Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A tiny nest for grand creating

I have always loved making a home and for me, the experience of doing this begins at the street’s edge and extends to the limit of my view and ability and right to design to my taste the sort of story I want to tell, to share with passersby and visitors alike. I never used to think of designing a home in that way, that in bringing together elements we love, and collecting and arranging them just so, we are really telling a story about ourselves. We are teaching and learning and expressing who we are. What is that if not a story? It may even speak louder than our voices if it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words. I know people who come into my home know me. They see the stuff I’ve dragged in here, from bird’s nests, to beetles, to a gorgeous antique French armoire and a tattered leather-bound edition of a novel titled Lucile that was in my great-grandparents’ library and they get a sense of who I am. Possibly that I like nature and old things and gardens, all of which is true.

There are days when being creative at writing fails me. I think its resistance. I am determined to tell the story in my head, the one that’s going to make a novel, but my brain refuses to cooperate. If perseverance doesn’t break down the barrier, I leave the writing and find a project. I get into my stuff, my home stuff, and I play. I add to my nest. I am like a bird bringing the new new bit of straw, or a dried flower, or a tuft of lint from the drier that caught on the grass, into my little place. I’m weaving a different sort of story, but for me it’s a story all the same. It’s as if my muse appreciates a different venue, another way to find expression. Often the resistance dissolves in the happy light of doing this, of making new art.

The other day, a very dear friend of mine, knowing our shared love of making a home, recommended a magazine, Romantic Prairie Style, and in it I found a tiny poem that perfectly expresses the way I feel, and in such an economy of words, I am in awe. It is called My Home and it’s by Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

This is the place that I love best,
A little brown house, like a ground-birds nest,
Hid among grasses, and vines, and trees,
Summer retreat of the birds and bees.
Far from the city’s dust and heat,
I get but sounds and odors sweet.
Who can wonder I love to stay,
Week after week, here hidden away,
In this sly nook that I love the best—
This little brown house like a ground-bird’s nest?

James Prosek's creative nest
Another very dear friend, Guida Jackson, without whose mentorship I might never have become a writer, commented recently on something I posted on Facebook about tiny homes. She said my fascination with them and all things tiny reminded her of an interview she heard on NPR with an artist, James Prosek. I was intrigued and visiting his website found his space described as “cozy” and “slightly rustic”, comparable in size to a “two-car garage”. It has a potbellied stove and sleeping loft beneath a pitched roof made from wide planks of chestnut wood. Six low-hung windows usher in an abundance of natural light. I can only imagine the serenity and joy he must find in painting and writing there.

“It's my little room,” he says. “All of my stuff is here and no one can get at me.” He goes on to say, “I try to make it sound smaller than it is. There’s a small space where I work because I want it to be a humble space. Humility is a big part of being open and receptive to everything you see. Part of being a good observer is to know you don’t know anything.”

Like Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem, this says so eloquently in just a few words how making a home is so much more than the stuff. It’s the receptacle that contains the sense of yourself, your essence. It describes us and defines us. It informs us and others of who we are. “Artists need a story,” Prosek says. “This space is my story.”

I couldn’t put it better myself. My home/work space is my story too.


  1. Small aside: When my grandmother was born, while her parents tried to decide what to name her, the black servants called her "Missie," and as time went on she became "Mittie." She was Mittie Dickson until she was 16 and read Meredith's LUCILE. She loved the book so much that she named herself that. (I have two or three copies of the book now.)

  2. Guida, thank you for sharing this. The copy I have is leather with a beautiful bird embossed on the cover. The pages are edged in gold and inside, along with a grocery list, my great-grandmother tucked a card sent to her from America's First Boy's Ranch in Amarillo, Texas thanking "him for his assistance". There's a copy of the Cowboy's Prayer printed on the back. I wish it had a date. The book is falling apart, but looking through it I'm fairly certain Meredith would have to self publish today. Writing styles have most definitely changed. I can only imagine the ancestral shock at just how much!