Clearing the Cobwebs, Rearranging the Lines

Monday Morning Musings:

“There is nothing more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.”

-Homer, The Odyssey

“If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must. Otherwise, you’ll just be rearranging furniture in rooms you’ve already been in.”

–Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.”

–Douglas Adams

Several years ago, our refrigerator died an unexpected death, and we bought a new one. That one purchase somehow led to a kitchen remodeling project—a new double oven, stovetop, Corian counter and sink, and new cabinets. A few days ago, we bought a new living room sofa to replace the suddenly worn one we’ve had for close to twenty years. (How do rips and tears appear overnight?) That led us to, not another remodeling job, but rather, a rearrangement.

We’ve lived with the same furniture arranged in the same way for about two decades. Oh, we’ve moved some bits, hung paintings and photos, and painted walls, but the essential arrangement has remained the same way for years. The new sofa (and chair) won’t arrive for another 6 weeks or so, but we’re ready to see how they might fit in our newly configured living room. It’s time to look at things from a new angle, to embrace a room with a new view.

FullSizeRender 4

Our first sofa went from two apartments to our house.

My husband retired from teaching in June, after thirty-seven years at the same high school. (Obviously, we’re not impulsive people.) For the past few weeks, he’s been moving items in, out, and all about the house. He’s turned one daughter’s bedroom into a study for himself. He’s moved our son-in-law’s military gear and other items to basement and attic. We’ve been arranging, rearranging, and repurposing items. By we, I mean him. He provides the brute strength. I provide ideas, encouragement, and meals. But I have my own building and rearranging going on.

A few nights ago, I dreamt that I was living in an apartment and that I shared a kitchen in that dwelling with a young woman I know from the gym. In the dream, I was a young twenty-something woman, too.  Also strange, but in the way of dreams, making perfect sense in that dream world, I was starting a garden in my apartment. I was using a type of long, wooden container, like a horse trough that you’d see in an old Western. I think I was growing herbs, perhaps flowers, too, and I was very excited about it. They would all be moved outdoors at a later date. (Presumably by someone very strong.) There was quite a lovely view from my dream-apartment’s large picture window. It was like an estate, Downton Abbey, perhaps. Well, when you dream, dream big, I suppose, even though my dream apartment was small—and with that shared kitchen.

When I woke up, I was amused by this funny dream, but I instantly realized that it was about the two books I am just beginning to work on. I had received an email from one of my editors, confirming that the project had been approved by the powers that be at the press. For one of the books, I’m co-editing with another person—sharing the work as I shared the kitchen in the dream. I have a new computer, and I’m attempting to organize items in it. Rearranging. So now I have two projects with seeds planted. More seeds must be sown. The seedlings need to be watered and weeded. I hope that they will blossom and grow.

A friend and I used to discuss our house dreams. We both seemed to have them whenever we were working on projects or working out personal issues.

A house, like life, is never complete. There are always objects to refurbish, restore, or replace. My husband and I have never furnished our homes in a particular style; we don’t have rooms in which all pieces were purchased together and match. Our rooms are mishmashes of items we’ve bought, inherited, and found. We value comfort over a particular style. Somehow these varied items come together; a little of this and a little of that—much like my soups and stews—and writing.

Furnishings serve a function—a bed is to sleep on; a chair to sit on—but they also convey ideas about the inhabitants. Traditional or contemporary? Frilly or functional? Does the room have family heirlooms? Does it have books? Religious items? Valuable art? Is every surface covered with Knick knacks? Anyone who enters our home would see books, a kitchen that is obviously used, and, yes, cat hair.  It’s who we are.

Houses and furnishings convey class and aspirations. They always have. Even well-to-do 18th century Philadelphia Quakers furnished their homes with the best that they could afford.

On September 14, 1779, Elizabeth Drinker recorded the following account in her diary:

This morning in meeting time (myself at home) Jacob Franks and a Son of Cling the Vendue master, came to seize for the Continental Tax; they took from us, one Walnut Dining Table, one mahogany Tea-Table, 6 hansom walnut Chairs, open backs crow feet and a Shell on the back and on each knee—a mahogany fram’d, Sconce Looking-Glass, and two large pewter Dishes, carrid them of, from the Door in a Cart.

–Elaine Forman Crane, ed. The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991. Vol. 1, 359.

The Quaker Drinkers were pacifists, and they did not support the Revolution.

The chairs Drinker describes could describe a pair of chairs owned by my mother. Years ago, when Antiques Roadshow visited Philadelphia, they appraised the chairs, bringing in more than one expert, before determining that the Philadelphia Chippendale chairs were actually 19th century reproductions. Still valuable, still good chairs, but not quite as valuable or interesting as if they had been original 18th century chairs, like the ones Elizabeth Drinker owned.

I remember these chairs from my home in Dallas when I was little, to houses in Havertown, PA, and then my mom’s subsequent moves to apartments in Merion, Philadelphia. They’re now in her independent living apartment. Antique does not always mean fragile, and both the chairs and my mom are sturdy.

I wonder which pieces of furniture in my own home will last the test of time?

