Thursday, August 1, 2013

Older model with lots of quirky charm; needs work, but fabulous inside

On my morning walk yesterday, in a neighborhood I sometimes visit, I chuckled when I noticed the scaled-down, concrete fantasy mountain-scape in the front yard.  And then I saw another house where the garage door had been walled-in and something that looked like chapel-windows had been put into the wall that used to be the garage door... and then there was the ranch house with the windowed cupola, and the one with the 2-story yucca plant in the front yard, and the one with the Greek columns and elaborate stucco work over what was surely once just plain siding, and I got to thinking about remodeling and how many times I've tried to make-over myself to be somehow more "marketable."

This neighborhood of what was once uniform little 2 and 3 bedroom ranches is not exactly fashionable.  No marble foyers, no coffered-ceiling great rooms, no homeowner's association with 20 different "approved color schemes" for your exterior paint, or sending you letters about the dead grass near the mailbox or warning you that the Christmas lights MUST be taken down by February 1st. Nope.  In this neighborhood, what you start with is pretty plain, but you can do whatever you want with what you've got. And whether or not you've succeeded depends on whether you're looking at making it "home" or making it marketable. But like it or not, these formerly bland little boxes have a certain funky soul to them, and I have a feeling that their inhabitants call them "home".

Roger was 6 foot 4 inches tall; taller in his cowboy boots, which he wore often, had an impressive wavy mane of shoulder-length brown hair, and was often mistaken for a country music star (which, in Nashville, TN, was considered a good thing), particularly when he wore his cowboy hat in public (which he did often). Next to him, back in 1993, my 5'10", generously curvy self felt positively petite, or at least right-sized for the first time in my life.  We went to honky-tonks, I learned to eat fried squirrel (yeah, it's kinda gross) off his Mama's plastic plates, hung out with his cousins, went for drives down dusty country roads in his huge pick-up truck, and drank beer.  He had a high school diploma, worked on a printing press for a magazine printer and came over after 2nd shift with grease on his overalls, wearing a ballcap and smelling like ink.  His vocabulary was limited, his curiosity about life even more so.  He was 35 years old, and he lived with his Mama in a 3-room house, with a dog chained out front.

 He was completely wrong for me, but I was about to turn 29, and we'd dated for almost 2 years while I frantically tried to remodel myself so I'd escape the dreaded disease of being single at 30.  He got smart one night, and dumped me just two months before my birthday that year.  Since then, I've often thought of thanking him.  I was the one with the Master's degree, but he, apparently, had much more sense than I did and he saved me from completely transforming myself into Tammy Wynette.

A couple months after my first failed remodeling job, I somehow fell into the next one.  I met Andre exactly 20 years ago tonight, at a country/western dance club on the north side of Nashville.  He wasn't particularly tall, but he was handsome, in a rascally, brown-eyed way.  He had a near-genius IQ and was working on his Ph.D at Vanderbilt, while holding down a full-time job as a technical astronomer. He had a great sense of humor.  He was kind. He could fix anything.  He was a great kisser, and a pretty good dancer.  He had a hard time remembering anything I told him. He was a Rush Limbaugh fan.  He had a habit of working for 24 to 48 hours straight, thinking of nothing but his latest grand plan until exhaustion overcame him and he could become inert for the next 24 hours. He could be jealous and controlling and saw a conspiracy in every news item.  He kept a rack of loaded rifles on the living room wall of his apartment. He lived on junk food and guzzled Coca-Cola.  His startle reflex almost broke my nose, the first time I kissed him good morning while he was still asleep.

 And when, after two weeks of dating, he proposed, I thought, "I'm 29; I'm not going to get a better offer.  I'd better jump at this one, and then just work on making this work."    And thus began an 18-year soul-remodeling project that began with hope and the best of intentions, and welcomed 4 kids into the world,  but eventually crumbled into abuse, despair and a single gunshot that ended it all for a man who just couldn't defeat his inner demons, no matter what I tried to shore up, re-decorate, re-frame, or remodel in our lives.

I've always liked to do art, mostly with fabric (quilts, sometimes clothes), or yarn (I knit and have tried crochet a few times). Sometimes I paint.  I've been known to mess around with clay, and a few other crafting materials.  I'm not particularly skilled.  I can't draw, cut or sew a completely straight line without a straight edge.  I modify nearly every pattern I make.  I twist stitches and lose count of when I've perled and when I've knit. I make a lot of mistakes.  I rip a lot of stuff out.  (But sometimes I don't catch my mistake until the piece is finished and the result can be rather interesting. )

But the the thing that, if I do say so myself, makes my work beautiful in the end is that in the process of creating or re-creating, or modifying...I let the material speak to me.

As I work, I think about the person for whom I'm creating (my best work is always FOR someone), I sense the material in my hands, its essence, its "ruach" (I learned that word from an amazing pastor friend of mine who understands Biblical Hebrew). It tells me what it needs to be, and how that will fit with the person who will receive it.  And that "essence", that "ruach" is what gives a piece of art its soul.   Ruach is both "soul" and "breath" in Hebrew.  It's what makes something itself and it's the breath of life that animates a being.  In the beginning of Genesis, God adds ruach into the lump of clay, and behold! it's Adam, the human.  In the 23rd Psalm, the one that many people, even non-religious people know, the one that begins, "The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not want..." , there is a line a few verses later that says, "He restores my soul," and "soul" here, in Hebrew, is ruach.  So, when I'm in that zone where creating is going exceptionally well, it's because the soul of the material is speaking to me, and maybe just had a conversation with my sense of the soul of the person for whom I'm crafting.  And maybe a bit of my soul gets all mixed in there with it, too... and something soulful, but definitely not standardized or marketable, is created and given away.

I've been realizing lately that I'm in another self-remodeling phase.  For the first time in a long time, my life is mine to re-make.  I feel like I'm starting with a bland little ranch house that's seen better days. It's been tempting to look at my soul's chipped paint, outdated fixtures and sagging floors and wish that I could somehow be a shiny, pristine, carefully-staged tract home with granite countertops, a two-story grand foyer, and track lighting (and grown kids).  But that would be ignoring the ruach, wouldn't it?  No work of art can come from that.
 Instead, the best I can do is freshen up the paint, (the department store make-up ladies love me)  shore-up what I can (run, walk, bike,eat right), and try to turned "dated" into "classic".   And most importantly, I have to find ways to make sure that the ruach is being listened to and allowed to shine through.

Another word for remodeling, particularly of an older home is "restoration".

"He leads me beside the still waters.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He restores my soul..."

Hmm... I guess I'm looking at a restoration job here; something soulful, rather than marketable, a good home for the right buyer someday, I hope.

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