Is my house me?

I started this not so little rumination yesterday. The comments to that post already answered some of the questions I wanted to write about today. They also gave me more to think about.

After 15 years of living in the same house and garden, are they me? As
Liz suggested, unequivocally yes and no.

The house is concrete metaphorically. It is filled with tangible answers to decisions I’ve made, accumulated over the years. When R and I lived together here, he had some influence on decorating and renovating choices. Sometimes I’d let him decide, but I tended to bring those choices in my direction. The decorating style is what R called “eclectic” not without a tone of exasperation. (remember, he’s German)

Many choices were made with a balance of practically, price and aesthetic. Like furniture for example. The space between the two French doors is shorter than most couches, so we found a used, lime green velvet claw footed one which fit the space, and worked with that as a starting point.

That couch remains. I enjoy oriental rugs, which have many colors, so that opened up lots of possibilities. I also collect antique quilts. So those just have to get along with the rest. The living room is dark, so I chose a bright, clear yellow for the walls, which contrasts the dark, Sweetgum woodwork nicely. What we ended up with certainly didn’t look like something out of a magazine (thank goodness!) but it is very homey and inviting.

People often comment how comforting and inviting my house it. I guess that could be an expression of me. But the house doesn’t show the indecisiveness and general chaos of
my inside life. In that way, the house helps anchor me with its stability. When I’m not feeling sociable, the house is my friendly alter ego, assuring my guests that everything will be OK.

Then there’s its familiarity to me, which can be both good and bad. I tend to thrive on change, and the mute predictability of the house can inspire my contempt. It ties me down. Imprisons me. When I lived in DC 6 years before moving to Columbus, I had several house-mates who shared a rental with me. That was my heaven. I thrived on that mutability. I’ve recreated that somewhat in my house by renting a room out. Even during the first few years of my partnership with R, we rented a room out.

Jessamn’s comments mention of “dream” houses, those made in dreams, that is, reminded me of one of the few recurring dreams I’ve had. It began in one of the rooms of my current house, or one like it. I would find a new door leading to an intricate series of new rooms, each with multiple doors, leading to ever more elaborately shaped rooms, nooks and crannies, cozy little rooms with fantastic views, hidden rooms, secret rooms, invisible rooms. There was a definite feeling of magic in these dreams.

Now I come to the question of intimacy, either in relation to the house or an intimate expression of myself within it. This is where it gets sticky. I was talking to a new friend a week ago, someone to whom I just uncannily gaped open with, right from the start. And the words came out of my mouth which really surprised me. In so many words I said, or asked, “Is my house a huge deception, a denial of who I really am? Is it a cover-up, a structure upon which I try to grow a certain type of personality to create the illusion of stability and normalcy? Am I hiding my true self in the camouflage of this inviting house?”

The answers are complex to be sure. As Liz might write again: yes and no. But the feeling I had was more of yes than no to the above questions. I do think I create a beautiful, inviting house because I don’t feel that way. My real self is so completely effervescent, so relative, so mutable, that I need the weight and mass of the life I’ve tethered myself to in this house, precisely to keep me from floating away. Then there’s the other implicit question. If not expressed in the house, what is this mutable self? And, more importantly, how can I articulate or evolve the concrete house to match the mutable one?

The answer: paint color! Really, I mean it. I’ve repainted one new room several times in the past year, from pale Aegean Mist to Delft Blue, and now I’m leaning toward Eggplant, a color of deep, rich passion. And I plan to paint the now beige kitchen the color of a bright, orange pepper.
But that’s not the only answer. I think I’m confronted by my own inordinate skill as a shape-shifter. I cannot look to the house, or friends or life, to BE me. I must wrap words, thoughts, almost any form of self-expression around this vague identity. I must demystify it. I know that’s the main reason I blog. To urge to the surface the endless metamorphosis of constant becoming that is me. (or anyone, for that matter) To freshen the daily theme and notice the overall patterns. To sharpen the dialectic of my existence.

Then, perhaps, the house will be free of that burden, and can be experienced by me as a natural extension of me, instead of a shell I try to fill with my will.

Tomorrow, some thoughts on the garden, and gardening.

15 thoughts on “Is my house me?

  1. I understand why you keep painting one room and why you change the color. When I was a teen at home, I painted my bedroom four times in wildly different color schemes each time. Even now, I hate to spend money on any particular color carpet or chair as tomorrow I may want everything different.
    I won’t buy new furniture; people tell me, a good set will last you 30 years! Heavens, I don’t want to look at the same anything in 30 years!

  2. Jeff- Thanks for stopping by. Gardens are also lessons in failure and natures stubborness, which reflects our hubris in assuming we can control it.

    Ned- Changing things is my way of keeping the house fresh, mostly for me. As you wrote, it gets stale otherwise.

  3. I read and hear your thinker and your feeler talking about the house discussing with each other whether the house is you or you are the house. I think you have thought of the house as you think of yourself. Taking care with certain parts of it, letting certain parts of it be until they are read to be attended to. We all have places inside us that we keep for ourselves, not meant for sharing. I like your house that does not look like a magazine. I like you too.

    I do not think you bought the house to try to be something that you’re not. You’re too smart to think that you could survive such folly. But that question reminded me of something I wrote for my blog that very few people read–no comments I think–it was but three paragraphs, called MY Home and it was about me–and I think about you too–though I didn’t know it then. This is the first sentence and the three last sentences.

