house rules

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of Home & Garden Television programming and I’ve taken note of a few themes:

  • Every man must want a cave. Men need caves, for they are the only places they can be men. It’s truly remarkable, the primal instinct that drives men to seek shelter in the comforting glow of a flat panel television roughly the size of a duvet.
  • Every woman must pause solicitously in front of a walk-in closet before turning to her partner and asking him where he’s planning to put his stuff.
  • The same couples who presumably put their mouths on each others’ private parts on a semi-regular basis must instantly become huffily aggrieved at the notion of having to share a bathroom sink with each other.
  • “Open concept” must be rapturously repeated until it’s rendered meaningless OR until all walls have been eliminated down to just the four exterior ones.
  • Why bother with exterior walls anyway? Take them down! Now you can enjoy clear, unobstructed sightlines from your kitchen all the way to the new BJ’s Restaurant to the north, the Sam’s Club to the south, and your hairy neighbor Phil to the east. What’s to the west? You don’t know and you’re a little afraid to find out!
  • All decorative pillows must be karate-chopped with enough force to cleave them into two spiky halves, like the pillows are wearing cat’s ears. The pillows must then be strategically scattered underneath unimaginative wall art imperatives like FAMILY, LOVE, DREAM, HOME, and LAUGH. Don’t question this, just do it.
  • Under every ugly tile floor there must exist gorgeous, pristine original hardwood.
  • At least one person must be pregnant at all times.
  • White subway tile in the bathroom. White subway tile in the kitchen. White subway tile until everyone’s eyes roll back in their heads in simultaneous orgasm.
  • Every new shower must feature a glass panel as long as a subway car. No one is allowed to talk about who squeegees all that glass every day!

It’s ludicrous, the amount of HGTV I’m watching, but it’s better than the alternative, which is to basically sit there and page through my mental catalogue of every bad thing that’s ever happened in the world. I have always done this to some degree — pick up and carry awful details around with me, somehow unable to put them down — but since having a baby I’ve been startled to find her face copied and pasted over all the entries. Like every bad thing is now happening directly to her. Which unsurprisingly makes it feel that much worse!

How terrible that we can grow bodies with our own bodies and then we just have to… hope for the best? And how can you even find a strand of hope when one wayward glance at a related news sidebar can leave you gutted for days? I mean, provided you take the “you” out of that sentence and put “me” in. It’s me, I’m absolutely gutted all the time. They have 24/7 news and I have 24/7 grief. It’s a grief-a-thon, call in and make a pledge! Sorrow used to be something I passed in the street and now I wear it like a shroud; I breathe it like smoke. It’s like when they took out the baby they also took out the thick stone wall around my Feelings Castle, leaving me bare and vulnerable, a big soft queen-baby tucked away in her tissue-paper tower wondering how all these sharp arrows came to pierce her skin.

Wow, we had a good start there with the bulleted list of jokes but then??

What I was trying to say was that I watch HGTV all the damn time now because it takes my mind off of the heart-hurting things people do to each other every day. HGTV is like a gentle brain bleach. Why think when you can just take another slow-motion spin on the carousel ride of scripted reality programming?

Not every show is created equal, of course. My mother thinks the Fixer Upper couple is “sweet” while I find them insanely creepy. Something about having that many kids in Texas and oh maybe the promo spot where the dude says about his wife, “I was her first fixer-upper,” like men by nature are just a haggard bunch of roughneck cowpokes in need of a woman’s gentle, civilizing touch, OR maybe like how the whole “women are fixers” maxim appears to be a compliment but is actually a false flag that gives men an out for all past, present, and future bad behavior, I don’t know, I obviously don’t have any strong feelings about it or anything. The Love It or List It hosts drive me batty with their exaggerated swagger and sparring over which one will “win” and it really grinds my gears how the couples are coached to get in on it too (INTERVIEW CUT, SPOUSE #1: “It’s horrible, there’s no space, I can’t function, I’m suffocating, is this really all there is to life because I may as well be dead.” INTERVIEW CUT, SPOUSE #2: “He obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about at all, we just need to reorganize a bit.”). And House Hunters, omg, let’s not. That show is like banging your head against a wall. WE ALL KNOW THE PEOPLE ALREADY OWN A DAMN HOUSE, WHY DO YOU INSIST ON WALKING US THROUGH THESE OTHER FAKE OPTIONS? I can’t even talk about the international version of this show without just clawing the air in blind rage. Oh, your job is moving your family to Europe? That must be a real damn shame, showing up overseas and not being able to replicate the exact same square footage and amenities of your 5-bedroom/3.5-bath ranch in suburban Kansas City. “But this kitchen is so tiny and closed off from the living room!” You’re in an actual Amsterdam flat overlooking a goddamn actual canal, shut your face before I shut it for you!

Like I said, zero strong feelings about programs meant purely for my entertainment which have no actual bearing on anything meaningful, none!

