It’s very hard for me to relax. For a long time, I thought this was because I am a psycho who likes to work, but that isn’t true. I do like my job, and I do enjoy working for a few hours every week, but that wasn’t why I was working all the time. I convinced myself that I liked being constantly busy and constantly stressed and constantly moving because I felt for much of my life like I couldn’t stop, like if I were to stop everything around me would crumble instantly. I lied—to myself and to others—and said that what I was afraid of crumbling was the structures I had built: my hard work disappearing. Even last night, with a very close friend, I said that. But it’s not true.
It’s easier, though, to say you’re afraid of everything you have worked for crumbling than it is to say that you’re afraid of your brain at rest. I don’t really have much reason to be afraid of my brain at rest anymore. I’ve done the work. The hours of therapy. The stupid little pills. The exercising. The awareness. For decades, I have fought my own brain. And now, theoretically, we are in a truce. We have reached agreement, that I will do all of the things mentioned above and the devil within me will only whisper to me sometimes. But in the past, we were at war. And in that war the greatest armor I had was working. If you make yourself busy enough, you see, your brain can’t engage you in combat. It won’t have time. But you have to spin yourself around and around forever. It’s exhausting and it’s not healthy.
I thought I was over this behavior. I thought I didn’t believe standing still was dangerous anymore. But I’ve been working so hard for the past year, and the past year has been so bad, and I haven’t had a truly major episode in a while, and I realized the other day that I’ve been doing it again: filling up every hour of my day as if it will save me. But it won’t. Distracting yourself is not taking care of yourself. I realized how bad it had gotten yesterday, when I spent the only three hours I had free the whole day looking for Zillow houses for this column even though I had already found a perfectly fine one, and then deciding none of them were good enough. That’s not the energy I want to have when I write this column. I want to be centered and focused for you, reader.
This week’s house is one that was sent to me yesterday. It is interesting enough, and it is in Illinois, where it is listed for $550,000. Today’s house was sent to me by reader Erik from Vermont, who said he found it by looking at houses in Cook County.
As we approach the house, it feels a little ominous. The line of the roof is uncommon. We aren’t dealing with the straight flat line of a ranch house or the peaked triangle of an A-frame, or the several different sized triangles of a suburban McMansion. No, what we have here seem to be kind of octagonal columns. They aren’t of equal size, and the house seems to be in the shape of a sick fidget spinner. The flat sides of the columns are alternating between solid wall and windows. For Erik, part of the appeal of this house was in its shape. “I’ve always harbored fantasies of designing a cylindrical house (to combat wind resistance) and have attempted to build essentially this exact dwelling across multiple iterations of The Sims,” he told me. “Besides wind resistance (good against tornados, I presume), folklore would suggest that circular dwellings are good for evading the Devil.”
I too would like to evade the Devil, so let’s consider this house shall we.
In the description of the house, the facade is described as “modern, brutalist-style poured concrete house.” There are a few problems with this. Modern, generally has two meanings. Either it is contemporary, which it is not, or, it is of the modernist movement, which is also not true because it also claims to be Brutalist. I felt confused by the phrasing “poured concrete” being used to describe what seem to me to be concrete panels, so I asked Trey, who is a structural engineer who (according to me) knows everything about concrete. “I guess it’s just a house made of concrete,” he said. “All concrete is poured.” There you have it.
Let’s go in.
Well this is nice, isn’t it. We have a lot of wood, but it doesn’t feel too overwhelming to me. Because of all the windows, and because all of the windows seem to face nice wooded trees that are not too dense, there is a lot of natural light in this house. But there is also the illusion of a green paint, as if the trees themselves are doing some design work. The white ceiling coupled with the white walls of the floor above I think makes this look a bit more open. But I do not like that this nice curved couch has such straight ends. The room is a circle! Why can’t the couch be fully a circle. Imagine an even better version of that idea: the circle conversation pit.
While I do love the full bar set-up behind the couch, I want to focus over here for a minute. Look at this nice brick fireplace. Look at how the chimney is made of wood. This seems very cozy. Imagine putting your damp sweater on those bricks to dry and get all warm. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?
