In the Unfinished House




“This is a dream,” I think. I’m not sure where the realization came from, but there is no doubt in my mind what it means: I’m going into the unfinished part of the house. I had been hesitating before, for reasons that don’t even seem worth thinking about now. Now, nothing is going to stop me.

I open the door and walk in. There it is. An empty room leading into other empty rooms, rough in places, none too clean. Like the rest of the house, it is familiar to me—familiar in a way things are when you wonder whether you’ve dreamed them before.

There is a large, square hole in the same wall as the door I just entered from. I walk over and examine it more closely. It’s full of power outlets and fiddly electrical switches, but otherwise empty. I take a few steps backwards, still keeping it in view.

Before my eyes, the hole is transforming, the colors shifting and swirling, forming a picture. It’s as if I’m looking at a crowd through the window of a moving tram, but the people I see are like the images on an attic vase, white and black over clay-red. They move like real people, pass by, and vanish from sight. I watch them, fascinated. One woman, as she comes into view, twists her whole body as she throws something towards me. Now the image is like one on a television screen, the object appearing almost stationary, although I know it means it is moving towards me. I need to catch it. But it’s going further to the right than I was expecting. I run and dive for it, but it’s too far. I can’t quite make it.

This isn’t good. I know what all this is about, this scene and that object, and I know what it is that I’ve lost because of it. But that isn’t quite right. There is no necessity here. If there were, I would know. I would be able to feel the fate in the air. It isn’t lost for good. But then why do I feel as if it was? I tell myself it’s not going to happen without my cooperation, but resistance, the loss, is there. This is a problem requiring more than determination to solve. The dream blurs into half-imaginary conversations, thoughts follow one another too fast for the images to keep up, as I consider what to do.

I wake up, and it’s a while before I manage to fall sleep again.

But when I do, I find myself in a different scene, with Katya, an old friend I haven’t seen for years. She has just lost someone close to her, a cousin, and is still feeling bad about it. The two of us are going to play a role-playing game, the way we used to. As we plan everything out, the characters, the settings, the plot, I realize that things are taking on the form they are because of her, her grief. It is now part of the game, and I know that the only way I can help is to enter into the game, to make it so that things take on a new shape, one that’s less painful—and through the game, reality will change.


Actually, I live in an unfinished house in waking life, too. It’s been that way since before I was born, and it won’t be finished—well, let’s just say it certainly won’t be finished while I’m still a resident. This kind of thing happens for many reasons. People don’t know what they want when they start building, people change, people simply get used to it. Eventually, it doesn’t seem like something that anyone is responsible for, but one more feature in the landscape of a life that was long ago abandoned by its own residents. When they used to look at it, perhaps they saw it as if it were already completed; now they don’t see it at all.

I manage as best I can, even when I have to live out of suitcases as if I were still a traveler. I enjoy the view out the window, where foxes run past, the birds learn to fly, and the woods have no need of finishing. And I resolve to myself: I will never, ever let a project sit indefinitely unfinished  now that I know what it’s like to live in an unfinished project.

I don’t give a lot of advice on this blog, and when I do, it’s generally because I want to keep people from making the same mistakes I did. They tend to be such individual mistakes that I wonder whether there’s any point to it— but still.

Know what you can finish and what you can’t; and if you can, you have to live in the inconvenient, undivided midst of it, even while the construction is going on.


(Image from


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