Home Is Where The Poem Is

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing my old friend and writing buddy, Alanna Krinard, who has worked in real estate for the last twenty years. We discussed writing, literature, and the poetry of house-hunting!

I remember reading a poem in my twenties called “The Race,” by Sharon Olds, about a woman who is desperately trying to reach her flight in time so she can see her father before he passes. I always loved that poem and admired Olds’ use of enjambment lines. When I was older, and teaching the poem in one of my literature classes, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the dramatic situation in the poem. What I had once just admired for its form and compression of language, I now identified as a possible scenario in my own life, knowing that my dad is getting older. Are there any poems that you read when you were younger that have now morphed in meaning or intensity for you?

Yes, actually. The most significant one for me is “The Red Wheelbarrow,” or perhaps more appropriately titled, “XXII,” by William Carlos Williams. This poem seems so simple on the surface but has stayed with me for so many decades, rolling around in my mind, popping up at many different moments.

When I was young, I was struck by its direct candor and the vibrant nearness of the red wheelbarrow to white chickens. I’ve carried that poem around with me for many years, pondering the colors and rain, finding more and more complexity within its short lines. As I’ve become older, it continues to expand with meaning for me. This poem was purported for some time to have been written as Williams cared for a sick child. I had a child with severe asthma, and spent a lot of time in the hospital with him. During those times, I realized how the more mundane, average things in life that we take for granted can become so foreign. Sitting at a hospital window watching the rain outside, just wishing that my child could be well enough to be home, hoping for the mundane to become normal again.

I learned much later that the poem was instead inspired by someone who was a very hard worker.  Interestingly, this information came to me as I was strongly developing my own career, and my son had mostly grown out of his asthma. So, the poem then took on new meaning for me. In my career, I’ve worked very hard to develop my skill set and be an asset for my clients. So much depends on my ability to see an escrow through—people’s lives are changing, more often than not in very significant ways, and it’s my responsibility to make sure this part of the transition goes well for them.

Another is “Oranges,” by Gary Soto. This poem still makes my heart race with its sensuality. The newness and nervousness of a budding relationship, the understanding of another person who sees the situation from the outside. It gives me butterflies. I love the color play in the poem, and the feeling of winter—so exquisite.

A couple years ago, I bought my first home. While house-hunting, it was interesting to see how other people had remodeled or decorated but even more interesting that it made little difference in the “feeling” of the home. On one afternoon of house-hunting, I, who had lived alone for thirteen years and am not prone to fear of spooks, suddenly bolted out of a basement that was visually no more or less creepy-looking than any of the others we had seen! Do you find, as a real estate agent, that this intimate look into people’s lives, has influenced your writing over the years?

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t write as much as I would like. I originally got into real estate because I believed it would afford me the flexibility to develop my writing and potential literary career. However, I’ve become so active in real estate, that my writing has become more of a hobby.

Real estate is a very interesting career, because I have the opportunity to very intimately get to know my clients and their families in an exceedingly short period of time. We spend a great deal of time together in a very intense setting.  I need to glean their needs from their reactions to properties they see, because often, people can’t definitively explain what they’re looking for until they see it. I’ve learned over the years to read body language and sometimes depend more on that than verbal explanations. I can always tell when someone walks into the home they’re going to purchase—everything about their body changes, and they take in things differently than they do when viewing homes that might be ok but are not ideal.

And of course, I have the requisite “spooky house” story! This happened nearly 20 years ago, but I remember it plain as day. I was with a large group of extended family looking at multiple properties in an afternoon. We came to one home that was vacant, and from the moment I stepped foot in the door, I felt uneasy. Because I depend so much on my intuition when working with my clients, I’ve learned to listen to those feelings, so I was cautious during the showing. There were several children I was doing my best to keep an eye on, while talking with the adults about the property. This particular home was three stories, including a large basement-like addition with several bedrooms downstairs. As we walked downstairs, there was a very audible growl. Everyone heard it, and it sounded as if it were rumbling through the ductwork, coming out through the vents. We finished checking out the downstairs while the growling continued, and finally my clients decided to go outside and find the crawlspace so they could look in the ductwork, assuming that maybe there was an animal stuck somewhere in the heating system. We found the ductwork, but there wasn’t anything in it. I still, to this day, don’t have any idea what was growling at us, but… My clients decided against purchasing that particular home, even though it had all of the space they needed and was in a great location.

