Interior Design as Psychological Sustenance

I walk around my new neighborhood, and all of these homes look so interesting and deliberate, and I want all of them – manicured or wild, maintained or dilapidated. Each says something to the people who lives there, and those walking by. I revel in the way that people have made these structures and landscapes particular to them.

I have become someone who is actively constructing her environment- I think for the first time. I now want the art to color-coordinate, the chairs to match the table and the flowers to bloom. I think I am finally getting what other people have always understood about needing their environment to match their interior understanding of the world – or maybe just needing the exterior to speak to them in a particular way.

The interior and exterior are both landscapes. We spend our lives in constructed spaces. Places where someone made choices – about what to include and exclude, what to feed and water, and what to tear out by the roots. I’ve been ignoring the ways I passively managed my personal spaces, while condescending to those who spent so much time actively constructing theirs – I think because I grew up hearing what rooms should be, not what they could do.

Something about this dammed pandemic -living in one box, waking and sleeping, for 18 months – shifted my focus. I spent weeks making this new apartment my own, in every way I could think of. And now that the project is mostly done, I miss it.

Maybe I am in this new phase because I happy with my interior landscape? I always thought that the place to change your reality was inside, and the outside was something you pushed against or dove into or whatever, but the world-bending went in one direction.

I have always been more of the mind than of the body. I know that much of my attitude comes from growing up with little power to affect the world around me – but I realized early I had power over my thoughts. So I worked hard and steady (and still do) at walking that garden, planting new dreams and removing dead ideas.

I reject any rule that says fashion or tradition dictates how my living room should be decorated or arranged. But functional can and should be beautiful. A space that is set up to support the life you live, not the expectations of others, is something to covet. Readers should have comfortable places to sit, with good lighting and place to put their tea. Painters should have a room with easy -clean surfaces and stunning views (and again, good lighting). All rooms are built spaces, so they should be built to support those who must exist within them.

It’s a feedback loop that can be exploited. As a young person, the lack of basic necessities caused me to look inside, which kept me from spending time on the outside, until I cared very little for anything but basic functionality. But a welcoming environment can calm the interior and allow it to grow in new ways, which then can reach out and alter the exterior in new ways, ad infinitum (hopefully). I really enjoyed setting up my new apartment, for the first time in 27 moves. I feel like my home is no longer a static thing. The spare room has many configurations, each based on the current need for that space. This can and should be true for every room in the house (and the yard).

My friends are happy I’ve finally decided to care about what my house looks like, and for many people it seems like something I should have done all along. But the truth is, I was happy in my head. I always pictured it as an either/ or. But like all binaries, it’s a lie. There is no interior that exists beyond influence of the exterior and vice versa.

I don’t have to have a mortgage or a million dollars to build a space that increases my joy, where I can be the self I want to be today.

Writing as Performance, a rambling

I spent so many years in school, and loved it. I first wrote because they told me to. It turned out I could do it well by their standards, and so I liked doing it. But I liked a lot of other things – math, reading, drawing, gymnastics, singing.

So much of my writing has been about receiving praise from other people (mostly my teachers). The writing became about the praise. Which is why I couldn’t sustain that “help you with your money” website I started – because no one was telling me it was good and helpful. And I told myself that it wasn’t the writing I wanted to do but the helping – that what was missing was the one-on-one interaction. Which wasn’t a lie, but it also isn’t the truth. I felt like no one saw it and no one told me it was good and I was smart and kind and also a hero and a great writer. So I lost all interest in the project – in an idea had consumed me for weeks. But what had consumed me was the idea of a lot of people praising me for how helpful I was, not the doing of it. Ego, much?

Now I wonder if I’d have been as good a painter/ artist (for instance) as I am a writer if school/ anyone had spent as much time praising me for it and teaching me to hone that craft. I’m a decent painter & sketcher, and I get better the more I do it (true of most things! For most people!). And I derive at least as much pleasure from it as I ever did from writing – with a lot less need for outside validation. Not because I want to be an amazing painter – but it seems clear we all have many parts we let atrophy for lack of sunlight.

With painting, I focus on the process and therefore am less invested in the outcome, which means I end doing a better job. Or something. But with writing I can be happy as hell with the product but still not care about it if no one else is reading it.

