Letter from My 48th Year (Jan 13)
I am spending most of today in bed. The parts of the bed over which I’m not sprawled are slowly filling up: my journal, letters from friends, blank cards, books. I have just finished most of a small bowl of Ritz crackers, and I’ve brewed a mug of chocolate peppermint tea to which I’ve added a small squirt of local honey bought at the downtown Silver Spring Farmer’s Market. The tea is in a blue and white Japonesque mug that has both a lid and a basket for brewing tea (though in this instance I’ve used a tea bag.) The mug was a gift from a friend of my sister’s for one of my past birthdays. (Thanks Stephanie!) She gifted it to me with a book of postcards by Hiroshige. I’m still not sure how she knew it was the perfect gift.
In this new apartment, which is really not that new anymore, I rarely do anything in my bedroom but change my clothes and sleep or try to sleep. Though the royal blue walls still make my heart dance every time I enter the bedroom, I have taken to sprawling on the blue couch, or the black wicker chair from IKEA, or one of the gilded cane-back chairs with their vintage golden Chinoiserie upholstery—all in the living room—for reading and writing. It’s a change from my last two apartments, where the heart of my apartment really was the bedroom, where I cloistered myself to think and create though I lived alone and could have full run of the apartment. I think the difference here is that the living room (which I’ve taken to calling “the great room” because it really is one large room comprising dining area, desk, living room, libtaty, etc.) is flooded with light most of the day, and, like a cat, I cloister myself in that heat, the way I used to burrow into the shade and shadow of late afternoon in my previous apartments.
During my fellowship year in Provincetown, I would bundle up, somehow talk myself into bracing the winter cold in order to get to the library, and then return home to my small apartment, which usually smelled like the sea and like apple crisp. I would dump a large stack of books on my bed and crawl beneath the covers, books and journal close at hand. I don’t remember if I would play music. And I don’t remember if there was a nightstand where I could place a mug of tea or tumbler of whisky. But I do remember that rush of happiness at having nothing I needed to do, nowhere I needed to be but in that bed, under those blankets, with Colette or May Sarton or some smooth-talking poet cuddled up next to me.
I was sometimes lonely in Provincetown but also gloriously awash in solitude. Under those covers, in the pages of those books, in the blue lines I scribbled across page and page and page, I could be utterly me, and I could discover more of me bit by bit. I could shelter and hide and burrow and hermit and escape, all in broad daylight, that dazzling, clarifying, revelatory light of that beautiful, hard-luck village at what seemed like the country’s raw edge.
Part of what has propelled me to take up my old habits is wanting to revisit May Sarton’s The House by the Sea, which I reread periodically. It has overtaken Journal of a Solitude as my favorite, I think because in it she lives on the ocean (in Journal of a Solitude she lives on the village green in a New Hampshire town), not in some picturesque Southern beach town, but in Maine, where I imagine the sea is somehow more beautiful because the warm months are spare and the ocean’s beauty leaner and more hard-won. (I don’t know if that’s actually true or not in Maine, but in Provincetown, even in summertime, there’s still something rough and unforgiving about the beach, there is no easy prettiness though it remains compelling all the same.)
Here is a line from Sarton’s entry for November 20, 1974: “I can’t stop doing what I have always done, trying to sort out and shape experience.”
I look around at the blue walls, the hard-won sunlight streaming slyly through the window, the vintage dressing table with its precious glass top that I bought from the late and still-missed Moonshadows in Takoma Park, the vintage press I found on Craig’s list, the discounted tapestry from Urban Outfitters I’m using as a bedsheet, and I think, Ah yes, this quote isn’t just about writing. Isn’t that too what we do when we craft our homes, deciding on which sheets, which bed frame, which rug to float on top of the industrial carpet? Aren’t we sorting out and shaping our experiences with beauty, with comfort, with how we like to feel when we are utterly, gloriously, splendidly alone with ourselves?