1994-09-06 Woozle writes Rebekah

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The following letter was written in two parts. The first part was written after re-reading the letter the next day, before sending it; I have put a "Preface" header on this section, although in the original letter as sent it had no header and was set apart from the main letter with borders above and below, and set in sans-serif. (The main letter was in Roman.)



Having read what I've written below, I must agree with L that it does sound a bit harsh. I wrote it between 2 and 5 a.m. this morning, riding on a wave of stress triggered by thinking about all this stuff as well as Livia's baby-kick-induced insomnia. So the tone is a bit hostile. You should know that while I really am angry about a lot of this stuff, that doesn't mean I go around cursing you and Mubbie under my breath; it's just that sometimes y'all drive me absolutely nuts. I hope this thing helps to explain why, just a little bit.

(Main Letter)

Dear Rebekah, (You asked for writing. I hope you know what you're getting into; I'm known for my 40-page letters...) I should make it clear before I start that I feel no need to justify myself to you (or Mubbie). Livia and I have done very well under adverse and uncertain circumstances here in Athens. If you don't understand that. that's your problem. A lot of stuff happens here; you get some of it from Mubbie, but only a subset of what she sees and colored by her (one is tempted to interject the word "myopic") perspective, at that.

Since you asked nicely, however, I'm quite willing to give you an earful. (Warning: in some cases, I may be responding more to what Livia thought you said than to what you actually said. If confused, ask; if misrepresented, let me know & I apologize.)

When L and I first considered moving down here, among the beneficial factors I considered was that the low rent would allow me to take some time off to work on various creative projects. The secluded environment would allow me to work relatively free of distractions, and the vast expanses of greenery would help alleviate the claustrophobia I sometimes felt in Providence and Durham (especially Providence -- the most spacious place I lived in there was a triplex). Certainly there were a few odd maintenance tasks I could help out with, having picked up some minor carpentry skills; also, having some opinions about what a proper kitchen looks like, or what a proper workshop should be, my natural desire to improve the world got somewhat the better of my time-budgeting sense.

And then there's reality. Livia's college loans, the loan on that dog of a car foisted on her by Don Wade, the moving expenses (I had been led to believe they would be taken care of), the low wages and dearth of tolerable work, to start with. Then there's the work for Mubbie. Oh, sorry, I forgot -- we never finish anything, so that doesn't count.

I hope you'll understand that every time Livia relays to me that you've said that Mubbie says this (or, more recently, that Dan says that Mubbie says this; neither she nor you are strong on damning people to their faces -- though I must admit you've improved a bit), it makes me want to scream. Do you have any idea how hard we've worked, and for how little?

Let's take this from the top. First of all, in the ordinary course of events I'd probably be living in Durham making $25-35k (with benefits & retirement) happily computing away the hours in a town with decent Chinese and Indian restaurants, good book stores, and close friends. As it is, I'm lucky to get in a good 20-hour week of computing; the rest is taking Mubbie to the grocery store, whacking weeds, taking pot-shots at the latest maintenance emergency, and trying to organize our lives on an income ($18k for the two of us, if everything goes well) which is exceeded by our outgo. I have gained a new understanding of Shannon's fear of ending up in a trailer park; it is so easy to visualize having to sell off my keyboards, tape decks, computer, guitars, books, until there is nothing left with which I can do any better for myself than go work in a cigarette-lighter factory.

(You're going to pick on the refrigerator, why did we buy it when we didn't have the money. Rebekah, I don't care what you think: we needed that refrigerator. We have a baby on the way, and the old fridge was already too small. Maybe you can keep stuff fresh on the window sill in Rumania, but not in the deep south of the United States.) (We also need a dishwasher, and we're going to get one. I'm not going to justify it; you have to take my word.)

Second, what have we done. Well, I personally don't make lists of everything I accomplish. At one point (I think it was during a phase when you & Mubbie were coming down on us for not getting anything done), I made a list of all the things I had to do, and kept a log of each thing as I did it. The to-do list quickly grew to two pages (20-30 items per page), and the done list grew at a rate of 1-5 items a day (depending on how much time was involved in the items tackled that day). Eventually, I gave up the list because I found it was taking up too much time.

