catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 15 :: 2008.07.25 — 2008.09.12


A song in my home

In the scheme of things, the way my house is decorated is not going to have much of an impact—at least not on the rest of the world, right?   That's what I have been telling myself for a long time: it just doesn't matter like other things matter. Everyone who knows me thought the minute I moved into a "real" house (one with walls I can paint and fill with nails), I'd have it as styled and manicured as a Wake Forrest sorority girl in two weeks flat.  It's not that I'm a terribly organized person…or a very wealthy person, for that matter.  In fact, I'm neither.  But I am a decophile, a designocrat.  I can spot Lulu DK fabrics and Kelly Wearstler patterns the way birdwatchers can spot a lone woodpecker in a forest of brown. 

The thing is, I'm a listening, thinking, reading adult now who believes in things like seeking justice and trying to do good work.  Even growing up, Raffi taught me that "all I really need is a song in my heart, food in my belly, and love in my family," so big deal if my living room isn't feng shui-ified or even, well, furnished. Then someone asked me, what puts a song in your heart?  I couldn't answer.  I thought for a whole week and couldn't come up with one thing.

At the end of my first year in a house of my own ("my" being corporate, seeing as I’m married), I'd painted the walls a calming light gray, kept it as clean as two people working 110+ hours a week between them can, and that's about it.  One wintery Saturday, we even ripped the carpet out of our front living room to reveal the original, scuffed hardwood flooring.  But our home was basically shelter—a place to crash while also being a place where there seemed to be endless tasks awaiting me.  I'm sure any first time homeowner feels the same way.  Everywhere I turned, there seemed to be accusatory weeds growing or judgmental cobwebs gathering in the corner of our generally unused dining room.  I would get ideas about painting a room or rearranging furniture, and then start second-guessing myself.  It was easier to let things be and not even make it look like I really cared; that way, people couldn't scoff at my silly ideas.

That first year in the house was one of several firsts: my first year of marriage, of a new, high-stress/weird-hours job, of a new side to the city I thought I knew, of owning a dog, of joining a new church.  It's really all a blur. When I try to look back and focus on one thing, it's like wearing someone else's prescription eyeglasses—either it's really sharp tunnel vision or nothing quite emerges from the fuzz.

All that newness and all those firsts were exciting at times, but after a while, when it all continued to feel new, it felt scary.  As a generally introverted person, I couldn't seem to find a familiar corner to retreat to.  Doesn't marriage mean I have to share everything all the time (including space)?  Doesn’t being a good role model for the college students with whom I was working mean being available and inviting them over all the time (as my co-workers seemed to do)?  As I began to shape my days around an ambiguous, catch-all idea of who I was supposed to be at this point in my life, I slowly lost any ideas about who I was actually becoming or who I could be underneath that veneer.

So, by the time a wise person asked me, "What makes you tick?" I had no answer.  I felt defeated in every sense.  The piece of wisdom I began clinging to served as my life raft: spend time every day finding out what you enjoy.  Isn't that selfish, though?  Shouldn't I be discovering how to help others?  Still, I started halfheartedly searching.  Gradually I found that I really love color and the effect the right one can have.  I looked back into my past and found that I still love reading as much as I did the first time I learned to "sound out" a full book.  And I found new things, like cooking, that I can look forward to every day, no matter what kind of day it is.

Eventually, much of this exploration became less about finding new things, and more about being okay with the way I am.   The simplest lessons are the hardest; no one can give life if they haven't got any life to begin with. The craziest part is the way my house transformed.  Even though I love wearing hot pink or emerald green, for my house colors I'm consistently drawn to, as I call them, beach-glass colors—those almost transparent greens, grays, blues and occasional browns.  Growing up, my family's summer trip was always to the Carolina beaches where I'd spend hours walking in the sand, thinking about the next school year (since we moved constantly, usually I'd be wondering about the next new school).  My house has become like that place, not just in the colors and shapes I've chosen, but in that it's now a retreat.  It's become a place where I can think about "what's next" and "what's now," free from imagined judgment or notice.

The most important transformation is that I don't worry about what others think of my decisions anymore.  I'm okay with each room being the way it is because I've "built" it with my husband.  This feeling extends to more areas of my life than my house.  Living during a time when there are endless options (I could go to Target and purchase an entire décor "scheme," heirloom-like pieces included) coaxed me into thinking that it's all about consumption.  Now I know that place and purpose matter as locally as my living room.  Culture matters a great deal, and I can create a culture in my home through the way the house makes me and my family feel and interact.  Actually, maybe now I do believe that the way my house is decorated can impact the world, now that I’ve begun to discover what makes my heart sing.

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