Virtue and dwelling

Encroaching fig tree
Our bedroom; encroaching fig tree.

My mother used to say that keeping a beautiful home could be seen as her spiritual gift. She has a cornucopia of spiritual gifts, but I agree that hospitality and housekeeping are chief among them. And I use the word “housekeeping” not in the dim, 1950s housewife way; I think of it in the Marilynne Robinson way: housekeeping as a holistic lifestyle, the way that one dwells in a physical space, the way that you create and keep a home. (Accordingly, men engage in housekeeping as much as women do, even if they’re not participating in its most obvious elements, such as decorating and doing such “female” chores as cooking, laundry, sweeping, etc.)

But back to Mom: She has a great eye, which she passed along to Grace. I wouldn’t say that Kelsey and I are devoid of this eye, but we certainly don’t have its abundant powers, which are so clearly manifested in our mother and youngest sister. I aspire to this spiritual gift of the beautiful home, and so I study people like my mom and my sister, and people like Catherine, Stephanie, Ross, Matt and Liz, and Cate, who also have this gift. I want to know how they know what they know. How they can walk into stores that look crammed with junk and find this perfectly patina’d treasure. How they know what works and what doesn’t. How they show such control and restraint.

Can I have a beautiful home if I don’t have the great eye or the gift?

I don’t know, but I do see this ability — to make a beautiful home — as a spiritual gift. A peaceful, welcoming, lovely house shows fruit of the spirit. It’s not everyone’s gift and nor should it be; but I maintain that it is a gift and that it can work on souls with as much power as prophecy.

I read a few books on feng shui during my interior design-reading craze. Although I had trouble believing in many of its essential principles or suggestions (e.g., “Sprinkle sea salt on the floor where you sense negative energy”), the majority of the feng shui wisdom applied to interiors made so much sense to me, even as a western person. It makes sense that high ceilings make the spirit feel freer and lighter and that low ceilings make one feel trapped. It makes sense that mirrors open spaces and that the direction of windows can significantly affect one’s chi. I am fascinated by these tenets, because I have felt the truth of them in many spaces.

Alain de Botton writes in The Architecture of Happiness:

If buildings can act as a repository of our ideals, it is because they can be purged of all the infelicities that corrode ordinary lives. A great work of architecture will speak to us of a degree of serenity, strength, poise and grace to which we, both as creators and audiences, typically cannot do justice–and it will for this very reason beguile and move us. Architecture excites our respect to the extent that it surpasses us.

Buildings work and act on our hearts, whether we want them to or not. And this is why I believe in the spiritual gift of beautiful housekeeping and homemaking. We are beguiled and moved by the physical spaces we inhabit.

Now I just have to figure out how to attain this gift myself. Starting with finding a house with higher ceilings.

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As of Tuesday, I have read 100 books this year, a sizable portion of which were how-to books about keeping houseplants alive. My fiction numbers are down considerably from last year, a fact which I still blame on David Foster Wallace.

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Headed off this weekend to see my brother Win get hitched to my soon-to-be sister Tracy! Can’t wait.

Monday Snax

My favorite photograph of Woolf, just shy of her nineteenth birthday. Just because.

Another full, enjoyable weekend, despite the weather. I am at the stage in which winter has become personally offensive to me. It is a terrible stage to be in. The first thing out of my mouth in every conversation is now: “Yeah, I’m fine. But WHEN DOES SPRING COME TO VIRGINIA??” I ask it very aggressively, too, as if it were my companion’s fault that sleet, hail, and snow were still on the not-too-distant horizon. I have had enough. Sometimes, if I feel like sinking myself even further into depression, I’ll look at the weather forecast for Davidson or Chapel Hill and a faint tear will form in my eye as I think, “Ah, balmy North Carolina. How I miss thee.”

