. I’d awake in the morning to the sight out my window of the framers at work. They’d take their early morning coffee break to the sight of me drooling on my pillow. Eventually, I hung sheers in the bedroom, quite a production, since I had to figure out a system that would accommodate my aesthetic sensibility as well as the doggie door in the slider. It’s important to have an aesthetic. And a doggie door. My canine pal is prone to 3 a.m. potty breaks. Plus, if there’s a fire in all of this rain, she can scamper safely outside.
Inserting a doggie door panel into a sliding door renders the door lock unusable. So my handyman rejiggered a Charlie bar to hold the door shut. This means in case of a fire I have to pull the curtains back, release the Charlie bar, also move the wooden dowel stuffed into the bottom of the door, pull open the slider, and then, if I can still breathe, escape outside. This actually takes at least a minute. I know this after a 2 a.m. time test when Chloe got into a fight with a raccoon in the backyard and I had to move fabric/unlock Charlie bar/yank out dowel/run outside/run back inside because the snarling raccoon was really scary/get over being a chicken shit and run back outside/grab Chloe by the hiney and pull her back inside so the raccoon could escape over the fence. Aside, in same fire/raccoon scenario, it’s also interesting to note that my front double doors are glass as well, so the deadbolt is keyed on both sides for security reasons, meaning rushing outside first involves finding keys and unlocking deadbolt and doorknob lock. A third way out is to dash downstairs, remove another dowel from another glass slider, unlock slider, and sprint outside. If pressed, I could open one of the two windows in my house that actually open on their own and climb out. Or, I could utterly humiliate myself by getting my ample ass stuck trying to slither through the doggie door and you will see me in hell first.
A couple years ago, I got some free-standing screens from a cool company in the East and propped them up in my downstairs windows. They look really neat, let in light, and anytime I want to actually see out a window it only takes a minute or so to wiggle behind my printer table and fold up one of the screens without poking a hole in it with my finger. The downstairs slider didn’t get a screen. There I hung four strips of fabric and tied them with decorative cords, so they give some illusion of curtains but are still quite welcoming to my neighbors, who can easily spy me through the window while I’m writing and come and bang on the glass to see if I’m too busy.
So, if you’re keeping track, you know that after squatting here for eight plus years, I now have the back of the house and the daylight basement/office windows semi-covered whereas the main floor front windows are still see-through. This residence has a gracious open floor plan (read: three actual rooms), meaning anything I do in the living room/dining room/kitchen (room 1 of 3) is fully visible to anyone walking through the cul de sac with their poodle, driving by with their grandma, or just opening their professionally installed drapes, glancing out their window and not being able to help but notice that I’m still in my pajamas at 1:17 p.m. Well, duh.
A more practical, well-adjusted individual would have tacked up some metal mini blinds or ordered custom wooden shutters within a week or two of moving in. But I’m aesthetically allergic to metal mini-blinds, and nice window coverings can get really expensive and oddly complicated. You other dog slaves out there know that anything fabric in the house pretty much needs to be machine-washable and claw-resistant. If you come for tea, you’ll notice I do not have screen doors. Chloe has torn a screen door to shreds and bowed another in two deciding to leap through it, so it is a practice in my house to leave all windows unscreened and just let in flies when airing out. Oddly, the sheers in the bedroom have survived much longer than anticipated, because her aim for the doggie door is spot on, so she always avoids the sheers when running out to chase raccoons or bringing lizards into the house.
This is my cycle: 1) Sit on my sofa and look north by northwest, fantasizing that I’m gazing into the soothing pattern of floor-to-ceiling shutters rather than viewing my not-suntanned shirtless neighbor sawing floor planks in his driveway. 2) Spend an hour online looking at window fabric and return to previous conclusion that front windows simply must have shutters or at least vertical wood blinds. 2a) Spend another hour rearranging furniture to see which chair looks better with that bush poking up behind it. 3) Measure windows for umpteenth time and price shutters and vertical wood blinds. 4) Commit to setting aside funds specifically for window coverings. 5) Immediately after, be forced to spend designated window money on something else, e.g.: brake job for 2003 Jaguar belonging to my sis that I kept after she died and am too sentimental to get rid of but the damn thing breaks down monthly; OR, 70-foot sewer pipe, because apparently the homeowner is responsible for the entirety of the underground sewer pipe until it connects with the city pipe way out in the freakin’ middle of the cul de sac!, not to mention before my sewer pipe broke and flooded my downstairs, I’d spent my window money finally getting a driveway poured, which turned out to be right over the sewer pipe, so it cost extra to have the pipe installed using an underground robot; OR, new blankets and towels, all of which I threw down onto the floor in a feckless effort to stop the sewer water gushing out from underneath my toilet and then could not ever bring myself to reuse even after several bleachings; OR, roof, which turned out to be three different roofs added at different times, which didn’t matter because they were all rotting; OR, this just in, eight porcelain caps to replace the 18-year-old porcelain caps in the front of my mouth, which my dentist is convinced are going to shatter the next time I bite down hard, which I’m quite likely to do the next time one of the neighbors bangs on my slider door when I’m right in the mid—. 6) Forget what the hell I was doing and take a break to sit on my sofa and watch squirrels poop on my porch railing while I fantasize about shutters.
