Friday, October 4, 2013

Embrace Your Space

Our 'hood for a month.

It's the life of a traveling duo. Yesterday we packed up again. But this move didn't involve a plane, a boat, or even a car. We just schlepped our suitcases next door.

For two weeks we stayed in Doreen's adorable house. My sister's next-door-neighbor, Doreen, graciously allowed us to hang out in her pad while she traveled to Australia. She returns today and we hope we did her house justice: filling it with fun energy, cleaning every corner, and leaving her a couple of household gifts.

Thank you, Doreen.

And now the tables have turned. We are living in my sister's house and will be Doreen's neighbors for two weeks. My sister and her husband took off early yesterday morning to the tip of Baja. Their truck was packed to the brim with an ATV, surfboards, their dog, supplies for several weeks, and gifts for amigos (clothes and candy and Coors).

We don't stay with my sister when we visit because their house is small. It sits in what is fondly known as the "surf slum" of Leucadia. It's just a couple of blocks from the beach amidst other small houses.

There are no towering apartment buildings shadowing the sunny yards. You can regularly hear inklings of neighbors' conversations and music.

Fortunately, I like their musical choices. We were serenaded by the Grateful Dead yesterday at dusk! And I find the distant chatting comforting. Everyone here knows each other. It's like, as a kid, hearing your parents talking downstairs when you're snuggled in bed.

Last night as I sat in my sister's living room listening to "Sugaree" drift in through the window, I thought about how by most American standards, this house is tiny. But it has everything you need: furniture to relax and read on, a kitchen table to eat and play Rummikube on, a bed to rejuvenate in, a stove and fridge to feed everyone, a computer desk to email on, a backyard to BBQ with neighbors, and a vegetable garden to nourish family and friends.

For eating and game-playing.

The more I focused on the bounty of this house, the bigger it appeared. It literally seemed to grow before my eyes. I felt like Alice or Gulliver. The rich patterns in the rug emerged. The little statues and masks on the wall became animated. The painting of an American Indian in a canoe at sunset vibrated. Thick with impasto, this painting used to hang on the wall of the house where my sister and I grew up. As I stared, it vibrated with history.

Who needs drugs to see a new reality? Reality is, as they say, what we make it.

There's one "reality" that claims success = big. Big house. Lots of stuff. Multiple cars. It claims that progress is moving into an even bigger house, perhaps with more property around you. Or having multiple houses filled with even more things. It claims that we all should strive for such progress.

While that may bring joy to some people, many unthinkingly buy into this "reality." And the next thing they know, they feel buried.

I once heard this: We shouldn't have more stuff than we can comfortably manage.

Of course, how much we can manage widely varies from person to person. Some people like to live out of a backpack, while others can comfortably manage a whole staff who manages all their stuff.

(Sometimes I find it a challenge to manage the stuff in the one suitcase I'm living out of! But that's usually during a resistant moment, when I can't easily find something. When I take a breath, that item magically appears at my fingertips.)

At age 19, I lived in one of my favorite spaces ever. It was a basic bedroom in a tract house shared with other college students. I loved being in that room, its white walls adorned with posters of my favorite bands, its bookshelves filled with stories of lives I intimately experienced. In that space, I felt a rich sense of being on my own, of inhabiting a private, un-interruptable world.

Another favorite was my apartment in Yokohama, Japan. A studio with a futon mattress on the floor. I loved it even though my knees hit the wall when I sat on the toilet.

I grew up in a big house. Split level, five bedrooms, redwood decks, swimming pool and jacuzzi. Mostly, I loved that too.

Dave and I may decide at some point we'd like a large house to be our reality. Or maybe we'll want something small like this, near friendly neighbors. Or medium-sized, on a remote piece of land away from civilization.

Whatever we decide upon, it won't be a choice on auto-pilot, unthinkingly buying into whatever reality is out there. We will consciously make our own reality. Small-scale is a perspective. As is vastness.

For now we get the privilege of trying on different lives as we inhabit various worlds. And now I know this: I can truly experience the uniqueness of wherever we are--the bounty of it--if I open my eyes and embrace the space.

Written in this tiny, vast living room.