Pet peeves of community life: Flip side of the upside

At a recent house meeting (we hold them twice a month at BHFH), everyone was invited to write a couple of pet peeves about living in the house and place them in a basket.

Some of the beefs that made their way into the discussion:

  • Overloaded dishracks
  • Crumbs around the toaster
  • Interrupted conversations
  • Lights left on in empty common rooms

Sound like any household you may have been part of at some point?

roomOne of mine : “More a puzzle than a peeve — how to raise questions or issues with staff without feeling like walking on egg shells.”

One of Carol’s: “When people bring a lot of negativity or irritability into public spaces.”

In some ways, it’s strange that I’d be annoyed by the staff issue. I’ve felt from the start of our time here that one of the best things about BHFH — differentiating it from most coop living situations — is the work of staff who are paid to serve and lead a community they’re also part of. Continue reading

Responsibility – to whom about what?

It’s snowing again in Boston. We seem to have a big storm every week and no warm weather in between for the snow to melt. So, you might wonder, why would I cancel a scheduled trip to Florida for a conference in the middle of it?  blizzard1

It was a hard decision for me. I grew up in a family where responsibility was the main virtue stressed. That notion was strongly reinforced by Catholic education in the 1950s. Doing what I say I’m going to do, doing what I’m supposed to do, living up to my responsibilities were primary. Hence, canceling a commitment goes against the grain.

In many ways, it’s a virtue that’s helped me in uncountable ways. It helped with parenting. It gave me a good work ethic and let me plow ahead through graduate school despite multiple difficulties.

It’s only as I’ve aged that I’ve seen it as a liability as well as an asset. Growing up, I don’t remember any discussion of these questions: To whom am I responsible? For what? How does that responsibility change over a lifetime? And how do I sort conflicting responsibilities? The answers to those questions make all the difference in whether responsibility works for good or ill. Continue reading

Downsizing as edit: Creating the “abridged version of yourself”

I’ve been watching, via his Facebook page, the transition of friend and colleague Mario Garcia from his 5,400 square-foot home in Tampa Bay to 800 square feet of co-op living in Manhattan.

Screenshot 2015-02-04 13.13.25His Facebook posts revealed the nuts and bolts of the move as it unfolded. But he’s just posted an essay on the downsizing that reflects the same panache and insight that’s made him one of the world’s leading designers of publications and digital apps.

He begins his story like this:

Everyday is special after you edit your life and live with the abridged version of yourself.

This is a story just about that, and how I learned that you don’t have to wait until the third act of your life for editing your life. There is renewal, practicality and emancipation.

As a visual journalist/designer, I have spent my career editing pages for publication, and more recently for websites, phone and tablet apps.

Nothing, however, prepared me for what I call the editing of my life. Editing the work of others can’t compare to the exercise of dealing with the roles of space, economy and redundancy in your own life.

In some respects, our move from Tampa Bay to Boston was more modest than Mario’s. We left a house in St. Pete that was less than half the size of Mario’s across the Bay in Tampa, and we’d lived there for only a decade vs. the 30 years Mario and family spent in theirs. We both relocated to pretty posh parts of pretty great cities — Mario to the Upper East Side of Manhattan; Carol and I to Beacon Hill just a block from Boston Common. Continue reading

On the benefits of a Saturday in community

I have no idea what I was thinking when I decided to update our eight year-old iMac to the Yosemite operating system. Midway through the install, the screen went blank and there appeared to be nobody at all home — and no apparent way to ring the door bell.

imac 2Googling the problem showed many others had suffered the same fate, without any clear path to recovery. I really needed that machine in prepping for the teaching I’m doing this week in Vienna, but didn’t have the time to haul it down Boylston to the Apple store.

And then I spotted Sumner, a former housie, sitting in the kitchen. Sumner is a programmer who continues helping his former housemates in all sorts of ways — honchoing our workdays, tweaking our new high speed wireless and more. So much so that I was reluctant to impose on him for volunteer tech support on a Saturday morning.

“No problem,” he said when I went ahead and asked anyway. With his phone he discovered a possible solution that had eluded me. “But hold down your hopes,” he cautioned as I headed upstairs muttering Hail Marys and hoping, despite his cautions, that the old beast might somehow come back from the dead.  Continue reading

Four funerals and a birthday

Shortly after I posted a note last week about the death of college roommate David DeCoursey, a high school classmate, Francine Gouvin Bernard, posted a comment: “Sorry for your loss, Mitch. It’s starting…”

Actually, Dave’s was the last of four funerals I attended in 2014, but Francine was right about something starting: Just as many of our younger housemates at BHFH find themselves heading out to weddings, Carol and I are showing up at more and more funerals.

Brian Mitchell and family (photo courtesy of Tracy Mitchell)

Brian Mitchell and family (photo courtesy of Tracy Mitchell)

The first was for my cousin, Brian Mitchell, who died July 3 at his home on Cape Cod. At lunch after the service, Brian’s widow, Judy, told us that he went out in a way that, had he been given a choice, he might have chosen: Sitting on the porch with his wife of 53 years, drinking a beer.

Brian was ten years older than me, and I wish I’d made a point of telling him what a life model he’d become for me in two important respects: Charting a path that fits, and having fun along the way. Continue reading

Birthday musings: More to see than can be seen, more to do than can be done

Housemate Pan Aobo presents the lunch he prepared to celebrate my birthday and his end-of-semester

Housemate Pan Aobo presents the lunch he prepared for my birthday and his end-of-semester

Last week I turned 66. That’s the first year of collecting social security. According to some researchers it falls within the youth of old age. It’s a time when friends and relatives seem to be dying at a faster and faster rate. Still, I don’t feel old. On my birthday I found myself doing a curious mix of looking back and looking forward.

Looking back, I was caught up in a stream of gratitude both wide and deep for all the people who’ve given me life and shaped me. It stretched back as far as my grandparents and ran forward through parents, siblings, the best husband I could ever have, our kids, grandkids and friends and mentors. It ran all the way forward to Aobo, one of the newer residents of our house who made me a special birthday lunch. Even the really hard times looked different as I reflected on them. They were just part of the journey, parts that have taught me things that have now worked for my good and sometimes the good of other people. Continue reading

On losing it in front of friends

1993 Photo of Evelyn Mitchell by Anne Peters

1993 Photo of Evelyn Mitchell by Anne Peters

I’ve written previously about Talking Rock, the device we use at house meetings to share what’s going on in our lives. Whoever happens to be sitting closest to the rock (it lives on the fireplace mantel in the library) grabs it and spends a couple of minutes updating the 20 other housemates.

The revelations range from matter of fact to life and death. As much as I’m getting more comfortable with the exercise, I still struggle to get beyond the nuts and bolts of daily life and share at the level of my braver housemates.

A show and tell/talent show at a recent house retreat seemed like a good opportunity to go deeper, especially since lack of musical or related talent had me leaning toward the show and tell option for the session.

So a few minutes before the group gathered in the parlor, I grabbed the photograph of my Mom, Evelyn, from our room. I began framing the story I wanted to tell about this eldest daughter who gave birth to me just a few miles from where we live now on Beacon Hill. Continue reading