I can always sense discord in a home, even if it’s perfectly kept. Homes often very clearly represent an owner’s mental state. So, I suppose that I may have a broader understanding of the human condition than I would if I had chosen another career. In this respect, I do believe it’s true that these intuitions and experiences show up in my writing. I often find myself explaining settings and relating them to characters, and that’s probably a symptom of my own life experience as a Realtor.

Do you think there is poetry in the house-hunt?

Oh yes! Unequivocally so!! For me, poetry has always been about evoking emotion in meaningful, thoughtful ways. Poetry is often an opportunity to communicate something in a way that can influence another’s emotions or make something known that has been buried emotionally, politically, or that has just gone unnoticed. I’ve applied that to my real estate career.  From the very beginning, I’ve understood the power of communicating details.  That’s why I’ve always loved WCW’s Red Wheelbarrow—I’m so attached to the chicken that she’s stayed with me for decades. In my line of work, I use photographs and property descriptions to build attachment, and to depict a unique understanding of a property.

Every home has a story and can evoke emotion through that story.  Think of an older couple who is selling their family home to downsize—think of all of the emotions tied to the family who was raised there: Where have the children gone as adults? Are there grandchildren? How many birthday parties did the backyard see? How many spaghetti dinners were cooked in the kitchen? How many times did the oldest brother cannonball into the deep end of the pool? Was a chin ever split open on the pavement from a spill off of a bicycle? How many neighborhood kids played at the basketball hoop on the court, racing into the kitchen for a glass of lemonade that was made from scratch?

Where is the couple going now? What’s their new chapter? What is the freedom that will be afforded to them when they downsize into a more manageable property?

And what of the new Buyers? Maybe this will be their first home, and they want to start a family. Maybe someone wants to open a cottage business from the garage, and the location is just right for transporting goods. Maybe there’s an extra bedroom that would be perfect for….. A writing studio! The backyard might be amazing for BBQ’ing on a warm summer evening, with the pool lights on, and some music playing.

There’s always a story in every real estate transaction, but the story comes from the people.

People’s hopes and dreams are tied up in the spaces where they live, and this is what keeps me connected to the poetry of real estate. People build lives in their homes.

When I list a property for sale, my job is to tap into that feeling and market the home to people who might be attracted to feeling that way about where they want to live their life. That’s why staging is so important—it helps people feel connected to the space, and allows them to understand how they might live in a home. It’s harder for folks to envision a floor plan without furniture or warm paint colors that help tell a story. I want people to fall in love with my properties before they even see them in person and to be ultimately even more excited when they finally step through the front door.

One of the things I love about the Real Estate industry is that it’s always changing. When I first started working as an agent, our MLS database of homes ran out of  DOS, and I distinctly remember the day that my brokerage purchased its first FAX machine. There were no cell phones, and the internet couldn’t support photos, at least not in a way that was accessible to most people. We’ve departed from those days to a time when online representations are absolutely crucial, and video is becoming more and more valuable through social media. There’s poetry in innovation, because that’s where attachment is born.

Frank O’Hara wrote many of his witty and often conversational poems in his book, Lunch Poems, during his lunch hour, when he worked at The Museum of Modern Art. What would a book of “lunch poems” from a real estate agent be like?

What’s a lunch hour?!?

One moment, because, ah, I do love Frank O’Hara.  From “Morning”:

I miss you always
when I go to the beach
the sand is wet with
tears that seem mine

The biggest issue I face with writing is consistency. It’s not because I don’t want it badly enough.  I don’t have the kind of career that is contained within the hours of 9-5, with well defined breaks and vacations. I work during the day when banks, lenders, and title companies are open and am available for questions or deadline-related functions. I work long stretches after hours and weekends, when my clients are off work and able to see properties. I’m available to my agents for questions after hours that are crucial to their transactions, which are often highly complex.

Lunch is often trail mix with an orange in the car between showings and inspections. Both travel well. Sometimes I eat at my desk as I look through our MLS system for new listings. Our market North of San Francisco is highly competitive, and I need to be fully aware of new inventory in order to best serve my clients. Because there are so few homes that come on the market compared to the numbers of Buyers who want to purchase a home, I can’t allow my clients to miss out on a new listing. It’s crucial that I stay focused and passionate in order to serve my clients as they deserve.

