We've lived in this house in Laurel Canyon since 1999. I know that because it is the year my father died shortly after we had moved in. I fell in love with the house after seeing a picture of the eucalyptus tree at the bottom of the garden in the Los Angeles Times ad. I told J "that's the house I want to live in" without even seeing it and sure enough, after a five-minute visit, I was convinced that this would be the house to raise our family in. Perched on a flat rock in the middle of the canyon, it has sunshine most of the day and although it is surrounded by olive, acacia and eucalyptus, it isn't dark or gloomy like many of the canyon houses.
The back of the house is surrounded by a sturdy iron fence but the front although hedged has never been fenced and for many years the lesser and greater spotted would do walkabout in the canyon for a few minutes every day. Since Pepper arrived -- he of no road skill whatsoever (its as if he has lived in a padded room for twelve years) -- there is no walkabout option. Until yesterday, when Amilcar, my fearless gardener with brilliant children who each play an instrument, the oldest having won a scholarship to UC Davis, put up a chicken wire fence which wraps itself neatly around the garden at the back for dog-safe play. Why I've never done this before I don't know. But one could say that about many things in life. We get comfortable with the way things are and we settle, don't we. Sitting out in the garden last night with the strings of lights illuminating it like a scene from Cinema Paradiso, all the doors open, and the dogs wondering about in the bushes, I realized what freedom felt like (it's just emancipation with boundaries). Minks and I grilled lamb chops and ate them with fresh sweet peas and white asparagus, followed by juicy peaches, and marvelled at our new found oasis of bliss.
Relatively few weeks ago this house felt like a prison, but with a little bit of moving around furniture, a fence added, bowls of sweet peaches in the hallway, and some music, I feel as if I live in heaven.
Nothing feels better than the prospect of a three day weekend when you've worked so hard all week that you feel like your head might explode. In my new job I'm absorbing scads of new information, trying to understand internal structures, watching movies, meeting filmmakers (bliss, that part), attending four or five or six meetings a day and soaking up new ideas, new ways of doing things, strategy, research, surrounded by ultra-talented people who strive meticulously to be the best at what they do. It has been inspirational and completely exhausting. I've installed an electric kettle in my office (the important things in life), a box of PG Tips, some digestive biscuits, some English chocolate for visitors. The room is filled with white orchids and bowls of pink and green geraniums and fuchsia roses from friends. There is sunlight and flowery sofas and a department full of smiling faces. Everyone is welcoming and kind. After five years of dry solitude, it feels like a rainy nirvana.
There is an hour every morning for writing thanks to my insomnia. I cling to it like a child with its blankie.
People have been kind. Some have been snarky. It comes with the territory. "So much for the novel" someone wrote. "How's yours going, buddy?" replied another. The people in my writing group send me messages "don't quit your night job" and "you must never stop writing" and "yay!" I am fat with gratitude.
The son is back at school. The daughter and I live here with the three spotteds. A card arrived with a white paper dove inside and I put it on the chimney piece, next to my Buddha head from Thailand, which my father brought back in 1972. Next to it is a little metal sculpture -- a small square house with the words "there's no place like home" inscribed on it. There really isn't.