Before life begins: my tan bedsheets hug my mattress, the air is saccharine with enough febreeze to trigger a mild asthma attack, drawers clenched tightly closed,
I am alone in the early morning, still not able to make a bed the way my mom can.
But I can create amateur stillness with the best of them.
My deodorant is not yet wedged under my dresser, setting powder didn’t find its way to Pollock the standing mirror in the corner, and I don’t have residuals of the day making their way onto tables by means of glasses or socks or wrappers.
“All these pictures in all the magazines and books and catalogues depict the home before life begins, the house with the flowers on the table and the pillows on the sofa and no one yet arrived, unrumpled sheets, uneaten cakes.”
The subject of the hour, the profession that thrives on everything before life begins, is the decoration of interior space.
Leading us through this, will be Rebecca Solnit’s essay “Inside Out, or Interior Space (and Interior Decoration)”.
Tidbits of Solnit were included in my previous post concerning God-complexes in design and lifestyle design, but she deserved more room.
This 2006 piece is housed in The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness where Solnit has a poet’s tongue, a journalist’s eye, and a carpenter’s way of building, cutting and segmenting a story.
From one poet to another, she is able to do something with non-fiction that triggers a feeling only poetics can normally do for me.
If she doesn’t already, she will compel and challenge you too.
I broke this 16 page essay into 5 sections that us writers, readers, weavers of space and room, need to pay attention to.
A) Dream Houses and Admiration Complexes:
The “grass is always greener” ideology is not only applicable when humans desire something that isn’t theirs.
It’s also the same framework that has us itching for better beauty, possessions, and people, believing if we could have them, our lives would become fully enriched and living would be more meaningful and whole (get a grip).
Maybe that path towards life is all about the stylized: media dripping from fangs and nails, trend mongering lifestyles influencing every move.
But what about the real life that stays with you when you pull into the driveway: the rules, regulations and ideals that dually keep you leashed and in flight. The actual fullness?
According to Solnit admiring houses, and then attempting to make our homes perfectly designed, trimmed and actualIzed, is a stalemate if we ever want to live and think about what really matters:
“The dream of a house can be the eternally postponed preliminary step to taking up the lives we wish we were living. Houses are cluttered with wishes.”
There is a desire and a lust for wish-fulfillment, and then a holding ground for it in decoration.
B) Hoarding and Being Materialistic
Materialism. Big word. Big problems.
A lot of people you know are painfully materialistic! To extreme measures you can’t understand or see! Smile at them with sadness in your eyes!
Blame it partially on the above wish-fulfillment they crave, but also partially on the cold hard fact that most human beings truly suck.
So in the world that The 470 resides in, where structures, patterns and chairs are king… where do we fit?
This section resonates the most with me, because for a long time I even had trouble connecting a lot of my philosophies and intellect to why I felt that there was something special in the happenings of style and home design.
But then, as reading always does, I was brought relief.
Solnit says it’s time we need to understand being materialistic, “one who engages in craving, hoarding, collecting, accumulating with an eye to stockpiling wealth or status”, is different than having a deep pleasure in materials.
Pleasure in “a gleam of water as well as silver, the sparkle of dew as well as diamonds, an enthusiasm for the peonies that will crumble in a week as well as the painting of peonies that will last”.
As an artist, poet, writer, I have always had a muse-like relation with material.
I pay attention to everything, the rest follows suit.
And as a designer I move away from first term because “it’s the job of artists to find out how materials and images speak, to make the mute material world come to life” and in an attempt to not participate with objects purely made for distraction.
C) Commodities and Copywriting
Advertising is a job in itself that must happen if companies want marketing plans to succeed, if they need exposure, or if they generally wish to exist.
I’m versed in business, I get it.
But there is an increasing trend, as Solnit puts it, that “passion can become whoredom”.
Describing these materials, furnitures, objects or lifestyle pieces inauthentically, or degenerating into chatter and pitches, takes away the aforementioned artistry. Sell. Sell. Sell.
The home industry is very easy to make into a commodity.
Just as Solnit references an estate sale near UCLA after the owner’s passing: “the equipment of a particular life turned back into commodities the way that a stricken body is broken down into organ donations”.
And think about the new space of the Instagram industry, the captions and intent behind your favorite home influencers… What exactly are they doing? Do they know? Do you know?
D) A Women’s Place in the Home, A Man’s in…
Solnit says the best piece of furniture in classic lit is Penelope and Odysseus’s bed.
If it’s been a while, Odysseus is the hero of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, he’s the king of Ithaca, does the whole Trojan War thing and then takes 10 years to get home while Penelope has to fight off drunk, grimy suitors and have dinner waiting every night.
When he gets home she tests him by asking if he wants to move the bed (which is one post an olive tree) to confirm his identity, “furniture reaffirms the marriage”.
Annoying. I would have just thrown cold 10-year-old mashed potatoes at him to start but… Myths, man.
So Solnit uses this literary example as “the female is a fixture in the landscape the man traverses and conquers.”
Men had more mobility and the house is often seen as the extension of the female body.
It is hard to grow and change inside a house, “the role of architecture is explicitly the control of sexuality, or more precisely, women’s sexuality, the chastity of the girl, the fidelity of the wife”.
But so much time in just a house…as Virginia Woolf puts it, “objects which perpetually express the oddity of our own temperaments and enforce the memories of our own experience”, is identity numbing.
E) Martha Stewart, homegirl is Circe
I’m Odysseus. I would have not taken as long to get home but I’m an Odysseus.
I like to float between being defined by what I make and defining myself by what I do and that can only happen when you are at home but also transitory.
Martha Stewart, the ultimate player of a homemaker, balanced all her events of plush leisure with a subtext of labor. The queen of “before life begins”, playing hostess but never hosting. There is no explanation or fostering of relationships in this world of hers.
Solnit claims this is just like Circe who was devoid of relational activity but turned men into animals or purchasable brethren when they came to her ~island getaway~.
Martha is not someone who is necessarily slowing down and enjoy the party, the house, the love, she is just constantly planning for it.
“It’s much easier to decorate the set than to control the drama or even find the right actors or even any actors at all.”
- Have a real human life! Make a system of checks and balances and values so you’re not an air-head, an axe-murderer or an awful friend. Fulfill your own wishes.
- Don’t ogle over materials unless it is your art or part of an artistic process. If you do get all wide-eyed and hot over objects, you’ll be sad your whole life because they don’t have the capacity to love you back.
- Stop making passions whoredoms.
- Leave your house.
- Women are powerful. Martha Stewart, like all of us needs to kick back, sip an IPA and separate living through events from living life (slow living, cough).
Read more into the history behind the home in the essay! Please! This has nothing to do with me except thinking about your enjoyment as a reader!!