I’m sure anyone can easily analyze me to bits for it, but my message today is simple. I made a wreath and I hung it up on the front door to send the message to you, one and all. It’s a holiday message that I think is worth decorating for, regardless of which is your own particular holiday or what the specific date on which it falls.The medium for my message may be a little offbeat. Not everybody puts up a holiday wreath made under a hint of Steampunk influence, but that was my angle at the moment, mostly because I really like all the typical mad-scientist found-object quirky-mechanical fantasy junk that fills the Steampunk world. And I made a wreath because it was fun to do.And I did it all to say, in my own funny-yet-utterly-serious little way, that holidays of a great multitude of kinds please me. More than that, I wanted to say that I wish such sweet happiness to all of you who more properly ‘own’ these holidays. And today, what with the 25th of December being the biggest holiday I grew up knowing in my modest corner of the universe, I think it’s exactly the right time to wish all of you as much joy, contentment, hope and peace as you can possibly contain. Well, more–so there will be plenty to spill out onto all the others around you.
I’ve been looking through a batch of old photos, ones taken at the home where my partner and I lived in our first years together, and find it quite striking how time changes my attitudes. Yes, of course, my tastes change dramatically as time goes by, like everyone else’s, and sometimes when I look at old photos (of house, hair, habit–) I am mortified, sometimes I’m mystified, and much of the time I’m just too busy falling all over myself laughing at my ridiculousness to worry much about it all. This time, however, as I looked at my pictures I was struck rather pointedly by another aspect of surprise in revisiting what had once been familiar almost to the edge of invisibility.The photos looked remarkably foreign. It felt a little odd that I’d forgotten so much so completely in a relatively small number of years; is my personal fad-of-the-moment so shallow that it’s obliterated from my memory the instant it’s not in front of me anymore? Well, yes, probably so. I know when we downsized significantly to move from that place we sold or gave away tons, including beloved antique and heirloom items that I feared I’d regret losing, yet in truth hardly ever even thought about again afterward. But the stronger effect was that I am amazed to remember now, on seeing this former home of ours, how much of its DIY character and even the design choices I made were directed and colored by the modesty of our income. Just as I had never clued in when growing up that my family wasn’t rich because I wanted for nothing truly important (thanks, Mom and Dad, for the choices you made!), I never thought of it in those terms either when my husband and I lived in our first together-house–au contraire! I was happy that not only did we live in a place that reflected our tastes and comfort level and our own labors but our friends and family seemed to enjoy visiting there, feel at ease there too, and even admire it as a nice place. No one would ever have mistaken it for upscale, palatial or a showplace, but its humble charms seemed to be more than enough for us to feel glad of it.People even hired me to do design (interior, objects, exterior and garden) projects based on what they liked of my work in, at and on our home. I was asked to allow a garden club to tour our yard the year after I had it bulldozed and reinvented it to my own tastes. I got hired to redecorate and consult on homes and offices and churches. Was it the swanky air of chic pouring out over every windowsill and sprouting in every flowerbed of our home, the hipness of our up-to-the-minute styling? Certainly not. But would I ever hesitate to invite any trustworthy person who came to the door to come in and make him- or herself at home or fear that I would be unkindly judged or seem uncool? No, even in my shyest and most anxiety-ridden moments, my insecurity never moved outside of my own being: I have always been confident of the niceness of my nests.Thing is, I was most taken aback by recognizing in these old pictures a home happily occupied by a couple of people getting by on teachers’ incomes and setting up our grand estate on the masses of free time afforded by our having two full-time teaching jobs, his having two additional ‘outside’ choir gigs and my doing extracurricular commissioned design and art projects. As an adjunct faculty member I was in the familiar position of working over a decade full-time before getting to the pay level of the New Kid who came into the department that year straight out of grad school into an assistant professorial position (and I got to argue plenty for a huge percentage raise in my paycheck just to scrape up to that point)–those of you who have worked in higher education know full well what I’m talking about and also why teachers rarely work ‘only’ the fabled nine-month year of the academic calendar without having to supplement by taking side and summer jobs. Still, we were most certainly affluent compared to many, just not in that fairytale way of Having Money to Throw Around.So the intriguing thing I saw in these photos was that much of my fanciful decorator achievements were then, as now, created by use of the designer’s equivalent of sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors. DIY. And lots of throws, slipcovers, repurposed and recycled and upcycled goodies of every sort. All of this to say that, far from being ashamed at the obvious poverty of my resources, I was and am proud of finding ways to make whatever I do have the best it can be and making my surroundings better with what I can manage. Nowadays I tend to think in those terms less because I actually can’t afford the more extravagant approach and more because I’d rather do it in a way that conserves and respects the resources more fully. And because I’m enough of a snob to know by now that what rich people consider Simplifying or Conservatism or Mindfulness is a far cry from the poor person’s point of view. The beauty of Home lies far less in decorative statements than in clean, secure shelter, in warm hospitality and kind hearts. If being impecunious can be motivational, then why indeed not do it well!
Many years have passed since I first had reason to recognize that Home was not a built structure or even a location but a state of mind, a condition of the heart. It becomes associated with places by virtue of the happiness that embraces us there and also to the degree of intensity with which we are cared for and loved by the people of that place. The beauty of this characteristic is that Home can become portable when we are able to revisit those people or that contentment and security, belonging and joy, wherever they go, even in memory at times.
The complication therein is that the more places become Home, the more ways I can feel Homesick.
I will never complain of this any more than I would of any other pleasure or privilege, even when they fill me to the point of bursting–can anyone ever truly be surfeited with happiness? But there are times, perhaps those happy times most of all, when my reverie strays down all the pretty paths that lead to those many beloved locales and times where and when I’ve felt most accepted, at ease, at peace. My heart follows, soaring over all the lands and seas and resting where it will: in the arms of loving and hospitable friends and towns and favored hideaways and palaces I’m privileged to know as Home. It’s not that I can’t be contented where I am, it’s that the well of contentment runs so deep that every aquifer offshoot of it eventually leads my thought and memory back to other greatly loved locales.
It can happen at the edge of the crashing January ocean, beside a crackling fire, on an island-hopping ferry-boat, in the midst of sweeping farmland fields, or in the center of some sizzling, jazzy, noisy city. When I feel it, my breathing speeds up just a little and my heart’s singular syncopation becomes more pronounced and I might feel just the slightest sting of salt cutting at the corners of my eyes. Suddenly there is that tingling, that sub-sonic hum, that says I am at Home–and this is how I can invoke a rooted joy that echoes back to me with whispers of welcome in so many marvelous parts of the world.
I have been genuinely at home in the immensity of an ancient forest and on the flanks of a gleaming mountain; under the Gothic vaults of a cathedral, the low roof of a cozy suburban home, or under the spangled starry night-bold sky; among humble strangers whose language is worlds away from mine and in the arms of my dearest, closest and longest-known loved ones. Home, whatever and wherever it may be, is precious beyond words and missed in every atom of its forms at any moment when it is not near or I’m not in it.
What I could not imagine, all those years ago, was that I would find myself at home as well in a construct as much as in a constructed place. Yet here I am, posting letters daily to a family of people I may never even meet, and feeling as though I am in a kindly, hospitable place of heart and mind that tells me once again that I am Home. May you, too, who are reading this, always find–or make–yourself good homes in all the places that you can, whether in a graciously appointed house or in a soul-filling hermitage of your choosing; whether surrounded by the comforting presence of people who fill your days with delight or in the quiet retreat of your own contemplative corner–or right here, where you are always welcome to come and sit for a little while and chat and go by the name of Friend.