Growing Home: Reflecting on Your Life Can Take You to a Happier Place

Carol Venolia wrties about rebuilding her life after feeling burned out.

| May/June 2001

  • Illustration by Gayle Ford

Six years ago, I was burned out. I needed a place where I could rebuild my life. I moved to a new area and rented a studio apartment in a triplex near downtown. It wasn’t ideal for the long term; it was tiny, had no yard, lacked a neighborhood feeling (it was behind a small office building in a mixed-use area), looked onto a parking area, and came with a hostile next-door neighbor. But it was charming inside, and it was the perfect place for me to shut out the world, go inward, and heal.

Now I have a delightful home. I have a large yard with many trees, a fountain, and a rose garden. I am part of a community of friendly neighbors. I enjoy a vista of distant mountains, and I watch birds and squirrels in the nearby tree branches. Within walking distance, there are cafés where the owners and patrons know me.

All this satisfaction didn’t cost me a cent; I didn’t move. The only thing that changed was my attitude.

As real estate prices soared and my dream of buying a Craftsman bungalow faded, I started to view my affordable studio as an asset. I looked around and realized that the “uninteresting” parking area was a sort of courtyard—a community space in which I had been getting casually acquainted with a dozen or so people. From my second-story window, I’d watched their lives develop. In the offices in front, I’d watched one man work long nights...until he got a divorce and a new girlfriend. I’d watched a single mother raise her boy from age six to twelve; I’d watched his friends, their haircuts, and their games go through numerous changes. I’d listened to my next-door neighbor entertain numerous women—and play loud music every time one of them broke his heart. We’d all watched each other take out the trash and the recycling. I began to realize what a precious thing this is.

I started lengthening my chats with my single-mom neighbor. Soon our seemingly hostile neighbor began to join us; it turns out he’s not so bad. In addition to the usual chitchat, we’ve begun to identify things about our building that could use sprucing up. Now we have a new front door and more energy efficient heaters. We have carved out corners of the parking lot for our “patios”—Adirondack chairs, potted plants, and a barbecue.

Meanwhile, I took up QiGong, an Oriental movement form that my teacher says is best practiced outdoors near a tree. I began to go to the park across the street every morning to do QiGong barefoot on the grass, surrounded by old redwoods and oaks. For the first time, I noticed how lovely the trees look against the sky, how good the sun feels on my skin, how calming the sound of the fountain is against the sounds of traffic.

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