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There’s a man in this town who used to be a respected professional with a high-toned name. Now, thanks to decades of bad choices, all he has is his pride and three luxury automobiles he long ago relinquished the “privilege” of driving. And that toney name.

Recently, a building he owned fell into such disrepair that the city condemned it and tore it down at his expense. My kind-hearted friend L., who mother-hens this man (and is apparently one of the only friends he has left), urged him to go in with her or let her go in with some big, strong boys before the deconstruction to salvage doors and hardware and other useful, saleable features of his century-old structure.

“I can’t, L,” he told her. “You don’t understand. I’m an aristocrat. We don’t do things like that.”


I bought this old house 50 weeks ago and I must admit it’s a mixed blessing. Oh, don’t get me wrong; it’s a great old place and it’s wonderful to have actual rooms after 10 years of choosing to live in tiny spaces. But it does what old houses do; it needs new floors and foundation work, electrical upgrades, new siding, roofing rehab, and endless amounts of paint scraping.

It’s a drain on my energy and my finances and sometimes I feel so over my head I just want to cry.

Lately, I’ve felt as if the house has been eating me alive with all its demands.

Then I realized, no, I’m eating me alive with all the house’s demands. For all the endless things it needs, all the endless things I want to do to improve the place, the house itself hasn’t presented me with one “drop everything and spend money on me” emergency. Everything works. It’s just … not always pretty. Or not finished. Or otherwise not as harmonious as I like.

It’s not the house, but my own attitude toward it, that causes my anxiety.


It’s coincidence that I’ve picked two examples having to do with old buildings. This isn’t actually about buildings at all. Any more than these are about buildings:

Duck-rabbit optical illusion

Face-vase optical illusion

Duck or rabbit? Face or vase? It’s all in how you see it. And it’s not an either/or reality, but what your mind makes of it. It’s about perception of course.

And until you’re able/willing/ready to see things a new way, you’re just not going to get beyond old problems and change life for the better. Ain’t happening.

That adventurous Israeli family I blogged about yesterday is doing something millions of other families with young children would shake their heads and tell us is “impossible.” And so, for them, it is impossible.

When we’re raised to see government as a fact of life, as inevitable as the sun rising in the east, we at first find the idea of a world without it literally unthinkable.

When everybody “knew” the continents were too big and stable to move, it was impossible to develop a coherent theory about the causes of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Before Priestly, Scheele, and Lavoisier “gave” the world oxygen, scientists could only wander up the dead-end alley of phlogiston.

As long as people think the only choices are between voting and violent revolution, they literally can’t see an entire world of other options.

As long as you cling to the ancestral pride of “being an aristocrat” to the point of refusing to mitigate damage to yourself, you’re not going to pull out of problems you caused by keeping your nose in the air.

As long as you bang your head on the idea that your house is conspiring to make your life harder, you’ll have a hard time perceiving that the problem is really in your own brain. (In my case it took a reality check from a friend.)

As long as you can’t or won’t or don’t want to look at problems in a new light, you’re most likely going to end up watching your old gloomy unchanging problems. For a long time.

Do you find that fun? Satisfying, sometimes “because it is bitter and because it is my heart” (link added). But fun? Irk!


The above is prep material for the final installment of “Responsibilities of a resident of the police state, which should finally come wandering along later this week.


  1. vlad
    vlad August 2, 2011 5:32 am

    ” …. and because it is my heart.”
    That rang a bell. I googled it. I read Stephen Crane
    years ago. I will read him again. Thank you.

    re the aristocrat…. He can adapt or die. His call.

  2. Teresa Sue
    Teresa Sue August 2, 2011 5:54 am

    Exactly! Your perception IS your reality. I struggle with this always. I’m fine as long as I make the right choice in which reality I want to live in. Don’t you think that this concept is what has, over the centuries, helped people live, survive, and perhaps even thrive under dreadful conditions?

    Okay, now for the disclaimer. I am not awake and have only drank 1/3 of my cup of tea, so if the above makes no sense, I will not be held responsible…..

  3. Claire
    Claire August 2, 2011 6:40 am

    Teresa Sue — you’re so right about perceptions helping people survive and even thrive under dreadful conditions (Viktor Frankl’s concentration camp memoirs are a perfect example).

    You make perfect sense, tea or no. Me, not so sure. I also haven’t had my first cup of tea yet and where vlad wrote “he can adapt or die,” I first read “he can adopt a cat or die.” [rolleyes]

    And good googling, vlad. Yep, it’s Stephen Crane. I linked to that poem a while back & probably should have included a link again here. So here goes:

  4. Pat
    Pat August 2, 2011 6:57 am

    Well, yes and no. The emphasis should be “Your perception is YOUR reality”, i.e. the world in which each of us is willing to live. E.g, the house that Claire lives in may still be unfinished and ugly (or not), and expensive to fix up; the degree with which she can live with that is HER reality.

