Morris Dancing

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“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Nineteenth-century artist and designer William Morris summed up a lot of his Life’s Work with this excellent piece of advice that has been steering me forward. The part of my brain that stores and puts together words has seemed  interested lately in trying out the No-Time Creative life.  My writing went the route of the Massachusetts drought, so I’ve been obsessively exploring anything creative that makes me feel woken up. (I know, I know. Write. Anyway. I’ve been stressed. I’m human.) I denuded the Boston Public Library of their style books on the funky blogger/found objects/simple living end of the spectrum. They taught me about color, scale, scaling back, and about my own style, which seems to involve boho peaks that flow easily into Zen-simple troughs and back again.

By the way, there are wonderful books and blogs out there! It delighted me to spot the same room in two books, once in a chapter on spare, clean-lined bohemian style and once in a book that describes the room as “maxed out.” Isn’t that great? Dear homeowners Emily and Adam: your driftwood lighting fixture rocks my soul. Can I hang out with you?

The thing is, I live in a Fairly Tiny apartment. Not the tiniest, but small enough to make the Tiny House lifestyle a good way to go. So, in trying to be at least creative with my hands, and hoping for a new atmosphere that would coax my Word Brain out of hiding, I took on Mr. Morris and his advice. Was everything around me where I live and mostly write useful and/or beautiful? Yeah, stop laughing. The question invited me to look at things I don’t even usually see anymore, and that felt Creative, especially exploring What I Find Beautiful.

It became clear that I possess much that has neither of those qualities.  And a lot of the non-beautiful is stuff of which I DO have beautiful examples. Too many coffee mugs, Dear Ones. Too many stones, shells, odd bits of furniture, plates, old clothes…the list goes on. I enjoy thrifting and beach-combing, but it’s good to practice Morris dancing, too. At the risk of this post becoming How I Edited My Mug Collection to Avoid Writing, I want to share how surprised I was by the clutter I just let become part of my habitat. It was enjoyable to pack mugs away for the charity shop. It was an aesthetic experience to dump a bowl of shells onto a towel and look at each of them, understanding what I find really beautiful, and putting only those back. The bowl is now something I see again. In the dull, stressed, humid world of this August, that’s something I appreciate.

I’ve been looking at many photos of tiny houses, small spaces, funky decor, and Zen as Habitat Principle, seeking the levels that make me feel at ease. What is the balance of simplicity/spaciousness and bohemian verve that welcomes a quiet spirit trying to have a productive CPT Life, but also welcomes a blue and purple, open-mouthed fish sculpture? The style authors and bloggers who say that one’s environment is a Work in Progress, thus setting it firmly into the Realm of Practice, make me smile. It’s been a creative, useful experience, and I recommend it for new perspectives and new inspiration. And anyone who can give me a lift to the thrift store with all this stuff, lunch is on me.

 

Bohemian, Inside and Out

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This piece originally appeared as a Guest Post at Cynthia Staples’s inspiring Words & Images Blog. Check it out at wordsandimagesbycynthia.com!

 

“Oh, you see one tree, you’ve seen them all,” a woman once said to my grandmother, who had just remarked on a tree she found beautiful. Gram repeated the comment throughout my childhood as “the saddest thing I ever heard anyone say.” I think so, too, and I’m thankful for the gift of knowing why.

We took walks when I was a little girl, and even not so little, in our neighborhoods and on the beach. Often Gram would stop to look at something commonplace, such as weeds in a patch by the side of the road. Isn’t it amazing, she would say, how Nature creates so many shapes of leaves in just this one place? Eventually I reached the age of impatience with what grown-ups noticed that wasn’t rare blue beach glass or a good climbing tree. But even when I felt impatient, I knew I could see what she was talking about. I don’t know if Gram believed in God, certainly not in a kindly God, but she did deeply believe in Nature, wonderful and endlessly giving. If you looked at it that way. And I do, and I have to, despite all the other ways my eyes still need to open. Her view was one of my starting places, creatively and spiritually.

Recently a latent love for bohemian style has sprouted in me, thanks in part to author and blogger Justina Blakeney. I stay up too late turning pages of her new book and feeling out of breath. Justina defines bohemian style as the product of “a creative life and an active engagement in the search for alternative ideals of beauty…Our worldly collections are as eclectic as we are…Decorating is about feeling free, having fun, rejecting traditional notions about what goes with what…and getting a little bit wild.” [I’m quoting from her introduction to The New Bohemians: Cool & Collected Homes. UNputdownable.] Even my 1906 copy of Putnam’s Handbook of Etiquette warns New York High Society about the habits of “Bohemia”, over there in Greenwich Village, beyond “the borders of wise convention”, definitely over the edge and unacceptably wild.

Her book was in my mind recently on a walk through the Fens, one jewel in the Emerald Necklace of green spaces that loops through Boston. It has a wide area of community gardens, where dozens of people fulfill their own visions with flowers, trees, bushes, berries, vegetables, bamboo, grasses, and leafy plants. It is a wonderful place to open my grandmother’s eyes, to see the shades and shapes Nature creates in just one corner of a park, sometimes helped along by a little human artistry: a painted gate, a statue, a purple disco ball. On this walk, my looking as I was taught to look revealed Nature, to my joy, as The First and Ultimate Bohemian. Everything goes with everything, so feel free and always be a little bit wild.

I challenged myself to photograph the gardens in December, without most of the flowers to help, and still found colors and forms running madly, beautifully together, eye-catching contrasts of silhouette, especially as I lost the light, and small places full of texture and depth. Thanks, Gram.

And thanks, Cynthia!