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.

21 comments:

downtown guy said...

Anything that can't take a little bang bang bang is probably unnecessary in my life. Also, I love this one. But then, I love all your entries.

May said...

Well right back atchya. You'll have to come over and see how great your calendar looks on my wall. It is my newest favorite thing.

downtown guy said...

I will! What are you doing this week? Want to get up and watch Battlestar?

SJ said...

Hi ladybird,

Well I'll start with what I always tell you after I read one of your blogs: I love when you write! I love you! We are soulmates!

Now, onto other matters. I live alone, and my two cats have the run of the house pretty much. I hid two toys from them last night up on the high bookshelf, and this morning they were on the floor. They're wily, they are.


I had a man spend last night with me, and I always think those questions when I have men in the house --how on earth do people really live together? What is he thinking of my pantyliner and tampon display in the bathroom that I dont bother to even hide because who cares? Also there are litter boxes in two locations, which I'm sure is always sexy to look at to a guy.

My apartment is big, and hardwood floors, and really pretty despite its tendency to flood. I've got stuff all over the walls, as I can't stand bare walls...furniture is sparse, but mostly because of my lack of a truck and money.

Oh. And most importantly of all --a kitty PIRATE SHIP? Where, where, can I purchase this? Mary? Chime in?

Ms. Moon said...

SJ- they were on sale at Publix. I don't know where you could get another. Dang. They are cool.
Oh Maisie. You've bang, bang, banged my heart right out of my chest and you KNOW how I decorate. Hand me the hammer and that string of Christmas lights and that box? Oh, it has ashes in it. Of a dead person.
Right now I am looking at pictures of you and a Frida print and some wild swirly Mexican glasses and a pitcher that Kathleen got me and an old green suitcase filled with hats and the giant angel, Mary, Joseph, and baby that came with the house and feathers from a parrot and from a guinea hen and a picture of Lynn and, and, and...
How DO people live together? They just do it until the edges are all smoothed down like rocks in the river and boy, does it ever help if you don't have to share a bathroom! And if there is at least one room which the non-dominant decorator can call his own and hang his deer heads and his fish in.
Yes. That is how we have figured it out.
I love your writing so much.
I love you even more.

dbs said...

I live with my wife and my two teens, one girl, one boy. I love my house so much and it's a tapestry but my favourite thing about it is the light. I have sat and watched how the light moves across a room down a wall and over the hardwood floors. I love that. But that's just my thing. I bet my wife would say she loves how people mingle and meet and move through our house. I think my daughter would say the colours especially and her private spaces, there are huge flowers on her walls, we painted them together. She and my son love the corner of the living room where their guitars and music books wait. Overall, my son doesn't seem to notice the house except at holidays. He's the first to display jack-o-lanterns and Christmas ornaments.
Wow. Your writing makes me look at the world differently. Thank you.

May said...

DTG- Hmmmm... Battlestar? Mebbe. I am not sure what the week will bring, but that sounds like fun. I'll bring the okra and the orange soda.

SJ- Yes we are soulmates and perhaps our cats are too. Yes you need a kitty pirate ship, if only so that I am not the only one being attacked. She aims for booty! DTG has one too, actually, but I don't know if Baggy has really taken to it. Her pirate ship is in her MIND. Somehow I am not surprised you hate blank walls. They just stare at you, don't they?

Mama- I of course learned how to decorate by watching you. I thought of you and your house when Salar was here one time and said, "There's just so much to look at!" because if he thinks that about my place, oh man...
I do think that you and Daddy have the perfect lay-out. Glen Den + separate bathrooms= marital bliss. I could do that. I love you so so so much. You bang bang my heart too.

dbs- What I think is beautiful about what you wrote here is that you are all different people in your house with different eyes but the same house satisfies all those things you each need. Light, space, color, tradition.... I love that. Thank you for sharing.

downtown guy said...

Sweet deal. I'm willing to come to your place if you don't want to leave your home.

Elizabeth said...

I'm all bang, bang, bang over you, too. I was married the first time to guy who bought everything cheap and ugly and didn't care one whit about decorating. Maybe we were married to the same guy, once? My second and present Husband doesn't give a damn in the best way, meaning that I cando as I please and he just has his neat little Swiss corners here and there that I tolerate. My three children's stuff takes up an awful lot of room, but they're still at an age where I can rule what's out and what's put away and my littlest guy sort of likes the same stuff as me, so that works.

Oh, and I am a bang, bang, bang type picture hanger as well.

Django said...

I don't decorate as much as collect things and set them on empty spaces. I don't dust. I think almost all of my art is hung on existing nails. My entire living quarters are green. Green walls, green trim, green couch, green curtains, green blinds, green housepants, green tablecloth, green blanket. I don't have any mirrors except in the bathroom (and one with a print of Elvis Aaron Presley Himself up high where it's more of a painting than a mirror).