    But the real problem comes when people can’t/won’t/don’t distinguish between what reality is (the true nature of the house) and their perception of it (how much she can tolerate).

    “Don’t you think that this concept is what has, over the centuries, helped people live, survive, and perhaps even thrive under dreadful conditions?”

    I think that while this HAS helped people live and survive under bad conditions, it has also allowed many people over the centuries to fool themselves into believing those conditions were not so dreadful, and were in fact the norm; they got used to it, and maybe this is where our accepting leadership and political control began.

    And the froggie (us) has gotten cooked without realizing he’s in the pot.

  5. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal August 2, 2011 8:09 am

    And since many people are suffering from the perception that The State and its enforcers are “the good guys”, that becomes their personal reality, no matter how divorced from actual, objective reality it may be.

    These same people also have the perception that they need Rulers to tell them how to live, or they would die hideous deaths of starvation and violence.

    Their perception is completely twisted and delusional, but we must deal with it.

  6. Matt, another
    Matt, another August 2, 2011 9:41 am

    I’ve never suffered that weird affliction often designated by the sentiment of “I’m to good for…” Might be because I was born and lived most of my life (now by choice) on the wrong side of the tracks, or wrong side of the farmers field.

    The perception of Govt as the good guy isn’t just many peoples fantasy or coping mechanism, it has been indoctrinated in them from birth and that indoctrination often goes back multiple generations. It is why it is so hard to change it. It has been indoctrinated much deeper than most forms or religion that people are “born” into. For some of us, it just didn’t stick.

  7. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty August 2, 2011 10:11 am

    And, very much tied to this discussion is the meaning of words. I just came across this book review this morning and it speaks very much to or perception of reality. If someone can pervert the meaning of words, they can alter the reality for most people eventually, just as the Nazis did.

    We occasionally get defensive when people challenge our use of words… I do that myself sometimes – but I think it is essential to be aware of the actual meaning of words and resist the bastardization of any. Let our words be seasoned with salt… and let us be sure that the meaning of those words we use is clear to everyone as much as possible.
    The Language of the Third Reich…
    “No, the most powerful influence was exerted neither by individual speeches nor by articles or flyers, posters or flags; it was not achieved by things which one had to absorb by conscious thought or conscious emotions.

    Instead Nazism permeated the flesh and blood of the people through single words, idioms and sentence structures which were imposed on them in a million repetitions and taken on board mechanically and unconsciously. . . language does not simply write and think for me, it also increasingly dictates my feelings and governs my entire spiritual being the more unquestioningly and unconsciously I abandon myself to it.

    And what happens if the cultivated language is made up of poisonous elements or has been made the bearer of poisons? Words can be like tiny doses of arsenic: they are swallowed unnoticed, appear to have no effect, and then after a little time the toxic reaction sets in after all.

  8. Claire
    Claire August 2, 2011 10:35 am

    MamaLiberty, thank you for the excellent link on Klemperer’s work. Long ago I read a biography of him and was very impressed. What’s depressing is how small and insidious some very manipulative word changes are. (The one at the bottom of the article about the word referring to workers and their employers is a perfect example.)

    Even creepier, only a few astute watchers ever even seem to realize what’s going on and they have a near-impossible time trying to alert anyone to the danger posed by “mere words.”

    I wonder how many words even the most astute use every day without groking the politization of their meanings? Some manipulated terms are obvious: “entitlements,” “revenue enhancement,” “safety net.” Others ….? How many people even realize that darned near every time they use the word “anarchy,” they’re re-enforcing a thousand carefully stereotyped perceptions. “Freedom”? “Country”? Do people ever consciously get how strangely & inappropriately such words are used?

  9. naturegirl
    naturegirl August 2, 2011 11:12 am

    LOL, you must have been evesdropping on some of my (situational) conversations lately……

    As for your house ~ what were your intentions for it when you moved in? I realize some changes HAD to be done (other peoples’ choices) but aside from all that, did you go in thinking you were going to “make it yours” when making changes? Were you going to make it perfect, and by who’s standards? Did you believe that after all those years of living tiny you deserved THIS house and earned the house? At what point will you accept it and declare (excuse the pun) it “mine”?

    As for perception and reality, both of those word’s definitions are in danger of being hijacked by the “measure of normal.” Reality isn’t based on all facts any more, it’s now compared to “normal” and what everyone else is doing…..Perceptions aren’t individualistic thoughts any more, they are challenged by whatever everyone else thinks about things…..Both are tied too tight to judgements, as well….

