Learning to live with imperfection

Home improvement entails physically fixing up one’s house. But what about the emotional work of homeownership? 

One way to improve your home is through gratitude and acceptance. Does everything constantly need to be “fixed?”

Suppose you have a leaky faucet. Buy a cello, and use the drip as a metronome while you play. As the leak worsens, you’ll learn to play faster and faster. Thanks to your broken faucet, you’ll become a virtuoso.


What if you have a big gray dirt mark on your wall? Buy some paint, and paint a lilac bush over it, tracing the marks as part of the mural.

Don’t fight your house’s defects. Collaborate with them.

I have rewritten the famous Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the problems in my house I can’t change, the courage to go into the crawlspace, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Yes, I recognize that one can carry this philosophy to an extreme and allow one’s home to degenerate into ruin. But what about the opposite extreme, constant anxiety over pointless imperfections? “The universe is perfect,” we used to say in 1974, before we all bought houses and taught ourselves to worry constantly about dandelions in the lawn.

The front door to my doublewide trailer doesn’t latch very well. It has, I must admit, swung open on a winter night, forcing the furnace to attempt to heat all Phoenicia. A couple of handymen have looked at it, without success. So I just remember to latch it every night.

I myself open my mouth when I shouldn’t, and all sorts of stupid things come out. Once, my mother-in-law and I were discussing a relative who couldn’t find a partner, and I said: “It’s easy to get married, just lower your standards.” So why shouldn’t the mouth of my house also fly open erratically?

Yesterday I came upon a garter snake on my lawn, the longest one I’ve ever seen – about 20 inches. Noticing me, the snake became immobile. Then I became immobile. But the immobility of a snake is far superior to that of a human. You can’t even see them breathe. Though I meditate twice a day, when it comes to stillness I am no match for a legless reptile. Nonetheless, I tried. 

The snake became my guide. How much better to study immobility with a serpent than to seek out a snake exterminator! (I looked online, and it turns out such businesses actually exists, with the more euphemistic name “snake removal services.”)

Envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and expressly forbidden by the Tenth Commandment. Learn to appreciate the beauty of other people’s houses without coveting them. 

Try this exercise: Buy a copy of Better Homes & Gardens and practice compassion for the people inside posing next to massive fireplaces. Tell yourself: “I’m so happy they have so much space! And such rare Asiatic carpets!” 

Then look at your house, and feel grateful that you don’t live in a hole in the ground covered with a sheet of aluminum, like the Unabomber’s brother. (I once saw a photo in The New York Times of David Kaczynski’s West Texas underground shelter, where he lived in the 1980s.) In fact, I suggest that you cross out the word “Better” in the magazine’s title, and write in “Other.” Who’s to say that one house is superior to another? Each person is unique, each house has its own identity. Comparing them is fatuous.

I keep a pen and paper under my pillow, to write down palindromes I think of before I go to sleep. (A palindrome is a word, phrase or constitutional amendment that reads the same backwards and forwards. Here are some of my recent palindromes:|

Do owe rife firewood. 

“Namaste” gets a man.

Seer Gal agrees.

Arise! Yet Nad, nude, redundant, eyes Ira.

Sue H., propose Aesop, Orpheus.

Gnus erase sorrow, or roses are sung.

Morph, oh prom!

Ha! Tub Mobility – til’ I bomb Utah! 

Cite “mimetic.”

Slam mammals! Slam mammals!

O SOB military rat – I limbo. So?)

Once in a while my pen rolls under the bed, and I have to fish it out with the broom. As I do so, I sweep out clods of dust, which I throw away. I’m cleaning under my bed without even trying!

Here’s another helpful hint, which I’ve employed for the last eight months: Pick up tiny stray items from your floor and transform them into collages. Actually, each of my artworks consists only of one treasure, underneath which I laboriously sign my name. My most recent piece involves a fragment of red thread, which I taped to a section of manila envelope, for maximum color contrast. (If you’d like one of these minimalist collages, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Sparrow, PO Box 63, Phoenicia, NY 12464.) Here’s a painless way to (slightly) clean your house while improving your skills as a postmodern artist!

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