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.”
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.
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.