Don’t get me wrong, I love water. I know it’s necessary to life (years of living adjacent to a desert gave me ample feedback on that!). But I don’t like water anywhere in my home—no plants to create humidity, no water features or burbling of any kind.
I like things dry.
I put this down to being asthmatic and triggered by mold and other moist things.
Also I’m a writer and illustrator and the majority of my work is on paper. Water never plays well with paper.
During our current downsizing it seems that the Universe has decided to test my relationship with water.
There Is What I Consider a Happy Ending, So Keep Reading
So far our downsizing has lasted 3 and half years—and of course Covid has slowed the availability of some necessary services, but….Yes, it’s probably the longest move on record. Hannibal was able to get his army and elephants over the Alps in 16 days (DAYS!); my mother was able to pack and ship a household and muster 2 toddlers across the Pacific Ocean TWO times in 3 years! Just for some perspective.)
In the 3 and a half years we’ve been downsizing we’ve had three flooding events.
The first was nature and the storm of the century highlighted the fact that there was something amiss with our renovation’s drain field, or something like that, frankly I was so in shock I don’t recall much of the incident.
We had just tiled the basement because I do not like carpet.
To accommodate the contractors I took the contents of my flat file (which had been emptied into archival boxes so the heavy file cabinet could be moved) and moved the boxes “out of the way.”
Readers of the blog all know what happened next. The storm hit, the basement flooded. It destroyed the art papers I’d unwittingly placed next to what would be the focus of the flooding. (I thought the boxes would be out of the way there.)
I guess my psychic powers weren’t working that day. Dick says I sat on the floor opening soggy boxes (archival boxes really absorb water) saying “No, no, no, no…” at a barely audible level.
We had the deck torn up (I really loved that deck, I never got to live with it); foundations excavated and “fixed.” More technical stuff I don’t pretend to understand. I was assured that the house would be moisture free.
Then 3 months ago the biggest blow—the installers who attached the new washer hose to the laundry sink didn’t fully secure it. During the empty and rinse cycles water flooded out of the tub and covered the utility room floor—where of course I had just placed over 30 boxes of my letters and my work. I was waiting for the file cabinets to be brought over.
Why was that a big blow? Well the hardest hit were letters from people important in my life, and most specifically my mentor Thom, who liked to write in some sort of fountain pen ink that was totally water-soluble. EEEK. The basement tile floor (yay for tile) provided a great drying out place, but much of that material was not recoverable.
This incident also happened at time when I was facing new bad news about my vision and lung health. The last thing I wanted to do was sit and see what I could salvage, and bring up all the emotions of the past. I was trying to move forward into something new.
Sometimes walking around the block is just what you to put things into perspective and start to breathe again. I got that mess sorted out and drying, and when it all eventually dried I was able to salvage enough. (In other words, mostly there was a lot of “acceptance” going on.)
At this point I really didn’t think there was any way water could get into the house. (Keep in mind I’ve lived for 43 years in a house on a high rock cliff ledge, way in from the actual ledge, but also totally away from any type of water.)
One might even say I had a giddy day or two.
Then a couple weeks ago Dick burst into the bathroom while I was showering and said, “Turn off the water! Come down to the basement.”
He was using his “we have to keep the Munchkin calm voice,” so I was calm, but I knew something was up.
It seems that, oh, boy, are you going to love this, that the faucet spigot of the shower was leaking and while I was happily showering I was also running water down the inside of the wall to the utility room ceiling, raining water on the pantry and storage shelves, and wait for it—the final set of file boxes which contained 35 years of my bookbinding notes and class handouts. In other words, all the material I’d hoped to put into a book on binding. (And none of this is digitally saved for reasons too complex to explain, except to state that I no longer used the same software. So hard copies were my only back ups.)
Hardcopy—that PAPER stuff writers and illustrators fill their files with, so they can keep track of their ideas and their work.
This time I didn’t even pause at the site I just walked out of the utility room and went into the storage closet, shut the door, and sat on one of the really comfy folding chairs we’d purchased when the folks were in eldercare so they would have chairs for company, and I think I sobbed, but no sound was coming out—which could mean that the sound was deafening. But you get the idea, either way it was bad.
Fun Fact (because it’s about time we shared one): After getting two comfortable folding chairs I decided to order four more just to have on hand for additional guests. People are more likely to stick around and visit longer in eldercare if they have a comfortable chair to sit on and these padded folding chairs are really plush. Seems though when you order 4 chairs from Home Depot you have to be sure you don’t order 4 boxes of 4 chairs. That’s right we have enough chairs to hold a prayer meeting which maybe we should in order to deal with the repetitive flooding issue—but CR passed away and the pandemic hit and we never got around to sending the “excess” chairs back. Boy are they comfortable though.
Now Here’s the Really Fun News
With this last “soaking” of files I again laid everything out on that delightful and totally worth the expense and time delay tile floor. (Having the tile laid was the first thing I did when we bought the house days before Covid lockdown occurred and our tile contractor was so late we missed all our other dates and lined up contractors. You could say the protracted move is all my fault because I wanted a tile floor.)
It eventually dried. And I eventually started to sort through it.
