30 September 2010

Home is where

I would be angry with Thomas Beller, except I admire him too much. He's gone and written an essay about home and our relationship to stuff (literally; I'm not just writing sloppily) that I wish I'd written, but he's done it better than I could have. And he's working on a book about the meaning of home. Dammit, I hate it when all the good jobs are taken. I take small comfort that in the span of the piece he describes his own angst about writing, finding himself in a favorite bookstore and feeling overwhelmed by "books I feel I should have written but had been too lazy and now someone else has gone ahead and done it." I so know the feeling, but from a lazier, even less productive perspective.

In "Home Is Where Your Stuff Is," Beller writes about returning to his New Orleans home after a summer away, and experiencing a kind of self-consciousness about his stuff (a word he describes, spot-on, as "that casual, almost derogatory term for those objects in your life you have invested with meaning"). Objects full of memory and collected fondly seem bothersome, even twee. When the über-familiar is rendered un-, we second-guess our choices, our priorities, even—gasp—our taste. Home may be where our stuff is, but where are we when recoil at our own detritus?

I'm experiencing a bit of this myself. As M and I negotiate how and where we spend our time, home—both the idea of it and its bricks-and-mortarness—feels a bit transigent (which I'd really like to be a word, fan as I am of intransigent, but that doesn't really make it so). Most of you know the drill: Do I have all the necessary toiletries at the other place? Did I leave my running shoes over there? Dang, I wish I had brought that book/music/work with me; is it worth driving back to get it? Where do you keep the colander/detergent/gin? Why does your bathroom smell funny?

These are high-class problems. And the chaotic fun of it all isn't something I'd trade. But. I had a couple days at my home earlier this week, just me. When I came through the door Monday afternoon, I felt a bit like I was entering a hotel room. The air was stale, all was quiet, the shades drawn. I had left everything just so, as is my way, and rather than feeling homey and comfortable my house felt like a stage set, someone else's idea of what life might be like on Bryant Avenue. As I opened the windows and watered the plants and emptied the trash, my home and I came slowly back to life, like when you rub your eyes after a brief nap, not sure where you are until familiar views comes back into focus. I reveled in the smooth gray tranquility of the walls, flopped onto the daybed to read (for ten minutes, until that nap won out), set out some wine and cheese on the patio table for a neighbor's visit. I learned very quickly how to make the space mine again, to enjoy it on my own, even while missing the one who is more frequently sharing it with me. I love where I live, the way it looks and feels, the stuff I fill it with, the people who stop by.

After three long days of work and life apart from M, I got on the train last night, the Wednesday grind of rehearsals behind me, and walked the few blocks from the Midtown station to his place. It was a beautiful evening, hours past sundown but with enough living rooms still lit to make my way pleasant and easy. I approached the back door and saw M through the window, making dinner, moving rhythmically to the Alanis Morissette tune I had heard from down the alley. I walked into a warm, good-smelling kitchen, and a bright smile and a big hug. And I was awfully glad to be home.

28 September 2010

Book report

I just finished To Kill A Mockingbird, and feel a bit like I'm unfashionably late to a party. You've all been standing there enjoying your cocktails and witty banter, and I show up having missed most of the evening. But my outfit is so cute I don't feel shame. I just slip into place and join the conversation, laughing a bit self-consciously to fit in.

I still don't understand how 42 years came and went without this most iconic of books crossing my path. Mom always said I was the most well-read kid she knew, and I had a fantastic American lit teacher in high school. But what a thrill to read it now, eyes wide open, reveling in the language and the story. To close the book a half hour ago, and stare at it, not moving, for several minutes, happy tears streaming down my face. We love to read for just those moments. I'm still surprised each time a book knocks the wind out of me, convinced it can't happen yet again. It does, randomly, not very often, but often enough to keep reading. What book will do it next? Over to the color-coded shelves I go.

Random bits:

Something particularly satisfying about reading from a borrowed hard-bound copy circa 1961. Thanks, Jerry and Judy. Just think, that's what was on the New in Hardcover table at the bookstore in days of yore. So nice to have seasoned neighbors.

People wonder why Harper Lee hasn't written anything else. My God, why would she?

I'm grateful that Westminster Town Hall Forum has scheduled this event for me. Anyone else want to go?

In conclusion, I love Scout. And Atticus and Jem and Dill and Boo and Tom and Maudie and several other minor characters. The End.

27 September 2010

Social networks

The book is Never Eat Alone. I must learn to network.
The bookseller doesn't have it around, but offers a slim volume of William Stafford's poems.
[A slim volume is what we call it when the book we like doesn't have many pages. Lazy is what we call the same book when we think it's crap.]
Because there are books I will always be poor. I need to network.

Mr. Stafford and I have lunch together. The conversation—at first—seems stilted.
He says So thin a life I have, scribbling dust / when I turn, trailing as if to follow / something inside the earth, something beyond / this place. If I accept what comes, / another sky is there. My serious face / bends to the ground, the dust, the lowered wings.
I say Cool.

I nibble some cheese. Mr. Stafford stares back at me.
We agree on a borrowed phrase, and lapse into companionable silence.

On baking

The cakes I bake are better than the ones you buy in stores.
And M says,
This cookie tastes like horse shit compared to one of yours.
I agree.

