Yesterday, I finally got to visit some family friends in their dream house in Traverse City, Michigan. I had been hearing about this for some 10 years, from the initial idea of buying the land and then the architectural plans and then the actual building, with all the unsurprising trials and tribulations with builders and contracters and such. So I was curious to see what all the fuss was about.
It was lovely. A house in the woods with no other houses visible, a beautiful screened-in porch looking out at the beech trees, an office for one and art studio for the other, an in-tune acoustic piano, workable kitchen, three bedrooms and hiking paths throughout the woods of a semi-planned community. The kind of place an artist or musician or writer would settle into in and think, “Here I will finally do some worthy work.” Or a retired couple (they were) would dream of their Golden Years in company with morning birds, a full round of seasons and peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the workaday world. It could make this city-dweller in a flat overflowing with too many books and CD’s and piano books envious.
But I wasn’t. While I thought the house in the country was my destination ever since reading Walden as a teenager, I’ve lived my entire adult life in a city and happily so. I like a certain amount of hustle and bustle, the energy of people, the pleasures of jazz clubs and concerts and restaurants and movie theaters and once I’m in my writer’s mind, it doesn’t matter if I’m looking out through the window at the woods or at my tiny desk facing a wall. Yes, I’d love to be able to play piano any time day or night without worrying about my upstairs neighbors and following our not-before-10-am and not-after 9-pm agreement, grumble as much as anyone when stuck in traffic, get tired of walking past the litter in the street. But living a half block from Golden Gate Park helps tremendously, as well as being close to the open spaces of Marin or just a few hours from the grandeur of Yosemite. Having this summer “cottage” in Michigan helps balance the equation, for sure. Which through marriage, actually is my house in the country.
But even though it sounds crazy to look somewhat forward to trading this extraordinary site with a private beach on a pristine swimmable Lake Michigan 50 feet away, spending the day in a bathing suit in pitch-perfect weather, sharing it all with the extended family, for a return to a foggy, smoky, San Francisco alone in my house, I find myself looking forward to it. It’s part of the seasonality of my life and a reminder that paradise is not a place, but an attitude with a constantly shifting focus. I’m happy for the family friends in their country house, but not jealous.
I’m perfectly fine where I am.