I suppose there are as many reasons to blog as there are bloggers. Curiosity about the world, a willingness to accede to Durrell’s conviction that reality can be “reworked to show its significant side“ and the pure pleasure of shaping words all have played a roll in developing and sustaining my personal commitment to this strange new phenomenon of our time.
One thing I particularly enjoy about blogging is the response I receive from readers. Comments have ranged from challenging to congratulatory to caustic, but no matter their form, I always find them stimulating and engaging. To my taste, good blogs exhibit a certain tentativeness, exploring rather than defining the subject at hand, and good comments reflect the same qualities. Writers and readers work together, inching their way forward through thickets of allusion and argument to reach provisional conclusions. Occasionally they unearth a real, if unexpected, treasure.
Some months ago, a faithful reader responded to one of my entries by saying,
“I like this blog. I prefer the ones where you tell your story within its own context. Not sure how to say what I mean here, other than it’s all you.
Of course the others are all you too, it’s just that I like how you decorate with what you have made, rather than … Can’t figure out how to say it…”
That’s a wonderful comment: honest, straightforward, vacillatory and thought-provoking all at the same time. Best of all, I think I understand the point.
Consider this. Some years ago, I knew a woman who had plenty of money and an urge to decorate. She lived in a large, relatively new home perfectly suited to someone cursed with a compulsive need to change the scenery. As the months and years passed, I began to realize the woman I’d become friends with re-created her environment the way I change shorts and t-shirts – casually, frequently and without much thought.
When I met the family, they weren’t in Santa Fe but they were living the Santa Fe lifestyle, surrounded by terra cotta and turquoise. Ristras woven from brilliant chilis hung from open beams. Bookshelves were punctuated with Acoma and Jimez pots. With its tiled floors and washed walls, the house was restful and redolent of pinon and juniper ~ no detail had been overlooked in the attempt to re-create a beloved environment.
Not even a year later, Texas-Cowboy-meets-Gucci had caught my friend’s attention. Free-form barbed wire borders and mesquite furniture became the order of the day, punctuated with cowhide pillows, heavy silver candelabra and log-cabin quilts produced by the sweet little ladies of Orvis. But it didn’t last. After a brief flirtation with the minimalist Scandinavians and a run through Edwardian elegance, she decided it was time for a visit to Provence.
Despite suggestions that all those roosters, mustard-yellow walls and lace curtains were becoming just a bit outré and she might do better with a more subdued look, she was determined to achieve the pinnacle of sunny cheerfulness. A few thousand dollars here, a few thousand there, and the transformation was complete: new furniture, new colors, new fabrics and new accessories. It looked just like a magazine, but everyone knew it wouldn’t be long before she’d be ready to turn the page once again.
And that’s exactly the point. The new morning-in-Provence digs didn’t satisfy her at all, any more than Santa Fe or Cattle Ranch Chic or Edwardian Elegance had satisfied her. Each time she redecorated, it was the “look” that was the point, and not the life. Walking into her home, you would find no memories, no personal touches, nothing that would make you want to point to one thing or pick up another and say, “Tell me about this”. Her creation was a beautiful house, but it was a backdrop for a photo shoot more than it was a home. Ask any visitor, “Who lives here? What experiences have they had? What do they enjoy? believe? appreciate?” and there would be no way to answer.
While I’ll admit to a fondness for adobe and turquoise, I’ve never had the money nor the inclincation for a total re-do. Looking around my home, there’s no theme, no sense of good taste run amok. What I have are African masks obtained from people whose names I remember, snuggled up against Ethiopian weavings and cowgirl art. There’s a copper basket filled with rocks from Georgia O’Keefe’s Abiquiu hills, and exquisite oils of poppies and roses painted by the hand of a dear friend. There are prints of the Flatiron, my favorite building, and an antique etching from Harper’s of the 1851 flood on Bayou Teche.
There are Batchelder tiles, Bradley and Hubbard plaques, Benin bronzes and more Ohio Valley pottery than anyone should have. There’s my great-grandmother’s butter paddle and my dad’s 9th grade shop class project. There are braided rugs from the cabin and my childhood rocking chair, Muslim prayer beads and Victorian yard-longs. It’s not a style, it’s a life: collected, cherished and displayed not to please others but to keep me grounded and help me remember where I’ve been as I journey on to unknown destinations.
In short, I’ve decorated my home with the experiences of my life, and at least one reader is telling me it works in writing precisely as it does in life. “I like how you decorate with what you have made,” she says, her words an unmistakable caution as much as a compliment.
In writing as in life, there’s no need to be a slave to fashion, or dependent upon literary versions of House Beautiful to tell us what we need. None of us is called to buy a style or borrow a voice. Each of us has our own style and our own voice. Each of us has our own closetful of furnishings, collected and cherished through the years, waiting to be arranged throughout our stories, essays and posts.
Santa Fe sentences or French Provincial paragraphs may be fine for some, but if they are not our sentences, our paragraphs, they’ll never help us reach our own quite particular conclusions. In writing as in life, all of the memories and dreams, experiences and hopes that have come to us from the past will do perfectly well to enrich the present and carry us into the future.
It’s only a question of how they should be arranged.