According to the Zillow, the hosue has been put on the market a few times in the last couple of years, one time making it as far as a pending sale listing before being removed. Since then, the cost of the house has been reduced by $100,000 which doesn’t make a great case for it not being some secret disaster waiting to happen. Anyway, I love how many shapes we have that are mirrored here. The shape of the platforms with the shape of the house. The shape of the fireplace with the ceiling shape next to it. That’s satisfying. I do hate those curtains, though. They look like a crumpled up paper bag.
Let’s go look at the kitchen. Everyone knows that “kitchens sell houses” but this one isn’t selling anything.
This kitchen honestly looks like every over-priced poorly renovated apartment kitchen that survived the 1980s. The appliances are nice, sure. And I imagine it must be expensive to build cabinetry into these curved walls, but this is sloppy and lazy. The counters are ugly. The floor looks cheap. The cabinets are a completely different color and caliber of wood than the rest of the house. It doesn’t make any sense to cut corners here. But everyone does this: instead of designing a kitchen to go with the house, a beautiful, careful kitchen with intricate details, people design what they think everyone wants so that they can sell. This, however, makes your kitchen suck! Design for everyone is always going to be boring.
Let’s see, what else is down here on this floor? Oh, what? It’s a pool!!!
This looks like an ice hotel pool! It is so blue! What I do not like is that it looks extremely deep and I am afraid of very deep pools. But if I ignore that, I can admit that this is pretty nice. The slide, however, does not look safe. It looks like any full adult body would slip right off the side and into the water. The half wall of stone is also particularly weird. Was this at one point a waterfall? Is it just a place to scrape your knees? Let’s climb up this precarious ladder.
Up here we can see the same room with the big couch but from above.
Sure this is nice. But there are more rooms up here than down below. How is this possible?
Oh, I see. It’s because instead of having three big circle rooms upstairs and one empty hole looking down onto the pool, someone has chosen to have two big circle rooms and then to divide the third in half, so that now there are two rooms filled with wasted space. Both of these rooms also have terrible tile borders I don’t understand and so am forced to assume have something to do with leaky windows, which seems awful.
There’s nothing really interesting about these bedrooms. The master bedroom is big with curved bed and a big tub. In the basement there is another bedroom that is also a circle and also has tons of wasted space. The deck outside is big and vast and nice. It would be a good place to wander around during a wedding cocktail party, but I’m not sure how it would work functionally day to day. No, wait, the last interesting thing is the stairwell.
It’s mesmerizing. A Fibonacci spiral to fall deep into, a swirling white vortex sucking you in. The stairs look rough, like the brushed concrete around a community pool, like they would scrape your thigh very badly if you lost your footing and fell. But the effect of the bright white stairs in their little wood and glass space is enchanting. The more I looked at this photo, the more it felt like it was moving. Or rather, that I was moving, that everything was turning slowly in a circle.
The thing about spinning in circles is you can’t do it forever. When we were kids, my sister was a very talented ballerina. I used to watch her in awe as she whipped her leg out to the side, her arms straight out, her head flipping forward over and over and over again. Spotting, she told me. You can’t get lost in the circle you yourself have created or you will fall and you will get hurt. You cannot get lost in the circle you chose to be in. It’s stupid. It’s reckless. It’s so easy to do. You lose the thing you are focused on and suddenly you’re just spinning. Spinning. Spinning. Spinning. Maybe not even trying to find the spot anymore because it’s not as important anymore.
I’ve lost my spot. I’ve been working very hard for six months, and I’m really proud of myself. It’s embarrassing to type that, but it’s true. I’ve been spinning even though my spot is lost for a couple of weeks now, and I have to stop. It is time for me to take a little break, to find where I misplaced my spot, to remember what it feels like to sleep through the night and not worry about sales or subscriptions or whether taking a vacation will cause all of this work to disappear. Because that is how you never get out of the circle: you convince yourself that if you stop, there was no point in spinning to begin with. But that’s not true. You have to stop, to find your spot again, to take a deep breath before you begin to try again.
This week’s house has been listed on Zillow for $550,000 for 26 days. As you may have assumed by now, I am going on vacation for August, and this column is going on vacation as well. I will miss you all!