DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: At home on a two-way street

THESE “LESSONS” WON’T apply to me, I thought. “House Lessons,” the new memoir from bestselling local author Erica Bauermeister, starts out about her renovation of an old place in Port Townsend: the stem-to-stern fixing up of a house she and her husband fell in love with.

I’ll never be able to buy, much less renovate, a house, especially in Port Townsend.

I’m forever a renter, and that’s OK. I’m thrilled to be in this town at all.

But then Samantha Ladwig, new owner of downtown’s independent Writers’ Workshoppe-Imprint Books, asked me if I wanted to read “House Lessons” and interview Bauermeister. I have to admit I didn’t leap out of my chair, as this wasn’t a story I expected to relate to.

Yes was the answer, though, for at least two reasons. I’ve been assigned reading before that blew my mind open. And I will do whatever I can to support independent bookstores and their owners.

Since then, nothing has gone as I thought it would.

Following the March 24 release of “House Lessons,” Bauermeister was supposed to give a reading at the Northwind Arts Center and other locations around the Northwest. Famed as she is for novels including “The School of Essential Ingredients” and “The Scent Keeper,” February’s Reese Witherspoon book club selection, she draws a crowd.

So I read “House Lessons” cover to cover and slurped up as much of her novels — checked out of the library before it closed last week — and made a date to call Bauermeister on Sunday.

“My whole book tour is canceled,” she told me.

“Everyone’s is.”

Which means authors and readers alike have time at home; more time to read. Bauermeister may put together an online book discussion, but that’s yet to be firmed up.

And as it turns out, “House Lessons” has much to offer me. It’s about clearing the hillocks of trash out of the house Bauermeister bought, yes, and it journeys through the fixing of the foundation, reconstruction of the stairway and replacement of the roof over her exhausted head. We also survive removal of the sea of ivy wrapped around her fruit trees.

But all of this is a gateway to reflections on motherhood, daughterhood and on keeping a marriage together.

“House Lessons” is about how, after bashing through the wilderness to arrive at your dream, that dream may be overcome by events.

Sometimes — often, really — you’ve got to reframe it all.

The book also explores how our living spaces affect our relationships: how we communicate and recreate — or separate ourselves from one another.

A closed-off kitchen influences how family members relate to the woman of the house, for example, as she’s likely to be the one working in there much of the day and night. Then there’s the “reading nook,” just a tiny alcove providing a refuge, a place to pause and step out of the household fray.

At the same time, we have the power to affect our spaces. Some thought, some rearranging, and it’s possible to make a place “loving and communal,” Bauermeister said.

You can improve the atmosphere of your dining room, for instance, by changing the direction of the table and which way the chairs face. Try it.

At this point in our strange history, many of us are spending more time at home. Why not imagine how our places can better serve our relationships?

Bauermeister hopes to go on book tour eventually, to talk with readers about all of this. Meanwhile, we’ve got this interlude to reflect and re-read.

“Books aren’t going anywhere,” she quipped. Besides, it’s springtime: a season to see our dwelling places in a new light.


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third week every month. Her next column will be April 1.

Reach her at [email protected]

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