While contemplating some wonderfully visual food and lifestyle blogs I have been looking at frequently for artistic inspiration and my own visual pleasure, I began thinking about the nature of space. How important spaces are to our identities as people. How we express ourselves through decoration. What we display in our spaces as monuments of past meaningful experiences. How we create places of ultimate comfort and home. How even our very identities are formed by the spaces where we spend the majority of our time. The authors of these blogs create such appealing impressions of their spaces that I am filled with a sort of jealous yearning every time I visit, similar to how I felt wandering the streets in San Francisco during the evenings. As dusk descended, people turned their lights on and I would eagerly glance into their well-lit, glowing spaces, so very curious as to how these people lived their lives inside high ceiling-ed apartments with bay windows and original oil paintings.
So what do I mean exactly when I bring up the idea of “spaces?” When I was originally contemplating the nature of “space,” I thought primarily about how people form and decorate the places where they live. For instance, I have lived in approximately 6 bedrooms during my cognizant life, spaces that I have spent time decorating and making my own. As these bedrooms have been, thus far, the only spaces of my own in the different houses and dorms in which I have lived, decorating them with my own possessions and artwork has been a very important process. I have a few objects that I have brought with me to most of these rooms, some which have changed over the years, but all which have made me feel at home or establish my mark on the room, claiming it as “mine!” There is something special about walking into an empty room and transforming it with your possessions to make it a place where you feel ownership. Some of the iconic objects I have brought with me include an antique porcelain lamp bought in Ashland, OR in 1992, a wire letter “K” studded with pearl-looking beads, a piece of intricate lace on which to hang my earrings, and a jade plant. And stacks of books. Always books.
But our spaces of ownership and self extend beyond our bedrooms. Kitchens, living rooms, bathrooms, porches, gardens, powder rooms…each space beckoning to the owner as places to express one’s own decorating style and personality. I love my friends’ exclamations of delight upon first visiting my house of childhood- all because of the great lengths my mother has done to make the house that she has owned for 23 years into a delightful, cozy cottage at the base of a cul-de-sac.
But when I began to think of the word “space” longer, I realized that there are other reasons to celebrate spaces separate from the homes in which we live, work, eat, laugh, and sleep. “Our spaces” can also include favorite geographical places that we claim as our own, even if they are public destinations. For instance, I have a strong connection to many natural spaces which include the likes of the Marquam Nature Park to hike, run, and write or Beach Haven Resort on Orcas Island as a destination of childhood memory and tranquility. Even though I don’t “own” these places and certainly don’t decorate and claim my mark on these places as I have my past bedrooms, they are still places of great meaning to me, so much so that I would place them in the category of life-shaping spaces. In a similar vein, the summer camp that I am working at this summer encourages a practice we refer to as finding one’s “Secret Spot.” A concept which I believe was originally written about formally by Joseph Cornell, nature educator extraordinaire, the participants find a spot in a natural area which they claim as their own “secret spot.” They can then return to this spot every day, every week, every month, every year, and create a relationship with it, form a baseline from which to examine nature which is always in flux. I believe it to be a wonderful practice, one that I think I will always learn from, and it is yet another way in which we form relationships and celebrate important spaces!
Finally, the important spaces in our lives not only provide us places to express ourselves creatively, but they also help form our very identities. I recently went to a 50th wedding anniversary party for two very close family friends. In their formal remarks to those attending their party, they talked about the house they have owned in NW Portland for 36 years, how it has been an instrumental and essential fixture in their marriage. They even had neighbors stand up and speak about their street, as the street itself was such an important space for them. I can imagine, as much of their identities as people and a married couple has necessarily come from the space they have inhabited and created together. Similarly, I credit my childhood bedroom as instrumental to my deep love for nature, particularly trees, a great fascination with treehouses, and a need to sleep in a room with maximum natural light.
It is bizarre when you think about it, that our locales, inanimate spaces made of wood and concrete, can be so instrumental in our relationships with loved ones and with ourselves. But though they are seemingly only empty spaces, they are waiting to be filled and lived in. With prized possessions, great laughter, and much personal expression. These places that can contain many people in their existence, come to define our lives.
so the question I ask you today is:
What spaces have been instrumental in your life and how have you celebrated them?