    Not many people come to my home. No sign says, “stay out.” Yet they know not to come. . . . . . . Sometimes I find myself wishing my home could be like others. Yet I understand deeply why it cannot. Other homes would not fit me, because I am too tall.

    I love you G.

  4. Ah, the very site of hardwood floors makes me anxious to graduate and get the heck out of our seminary home, which is characterized by acres and acres of dreadful carpet. Carpet has got to be the most disgusting creation of humanity, IMHO. I can’t wait to get out o f here. Your photos make me more anxious to do so.

    I also really like the room(s) in the photos showing your PC Desk. Very open and naturally illuminated. Wonderful.

    I agree as far as your “Is my house me?” question is concerned – yes and no. Your daily presence there leaves many personal tracks, for lack of a better word. It is inevitable. Should any of your loved ones enter without you being there, many of these characteristics would remind them of you. So, yes, it is you. Yet, we have to also admit, it is an inanimate object too. So, no it isn’t. So, I agree with whoever answered yes and no to your question.

  5. Two different comments come to mind about the general idea of the masks we wear (be they houses or not) to other people.
    The first is an idea I associate most strongly with dear old Oscar Wilde (esp A Picture of Dorian Grey and The Importance of Being Ernest) — that the masks we choose to wear are in an odd way the truest description of who we are. Because we AREN’T the people we like to think of ourselves as, really. We are, and we aren’t. And I think maybe your house reflects the complex you more than you think — the dark, narrow entry into a narrow room, (one wall of which leans into the room in a slightly unsettling manner) full of complex and idiosyncratic items which most guest move quickly through without really seeing, on to the wide, bright, inviting rooms beyond.

    The other comment I would make goes back to the abstract idea of wearing masks, of putting on a face of warm welcome even when feeling antisocial. One of the things I love about Japanese culture is that wearing a social mask is an accepted and acknowledged thing. We Americans are obsessed with honesty, we want everyone to be their true selves all the time. For me at least, that is impossible. I can’t do it, it is exhausting. I survive social settings be thinking of it as a play, and I act out a part. I am quite willing to tell half truths to keep conversations away from areas I don’t have the energy to discuss. In America I always feel uncomfortable about that — are people assuming I am the mask I wear? Will they be annoyed — or at least mystified — when they meet me wearing a different social mask? But in Japan, the reality that people play parts in many social settings is excepted, is okay. So as I gradually expose myself to people I come to know well, there is no surprise or awkwardness. The mask I wear does not become confused with who I am. (Though, of course, the mask I choose to wear says a great deal about the real person I am hiding behind it.)

  6. Taikochan I wish I could learn to wear the masks you speak of. I can try, but to my dismay they just keep falling off. But your last sentence reminds me of a thought I know. No matter what what we speak about, we are talking about ourselves.

  7. Hmmm, I wonder what part of me the leaning wall indicates, and what it implies?

    Masks. When you write “that the masks we choose to wear are in an odd way the truest description of who we are”, you touch on the paradox I’m so fascinated with through all this. I think we all wear masks to survive uncomfortable situations, and blend in with others. And the masks help us become, help us train ourselves toward what we would like to be. But what happens when the masks become the person? When the real person becomes less and less defined, replaced by the mask? Could it be a loss rather than a gain?

    Are there necessarily fewer surprises from unmasking ones self in Japan than America? Even if a different person is expected as part of the culture, it can still reveal a completely unexpected result. As you noted “the mask I choose to wear says a great deal about the real person I am hiding behind it”. So the mask can belie as well as imply the person you are. What I like about Americans is the masks they wear are more genuine, even if they hide something from you.

    One friend described Americans as soft on the outside and tough to crack on the inside. Perhaps the Japanese are the opposite.

  8. Garnet:
    I like the quiet dialectic you initiate with yourself in debating whether the house is you. As Thoreau says, a house is a place to sit, and from what I see of your pictures, I would say you have, indeed, a very nice place to sit. It exudes your personality, which is so reflective in your writing. Thank you for coming by tonight. Your thoughtfulness is appreciated.

  9. I am the last person on earth who has any right to comment on this topic, since my own attempts to answer this very question have cost me untold thousands of dollars and immeasureable turmoil. So for now, I’ll just keep reading and trying to absorb what you and your commentators have offered. The photos look great, by the way.

  10. I’m often teased by the one “non-artist” member of our family about my need for change in our home decor. I rearrange the furniture and knick knacks when anything new is out of the budget, so it appears an feels different….ah, yes: the effects of colour! Paint! Hmmmmm.

    I enjoyed reading about you, the person inside his home and such reflections within and without and what they may or may not express. Fascinating, Garnet. I’m intense and introspective. Feels homey to read another’s musings.

  11. I do apologize, Silvermoon, for not responding to your comments. Yes, paint color is fun. I love change. I’m glad you are intense and introspective. I am too. I think it’s the artistic side of humanity, those who thrive on change.

    It’s interesting what comes out on a blog, and what doesn’t. Our blog personalities develp over time. It’s like building an aritficial version of yourself, but the real self always slips through. Though, ironically, misunderstandings can crop up more easily on the internet.

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