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Sunday
Apr112010

So Now What?

Location: Berkeley, CA

OK, so I quit last week. I've got a little over a week left to go w/ Gap before I'm officially fancy free. So far, the reactions from family and friends have all been positive, with an undercurrent of wonder: what are you going to do next? 

Well, the first thing I did was bought an iphone. Say bye-bye to the old blackberry! Now that I no longer need to be replying to emails while sitting in meetings all day long, I have broken free, and embraced my inner creative side. I'm looking forward to my Microsoft-free existence! But I know that's not *really* what people mean when they ask what's next, even though I personally feel like it's going to change my life. But I digress.

It seems like such a simple question. "What's next?" And yet, there is an implied value judgement. We live in a society where we must always be doing something. Anything. Always. Constantly. When I tell people I'm going to write, there is usually a pregnant pause before they say, either verbally or with their eyes: "And?" Perhaps I'm imagining it, but I really don't think so. Is it the protestant work ethic? Catholic guilt? I have no idea. But since I have no children, and very soon will have no job, it baffles people as to what I'm going to do with my days. 

So... what am I going to do with my days? Well, OK, I admit, it kind of baffles me too. I know my ultimate goals: finish my book, continue with my blog, travel, get in better shape, invest in real estate, manage house renovations. And while that sounds like a laundry list, it still leaves the question of what to do on a day to day basis. Which is funny.

While I was in St. Martin, I never worried about what I would do with my day. Beach? Pool? Explore? Every day was a take-it-as-it-comes attitude, and we genuinely lived in the moment. Raining? No worries, we'll wander Marigot, or work on our blogs, or just hang out and be. Here in Berkeley, for some reason that living in the moment seems far more elusive. Perhaps it's because there is always the dog to walk, or the kitchen to clean, or the laundry to be done. But I do think there is something to the fact that in the American culture, it's simply not acceptable to just be. How dare we attempt to live free of daily obligation and stress?

In the meantime, we have been focused on the next step. We've been looking for our next real estate investment. Our theory is that if we start by buying and renovating a house here in Berkeley, it will give us something worthwhile to do while we wait for the market to recover, and help us develop our real estate acumen for other more exotic destinations. We figure we can do some fun projects, both at our current house and another one, to get our hands dirty and learn.

Our first project is our backyard. Yesterday we tackled The Beast. The 30-foot-tall hedge between us and our neighbors that had grown all kinds of out of control. We had the #1 gardener on Angie's list come by to give us an estimate... and after she saw the thing, she declined! A normal man would have hired an arborist at that point, but no, we were not to be daunted. Steve purchased a 30-ft ladder on Amazon (which arrived in one day, how awesome is that?), and went to work. At one point I thought he'd be swallowed up like the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe... or at least be bitten by some denizen of the primordial forest.. or fall off the ladder and land on his saws-all (yes, there were safety hazards galore). But in the end we persevered and tamed it, though it's not the prettiest haircut I've ever seen. There were several moments of "hmm... I'll just even that up a bit..." and there are bald spots worthy of George Costanza. We'll be working on the gardening skills.

Steve is also in the process of designing raised flower beds, a hammock oasis and a travertine patio. I question whether we need all of these things - perhaps it would be nice to keep at least some of the grass? But in the end I will defer to his design aesthetic which is shockingly good for a heterosexual man. My role, of course, is to create the project plan and budget, order materials... and supervise him, which, really, is a full-time job. 

In the meantime, we have been scouring the local real estate listings. We want a genuine fixer-upper, something where we can add true value over the course of a year. We keep hearing about these flippers who pick up all the distressed property on the courthouse stairs, so that they can do a quick and dirty home depot flip - paint a little here, cheap kitchen there, et voila, $100k over purchase price. That's not our plan. But while it is definitely still a buyer's market, there isn't yet a property that fits our criteria. 

Today we saw a crazy house that had been used as a bed & breakfast. It was the most jacked-up house I've seen in a long time - they needed three agents strategically positioned throughout the house as guides. Seriously, guides. They should have given out a map, or one of those headsets you get at the museum. You could miss an entire wing of the house by passing by what appeared to be a closet. It was heavily decorated with crazy paint colors - like navy blue to match a bedspread, and dark red in the living room - with mirrors everywhere. There was one room with miniature bookshelves, and miniature table and chairs, as though the entire room was a doll's house. Can you say through the rabbit hole? This place would take at least $50k to just de-crazy the walls, but there was no answer for fixing the byzantine layout. There was even a rental unit, with the renter sitting at her computer in her messy kitchen during the open house. Just sitting there, at her computer, with dirty dishes in the sink. It wasn't even what you'd call a studio apartment, it was a kitchen with a nook under the stairs with a pallet and pillow, like Harry Potter before he found out he was a wizard. Perhaps that was her hope? 

There's another house we were interested in, but we couldn't get in to see it. Why? Because you have to be in contract to see it. Excuse me??? Oh yeah, they expect you to bid site unseen. It was in contract already, then fell out. Somewhere there is a real estate agent who is smoking crack. 

So the search continues. I'm wrapping up at the Gap. Steve is getting to work on the backyard. And I'm still working on the quick and easy answer to the question of "so now what?"...  wishing the weather would clear up so I could go to the pool and stop worrying about it... 

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Reader Comments (1)

How inspiring!! So true. It's so easy to get wrapped up in things...our lives can become just series of routines and not really LIVE our lives...forgetting how we want to live our lives. We've been going through something similar as well. Can't wait to talk to you guys and see Steve's new (pirate?) look:)

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSunny

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