There really is a literary point to this post.
In stories, we readily talk about putting obstacles in the way of what a character is trying to do, but what does that mean plot-wise? We can get hyperactive about jamming all sorts of stuff into the story to thwart the character’s agenda, but that can disallow full exploration of what might be one really great obstacle. Above example aside, I think that it frequently can be the clever combination of one surprising yet believable obstacle, time, always the writer’s friend, and the character’s own proclivities and emotional issues that marvelously unite to hamper her progress. That is, it could be a great plot point to have an elephant blocking the road for a character, but what’s going to be more interesting is just how long that elephant decides to stand there and what does that elephant mean to that specific character? Does she love it or fear it? Has she seen live elephants before, or is this the first time? Does she know lots about elephants or nothing at all? Does she think she knows lots but all of her theories are disproved? What does she learn about herself while trying to get around this big elephant? Does she ever get around it or on it? Once on, does she fall off or ride triumphantly into the jungle? What is she willing to do or not willing to do to push it out of her way? Anytime you can add a time pressure as well as something of personal meaning for the character, the obstacle itself can begin to operate on multiple levels for the story and everything gets a whole lot more fun.
Keep in mind that an obstacle for one character might be no sort of obstacle at all for another. There could be a character who invents a doggie door that can retrofit into a slider without rendering the lock useless and that also still allows the slider to actually seal versus leaving a quarter-inch strip for bugs to fly through, plus she leads a trip to a far-off jungle where she befriends elephants, and over the weekend she trains her papered show dog to jump rope. While alongside is another character who arguably manages to get certain stuff done—like once she hung an outside gate to build a doggie run. Alas, she was naive and didn’t realize her doggie didn’t want that run and merely chewed off the bottom of the garage door to come inside and hop up on the bed where she has reclined ever since—but that very same character can’t hang a freakin’ curtain to salvage her privacy.
There’s also potential for imagery. Windows, for example, could appear again and again in a story. They suggest the idea of seeing out but also seeing in. Are the windows streaked or clean or even broken? Are they new or old? And what exactly do they mean to your character? The Victorian writer Thomas Hardy relied heavily on nature both as a vivid setting and as measure of his character’s interior. Dagoberto Gilb, with a history as a high-rise carpenter, often uses buildings and what they mean to characters and the act of building something to convey meaning in his stories. It can be anything you choose as long as it’s authentic to your character and your story. Yay!
I’m inspired. Just as soon as I buy some teeth, pay to replace the rear struts on the ghetto Jag, and cough up dough for a stove that has more than one reliable burner, I’m definitely going to buy some really great window coverings and celebrate by cavorting through the house in my me-oh-mys. Yep, floor-to-ceiling metal mini-blinds might have a sort of mod look. Until Chloe rips them to shreds trying to leap through the window after a squirrel.
- Literary agent Andrea Hurst and master teacher Sheila Bender will co-teach a one-day writing retreat on Whidbey Island on January 13.
- Poet Matthew Brouwer is launching a Kintsugi writing circle for people with chronic medical conditions.
- Cutbank contests just started and run through March 1. Winners get publication as well as cash prizes. If you win, you could by new window coverings, assuming you already have some.
- As always, send me your writing-related event notices so I can help spread the word! Pretty please, tell someone else about this blog.
- Read more from me at Dogpatch Writers Collective.
Just wish I had windows. And wish I could have a dog to deal with the dog issues. But babysat a dog last night… Woke up to two piles of nasty diarrhea on the floor. THinking we really don’t want t a dog at the moment. So must be better to write. :o)
Ha! There’s always a flip side. It’s been a while since I’ve been to your house nestled in the SF Dogpatch, but I always had the impression of lots of light. Is there a skylight or no glass whatsoever? xo
Laurel – So fun, this! Have you started the new crowns on your anteriors? I work for a dentist who does superior work (I’m sure your guy does, too) BUT My guy does study club and if you agree to be a patient at study club you get a BIG discount plus extra special marvelous work because whatever my guy does is critiqued by a mentor and his collegues. If you’re interested . . . I could ask him if he would like to do “your project” and you could come in for a consultation. Let me know. Lish Date: Sat, 8 Dec 2012 22:53:45 +0000 To: email@example.com
Hi Lish! Thanks so much for that kind offer. Of course I want to know about study club. I will e-mail you. xo
Thanks for the good words! Nice site by the way @ http://jenniferbullis.wordpress.com/
What a delightful essay, Laurel–I enjoy your writing so much. Your description of the household (and automotive and dental) challenges indeed illuminates your insights about characters and imagery. Thanks–I learned some things from this!