A House of Favorite Things


Everything is part of Everything.

We Live, We Blunder


~Maira Kalman

This quote is one I have recently come across on the back of a most intriguing book found in the basement of Literati Bookstore. The book at first looks like it was handpainted and handwritten, and that’s just how it is meant to be. The book entitled “My Favorite Things” documents and explores the significance of objects that thread in and out of our lives and make our lives what they are. It’s the most unmaterialistic book about material items.

Image via mairakalman.com

It’s beautiful, it’s personal, it’s unique to Maira Kalman and yet it’s a book that speaks to every reader. Even though your eyes may scan over a watercolor illustration of Kalman’s living room and think, “That doesn’t look like my living room,” it nevertheless possesses armchairs, coffee tables, paintings, a window that looks out onto the street, perhaps a musical instrument, a stack of magazines, that reminds you of your own house – the advice given to you in that room, the stories told, the love shared, the tea spilled, the tears dried, the memories molded [some still enshrined in your brain while others you have forgotten].

Image via mairakalman.com

This book about objects is extremely important in my life of late because of a certain transition: that passing of old houses from one family to the next. Two years ago, we moved out of my childhood house in Jackson, Michigan and my family followed me to Ann Arbor (staying on their side, of course, so as not to encroach on my campus lifestyle!) We passed over the keys to new residents, yet for financial reasons, we still had a bit of ownership over it. Through those two years, I never went back to see it. 1) I never had a reason to but also 2) I wasn’t sure how my heart would feel seeing it again.

Because a house is not just a box of wood and paint. It houses human hearts – it’s a body for our bodies. It lives and breathes with us. It changes. It needs mending. It provides nourishment and shelter and escape and refuge and yes, even stress. It is a home for our memories – from its smell to its stains to its cozy nooks of comfort. And when it’s no longer yours, it’s like a piece of your family’s identity is left behind, too. But we move on. We grow together, we make new memories, we find new nooks. But we still remember our old friend. And I bet you – it remembers us.

In honor of last week’s final selling of the Jackson house (we are no longer the bank), I’m dusting off a poem I wrote in the aftermath of our move:

ode to a beloved yellow house

I had a little treasure box
nineteen years and counting
a shy pastel bursting 
with buttery flavor.
Nature had its way
with decorating – as it does:
promiscuous kisses watermarked
its walls, flecks of snow and dust
collected on its faded, well-worn cheeks.
The lilac lasted but a week –
a single blink of an observant eye. 

Winds would break its fragile walls,
crack its bones
against the test of time,
they said.

But my treasure trove was sturdy,
a bulwark never failing.
Its heart beat
than any thunderclap.
When opened
(very carefully now,
locks to the right,
defies expectations)
I found a jungle of memories,
vines of lives

Couch seats [seams ripping,
fur-bedraggled, evaporated tints]
welcome you
to Home.
A musty odor
of damp
and old
and wisdom
brings the anticipation
of summer.
Fans flap
and clap
and applause
your busy day,
try their best
to cool you
That spot there,
you spilled your toothpaste,
brush too big
for your five year old
looks up without disdain.
“Don’t give up,”
it encouraged,
and provided
chances again

My box loved its pairs:
(Vivaldi, pancakes)
(parents, child)
(kitten, family)
(sickness, health)
(laughter, tears)
(darkness, creaks in the night)

A two-way
permeated through its walls,
from our skin-
we kept its secrets,
as it kept ours.
Look! My whispers,
my thoughts,
my jam-covered crumbs
nestle snuggly
in the space
and wood.

I close my box with one tear-
sealing our bond
with the one everlasting gift.
The love of memories
wedged deep in
in cube-shaped
Jump right in
and don’t ever let go.

For we don’t empty,
we retain,
build on
new layers.

I have moved my treasures
to the transparent future
where I
can look out
and always see
-as it always stood-
filling up with new
treasures that
aren’t mine
to find

Winter 2014: the semester I read so much my eyes fell out.

After entering recluse-mode for many an hour, I have finished my first book of the semester! The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf.

the voyage out 1

*takes breath*

Assigned for my Virginia Woolf class (whodathunkit?), the novel was a quick head on collision to what would be in store for me this semester: a whole lot of reading and a whole lot of feelings. The combination of reading and feelings often leaves me home alone, on my couch without pants, ignoring ambient/electronic beats wafting into the air like my incense, and staring into the massive void that is the winter in Ann Arbor because it never stops snowing.

While it was by no means Woolf’s best work, The Voyage Out is “a beginning” of sorts. Although not her earliest diary nor letters, this first novel stands as a type of fluid production from one of the most brilliant writers of the 20th century. I can see question and figure out what it means to write a novel as she pieces together allusions–from Conrad to Milton to Bronte to Austen to Plato. She tropes Victorian themes (the dying heroine) and twists them into a new modern sensibility as she meditates on deathly illness rather than the sentimental last breath of life. Unlike her other “more modernist” novels, however, there is a clear plot. WOAH. Step back.

Rachel goes to South America, falls in love, and dies. OR A bougie woman travels to a middle class wet dream of what the exotic other-as-land would be and becomes a body with out organs and disintegrates from life. OR Woolf’s creative idea of her dead sister, Stella, comes of age (whatever this means) in a post-Victorian world, and dies. The dying part is pretty consistent, but the other elements of the novel, well, including the death, too, are wildly complex. Meditating on the inability for anyone to really know anyone else, the downfalls of language, the ways humans feel, the ways human name their feelings as emotions, the ways men and women interact, the ways classes interact, what colonialism does to a collective consciousness, how patriarchy fucks over all women (and men), what death and life and love seem to be, etc., etc., . . . *this is a fragment I’m trying to save* . . . the Voyage Out covers a lot of territory that will reappear in the later fiction of Woolf.

the voyage out 2

Not only has Woolf impressed me but she has made me rethink what it means to be a reader in the 21st century.

As an English/Philosophy lover/snob/being, I enjoy a good book. To me, “good” refers to something along the lines of: published out of one’s century (unless your name is Toni Morrison) that either invests too much in the world, consciousness, and humankind or is entirely skeptic of everything including the very page it is written on. Whether Naguib Mahfouz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, James Joyce, or Audre Lorde, Elizabeth Bishop, or Sylvia Plath, or Michel Foucault, Frank B. Wilderson III, Gilles Deleuze–I have a lot of opinions on what is “good.”

However, as a bibliophile that is moving closer and closer from the hallowed halls of libraries (let’s be real, libraries here means hipster/queer coffee houses) into the real world where the library is anything I can fit on a shelf in my hypothetical apartment in an imaginary Washington D.C. (my future plans), I realize that “good” means more than just “good.”

In reading Virginia Woolf’s first novel I have a newfound respect and curiosity for new authors. This–the ability to read for pleasure and explore new authors–is a epiphany that is oh-too-recent. I have always despised new books because nothing can replace what has already been written. But this despair, I’ve learned, is stupid. Just as I think I have merit and worth in the realm of scholarly writing (HAHAHAHA MY THESIS WHAT), others, too, have merit writing in the scope of fiction. I should honor their creativity.

the voyage out 3

Although new writers can be sloppy, can have an fluctuating style, can be apprehensive, they can also be full of new insights to my queer world–filled with new relations to humans, technologies, and myself, new relations to others, new relations to the environment, and so on. The world is not static, and, I guess what I’m trying to say is, neither should my bookshelf.

Thanks, V.