Selling Bedlam Farm has been one of the most compelling and defining experiences of my recent life. It raises so many literal and spiritual questions. I see people view the process so differently in so many ways, and it brings into focus some of the oldest and deepest issues in my life – fear, love, decisions, money. Selling a home used to be an almost automatic thing in America, and is not that any longer. It requires a whole new way of thinking. A creative challenge, if you will.
Selling a house was never something I ever had to think about. It just happened. You put a house on the market, and it sold soon after. This is no longer true, and the process of selling a house has become a very different and challenging thing. A spiritual thing, a practical thing. And there are important choices for me and Maria about how to see it, perceive it, feel about it. I am mesmerized by it, and unnerved by it, especially because I, who prides myself on looking ahead, seeing the future, never once saw it coming.
There are many spiritual approaches – imagine the new owners, plant St. Joseph on the lawn, build alters, burn incense and candles, talk to your farm, love it and ask it to let you go, chant and meditate, clear the energy field around you so that the new buyers can find you. The shamans say that if you imagine a sale, it will draw the energy to you that you need. They believe it, and sometimes, I do too. Maria and I have done most, if not all of those things, including rubbing stones, lighting candles, reading the cards, talking to plants, invoking spirits.
There is this other part of me, I call it the New York City part of me. I also live very much in the real world. You don’t survive as a writer without doing that, there is no more brooding on the mountain for us. We are in the real world now, where we have always belonged, where most everybody is, except bankers. Books are selling for $2.99 in the brave new world. Today I bought a bran muffin for $3.25.
There is, for example, the research into how the world works on a less spiritual level. I’ve talked to realtors, studied sales transactions, talked to sellers and buyers, listened and listened, and one thing has become clear to me – mid to upper level houses in America are selling, but generally only this way – if the owner slowly and steadily lowers the price when there is no interest, until he or she reaches the point where there is interest, and then he holds firm. It doesn’t seem to matter what St. Joseph says, or what you might dream of, or where the rocks in the altar call. When you lower the price, people call, perhaps an anthem of our times.
I’ve gotten all sorts of advice and suggestions – the curse of social media – from friends, people of good will, armchair psycho-analysts. Rent it. Don’t sell it. Make it an artist’s retreat. Dance naked on the slate roof with incense coming out of your nose.
The most touching has been from the many people who have been through this, scaled down their expectations and their dreams, watched their reserves and their wealth melt away. But they all sold their homes in just this way – lowering the price steadily until it meets the price point that works. They are not whiners or complainers. One way or another, they get there. They seemed quite spiritual to me. They all spoke of acceptance, of getting on with their lives with less money and a poignant sense of reality. “We were sad at first, and then we simply moved forward with our lives,” wrote Jim, a school teacher from Ohio. “Once upon a time, you felt there was a government that cared, that you could talk to a bank or there might be somebody to do something to help so many people under pressure. Now you know you are on your own. You just have less money, you do fewer things. So we are happy and even feel lucky. We are okay, we are better than that.”
One thing is interesting about all these messages. The people describe their process as painful, difficult, disappointing. But almost all say they are happier in their new and usually smaller homes, their new lives, a sense of relief and release. And if they are flexible and determined, they all end up selling their homes. It took longer, left them with less money, altered their view of the world. Spiritual experiences are transforming, after all.
I like this idea in so many ways. I am a lucky writer, a best-selling author with a book contract with the largest commercial publisher in the world. My blog is on track for six million views this year, and I have children’s books, e-books and other books coming out. There are so many so worse off than me. My life is not underwater, neither is my house. The publishing world has changed, the economy has changed, the world has changed, and I am changing. There is no way our world could have gone on the way it was, I always knew that. My world either, on many levels. I would rather be authentic than rich. I will get my chance.
I think this is something we all need, as the people writing me suggest. We don’t need to live in a world with more McMansions sprouting up, more gas-guzzling pickups, more tests and pills. I can do with less. I am happy to do with less, drive less, eat less, waste less. The resources of the world, of my life, are shrinking. A child can see it. I can no longer do all of the things I want the minute I want to do them. Neither can you.
So I ponder these two approaches – the spiritual and the practical. I like the idea of the Middle Way. I am between two worlds. I guess when it comes down to it, I don’t believe I can just imagine a buyer loving the farm and having him or her miraculously appear. I don’t think stones and chants will pull anybody in. Neither do I yet believe my own anxieties and confusion creates a wall that blocks people from seeing my house or buying it. My farm can take care of itself. It always has. So have I.
So my strategy is this: we have lowered the price slowly and steadily and it feels to me that we are now at the point where the farm is getting the interest and attention it deserves. People are calling. People are coming. I suspect I will never fully resolve where I stand between these two approaches, the spiritual and the literal. Maybe they both work, what the hell do I know?
I have this funny feeling that this new and challenging process of selling part of your life is really pretty simple, and not all that new, just like an old fish peddler in the Fulton Fish Market in New York once taught me on an East River dawn when I was interviewing him. The old man had been selling fish forever, and he pulled out a piled of cards with different prices, ranging from $2 a lb to 50 cents a pound. He put them in his apron. “it’s like this, Sonny, not much too it. At 5 a.m., my fish are $2 a lb. If there are any left at 6 a.m., they are $1 a lb. At 7 a.m., they are 50 cents a pound.” Anything left at 6 a.m., he said, goes to a nearby Catholic Church for free, to feed the fathers and the sisters. “The idea,” he said, “is no fish when you leave. Things that hang around too long smell.”
“Got it?,” he asked. Got it.