I’ve been mentally rearranging my focus over the last few days of vacation (especially during yesterday’s 17-hour embroidery festival), determining what I’ll be devoting my time and interest to in the coming months. I’ve had design on the brain for the last two years — I just can’t stop exploring the creative process at work, and admiring the results of honest labor.  But I’ve let mild interest and my bizarre desire to know “as much as possible, everything there is to know” about previously unexplored elements trap me into studying things I don’t find all that interesting.

Case in point: Over the last two years I’ve explored all sorts of minimalist and contemporary design elements and histories, read three dozen books about small-space living, streamlining, refinishing and restoring and whatnot, and I’ve learned two very important things.

  • “Mid-century Modern,” which is the staunchly guarded Keep of the 50 most popular/oft-quoted design blogs/publications, reminds me of nothing so much as elementary school furniture and decor, no matter how big the designer’s name (or price tag). The visual is one sensory memory away from the smell of 22 sets of parkas, moon boots, and mittens dripping snow melt onto kid-friendly carpet all day, every day, from Thanksgiving through April Fools Day. Ew.
  • Minimalist often equals sparse, another word for “empty.”  Empty rooms look gorgeous in photographs and paintings, full of artistic light, with dreams and possibilities abounding just outside the frame.  But empty rooms are boring as hell in person. I don’t do boring in anything.

I’m letting go of the design obsession, which I don’t even really *like* all that much. And letting in something new.  Well, not new exactly, but recently brought back to focus.

I am a big fan of the Steampunk aesthetic — for years, I called it “old-fashioned, fantasy library style.” Example (beware the geekiness beyond this parenthetical note): one of the things that should have survived all of my trimming and purging of useless belongings is a set of blueprints I drew up as a young adolescent, blueprints for my dream home. It’s essentially a steampunky wizard’s cottage, complete with astronomy observation deck, rooftop herb garden, walls of rotating bookshelves with mechanical library ladders, a gas lighting system, and a circular fireplace with a chimney running straight up through the building to provide ambient heat and cooling to the whole structure.  If I can find the plans, I’d like to have them framed — they’d look awesome above a shelf with my brass hourglass, lapis  globe, and a carved wooden cigar box (filled with old snapshots from the 40s and 50s, of my grandparents and their shipmates).

I have a number of steampunky novels to rip through in the next couple of weeks. I’ve a couple of “I could make that” projects brewing in the back of my mind. I’m looking forward to building a new living space full of nooks and crannies, filled with tucked-away gems to inspire a well-lived, creativity-focused life.

Here’s to 2009 — out with the commonplace, in with the geek.

One of the great things about my friends is that they read things that are printed in ink on paper, and make note of them, and send me copies. Since I get most of my news and information about the world online, there are wonderful things that I would absolutely miss were it not for the lovely people who send me gifts wrapped in torn out magazine articles or newspaper clippings.

A couple of weeks ago, after my visit to NYC/Connecticut, Clay sent my forgotten blackberry charger back to me wrapped up in an article from the New Yorker. The Dr. Maddow Show: The secret to the success of a wonky lesbian pundit with no TV experience? A Ph.D. from Oxford, a dry sense of humor, and the ability to be nice to Pat Buchanan. Somehow, I’ve just now unfolded the paper and gotten around to reading it.

First of all, I disagree that the words “nice” and “kind” are interchangable, as Jessica Pressler seems to posit in the article. In all of her interactions with Buchanan, Rachel is kind and cordial, professional in the old-school, gentlemen’s-white-gloves sense of the word. She is not “nice” – she is neither gentle nor self-effacing in order to make Pat Buchanan (or any of her other guests) feel good about being less than exceptional or right or “nice” themselves. But she is kind and open and welcoming, as befits a true host, to every guest.

That said, the rest of Jessica’s article is delightful – the Rachel whom we meet in these brief pages is sweeter, more eclectic, and just as genuine as the Rachel we see in fade-away gray suits each night at 9. And, the two quotes that carry my mind well away from the article and off into the “what could be” of possibilities and dreams and plannings and evaluations of what happens in a well-lived life when one has a well-suited career, are a skillful journalist’s terrific use of source material — the words belong to Rachel herself:

“I have been a suicidal, stretched-too-thin, overcommitted, frenetic, sleepless mess for the entire time she [Rachel’s partner, Susan Mikula] has known me,” she says. “And I don’t always have a job that justifies my being so intense about it. I think the reason I worked hard is because it makes me feel like my life has meaning.

I’ve been the same way since I was 18. It’s nice to have one’s tendency to workaholism validated – by an idol, no less.

“There is something in here [a book she was referencing in an author interview] about how having an outsider’s perspective on things – a cut-across-the-grain, I-am-not-of-this-Establishment, I-hate-the-man kind of thing even when you are respected and being put on television – that is the way that you change the world.” It was clear that she was talking about herself as much as the book. “I do worry if being a pundit is a worthwhile thing to be,” she says. “Yeah, I’m the unlikely cable news host. But before that I was the unlikely Rhodes scholar. And before that I was the unlikely kid who got into Stanford. And then I was the unlikely lifeguard. You can always cast yourself as unlikely when you’re fundamentally alienated in your worldview. It’s a healthy approach for a commentator.

In other words, second-guessing the value of one’s contributions, demanding honesty of purpose with one’s self, and being troubled with how we get to where we’ve gotten to be — those are valid, positive steps that keep us aware of what’s real. I think that cognizance of self-doubt is incredibly healthy, but possibly wouldn’t have realized the positivity of it without this article.

Thanks, Clay.

My Christmas wish is to host a dinner party with Rachel and Susan as guests, along with some brilliant people I’m actually acquainted with. I would be far too tongue-tied to say a word, I’m sure, but just being able to witness the conversation would be exceptional.

 

Emphasis on both quotations was mine.