Wednesday, September 24, 2014

May contain adult content

Jenn and I are trying to sell our flat. Or, well, technically, it's Jenn's flat. She bought it before we met; hers is the only name on the lease. But it's the nature of marriage that you don't pay much attention to ownership specifics. It all blurs together. You don't sit down and say: "OK, I'll buy these oranges and you can buy those apples and we'll split the cost on this milk."

In Ye Olde Days, that was, of course, one of the primary motivations for marriage: a pooling of resources. Two adults working together to improve their general condition. Practicality, you see.

And it is indeed for practical purposes that Jenn and I are keen to sell the flat: to get ourselves into the position of being debt-free. Which will/would be of benefit when/if we move to the United States in a few years. Or just of benefit in general. Being debt-free, y'all; it's the new hotness. And I've worked out that if we could get out from under all our debt we could rent a two-bedroom flat/house (our flat is one-bedroom) and still have a quantum of funds each month to put into savings. 

Simply using the profit of this flat as a deposit on a larger place won't work because the mortgage on such a place would be more than what Jenn could shoulder on her own, and my status as a Damned Dirty Immigrant (who is working and paying taxes to fund the housing and welfare of natural born citizens who stand outside the Jobcentre with their hands down their pants, drinking Stella Artois and shouting obscenities) prevents me from being eligible for such a loan or co-signing onto one with my wife.

If you're not terribly interested in my personal financial situation, I don't blame you. I get bored even thinking about it. Or, well, panicky-bored. That feeling where your brain simultaneously says: "Ugh, dude, I don't wanna think about this," and "AAARGH! I DON'T WANT TO THINK ABOUT THIS!"

Selling a flat, even though it is technically not mine, is, I think, the most grown-up thing I've ever done. And it induces a tremendous amount of stress. 

Firstly, it consequentially results in my thinking about money all the time. I don't mean thinking about it in a City trader sort of way -- "I'm making the moolah right now, baby! Woo!" -- but more in the way Ukrainians think about Russia. I spend all day trying to work out various scenarios and solutions and equations, but at the end of each of them is the reality that I have extremely little wiggle room. There's a 17-gallon bucket to fill and I've got just 17 gallons of water. Things are OK unless someone gets thirsty.

Thoughts on how to handle money lead, of course, to thoughts on how to earn money. Specifically, how I'd prefer to be earning money. Cue the large Sweetums-esque monster of my mind to sing the same old lament of my writing career not being anywhere near as profitable or prolific as I'd have hoped it would be by the time I was 38 years old.

These anxieties stack on top of each other and mush together. It's like ice cream on a hot day. Life becomes the challenge of sitting there in the sweltering heat trying to tackle a 4-scoop cone without having any of it spill onto your hands or, worse, topple to the ground. And in the great quadruple-dip waffle cone of life the additional challenge comes in the fact the flavours are not terribly complimentary. It would be far easier to tackle them one at a time. But you can't. They are on top of each other and as time goes on they become more difficult to distinguish.

Panicky-bored. Panicky-bored. I don't wanna talk about this, man. I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS. Where I'm going with talking about it is that strange feeling of realising that I'm an adult and not feeling terribly happy about it. I think because I am fearful that I am not terribly good at it.

And here Sweetums steps forward again to sing the Middle-class Woes: the feeling that I am a disappointment by scale. Do you get what I mean? Objectively, my life is pretty good; I have achieved some good things. But I feel that if you take into account the tools I've had to achieve those things I am ultimately a letdown. 

I imagine myself in a large room full of mechanical parts. That is my life. And at the end of my life, God is going to walk into the room and say: "Well, what'd you manage to make, Chris?"

"This bicycle," I'll say. "It's pretty sturdy. I rode around on it quite a bit and it's held up. A few flat tires but pretty fun overall."

"Good, Chris. That's fine," he'll say. "But, uhm, well, you know... this room. All the parts and tools are in this room for you to have made a fighter jet. The parts and tools are here for you to have built a fleet of motorcycles. You've always had most of them. Then there were the times -- remember? -- that you put a lot of time and effort into developing some of the others. But you never really used them. A bicycle is good, Chris. And there are many people up here that, if they had presented me with even a drawing of a bicycle, I would have been very proud of. But you. With you, a bicycle is kind of disappointing. I think you've let yourself down a little. Ah well, you've got all of eternity to dwell on it..."