I recently went on my first vacation as an adult but needed to be able to check in with clients and the agents who were covering for me while I was gone. I’m pretty well tethered to my business—I’m sure that there are other small business owners out there who understand. Unfortunately, this doesn’t leave me much emotional energy for writing, but I love what I do and am most fortunate to have an amazing client base who refers me to people like them. I adore the people I work with, and at this point in my career, I choose my clients carefully. The benefit is, I have the opportunity to surround myself with people I enjoy being around. The downside is, I’m a better Realtor than anything else at this stage in my life. I’m working on that.

What does all of that have to do with the question of what a book of lunchtime poems from a Realtor would look like?

Well, I would say that my poetry is wrapped up in the relationships I build with my clients and the other people I work with, whom I care deeply for. I’m fortunate to have an amazing staff.  When I do have opportunity to write, they are often on my mind. They show up in places I wouldn’t expect—in pointed descriptions, in the way a character might laugh, in the distress of a life event that shows up in a startling turn of fictional events.

I’m currently writing a book for Realtors of eleven traits, which successful agents exhibit. I’ve learned these traits from observing other successful agents and by considering what things I would like to improve, so that I can provide the best service possible for my clients. I have two works of fiction that rear their heads occasionally as well. Sometimes, I have to stop everything I’m doing to contribute to those works, because a new twist has just dawned on me, or I’ve realized an aspect of a character that hadn’t quite come together yet.

So, just like my lunch hours are stretched into thin little pieces throughout the day, so too, is my writing.

alanna-krinnard

Alanna Krinard: I started writing when I was about 10 years old, and have continued throughout my life. I graduated from UC Davis in 1997 with a degree in English, and went straight into my family’s real estate business. I’ve been in real estate since 1997, and currently manage an office, recruit and train for Century 21 NorthBay Alliance in Sonoma County, California. I also run my own sales.

Featured Image: http///www.oukongstick.com/2015/12/11/book-sculpture-arts/

Defect

We’re all familiar, by now, with the publicity that celebrities get when they come out, and some of us, despite our best efforts, still scroll down to see what the peanut gallery has to say about it, at the end of such an announcement. From the safety of their own homes, of course, their responses are often mean-spirited and downright ignorant. Recently, after reading an article about a celebrity’s sexual orientation, I read a response that, with a chillingly matter of fact tone, claimed that “homos” are victims of a birth defect and that perhaps, one day, rather than celebrating their coming out, we will discover a way to genetically prevent them from even coming into existence.

After I read that comment, I felt profoundly sad for the next couple of weeks. I could not get his tone out of my head. The coldness of it made me afraid; I felt very low. One day, when his words were ringing in my mind, I thought of my friend, Robin, who died of illness related to kidney failure during the summer before eighth grade. I didn’t even know it had happened. My friend told me in history class. I thought that I had heard her wrong, but when she told me again, I burst into tears. My teacher gave the class an assignment and called me outside. I was relieved when he didn’t ask me what was wrong but instead, told me to go get a drink of water.

Robin had had such a lovely heart and could send any of us into uncontrollable laughter with her self-deprecating humor. I would seek out her and her friends at lunchtime, and they’d invite me to join in their fun. I remember that year was particularly difficult for me. My mother had developed a drug problem. She was always rather cold and lacking in empathy, but once the drugs started, she terrorized us every moment that she wasn’t passed out. Since I was the oldest, I took the worse of it, but when I saw Robin, all of that disappeared. I never thought of Robin’s illness when I looked at her, although I know now how much she must have suffered because of it. I loved her so much, and I loved the way I felt around her: like a kid.

Who knows what Robin could have become if we had been able to cure her disease? But we couldn’t, and I have always been the better for her existence. I don’t even know how many other people she healed, if only for a lunch period per day, with her funny stories and easy-going manner. All I know is that she turned my attention away from the sorrow and fear of watching my mother hurt us—and herself—and toward lighthearted conversation about regular kid stuff. I felt how I imagined my mom did, when she popped another pain pill.

To be clear, I don’t think of different sexual orientations as defective, but the man’s comment online reminded me of the kids who were sometimes intolerant of Robin because of her illness, which affected her physical appearance. I remember that they baffled me.

