I’m becoming my mother, a notorious introvert, who likes nothing better than holing herself up at home and speaking to no one all day long. I used to think she was a bit silly and even a little tedious, needing to spend so much time alone. But now, I’ve realized I also need some solitude in my schedule to stay sane: silence, time to focus, space in my own head. Sometimes it seems very self-indulgent, but because of my mom I know I come by it honestly. And I understand her a little better, too.
When I read a “hermit book,” I feel like I’m inside that life, too, with a person living alone and entirely for God, or as Thoreau used to say: “to live deliberately…to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” It’s a life I used to wonder about for myself before I met Adam. I love my husband and my marriage, so if I ever did become a hermit it would have to be be a married sort of hermit (if such a thing is possible). But a solitary contemplative life, with a surrender to the rhythms of the daily office (daily prayers, said 4-9 times a day), focusing on God’s presence, holing up by yourself and not talking to anyone all day long, early to bed early to rise, speaks to something in me, as an active priest who is also called to service out in the world, who also likes being in crowds and talking with lots of people. Many of whom, I imagine, think I’m an extrovert, since priests and pastors’ big day of the week, Sunday, is definitely a big extrovert day. But the wellspring of my love of people is my love of solitude.
Then, there are the little houses hermits live in – hermitages. Here’s Merton, in front of his:
One of my favorite parts of hermit books is reading about the little houses hermits live in. There’s something so essential and well, home-like, about them. There are lots of books about tiny houses and the people who build them, and I’ve devoured them all: Jay Schafer, Lou Urenek, Michael Pollan.
Life compressed into the size of a room. I lived in a dorm room by myself for a semester at college and I loved it. One little room held my life, pretty much and it was cozy. Later, over my two years at Gould Farm, I lived in two little cabins: both, heated by woodstove, with a tea kettle and hot plate (never used), an outdoor faucet in summer, no bathroom except the outdoors or a big jar in wintertime and the normal, plumbed bathroom of my friends, the Goldfarbs and Vlceks, down the hill for me to use whenever I liked, and no insulation! (My mom, introvert but not fond of roughing it, thought I was crazy.) Here’s me, with shockingly awful hair, in front of one of the cabins I lived in, called “Owen”:
Adam and I talk about getting a Tumbleweed Tiny House someday, as a get away place. Sometimes we’d go together and sometimes we’d each go for some of our own hermit time. We both have eremetic tendencies.
As I’ve been learning how to be a priest, I’ve realized that for my own well-being I need to go away and stay by myself for a day or two every few months. That I need a day a month for just reading and prayer. That I need one work day a week without meetings. For my birthday last week, I spent the night at a hermitage at a retreat center south of here. Best present ever.
Solitude resets my brain and feeds something deep in my whole body. And reminds me that I’m becoming my mother.
When I’m deep in thought, I scowl. Adam used to ask if I was pissed about something. Some guy at a gas station once told me I should smile more. My chaplaincy supervisor in seminary inquired: “What’s the grimace about?” looking for some psychological reflection that might explain it. I came up blank, I’m afraid.
Adam captured it in this photo from our local library, where we sometimes both end up when we’re both looking to get some extra-focused work accomplished.
I’m not sure why I scowl, grimace, frown, etc. My dad knits his brows when he thinks, but I don’t think I’ve seen him look quite as severe as I seem to.
Maybe I’m more angry at the world than I like to admit. But mostly, it makes me think of the Bible story of Jacob wrestling with the angel: “I will not let you go, until you bless me!” (“You crazy idea/scripture/piece of writing/email you!”)
You don’t really know someone just because you’ve seen the inside of their home. But maybe you know them better. A few weekends ago, Adam and I went to Springfield to see the Lincoln Museum. If you haven’t heard yet: It’s amazing. You should go see it. While you’re there, have yourself a “Horseshoe,” which is Springfield’s local dish: an open-faced meat sandwich covered with fries and beer-cheese sauce.
Yum. Anyway, back to Lincoln.
The Park Service maintains The Lincoln Home, down the street. I went to go check it out. Almost everything inside belonged to the Lincolns. Their beds. Their kids’ toys. Their chairs and tables. Their kitchen stove (Mary did most of her own cooking). Their… chamberpots. One of their kids, Eddie, died in this house a month before his 4th birthday.
