Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Particular Kind of Heaven: Solitary Living

(This is my favorite Ed Ruscha)

I'm pretty much all unpacked, except for one large box of books, because I am stupid and don't do math beforehand and calculate how many inches of shelf I need for my books. So I can't organize by broad categories (law, social science, fiction, poetry, art) or alphabetize by last name author until this is settled, and that is a little unsettling.

But the furniture is all set up, and the pictures hang on the wall. They look great! I love my new apartment, which is toasty and mold-free and quiet. And it finally has wireless internet! I got all of my furniture for cheap on Craigslist, and sold stuff to buy stuff. Yesterday I finally got around to putting food in the fridge. My nightstand has "light" reading on it again. If you can call Joan Didion light reading.

Moving is painful, yet it has the attendant benefit of being a fresh start. Remember the giddiness I expressed when I first moved to Liberal College City into that tiny 300 square foot efficiency studio? The novelty of that didn't last, but I did like having a place of my own after so many years of being the smallest voice in a loud and big family. Or a year later, when I moved into what was then called The House of Awesomeness, before I got freaked out by the landlord and all of the problems of living in old houses? I love my old roommate, who is a good and dear friend, but I am better suited to living alone, at least for now. There is time enough yet to share your world with another, but very little time to make it yours entirely.

A scant seven months later, I have a new place of residence, and in a new city too. And like the first time, it is a place of my own. Because it is in the city next door, it is not much more expensive than my previous apartment of cold, creepy hell, and not much more than the tiniest studio in Jonathan Swift's world (micro-ovens, mini fridges...). There is a great pleasure in having your own place--three rooms of your own, which you need not annex nor fear encroachment. Three rooms, but only one person! The math is simple: it is more than you "need" and thus more than you thought you wanted because you are not used to thinking in terms of wants, and yet you want this. A place for work, the space to work, and the silence that makes it work.

It reminds me of my favorite passage from the last chapter of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own:

Thus, with some time on your hands and with some book learning in your brains—you have had enough of the other kind, and are sent to college partly, I suspect, to be uneducated—surely you should embark upon another stage of your very long, very laborious and highly obscure career. A thousand pens are ready to suggest what you should do and what effect you will have. My own suggestion is a little fantastic, I admit; I prefer, therefore, to put it in the form of fiction.

I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young—alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross–roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here to–night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her.

For my belief is that if we live another century or so—I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals—and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting–room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky. too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.

Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would he impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.

To have your own home! It matters not the size of the rooms or the arrangement of the furniture. For now they are your world, even as you dream of future ones:

Helping the kids out of their coats
But wait the babies haven't been born oh oh oh
Unpacking the bags and setting up
And planting lilacs and buttercups oh oh oh

But in the meantime I've got it hard
Second floor living without a yard
It may be years until the day
My dreams will match up with my pay

Old dirt road (mushaboom)
Knee deep snow (mushaboom)
Watching the fire as we grow (mushaboom)

I got a man to stick it out
And make a home from a rented house oh oh oh
And we'll collect the moments one by one
I guess that's how the future's done oh oh oh

How many acres how much light
Tucked in the woods and out of sight
Talk to the neighbours and tip my cap
On a little road barely on the map

Old dirt road
Rambling rose (mushaboom)
Watching the fire as we grow (mushaboom)
Well I'm sold ...

When you have a place of your own, you can share it on occasion with others. To open your door and set your table. It is even even more meaningful to do so when it is all yours. It is one thing to have a faux revolving door Parisian Salon of intellectuals, as if life were some more clever version of an episode of Friends. Who has such open door/hangout policies? No one productive, I am sure, or no one who has a healthy conception of self and "alone time." And really, that's so faux boho. It is far more meangingful to have your own place that you jealously guard, and to invite others to share it with you. Really, is there anything more intimate than to share your home with someone else, when it is yours alone? Yours alone. And yet you'll share it with them.

Of course, there are some with standing invitations, namely TD and TL (nee' TC).


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