Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Architecture of Happiness


"Life may have to show itself to us in some of its authentically tragic colours before we can begin to grow properly visually responsive to its subtler offerings, whether in the form of a tapestry or a Corinthian column, a slate tile or a lamp... It is in dialogue with pain that many beautiful things acquire their value." (Alain de Botton)

I'm in Wisconsin again but my heart and mind are very much connected to all the work I'm doing on my home. Nate was saying to me last week, "It just took awhile for you to be ready to make the changes around you," and that was some of it; when you're in a period of grieving, you don't want to paint things white. But some of it is just not having the money - or at least feeling like you don't have it.

This book nailed it: "It is to prevent the possibility of permanent anguish that we can be led to shut our eyes to most of what is around us, for we are never far from damp stains and cracked ceilings, shattered cities and rusting dockyards. We can't remain sensitive indefinitely to environments which we don't have the means to alter for the good - and end up as conscious as we can afford to be. Echoing the attitude of Stoic philosophers and saints, we may find ourselves arguing that, ultimately, it doesn't much matter what buildings look like, what is on the ceiling or how the wall is treated - professions of detachment that stem not so much from an insensitivity to beauty as from a desire to deflect the sadness we would face if we left ourselves open to all of beauty's many absences."

But now that I've got a little money, I'm realizing that it doesn't take as much as I thought it did when I was complaining about all the things I couldn't do. My porch light is a sturdy old frame with busted plastic pieces uglifying it, revealing the yellowed light bulbs inside. For less than $5, I realized I can go out, buy some kind of flame-retardant pretty-print plastic at the scrapbooking store, and replace the cracked plastic and paint the black frame, and it will be new. Good enough. Lots of good enough things can be done that will re-energize.

I remember reading advice to make a list of the parts of your house that drain the most energy, that you feel negativity when your eye falls on. Holes, cracks, dark places. The tip was to just put one pretty thing there to turn the energy momentum of the area. I've gotten some bright fake flowers on sale at Michael's and stuck them in those places, or taped up colored prints of Jessie Wilcox Smith mothering images on those walls. And you know, it works. It's jedi house magic. It puts hope in those places, and the hope gives you energy to get out the paint, and the freshly painted surface gives you the willpower to forgo eating out and channel that money to whatever new thing needs to be purchased for that area.

Homes are important. I've spent the year going back to college, getting caught up on traveling, and now I'm ready to put down beauty roots, to create my own - in the words of this book - "island of perfection, in which we can find an echo of an ideal which we once hoped to lay a permanent claim to."