I have several memories of classmates and I huddled around a piece of paper — usually scratch paper or the back of a worksheet — working out the specifics of a game called MASH. For those of you who don’t know, MASH is a game of imaginative, confessional chance. You begin with a number (I suggest no less than 3, no more than 5). That number represents the choices that you must name: people to marry, careers you’ll have, and the number of children you’ll parent. MASH stands for which dwelling you’ll live in: mansion, apartment, shack, house.
I always found the word itself thrilling — a mashup of all these what ifs. That’s probably why I liked to play it instead of focusing on whatever assignment I was supposed to be working on at that moment.
Somehow I always ended up with the top boy of my choice and also living in a mansion. This might be why, when Jesse and I were looking for places to live in Washington, D.C., and he told me that my top pick, a townhouse in Georgetown, was too expensive, I batted my eyes and said, “Jesse, I usually get what I want.” Clearly, I’d played MASH as though it was a life skill that needed to be mastered.
I’ve been considering the game a lot lately as I walk through the house Jesse and I live in today. When we moved in, the basement was carpeted and flooded, one room looked like several crimes had taken place in it, the laundry room was right next to the garage, and the bathroom off our bedroom is currently a red so bright I have to remind myself I’m not in hell each morning.
This house was my first choice, and not because all the rest were worse. We saw bigger, newer homes, but they were no contest for this one. This was the one Jesse and I could make our own. Jesse ripped up the carpet in the basement and put in flooring. He built a laundry room downstairs as well and painted the floor with gray and white stripes and the walls with robin’s egg blue. He built a mudroom with a bench and baskets underneath it. And now in the evenings and on the weekends, Jesse and I stand in our empty living room, considering paint samples, chairs, and end tables.
I wonder if MASH might be a life skill after all. There’s something imaginative and confessional in the integration of the dreams of a house, children, a career, and how (and who) you share and build all this with.
Recently, I read the picture book If I Built a House by Chris Van Dusen. The story, written in rhyme, is about a boy who explores what he would do if given the chance to design his own home. There is a room with a race track, a space room for flying, and the living room has trampolines as well as giant pools of colored balls to jump into.
In every frame the boy’s mom is in the picture, so readers can see he is not just talking to us — he’s sharing his hopes and dreams with his mother. As the story progresses the mom’s expression changes from shock to delight at her son’s imagination and creativity. Maybe she won’t put a trampoline in the living room, and maybe she can’t create a room for flying. But he’s drawn a picture of his dream, and she can hold it with him. And as he grows she can remind him of his ability to imagine.
Jesse and I never called Georgetown our place of residence, but I wasn’t completely wrong about usually getting what I want. Today the place we call home happens to be in a neighborhood called Georgetown. I looked up the word “mansion” in the thesaurus and “dwelling” was one of the words that came up as a synonym. Our home is not a mansion, but the place we dwell suits me just fine.
This week write a poem titled “If I Built a House” and share what you would include in your design. Be as imaginative as you wish. Don’t worry about whether you have the ability to make it true, but concern yourself over whether you’re dreaming at all.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Richard Maxson we enjoyed:
this parking lot
worn white lines
to keep each car
in its place
the end cars
forced to park closely
there are willows
in the esplanades spilling
their wet branches on the grass
the air is thick
I breathe with intent
night brought rain
tarmac and honeysuckle
come to me unexpectedly
a taste sweet and earthy
as I walk to birdsong
doves and cardinals
seem to harmonize
from different worlds
in the gray sky
stark and pure
alone and piercing
the abating clouds
in the office door I pause
looking back at the arc
nearly full and descending
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