I'd like to think that I find my furniture bit by bit, upgrading as I go. Swapping the old gigantic speaker that served as a computer/TV stand for a sturdier fixture with more shelves and a better height worked just fine. But I've still got a lamp that leans to the right at a bad angle. I still don't have a real coat rack or bookshelf. My end table is the speaker that used to be the TV stand. Oh God, my place probably drove you nuts when you visited. All mishmashed with sharp corners.

I have things around. Little toys and sculptures and games and broken clocks rest on all of the up-high surfaces in my living room. Watches, thumbtacks, lotion and knickknacks on the lower areas. DVDs and CDs lean together with books and why the hell is there a can of nuts with them? That doesn't make any sense.

Some day I want to have a house where everything in it is just so. A house with cupboards that have lights behind the semi-opaque doors (I really like opening things with lights behind them). A house with the right curves and shapes and weights for everything. I tell myself I can do that when I'm a grown up and then I take a minute to pretend that I'm not a grownup already, or things get a tiny bit depressing.

Your mirror words made me feel like Bastian Balthazar Bux.

May said...

Elizabeth- Maybe we were married to the same man! Was he also overly sensitive? I think women should be in charge of the nesting, it is the right way of things. What is a Swiss corner? Is it an actual thing or just a way of saying very neat and tidy and square?

Django- Your house did not drive me crazy when I came to visit! I liked it. I felt like I was on a boat. I liked all your thingamagigs, I wanted to play with them.
Do you remember Tiny Tina's house? When you were describing how you would like your house to be, that's what I thought of. I want lighted cabinets too. I didn't know I did but now, yes. For Christmas, Mama gave me a fancy eyeshadow kit that when you open the top it has a pop-up, light-up view of New York City. Little tiny lights behind the buildings! I think it is magical.
Don't worry about your home. You've only been on your own for a couple of years now, you haven't had time or money to really make it grown up. Even though I think you sort of are.
Admit it- you CAN see me in the mirror! How do you like my new toothbrush?

Mel said...

I wonder a lot what my house says about me. Mostly that I'm a curious sentimental messy person, probably. I have rocks and fossils and mounted insects and books and photos everywhere. Take down any picture in my house and you will find a myriad of nail holes under it. I'm not a measure and think it out girl, just bang until I get it right. Now, my husband gets out a level and a square and a stud finder and one nail and it's perfect. We are opposites. He is neat and clean, I am cluttered with sentiment. We reached a compromise over the bedroom, in which I grudgingly removed my many mementos to the guest room, which I have decided to be the guest in. It has a writing desk, afternoon sun and van Gogh colors. My collection includes a curio shelf of teeny tiny things I have collected since I was teeny, a wooden box collection, each box containing a treasure connected to the box, a rock collection and a stuffed animal collection. I fumed about it for a while, but now I'm grateful he complained about the clutter, since it now has a room of its own, and I have a new place to hang out and think, or look out the window, or remember things.
I see the whole room too. I see themes, colors, symmetry, relationships. I would notice the matching curves of the butts. My kaleidoscope collection lives on the shelf with the fossils and the old books because they go together. It makes sense to me.
I have no sense of decor, as I was raised poor, hand me down, farmhouse style. I admire the decorative arts, but have no skill with them. But I don't mind. When I go to someone's house and they have books everywhere or a matchbook collection like mine, I know that we could be friends.
I could spend hours with you, just listening to you tell me about the things you decorate your home with.

Your words took my breath away. You caught it exactly:
I have my past hung around me like thumbtacks that hold my place in his world and prove that I have been here.

I don't know how people live together, it isn't easy. Compromise, mostly. My happiest years in my younger days, I lived alone. I can be a slob, but I go through phases of organization.


Thanks for this post. So much to ponder, and so grateful to know I'm not the only one with the attachment to small but important things.

Mel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ZenGato said...

I live with my sweet girl and we have no real style exactly but we fit well together. We are both big fans of minimalism and get cranky and feel bad when it feels like there is just too much around us. We bang bang bang on our apartment walls (against out lease as well, of course) and hang up art, photos and other randomness that probably seem very, well, random to our guests. It wasn't until we put things on the wall that the apartment turned into a home. We like very little furniture and very little belongings. Everything in it's place with a healthy amount of shoes strewn about, towels draped on door knobs and dog-eared books sitting around. Not too clean, not too sterile, but very open with clutter only in those places where our clutter goes (mostly our numerous bookcases and computer/craft desks). We also both love a good amount of homegrown art and lots and lots of pillows and blankets. We see the room as a whole, most definitely, and most items we own were bought or scavenged for that special place we wanted them to fit. If you want to see a photo collage I put together for a friend far away, here is a link: http://bit.ly/eJCa7h

All This Trouble... said...

