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How To Create A Vatta Schmaltz

" I imagine that I'll stand a little taller even after I climb down from the precarious rung …"

I began writing this essay three days ago, but deleted it on the first re-read, before even posting it anywhere. This act seemed perfectly congruent with the weather, which had served up sequential foggy days with intermittent showers. Little light filtered through the low-hanging clouds and little light seemed to escape through it, either. I've felt suspended here, my latest painting project sidelined until the prep coat can thoroughly dry. I read some and snoozed a little, and for the first time since last June, nearly eleven months, I finished no new piece of writing for two consecutive days. Today, I'm attempting to slip back into my groove again.

The Muse and I had no idea when we relocated here three years ago this month, that we'd barely skirted the tail end of winter.
We showed up the end of May to find a greening landscape and moderate temperatures. We marveled at the small wonder of sleeping with windows open wide and I'd sit outside in the wee hours soaking up the aridity as if all those yeas in DC had left me saturated with accumulated humidity. Each afternoon, a thunderstorm moved through bringing furious rain and hail for about an hour before clearing off to leave a breeze which quickly dried the streets. The prominent hillside opposite our temporary digs seemed aptly named Green Mountain. We'd only later learn that it might have been better labeled Beige Mountain seven or eight months of the year.

The shine seems to have largely worn off our once-new home here. It's become too familiar to surprise either of us very much. I recently decided, after returning from the remodeling work in Walla Walla, that I'd never really feel at home here unless I contributed some sweat equity to the place. Nobody ever takes full possession of any real estate by signing a purchase contract and making the monthly payments. Full possession seems to demand some effort which cannot be properly contracted out but must be initiated and completed by the aspiring homeowner. Whether that involves digging up the backyard or repainting a few rooms doesn't seem to matter. Ownership demands that the inhabitant leave some more or less permanent mark. In the course of leaving that mark, the property will have its way with the owners, likely leaving a mark or two on them, too. There's no escaping this exchange.

We rented during the dislocation and exile to DC, and the neighbors complained that we didn't seem to act like renters. I grubbed a tenacious stump and improved garden beds as if I owned them, though the longer term benefit of my labor reverted to the contract owner when we left. This small detail didn't matter to me because the work succeeded in re-instilling an owner mentality in me. I could not sit back and complain to the property management company every time something needed tending to. I would have been allowed to and still been in full compliance with our rental agreement had I done so, but I needed to live with myself while living there, and I require an owner's attitude if I'm going to live somewhere; anywhere.

Business and industry has been increasingly attempting to manage their affairs as if they were merely interlocking contractual obligations. Two parties agree beforehand what will be done, then set about dedicating themselves to fulfilling the terms of the contract. Of course, in this world, we have not yet developed the ability to perfectly foresee what might arise as externalities when we attempt to execute such contracts, so disagreements emerge. These delay satisfaction and often obscure true costs as conflicting claims attempt to force other parties to swallow additional expenses. The professional as contract manager seems to transform owners into renters focusing upon strategies that might hold them blameless rather than those that might nurture the firm. Contracts are transactional, but lives are relational, and nobody gets to rent a life. We each inherit full ownership in our existence, no matter how many shyster contractors try to encourage us to sign bits of our life away.

I'm a so-so painter, but I'm engaged in repainting right now. Sure, I could have found a real painter to complete the work 'for' me, but that route seemed likely to leave me simply 'done for.' I feel the deep need now to do it myself whatever the quality of the outcome, lest I further delay that sense of full ownership I crave. I understand that this Villa Vatta Schmaltz belongs mostly to the bank and that I would not behave irrationally if I maintained a debtor mentality while inhabiting the place, but I figure that attitude could only encumber me. It might eventually kill me. Instead, I invent a somewhat sacred obligation, stock up on paint thinner, and stand alone on a ladder. I imagine that I'll stand a little taller even after I climb down from the precarious rung, having secured the sense of ownership only doing it myself could provide.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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