My favorite coffee table book is titled: “Never Stop To Think, Do I Have A Place For This?”.
I love little, pretty things. When I was a child I collected glass animals and doll house furniture. When my son was a baby, he found something most days that he wanted to hold and to carry along all day – coconuts, a pumpkin, a special stone. He still does that now at 11, he will fetch a shark tooth or a crystal from his room and carry it about.
Because we frequently move internationally, my attachment to things is hard on us. We travel by container. Other people arrive at a new compound with ten or fifteen boxes; their houses stay bare. We arrive with a truck loaded with hundreds of boxes, my shells, my ribbons from all over the world, my beach marbles, my collection of broken China, my beads from all over the world, the old ghee can holding my paintbrushes that I bought from an Indian wood carver, my family silver, my burlap rice sacks, my collection of tin boxes. When we moved from Qatar to Tanzania we left a 5 bathroom villa for a tiny, old house. It’s 80 square meters. I loved the house when I saw it – I love the absurdity of it – this place was once two tiny homes for the single teachers who came here 55 years ago. When the school connected the homes they left both staircases. Although we only have one kitchen it’s quite obvious where the other one was. We built a porch along the back of the house so I could have a place for my thousands of beach bottles and the hundreds of fishing buoys from all over the world. Then my husband put a picture hanging strip of wood along the ceiling of every single room so that I could hang the hundreds and hundreds of pieces of art I carry along without having to drill holes in the cement walls. Ultimately I drilled loads of holes anyway, so I could wrap myself in the things I think are beautiful. The other day my son was testing a paper airplane for a science experiment and flew it into my collection of Egyptian perfume bottles, breaking into bits. I’ve learnt to tell him the truth: The person who tends to break stuff is me, and nothing I own matters all that much, not really.
I express my neediness in my accumulation of things. I express my power in the way I decorate my spaces with my strange things. My ulterior intention is to create a haven, a sanctuary. A house is not a fort to hide in. It’s a perch to launch from. The only thing I really own, the only thing that will ever really be mine, the only thing that I can’t lose, is my identity. There is delicious liberty in looking at some treasure that’s just been broken and say, “Yeah, nevermind.” The Room of My Own, that highest of heavens, is in my heart, and my mind fights to express it, my heart billows outward in ecstasy at the triumphant wonders of this world, and my mind then staggers to keep up, to find a way to celebrate and to rejoice in little, pretty things. I feel as lucky as Michelangelo because I get to paint matchbooks all day long. I get to put my fingers inside of images that I love and I get to shoot life and passion into them, to raise them up to a new place, to liberate them from their modesty and to show my sweet matchbooks what they are because they are loved.
My grandmother gave me only one book in her lifetime- a book of poems by a poet who lived for only a short time, and wrote in Europe during the World Wars. Rupert Brooke’s The Great Lover is one of my very favorite bits of language. I cannot count the number of times I’ve walked the beach and said to myself, “the little dulling edge of foam that browns and dwindles as the wave goes home.”
The Great Lover
by Rupert Brooke
AMS Press, New York ©1977
I have been so great a lover: filled my days
So proudly with the splendour of Love’s praise,
The pain, the calm, and the astonishment,
Desire illimitable, and still content,
And all dear names men use to cheat despair,
For the perplexed and viewless streams that bear
Our hearts at random down the dark of life.
Now, ere the unthinking silence on that strife
Steals down, I would cheat drowsy death so far,
My night shall be remembered for a star
That outshone all the suns of all men’s days.
Shall I not crown them with immortal praise
Whom I have loved, who have given me, dared with
High secrets, and in darkness knelt to see
The inerrable godhead of delight?
Love is a flame: – we have beaconed the world’s night.
A city: – and we have built it, these and I.
An Emperor: – we have taught the world to die.
So, for their sakes I loved, ere I go hence,
And the high cause of Love’s magnificence,
And to keep loyalties young, I’ll write those names
Golden for ever, eagles, crying flames,
And set them as a banner, that men may know,
To dare the generations, burn, and blow
Out on the wind of Time, shining and streaming….
These I have loved:
White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,
Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crusts
Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;
Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;
And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;
And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny
Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;
Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon
Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss
Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is
Shining and free; blue-massing clouds; the keen
Unpassioned beauty of a great machine;
The benison of hot water; furs to touch;
The good smell of old clothes; and others such-
The comfortable smell of friendly fingers,
Hair’s fragrance, and the musty reek that lingers
About dead leaves and last year’s ferns…
And thousand other throng to me! Royal flames;
Sweet water’s dimpling laugh from tap or spring;
Holes in the ground; and voices that do sing;
Voices in laughter, too; and body’s pain,
Soon turned to peace; and the deep-panting train;
Firm sands; the little dulling edge of foam
That browns and dwindles as the wave goes home;
And washen stones, gay for an hour; the cold
Graveness of iron; moist black earthen mould,-
Sleep; and high places; footprints in the dew;
And oaks; and brown horse-chestnuts, glossy-new;
And new peeled sticks; and shining pools on grass;-
All these have been my loves. And these shall pass,
Whatever passes not, in the great hour,
Nor all my passion, all my prayer, have power
To hold them with me through the gate of Death.
They’ll play deserter, turn with the traitor breath,
Break the high bond we made, and sell Love’s trust
And sacramented covenant to dust.
—Oh, never a doubt but, somewhere, I shall wake,
And give what’s left of love again, and make
New friends, now strangers…
But the best I’ve known
Stays here, and changes, breaks, grows old, is blown
About the winds of the world, and fades from brains
Of living men, and dies.;
O dear my loves, O faithless, once again
This one last gift I give: that after man
Shall know, and later lovers, far-removed,
Praise you, ‘All these were lovely’; say, ‘He loved.’