I became a writer in part because I believed it was my duty. I had the ability to explain cause and effect, even when they got complicated. I could map out the links that connect the future of the polar bears to your habits of hand-washing. Time was, a nonfiction writer could make a living doing such service.
Publishing changed. It’s complicated. The result isn’t: Now nonfiction writers, like novelists, need to have other means of support.
Having paid my dues once, and having failed miserably to save the polar bears, I admit to some self indulgent moping as the publishing paradigm shifted. OK, a lot. A ton of moping, really. I grew fairly depressed as the paradigm refused to reverse course and restore my familiar manner of living.
But then, thrown out of my own profession on my ear, as it were, I realized I would be one of those rare and irritating people who get to fulfill not one big dream, but two. I was free to enter the house business.
I had dreamed about it, both figuratively and in actual dreams, for years. Decades. But the actual business of houses — realty — didn’t seem sufficiently noble, not quite save-the-worldy enough, for my fretful soul. Now here I was, on my ear, and feeling peevish. Feeling kinda entitled to a little self-indulgence. I took the course. I took the test. To take the edge off, I took a vow that 10% of my income on every transaction would fly to Haiti, where it would build houses under the direction of the world-saving saints at the Matenwa Community Learning Center.
(www.matenwaclc.org. It’s been so long since I blogged, I can’t recall how to build a link.)
It takes a surprisingly small number of realty transactions in Southern Maine to build an entire house in Haiti. And it is absurdly rewarding. Last week I helped a fabulous teacher and her wonderful husband find a place to live so she could start the school year with a short commute and a washing machine. They were a joy to work with. Their transaction allowed me to send a tidy chunk of house winging toward a family in Haiti. And when the doorbell rang the day after the closing, and a man delivered flowers, I felt I really must be dreaming. I get to help wonderful people solve their problems? And in addition to paying my mortgage, this generates housing in Haiti? AND NOW FLOWERS?
I am not accustomed to this much enjoyment. I have tended to choose the rocky trails through life, and as I scrabbled up them on hands and knees I have tended to suspect that I wasn’t trying hard enough. I became a writer because I was good at it and people consistently urged me to do more of it. It was sensationally difficult, so I thought it was probably the proper thing to do. And I don’t regret a minute of it.
Some day, maybe soon, I’ll get back to writing regularly. Maybe this week. The questions of ideal human shelter, and territorial behavior, and wall gardens, and green roofs, and why the word is roofs not rooves, and the carbon footprint of cement fiber siding, all these rattle around in my brain while I work.
And when I do get back to it, it will not be out of duty.