7.22.2023

here and there

I mentioned in my last post that I recently read—finally—Michael Pollan's A Place of My Own, and, as I wrote then, "thought a lot about my MFA thesis while reading it. I've been thinking about the book again now as we have recently embarked on a pretty ambitious home renovation project (redoing some stuff on the first floor and adding a second floor)."

The book made me think about my MFA thesis because Pollan directly references the Parthenon, which was the subject of my installation (as part of the research phase I was awarded a travel grant to visit the Parthenon in Athens, the Elgin marbles in London—fragments of the Parthenon removed by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, in the early 1800s—and the full-scale replica in Nashville, Tennessee): "The drawings that followed demonstrated how the same 1:1.618 ratio pops up all over the place in architecture and nature: in the elevation of the Parthenon and the wings of a butterfly; in the fa├žade of Notre-Dame and the spiral of a seashell." But also because Pollan more broadly discusses the concepts of here and there. My thesis was originally titled Neither Here Nor There; I eventually changed it to What Lies Between Here and There (as explained here; you can read all of my thesis-related blog posts here).

"About a memorable building we will often say 'you had to be there,' which is just another way of saying that the experience of the place, its presence, simply couldn’t be translated into words and signs and information; the Here of it can’t be communicated There."

I find it hard to believe now, this book originally published in 1997 (my thesis show opened 10 years later), that nobody on my review board ever made the connection or recommended I check it out. I wonder how it might have influenced my thesis...

Fast forward another 15 years and our home addition/renovation project is fast approaching the midway point, knock on wood (forgetting now if the contractor told us the halfway point is generally when they do the sheet rock or the stucco but both are scheduled to happen in the next few weeks; that said, we still have 3-4 months to go, and that's assuming all continues to go relatively smoothly). Pollan again:

"All the life and soul of a place … depend not simply on the physical environment, but on the pattern of events which we experience there—everything from the transit of sunlight through a room to the kinds of things we habitually do in it."

This also makes me think about my latest body of work, so much of it about this very phenomenon in a house that became our everything—home, work, school—during the pandemic, a house that we've partly destroyed in order to expand, our "pattern of events" temporarily displaced and none of us in the house to observe the "transit of sunlight" throughout the changing space each day. 

In terms of the process, for anyone who's just generally curious or a glutton for punishment and considering doing something like this themselves, in Oakland, this all started over two years ago with the feasibility study. That's essentially the city saying yes or no to your project. Oakland Planning & Building departments get a bad rap, but I've heard other Bay Area cities, like Piedmont, for example, can be even more difficult to work with (think about it like an HOA...much easier to add a second story to your home or remove a tree in front of your house if you don't have an HOA and that is one difference between Oakland and Piedmont). From there we worked with an architect via a design firm to create the drawings needed to submit the permit application to the city. That process was shockingly expensive and took about 6-7 months, from feasibility study to the public notice phase to submitting our application to the city.

Things slowed down even more at this point, part of the delay on the city's end (for months they had the incorrect address attached to our permit application...?!?), part of the delay on our end (busy start to the school year and holidays, plus pausing to decide if we really wanted to commit to staying in Oakland, figuring out how were we going to pay for it, and selecting a contractor). Long story short, our application was submitted in January 2022 and approved in May 2023. The contractor got started shortly after. 

Our neighbor's indoor/outdoor cat. He has lots of cameos on my critter insta.

To our 1100 square foot house we purchased nearly 13 years ago, we're adding a roughly 650 square foot second story and, since we had to fully move out, also renovating some stuff on the first floor (main and half bathrooms, removing all wall-to-wall carpet and refinishing the hardware floors underneath, replacing the kitchen backsplash, repainting, etc.). It's been an interesting juggling act of taking advantage of this opportunity to update things while we're temporarily moved out versus, as our contractor keeps saying, "death by a thousand cuts."

I could write more—and perhaps I will one day—about how surprisingly difficult it's been to observe the initial demolition, in particular (we were lucky enough to snag the rental next door just as our neighbors were moving out, about a month before we had permits in hand), or how this house I've now called home over 3x longer than anywhere else I've ever lived. And as..."extra" as Oakland's been the past few months, it will be not only financially foolish but also really emotionally difficult to ever leave this house, something I never understood before and never really thought I'd experience.

P.S. It only took me three months but I finally put up some prints and such in our longterm temporary rental. Above is is a quote of Pollan's from another of his books in my to-read stack—The Omnivore's Dilemma—illustrated by Narwhal Design Ink.

P.P.S. The newsletter is back! I'm maintaining the blog here for longer posts, like this one, and the newsletter for weekly updates, news, lists, links, etc. I'm also taking a break from social media (pretty much down to just Instagram anyway but shocking how much time I was spending on that one app) that may very well be permanent. I miss seeing what folks are up to but the cons have greatly outweighed the pros lately. Continuing to update my blog and reviving the newsletter feels very one-sided but social media has become a pretty poor substitute good for actual human interaction and while it feels like going backwards to go forward, I don't think my IRL social life benefits much from the Instagram version (there was, I'm pretty sure I'm remembering correctly, a No Stupid Questions podcast episode that touched on this idea of substitute goods applied to social media but I can't for the life of me remember which one. Great podcast, though!).

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