Post #1256 • November 13, 2008, 8:28 AM • 7 Comments
It may have become rather obvious that we're concluding our cross-country journey in Boston. Friends in Brooklyn, New Jersey, Edmonton, Portland, Los Angeles, Miami, and Houston have invited us severally to relocate to the city they call home. I cherish each of those invitations as a minor honor, gracing us with something even greater than hospitality. But Boston, where we also know a handful of people, makes the most sense for us. Since we lived here a year ago, we're not starting from scratch on our personal and professional lives. Most of our people live on this coast. We also know that we like it here - the culture, the intellectual climate, and in autumn, the need for copious amounts of raking.
Regarding this last item, we have indeed become homeowners, a status that contrasts starkly with three months of peripatetic living. We had a blast wandering about the continent in our bus. I recommend to anyone with the means and the time to do so - you will see the country in a manner impossible via any other mode of travel, and you will see how beauty fills it from one end to the other. But when you're trying to pursue your interests and your work, RV living combines the triple conveniences of cramped living quarters, low gas mileage, and homelessness. We are just now getting our mail straightened out. Not having an address makes certain things nearly impossible, such as obtaining health insurance. The eight square feet of folding table that served for dining and deskwork did not additionally make an adequate studio space. Liberation marked the beginning of the trip, and the pleasure of sinking our roots marks its end.
I don't have the book in front of me (a big truck is driving it here as I write this), but Jean Giono once noted that the man lying by the bush on the side of the road longs for a bed, while the man in the bed longs for the side of the road. When we were camping up in Saskatoon this past September, we met a retired couple from Moose Jaw who had just sold their house, bought a fifth wheel, and were planning to winter in southern California. The husband laughed with hearty victory as he told me that he had finally gotten rid of his snow blower, and all it represented. A couple who pulled up next to us in Oregon had been RVing full-time for five years. They would pick up work at state fairs and NASCAR races when they needed money, mostly getting paid under the table, and spend their winters in the Arizona desert, camping for $18 a night. While staying at one of the state parks in Big Sur, we saw an announcement that they were looking to hire entry-level rangers to work for twenty hours a week in exchange for a camping space with full hookups. If not for the need to get on to Edmonton we might still be living there. But we haven't arrived at the station of life that would make life on the road workable for more than a few months. The cats were growing fat and despondent. (One of them is now careening around the rooms that encircle the house's staircase: across the living room in an erratic track, down the hall, through the living room, past the front door, and back again. My freedom on the open road was his pen.) We started to look longingly at peoples' front yard gardens. We've rented cars so many times in the last five weeks that even now, while rolling out of the hardware store (to which we have become betrothed) with a shopping cart full of new fencing, a moment of confusion overtook us as we struggled to remember where we parked, and indeed, what make and model we were looking for.
For several months I have been kicking around an idea about art which presupposes that human life is both essentially and totally physical, even what we think of as inner life, thought, reflection, and private experience. Walter Darby Bannard repeats an old saw - I don't know where he heard it - that if you want to change your art, change your studio. We could take that even farther and say that your shelter shapes your existence. Our lives relate intimately to an arrangement of four-by-fours, brick, drywall, fiberglass insulation, and a hundred small but crucial decisions about fenestrations, entrances, storage, plumbing, the proportions of house to land, of rooms to house, of windows to rooms. This doesn't trivialize life as material - it enobles materials as the very stuff of life. We believe in no less regarding the materials of painting and sculpture. As I consider my own work and which direction to take it, I have some new parameters: hardwood floors, a north and an east window, a good corner for an easel, a good wall for a table.