I understand Mubbie is upset because we haven't finished the trim1 yet (and you are too). (pause for deep breath) Why the freep doesn't she tell me directly? Why don't you? This is something which has bothered me since Livia and I were courting one another -- you always had scathing criticisms of me, yet you would never say them to my face. You would tell Livia, and she would stress and fret about them until she finally had to tell me; and of course I was not to let on that she'd told me2, oh no; I was to give her some counter-arguments so she could hold her head up when you were on the attack. She basically set herself up for shuttle diplomacy between two people she cared about, which anyone will tell you is very hard on the shuttle. Though Livia may be somewhat to blame for allowing it to continue as long as it did, it has always struck me as very cowardly of you and (what's your favorite word--) dishonorable. (Nekultourny.) (...So cut it out, that's all. I forgive you.)

Back to the trim (and other things we haven't done). Several times I've suggested to L that we tackle it as a weekend project, but she's always vetoed it in favor of something practical rather than aesthetic (you have to admit, the trim (see note 1) is purely aesthetic), such as more shelves. Budget has always been a major constraint, as has time, so simply deciding to "just do it all" is sort of like voting to abolish gravity. (You try it.) I did redo the trim around one of the windows in the bedroom, because it was falling apart and leaking warm air like a hole in the wall; I also insulated around the electrical box because it too had great gaping holes to the outside. Over the past summer, I've repaired 2 minor roof-leaks that developed during the rains we had, and stared 100 times at the front of the garage shed where drainage ditches badly need to be dug so the water doesn't run through the shed. Early this summer, when it was almost tolerably furnace-like, we dug trenches for the railroad ties to level out our driveway so that nobody else would get stuck in the mud (current total is at least 2, not counting ourselves), but ran out of ties halfway through. We have money to buy another 16 but are holding onto it for now for various reasons.

This spring I cleared a path through the privet just below our house with the idea that it would be a good way to get vehicles behind the house for whatever reason (e.g. it would have been very useful when the deck was being built); unfortunately, there are 2 trees and a stump which need to be removed (at a minimum). So it's just sitting there, and a month or two of labor is slowly becoming overgrown again (though I keep the middle part mowed so it doesn't become totally inaccessible). What would really keep it down is cars driving over it every now and then, or better yet filling it in with gravel; even if weeds did start to come back, it would be level enough to mow. (Any of that requires money, and it's not a top priority, so it goes on my list of "I'll get to it when I can".)

The mower is my main weapon against privet: if you can smooth a spot over to the point where it can be mowed, then it becomes much easier to maintain. Witness the area below Miss Phee's Pecan Tree (you did notice it, didn't you?), our back yard (was all privet when we got here), the area under the old dogwood by the south driveway, the mini-lawns behind the chain-link fence out front, etc.

Your other problem (since I'm psychoanalyzing you) is that people are either wonderful or terrible. One minute we're marvelous, thoughtful, resourceful people for (say) bringing Mubbie down to the creek for the first time in 20 years (that was several weekends of clearing, which needs some maintenance but is still passable), and the next we're despicable delinquent freeloaders because we haven't finished the bloody trim. No middle ground. Can you accept the idea that good things take time to accomplish, and in between accomplishments there are often long periods when nothing seems to happen? Think about this.

Consider also that while all this has been going on, Livia has been holding down a full-time job with weird hours while I've been holding down a part-time job while looking for others, trying to explore other possible avenues for income (such as the programming I'm doing now for Cogent or possibly completing any one of the 10 or 20 ideas I have for computer applications and getting them to market), taking Mubbie grocery shopping and being more or less at her beck & call for yardwork (incidentally, that wheelbarrow has made more of a difference than you know -- one load a day instead of ten, ten being effectively the whole morning) and fence-gossip since she's alienated all her phone friends, and paying bills and carting Livia back & forth to work. Mornings get eaten. One minute you're getting up, ready to get something done; next minute you've spent the morning (and often part of the afternoon) doing errands and yardwork.

