The other day, as I was cleaning the toilet of a stranger in the Mitte neighbourhood of Berlin, I realized that I have been a writer and editor for more than a decade. I have sat on the editorial board of a now-defunct feminist art and literary quarterly called Fireweed, was recently the editor of another, now-defunct literary and culture magazine called Kiss Machine and for the past 10 years I have worked a day job as an editor at various custom magazines, most recently in the field of beauty and fashion.
At no point in my editorial career did toilets come into the picture. But, when push comes to shoves, it turns out I do have the drive to do whatever it takes to get what I want. Even if that means getting my hands dirty.
My wife and I left for our year in Europe with a financial buffer. Nothing over the top and, honestly, not much more than some of my colleagues monthly take-home pay, but what we considered enough ’cause it was what we had and the tickets were already booked. The plan was that with strict budgeting it would help supplement a freelance writing income and we should be able to live comfortably and travel once a month on the continent to wherever was cheap.
Fantastic in theory. In reality, with the publishing industry going down in flames and our first month in Barcelona requiring more “supplementing” than we could have predicted, our buffer is bye-bye. Thankfully our resources are still alive and kicking.
So, with my experience as an editor and my wife’s 25 years experience as a renovator, it was time to get creative. We would paint houses (since she didn’t bring any tools, but is mean with a brush and roller) and clean (since I live for the minutiae, and cleaning/organizing is kind of like prop styling). Within a few weeks we had several gigs lined up. There was a faux finish in an entry way of a beautiful apartment in an old-building (alt bau), a weekly cleaning appointment with two twentysomething mineral traders from London and another cleaning gig for a 25-year-old “trainee solicitor” doing her articling in Berlin.
And then? The job that boldly went where no two lesbians had gone before.
In older apartments here, in what would have been chic areas of town, there are rooms built above a pantry with steps that pull down, like an attic. Traditionally it’s where the maids would have slept so they were quick at the ready come the morning, landing right in the kitchen to get the family ready for breakfast. These days it’s often used as storage if you can be bothered and are brave enough to pull down those stairs and climb on up. A friend of a friend however had a whole other idea. It would be the perfect place to recreate the inside of Hans Solo’s Millennium Falcon cockpit from Star Wars for her child’s upcoming seventh birthday.
Knowing that we were open to some extra work and that my wife was an experienced renovator we seemed like the natural people to call. And since my wife is always up for a challenge — no really, always — she readily accepted the task. “Of course I can build you the inside of a space ship from a movie I may or may not have seen, in this city with no access to a video store and no grasp on how to use the filing system in the libraries.” And so, we set off to do just that. Recreate the inside of an iconic spaceship.
Armed with pictures and our childlike sense of adventure we began the renovation with purpose. It was for more than a new sink and stainless-steel appliances, more than travertine tiles in the bathroom and an open-concept first-floor space in a house never meant to be one big room. The only thing this cubby had to do was transport a small child into another world — a world where he could power through space and take on the bad guys either by himself or with his friends.
Today is the big day, the birthday, the unveiling. When everyone has arrived for the birthday party his parents will lower the stairs to the “storage cubby” and reveal the most amazing gift. The gift of imagination. If he loves it, maybe we’ve found our calling, for now. I’d like to do a pirate’s ship next. Something with a plank and a wheel and an eye to the horizon. And then maybe after that a castle with a turret and several different windows, the inside of a tree house, or even the pyramids.
This year is all about possibility for us and although I wouldn’t have thought it would take the form of painting spaceships, I suppose you’re never too young to start dreaming.