For six weeks while writing the book, I worked from the home of an 89-year-old woman named Noel Osheroff.
I first met Noel after being invited to speak at an event held in her house last fall. Afterwards, Noel very graciously invited me to write there. I accepted.
Noel’s house was built in 1934 by famed architect RM Schindler. Her parents commissioned the house, and Noel grew up in it. After not living in it for sixty years, Noel returned to it last year to restore it. Here's a picture of the house I took one afternoon.
For November and December, Noel and I were unlikely coworkers. While I wrote in the back bedroom (the far left in the picture above), Noel worked on the house.
By "worked on the house," I don’t mean Noel rearranged pictures or bossed people around. I mean I watched Noel expertly take an electric sander to a door frame while on a ladder. One day she took apart every chair in the house, re-stained them, and put them all back together again. She drove her Chevy pick-up to get supplies at the store. All of this by herself and all of it at 89-years-old. Watching Noel was like watching a superhero in real life.
The first day I worked at Noel’s she said to me: “I’m ignoring you because I think that’s what you want me to do.” I thanked her for her thoughtfulness. She was right.
But talking to Noel was fun, and we’d chat once a day. I enjoyed sharing what I was thinking and looked forward to her perspective.
One day she pointed out that when she was born, there were 3.5 times fewer people in the world than there are today. We have the same amount of land and 3.5 times more people. Why doesn’t anyone else see how this is at the center of our challenges? she wondered.
The stillness of working at Noel’s helped me complete the last stretch of the book. Two weeks ago I sent a finished manuscript to my editor. Though we still have edits to go, I hit my deadline. The feeling was even better than I imagined.
Last Friday I stopped by Noel’s to return my house key and to share a gift: the first print-out of the manuscript. I thanked her again and again. She told me I was good for her ego. Afterwards we took a selfie.
Noel’s work on the house has finished too. It's back to its original condition, and Noel is renting it out.* As for Noel, she’s onto the next project: hand-restoring the house in Venice where she raised her family. There’s always more work to do.
*If you’re interested in staying at Noel's, reply to this message and I can put you in touch. Here’s a paywalled Monocle article from last year about Noel and the house.
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