School’s out, FEMA. I’m done with learning.

I love lessons.  I’m a teacher.  But school’s out!  And anyway, the great plan book in the sky needs to be rewritten.  The most recent bureaucratic twist, it seems, is the latest of a series of spiraling lessons in a larger unit apparently designed to help the student attain new levels of patience and encourage creativity in the financial realm.

I must commend the City for a great introduction: “By the way, you better make sure those utilities are also 14 feet above floodplain level.”

You…mean….the boiler and water heater we were so efficiently nestling high in the rafters on the new, otherwise unusable, flood-proof first floor, just below our living space?  Wait.  14 feet?  But that’s 9 feet above ground level—that’s how high our main floor was required to be!  So…our utilities…have to be….

That’s right.  FEMA has decreed that your already-small, already-framed-out-for-maximum-use-of-tight-spaces main floor, must house your utilities.  Prepare to give up your new pantry, and divide your new closet space between the main floor and the loft.

Let me tell you something.  Right now, in order to get dressed in this apartment, I must step awkwardly onto the raised edges of Lucy’s bed, careful to avoid her tail, which she is chewing due to stress, boredom, and lack of sunshine.  Straddling my near-psychotic dog, I proceed to open a plastic drawer to access my underwear, and then step off her bed into an unlighted area and half-pull four different pairs of dark pants and hold them up toward the light in order to differentiate.  Next I must clamber across Lucy’s sleeping/self-mutilation area again and around two air mattresses to reach the closet.  In order to open the closet door, I must nudge back the mattress that had been pushed forward in order to accommodate my “office” at the head of the bed.  When I am done I kick it back into place, reestablishing the narrow path that leads to the bathroom.  Almost out of time, I then hurriedly dress in the hall–the only open space in the apartment because the bathroom door opens onto it.

If, in our new home, we must install our utilities in the already small closet room, then I will be dancing the getting-ready dance for the rest of my days.  Only my underwear will be separated from my pants by an entire staircase.

Our design was long established.  The City approved the plans to build and raise our house months ago, and granted our plumber a permit.  No one said, “Where is the space set aside for your utilities, on the main floor, 14 feet above base flood elevation?”  No one said, “If you don’t raise your boiler 9 feet above ground level instead of your planned 7 feet, you become ineligible for mitigation assistance and are no longer protecting yourself from a 500% increase in insurance rates.”  No one said that until this past Tuesday, weeks after we finished framing the main floor, when Steve asked a question at City Hall that prompted that “by the way” comment.   No one mentioned it, or directed us to FEMA’s  informational PDF available online, or sent a mass email to residents with actual, useful, life-changing information that would render our rebuild and subsequent residency affordable or not.

Now, in order to perhaps (though probably not) qualify for the $30,000 toward elevation, and in order to provide our insurance company with an insurable home, we must further raise or again restructure our home, adding thousands of dollars to our cost.

School programs with a spiral structure present intensified lessons each time a topic reappears in the cycle.  The students, presumably, after having mastered the last lesson on measurement, or coins, will be fully prepared for the next.  I used to be a good student, in school.  But now I find that I am unprepared.  This recurring theme of discovering, after completion of an expensive part of our project, that there was an unknown Rule I did not follow, remains a challenge for this frugal, rule-following planner.  And for Steve and I right now, there is no teacher but living to guide us.  As we proceed through this difficult unit, we must continue to collaboratively complete challenge questions.

But I am the one who needs a behavior plan drawn up.  Positive reinforcement is only intermittent and has not been exceedingly effective.  Remember the classroom window with the view that saved me?  The blinds broke.  For three days they didn’t go up at all, and now it takes five minutes and significant strain and pain to raise them to the top—crookedly and precariously.  You may recall how my life brightened when I started painting my nails?  How the color soothed and cheered me in wood construction and within concrete walls?  Well, two days after I published my blog entry declaring my new affinity for those little gems at the ends of my fingers, they began to split.  They are unpaintable.

That, my friends, not the belated bad news from FEMong Beach, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  And when this camel is capable of once again lurching forward, it should begin to contentedly amble away from the anxious, emotional path that only leads in circles.  The spiraling is over; I plan to buy into a new program.  I will pilot a few, and share my progress with you.  Steve recommends Existentialism.  I have some Buddhist-based books lined up.  What say you?  My house is taking shape, and I need to start thinking about my bookshelf.

“Everything’s a lesson” is natural to a teacher.  I’m just afraid I need this unit modified, maybe a before-school extra help class.  A book, even a philosophy, to take with me to school.   “Looking on the bright side”  seemed simple.  But too often I have been rewarded with the butt end of a cosmic joke.   Maybe I should be seeking depth rather than light.

I just wasn’t in the mood.

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