There was a time in my life when my favorite method for alleviating symptoms of boredom or frustration resulting from living in the same place for too long was to rearrange my furniture. I admit that for someone with such a vivid imagination, this seems like a pretty uninspired way to make life more interesting and fulfilling, but the strange truth is that it was always just the right first step to the larger and deeper rearrangements necessary but perhaps a little more difficult to achieve at the time.
One sure way to prove yourself a failure is to set yourself ridiculously lofty goals guaranteed to elude, humiliate or defeat you. The fact that new quick-fix solutions to just about every ill or inconvenience known to man are continuing to be invented and marketed shows that it is now and always will be human nature to prefer an easy solution to a long hard journey of recovery. Not so surprisingly, most quick fixes end in equally quick reversals right back to whatever was broken in the first place. That said, not many of us have the patience, wisdom and fortitude, not to mention the resources, to embrace the alternative: slow, barely noticeable or measurable increments of improvement that includes setbacks and slightly resembles success from the perspective of time and distance usually only recognized by historians and astronomers.
Lie Down in Darkness
I learned a little trick a long time ago, when it seemed that absolutely nothing I wanted to improve or achieve in life was going to be quick or easy, whether because I have really high standards regarding what it means to be a good and productive and passionate human being, or because everyone else doesn’t, or there’s a big conspiracy to make you feel weird if you are part of the former group, and guaranteed happiness if you just close your eyes, lie down in the warm comfortable void of complacency and become part of the latter. I like to call it Give Yourself An Easy Win Day. Mind you, this practice only works for people who have earned a break from relentless self criticism and futile striving. The self satisfied and indolent need not apply, as they are already living Easy Win Day every day of the year.
Easy Win Day is about, in the midst of times of insurmountable obstacles and odds, setting yourself a simple task, even a seemingly mindless one, something that falls somewhere between a trivial accomplishment and a meaningful indulgence. The point is that it should be good for you, but not feel bad, it should get something mildly important done, but not be burdened by all sorts of mental and physical expectations, should not cost much in the way of money time or energy, and most of all, be fun while also being useful. In this category I would include things like doing fifteen minutes of unsupervised nonjudgmental yoga or meditation, not because you have to but because you want to, going to a gallery just to look at the art but then also chatting up the manager and making inquiries about whether they are currently seeking new artists (and then not caring about the reply because that’s not what you were there for), doing any sort of creative project that your sophisticated aesthetic sensibilities might reject as more craft or hobby than art – see my post a few weeks ago in which felted cat hair finger puppets did more to heal my troubled psyche in one afternoon than a decade of expensive psychoanalysis – which includes silly adventures like trying to cook something new when there’s no one around, and not feeling bad if it turns out to be an unsightly but tasty mess. It also includes the first morning, after a long convalescence, when you can brush your own hair and being happy instead of angry you have not yet advanced to ruling the world with your free hand. It’s about permission to set the bar low, and once you clear it, pat yourself on the back for a job well done, even though that job was near impossible to foul up – or for anyone to care one way or the other.
When I was a not so recent college graduate still living in my parents’ home and began to feel that my life was not going anywhere anytime soon, but that whatever needed fixing was too big for me to conceive or address, I would pull out a piece of graph paper, create a floor plan of my bedroom, and sometimes even cut out pieces of paper representing my furniture, and play. I would look around and think – yes, the windows are here, the closet and front door have to open this way, but in this 10 by 10 foot box, surely there are multiple possibilities for placement of bed, bureau, desk, bookcases? In three decades I must have designed, executed and lived with at least six completely different arrangements, each one prompting the reaction – why did I not think of that before? So much roomier, so much more efficient and harmonious! Every time I would think there were only so many ways to make these particular objects fit into this particular space, I would discover another, and after only a few hours of shifting and shouldering things into their new location, find myself, yes, in the same skin, in the same apartment on the same street in the same city as before, but at least in my 100 square feet of sleeping and working space, a whole new world to wake up to every morning.
In my last post I made a lot of big projections about the second half of the year being better than the first. Right after I wrote it I began to question my ability to put into practice such great theories of overnight improvement. Then I remembered my old habit of the Easy Win. So today I decided that instead of attempting to alter the stubborn unfavorable realities that will surely follow me with painfully slowly decreasing stamina and influence into the second half of 2012, and thus set myself up for the first confidence-busting disappointment of the Second Half on its very first day, I would set myself the smaller task of rearranging my study/studio, which has become disordered and directionless on a parallel course with the scattering and muddying of my own creative energies these past few months.
Part of redesigning a living or working space is simply getting the big things to fall into an overall functional arrangement that doesn’t block anything important like doors and windows but also looks and feels good to the occupant. But there is also an underlying motivation of assigning not only space but priority to things, and in a way, one’s decisions about where to put them say as much about what fits where in the room as what fits where in your life, mind and heart at the moment. Not surprisingly, I found myself repurposing the large table I was using for an office desk as a studio work table, and in its place creating from a trim little computer table and some stacked filing cabinets a comfortable nook into which I can retreat to pay bills, work and play online, and manage general household and business affairs. Clearly I am sending a signal to the Universe that this part of my life deserves an efficient but limited area of operations, and that the part of the room (and my inner room as well) that I really need to give all the space it requires to breathe and grow is the part that sustains and supports my creative life.
New Studio - in Progress
So, the conclusion of this post is that, unfortunately, I do not have any tangible, measurable progress to report in terms of the improvement of my worldly fortunes. But as I sit here writing at my new office desk, with a small barricade between me and my studio space, I feel I am occupying an interior that honors and encourages what I need and want to do in the months ahead. I feel like a winner. And in tribute to a personal past that always returns and harmonizes with the present at just the right time, as in a musical composition, I leave you with a poem I wrote in 1979, most likely in a period between room rearrangements.
Like sonnet space, my room is small and filled
with mounted images in simple frames;
the essence of the dweller is instilled
in mostly chiaroscuro color schemes.
A walled square with its door an opening line -
what stark subject can such context contain?
Guests inquisitive enough to spy
through curtained windows catch subtext at play.
Bed, desk and bureau of the same design
may seem austere as stanzas; though they’re spare,
they lead the eye, as alternating rhyme
concludes in couplet, to an easy chair.
If fourteen lines can say it all so well,
then surely my small room is not a cell.
*with special thanks to my father for providing the final words, 33 years ago, today, and always.