I did dream of Robin after she died. I bumped into her when I was looking through my locker. I looked down and saw her cleaning out her locker. I said, “Robin! I thought you had died.” She told me that she had died but that she had to clean out her locker first. I told her that I had never gotten to say goodbye and that I had really liked having lunch with her. I still believe that Robin came to me that night to make me feel better, again.

For the audio version, click here or below.

Defect
             for Robin Radikowski

You were smart,
to slip out first.
I remember when boys
laughed at your red
face, the trouble
your kidney’s failure
caused when you
didn’t make it
to Typing class, and I
had no idea that you
died. You were
12, and I lost it
in History.

Today, a blogger
called “homos”
victims of a birth
defect, and I thought
of you, Robin, sitting
at lunch with us.
I don’t know if you
were gay. I always saw
you as sexless, really.
The champion
of delight: the only
relief from adolescence
came to you
as quickly as death
did, and I think, now, at age 40,
how I wish you’d come to
me again in a dream as
you did the week you
died, explaining why
you were still here, cleaning
out your locker, and making me
forget, once again, to be afraid
of this world.

(First published in Third Wednesday Magazine, Summer 2014)

 

Featured Image: http://www.glogster.com/jonalexxx/honors-biology-project/g-6lmt35aqc4gr63dtlssiba0

Sharpen Your Knives! 

This week, I’m continuing with my “poetry introductions” and thought it appropriate to dissect my poem called “The Dissection,” which is from my recent book, Sister Nun. In the book, Sister Nun leaves the convent by the third poem (“Sister Nun Leaves the Convent”) and we know from the second poem (“Every Day, Sister Nun Chops Wood”) that she is not religious. However, throughout the book, Sister is influenced by her time in the Buddhist convent and by Buddhism itself. One prevalent idea in Buddhism (and in many Eastern religions) is omniscience—knowing all, feeling all, seeing all. Often such a state is thought to be a byproduct of enlightenment or to be the state of enlightenment itself.

One summer day, I was at happy hour on a restaurant patio. My drinking companion had gone inside to get another cocktail, and I noticed a planter out of the corner of my eye that held a thick-stalked plant. The rhythm of the wind and the way the plant bent with the breeze made me think of arms swaying to music. I started to think about the strangeness of that image, not just the plant as arms but arms as objects, animate and autonomous from the rest of the body.

“The Dissection” is a poem that imagines omniscience as a physical state. It is not to be taken literally, of course. You cannot actually dismember a body, scatter it across the world and then expect it to continue seeing, hearing, and so forth. In addition to a surrealistic dramatic situation (that’s poet-speak for “plot”) I combined a tone of  horror and humor: the fear of separation and the absurdity of existing in a physically omniscient state. I also juxtaposed cold, detached imagery (“knives and forks” and “tubes”) with casual, humorous imagery (“tacky bath tub stickers” and “bobbles on a tourist’s wrist”). I wanted the experience of omniscience to encompass both a darkness and a lightheartedness.

Below is “The Dissection.” I hope you enjoy Sister’s enlightenment!

(For the audio version of this poem, click here or below.)

The Dissection

Sister Nun agreed to it. A small
group of women sharpened knives and
forks and other kitchen tools. They agreed
to agree:  first the legs, each one slipped into
separate tubes, no consorting. Her heart, dumped
gently into a tank, crude, with tacky
bath tub stickers. It’s how she’d always
seen it. Souvenirs in a basket at a
shop somewhere in Tahiti. Her ears and eyes—
bobbles on a tourist’s wrist. Restaurant planters
bloom with her arms: Hello! they wave
It’s springtime! In this way, Sister has forced
omniscience, twinkling hard against sunset.

Featured Image: http://www.italian-lighting-centre.co.uk

Author’s Note: I know that, today, many of us feel deeply saddened. I don’t know much about how to “fix the economy” or how to eliminate bigotry, but I do know that it’s important to allow one’s self her/his own emotions. I considered not posting my blog this week, because I feel helpless and hurt and outnumbered, but I think that it’s also important, when a person can, to keep moving forward. So today, I am going to grade my students’ papers, take Mousecat to the vet, and post this week’s The Poets That You Meet, as I had planned to do every Wednesday. Although I wrote this one a while back, I think it’s an appropriate subject for today, and I hope that our country can move toward empathy and enlightenment.