People didn’t really have house numbers back then – just their name on the door.
The house made Lincoln seem like a real person to me. That’s a cliche, I know. But seeing his stuff… there was just something about it. The ordinary edges of his and Mary’s life. Two people, four kids, three servants, his job, a dog and some cats, their friends, and their stuff.
It makes me want to go see the movie again.
Springfield has preserved the homes in a four-block square around their house, too, so you get a feel for the whole neighborhood.
The house itself it typical 19th century: there was a public parlor, with horsehair chairs and other fancy bits. They liked to give parties and dinners there. There was a family parlor, where Abe used to lie on the floor and read (he was too tall for most furniture at the time), which apparently, Mary used to scold him about. He’d also roughhouse with the boys there, and play with their cats and dog. They eventually had separate, adjoining bedrooms upstairs, a sign of comfort and being well-to-do, not emotional distance. There was a room for a servant girl (which seemed like an incredible vulnerable position to me, right down the hall from the men of the house), a guest room, and a room for the boys. There was no plumbing, and still isn’t (you can use the facilities at the visitor’s center, down the block). The outhouse was in the back of the yard, with three seats. The kitchen was tiny, although as the guide put it, “This kitchen is about the same size as the log cabin Abe Lincoln grew up in. He came a long way in the world.”
Here’s a picture of the house during the presidential campaign of 1860.
Another fun fact: The Lincolns bought their house from an Episcopal priest! It was just one story at that time, and they “renovated” and added a second story a few years later.
While you can’t know a person just by visiting their home, it is a window onto who they are. Not just how messy or clean the house is, or how well-matched the furniture is, or whether the bathroom needs updating, but just… it’s your stuff. I think something intangible from us rubs off on them.
I don’t mean to make it sound magical. I’ve visited other official “homes,” and they’re ok. But something about this one — the Lincolns really lived here for fifteen years, and their stuff is still here. It’s not “what it might’ve been like,” it’s a window onto their life and themselves.
This blog is about home and where we live, and how that affects who we are. Particularly, it’s a journal about the place I live – Bolingbrook, Illinois. The places we live rub off on who we are and we rub back.
If you ever get a chance, go to Springfield and see the Museum and the Home. I hear the Lincoln Law Offices are great, too (we forgot to do our homework, and only found out they were closed on Sundays when we showed up).
I love taking walks in winter. It’s still. Nobody is around. Everything is exposed down to the most basic level. And I love the cold, when I have a coat and gloves, anyway. Of course, gloves have to come off for taking photos, so for a number of these, so I lost the feeling in my fingers more than once, trying to get the right shot.
You can see a patch of prairie that was burned by the Park District last month, on the left, there.
Sunset with beagle, lower right.
Ice, with dots!
I’d like a glassware set with this pattern…
Our tree, daytime.
I got this “Advent box” (?) from Target a few years ago, and each door has a slip or two of paper with verses that match the Jesse Tree ornaments I’ve been collecting…
Jesse tree — a bare branch with ornaments that represent Old Testament stories — creation, the ram in the thicket, Noah’s Ark, Baby Moses, Hagar’s well… it’s a blast to make the ornaments or go on wild goose chases for some of these things online. (Hoping to post more on this later…)
Tiny nativity figures (see penny, right). Mary and the animals to start… Joseph, Jesus, and a shepherd come later.
My kitchen, with Christmas cards, Norwegian Christmas straw star, and general mayhem.
Jesse tree and Christmas tree, with Advent wreath. And sunshine.
Church sanctuary, Advent paraments, Advent wreath (right), and empty manger…
Empty manger, close-up… figures come later, and a couple Christmas trees.
One of my favorite kneeler cushions.
Choir music, piled on the piano top.
My sermon bible study group – Emily, Ellen, and Steve. A great company of preachers.
This are two foreclosed homes on our block, down from three. Will County has had one of the highest rates of foreclosures in the state, and Bolingbrook has been one of the epicenters.
Some foreclosed homes are kept up well, but this one was pretty neglected. The front door looked like something out of a war zone:
That screen door couldn’t stay shut by itself. The yard was raggedy. Eyesore central.