I am a thinker, an over-thinker, honestly – and writing is really the part of school that best matches up with that tendency/ skill. And writing does clarify thinking for me, both emotional and intellectual topics (false binary!). But I don’t think it’s the writing itself that I like, or that attracts me. It’s the deep thinking about whatever topic that appeals and excites, not the writing process or the product. Writing being an effective medium for sharing thoughts is why I like it, not because I think writing is something I should be doing. Maybe those aren’t actually different things, but they feel different.

Lidia Yuknavitch says that the truth exists but using words to try to describe the truth can only be fiction – that feels like a part of it. But you can get to the truth of an idea, if not a life or an experience – with words. Ideas are quite literally only words, they can’t exist without the language to describe them, whereas all manner of other things exist outside language entirely. And that’s what excites me most. But it is the pursuit of the idea that can motivate me, not the writing that comes from that. Or maybe that’s why I want/ need that praise/ interaction? Because I can’t know if I’ve translated the idea well enough until someone else has read it and told me they understand? I don’t know maybe this whole thing is just a circle.

It’s true that writing essays about money advice really is useless if no one reads them – but quitting after five essays and two weeks or whatever is hardly a fair chance given.

So… I’m a much better writer than painter. And journal writing is an important part of my life and growth as a person. But it’s suddenly obvious that the other writing in my life is just performance. Writing is certainly the way I figure things out for myself, but public righting is about how others react to it, not how I feel about it myself. Which may be why I don’t do it much while still thinking I should be doing it and being disappointed in myself for not doing it more.

But maybe I’m only think I should be a writer because someone told me early on that I was, and I believed them. What if they’d told me I was a good artist instead? Who would I be?

Hello February, it’s so nice to see you!

One of the many joys of walking home, this flock of crows near the Morrison Bridge along the waterfront.

I am sitting here absolutely blasted from the last few weeks. Too much work, a whole lot of social activity, plus that day job. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for actual tax preparers. Or maybe they take six months off or whatever, and that makes it worth it somehow? Anyway, ugh. Capitalism is the worst.

I’ve been back in my own place in Portland for two months now, and in most ways it feels like I never left. Same bus, same walk home, same favorite restaurants, same favorite people, same Powell’s. Plus new people and new foods and a better apartment and new ideas.

I’m working on a new project I’m not ready to share yet, but I’m excited to do it (which means it’s the right thing!) and cranky I’ve been too busy to do much in the last week or two. Though I managed to acquire a domain for the website and write a mission statement and brainstorm some delivery channels, so I guess I did get some shit done? I’m hoping to make some progress this weekend but I am TIRED. And I have some basic housekeeping to do – I have enough sugar for exactly one more cup of tea, I’m pretty sure all the forks are dirty, and the recycling is overflowing its container. Right now, I’m enjoying my second cup of tea and reading Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (which is great so far).

I hope all of you are finding time to rest and be inspired this fine February morning.

Dream Believer

I was re-reading The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker, and the character, Lissie, talks about her mother starting to have dreams for the first time (or at least to remember them)  when her physical health improved. So here I am writing about my dreams. Because if I’m not waking up remembering a dream, then things are not going well. When the dreams come, some part of me is relieved and affirmed and joyful.

I have dreams that contain glimpses of the future, and I have dreams of impossible things and places – though not impossible people, I just realized. They are almost always full of the real people in my life (and famous people I adore like James Hetfield and Neil Gaiman).

I was writing all my dreams down for awhile, after talking with a friend about his dream journal and lucid dreaming. And while I love that I have those notes to look back on, feeling obligated to write the dreams down made them less joyful somehow, so I stopped. I do sometimes feel like I need to write about a particular dream, but if they need to be remembered, then I will remember them. And lucid dreaming – which seems awesome – was wrong for me. My dreams are messages I’m receiving, that I want to receive, and controlling them would mean not receiving what was sent.

And the dreams often feel ‘sent,’ not imagined or created by me or my sub-conscious or what have you. And I’m not sure I’ve ever articulated it as such, but my dreams are a big part of my spiritual understanding of the world. They are why I can’t give that presence any name that I’ve heard in the world. I say Goddess or Cosmos or Universe… but it’s really the DreamWriter I believe in.

