Garret vs. Cellar SMACKDOWN!

by Deanna K. Kreisel (Doctor Waffle Blog)

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who find basements scary and those who find attics scary. I suppose there might be some folks (bless their hearts) who are disturbed by both, like those ethereal creatures with one blue eye and one brown. I refuse to countenance the idea of people who have no feelings of unease in either space. To be that well-adjusted, that free from inchoate fear, that grounded in the solid objects of reality—I draw back in horror at the thought. We will leave these hale and pragmatic types to their smoothies and their 401Ks and godspeed to them.

Of course, having sketched this rigid opposition, I must immediately set about tearing it apart. (I was trained in literary criticism in the 1990s, and am constitutionally incapable of leaving a perfectly good dichotomy in peace.) I personally am creeped out by both attics and basements, but in different contexts: attics in dreams and basements in reality. (Dreams include literature and reality includes movies.) The idea of attics is deliciously spooky: that’s where the ghosts live, and the animals that sound like ghosts when you’re alone in the house at night. But I would be hard pressed to feel truly frightened in a real attic: they’re mostly hot, and cramped, and full of prickly insulation and mouse poop, and you’re there to grab the box of back-up highball glasses or the fake Christmas tree and get out before you boil to death. Even filmed attics fail to be genuinely scary: they are usually picturesquely stuffed with picturesquely overflowing trunks full of the heroine’s ancestor’s stuff from Ye Olden Times. (The ancestor always seems to have been a theatrical impresario or budding lexicographer.) If there is a moment of fright, it’s occasioned by the heroine catching a glimpse of herself in a full-length beveled mirror in the corner and then laughing when she realizes it’s just her reflection. Later she will try on some of the theatrical costumes from the trunks and study herself in the same mirror, where she will notice a resemblance to her ancestor for the first time. Read more »


by Joan Harvey

At night you’d think
my house abandoned.
Come closer. You
can see and hear
the writing-paper
lines of light
and the voices of
my radio

Jerónimo’s House, Elizabeth Bishop

Don Quixote, and with him, of course, faithful Sancho Panza, inhabit my kitchen; primarily the space between the sink and the kitchen island. I listen to the tale of The Knight of the Sorrowful Face when I do the dishes and clean the counters and, as it is a very long book and I only spend around twenty minutes at a time doing these tasks, these two adventurers have been getting frightfully bashed up in my kitchen for months. While in other times I might have also listened on long car trips, I’m now programmed, when walking into that space, to immediately think of donkeys and basins and chivalry. At the moment I have only 17 hours 27 minutes and 56 seconds in the book left to go, but I suspect it will be even longer before my kitchen is free of knights errant and their faithful squires.

My Pavlovian response brings to mind that mnemomic device, the Memory Palace, in which you mentally put something you want to remember into a room in your house. To be honest I haven’t really tried this method, because I can never remember to use it when I need to remember something.

This is all to say that our houses are home not just to our bodies. Bodies are the condition of architecture, but the way in which our dwellings hold us, keep us warm, give us space and light (or lack thereof), also plays on our minds. Houses haunt us as much as we haunt them. And because during this virus most of us are home, most of the time, our relationship with our homes, with our houses (in French to be at home is to be at the house), comes to the forefront. Whether we’re alone in a tiny studio apartment, or with our three charming daughters and two charming dogs in a large house in the suburbs, or in a queer communal house in a small city, this place where we live and now rarely leave has come to have much more weight. We are aware of the homeless and hope that they are finding shelter as we do. And we might also grow aware that, with our heavy mortgages and loss of income, this shelter we’ve taken for granted is a somewhat precarious thing. Read more »