Flagstaff, Ariz., has turn into a tough city to purchase a house in — it’s one of many four-season mountain cities folks flocked to in the course of the pandemic, the place a few quarter of homes have been already second properties. Acknowledging the shortage of inexpensive choices and low stock, town lately declared a housing emergency. That is the atmosphere through which my companion and I made a decision to purchase a home. By the point our child boy was a number of months outdated, costs had spiked 30 p.c in a single yr and stock had dropped. After our first six provides have been rejected, somebody steered we write a letter to the sellers to face out from the gang.
I knew such letters have been controversial, a part of a hidden curriculum recognized solely to some. However as a author, I noticed them as a solution to achieve buy in an in any other case not possible market. In any case, most every part I’ve ever needed — jobs, school admission, publishing a narrative — I’ve obtained by writing letters to strangers. Dwelling-offer letters are probably the most vexed correspondences I’ve written, although. Per the 1968 Truthful Housing Act, they have to not disclose private data which may enable a vendor to discriminate in opposition to somebody primarily based on protected traits comparable to faith, race or familial standing. So structural constraints had yielded a brand new writing immediate: to explain such a private need with out revealing something about myself.
At the start of our search, my companion and I had enjoyable writing these letters. We started to review the properties we toured for clues beneath the stagecraft — what the vendor had liked, what they might miss most. Expensive stranger, we love the best way gentle out of your kitchen glows at nightfall. Expensive stranger, the maple tree by your mailbox makes us blissful. Expensive stranger, we love your tree swing, the odor of wooden smoke, the basketball left within the yard. The opposite day, the sound of your storage door closing as we handed broke my coronary heart. Narrating what we preferred a few dwelling helped us extra absolutely think about a life there: what we’d do with a hearth, or a sunroom, or the weirdly ubiquitous pergola within the yard. We have been inventing our future, room by room.
Like fiction, these letters search reference to a reader, with out self-disclosure. I’m making an attempt to point out, within the caliber of my consideration, that I’ll honor what was liked, in order that the sellers may stroll by years from now and nonetheless acknowledge the peach tree they planted, their initials within the concrete. However this isn’t fiction; it’s enterprise. Months glided by, and the rejections stacked up. No matter vocational benefits I assumed I loved have been proving slim. Sincerity appeared no match for money. Not this yr, not in late capitalism. I ought to know this by now.
What I didn’t know is that fulfilling the necessity for shelter may hinge on petitioning strangers through a type I first understood as artwork. However in an financial system that makes attaining fundamental wants not possible for thus many, possibly writing letters to strangers — whether or not in making an attempt to get work, or publish my writing, or purchase a home — was a reassertion of selfhood, a bulwark in opposition to capitalism’s cruelty.
Like fiction, these letters search reference to a reader, with out self-disclosure.
I started considering of myself as a author in my early 20s. Although I used to be brushing up in opposition to my month-to-month overdraft restrict and residing off barista ideas, every part I needed was sure up in writing. Maybe this perception in writing as a calling was stoked by Wallace Stegner’s “To a Younger Author.” Printed in The Atlantic in 1959, the letter to a former scholar arrived in my life like an indication or permission slip. I printed it out at work and tacked it to each cubicle wall and corkboard I’ve stared at since.
Whereas the scholar has written Stegner for recommendation on “some purely sensible issues” (Does she want an agent?), Stegner responds with one thing extra: an assurance that her hours and years of writing haven’t handed in useless. After I got here throughout the letter, I felt the uncanny sense that Stegner was writing on to me. This uncanniness deepened when, years later, I grew to become a Stegner fellow at Stanford and studied writing below his aegis.
However I’m older now, and I do know it’s not sufficient to turn into the nice stranger, the wanting get together who can write superbly about an open ground plan. Each two days I obtain a textual content reminding me of this: “Hello Im Lauren Im Trying to purchase 2 extra properties in PHOENIX I should purchase your prop AS IS so no repairs, cowl all charges and maintain tenants if wanted. Ought to I ship extra element?”
So this have to be the way it works. “I might not blame you in the event you nonetheless requested,” Stegner writes, “ ‘Why hassle to make contact with kindred spirits you by no means see and should by no means hear from, who maybe don’t even exist besides in your hopes?’” However my writing profession has made me consider within the energy of phrases to assist us think about a livable future. In that sense, I wasn’t writing to owners a lot as to myself. The letters haven’t helped us shut a deal, however the act of writing them has allow us to title a future that has in any other case appeared foreclosed by circumstance.
Stegner warned me of the lengthy recreation. He stated the one viewers one can ever rely on is a handful of strangers scattered all through the years with whom your phrases will really land — these “kindred spirits.” Some a part of me remains to be hoping to discover a kindred spirit on the opposite aspect of the negotiating desk, one who will learn and say, “Sure, that is how it will be.” However I can’t write a few home I haven’t seen, one which’s not on the market. With the season winding down and few homes available on the market right here, the letters occur largely in my thoughts now, on night walks with my son — pricey stranger, pricey stranger.
Kate Petersen is a author whose work has appeared in Tin Home and New England Overview. She works at Northern Arizona College.