The Secret House Idea

By Natty Soltesz

First, you find an old house.  Ideally, you buy it.  Maybe it’s on a dead end street by an old factory.  Maybe it’s out in the country, all alone under trees on a sprawling, green property.

You don’t live in it.  Or you could live in it for a while, but you’d have to restrict your living space to a small part of the house, and eventually, you’d have to phase yourself out.

You decorate this place in a particular way.  Maybe you only furnish it with things from thrift stores.  In my version, I make everything appear as though it’s from a bygone era, like a lost seventies dream.  Shag bathroom mats that look like rainbows.  A corkboard on the yellow kitchen wall.  A refrigerator magnet that looks like a chunk of chocolate.  Weird green candles melted onto a heavy wood table.  Pink stuffed animals with crusty matted fur.  Stuff like that.

As you furnish it, you begin to create an imaginary family who lived there.  You designate rooms for certain people.  The parents would probably have the largest bedroom, and maybe there’s a room for a son and a daughter.  Or maybe a broken family lived there, like some deadbeat parent who never was around, and the kid just took over the place, inviting all of his friends to stay there and trashing the place.  Then again, maybe he cared for it, and made it into a private teenage paradise.

You’re furnishing the place according to might have lived there, but since you’re buying everything from thrift stores, you’re getting this nostalgic, weathered effect, which I think is important.  I don’t know.  I guess you could buy all new stuff, make it really modern and sterile…but I’ll get back to that.

So now you’ve created a living space for these people.  The next step is understanding who they are.  You have to create an entire life for them – letters, diaries, old telephone bills, recipe books…everything.  You have to create this family out of thin air.

They will have secrets, and you will know all of them.  The youngest son may have a trunk full of things that are important to him, but only you will know why they are important.  To everyone else it’ll seem like enigmatic junk.  But you’ll know.  You’ll write a journal for him, you’ll write his life.  The daily mundane realities of his everyday existence.  The first porno magazine he ever saw.  Who picked him up from school on Monday the fifth and how he got to the roller rink that Friday.  Everything.

It’s a lot.  You need to know the parents.  Letters they wrote but never sent.  Books that they underlined passages in.  Why?  Things, so many things that one accumulates in a single life.

And secrets.  Interpersonal relationships – the deeper, the better.

I’m not sure what it all adds up to…but wouldn’t you want to see it?  Once you had it all created, all laid out, you could invite people there.  Or, you could just leave the door unlocked and let people find it.

The house would be stuck in time, as if the occupants left one afternoon and never returned.

They could snoop through the detritus of this imagined life, pick and prod through these people’s things and get to know them, create this grand story that you’ve conceived only through what you’ve left behind, these certain clues, pieces to the puzzle.

It would be meditative.  It would be voyeuristic, for sure.  You could put on a record if you wanted to, and the music would sound through the dead house.  Other than that, the silence would be key.  The house would have a pervasive sense of uneasiness – you’re not supposed to be there.  You are an intruder, but you are also the key to keeping all of this alive.  It doesn’t exist without you, only you can put it all together and bring these people to life.

In my original conception, the house is messy, like a Gummo house, just gorged on stuff, filled to the brim with things left behind.

But let’s suppose, like I mentioned earlier, that you make this into a contemporary story, a house with all modern furniture and new settings.  That might make it even creepier.  Secrets would be even more hidden, more heavily buried.  You’d feel like even more of an intruder, creeping around perfectly shined and polished places, looking under glass tables, trying to draw clues from master shopping lists and Wal-Mart receipts.

Things might be buried in the garden there.  Holes in the floor.  Cobwebs in the basement…yeah, I like that.

I guess what I’m getting at is the idea that our lives are just a construction of certain things, materials and memories, and that when we’re gone it’s only the stuff that remains.

But I think memories remain, too.  I think, if done properly, you’d be able to feel the people in the house.  You’d birth a ghost.  The hairs on the back of your neck would stand up, there would be a presence there.  You will have created a story, a life, and not a virtual one.  Something tactile.  Something you could feel.