ColumnPressuring ourselves to “get out more” is an old hat we use to deal with our problems. Fresh air. Exercise. New experiences. It makes sense. But sometimes answers can be found by spending more time in our “place.” Here’s a case for respecting your inner homebody.
I’ve recently taken a few of those silly online quizzes that tell you who you are, what you were and where you should be. It’s a guilty distraction, I know, but it has importantly been determined that I’m Gustav Klimt, living in a minimalist Paris apartment during the Renaissance and playing lead guitar for Led Zeppelin. Fair enough. Count me in.
I mention this because among the many odd questions that helped these brilliant algorithms identify my true self, one popped up that got my attention: “Do you prefer to be inside [picture of some dark, ill-defined interior] or outside [a lovely mountain with a lovelier waterfall]?” I clicked “outside,” of course—but then paused, hit the back button and stared at the question again. Could I? Might I? Yes. I changed my answer to “inside.”
Allow me assuage some guilt out of the gate and say that I do love the outdoors. I’ve climbed some big mountains, hiked some excellent trails and believe Ra is the one true god. Also, with summer coming, I’m well aware that championing the indoors might not resonate very well with the promise of a much-needed vitamin D fix on the near horizon—particularly for my long-suffering friends back East. (Sorry, dudes. You’re welcome in Cali anytime.) Nevertheless, I think the great indoors—and staying home, in particular—gets a bad rap.
Most of us have a love-hate relationship with our personal home space—one that’s easy to take for granted. After all, it’s where we conduct such inspiring tasks as doing laundry, collapsing in front of the TV, going to the bathroom and eating hastily made eggs over the sink before rushing out to our “real” lives. Even those of us who take great care in tending to our insides, as it were, or choose to work at home (as I do), would be excused for gliding over its value and impact as familiarity indeed breeds oversight. You know, in plain sight, out of mind.
But next time you’re home (if you’re not all cozy now), take a moment to stop and look around, and pay some attention to your quarters. As the poet W.S. Merwin put it:
Just this, just this, this room where we are. Pay attention to that. Pay attention to who’s there, pay attention to what isn’t known there, pay attention to what is known there, pay attention to what everyone is thinking and feeling, what you’re doing there, and pay attention. Pay attention.
If you do, interesting things are sure to emerge. The colors you (and perhaps your roommate or partner) once chose to “open up the space.” How incoming light glints this way and that. What’s lying around? Magazines? Photos? Check out those books on the shelf. Which ones have you read? Which ones have you not? Why not? When was the last time you looked at that art on your wall? Remember when you got it? What was happening in your life then? Did you buy it overseas? Or at Pier One? What does that mean?
And here’s an ode to tchotchkes. I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea (and dusting is a drag), but most of us have lots of them. From where I now sit, I see a curious combination of class (a lovely Baccarat glass statue of a Labrador retriever I stole from my parents) to kitsch (a Detroit Red Wings shot glass filled with Tootsie Roll Pops) to somewhere in between (a small ceramic sculpture of a head I made one day in college that somehow turned out way above my pay grade).
Though my space doesn’t give off the hoarder vibe, there are little things everywhere. They elicit memories of some of the many nouns in my life—the people, places and things—that at one time or another were important to me. All told, knickknacks are clues—curated breadcrumbs that can lead us back through our lives to experiences that may need re-exploring, analysis or just one more well-deserved smile.
Room to Create
Aside from stirring your memory pot, exploring your space can be a limitless source of creative and emotional inspiration, as well. At home you can have an interesting and productive conversation with yourself. One obvious example of how such space inspiration works is in the visual arts. Artists use the word studio—or “room for study”—to describe the place where they retreat to energize their thinking and do their work. Two quick examples:
A friend of mine, the artist Abigail Doan, spends a lot of time working with found objects. She says her home environment is “constantly evolving with the displayed objects that [she’s] currently researching or interpreting.” Her work with sculptural fiber forms and still life arrangements “often migrates from room to room in a dialogue with my children’s play activities as they, too, draw and create objects with materials that we collectively recycle in the home or find outdoors. There is a certain clarity that comes from making things work in the time and space that one has available.” By arranging, rearranging and juxtaposing items she’s gathered, Doan grows new concepts. This is a process that happens inside.
Also consider the game-changing Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957). Without belaboring my fascination with his revolutionary work, the relevant short take is this: the artist is inexorably linked to his commitment (some say retreat after scandals related to public reception of his work) to his Paris workshop, which was also his home. He constantly photographed it and invited the world to come to him, rather than pushing his work “out.” And he was always rearranging his pieces so they would support and impact each other, often describing how the populated space itself was his expression. (Man Ray described visiting the studio as “penetrating into another world.”) After his death, he left his “Atelier Brancusi” to the French state with instructions that it be displayed exactly as it was the day he died. Painstakingly recreated just outside the Centre Pompidou, the great master’s magnificent “interior” is now available to all of us.
Of course, the broader idea of “studio” is not limited to the visual arts. The workspaces of all great thinkers and writers are, in fact, a source of great public fascination. (Note the recent online obsession with library and study “porn.”) In any case, allowing what’s happening inside your four walls to expand your thinking—rather than confine it—can be a wonderfully creative experience.
Room to Learn
For many of us, our very personal relationships with our inside space goes back to our childhood bedrooms. I remember when I was young getting a great buzz when I gave in to orders to clean my “calamity.” In fact, I came to enjoy it, right down to arranging the pencils and markers in my desk drawer. Better still was rearranging my furniture—moving the bed here, the desk there, changing out this poster for that one. Sometimes the new arrangements made sense. Sometimes I created ergonomic disaster areas. But still, I got a charge out of doing it. Somehow it made me feel smarter.
Today, I can be a tad OCD-ish. (I know, flip self-diagnosis bugs the hell out of me too, but you get my drift.) I have to neaten my home office before I begin to write and my studio before I put brush to canvas. I don’t have a clean fetish or germ phobia, but I do react well to organized clutter. It gives me the illusion that I have my shit together—that my thoughts are straight, that I somehow know what I’m doing. And I’ve read that, like all things behavioral, there’s some neuroscience to this.
One way of learning, especially when we’re young, is getting raw data in. New experiences. Fresh information. Soaking it all up like a sponge. But as we age, it’s about more than adding new bits. It’s about working with what we already have in stock. That is to say, by repositioning what we’ve already acquired into new relationships, we see new patterns—and we learn. Existential angstists might refer to this as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I say it’s part of the fun. Regardless, spending time rethinking can shake loose new ideas.
I know the idea of hermitage isn’t for everyone, and that’s perhaps too strong a word, anyway. But looking “inside” for new inspiration, using the found objects of our lives to grow and inspire and develop new tales with our existing vocabulary, so to speak, can open new doors in ways that simply opening the exit door can’t. By all means, get out and breathe the fresh air. Find new things and ideas. But don’t be afraid to take them home with you. You never know what you might come up with after you empty your pockets on the table, move things around a bit and realize that knowledge and growth are at hand.
Now if you’ll excuse me, the laundry is piling up.
Scott Adelson—who does indeed go outside—is EcoSalon’s Senior Editor of HyperKulture, a monthly column that explores opening cultural doors to initiate personal change. He is also the author of InPRINT, which reviews and discusses books, new and old. You can reach him at scott at adelson dot org and follow him @scottadelson on Twitter.
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Images: Allie_Caulfield (top): René Magritte, Les Valeurs Personnelles (Personal Values), 1952; Scott Adelson (center): Atelier Brancusi, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Abigail Doan: Fiber Form Drawing |2012 (Sofia), Abigail Doan, 2012.