Of things past

I spent half the morning in Home Depot. I decided that I could not live one more minute with the children slamming down the toilet seats and went in search of new slow-close seats for their bathroom and the one downstairs. Who knew that there were different sizes? So I had to go back to Home Depot to make an exchange. Such a delight. I picked up a new paper holder at the same time and while I was standing in the aisles making all of these choices (snow white? alabaster white? brushed nickel? chrome?) I was so very glad that I did not become an interior decorator.

Last year at this time, I had every intention of doing just that. I created a portfolio, was accepted into a highly-regarded decorating program, and spent my days in design showrooms. I had every intention of becoming the next Mary MacDonald.

Love her! /via/

Decorating my own home was restorative. My new house was significantly smaller and older than my previous abodes. Most of the furniture I owned would not fit. So I made friends with consignment stores and antiques dealers and horse-traded my large-scale pieces for smaller-scale antiques. I gave away the modern art, haunted the Scalamandre Third Floor for pillows, and transformed my shelter into something beautiful. For a while, I swore that I was ‘saved by pillows’ as there is something terribly therapeutic about surrounding oneself with beautiful things when one’s life has fallen apart. Under normal circumstances, I’m in intuitive introvert. I love playing with ideas and theories and intangibles. I love reading and writing and strategizing. I normally hate hiring electricians and measuring spaces and picking things up in my car. And yet, for about six months, it’s all I wanted to do.

I put my favourite oil paintings over my fireplace, I hung my black silk ball gown and my hand-embroidered Jenny Packham gown on my bedroom wall as textile art, and I created little vignettes with things I’d collected over the years. Tangible objects provided a tether for me. As Donna Tartt writes in The Goldfinch, “When we are sad…it can be comforting to cling to familiar objects, to the things that don’t change.” Amen.

Madonna Badger wrote a beautiful piece for Vogue that explains why this might be. Badger is the fashion publicist who lost her children and parents in a house fire on Christmas Day in 2011. In The Long Way Back, she writes about how she survived the emotionally unsurvivable and fought her way back to a semblance of happiness. Part of her healing process was to take a job cataloguing antiques for  a friend:

… as I spent day upon day going through box upon box looking for beautiful objects, two things happened. One, I had to stay in the present moment. It’s hard to go too far down one road or another when you’re using your hands and your eyes and your brain so intently. The second thing was that as we found old photographs, I was forced to reckon with loss, with transience. I came to understand and be at peace with the notion that the people in the pictures I was looking at were all gone now—that the little girl in 1905 who owned the doll I was holding in my hands was dead; that all this stuff was really just the ephemera that gets left behind. There was really no judgment about it. 

Things are simple. It’s easy to decide between brushed nickel and chrome and it gives one a sense of control. When I found myself on shifting sand, I could take comfort in my heavy silver-leafed oak table that moved with me from house to house to house. My blue and white ginger jars would not mutate. Pillows would never disappoint. It’s easy to hang a robe hook perfectly: just follow the instructions. My mahogany bedroom set, now almost 100 years old, was as functional as the day it was built and improved by its earned patina. Material objects are reliable: they don’t judge, don’t demand anything, and never dine out on one’s grief. They do not turn one’s experience into an anecdote.

People — fallen, imperfect — do not always offer the same comfort. In her essay, The Family Versus the Grief Glommers, Jennifer Niesslein writes beautifully about the damage that good people can unwittingly inflict. I had to seek shelter from many people as I embarked on my own healing process. While I was most raw, paintings and fabric, and objets d’art were a more trusted salve.

But thanks to those in my deliberately small tent and my therapist and those strange little hand buzzers, I now feel quite healed. And where there was once a gaping wound, there is now a strengthening scar. I can ease back into the world of people and ideas that, for a while, seemed too unsafe.

And the whole decorating thing has faded into the background. It’s become the anecdote, I the human jukebox: “Remember the time I almost became an interior decorator. Hahahaha.” It’s a story on which to dine one day. (Scars make one less sensitive, even to one’s own pain.)

I have no idea what I’ll do in its place. I have co-written a book about strategic thinking, so we will see where that goes. I can value a business, negotiate a term sheet, develop a bootstrap marketing campaign, and find good candidates for a job. I can edit articles and write copy and apply for a grant. I also know a heck of a lot about family law and property law and how to navigate a divorce. I know what works and does not work in Oakville, for what that’s worth. I seem to know a whole lot of people who know a whole lot of people. And I can do your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and authenticate your Chanel bag and tell you what to do with the spare diamonds you might have floating around. Surely, there’s something lucrative in that strange mix. If you have any ideas, let me know.

This blog has morphed from a decorating blog to a reflection of my journey. It, like me, is in flux. So, depending on your perspective, I’ll say “I’m sorry” or “You’re welcome.” And no, I cannot help you with your renovation.

Home Depot gives me hives.

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