I spend far more time thinking about my house–what’s in it, where things should go, how it’s organized, what color things are, etc.–than I ever in my life intended. I thought I had a novel in me. OK, maybe a short story. Fine, an essay. But I thought I had some literary ambition.
Apparently I don’t. I’d rather re-decorate.
This has brought me a fair bit of shame–literary ambitions being far more lofty than the repainting of bedrooms and the rearrangement of furniture. I’d think, “This is what God is preserving my life for–to feel great satisfaction when I clean out the attic?” “Shouldn’t I be writing a memoir to God’s faithfulness rather than perseverating on de-junking the garage?”
Shame until I read this passage from a book of Jonathan Franzen’s essays that my sister passed along to me. Franzen, author of the best-selling novel The Corrections, writes about his mother’s house which he is responsible for selling after she dies.
In the days after the memorial service, as my brothers and I went from room to room and handled things, I came to feel that the house had been my mother’s novel, the concrete story she told about herself. She’d started with the cheap, homely department-store boilerplate she’d bought in 1944. She’d added and replaced various passages as funds permitted, re-upholstering sofas and armchairs, accumulating artwork ever less awful than the prints she’d picked up as a twenty-three-year-old, abandoning her original arbitrary color scheme as she discovered and refined the true interior colors that she carried within her like a destiny. She pondered the arrangements of paintings on a wall like a writer pondering commas. She sat in the rooms year after year and asked herself what might suit her even better. What she wanted was for you to come inside and feel embraced and delighted by what she’d made; she was showing you herself, by way of hospitality; she wanted you to stay.
Each time I read this passage (and I’ve read it plenty) I feel a little less ashamed of my preoccupation–of the decorating magazines I am loathe to part with. Of the trips to thrift stores that make me slightly giddy. “I’m writing,” I tell myself now as I snap up yet another owl figurine–this one a brass set of three–yay! “And, since writing is really re-writing (or so says Scott Henkel), then decorating is really re-decorating.”
And I’ve got tubs of unused thrift store treasure to prove it. Commas, I mean. Tubs of edited commas and semi-colons in my attic. Whole paragraphs of throw pillows. First and second drafts of photos sent to my sister for comments. Cut and pasted chapters of furniture in our bedrooms. Former editions of paint colors rusting in their cans in the basement.
Perhaps our home is my novel and I might be a writer after all. My daughter an essayist, in her freshly painted bright red room, the furniture just where she wants it and the mineral poster perfectly positioned above the dresser.
Thank you, Jonathan Franzen. I think I would have liked to have your mom come over. And for her to stay for a latte.
12 replies on “ah, justification”
While never so eloquently, I have thought this often of my parents’ home – filled with mom’s fingerprints more than five years since her passing. The position of the (velour!) blue couch, the copious amounts of baskets filled with ‘treasures’, the wallpaper that was going to bring it all together. And it’s not the quantity – it is knowing that things are in a place she wanted them to be in. I count “rearranging furniture” and “painting the wall” as part of my exercise routine!
That Franzen passage really is lovely, and what a wonderful thing to say about his mother. You are creating a wonderful novel — lively, welcoming, easy to get into, always a new detail to notice in the next re-read.
I’ve got one more: garage sale = throwing out old drafts (after all, you can only keep those things around for so long).
I think you underestimate your desire to be published: you are delighting us with your words, phrases, even commas as you write in your blog. It might not be for money measured in royalties but it is far more valuable to have your friends and family say “Now I know you just a little more and love you still.”
Your home is welcoming…believe it or not (it may even sound a bit sick) but I love Fridays when it’s your turn. I get to see what’s new and changed…some I love and others are not my favs…(MBR drapes on the floor come to mind)
Last year we emptied out my 96 year old Great Aunts home…talk about little pieces of Aunt Evelyn left behind as memories for us to discovery again… (she was a painter an into lapidary) and never threw out a thing.
I gathered up paintings I loved, small bits and pieces of sodalite, opals, petosky stones (got a galvanized tub full of those! ) malachite etc…John found some of my Great Grandfathers woodworking tools and chests.
We (john and I) loved sifting thru it all and bringing home our new found treasures. My Mother and Aunt Joan were not so happy with the WORK…They kept tossing “junk” into the dumpster and I’d dive in to retrieve it saying HEY…this is cool! They’d walk back into the house muttering at my nuttiness.
My greatest gift from her was a black and green marble coffee table..yes it shows the dust quickly but its the best thing to play dominos on in front of the fireplace during the winter months and each time I touch it’s cool surface I”m reminded of my Great Aunt Evelyn who lived life the way she wanted too and lived on her own until her last day on earth at age 96.
Tash, your home is filled to the eaves with love and warmth and welcoming treasures….your novel is loaded with verse and chapter. Your hospitality is always heartfelt by all who enter.
Now I can’t wait to see Zoes new digs!
Owls? You like owls? How about Grandpa Leo’s matching owl lamps that are waiting at my home to be “tooken” to yours! Mmmmmmmm?
matching owl lamps? that were Grandpas? Oh, my. They must meet their missing flock of owl relatives over here.
Zoe had a playdate with a little girl who has this sweet husky voice. They came through the living room and she said, “My, Zoe, I can see your mom likes owls.”
I love your home and your decorating and redecorating. It’s how your creativity escapes and lands for all of us to enjoy.
It was so much fun to sit and visit with Becky and you today. Just a fun catching-up time.
Love you and Happy Birthday!
This hit a special place in my heart, as I too enjoy decorating, a little too much, I fear. My house is filled with international brick-a-brack (as my sister lovingly refers to it).
LOVE this thought of yours…its been needing to come out in your words, too. And maybe this will help Mark not feel so tired as he says you “run circles” around him in the house.
I love what you create…and always feel warmth in your home. I feel for you about NOT parting with those Dominoes…..I adore the ones you send me.
I always feel embraced and delighted when sipping lattes in your home. We walk through rooms, sharing stories, commenting on paint colors and sharing the colors of our lives. I can’t imagine it any other way. I love you!
Wow. This was so accurate~ doesn’t everyone want their home to say “welcome, come and put your feet up awhile?” I love it. I’m doubly inspired to visit Michigan just so I can see the owls and treasures you’ve set about. Your posts remind me of contentment in the simple things.
BTW: I saw that you’ve added some verses and chapters to your novel when I was at your house today. They are a very good read IMHO. =)