There’s something painful about an obviously empty house, even when it’s not an eyesore like this. It’s like a corpse – physical evidence of what used to be a whole life. And, of course, you wonder about the story of the foreclosure. Was the owner foolish? Too hopeful? Or did they lose their job or have a family emergency? Whatever the story, you know there’s heartbreak there. On your block, you can have two, three or four two-story memorials to heartbreak that you drive by every day. And maybe more around the corner.
So many human crises happen behind closed doors. Foreclosure isn’t like that.
But that particular house has been fixed up recently. Some guys showed up with a dumpster for a few days, although I never saw what they tossed into it. Broken appliances? I never had the guts to peek in the windows to see what kind of condition the interior was in.
But now the lawn is mowed and the door is cleaned up. The shaggy bushes got trimmed. The screen door stays closed. Now the outdoor lights are always on, which is a bit ghostly but probably intended to make it looked lived in.
Still, the local newspaper, which everybody gets free, collects in the driveway…
It’s not for sale, yet. Just standing empty for now. Lights on.
I took this shot and felt like there was something familiar about it. Was there some artist I was channeling? I don’t want to flatter myself here, just wondering about images of women’s faces - with houses or a bit dwarfed by their landscape.
Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic.
Here’s a few images that may have inspired my subconscious – or at least got me thinking about people, houses, and landscapes. They’re all women, but I don’t think I meant to exclude men (famous last words, right?).
These women are standing on their thresholds, close to the familiarity of their homes but evaluating the world outside. The first looks inspired and awed, the second, defiant and suspicious. (If I were a Black woman in South Carolina in the 50s, that’s how I’d look, too.)
My photo erases my expression, in contrast. I could’ve sworn there was some painting or photograph with half a woman’s face, but I could find anything. If you know what I’m thinking of, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
No houses in these next paintings, but the shadows on the faces remind me of the filter I used in the shot. Again, I have no illusions that my work in any way aspires to the level of Edvard Munch.
Munch’s women look closed and uncomfortable.
Maybe that’s what I was going for — another portrayal of repression in the suburbs. Pretty cliche, by now. Boring. But it’s hard to resist the repetitive patterns of subdivisions when you have a camera in your hand — they beg to become representations of repression and conformity. Although if you’ve read much else in this blog, you may have realized that’s not the case here in Bolingbrook (my neighbors are White, Black, Hispanic, Indian, Korean…)
Another woman with a house and landscape that overwhelm her…
If I wanted to be coy, I’d throw myself on our lawn and have Adam take my picture in the same pose.
I’ve always loved this painting, but what’s going on? Is the woman longing for the house? Does she dread going back? Is she lonely? In real life, the model was disabled — maybe being out in the field was the only place she felt free, and going back to the house was going into a cage. The metaphors for the myths of suburbia are rife.
Am I overwhelmed by living in the suburbs? Not any more than anyone else, I imagine. Aren’t we all dwarfed in some way by the places we live? The places where we live shape our routines, what our eyes see every day, what we hear, feel, smell, and the kind of light that shines on our faces. The weather, the way the wind blows, the way the water tastes. In different places, people have different relationships to their homes, nature or wild places, commuting, places of worship, and the places they buy things.
I took that picture on a whim in August. But it’s been fun to think about, here.
(Gosh, these are all paintings by male artists. I love them, but interesting that I didn’t choose any paintings by women. Any suggestions?)
On the 12th of every month, I (try to) take pictures of the day, then choose 12 to post. It’s called Take 12. Here’s this month’s gallery:
October isn’t a very pretty month in a garden. Here is my dead tomato/basil/pepper bed. Some marigolds still determined to hang on, but otherwise, everyone else is in a pile on the upper left, waiting for the compost bin.
A peek into the pile of dead plants.
Those who could be saved ended up here. Beautiful! Too bad I got the timing wrong and scorched the two bottom pans.
But October can be beautiful in a garden, too. Here are zinnias, still kicking it.
“Bright lights” chard, glowing in the sun. It’ll last into December. Tough stuff.
First year hollyhocks – looking hopeful. Next spring and summer, they’ll grow into tall stalks covered with blooms.
A glimpse out the back door, captured in a couple of my Take 12 entries.
We spent the morning at IKEA with our dear friends, Dave and Carly, who live about an hour away.
They were shopping for a desk.
There are a lot of choices to consider.
There’s a lot of everything to consider at IKEA.
Overwhelming at times, in fact.
(Obligatory cat photo.)