Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Garage

            I remember reading, or maybe hearing on NPR, about the importance of transitions. (Nice to be writing without footnotes so I don’t have to check the source.) The author, a psychologist as I recall, noted that we need some sort of ritual to mark the transitions in our lives. He was not talking about retirement or even birthday parties or New Year’s Eve champagne. The example I remember is the way a person going home from work will change his shoes, or take off his tie (remember neckties?). My father would fix himself a cocktail. Kim, before I bribed her to quit, would have a cigarette. It’s something to mark that this part of my day is over, and I am realigning myself for the next act.

            I have a few such rituals (Kim would say more than a few). We have our morning hug to get the day started on the right note. We have an evening cuddle to end on a similar note. This puts our day into cozy parentheses. Kim usually joins me for mid-morning coffee and a recalibration of our to-do list. I’m weaning myself away from my ritual bourbon to indicate “off duty – nothing constructive getting done from now on.” Doing dishes together is a bonding ritual for us, not marking a transition in time as much as our commitment as a team to the business of our life together. This is especially meaningful when Kim has her hand in soapsuds and can’t defend herself.

            I thought about transition rituals recently when talking with Kim about the house we are trying to design. The question at hand was what to do with the garage. This is Northern Michigan where, as the joke goes, there are two seasons, winter and the 4th of July, so it makes sense to have an attached garage. We learned this when hustling through the cold rain from our parked car into a distant grocery store.

            One problem with an attached garage is that, given the shape of our lot and the beautiful trees we want to save, an attached garage means that anyone approaching the house, including us, would see little beside garage and driveway. We could probably arrange things so the view of the garage is not the garage doors, but still . . .. And the approach to the house would have some sort of driveway where we would prefer native plants. Not good. What to do?

            Of course: a detached garage! Is this a compromise we will regret when we finally become geezers? No! We have a place for a garage about 50 feet from the house, so let’s put it there (if we can figure out how to get around the old maple tree where the doors should be). That location will mean walking from the car to the house, perhaps carrying groceries, perhaps carrying each other. But let’s see this not as a pain-in-the-ass, but as a ritual of transition. We will be leaving behind the world of cars, highways and cities and transitioning into Up-North Cabin, where things are different – slower, more mindful, less electronic. We will have television and internet, but we will also have birds, fox and sunrises out the windows. We will truly be Up North. The transition, as we trudge through several feet of snow on top of ice, will enhance our experience, sharpening our focus.

            Our builder, experienced in Northern Michigan, says we will want an attached garage. I came to my detached-garage-with-ritual-transition conclusion while sitting comfortably inside our condo, heat radiating from our gas fireplace. The idea exists as words, but ice, snow and cold are more real than words, and they can be a pain in the ass.

            Any suggestions? Please let us know at

Suggestion from Phil Allen:

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