Winter aside, Nettles (aka my husband, accompanied by other wonderful local musicians and friends) played a great shut-in show at The Garage on Friday night. He dazzled. You really should have been there, but you probably wouldn’t have fit, since The Garage can hold about 10 people inside it, instruments included. And on Friday night I think we had about 20. It was great.

Snax with fistfuls of kale, since kale is having The Best Year Ever, in the words of one J.Hecht:

59 Things You Didn’t Know About Virginia Woolf. I mean, OF COURSE I was going to talk about this. It was, after all, my all-time muse’s birthday last week. Some of these facts are kind of stupid, but some of them are quite interesting. For instance, did you know that Woolf was “a formidable bowler” as a child? Naturally. Anyway, happy belated birthday, Virginia. Thanks for being a constant fountain of inspiration in my life. (Flavorwire)

Living In: Howards End. I am leading our church classics book club on Howards End this week and so I was naturally delighted to see this feature on “Howards End,” the 1992 film with Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave, and Helena Bonham-Carter, which is incredibly beautiful and perfect–much like the novel. (Design Sponge)

In Another Man’s Prayer Cap. Jonathan Pinckney–the son of one of our good family friends and husband to Grace’s mentor in India–undertook an interesting social experiment: He dressed as a conservative Muslim while flying home. His experience is graciously expressed and very eye-opening. Highly recommended. (On Islam)

Orhan Pamuk Attacks “Marginalization” of Non-English Writers. Guys, Pamuk is MAD. I think he makes a good point, though. And I think he’s an unbelievably wonderful writer. So, translators, thanks for bringing him to English eyes. But maybe we can bring over some other great writers, too, lest many more go undiscovered. (The Guardian)

Japanese Woman Is Best-Selling Poet at Age 99. You go, girl! I’d love to read her work. I highly doubt I’d recall enough Japanese to understand it now, but I’d love to get my hands on a copy. (The Guardian)

The 10 Greatest Child Geniuses in Child Literature. A fun list, because I’ve met most of these characters in my reading life. What do you think? Do you agree with the rankings? If not, who would you vote for as the most eerily brilliant child in fiction? (Flavorwire)

It Doesn’t Get Much Cuter Than This. I don’t know what crimes I have to commit to get a Japanese baby, but I DON’T EVEN CARE. I will do what I have to. Photographs by Kawashima Kotori. (Miss Moss)

FRANCES. The world’s most posh and gorgeous bunny has come home to live with Angela! I swear you won’t be able to get enough of her. I’ve had the privilege of a Skype conversation with Mme Francoise and I must say, she is the ultimate lady. (WXTCHOU)

Magazine Monday: Feng Shui at Work. Can we all just agree that we are totally jealous of Meredith’s gorgeous office and now–completely feng shui–desk? I’m in love! (And Unlimited)

Valentines and Some News. If I ever got a card or letter from famed calligrapher Betsy Dunlap, I think I’d frame it and put it on my wall forever. Such beautiful work. (Betsy Dunlap)

Portraits of Criminals. Haunting vintage photographs of an assortment of Sydney vagrants from the early 20th century. (Wolf Eyebrows)

Better Learning Through Handwriting. Recent study argues that writing by hand strengthens the memory, whereas typing on a keyboard may weaken it. I believe it. (Science Daily)

Am I Compatible With Dad? This is just amazing. And hilarious. And yet I feel like it’s something that would feature in a Franzen novel. (Postcards From Yo Momma)

Model Dude Looks Like a Model Lady. There’s a popular game show in Japan in which contestants have to guess, among a line-up of men in drag, which of them is actually a woman (there is always one woman among them). It’s always very hilarious, because very often, they cannot tell the difference between the men and the real woman. This guy would fool you EVERY TIME. Seriously. He is… upsettingly beautiful. In a thoroughly female way. (Best Week Ever)

Study: 89 Percent of Networking Nonconsensual. Recent college grad = understands how deeply true this is. Guilty! Thanks for being tolerant anyway, professors and former internship bosses. (The Onion)