Good Sunday morning, post-Sandy…and pre-the Rest of Our Lives,
Sandy has stirred up within me an internal dialogue about the place I call home and, to be honest, a life-long insecurity about losing it. I love to travel, but at heart I’m not naturally peripatetic. I love exploring different landscapes, but some I love more than others (Italy), preferably those with an expansive horizon (Virginia) or an interesting cityscape (New York). It doesn’t matter whether home is my small apartment in Manhattan, which I’ve had for 33 years, or the home I share with my husband, Brian Altman, wherever his work as a surgeon might take him – takes us – I need to make my physical space feel as though I have created it from ground up.
Whether my habit of customizing my living space was influenced by the fact that my father was an architect, or whether it is simply in my DNA is anyone’s guess. Nor does it matter, for it has always been a kind of therapy, psychological to be sure, but also artistic and most certainly spiritual. For it keeps me in touch with the power of process and the surprises encountered along the way. The goal will always be the goal, but any creative person knows that the roadmap between an “idea” and its fruition is often strewn with cul de sacs, dead ends and roundabouts before one can see a clear path through the forest and end up where one intended…or hoped…to end up.
Wherever there is a hardwood floor to be hand-stained, I am its servant. I’ve been hand-staining floors for 25 years, the first effort being my apartment in New York. Then I did the one (all 1,800 square feet) in our small house in Virginia with a friend. In February 3 1/2 years ago. In the middle of the Winter. In the middle of the night. In the middle of wild Winter wind storms.
Staining it, with approximately 75 harmoniously different colors, was that bizarre combination of euphoria, glee, manic effort, torture, physical pain, exhaustion and ultimately utter delight at the final accomplishment. It was so beautiful and I was so protective of it that my stepson once suggested that perhaps he and my husband and our dog learn to levitate in order not to mar its perfect surface. I responded that this would be an excellent idea.
I was obsessed – there was no other word to describe it, an obsession that had taken root when my mother gave me a series of framed sand paintings many years ago. In the Navajo culture, a medicine man will ask a patient to sit on the freshly created sand painting as they do a healing dance around them. I was besotted with their earthen colors, muted ochres and siennas and umbers, rich greens and blues, all against the background of Mother Earth. I wanted to walk on a floor that had that feeling about every day of my life. I wanted a “medicine floor” beneath my feet. I wanted a healing floor. I wanted to be connected to Mother Earth, to our ancient roots, to nature and to myself. And so I made a healing floor in New York and years later another one in Virginia.
Then, in June of this year, the waters came. A leak from the half bath destroyed my healing floor. The whole thing had to be pulled up, along with all of the adjacent dry wall. It has taken 5 months to restore the house, a house that I’m incredibly grateful that I have. A house that I’m aware that so many people do not have. In honor or that I’ve been re-staining my newly laid floor.
In reality I don’t know why I do it. I am compelled. It is primal. And this time I have the great privilege of working with an artisan in whose presence my own obsession with perfection pales. He has made me a Bumblebee for our bathroom. As I stained around it I thought about process, about artistry, about creativity, about inspiration, about paying attention to detail, about nature, about how short and unpredictable life is, about how another person’s creativity can positively influence our own, about how connected and interdependent we all are.
There was an earthquake here last year. And the winds are wicked. And Mother Nature could rip this away from me tomorrow if she so desires. But it wouldn’t matter if she did, because the next day I just would get up and create yet another healing floor on which to walk and sit and lie down. The Navajos know that nothing is permanent, and this knowledge hasn’t stopped them from making sand-paintings that are, in fact, meant to be destroyed once they have served their purpose. Everything gets blown away by the wind eventually. That is the way of things. May our guests who visit us here, feel something of what I feel from the painting of it.
For the curious among you, here is one of many links about Navajo sand paintings. What a magic healing ritual it is.
May your own homes be places of healing and peace for as long as you have them. Thank you all for reading, as always…