Words also last. Will mine? And will anyone want to read them?  A book, like a house, involves building and re-patching. Words, like furniture, get arranged and rearranged. Sometimes words, like objects, disappear or are moved. Sometimes it’s something minor, a lamp, or a comma. Other times, it’s a sofa, or an entire chapter. Sometimes words, like fine furniture, need to be dusted and polished.

I’m always writing, but the start of big projects is a peculiar adventure, exciting and sometimes scary.

For now, I’m ready to climb the stairs and open the door to the castle room. I’ll turn the knob and step inside. Will there be ghosts? Will it lead to an adventure? I’m not certain what I’ll find, but I think it’s where I’m intended to be. And if not, I can always rearrange the furniture.






20 thoughts on “Clearing the Cobwebs, Rearranging the Lines

  1. You’ve got me thinking about my own furniture and words, but I’m also bursting to tell you that I had a dream, too, and you were in it. How about that? We were younger and meeting for lunch. You had those two children with you (obviously I hadn’t seen this post yet) and they were wearing unique cute jeans you had made them with ribbons down the front of the legs. What a coincidence?

    • Oh my! You made my laugh in delight, Luanne! That dream is so funny and wonderful. If we were anywhere in your area, I would certainly have lunch with you. Wouldn’t that be fun? And so funny that my girls, who of course, are now grown women, made it into the dream, as well. I’m afraid I have absolutely no talent with sewing, so I would not have made them jeans, but they sound so cute. 🙂

  2. Like you, we followed the impulse to renovate after both our children got married. I have a journal with details and dollar signs to prove it. As I read, I thought of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own with its literal and figurative endorsement of woman’s personal liberty to create art, which you have done beautifully here and in the stack of books you’ve written and/or edited.

    About your dreams – You don’t need to be a Freudian analyst to know your dream bode well for your new writing projects. Brava! And nothing better than a dream in which you age backwards.

    There are books in most of our rooms as I suppose in yours too. “Nothing furnishes a room like books,” says William Dean Howells. He’s right of course.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Marian. I laughed at your remark about aging backwards in a dream. Yes, there are books in most of rooms–usually in piles and scattered here and there, as well as on the shelves. 🙂

  3. Merril – Agree. Agree fully – “There is nothing more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife…”

    If the two of you keep house as well as you write, you have a mighty fine thing going there. I don’t see any cat fur on your blog. Even if it’s here and there on your furniture, it won’t take away from the rooms that you and yours call home.

  4. This is just the uplifting, thoughtful read I needed this Monday morning. Thank you, and best wishes for your new projects!

  5. Merril … I love Anne LaMott’s book, “Bird by Bird,’ and the quote you selected from it: ““If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must. Otherwise, you’ll just be rearranging furniture in rooms you’ve already been in.”

    Some of those doors might be best nailed shut. 😉 Kudos to you for venturing up the stairs and opening up that creaky castle door. It does sound like an adventure awaits.

    As for me, I’ve been contemplating replacing a sofa that we’ve had since before we moved here in 1999. It’s seen better days and has overstayed its welcome. Good luck on your rearranging and the new additions (sofa and chair) to your home. 😉

  6. I don’t have the knack of rearranging things the way Julia did but then I wouldn’t do it with the same frequency either. I wish you good luck with all your rearranging and hope everything fits as you want when it arrives.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

  7. Sounds as though our homes have a lot of similarities including a mishmash of furniture (no particular style — just comfort, yet it somehow comes together), a well-used kitchen, and cat hair.

    Good luck with your new additions and your new projects. Love the quotes you used at the beginning, especially the one from Anne Lamott.

    • Thanks, Robin. The cats, especially Mickey, the white one in the photo, has been a little confused by the rearranged furniture. He does not like change. 🙂 I’m anxious to get the new sofa and chair!

  8. Edith Wharton: “But I have sometimes thought that a woman’s nature is like a great house full of rooms: there is the hall, through which everyone passes in going in and out; the drawing-room, where one receives formal visits; the sitting-room, where the members of the family come and go as they list; but beyond that, far beyond, are other rooms, the handles of whose doors perhaps are never turned; no one knows the way to them, no one knows whither they lead; and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes.”

    And this one also from her: “I believe I know the only cure, which is to make one’s center of life inside of one’s self, not selfishly or excludingly, but with a kind of unassailable serenity—to decorate one’s inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone.”

    These both came to mind as I read about your dream, your furnishings, and your quotes. Blessings in your new undertakings. I hope they won’t require as much heavy lifting as a horse trough!

    • Thank you for the wonderful Wharton quotes. I find the first one beautiful, but sad. I think her female characters were like that, too, perhaps.
      On rooms, you reminded me of when my younger daughter was little, she told us that she had rooms in her stomach. When she finished her meal, she still had plenty of space to fill in her dessert room! 🙂

  9. Hi Merril,
    Another great and moving post and I loved the quotes.
    Speaking of houses and history, I thought you’d appreciate the story of this mansion in Sydney which is derelict. It was on the news tonight and I would love to get in there with my camera It looks fascinating!
    Hope you have a great weekend!
    xx Rowena

    • Thanks so much, Rowena. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and quotes.
      The article was interesting. Too bad the mansion has been abandoned for so long. The setting looks lovely. I had to look up “Chowder Bay,” because to me it sounds like a place in New England. 🙂 It seems it was named because of the whalers who made “chowder” there from the seafood.

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