I don’t write about my family/house/personal life that much over here on the Professional Site (although if you want some homeschooling, renovation, and/or cat-related content, you’re welcome to check out my personal blog). But, as has been the reality in our current work-from-home life, that line of demarcation is blurring.

Recently, we had the porch on our house rebuilt.

The house when we bought it, 14 years ago.

I’ve never liked it. People would come to the house and not be able to figure out where they should come in, as there’s also a “front door” around the side, and the porch wrapped over there.

Friends and family hanging out on the side porch (pre-COVID!)

I’ve also always hated those shrubs. When we bought the house, I thought they looked like they belonged outside of a two-and-a-half-star motel, and my aversion to trimming them made them even worse. They made the house feel closed-off and unwelcoming.

The bench that wrapped around the front and sides of the porch was a nice idea, but pretty uncomfortable to sit on. The children would just run a back and forth along it, endlessly.

The porch itself was becoming dangerous. It was original to the house, meaning that it dates back to the mid-1970s. The balcony is newer—added in the mid-1990s, an entirely separate structure. Over the years, we’d replaced rotten boards on the porch, but the joists eventually rotted out. There was nothing to screw into. On the side section, many of the footers were sinking into the ground. At one point, we were using the jack from the Honda to keep the side porch from completely collapsing (and just crossing our fingers that we wouldn’t get a flat).

Everyone who knows me knows that I am bad at literally every visual art ever invented. But I got it in my head that I would design this porch my self. I doodled, I spent hours on Houzz, I read Architectural Digest at the library. I got nowhere. Then, one morning, I woke up from a dead slumber, grabbed the notebook by my bed, and sketched exactly what I wanted. The last time I remember this happening was when I was trying to design my own wedding dress—a story for another time.

My kids hated this design. They wanted a porch that was just like the old one. My husband didn’t seem to love it, but saw that look in my eye and decided he should let me do what I was going to do. The first couple carpenters we had look at it shook their heads and told me it was going to be too complicated. I finally found a guy who would do it, we agreed on a price, and he built the thing in four days.

Around the time construction was beginning, my son took another look at a drawing I had made of the front elevation of the house. “Mom,” he said, “Are you trying to build a Shakespeare stage on our house?”

He had a point, and what’s funny is I had not noticed this. With the balcony and the new thrust shape, it does look a lot like the Elizabethan-style theaters they have seen. I’ve always had a serious compartmentalization between my family-life and my art-life. By putting a stage on the front of my house, was my subconscious trying to tear down that wall?

We still have some work to do. The large ash tree down right center is going to come out—I wouldn’t kill a tree for sightlines, but it’s standing dead wood, thanks to the emerald ash borer, and therefore a dangerous thing. We need to do some painting, obviously. Because the wood is pressure treated, we have to wait a year to stain it. We’re also planning on putting up a corrugated metal roof on the underside of the balcony to make the top level of the first-story porch stay dry (but that has to wait for the wood to settle, as well). Several friends suggested that we should fret that with golden fire. Some dirt and rocks need moved around. I should probably plant something.

Petra, dancing with silks on the porch
Half-finished and already irresistible. After this, the carpenters added steps down and took out the dangling beam from the balcony supports.

When I was in grad school, at 21 years old, I used to imagine that one day, I’d have a theater barn, with actor housing, and we’d just work on stuff until it was ready. Kind of like the hippie commune founding myth of Shakespeare & Company. Since then, I’ve learned about things like…money. Time. Liability.

But this structure on the front of my house is unspeakably compelling. I sent pictures of the kids playing on it to one of my favorite collaborators, and he immediately wrote back, “Silk Moth Playhouse.” As bizarre as it sounds, when I’m hauling groceries in from the car, I’m thinking, “Ah, yes, just walking DC to UC in the Silk Moth.”

kids playing on the porch.
They have forgotten that they didn’t like my design.

The balcony is one of my workspaces; I have a table and a nifty umbrella up there, and I used to get a lot done on nice days. Now I catch myself gazing out at the yard and contemplating how many people we could fit. Wondering what the neighbors would think. Imagining the many, many possibilities for entrances, exits, surprises.

The view from Above

We had friends over for an outdoor, socially distanced Easter egg hunt. One of them caught me looking at my lane, brow furrowed, and said, “You’re thinking about where an audience would park, aren’t you?” She was not wrong. I also have some thoughts about where a couple port-a-johns could go.

I don’t have any concrete plans right now. Not even a title. But I have the beginning of an inkling of an idea, an inspiration percolating. I texted Great American Playwright Pam Mandigo a picture of the porch with the note: “I’m having serious Field of Dreams vibes right now.” She wrote back: “They will come.”

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention

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