Monday, January 3, 2011
Thoughts On Decorating
I banged my way through some redecorating this morning. That is how those of us in these old Florida apartments do our redecorating- we bang some nails in the walls, hang some shit up, step back to look, and then bang some more nails in the walls. This is technically against the rules of every apartment I've ever lived in, but it is not one of the hard and fast ones. When you leave you can either fill the holes with white toothpaste, or you can leave them for the next occupant which is really the most helpful way because there are only so many places to hang pictures in a hovel. Three of my paintings are actually hung on nails that were already in the walls when I moved in, and the placement is perfect. No banging necessary.
I put up the amazing calendar that my brother, Downtown Guy, made for me. If you haven't stopped by his picture blog, I've Had Dreams Like That, I recommend you do so now. My brother is an artist and a writer whose words put my scribbles to shame. His picture blog combines that fine eye and that way with words with his love for discovery and his hunger for history and lays it all out there for us to see. Strange beauty, children with swords, dancers, fighters, ships, shanties- all that spins the imagination with some cock and titties thrown in for good measure. He picks images that my eyes want to look at and my brain to wrestle with, and he has, he has had dreams like that. For Christmas he made us calendars with pictures from the blog, and all along the days of the months he put in the songs and poems that fleshed out the pictures, and sometimes wrote his own words when no others would fit. When we were children he taught me the definition of 3-D by holding his threatening fist to my face, and now he has done it again by making something flat go in all directions at once. So I am three days late but now it is on the wall.
The calendar shares space with a Degas print that he found at the flea market for me and is the same painting that hung above my childhood bed until I moved out and was then lost in some move or the next. It was given to me originally by a boyfriend of my mother's who worked in or lived in or was connected to somehow a house with green velvet striped walls. The boyfriend was not important, it is the Degas that remains. The original hangs in the Musee de Orsay in Paris, and when I turned the corner and saw it there I burst into tears.
Also on the wall with the calendar and the Degas is a painting of girls with sensible shoes, another of a coffee cup (that one an original from my father to start my collection of original art, ha ha), a spray of coral from Dog Island, a pencil sketch of a bird by Alex "Feather Fingers" (a tattoo artist I know), a wash board (also given to me by DTG for our jug band we never quite got together), and a photograph of a family from the early nineteen hundreds where the mom wears glasses and a giant bow and the baby has parted hair. Bang bang bang, I promise they all go together.
Bang bang again and next to the front door is now a circular art deco mirror in a wooden frame that has on it two tiny shelves. One holds a blue teacup and the other a glass box of treasures. These are the treasures that are so precious they can only be put in something so magical as a glass box: a heart locket from Daddy Glen (aka Mr. Moon) that contains shell particles from St. Augustine Beach, a piece of shoelace from the shoe that was cut off of me by EMTs the day I was hit by the car, a screw removed from my leg that formerly held together my internal hardware, a medal earned by my Grandpa Fish, animal teeth of unknown species still in partial jawbone, and a platinum pin with a champagne diamond given to me on my wedding day by my Granny Ruth. The mirror that holds the shelves that hold the treasures was given to me this Christmas by my stepmother and so there she is too along with everything else.
A mirror is a tricky thing to hang, even one so small. All of the mirrors in my house are hung in such a way that you never have to accidentally see yourself when you don't want to. I don't like catching my reflection unawares, she looks so startled and so strange, not like me at all. Also, when I was a kid I had an imagining that when I looked into a mirror my best friend Django could see me in his, and I still look away when I don't want him to see my face.
The redecorating reminded me again of how much I like my apartment and also how I am sick to death of it. Everything is dusty. Everything is old. I have my past hung around me like thumbtacks that hold my place in his world and prove that I have been here. I have a green cabinet that holds pictures and obituaries of people I have lost and it grows busier and busier. Joe, Jarryd, Grandma Dot, Aunt Lynn, a valentine from a boy named Demetri now gone, and more. It also holds shells, a music box, a doll I made, some beads, all things they touched and now gather dust even though I still hold them in my hands sometimes. I need to hold them in my hands sometimes. Not often.
I think of my decorating style as tree house decorating. The scavenged chairs, the secondhand pictures, the hand-me-down tables, the yard sale lamps, the Flamenco dancer, the mannequin head, the multitude of books, the cups of pens. The newest thing I have is a kitty pirate ship Mama gave Lupita for Christmas, and now that she is a pirate, the cat is even harder to live with.
Until you have your own children, every new apartment really is just another tree house to live in. A place to put your treasures in. And read sometimes by candle light. And bang bang bang the nails in walls.
I do prefer the old things though. I'd rather have a scavenged chair than one from the store bought to match. I like things that are heavy and ornery, even if they lean to the side a bit. I want the things that tell a story, which is why I love my brother's blog, or a scuffed table, or a portrait of a family I do not know (as long as the baby's hair is parted so).
My ex husband and I did not argue much (until the end, of course) but one thing that always came up was the furniture and the furnishings and how they were arranged. He believed that it did not matter what something looked like, it was its use that was important. If we needed a computer desk he would go to Walmart and buy the cheapest one that served, while I was more apt to put the computer on a spindle-legged side table that I found in the trash on the side of the road because I liked the way the paint chipped or the way the shape of the thing fit into the room so nicely. I learned through living with him that he could not see a room as a whole, but only saw the individual things within it. So if I brought in a lamp with a water stained shade, he saw only a lamp with a water stained shade, whereas I saw how the shape of the base mirrored the shape of a vase on a shelf that was the same color as the skirt of the girl in the painting on the wall who also held a vase that was made of green glass and that is why I put the plant by the window where the light would shine through. It was a different way of seeing things. We could have found common ground I suppose, or compromise, but divorce came first. We did not divorce over decorating, we divorced over sex and money, but decorating was my first freedom's pleasure.
It has been so long now since I have lived with a man that I cannot imagine how one would fit in with all my things. Would he find my altar to lost people macabre and ask me to take it down? Would he see how the angle of the butt of the little girl painting in my bathroom matches the angle of the butt of the sexy pin-up girl in the advertisement for St. Germaine I hung next to her? Would he bring a giant leather chair? I would have to hide the tampons and stop hanging my bras from the doorknobs. Would he come into the bathroom to pee while I am shaving my legs? How do people live together at all?
Now I am curious, and I ask this of you: How is your house set up? Is it very important to you that things be just so? Do you share your house with others, and how does that work? Do you see individual things, or do you see it all as a tapestry? Do you have a physical reaction when you rearrange? I remember how that computer desk from the Walmart made my stomach hurt, though I don't remember if I told him that or not.
What is important to me is that my house is set up to be held easy in my eyes and soft in my heart, tells oh so many stories, and can take a little bang bang bang.