Thursday, January 12, 2017

This Is Not About A Couch (Nov. 4, 2009)

After what seemed like longer than it should take, the furniture is in its place and boxes are unpacked and this rented house is starting to emerge, looking like something that could be mine for a while. It's old and creaky, drafty and a bit like the slow cousin who comes to the family reunion and stands there by the appetizers all day, quiet and in mismatched clothes, next to her more stylish relatives. There are these cute renovated houses that surround me, nice paint jobs, manicured lawns. I'm trying to not have lawn envy. I've never had lawn envy. In fact, all of this is new: this living-in-a-house thing. I joke that I moved every year with a new lease, but truly I've lived on the Upper West Side, the West Village, the East Village, Brooklyn, Hoboken, Jersey City Heights, Van Vorst Park area and downtown Jersey City, with a stint sleeping on a couch in SoHo. All apartments. Some lofts, some studios, 2 3-bedroom pre-war apartments (once, I rented the "maids" quarters for $400, which was teensy and had a toilet in the closet). I've had plants. I had a backyard on Bright Street that I did nothing with. And I gardened in my Jersey City studio. But now I have a lawn. A front and back lawn. I don't own a mower and quite honestly, I'm not investing in one because these 2 very nice young men were leaf-blowing my neighbors' house yesterday and I waved them down and got myself on their circuit of lawn care. Of course, they are songwriters (you can't spit here...kind of like in NYC everyone's an actor/playwright). Halloween was humbling. I was unloading boxes and had forgotten that it was Halloween. I've never had trick or treaters in my NYC-New Jersey places and I don't have kids and I don't particularly love candy (although I'm a sucker for candy corn and those little orange pumpkins with the green tops). Evening came and my street exploded with witches and ghosts and vampires and skeletons and aliens and Harry Potters and Super Heroes and princesses and fairies. The folks across the street had decorated and so had a lot of other of my neighbors, while I--lameass newly moved in citygirl--had to turn the front porch lights off as I had nothing to offer. Sadly, a few stragglers would knock on my door and I'd sheepishly call out "I'm sorry. I don't have anything." Of course, I could have driven over to the store and bought stuff, but I was awash in boxes and books and files.

This is not about a couch.

Once I unpacked, I realized I had a load of borrowed furniture and not one comfortable, lie-around-and-watch-a-movie couch, that would pull out or fold down if a friend came by. Just my grandmother's funky old antique that's nice to sit on, but not so comfortable to spread out on, and certain nothing anyone would "crash" on, and being alone here, I think I'm open to the "crashing". So first thing -- I went and bought a couch. But sleepers are extraordinarily ugly and bulky and really, in the end, not so comfortable, and futons remind me of college, so I got one of those click-clack pull down couches that's like a futon but looks more like a couch. Its super comfortable, but quite honestly, I think its pretty ugly. The dirt cheap ones were ugly AND uncomfortable. So I went with something that was semi-ugly, not miserably pathetic, but super comfortable and won't take up the entire room if pulled down. So it encourages use. I'm doing my best to find some kind of "design" sense, although I feel a bit like a post-grad with a mish-mash of things. I had a great design sense when I shared a house with a man with a shared love of Mission and Arts & Crafts, but he also had a good job and furnishing a place as a couple is vastly more fun and easier than trying to do this alone, on an artist's budget. I'm hoping the collection of Indian print pillows I have thrown on the couch hide its warts. Like I said: its comfortable.

I know this is silly. Wasting the last half hour writing about a couch. Or furniture. Or a new house. But its all new. This putting-things-in-their-righteous-place-in-a-semblance-of-a-newly-discovered-or-long-recovering-aesthetic-while-trying-not-to-freak-out-that-I-don't-yet-have-it-all-together thing. I did heave a huge sigh of relief when I got rid of the crazy room--the room someone had painted dark brown and bright blue with a tree, branches of blue bleeding into the brown and visa-versa (yep. seriously). I painted it a nice neutral sandstone/adobe. And then sighed a pleasant, calming, ah ha. And unpacked my books into my new shelves I bought cheaply, and put things away. Put things on the walls. Lit some candles. Sat on my new couch. Poured a glass of wine. And proceeded to ....


Which was a surprise. 5 days of figuring out where things go, of buying what I lacked and reshuffling what I had. Excited to see the whole picture emerge. And when it did, the wellspring opened. Which took me by surprise. But it was brief and I got some lyrics out of it (a total cliche of the songwriter blubbering, tear-stains on the composition book, guitar in hand, singing melodies through the sniffles and sobs). And I let it pass. And this morning, I woke up and sat in my ugly couch, drinking my coffee watching MSNBC and felt, still, a bit out of sorts, but felt rather ok about being unsettled, still. The couch isn't perfect, but its what I could afford and it works for now. The house isn't perfect. The lyrics I wrote last night certainly are not only not perfect, they kind of suck. But I wrote them and they're mine.

I've been writing for a year in this blog about segues. Transitions and metamorphoses. This is about life and art and self and study and love and loss. This is about embracing the moment when you get what you need, even if its not exactly what you thought it would look like. This about having what's good for right now, rather than what you think you might want eventually. This is about letting the grief come and go like a wave and not allowing it to define. And having a pot of soup on and a bottle of wine and a good couch for sleeping so that this space can embrace someone else who needs it.

What I hear most often from these creaky walls is the distant sound of a train. I don't know where it is, where its coming from or where its going, but there's nothing I love so much as the sound of a train. It takes me backward to memory and forward to dreaming. It wakes me and lulls me to sleep.

Like I said, this is not about a couch.


I like to see it lap the miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step

Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare

To fit its sides, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill

And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop -- docile and omnipotent --
At its own stable door.
(Emily Dickenson)

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