Spirit Houses of Chickaloon

Russian Orthodox Spirit Houses

Chickaloon, Alaska


Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, nor believe to be beautiful.   — William Morris



I have always prided myself on my application of this idea:  people seem to think my houses beautiful, and I really think that, if they are, it is because I create my atmosphere entirely to please myself and no one else, really.  But I have found, in life, that when I please myself first, others tend to be more pleased that if I had tried to please them.  This is certainly true where my writing is concerned:  I noticed, in college, that when I wrote a paper that I thought was what my professor wanted, it never was, and when I wrote to please myself, I invariably got a ‘A’.  

Ah, but back to houses:  houses, plural, you will notice.  That’s the problem here, or rather, that is the opportunity.  The blood of the gypsies runs in my veins.  I have never been good at holding still, and as soon as I get used to a place or a room or a thing, I tend to grow bored with it, and long for change.  My husband will tell you that we rearrange the living room, on average, every six weeks.  We have lived all over the United States, including Alaska, which to me was like another country and still is, Sarah Palin notwithstanding; or, possibly, she herself is a good example of the peculiarity of living up there, where the nights can be long, the waters are clean and mavericks abound.  (By the way, I am a hard-line liberal, and delighted with the latest election results!)

I have not done nearly as much traveling as I would have liked to, but I’ve done my share.  Oddly, though, instead of just visiting a place I love, I tend to want to “own” it, i.e., to live there.  There is such amazing beauty and variety even in this world that the absorption and appreciation of it is as much my meditation practice as is a mantra.  As well, there is always a psychological side to one’s tendencies, and I am well aware that a great deal of my movement has been my need for a geographical cure, and when we went to Alaska to serve the mental health needs of a small village, I was entirely aware that the number of miles between it and my family-of-origin was a clear attempt to run far and fast in order to heal my various wounds.  

But it gets old, this moving thing, and so do I.  In my earlier years, I was very good and pulling everything together with a considerable amount of efficiency, getting a male friend with a truck to help me out, and GOING.  After I married, I had a permanent male friend, although he does not have a truck, and he is getting old along with me.  Through a series of events, we are still on the move, though, and while it is getting harder, we rather like it.  We always have, and we always will, I suspect.  My daughter, when she mentions the various places she has lived, often hears “are you an army brat?”  No, she explains, it just happened that way.  She likes travel and movement, too.  We all like new houses, and my love of nest-building leads me to believe I should have become an interior decorator, so I wouldn’t have to keep changing and redecorating my own houses, for heaven’s sake!  

I really think that, ultimately, the problem is that souls are meant, in this life, to journey, some of us more than others.  I may well tend to take that a bit too literally, but I have come to believe that the reality is that there is no real home for me here on Planet Earth.  Alaska, with its pristine beauty, came close, and various retreats I have made in astounding settings have also, and places where I’ve met people who would become important to me have often felt something like “home,” but I’m pretty sure HOME is not on this plane of existence, and so…I keep moving.

However, the thing is, as I move, I also collect, and this is where the growing conflict comes in.  I have too much stuff!  My friend Hayat commented that I have a great many things, but my house never looks cluttered.  Well, she should look in my closets and drawers!  And yet, I mostly like the things I’ve accumulated, and while I tend to despise them when I am packing them up yet again, I love them when I open the boxes and unpack them again:  there are the aboriginal masks my daughter brought back from New Zealand.  There are my Carl Larsson prints.  Ah, my beautiful Buddhas, I want them near at all times, right next to the Blessed Virgin and Quan Yin.  I love my quilts, and I love my Alaskan and Appalachian shamans…  I am nothing, if not eclectic.

And, as Morris says, I try to have nothing in my house that I do not know to be useful, nor believe to be beautiful.  In recent years, I have inherited–against my wishes, for the most part–my parents’ furnishings.  So has my husband.  This presents us with the opportunity for a challenging application of these ideas, because on the one hand, the lovely old secretary in which nooks and crannies I played as a child has much meaning for me, as does the lovely mahogany washstand.  But other things bring back memories of pain, of rage, of narcissism and alcoholism (I still become nauseous at the smell of linens with my mother’s perfume, or of Jim Beam), and to have them around is to continue to hear the stories I assigned to them.  

I am trying to let go of stories these days, because it is not the event, or the object, or the smell that I find upsetting, it’s the story attached to it; and often, the stories have stories, because I am the one who assigned whatever story there is that comes back to me when I see that a certain piece of silver or “Aunt Lizzie’s Cocoa set,” and I find that when I relinquish the story, I can appreciate whatever phenomena that presents itself with a greater appreciation and tolerance.  But at the moment, using space constraints as an excuse, I am giving myself permission to only unpack and display what I truly love, what is of me or my loved ones, the ones who live here with me.  In this way, our home is a reflection of the harmony and joy in which we live, what I finally found in my life with these dear people.  Our home is a creation of that, and wherever it is, we love that, and we love it.  If life is a continual journey, home is as much an eternal reality as is its movement.

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