17 September 2010

A useful (yes, they exist; just not here) blog

Look, kids, we're all going to learn to draw! The New York Times and James McMullen give us Line by Line, a blog with perhaps the most specific intent I've ever come across: "to rekindle the love of drawing for those readers who left it behind in the 4th grade."  Since I'm—developmentally speaking—not that much further out than 4th grade, I'm buying a sketch pad. I'll add it to the pile next to the daybed (to be completed today! Yay! Look, shiny!), and it can be one more thing I dabble at not at all well. Sketchpad down, banjo up, oh look, there's my knitting. Bye.

15 September 2010

What would a [more] betterer life look like?

Meesa restless. Kind of a "What next?" feeling I'm having, a result of two contributing factors (handy that I can narrow things down so concisely; I don't do messy well). First, a recent small freelance project made me realize how much I love writing, but not just writing: playing with words and ideas, bouncing them off others, refining them, and making it (the job, the assignment, the project) work. The project was also perfect because it involved only those skills in my set that I love (and there are plenty of skills that I carry around begrudgingly). I have always been able to temper my ambition with a healthy portion of self-doubt and inertia, but the writing portfolio I have designed in my head is really good.

Second, being settled at home, with no pressing life issues, I'm actually finding time and energy to be creative. My nascent chamber music experience is so exciting. In real life, the music I make and manage and oversee is also fulfilling, but in a much different way. Working with volunteers (talented, lovely ones), I am producing music for their consumption and use (the church), and doing so at a level that works for them. The experience is often artistically fulfilling, but there can be a certain music-factory edge to it. In my trio, though, the three of us work and play and rehearse for each other, and expend our energy to a very common purpose, at a very equal level. [I need to spin this thread, to explain what that means to me, and I will, another time.] Suffice it to say that I find it very satisfying. The difficulty is making time and space for it in a life that also has me creating Orff ostinatos for 10-year-olds.

For many of us, doing what we love versus doing what we must is an occasional (or, constant) battle. My goal over the near-term is more love, less must. Less muss, too. And, unfortunately for my readers, a lot more fuss(-ing).

10 September 2010

Seat of the chair

"The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair." —Dorothy Parker

The editor at one of my freelance gigs loves this quote, and has a not-so-subtle way of sending it to me when I'm not meeting a deadline. I envy Parker's trove of quippy quotes ("I hate writing, I love having written" and "Writing well is the best revenge"), but like so many oft-repeated lines, they make me nervous. Partly because they're true, but ultimately because no one wants to become a cliche. At least I don't (and to the few of you are chuckling and saying, Oh but Scott, you already are: I know who you are, and I think you're mean, and I'm proud to know you).

I'm sitting on this chair, which was just completed yesterday, my father having sent me the beautiful slipcovers made to my specifications (my specifications: please, please, please make me some slipcovers). As I sit here, I look around at where I live, and realize not just how much I love it, but how I've set it up simply to have different places to perch, to read and write and think shallow thoughts. I've got the corner with this newly redone chair and a great reading lamp. In the bedroom there's a little walnut desk perfect for sitting at the computer. The round dining room table is perfect for spreading out a project, and it looks out on the porch, my ultimate favorite place to sit. And by next week my daybed will be complete, where I plan to spend hours curled up reading, ignoring deadlines and responsibilities. Of course, with all these perfect spots, you'd think I'd get more done, wouldn't you? But the piano is over there in that corner, demanding to be practiced (and my trio partners demand the same thing). The kitchen is in the opposite corner, and its demands of late have been unrelenting (Confidential to Mother Nature: Enough with the produce already. No one cares.). Then, out beyond the porch, the trails to the lake want to be run, often it seems. There are the shut-ins at the former group home to think about (that's not a mercy visit, by they way. They have a TV). And the boyfriend is around, and his little dog, too. And then there's the job; oh bother.

On the other hand, I just sat, pants in chair as required, and wrote this. Not the great American novel, but that's been done: time to roll up the shades, let the sun in, and open To Kill a Mockingbird.

01 September 2010

For art's sake

Well, kiddles, it's September, and because it's so (and it's weirdly cooler today, too; I don't know how they do that), it's time for some lurnin'. Today's subject: the 20th-century artist Leonard Baskin. Baskin (1922-2000) was a prolific American artist, a painter, sculptor, and print-maker whose work appears in the collections of important museums and galleries. Prints he made from his etchings, lithography, and woodcuts. One of those etchings, of William Blake (1963), now hangs in my home.

Because people like me, that's why. Though it's not an easy piece to look at, is it? I first wanted to hang it in the dining room, but reason intervened: the soup course might not go down so well with that face staring back at you. And yet, I love it, and was immediately reminded of Blake's poem, Mad Song:
The wild winds weep,
And the night is a-cold;
Come hither, Sleep,
And my griefs enfold! . . .
But lo! the morning peeps
Over the eastern steeps,
And the rustling beds of dawn
The earth do scorn.
Lo! to the vault
Of pavèd heaven,
With sorrow fraught,
My notes are driven:
They strike the ear of Night,
Make weak the eyes of Day;
They make mad the roaring winds,
And with the tempests play,
Like a fiend in a cloud,
With howling woe
After night I do crowd
And with night will go;
I turn my back to the east
From whence comforts have increased;
For light doth seize my brain
With frantic pain.
Perfect, then, to hang it over the daybed anchoring my little reading nook, where I expect to spend much time as the weather turns cooler, nestled among quilts and books and Blake's fiendish visage reminding me to get some actual work done, or else.

Thank you, HB, for the privilege of hanging Baskin's work in my home. I'll aim to be a good steward of it.

They shall be called my disciples.