Somethings like spine board samples and early mock-ups of books—all the sorts of things you want to have on hand to be photographed if you’re writing a set of instructions—had to be tossed. For most things it seems I have at least one salvageable copy to work from. Will I do anything with all of that material?
Well I put it in file cabinets in a dry (fingers crossed) part of the house and I’ll think about it.
But in the process I found things like this folder I’d doodled all over.
And in the coming weeks I’m going to share some of these finds with you because it seemed fitting they see the light of day, and give us a giggle, before they disappeared forever.
What About These Doodles?
I think it’s fun to see how people think. And if you do too, you might enjoy these doodles.
This file folder obviously sat on the desk by my computer for several days and I drew on it and wrote notes on it—notes about what I wanted to write a lecture on, notes I wanted to mention to a student, ideas for a project I was working on—the lovely tutu wearing creature and the bowler hat guy actually got a life as something a bit more finished. And of course thumbnail sketches of landscapes.
I don’t know why I’m always drawing thumbnail sketches of landscapes because I’m not a landscape painter. But I was a runner, and I do cycle, and I do walk all about, so I can attest that I’m aware of landscape. Maybe in another life I would devote myself to the study of landscape. I doubt it. Faces are more interesting to me. Still it is a puzzle.
Maybe the next flood will unearth more materials that will help me understand this?
Look, I would give just about anything (but not some things) to have avoided these three floods. But even though there are some deep losses here I have to admit that there is a certain calm in my life.
Mainly because all the notes for all my projects are gone and I might as well enjoy the vacation?!
No, it’s not that.
I have found the forced reconnection to materials that in some cases have been in storage for 40 years, has been overall a good thing. I’m still happy about 96 percent of my life choices. (We won’t discuss the 4 percent today!) And it has even been fun to see some of this material again, as you’ll see in the coming weeks.
It turns out I had some good ideas and I never let go of them, and it has been fun to see earlier iterations.
It would be great if I could tell you to make sure your foundations are all waterproofed and that you have removed all moisture from your home—but we know that isn’t possible.
Things like foundation issues typically don’t become known until after an “issue.”
What I can tell you is never put boxes you’re moving onto the floor in a building you haven’t lived in and don’t “know.” Stack boxes on shelving off the floor. Or on tables for temporary storage.
Assume there is going to be some sort of flooding when you move boxes from one area to another. (Humor me, assume this even if you live desert adjacent. Think “flash floods.”)
Don’t take 3.5 years to move. It would be better if you tried to cross the Alps with a bunch of elephants.
But if you have to have a protracted move because of things like no contractors during a pandemic for instance, definitely during that time don’t move and remove and shuffle things in and out of storage.
First shuffling and reorganizing fries your brain while it tries to remember where everything is because you know where it was originally and then where you moved it the first time, but do you remember where you put it when you moved it back to the original site but in a different location at that site? And then do you remember where you put it when you finally found it again and then moved it back to the new site, but in a new location, i.e., not the location you originally had it in when you moved it to that location the first time?
I do not know where anything is.
So I now label everything with one of those Dymo Label makers—look I know the labels will not protect the items or me from anything, or from my bad memory because if you can’t see a label to read it that thing really still doesn’t exist except as a fiction in your mind right? A notion of once being something that you held but now can’t place. In other words something you’re going to have to buy a duplicate of because we all know the only way to really, really find something is to go out and buy a replacement. Within 10 minutes of bringing the replacement home you’ll have found the original, quite by accident.
Does this sound familiar?
OK, use the Dymo label maker on anything that is visible, i.e., all the little studio drawers and shelfs and boxes.
Next, just for grins, go back into your file system this next month and reorganize, consolidate, and cull. Get rid of things you aren’t going to need any more. And put the things you are going to need or potentially want to use, all together is some sort of storage that is waterproof!
Why do it now? Because the longer you wait the more materials you’ll have to go through. Better to do something like this every 5 years. (And if you are older and have kids it is a moral obligation that you do this now before you deteriorate—don’t ask or assume that your kids are going to do this. Show your love by offering them up a delightfully organized waterproof box of folders that contain your will, your DNR instructions, your financial information, all the titles to everything you own, any funeral plot and service information—etc.)
What if you believe you’re going to use some of that material in a future project? I’m certainly not going to tell you to toss any of that. But I do think that if you are serious about having any of that stuff when you need it you might be best served by renting a storage unit (which cannot flood) and placing your plastic waterproof file boxes on shelving way above whatever flood level might occur in a non-floodable facility. Storage unit costs are part of the life fee to have that material later. I became complacent and stored everything in our home because we were living and working in a two story duplex so there was a ton of non-floodable room.
But we all see how that turned out when I had to downsize.
The stuff that has survived the move is the stuff that was stored in a non-floodable location. And some stuff survived simply because it was being moved back and forth (because of use issues and needs when the final move didn’t happen). That’s just simply luck. No one is lucky forever.
Think about what you really need to save, but then also think about what you really cannot afford to lose. All the focus needs to be on the last.
And it is a far smaller set of items than you believe it to be—I know.
And I’m happy in that knowledge. You can be too.