Monday, June 7, 2010

474: good fences make good neighbors

There are so many interpretations of Robert Frost's "Mending Wall," that it isn't surprising one can get tangled up inside. Conservatives like to use the phrase, "Good fences make good neighbors," in relation to foreign policy, or even in honest relationship with literal neighbors.

But what did Frost mean? Yes, there is tongue-in-cheek, a sweet humor in his poem, but there's also that undertone that Brende brought to Better Off, which was how mutual work can bring forth community. I prefer to consider this interpretation when I look out my window at the newly-erected six foot fence ringing our yard; last weekend, I was able to peer out the window, alongside Zephyr, and watch as my husband bonded with our former neighbor. We hired him for the project and Ryan certainly could have stayed indoors, in the air conditioning, sipped his beer, futzed on his computer, but he chose to be outdoors, to turn his forehead red as he knelt in the grass and did the entire row of bottom screws.

The fence is sturdy because our dogs burst through the old one on a regular basis. It was patched together in an embarrassing way--little boards found in the garage, mismatched and facing odd directions, holding the rotten wood together. At four feet, Zeph was capable of barreling his weight into the fence, barking and, thanks to a little trick we've taught him, fully capable of frightening the passers-by at his leaping powers.

It's also six feet tall because we live in a fishbowl, and this hermit needed some privacy. We're on the corner of a four-way stop, a little playground kitty-corner, a popular route to the ball park. Our neighbors peer over in spring, criticize, gossip; not all, of course, but enough that I wanted to pull the comforter over my head and never venture outdoors. I don't mind that my garden gets a little weedy after several days of rain, or that our dogs tear patches in the dirt. I don't mind lying about in the grass on a blanket, reading in the afternoon sun. But I don't want to be peered at while doing so behind twitchy curtains. In this sense, the misinterpretation of Frost comes into place--this boundary, this selfish hoarding of land that isn't really mine to begin with, this belongs-to-me attitude rears its ugly head. I love when neighbors are good friends, when we have bonfires and share beer, but I've always been overly sensitive to criticism, a deep, deep weakness of mine, which can be damaging to a place that is, in many senses, sacred and beautiful.

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