Home Sweet Home?
The desert rats that used my truck's ducts for a squat were looking for a safe enclosure in unregulated territory; similarly, I am trying to resolve my need for security while still surrounded by horizons on all sides.
I find it is difficult for me to paint at a picnic table or portable easel in these wide-open vistas; my perception, imagination, apperception floats in the vista, aware of it, inhabiting it, hovering in it and never coming to rest, to focus on the page, the corral of relationahip between imagination and expression in two dimensions. Staying inside, as if the outside required no further attention, appears to be the circumstance I need for expression in painting, writing: the studio, the cell, the carrell, the cabin, the trailer. On the desert, at the beach, in the hills I feel good sitting and moving, driving in it, walking in it. Outdoors means activities: hiking, exploring, rolling along. But the page requires a cloister.Like a hermit crab or tortoise, I need a shell to house my vulnerable interior workings.
BUT, I am ambivalent about staying Inside: there is a counter-current streaming against sheltered stability from my childhood when I could find no place to be solitary and daydreaming that was safe from my mother's intrusion. She was particularly wary of reverie -- interrupting any far-away stares into space by teasing ridicule and waving her hands in front of the the offending young face, or she would burst suddenly through a closed door into a quiet room and demand to know: "you're being too quiet in there, what are you up to?" When the answer was "I'm reading!", or worse "Just thinking.." , she would throw a mini-fit of exasperation, seething in a helpless fury; there was no family ban on reading. Often she would order me to stop what I was doing and go outside and get some exercise.
I grew up in a "ranch house," those sprawling one-storey suburban stucco-and-shingled contractor's Tract Houses, wherein there is no attic, garret, basement, cellar, walk-in closet, nook, cranny or windowseat. All of these generous architectural features had been cheated down to fit into the Two-Car Garage. All the relics of secrets and hidden histories were stuffed into a two-by-four and plywood platform built across the back of the garage. The cellar reduced to a crawl space, the attic gutted to accommodate hoods of cars parked beneath it. Barrels, boxes, chests-- my father's Naval WWII uniforms and equipment, my mother's sorority scrapbooks and Red Cross memorabilia, oddball wedding gifts (Tiki snack trays, etc.), too tacky to use, too sentimental to drop at the Goodwill.
To counter our mother's discomfort at our interior lives, my older brother built "forts" in the this garage, at first rearranging the sidelines boxes and cabinets to create small cubbies or privacy nests against the walls, and finally burrowing up into the storage platform through a disguised trap door furtively sawed through its plywood floor, replete with a small rug, snack box, and a pirated electric wire tap for ham radio. He had no illegal or immoral hobbies to hide; he just wanted a safe place to think his own thoughts.
My younger brother would space out in front of the TV for hours seemingly engrossed in Lassie, Steve Allen or World War II documentary reruns, but one day when I tried to have a conversation with him about something on the screen we were both sitting in front of, I realized he wasn't actually watching the programs or the ads, he was daydreaming. He masked his separate soul from our mother in a pretence of non-threatening involvement with something inane.
My own solitude was smuggled from supervision by loitering outside the house. Taking the family dog for a walk was the trap door of my escape into a vacant acre of unsubdivided city land above the local grammar school where excavated earth from city building projects had been dumped, forming small hillocks overgrown with mallow, milkweed, oatgrass and stickerweed. It's corrugated contour provided a screen; I was semi-hidden strolling there. I never met anyone else there. I may have looked like a kid playing with a dog, or with other kids momentarily out of sight. But the dog was a cover, I was daydreaming on my feet. Years later when I first heard Ben E. King's recording of "Up On the Roof", I knew that musicians, and their listeners, understood me.
Today I wonder if my summer sojourn on BLM land is another escape to a vacant field. A place to get away from the intrusion of social demands to conform one's interests, possessions, apparel, appearance, activities, schedule; to avoid criticism, intrusion, ridicule, exasperation, and my repeated disappointment of some one else's expectations. To enter again the masked chamber of the secret soul, to hole-up in a hidden fort, and abide there unengaged, undetected, unusable. Now, I also need to find a spiritual home where I can pray in peace, a shelter where I can write and paint while shielded from the weather.