I decorate with things that make my heart sing. AND I've heard I have a creepy, macabre side to my knick-knacks. I don't know.

May said...

Mel- I like the natural things. For all the beauty we can create as humans nature one-ups us every time.What you said about yourself and your home is exactly what I would have thought.
I think that if I was with someone I would want a room of my own. Mama has one and it is so lovely, I feel like I am going into a sacred space when she invites me in. It is the most special room in the house. I imagine that yours is as well.

ZenGato- Your house sounds so comfy. I checked out the link. This is so fun! It's like touring everyone's houses! What are all those fancy books? I like your naked ladies, I would put them on my wall. Is that a banjo? Do you play banjo? Did you paint that painting? You've always been such an artist.

All This Trouble- One of my dearest, most favorite friends, who is the sweetest man in the world, adores the macabre. I like to buy him tiny devils and Mexican skeletons. I like when sweet people have a little devil in 'em.

ZenGato said...

@May - The "fancy books" are a set my parents bought me over the course of years and gave me as a gift for sticking through getting my 2 year degree that took 7 years. They are a leather bound collection of "50 Greatest Books of the 20th Century". They are beautiful and have the old style illustrated plate pages in them along with 22k gold spines and ribbon markers. They make me feel smart even though most are still in their plastic. Nicci put together the naked ladies and printed them off her computer, they are all old French postcards. I have been attempting to learn the banjo for years but still know very little because I never have time. I mostly play around with it to relax since it always sounds good no matter what you do. And yes, it is my painting.

Mwa said...

I see a big picture but I haven't spent enough time getting things decorated. With five of us now, I seem to spend my whole time keeping chaos at bay. It does bug me that we have a cupboard in the living room that does not go with all the other stuff which is from my in-laws' houses - parents and grandparents. I want it to go upstairs because it would go wonderfully with my eldest son's room. I used to have so many beloved pictures and poems up but took them down for the move and then decided that I needed grown-up pictures but not sure what, which means that for five years now I've hardly had pictures up, except for the children's greatest hits. You are right - I should start banging.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

May,
I so enjoyed reading about your living space. I like imagining you there. It fits the image that I have of you.

I really related to this line:
We did not divorce over decorating, we divorced over sex and money, but decorating was my first freedom's pleasure.

I ran out and bought my own damn furniture when I separated from my ex-husband. I was so sick of hand-me down crap that was not to my taste. I left all our furniture with him. All of it.

I see individual things in my house. My couch is deep red. My hassock is deep purple. Clearly, they do not match, but visually, I enjoy them so.

I have a huge painting of a Buddha head on the wall above my flatscreen TV, and on another wall, I have a movie poster of Butch & Sundance. I have an old photo of my grandfather who died before I was born in the entryway and a framed Rufus Wainwright concert bill and a huge Ziggy Marley poster on another wall. All of this is in one room. It's quite a random cluster of shit, but it makes me happy and pleases my eye.

I hope your new year is good so far. I love you dearly.

SB

May said...

ZenGato- Thank you for checking back and answering my questions! You and your lady seem to jive together really well with your tastes and your things. I like that I could see both of you in those pictures, all wrapped up and together. And those books? Riches! Such riches!

Mwa- Why don't you take the cupboard upstairs? I know what you mean about deciding to take down poems and photos in want of grown-up art. But then what? I don't think about going out to look for things to hang on my wall, and when I'm out I never used to look through the framed items at stores, but Mama always does and she finds the most wonderful things at second hand shops. If you remember to look you might find something really beautiful. She has the touch, though. Whenever I look I only find pictures of clowns or someone's paint-by-number horse. Do you have paint-by-number over there?

SB- Your house sounds exactly perfect. I had a red couch once and I loooooved it, but it was only a borrow and I had to give it back eventually. Now I am stubborn and I hate all the couches I see that I can afford so I have no couch. I have a twin bed that I lounge on. It's like an opium den over here.
I love YOU dearly. When I see a comment from you it makes my day.

Tanya Ward Goodman said...

As always, your writing is wonderful. I can completely see your home -- feels like a home to me. I grew up with parents who put up anything and everything -- a stuffed wild pig shared space in the living room with a Tiffany lamp for instance... and I have inherited a little of that gene while at the same time, heading out into calmer clearer seas. I like my house to be a bit more spare (though not as spare as my husband would like) but the things in it are carefully chosen. I too, like old furniture, things with history. I share your pain over the Walmart table. Ikea fills me with some of the same dread. Your post has inspired me to take a look at the little space in my house that is just for me and do a little re-do. Thanks for your words and for the link to your brother's site. (aren't brothers the best?)