Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


Whoa, Horsey

The year of the bound-and-tied horse (with toilet paper tube). Thank you, LAE

The year of the bound-and-tied horse (with toilet paper tube). Thank you, LAE

I am in a pretty dark place.

It seems funny that a couple of weeks ago I blogged so innocently about the Year of the Horse and the challenges and joys it would present to me in the first part of 2014, challenges like whether or not to buy a house, whether or not to pursue IVF, the challenge I have not talked about–my husband’s extreme unhappiness in his job and his inability to find something else–and the ever-present rollercoaster that is my relationship to writing and publishing. Because like many other times since I turned 39 and started this blog, I feel like life lately has been a bit like hurtling through a series of valleys and mountains and finding myself, a little too often, in the valleys (or hanging on terrified at the top of a steep mountain).

(Every night: the five-things-I-am-grateful-for list, just to keep me honest. Last night, like pulling teeth: my incredibly comfortable bed that will go with me whatever house I live in; The New Yorker; having a job; green tea; my family.)

M and I got burned pretty badly this week. A month ago after the fixer house didn’t work out we casually emailed our landlady to ask whether she would ever sell us the duplex we live in now. It’s too small for long-term as is, but perfectly fine for now, pleasant, and on a lovely cul-de-sac in a neighborhood we like, in a community we like, with friends and neighbors we like. We figured it was a long shot that Ingrid would sell it to us, but no harm in asking. We’ve been feeling anxious to set down some roots. And we like living here–we like the garden and the sunny living room, the south-facing kale bed and the efficiency of the space.

And to our great surprise she said yes, that she “liked and respected” us very much and had thought about selling us her house, actually. We had a long and warm phone conversation where she expressed excitement and stressed that she appreciated open and honest communication, that she wanted to sell to us rather than putting the house on the market because she didn’t want the house to fall into just anyone’s hands. How she felt emotionally connected to the house since she’d lived here all those years, and needed to feel sure that good people were living in it. That she knew we fit in so well in the neighborhood, and that was important, too.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

All of a sudden that cart seemed to be hurtling along towards the top of a mountain, driven by her and her enthusiasm and us and our cautious, terrified enthusiasm. Holy cow. We might be buying a house.

Ingrid asked whether we could afford the house now; we said we weren’t sure. She said she could wait for us for a year to get the money together, if need be. That she was in no rush. Weeks went by; we continued to talk. We met with our mortgage guy. We talked to our realtor friend. We alerted our friends in the other half of the duplex that we were potentially buying the place. Things were hanging in the balance, but also hunky dory; we so appreciated her kind, calm willingness to work with us.

Then she said we should get an appraisal, and we agreed.

When the appraisal came back, she was all of a sudden all business. “It came in at X,” she said. “Can you do that?” We said we wanted to see the appraisal. She waffled. M asked again. She waffled again. We worked the numbers backwards and forwards. We asked for a little time. Her emails became more and more terse until, on Wednesday morning, she called me to tell me she was concerned about the legal issues around selling a house and felt she needed a realtor. Not a realtor to help with a private sale, mind you–a realtor to help her sell the house on the open market.

In other words, deal over. Remorseless.

On the open market, the price will go too high for us to even get a look in. This is Berkeley, people, where 1,000 square feet can sell for $700,000 and no one bats an eyelid.

What galls me–what galls me so much–is the dishonesty of her approach. If she had called and said, “The truth is, I’ve realized that I can just get so much more for it on the open market, and I really need to take care of my long-term financial well-being,” I’d be upset, but not as upset as I am now. Instead she mock-innocently referred to our “misunderstanding,” and assured us that she felt sorry we were upset because she had been “nothing but open and honest” in her approach. What galls me more than her being a lying sack of shit is her insensitivity. When you sell a duplex, new owners can both raise the rent and evict at least one of the families living there. Since we’ve moved in, rents have gone way up. Our neighbors were saving up for a down payment. Both of us will likely be kicked out in six months or less (she’s putting the house on the market this spring; so much for not being in a rush). Can we afford to still live in this town? I have no idea. Good thing we’re all signed up for Kindergarten, and all.