    Behind both of those is attitude. Certain attitudes will result in similar perceptions and eventually the reality. And while I think it’s admirable to be willing and able to change and approach things in new ways, it also has to come with a hefty dose of acceptance as well….On the person and the observers parts…..

    But I sidetracked myself, LOL, all I intended to say was to “just enjoy your house.”

  10. Claire
    Claire August 2, 2011 12:33 pm

    naturegirl — “deserved” and “earned”? Egads, nope. No thinking like that entered my mind. I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford much of a house. Was able to buy this one only because it was — as everybody knew — a beater that had to be financed by its sellers because no bank would touch it. I knew going it it would require a lot of work and money.

    A few of the fixes it needs are of the “other people’s choices” type. Others — all the big ones — are of the “century-old house that’s been neglected for 50 years” type. These are things that must be done — not a question of perfection, but of maintenance to keep the damn thing from crumbling. Fortunately (with the exception below) none of those problems have become emergencies.

    That said, I would like to have just a few areas “perfect” enough that I could simply sit and enjoy them without looking around and seeing only projects.

    LOL, I mentioned in the post that the house had never presented me with any “drop everything and fix this RIGHT NOW” situations. Half an hour ago the contractor doing the “lite” foundation fix called me into the basement to look at my first “RIGHT NOW” problem — an old plumbing pipe that could either a) burst at any moment or b) keep slowly leaking and cause the house’s center support beam to rot. The plumber will try to get out this evening …

  11. naturegirl
    naturegirl August 2, 2011 1:00 pm

    See, you jinxed yourself, LOL….

    I think you do deserve or earned it….and that was kinda where I was going with bringing it up, because even if the financial things are a problem, otherwise it was your turn to live “larger”… I meant you should accept that it was ok to have this house, basically…..but not let it own you, LOL…..

    I remember when you were in this process, and I remember thinking Wow, it all just sorta fell into place somewhat easily for you…even if unexpectedly, to some extent……but it seemed where you should be going next, at the time, for those very reasons of things falling into place…..

    It really hasn’t been very long, you’ve made more progress on your house in a short period of time than some people make in decades LOL…..

  12. Claire
    Claire August 2, 2011 2:25 pm

    naturegirl — Aaaaah. Now I see. Lordy, I wish I could think “I deserve this!” when it comes to good things. I guess, in that, I’ve got another perception problem don’t I?

    And in what you say about progress, you’re exactly echoing my friend L (who just took eight years to fix up an old house). She also pointed out the progress. And you’re both right. I’ve gotten a lot done in just under a year. An amazing lot.

    But: “God grant me patience — RIGHT NOW!!!!!

  13. naturegirl
    naturegirl August 2, 2011 2:47 pm

    Thank goodness, cuz I was thinking I’m just not making sense to anyone but myself again, LOL……

    Sometimes the hardest thing(s) to do is to accept some of the good stuff that shows up in life….people get so use to fighting to get thru the bad/harder parts, we either miss or dismiss the good ones when they come along……

    Everyone has their own beliefs in karma and all that….when things just fall into place and look like it’s meant to be, well, that can’t be ignored….however it come along, it did……

    Call it perceptions or the myriad of other things that apply, sometimes we are our own insurmountable mountains – no one can be rougher on us than ourselves 😉 And sometimes other peoples’ perceptions can be eye openers, LOL…….

    As for patience, someone should bottle that and sell it and they’d be gazillionaires, LOL…..

  14. Will
    Will August 2, 2011 7:34 pm

    Scary how we maintain our own prisons isn’t it? And how wonderful when we walk right through them and realise they were made of tissue paper …
    hope the pipe isn’t the start of something big and expensive.

  15. Claire
    Claire August 2, 2011 8:41 pm

    Will, it is indeed strange how we maintain our own prisons — and often don’t even know they’re there.

    Thanks for good wishes on the plumbing. The plumber stopped by for a look today between jobs. Good news; he says it’s not a pressurized pipe & therefore in no danger of bursting catastrophically before he can get to it. But it has been dripping for who knows how long against the center support beam of the house. So still crossing fingers, but everybody thinks we’ve caught it in time to save the beam. AND the foundation work came in under budget!

  16. clark
    clark August 2, 2011 9:02 pm

    naturegirl Said: “LOL, you must have been evesdropping on some of my (situational) conversations lately……”

    I thought the same thing as I was reading,… that is, if “situational” means, online.
    That has happened more than once here.

    Claire Said: “…I would like to have just a few areas “perfect” enough that I could simply sit and enjoy them without looking around and seeing only projects.”

