Collecting and uncollecting

I’ve–almost–bought a house. I close on Wednesday, and the final walk through is Monday. For a variety of reasons, mainly practical, I’ve resisted really packing until the papers are signed. Partly, I don’t want to jinx anything. My superstitious side is pretty strong about these sorts of things. Partly, my apartment is small, and dismantling it while also finishing up this semester that’s been such a relentless marathon for everyone would mean weeks of living with boxes, something I hate. (Seriously, the whole school is gasping from exhaustion; it’s the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced in my 10 years teaching.) But, now that I need to start packing, I also find myself uncollecting stuff to a certain extent. I’ve cleaned out the closet, and I’m sending off things to people. Mostly knitted stuff for babies that are coming this year. I’m passing books off to people, and making sure user manuals to things like the TiVo are in their proper binder so I can re-set up my life in a new space. A space that I own. It also means a certain amount of collecting–boxes, paint and formica chips, ideas and concepts.

“The house protects the dreamer.” Bachelard’s poetic response to the concept of the house has long resonated with me. The house is a space for daydreaming, but it’s also a space of day dreaming. I’ve long collected dishes and colors and ideas for when I had a home of my own, painting in my head a life lived in a dream space not yet realized. I’ve also long been collecting books about space and houses. Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, a book I’ve adored since high school begins “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” The film version repeats that phrase, “I had a farm in Africa.” It’s a deliberate echo of loss since the narrator no longer possesses the farm or the life she began there. But it’s also a dreaming phrase; “I had a farm in Africa” is imbued with potentialities, of different narratives and dreams. Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun has a similar beginning: “I am about to buy a house in a foreign country.” What follows is an account of renovating Bramasole (and what joy to have a house with a name, and such a name, “to yearn for the sun”) but also of how Mayes and her husband build a life there, transplanted from their lives in San Fransisco. Both of these are ostensibly travel narratives, but in fact, we travel to try out lives in other places, to see where we can imagine ourselves living. Frances Hogdson Burnett simply rented or bought homes where she wanted to go, lavishly setting up new lives for herself in the English countryside, New York City, Portland Place in London, Paris, Italy, and the Caribbean. The constant writing to paying for these lives exhausted her, but she never once thought about giving up her lives in these different spaces. She understood that having a house in a foreign clime reshaped your dreaming, provided prospective. I’ve embarked on this journey, even though Fort Smith is not a “foreign” land, I do feel it’s resounding differences from my roots in Dallas. I am transplanting myself to this new soil. I am buying house between the Ouachita and Ozark mountains.

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