We’ve said all of this and more. I said it to her face; I told her she had betrayed our trust and behaved badly. I told her she was dishonest. And M told it to her via email. Her response to him is prevaricating and grasping. She is a small, small person.

One who really, honestly, isn’t worth my time.

Sure, I think about how you’re supposed to send lovingkindness to even those you have trouble with, those who you–shh–hate.

I’ve been so sad, friends. Near tears at all times. I’m tense and short with Leo. Short with my dad, who is visiting, for all his repeating himself and his long, rambling stories. I feel guilty that we opened the can of worms and have ensured the eviction of our neighbors. Mostly, I feel so disillusioned. It’s not about the house, not at all about the house–it’s about feeling betrayed. I’m painting California with the whole bad brush, too–my prevailing feeling in the last 24 hours is homesickness for New England, where–and I am probably deluding myself–I feel sure no one would do business like this. I feel like the betrayal and uncertainty is up to my eyeballs and I don’t know how to sleep or eat or even be anymore. I think we should move away; then I don’t. I think we should try to reason with her again; then I think we should not bother.

And of course: I got rejected by another agent today, and while she said such beautiful things about my book all I could hear was that she “thinks it will be tough to position.” L whined the whole way home from San Francisco in the car. Another mom said something that hurt my feelings at L’s school this morning. I wrote an essay, and a friend doesn’t think it’s any good. My dad lectured M for an hour last night on how he can be more of a go-getter. M’s boss has lost his biggest client and M fears the firm will fold.

And I just keep thinking, when can I crawl under the covers and cry for three days? Can I do that now?



The Mørketid

In Norway, this time of year is called the mørketid, the dark time. You can guess why; in Oslo right now the sun rises around ten a.m. and sets at three. This morning, walking L. to school, I remembered how five years ago at this time I was morning sick and thankfully underemployed, so I spent much of November and December sleeping away the morning, rallying for the sunlight, then going back to bed. The evenings were the best time, the time I was able to consume the most tomato juice and watch The Simpsons with Norwegian subtitles on our tiny illegal television. Then we’d light some candles. My brother’s wife had just left him and he came to Oslo for three weeks, slept on our couch and brought me my tomato juice. Together we flew to Copenhagen for a few days and stayed in a one-star hotel, talked and talked and talked, weathered the cold, weathered his great tragedy.

photo-4I was thinking about this this morning because we had a frost in Berkeley. Marc and I are cracking ourselves up by refusing to turn on the heat until we really need to this winter. Instead we cook big pots of soup or roast whatever we can think to roast so the oven warms the small space; let’s face it, 40 is cold for Berkeley. But last night, Jack Frost painted the roof white and when I woke I could practically see my breath. There had been a strange dream, a man was trying to get into the house and the door wouldn’t lock against him and I couldn’t find my phone to call 911. When I woke, Marc was gone, off to work early, and L. was stirring so I just had a five-minute sit on the zafu before he bustled into the living room with a giant blanket. Our hands and feet, like ice. “One of these days Daddy and I will turn on the heat,” I told him, shaking my head, laughing. We are strange people sometimes. We like a challenge.

And all of it made me feel a little weepy: not being pregnant, not being in Norway, Marc off to work early, my love for L. feeling difficult because he has so forcefully been trying my patience lately, not being published, working so damn hard at all of it for what? For what? For what?

But underneath, oh, underneath—there has been this beautiful and clear sense of gratitude lately, for that cold house, for the breakfast I put together, for Marc, for Lex, for having had so much luck and joy and happiness in my life. I’ve been feeling like I’ve spent a lot of time not understanding that one could have both: disappointment and happiness, or perhaps: failures and success. Or perhaps: struggle and ease. Yes, that’s what I mean. Struggle, and ease.

I loved Amanda Green’s Thanksgiving post for this reason. You overflow with gratitude, but it can almost feel like too much. And sometimes, even if you are a fortunate person, you overflow with sorrow for the things you miss.