On picking a place and putting down roots

These might be things I’ve already said, or at least alluded to, on the blog before, but since we’re in the throes of the selling-moving-buying game I thought I’d share some recent observations.

No good place to find rentals online
On our break yesterday afternoon — playing bocce ball on the office lawn — my boss quizzed me on the direction my wife and I are going. He was under the impression the search for a house was driving our plans, and wondered why we weren’t looking at rentals given some of the details surrounding our circumstance.

Without getting into the boring details, I’ll just say that renting for any length of time doesn’t seem feasible to us. Part of this may be the difficulty in finding quality rentals, with garages for my studio, using the internet. Finding houses to buy online is easy. Websites touting decent results for rental properties, nil.

Dealing with realtors is tricky business
So far my wife and I have dealt with three different realtors while looking at real estate in the same city. Last night she astutely noted that there’s no training to be had in realtor etiquette. How right she is. I like going to the listing agent to get more and more accurate information more quickly. She likes the idea of a neutral party showing us a house, as an advocate for us the buyer. We have good reason for the communication we’ve had with each of these women, and each has given some of their time. Inevitably, at this point, two of the three — and possibly all three — will not get paid for their time.

From where we sit, that’s just part of their business. Compare it to a trade where, for instance, a carpenter bids on a project but doesn’t get it. He took the time to survey the situation and submit a proposal, but in the end won’t get paid for that effort. That’s just part of the business. Real estate seems to be more competitive in nature than carpentry though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we make one of the three aforementioned realtors a tad mad.

Listing the qualities of a place you desire to live
“Why buy if you don’t plan on being in a place for more than two years?” the boss wondered over bocce yesterday. As I mentioned, a garage — or some kind of studio space such as a basement or outbuilding — is one of a few things on our list of what we want in a place we live. Unless there’s a decent co-op in a city, apartments and condos just won’t cut it. And by decent, I mean a place with inexpensive enough dues, a soda kiln and space for carving on wood. Painters, it seems to me, have it easy in comparison to us three-dimensional types as far as what qualifies as useful studio space.

A few other things on our list include living on the plains (we both like the wide open spaces), a decent church in town, somewhere further north than Arkansas and a nearby selection of gluten free groceries to accommodate my wife’s diet. We’d really like to be in a place with a liberal arts college and — as consumerist as this may sound — nearness to a Kohl’s and Old Navy is on the list. This latter point is practical for us, after living in a town of 14,000 for six years without a decent clothier. Walmart doesn’t count, and we just don’t want to drive 40 minutes one way to gander at the sales every other month.

On putting down roots in a particular place
I met Rebecca Horton in the bookstore at the IAM Encounter conference back in February. She was pointing out The Architecture of Happiness to some people, and I couldn’t help but chime in to affirm the book. Our all too brief conversation took off on that note, since it’s a somewhat obscure title that not very many people have read, in general.

We exchanged business cards and since then I’ve followed her blog, Passionately Alive, and found today’s entry quite captivating. She talks about her life in Washington D.C., after growing up in a small town, and concluded the post by asking some good questions:

    What impact does place/community have upon the way we choose to live our lives? What impact does our location have upon the things that we value/esteem? These are questions that I’ve been pondering significantly over the last several months . . .

    “A community, unlike a public, has to do first of all with belonging; it is a group of people who belong to one another and to their place.” (Wendell Berry, Sex Economy Freedom and Community, 147-148)

Undeniably, where we grew up and where we live presently shapes how we think and act. Kathleen Norris speaks to this in her book Dakota: A spiritual geography, comparing her life in New York to life on the northern plains in a community of 1,300 people.

The house that’s too good to be true in a place that’s, well, ugh
So yesterday we received a flurry of information about a house we thought had potential, based on the online listing. Turns out it could be just about perfect for us and our present needs; the only catch is that it’s in a flood zone and we’d have to pay for flood insurance, the bank owning the house and all, us paying the mortgage.

We have good reason for moving to Enid, Oklahoma, where this house is situated, in the short term. Neither of us want to live there for the long-term though. Per our above list there’s no liberal arts college — although there is a two-year college where I kind of hope to be able to teach a class or two in their art department — and it’s too far south. In a recent email conversation with a friend about our present pickle he said this:

    It is hard to picture you feeling settled in Enid, but I think to some extent that is due to the question of what the proper habitat of an artist is: creativity in collaboration? (the usual answer) or creativity as a a gift of beauty and perspective in a place where both are lacking? If the former, Enid sounds like the desert. If the latter, an un-tapped mine.

Well put, and things my wife and I have not left unconsidered. He did well to use the word “gift,” and also touches on my growing interest in how to get the arts to thrive in smaller communities, those “untapped mines.”

Part of the larger pickle is, though, that we don’t know exactly where we’d like to settle. I know that I would like to put down some roots, become a part of a place for ten years give or take and see what God does with me there. I want to be part of a community, which takes time.

Putting down roots seems to be a lost art in the United States. I’m not suggesting that the flexibility afforded by modern transport which Americans so often take advantage of is a bad thing in and of itself, but we seem to have forgotten the value of time and place.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

5 Responses to On picking a place and putting down roots

  1. Arnold says:

    Had you considered Anderson, Indiana, home to Anderson University, http://www.anderson.edu? It is close to your Muncie connections and near Indianapolis.
    I’ve never been there myself, but know of the college. Anderson describes itself as a liberal arts Christian College. They also have an art department.

  2. pcNielsen says:

    For some reason I know about Anderson U, and it’s proximity to Muncie, but glancing at their website I don’t see any graduate programs in art, other than music. Thx for the suggestion though.

  3. “Painters, it seems to me, have it easy in comparison to us three-dimensional types as far as what qualifies as useful studio space.”

    Amen, Brother!!!!! I think about swithing to a different medium all the time. I have no studio space right now 😦

  4. Pingback: Living Aesthetically : Theopolitical

  5. Pingback: In a pickle « The Aesthetic Elevator

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