The fact that these feelings spiral from the simple act of trying to sell a piece of property convinces me even further that I am really not doing a very good job of being an adult. Or maybe I just don't like being an adult and resist it to the point of incompetency. I sense that I would be more enthusiastic about the whole thing if Jenn and I were planning to use the money to go on a massive road trip.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I may not be a dog person

We're spending the week with these bitches.
Jenn and I are this week house-sitting for her best friend's mother. We are in a quite-large house in West Sussex, providing company and food service for three golden retrievers, a small cat and a handful of chickens. 

It is, unquestionably, an enviable situation to be in. Literally within a stone's throw of South Downs National Park, we are in one of the most English of English landscapes. There is a garden from which to pick fresh fruit and vegetables, a grass tennis court on which Jenn and I have been doing DDP yoga, and a large patio where we eat our meals outside. 

Thanks to the power of the internets we are both working remotely –– able to be here without having to take off time from work –– but with the rest of our time we have been running country lanes, eating massive pub meals, hiking the South Downs Way, and just lounging on the sofa reading.

The latter activity is probably the most idyllic because it is then that the dogs and cat (the chickens stay in their coop) will come to lounge with us. The cat nuzzles a place next to my thigh and occasionally headbutts my elbow for fun. The dogs lie near our feet, expel the heavy sighs of canines and fart shamelessly.

They are delightful and stupid, the dogs. All females, they are aggressive only for attention. If you pet one, another will muscle in and demand that your giving of affection be a full-body affair: left hand scratching behind the ears of one dog, right hand rubbing the belly of another, legs squeezing a third.

They are fun to be around, fun to go on walks with, and –– if you can get used to the smell –– emotionally comforting on a level that is sort of hard to explain. But, oh my gosh, are they a bunch of trouble.

These dogs are pretty well trained, but still much of our routine revolves around their pooping and peeing. I make sure they get a chance to go out and do their thing before bed, then I need to be up at about 6:30 in the morning to let them out, else they'll start barking. And still, twice so far we have been greeted in the morning with a special doggie present on the floor –– of which all three of the dogs have disavowed any knowledge.

"Which one of you pooped on the carpet?" I asked this morning.

They looked at me as if I had said, "Which one of you wants a steak?"

Effie was suspicious when I claimed to not have any food.
Meanwhile, they will bark at anything –– especially things that are not there. One in particular, Effie, barks ceaselessly at the unknown. Perhaps there's poetry in that, but not at 7 in the morning. When not barking they are searching for food. Or finding some mud they can track into the house. Or strategically placing their hair on EVERY SINGLE THING.

I have always thought of myself as a dog person but in now actually living with the beasts I can't help but wonder if it's something I could put up with on an everyday basis. Because things only get worse when you take them away from the house.

On Sunday, Jenn and I took the dogs on a walk to a nearby pub for lunch. If you read just that sentence it probably sounds awesome, and for one or two fleeting moments –– watching these golden-haired dogs run across a field in the late summer sun –– it definitely was. But the rest of the time, I found myself emitting a constant soundtrack of reproach:

"Effie, get away from the road. Phoebe, come on, let's go. Sophie, leave that little boy alone. Effie, stop biting Sophie in the face. Phoebe, come on, let's go. Effie, leave that horse poop alone. No, I don't have any food. Sophie, leave that horse poop alone. No, I still don't have any food. Phoebe, come on, let's go...."

The responsibility of being a (temporary) dog owner was wearing me out. I had to pay attention to each little aspect of the world around me and consider how the dogs might respond to it, how it might respond to them: cars, people, other dogs, horses, woodland animals, the smell of faraway barbecues,  tricks of the light, and, of course, all kinds of things that were not there.

It's exhausting. I'm not sure I could live this way. After all these years of thinking otherwise, it turns out I may not be a dog person after all.

Though, having said that, it's probably worth noting that in writing this post I twice found myself getting up and seeking out the dogs just to be able to pet them.