Which brings me to another thing. I am not a carpenter. I did not sign up to be a groundskeeper. I'm happy to help out where I can, but when it comes to major repairs and landscaping I am definitely not the best person for the job. I'm a computer programmer by profession and a musician by avocation (maybe they'll be reversed one day, but I'm not holding my breath).

When we have some money, I'm more than willing to spend it in places where Mubbie doesn't have it or isn't willing to spend it (e.g. the railroad ties -- Mubbie wasn't supposed to pay for those; the bloomin' delivery company brought the bill to her door even though we'd told them to wait until Tuesday so we could pay them first. I could scream about incompetence, but sometimes you just have to face the reality that most places are not set up to deal with Mubbie). If I could be given some time to get some work done, I might even be able to acquire that money.

The first week I worked for Cogent, every hour was worth $15. So you'd think that everyone would be tiptoeing around so as not to disturb me so I could make as much money for the family as possible, right? Nope; business as usual. I had to stay up until 5 in the morning twice in order to get the project finished anywhere near the deadline, and in the following 2 weeks I got in a total of 40 hours. So I'm sitting here wondering to myself if anybody really wants me to earn any money, or if I should just resign myself to being a homemaker and general yard-worker.

So, on to what we were talking about on the phone. Simply put, we're being given responsibility without authority. Both you and Mubbie seem to be expecting us to work wonders and turn the place around while costing no extra money and keeping Mubbie entertained and holding down full-time jobs. Personally, I think we have worked wonders; we've certainly sweated a hell of a lot and used up a lot of time we could have enjoyed better in other ways. Further, we (Livia, at any rate, and myself through her) stand to own the place one day; it was my assumption, on moving here, that we would be learning how to run the place and perhaps taking over some of the decision-making in exchange for perhaps taking over some of the expenses (taxes, insurance, whatever). So when it comes down to an idea we've had for something we'd like to do with the place, which we are willing to take responsibility for and take care of any consequences be they fiscal or legal, and both you and Mubbie give a resounding "no", I myself begin to wonder: are you playing with us? Do you see us as irresponsible children or something? And from things that I've heard that both you and Mubbie have said (never directly, of course), apparently the answer to the second question (at least) is "yes".

This has got to stop, and that is the crux of the biscuit. I may really enjoy living here among all the trees and the space, and I may really wish I could keep living here, but I sure as bloody hell am not going to keep doing it if we're going to be kept here like pets, subject to someone else's ideas about what our schedules and priorities should be like.

I'm not even talking about Dan's party-venue idea. To refresh your memory: when we heard that Brian Pope was moving out, I asked Mubbie to let me rent the place. With the kid on the way, we desperately needed some more room. If I wanted to freeload, I could have asked her to let us use a room in her house as a study, or something like that. She's got gobs of space and it only gets used a few times a year. However, I understand how she would probably feel with someone traipsing in and out of the house at odd intervals, and I wouldn't really feel any more comfortable than she, so I suggested we rent Brian's place. Knowing also that she doesn't make enough money to keep the place up, I offered $300/month. It would have been tight, but things were already tight, and what you must understand is that I was looking for a place in which to work so that I could get ahead a little instead of always falling further and further3 behind. I would have had more time to do job-hunting and résumé mailing, space to do things like assemble computers for people or do tutoring or whatever; but I'm sure somehow it could have paid for itself. Failing that, I would have found another tenant (or a list for Mubbie to choose from) and no harm done. (In this particular case, everybody seemed in favor at the start, and then Mubbie backed out a little later.)

As for the extra septic tank and the party-venue idea -- I personally could live without either of them, but if Dan is willing to go through the effort of organizing people to get them done and make sure everything is taken care of4, then I think it's a terrific idea. The current status of the "tipi village", as I understand it, is that all the present occupants are pooling together to buy some land elsewhere in the area, and they're only going to be doing work (building tipis or whatever -- not living) here after that. Regardless, they have been very good for the place, watching out for people who shouldn't be there and just generally keeping an eye on things. Also a couple of weekends ago they organized a big clean-up and got rid of all the dumped appliances and junk and (most of the) piles of cans in the woods. (You try finding anybody else to do that, let alone for free.)