I tend to give the shows I like a much broader pass, but even they do shit that galls. I have no idea why, for example, Property Brothers insists on holding fast to the conceit that everyone has to be convinced to do a remodel. A full twenty minutes of the show is always dedicated to persuading their clients that renovation is the only way to balance their wish lists and their budgets. And how has no one nominated any of these people for an Emmy, because the performances they give!!!

Clients: “But we don’t want a renovation, we want move-in-ready.”

Me: “Oh good thing you SIGNED THE PAPERS agreeing to appear on this renovation show then!”

Brothers: “You can’t get everything you want at this price unless you get a fixer-upper.”

Clients: “It’s so much work, I just don’t want to have to go through all of that.”

Me: “What a relief that there’s a TEAM OF SUBCONTRACTORS standing behind Jonathan’s impeccably styled hair that will DRIVE PRETTY MUCH THE WHOLE PROCESS ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS.”

Don’t mind me, I’m not taking it at all personally that these people on TV get their dream homes after merely agreeing to be filmed ineffectually swinging a sledgehammer a few times. Because we did a lot of the reno work on our house ourselves and it was a total shitshow. How in the hell did we think we were qualified to make decisions? Why are we still attempting to make them? I’ve painted half of the main floor twice and I still hate the color. Apparently having a career in graphic design doesn’t at all translate to the design that goes on inside of houses.

We’ve had this home for over two and a half years and while most of the major work is over, things are very far from feeling “done.” We inherited the place with two coats jammed in the broken flue of the fireplace and even with that failsafe repair in place, sometimes when it hails little ice pebbles skitter out over the hearth and melt on the floor. We have no backsplash in the kitchen, which Drew and Jonathan Scott would surely find morally reprehensible, and our seating situation is such that if a third adult comes over somebody has to sit on the floor. The front room, which we intended to transform into a cozy living space, remains instead a repository of regrets (i.e., exercise and baby item storage facility).

We finally hung a couple of things on the walls, but everything is still pretty much a blank slate. That’s because when I pulled out our boxes of decorations from back when we lived in California and I found, like, star-shaped string lights and a throw pillow that says “Your Mom Says Hi.” I found a cheap readymade frame with an art print of a peacock that says “Fancy Meeting You Here” that I thought was hilarious when I hung it over my toilet in Santa Barbara! Fancy… fancy meeting you here! While you’re peeing! You know? I found a Virgin Mary in an antique arched frame that’s just going to live in the box forever because the beau and I cannot agree to hang it up anywhere. He finds it “creepy” for some reason? In other words, I found a whole lot of nothing, or at least nothing my 35-year-old self finds appealing anymore.

But nothing can be good! Nothing gives you a chance to live inside a blank canvas for a while, to get a feel for the space, to really figure out what you need. But then at some point nothing starts feeling sad and futile. I’m unwilling to just go buy stuff for the sake of having it, though, so I wait. And wait. And the walls keep on going bare, and we keep on trawling Craigslist postings for just the right table, chair, buffet, and so on.

Objectively, I can step back and say we’ll eventually get there. Subjectively, I’m impatient as fuck. Why do all these jerks on TV get to have their joints totally renovated and redecorated in just four to eight weeks? We’re on week 125 and it still looks like the “before” pan shot. I would love to just walk into my house and have it all done. Of course that’s exactly what’s appealing about these shows, the dream of being “done.” Nothing can ever be done! Especially not houses! You know the second you drop that last ceramic ball into the wicker basket you’re gonna find out that glass cubes in brushed aluminum vases are the hot new display trend. You know the second you’re finished installing your grey cabinets, marble countertops, and mosaic tile backsplash the whole thing’s gonna look as dated as a Tuscan kitchen circa 2010. What do you think of all that beigey travertine now, suckers?

HGTV is the strongest argument for nihilism I’ve seen in a while, because it proves that nothing matters. Not man caves, not houses, definitely not the news, not even dumb ceramic balls. Which is a huge relief! Nothing matters, so why try. Okay, thanks for working through this with me, guys. Makes me feel like I’m 100% back on top of things again.

Just in time for a cool mini-marathon of Rehab Addict, nice.

2 Responses to “house rules”

  1. I know what you mean about watching HGTV when the world just seems too shitty for words. We don’t get cable and I’ve already gone through most of Netflix’s HGTV catalogue, so I am currently working my way through “Beachfront Bargain Hunters.” I know. I know. At least no one has asked for a “man cave” in their family beach house.

  2. We don’t get HGTV anymore. It’s probably for the best. As a Vancouverite, real estate talk often sends me into unhealthy rages. Oh you really wanted a SEPARATE formal dining room? And for $250k you were hoping for a BIGGER yard? TELL ME MORE.

    I’m so impressed by how much you guys have done with your place (we barely managed to renovate one bathroom and will NEVER do it again). A blank slate really can be good for a while, I think it lets you figure out how you need the space to function, especially as your baby turns into a kid.

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