Monday, September 14, 2009
I’ve been thinking about—yearning for—clean surfaces, the Georgia O’Keeffe aesthetic. Every time I step around another pile, I envision expanses of white wall and a long old wooden table, perfectly bare, from a farmhouse in the country, from some carver of santos outside Oaxaca whose work is holy and who talks and prays and curses to a sweet-faced Madonna with gold-leaf on her cheek who has the same nose as his mother’s youngest sister, dead early from a weakness of the heart. At mealtimes when I try to find a clean dish somewhere in the kitchen, some place to set and use the chopping board, I see rooms empty of all but a handful of black water-polished river stones, or a single rosy pomegranate in a simple black bowl. Space to breathe, space to create. I can only believe equal expanses of time will follow, when my living quarters are not choked by clutter, by the accumulation of weighty and demanding things. Such a quantity of things—abandoned, unfinished, reproachful.
My finances are in a mess too. I need to find ways to save money, to cut back the increasing insistence of bills. And then one morning lying in my bedroom where the piles are worst, imagining them like flood tides lapping up against the pilings of the bed, carrying wreckage, it comes to me. I think of a terrific solution. I’ll move into a single room, almost perfectly empty. Pure as a monastery cell. I’m excited about the idea, get up to turn on the computer and look through what’s available on Craig’s list. Idly at first, but then quite serious, determined to make this drastic, liberating change. I’ll have a quiet bed, a small writing table, a window with a view onto a garden or some hills—nothing I have to tend. That’s it. I’ll put all of my things in storage, save money on my rent that I can travel with and pay off bills, eat only a little brown rice with vegetables (take-out or from a compact microwave), live unfettered, become a better person. I’ll write in the lucid mornings, meditate in the long evenings. Go to bed, without television, with the sun. Live with the honest clarity of Georgia O’Keeffe’s wind-bleached skulls. Without a million distractions and demands; with room and time enough to do whatever I choose. I print out one or two of the ads. I’ll call right away, before somebody else snatches the chance away from me.
I’ll just take my Bonnard posters, I think. The big ones, anyway. The one all blues and oranges, and the open door with summer through it, and the one on my piano of the wonderful Black Lab eying a cherry tart on a table set for Sunday lunch somewhere in the French countryside—the one Steve bought in Martigny the year we went to find the aqueduct. Will there be enough wall space? I can always prop them on the floor if I have to. They’ll add color; the room will probably be nondescript.
The Black Lab, though—that worries me. What happens when I need to look after Duet, my aging friend, my “time-share” dog, dear blithe spirit? Would any of the rooms allow a dog sometimes? There’s the piano, too, bought for me for $1.00 by my parents for my childhood lessons (I’ve got the funny $1.00 receipt from Mr. Fernandez the old owner, our Sombrio Drive neighbor, somewhere too). I don’t think I’ll be able to store a piano. And I promised myself I’d learn to play all the Beethoven sonatas someday. To play the Beethoven sonatas, and bake bread. I have done that at least. I love to feel the dough giving and resisting under my fisted hands, to discover together its proper firmness; love to sit in my favorite oversized armchair while the rye or seedy wheat is rising, slowly, surely, through a sunny morning, under one of the striped cotton dishtowels that always seem so innocent, so like my namesake Granny Belle. I’ll need an oven, I realize—I can’t give up the possibility of bread; and someplace to keep my big bread bowl, warped in a funny way like rippled water since I got it too close to a burner once. The towels, too. And that other one, of the Rosetta stone, that my friend Cherry in archaeology class brought back from the British Museum for me, and the one that goes with it, whose colors match so perfectly.
Of course I’ll have to have all of my books, for reference, and the two cabinets and deep file drawers of writing—all the things I mean to finish someday. My photographs, too, in the six-drawer chest that almost holds them, with just one more extra-long shelf (oh, and don’t forget—those underneath the bed, the oversized ones; and the negatives if I can find them). My lime tree, though it needs a bigger pot and fertilizer, and the Zen stone from my secret back garden. The Burmese water bowl beside it, with its lovely celadon color, and that kind of lily I’ve got growing in it in the shade back there, where the fence had to be replaced after Bruce died—never again to hand plums over it. I need an outdoor space. And there’s my little green Parisian café table where I write (or mean to) summer mornings, where I drink my Peet’s out of the green and white Italian cup with its saucer and watch the play of leaf-shadow on the old doghouse from the previous tenants with vines growing up through it. I can’t give up any of that. I’ll need my coffee grinder, and someplace to keep the coffee beans—a refrigerator, really, and the red whistling teakettle that calls me when it’s ready . . . .
I am too sad, panicked almost, thinking about doing without these things that have defined me. The kiva ladder, the rocking chair my mother’s brother Kink (the funny one) re-caned, the purple coyote howling at life, my pottery from Skyros—things that hold my past my world my memories my being. Things I honestly love. What would I be without them? What point would there be in tearing out my heart, being confined with nothing in a small, mean space, foreign to me? The bleakness and the desolation, the estrangement of that thought are terrifying. Even the Stonehouse olive oil with the delicate flavor and scent of lemon peel which I got last month at the shop in the Ferry Building (a train ride to the water), even the loss of that one thing would somehow forever diminish me. The Monk’s Blend Tea from Boston and the perfect two-cup teapot Heidi gave me, for those gray days when the thought of tea is comforting; the lobelia that is blooming through the winter for the first year and the violets scattered through the grasses by the side fence—what can Georgia O’Keeffe have been thinking? How did she ever get by?
I’m sad for her. The woman in the desert. How arid that kind of life must be—all that lonely emptiness to fill.