The Making of a Home

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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 teaches writing and literature to college and high school students. He is the author of several books of poetry, and has released several albums of original music. He is also an amateur photographer, part-time stick-swordfighter, and chai enthusiast. He and his wife Jen enjoy reading, writing, and exploring the cities, coasts, and forests of New England.


14 Comments

  1. Abbye West Pates

    This struck me from your post:

    “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.”

    This sounds much like our story, our neighborhood. Often I see time as “stolen” away from writing, other creative practices. But in my wiser moments, I realize this time spent LIVING is what makes for meaningful stories that show up in songs and blogposts.

    Grace and peace in your living and writing.

  2. BONNIE BUCKINGHAM

    Congratulations on your marriage! Love what you wrote. The best poem is found exactly in your last sentence.

  3. Kristen P.

    Chris –
    I love that last line: “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.”

    I wonder if that was what the Lord thought when the earth was formless and void and he had a glimpse of putting living souls inside. What a marvelous challenge to imitate our Creator in new beginnings.

  4. Jennifer Trafton

    Thank you so much for this, Chris. As Pete said, we’ve been going through exactly the same thing, both feeling like we’re not being “productive” artistically right now, yet trying to remind ourselves that creating a home, a place of welcome and beauty, is also a work of art.

  5. Barry

    Great post, Chris! You really captured a sense of place, even in its limited square footedness. Hope my wife doesn’t read your post… it will have her sitting down with color cards and giving me that look that says it’s time to paint again. May the God of all goodness bless your marriage!

  6. Dan R.

    Just noticed/recognized the Hutchmoot and Fading West posters in your cover photo. 🙂

  7. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    “It is the main earthly business of a human being to make his home, and the immediate surroundings of his home, as symbolic and significant to his own imagination as he can.”
    G.K. Chesterton in The Coloured Lands

  8. JamesDWitmer

    Chris,

    Thanks for this beautiful essay. I embraced the concept of home as art long ago. But in the middle of the work, I’m subject to the same inner conflict you describe. Really enjoyed the peek into your story.

    And the editor’s note.

  9. Meg Sutherland

    Thanks for this…it was a good reminder that the process of creating art happens in many different ways, even at times when we feel dry or unproductive. I’m in one of those dry spells and this was a sweet encouragement.

    Yes. The editor’s note. Thank you, too.

  10. Kathryn Ross

    Been saying this for years, Chris. You got it at the outset – enjoy your canvas with no guilt and practice hospitality. Your home will be poetry surrounding your guests. Inspiration and ministry happen. Taking joy!
    Kathy

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