It's not so much that we need to do these things; it's that we would really like to, and why should it be a problem? Are we (L & I) family, or tenants?

The main thing is that I feel like we've put sweat & blood into this place (it's certainly true literally), and we're being kept hanging. Where's the honor in this? We were promised five acres; we've received nothing except occupancy of a very small house (which we've been refused permission to pay rent on)5. [And what we do with the money since we're not using it for rent is something I shouldn't need to justify to you, but I'll tell you anyway: we use it to keep our debt inflation to a minimum. I could go through our debt and explain each item to you, but that's none of your business either -- when do you start to trust someone? When they turn 80?]

I think that pretty much covers the phone conversation.

That being done with, I should go into recent changes in the financial situation. Right now, if all goes as expected, our immediate financial problems are over. $15/hour for 30 hours/week would be more than enough to let us catch up (zero debt) in a year or two, even if Livia quits her job (not something she's planning to do). However, the situation with Cogent is looking a bit uncertain at this exact moment; I'm not sure whether the work they have for me is in the process of drying up. Don (Mullen) is very busy with some Glaxo contracts right now, and I don't really want to pester him, so I'm filling the time by trying to catch up on some (long overdue) projects for UGA. He's given me reason to think there will be work and that it will be dependable at least for awhile, but that was at the very beginning and I'm not sure if I'm still in his good graces or not. In any case, the best thing to do now is wait and see.

(When I say "immediate financial problems", I mean as opposed to larger financial commitments such as remodeling Mubbie's house and/or building our own -- things we'd like to do one day.)

In any case, I now have the tools I need to make similar arrangements (telecommuting) with other companies, so there will be more money than there has been, one way or another; it may just take awhile. (Right now we have about $1100 in the bank, and I'm trying to keep it that way.)

Livia says this letter sounds (by turns) angry, defensive, and stressed-out. Well, yes, I am all three. Livia also says that your immediate reaction will probably be that I should reduce the number of different directions I'm being pulled in so that I can actually finish something. This seems like a splendid idea to me; any help in distracting the opposition is appreciated. (n.b. Mubbie actually made noises about wanting to hire a yard man the other day -- I wasn't sure if she was just expecting Southern Guilt, but I took her at face value. The current status is that all the students she contacted wanted outrageous wages, i.e. $10/hr. Sounds reasonable to me; you can make more delivering pizzas, and that's easier work.)

I've long felt that we needed to open some kind of communications channel in order to deal with all this stuff. Livia was always fearful of an explosive confrontation, but I just don't think it's going to happen that way. So I'll be looking forward to your reply, be it verbal or written (note, though, that I think better with my fingers than my jaws).

Take care & love always,


Note 1

L says that nobody has actually mentioned the trim specifically for awhile; people do keep saying that we haven't finished anything, and that was the first thing that came to mind. So from here on, let "trim" stand for all the things we haven't finished. Here is a list of what we've been able to think of:

  • Trim around house, install doors
  • Mubbie's kitchen cabinets (not even started, actually; does this count?)
  • Our kitchen cabinets
  • Waterproofing deck (started just this weekend, in fact)
  • Finding cover for bare floor in between bathroom/bedroom and kitchen/living room
  • Weed-whacking from well-house down to old roadbed (but this is a recent request)
  • Mubbie's bedroom window (another thing which we haven't started, so can it be called unfinished?)
  • Drainage around tool shed (also not started)
  • Goat shed rebuilding (though I consider that we did what we set out to do with it)

Note 2

If you don't want someone to find out what you've said about them, don't say it to their best friend...

Note 3

farther and farther? further and farther? hither and yon? Gaston and Alphonse?

Note 4

L says I must make it clear that this means he will handle the legal aspects of it and make sure the whole thing is done in a discreet professional manner, which I believe he will do.

Note 5

Yes, we're very grateful for the air-conditioning and the deck, but of course it's not a matter of something for nothing; everything's a trade. If we have A/C, it's that much more incentive to stay here, and makes it easier to cool down after a day of weed-whacking. If we have a deck, that's a place for tools to be kept and carpentry to be done (as well as a nice place to sit).