The Pleasure Of... Other People’s Houses

A lazy Saturday morning in velvet pajamas.

I’m a day late on this because I was traveling yesterday to North Carolina, to spend the weekend with Susan and Sarah. We do this about every six months or so, holing up in Susan’s 1920s house in Winston-Salem, about which she’s written extensively (its book stacks, its front porch) and which has had its own Apartment Therapy tour which makes it feel like my celebrity house-friend. The three of us, Susan, Sarah, and I, have been friends since grad school, *cough* years ago, but it’s only in the past five years or so that we’ve made this trip a fixture. Often we’ll drive out to a cabin in the country, but secretly what I think Sarah and I love most about coming here is the chance to just be in this house, a big, warm, inspirational, colorful cocoon. We have our rituals: More cocktails than is wise the first night, then a lazy day, a trip to the big suburban Target, a pit-stop for cheeseburgers or barbecue, a little some vintage shopping. We make more ambitious plans and then abandon them because we’ve lost the day just sitting on the porch or in the sunroom, talking about poetry and families and homes and TV shows and our big and small plans, things we’ve bought and want to buy, changes we want to make. I come home with a list of ideas, writers to discover, music to hunt down, changes to make to my apartment, before I remember I’m not working with two floors and a couple of thousand square feet. 

The fullness and fascination of Susan’s home, which she shares with her pooch Millie, is a reminder to me in some fundamental way that, well, we are not rehearsing here. I’ve spent so much of my adult life allowing the temporariness or imperfection of a situation to dictate how it looks, how much energy and money I spend on it. It’s easy to overestimate the time and money it takes to make a room look, if not finished, then thought-about: painting a wall, framing a picture, replacing an imperfect piece of furniture with one that’s better, if not ideal. I spend a lot of time saying no to things that might be beautiful and bring me joy, because we have to fix this other thing first, and reorganize that, and clear out that closet, and it’s only at some ever-vanishing distant point that we can decorate. An inaccurate, inhibiting word, carrying its own condemnation, of frivolity and superfluity. So I appreciate the jolt that comes when I walk into this space where things have been chosen, where everything is interesting, and where you want to walk around and look at everything—not just because it’s new to you, or because you care about the person it belongs to, and certainly not because it’s valuable in some objective way as art, but because it feels chosen and purposeful, designed without being precious. I’ve been guilty of thinking that my spaces aren’t worthy of being designed. That design has to start from a blank canvas, not an already cluttered apartment with pieces chosen for their practicality or affordability, not their beauty—but of course a blank canvas is paralyzing in its own way. Design feels like what comes first, and decoration like what comes at the end, but I need to a word for this, for threading aesthetics all the way through, no matter the size of the space or the time it’s going to last.

^ In a corner of the living room, repping McSweeney’s, where Susan writes a lot.

Life, Elsewhere:

It was the NYC marathon on Sunday, the first time I’ve been just a spectator, which is an anxious sort of experience, it turns out, trying to read into what’s going on via the pace on the tracker, trying to figure out how to get across town to cheer, and then how to pick someone out of the crowd. I think the anxiety made it harder to enjoy the spectacle, but the marathon isn’t exactly enjoyable—it’s too big and emotional and overwhelming for that. Anyway, I’m immensely proud of T, and looking forward to running again. Soon.

Reading, Elsewhere:

I’m so far enjoying James Gregor’s Going Dutch, a novel about a hapless Columbia grad student looking for love, I suppose, and I’m always interested in how romantic themes and plots get filtered through more literary genre lenses, and also always here for the weird thrill of recognition of novels set in and around Morningside Heights.

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