Picket fences


I’ve never consciously aspired to a middle class existence. Even when I left California because I couldn’t afford a house and perused Redfin for craftsman houses with large yards to accommodate both a garden and dog, I wouldn’t be, couldn’t possibly be a middle class American. Middle class was never a statement about a person’s economic station; for me, it was a judgment of a person’s imagination, of their capacity for living outside the comfortable and inane bubble erected in sitcoms and populated by people whose only aspiration is “normal”.

When my boyfriend and I bought our first house in September—a beautiful 1930s craftsman in an equally impressive neighborhood—I can’t deny that there were some mental gymnastics required to adapt to my undeniably-adult, threateningly-potential-middle-class setting. I’d have conversations in my head in which I assured myself that I’m still the same person. I’m still a writer, and there’s nothing middle class whatsoever about writing professionally. It’s not sufficiently stable financially, to say nothing of my own mental instability when I’m working on a book. Still and forever and deliberately childless. One of the first things I did was purchase a drum set for my boyfriend so he could revive his passion for music and hitting things without repercussions. My cats are still the center of my universe.

Of course, on the other side of the coin, I sewed curtains for just about every room of the house. I spend nights and weeks obsessing over where to hang artwork and place bookshelves and how to balance a limited budget with my need to see the house filled with furniture. I bought tablecloths (from Goodwill, but still). And I enjoyed it as whole-heartedly as I enjoy writing a book or playing hide and seek with drunk coworkers.

I’ve learned, in six short months, that the task of home improvement is never-ending, a full-time job in its own right. I wasn’t armed with all the facts when I told myself, initially, that everything would be in place and in a few short months I’d be back to my decidedly unadult ways.

Then, this weekend, just six months and one week into our careers as homeowners, my boyfriend and I did something that I fear crosses so firmly into middle class territory that we may have no hope of returning.

We built a fence for the front of our house. A picket fence, to be damningly specific.



It all started with a dog. We want to adopt a dog and we live dangerously close to several busy streets, so we’d need a fence. Obviously we couldn’t afford to have someone else build it—two writers plus two cats who like to rack up the vet bills—so we figured we’d buy the lumber and do it ourselves. But if we were going to build a fence it might as well look good. And while picket fences have undeniably middle class implications, they’re also undeniably adorable and maybe I could undermine those implications by painting it some whacky color.

As it turns out, building a fence for the first time and on a budget is really difficult—especially when you’re operating with a limited supply of tools. Still, we persevered. Six holes for six posts, each two feet deep using an old post hole digger we found in the yard when we moved in. Install the arbor in the center. Pour concrete (somewhat frantically because it’s Seattle and even though it was supposed to be sunny on Saturday it was starting to rain). Cover the posts for the night and collapse.

The next day we measured out the lumber, nailed the crossbeams to the posts, calculated the dispersal of our 52 cedar gothic fence pickets, and went down the line nailing them in, top first. All told, the process was about nine hours of work for each of us between the two days and I woke up Monday realizing that my hands can’t quite form a fist, my lower back is sore, my arms and legs are still a little wobbly.

To be honest, we’re both a little surprised that it worked. I peeked outside the door when I woke up Monday morning to make sure it was still standing and it was. It still needs paint and the arbor needs some lovely climbing vines, but it’s there and we built it even if there was a lot of swearing and physical pain involved.

I suppose there’s a lesson in there about the cost of middle class American life. Some would probably say the lesson is that you’ve got to work for it. I think in our case, we had to work hard then move 1,000 miles from home and continue to work hard to claim our slice of the American Dream. And there are people out there who work just as hard, if not harder, who will never quite get there and through no fault of their own. That picket fence sure is pretty. I don’t regret it. But each of those 52 pickets cost something more than just the dollar price on the package and the hours we spent this weekend assembling them. I’m still trying to figure out what it all means, and believe there is some method of reconciling my distaste for “traditional” adulthood with the fact that I am head over heels in love with my home.



  1. It looks great, well done!


  1. […] Relocating a handful of enormous bushes in the front yard and building (and painting) a picket fence […]

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