I occasionally navigate my life by my dreams, though not in a “I dreamed about the beach, so I need to go to the beach” sort of way. The meaning lies underneath the story and I would be hard-pressed to explain how they mean anything at all based on the plot/summary/theme. I was practically haunted by a dream (the details of which I have no memory of now) for almost two days until a co-worker said he was driving to Oregon when we got laid off in a few days… and suddenly I was supposed to ask if I could go with him. So I did, and I got a virtually free trip to visit my best friend.

Mostly I get non-narrative stories that amaze and delight or amaze and require introspection. I finally forgave my shitty friend because the dreams would not leave me alone.

Sometimes I dream a clear, tiny sliver of the future –though until that future becomes the present, I have no idea. I dreamed about a particular moment in a particular room I’d never seen before, and in the dream I knew that the house belonged to Jerry, who was my boss at that time – and married to a dear friend. When I had the dream, they were planning to move to Colorado, and I was planning to move to Montana. But three or four years later, they had bought the place in my dream and I was living in their spare room.

I’ve had dozens of these in my life. The moments themselves are super-boring and virtually meaningless, (I’m walking to the copy room at work, I’m standing outside the bathroom at home) but a huge part of my belief system is that when I intersect with one of my dream-memories, I am on the right path in my life. So whenever they show up, I’m a bit knocked out and overjoyed.

In the last 4-5 years, they’ve become more frequent and less intense. And I really miss that intensity – partly because it helps me be certain I’m not imagining them. But I can only guess that following the right path diligently has made them less necessary. Which is… good? But I miss that bolt from the blue.

That day in the shower when I realized I could never have a real job again – clearly not accurate in sentiment, but concrete in world-view – was maybe the first ‘bolt’ that wasn’t an actual dream fragment remembered but a fully awake message from the DreamWeaver that shot through my whole being – brain and body and whatever else there is to me. And after that it was so simple to figure out what I wanted to do, because if it didn’t resonate with that joy it couldn’t be the right choice.

But this idea that people who are unhealthy or lost to themselves never remember their dreams is so interesting to me. It’s so good. It seems so ripe for storytelling. So profound for life-building. We all know how sleep deprivation can fuck with your cognitive skills, this is only a tiny step farther on that path. It doesn’t even have to be spiritual. The presence of dream memories as an indication of being well-rested doesn’t really seem all that fanciful.

But for me, that dream life –and it almost always feels like an actual life being lived elsewhere/ when – is proof/ evidence/ corroboration of the existence of a spiritual being/ place/ dimension.

I’ve met one other person who glimpses the future in their dreams. I have friends who believe that they can visit real places in their dreams (astral projection). And I also have plenty of friends who believe that their dreams are meaningless.

What do you believe?

Am I Going To Be a Writer or What?

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. Much like I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t read voraciously. Any class that required writing – Reading, English, any humanities class – I did well in. I can structure an argument, I can write a story, I used to think my poems were deep and meaningful (those junior high school poems, ouch!). I was taking a class in how retirement IRAs work and I joked that my earnings would be royalties from my books. I got a bachelor’s degree in English and swore I’d write the defining thesis of the 21st century. I’ve written book reviews for (very little) money. I’ve edited several (self-published) books. I’ve written some short stories and 12,000 words on a middle-grade novel I haven’t finished. I write (very irregularly) on this blog.

So when I quit my job and ran away, one of the things I meant to do was get on that whole writing thing. I’d have all that free time – I’d totally finish that novel, write up all those cool ideas for feminist magazines and pop-culture websites. At a minimum, I’d make hardly any money generating crappy content for the endless machine that is the internet. I bought a Writers Almanac and planned to pitch and write stories for various outlets until someone accepted one.

Maybe y’all didn’t notice, but… none of that happened. I wrote almost nothing on the novel. I wrote in my journal a lot, and a few blog posts, but not much else. I applied and tested for a few writing/editing jobs and got none of them. I didn’t pitch a single essay to a single website.

crows, portage bay seattle, bevy of books
Hello. These birds have nothing to do with any of these words, but we gotta break up the monotony.

