One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Living House

My house was built in 1916, framed in redwood, set on a foundation of solid rock—all good things in earthquake country. When the San Andreas Fault shifts, our house creaks and groans in complaint at the disturbance, just as any elder would when subjected to an unexpected shaking up.

Right now, the wind outside rattles the windows and insists it way in through the small spaces where the frame doesn’t quite seal, so the outside slips in and the inside slips out. Some people would call it drafty—I like to think of the house as breathing.

San Francisco is full of old houses like mine; the landscape of Victorians, Edwardians and Painted Ladies is what comes to mind for many people when they think of this city. Houses press together in gingerbread rows; there’s little room to build new or to built out, so some have built up, adding roof decks or even glass walled sunrooms as a final story.

I love that houses have stories—there is the story of the house and the people who have lived there, and then there are the stories as in the layers of floors. The way a house is built can even teach us something, I think, about writing a story. It’s a good idea to know who’s going to live there—what these people love, hate, need—before you decide what kind of a house to build, because there are many, many different kinds of houses in the world; wood houses, brick houses, adobe, straw bale, sod, stone, rammed earth and on. When you start building, you should consider a solid foundation, then you frame the walls and do the wiring and plumbing before you start the finishing work. And don’t forget the windows, so the inhabitants can look out at the world. When I start honing and polishing my writing before I have the structure in place, I always, always end up having to tear down walls before I’m done. But then, I live in earthquake country, so I guess I’ve also learned to be flexible. A good quality, I’m told, in both a house and a writer. 

Across the Bay at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, sculptor Patrick Dougherty just recently finished building one of his breathtakingly beautiful structures. Using planted willow saplings that he twists and bends, weaves and shapes, he’s created a living children’s playhouse, so enchanting and whimsical, it evokes the kind of magic that inspires profound imagination. As the saplings take root, the playhouse will continue to grow—the day I visited, the pussy willows had budded and just started to burst into blossom. How I would love to be a bird and build a nest in the walls of this house—just think of all of the stories to be told inside!



  1. You should go! They let you into the museum for free with a guest pass if you just want to visit the installation!

  2. I'm so late on this one, but what a lovely post, Sharry, and what breathtaking structures in those photos. My faery heart is all aflutter!

    "so the outside slips in and the inside slips out."
    "And don’t forget the windows, so the inhabitants can look out at the world."

    Thank you for reminding me to return to my characters' homes as a center of story, and to remember that a family is literally an entire HOUSE HOLD.

    xo Vanessa