“Clean your little corner up and see what starts to change” –Andrew Osenga, “Don’t Lose Heart”
When I think of myself being “creative,” I default to my natural gifts, poetry and songwriting. But in the past few months those have been hard to come by. I had to prepare for one of the biggest changes of my life: finding a home and getting married. Back in February I was lucky to find a small third floor apartment from a kind old lady looking for good tenants. Jen and I stared at the blank walls and empty rooms, awaiting our touch like the unwritten days and weeks of our new life together.
March was a month of hard labor and going to bed tired every night. You see, I’m not a tradesman by any means. I teach and read and write for a living, so while I’m not above physical labor, it’s just not what I’m involved in every day. But that month I did more painting than I’d ever done in my life. I also became a frequent friend of hardware and furniture stores. I became obsessed with this new domestic space—how to make it better, how to make it pleasing for my soon-to-be wife.
And yet, it felt like it was taking me away from my “creative” endeavors. Almost every spare minute after work and other responsibilities was poured into it until I collapsed on my bed at night. Something felt missing, like life usually feels when I’m not writing something.
But then one day, as I was in the apartment putting another coat of paint on the walls, a switch flipped on in my head, and I realized something that I put down in verse:
I’ve never been a practical man,
never a skill to work with hands
except what the pen
can do for me.
But out of love
I take up the brush,
with clumsy hands I pick my palette,
cover walls with color and love—
a poetry of paint.
I realized that, while I had for a long time mentally acknowledged the creativity of endeavors other than poetry, music, painting, etc, it hadn’t really sunk into my bones yet. But what I was doing really was just as much an exercise in imagination as sitting down to wrangle words into form. And are not the homes that we have been given empty canvases upon which to work?
So while I may not have penned many verses lately, I’ve taken on many other roles, including color coordinator, painter, furniture builder, box hauler, and picture hanger.
The fruit of such labors is sweet. As I type this, I’m sitting across from my wife, who’s sprawled on our lovely checkered couch, her face cast in the setting summer sun. This golden hour picks up the reds, greens, and golds scattered about the apartment and makes them shine. We love our cozy third floor home, which we’ve jokingly named The Flet (after the Elvish treehouses in Lothlorien).
Sometimes we kneel by the window at night, watching the entertainment of the neighborhood. And sometimes I watch the stories passing by—drunks stumbling from the nearby liquor store, couples having very public fights, and crowds of rough kids. I think of the chaos represented there, in contrast to the peace and beauty of our home, and what the places these people live in might be like. I wonder how the light can spread. And I realize that sometimes the best poem is found in taking empty space, adding color, shape, and light, and then putting living souls inside to see what happens.
[Editor’s note: Me too, Chris. Me too. #NorthWindManor #HashTagsAreUselessinBlogPosts]
Chris is an Associate Professor of English at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts, and is also the author of several books of poetry. In 2018 he helped co-found The Poetry Pub, an online community for poets. He enjoys walking in the woods, visiting coffee shops, and poking through used bookstores with his wife Jen.