Posted on 20 May 2011

My father used to say,
“Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow’s grave
nor the glass flowers at Harvard.
Self reliant like the cat —
that takes its prey to privacy,
the mouse’s limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth —
they sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint.”
Nor was he insincere in saying, “`Make my house your inn’.”
Inns are not residences

The last two years have been a time of adjustment because Rob and I no longer have the luxury of two houses – something that served us well as we both love to be alone, apart from each other for stretches of time. I would say that a month is ideal although two weeks works too. Lucky him, he had two weeks recently when I was in Northern Ireland.

When we sold our house, I asked Rob to help me create time alone – for both of us. Disappear, I said. I’ll disappear too. We have to build the cost of additional accommodation into our budget. Thus far, we haven’t been able to do this. The unexpected has happened – like our house fire. And the necessary – we both had to fly back to North America to close our business.

While in Vancouver, we stayed with a close friend for several days, moved into a friend’s vacated apartment for a week, and then moved back in with the friend for our last week. This worked because we were so busy that we were hardly ever there. (In the end, we would have liked to have had more time with her.)

In Northern Ireland, I once again became a guest, staying at someone’s house – my cousin – as he lives near his mother where my mother stayed and I wanted to be easily available to her. Both my cousin and his wife were busy for most of my visit and so I was alone for most of the time. I liked this. I hate being waited on. I reminded myself that the easiest guests are those who make themselves at home, help themselves to whatever in the cupboards or fridge, and are always willing to help prepare a meal. And though it felt a little weird at first, poking through someone else’s cupboard, I did it and my cousin’s wife (who is too generous for words) said she loved having me. I was no bother.

Over the past few years, we have had many visitors. We tell whoever – family or friends or friends of friends – to help themselves to whatever, fend for themselves during the day and we’ll prepare the evening meals. (Some people are comfortable with this. Some aren’t and I can understand this. I’m awkward in some people’s homes too and so I do make an effort and prepare the occasional breakfast or lunch.) We also tell our guests, if they don’t have their own car, to borrow ours, take off and explore. It surprises me how few are willing to do this and so many times, Rob and I have become tour guides.

The other day, Rob and I were talking about guests, as we have an inordinate number coming this summer (and have even had to refuse a few). We agreed that the best visitors are women alone because they are sensitve to our needs, are always willing to help, and are grateful for whatever. To be fair, we’ve never had a fellow visit alone. For some reason, couples consume more of our energy. It could be that our house is too open and too small for four people, especially for an extended period of time.

The big problem for both Rob and me, given that we like time alone – even without the other – is that neither of us get much work done when others are around so we have just begun to tell our guests that they are welcome to stay in our home for three days. The only exception is a few personal women friends and family. This is difficult for me but I intend to stick to it – after this summer – I can’t tell those from Northern Ireland or South Africa when they’ve already paid their air fare and planned their trips.

I finished the first draft of a biography for a client before my sister and her friend arrived. I am now waiting for the revision. Hopefully that project will be finished soon and I can move onto my own writing. I’m not sure how productive I will be this summer. I wish there were more hours in the day.

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