I have a million reasons/ excuses for why that is – some more valid than others – but ultimately I just… didn’t.

So the real question is: Do I want to write, or do I just want to think of myself as a writer?

Well, I really can’t stand the idea that my whole life I’ve basically been a fraud, pretending to be someone who would be a writer “if only I had the time.” So I guess I better get on that shit.

After being called on my bullshit excuses by my best friend (whose job it is to do that for me), I’ve decided that what I have to do – if I want to make this fantasy of writing a reality – is hack my writing process. I follow dozens of writers and editors on Twitter and they are constantly talking about the processes that work for them, with lots of options for me to choose from. So the next step is PUTTING SOME OF THOSE IN PLACE! Trying them out, see what works. Recognize the excuses for what they are and not allowing them to stand unchallenged. My biggest (mental, self-imposed) hurdles are as follows.

Problem 1: I am lazy. Please don’t try to tell me I’m not. Y’all have no idea how much free time I spend doing stupid shit – in addition to all the free time I spend doing good things like reading and crocheting and stuff. I.AM. LAZY. Not up for discussion.

Rule to Solve Problem 1: Stare that bitch right in the face. Stop accepting my own lame excuses. Let my friends hold me accountable. I’m usually opposed to people hassling me about stuff, but I’m putting this out there for all of you (if you’re interested). Go ahead and ask me if I’ve done any writing lately. I’m officially committing to writing frequently and regularly, and I may need help sticking to it.

Problem 2: Focusing the brain on writing. Writing requires that I harness most/ all of the simultaneous trains of thought in my head to focus on this one thing with a minimum of tangents. I don’t know if everyone else’s brain works like this, but there are at least four things happening in my head every minute I’m awake. This is why I insist on listening to music while at work, because it keeps one of them happy. Chatting with people while working is also good, so two tracks are occupied and work is likely to go well. In order for the serious writing to happen – and for me to stick to it – I can’t be distracted by looking up that book I wanted to reference, or thinking about how I first heard this song on vacation, or getting angry at the current state of the world.

Rule to Solve Problem 2: I made a playlist with mostly instrumentals and songs in languages I do not speak. Turn off the internet if I’m using my laptop. Make notes on research TO BE DONE LATER. Put phone out of reach with all social media notifications turned off. Stay off Twitter until after the writing is done.

Problem 3: I get lots of ideas (those fucking trains never stop running, people) but don’t do anything with them.

Rule to Solve Problem 3: WRITE THEM DOWN IMMEDIATELY. The kernel of a new idea is tough to hold onto, even if you aren’t past 40 and losing the sharpness of your memory. They won’t all be winners, but I’ll never know if I can’t remember any of them. Jot down those ideas when they come. Develop them – soon – instead of just thinking about them while watching TV.

Problem 4: Editing brain and writing brain are very different. Editing is much easier, it actually benefits from all those tracks in my head. And it’s basically just reading and getting to feel like I’m smart because I can see the mistakes and fix them, so that’s two things that make me happy. But I can’t edit a blank page (that is one of those things writers and editors are always saying). So as soon as I do have something written, I’m quite happy to jump to the editing process, which derails the writing process. The idea that all writing needs to be published/ posted goes right along with this, and so I prioritize editing the words instead of making the words.  But I know I can edit and post blogs, that is not a skill I need to work on or a process I need to improve.

Rule to Solve Problem 4: FOCUS ON THE WRITING. Don’t fix the typos. Ignore the editing and posting – at least for now. Of course as I write this current thing here – clearly intended to be posted on my blog – I realize I have to ignore it in order for anyone to read this. The world is full of contradictions.

cormorants, Elliott Bay, Seattle Ferry dock, bevy of books
Look, more birds. I take lots of photos of birds.

Last weekend I tried all of these rules.  I made a writing playlist. I stopped getting on Twitter at breakfast. I re-read books that inspired me. And I wrote more than 2000 words, made three or four notes on other ideas I wanted to explore, even dictated notes into my phone while I was out walking. It’s clear that I can do this. Whether or not anyone but my friends wants to read any of it IS NOT THE POINT OF WRITING IT. That is publishing.

But first, the writing must happen.