    Been there, knew some carpenters that tried too, that moment never happened.

    This thread reminded me (among other things) of a recent blog post with an accounting and a, “reduce the obstacles to my happiness” perspective titled, “Why I would Rather Shoot Myself In the head than Ever Own a Home Again.”

    Not that I don’t sometimes think about being a homeower, but that passes.

    Also, imho, patience can’t be sold, it can only be learned.

  17. naturegirl
    naturegirl August 2, 2011 11:37 pm

    Clark, patience is something that wears out as you get older (bad pun, but the best way I can think of to explain it)…….so I don’t know if I can completely agree on the learning part…..I remember spending hours (and some serious determination) trying to learn or conquer things when I was a child ~ now a days that lasts about 5 minutes, LOL…..

    The only learning part now consists of remembering to say Ok, accept that it’s not going to go that fast or that easy, calm down….sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t…..

    Claire, congrats on all the good news! 🙂

  18. Pat
    Pat August 3, 2011 1:58 am

    naturegirl, I’ve found that patience is divided where age is concerned; I have more patience for the big important things, but less patience for the little insignificant things that occur.

    As for when things just fall into place, we often assume they will and don’t recognize the karma until situations fall apart. Then we call it “bad luck”. Is there never any “good luck” — or is that just life passing by?

    So many people don’t recognize “good luck” when they have it. We spend so much time living in the past or the future, that we can’t enjoy the present. And that calls to mind Emerson’s “Life is a journey, not a destination”. (And that, in turn, recalls the admonition to “Stop and smell the roses.”)

  19. Scott
    Scott August 3, 2011 9:16 am

    Claire, you seem to be on the right track with the house-do what I call “Worst First”, and worry about the rest later(or not at all). Old houses each come with their own problems, and sometimes you can just live with them-just make sure you get the ones likely to pose a danger taken care of.
    Everyone builds their own walls-it’s just that some build ones that are easier to knock down. I have some relatives that are genuinely astonished that everyone doesn’t share their likes and dislikes-to the letter,and will give you a very long,detailed and high decibel account of all your faults. I wonder how many people listen to these types(they’re everywhere),and allow someone else to mess up their life? If you listen to crazy, you soon will be.
    I agree with Pat on all counts-and might add one Bugs Bunny-“Don’t take life so serious-you’re not going to get out of it alive,anyway”.

  20. Bonnita
    Bonnita August 3, 2011 9:23 am

    Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.”

    I say enjoy your dipping back into home ownership. After spending 12 years working on weekends only to build our home and sanctuary, I can say with complete confidence that you enjoy every moment to moment…good times ( when things are working) and the not so good times( when things aren’t going so well)….From this comes contentment.

    Miss you neighbor.

  21. naturegirl
    naturegirl August 3, 2011 11:57 am

    Scott said: “I have some relatives that are genuinely astonished that everyone doesn’t share their likes and dislikes-to the letter,and will give you a very long,detailed and high decibel account of all your faults. I wonder how many people listen to these types(they’re everywhere),and allow someone else to mess up their life? If you listen to crazy, you soon will be.”

    Please excuse the cryptic opsec-ness, but WOW, thank you for saying that out loud……That last sentence is very true and it’s a big relief to have someone else’s perception vindicate who the real crazy ones are…LOL

    Pat – That’s true too….and I’ve also noticed that my patience is tied alot more to expectations and assumptions than it use to be……examples being: I assume someone in a professional capacity will behave as a professional and lose patience when they don’t; and I always expect products to last longer than they actually do and when they don’t the results can generate all kinds of impatience…..

    And sometimes I mix up defining patience with the better definition of waiting, often……

    I’m amazed at how many people “expect” good luck to happen all the time, and equally as many who “expect” bad luck all the time…..neither stay the same since life is forever changing…..

  22. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty August 4, 2011 8:29 am

    Both good and bad “luck” have a lot more to do with preparation and attitude than they do some disembodied accidental happening. We each pretty much make our own “luck,” but so often don’t recognize our part in how it came about.

    Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 🙂

  23. workingtheworld
    workingtheworld August 4, 2011 4:43 pm

    you know claire, we get a lot of strong opinions about taking our kids around the world way of life. we hear that we are irresponsible, crazy, and sometimes even, that we are harming our children by dragging them around the world just because we’re having a mid-life crisis. i so agree with you, claire. if we were to listen to all of those who told us that there is only way to raise children, one way to education children, one way to lead a healthy family life- we would have never left our routine (but wonderful) lives!

    there are so many ways to lead your life, ways that the media and the governments haven’t shared with you. take a chance, and live! you may discover all sorts of amazing surprises.

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