More by Stephanie Hansen
There are only four ways to brighten a dark corner in your home: install a window, turn on a light, paint it white, or fill it with something you love, namely, yourself. The first three options only change where you live and what you see. The final choice or "change", or "chance", if you wish to see it as such, attends the spirit of the 'how': how you live, how you see. It makes the corners worth more than the whole house.
No, I am not suggesting we turn our homes into narcissistic monuments, falling in love with our own reflections, but it is invaluable to be able to acknowledge and reflect and love the life force that is in us to enjoy and explore and share with friends and family. What else do any of us really have to contribute to the world other than ourselves? Why withhold the offer? Why hide the gift in the closet, unopened, and unappreciated? I have been in the closet, decoratively speaking, because I clash with the furniture. I have finally realized it is saner to get new furniture. However, what can I do about overtly clashing with the visual tastes of others? Nothing. I am just going to have let all the good people stare. And they are "good people", so I will trust that while they may not wish to live every day with what they see reflected in my dark corners, they will understand that what is reflected is their good friend, Stephanie, and they will love what they see, even as they loved what they formerly only sensed. Our friends and family often see our true strengths before we do, but we best know our weaknesses, and it is our job to be the first to accept these weaknesses and love them for what they are so that others may know what to do with them.
"The spirit of the 'how'" is mindful awareness. Can you say with certainty how many corners there are in your house without looking? What is in those corners? Are you mindfully aware of how others live? Are you able to imagine the many reasons other people might wish they had your corners? I have too many corners to count and most of them are empty, some in the literal sense and others in the emotional sense. The house I live in is 2,500 square feet and rates as a roomy, upscale apartment building for ten or twelve families in most parts of the world. There are only four of us here, two of whom are part-time residents. I have the money to decorate and I have the time to decorate, so why are there still so many ignored, unloved corners? You got it: because there are still so many ignored and unloved corners in myself. The solution is clear, if not easy: pay attention to what I have been ignoring and show it enough love and respect to bring it out into the world where others can see it, knowing that my understanding is what matters, not theirs, but also knowing that global comprehension of a matter is born of individual understanding.
When we choose to attend to our corners the first thing we need to know is how we sincerely wish to live, understanding that a style is not a valid 'how', it is a 'what'. For instance, the furniture is a mixture of antique, vintage, and what was hanging about on various lawns on 'big garbage day' just looking free, functional, and 'way cool'. All of that simply reflects availability of certain 'stuff', not the certain personhood of the collector. In the studio, my art is my style: bright, unschooled, and eclectic; it is a particular way of reflecting thoughts, feelings, and experiences. However, when I took those same pieces of art upstairs to the living room and the den, the art suddenly existed as a validation of the reality that I am an artist and the importance of 'style' faded to nothing in comparison with the importance of how I live. It is very important that how I sincerely want to live is as an artist whose whole life is dedicated to taking what is either scary or supreme inside us, projecting it outside, thereby transforming it from secrets, wishes, and weaknesses into information, intention, and power. How do you want to live? What do you want to do with the scary and the supreme in us all? If you took your 'inside self' and projected it into a corner, even for just one day, what would it look like?
Since the art of seeing is itself too broad a subject to deal with here, we will concern ourselves with the question of how we see our dwellings: do you live in a "house" (apartment) or a "home"? I do not think I knew what a "home" was until someone challenged my right to have one. Upon asking my contentious mother-in-law to refrain from doing a particular something in my home, she replied, "This is not your home, this is my son's home, and because it's my son's home I will come and go as I please and I will do what I please when I'm here!" Wow. Talk about drawing a line in the sand. I was profoundly disturbed by much more than the rudeness or the attitude. I had to come to terms with what "home" meant to me, what it was worth to me, and to what lengths I was willing to go to secure a home for myself. I loved my partner deeply and passionately, but when I sat at the kitchen table with him later that night, defined "my home" for him, and declared "back me up or help me pack", the desperation I felt was not for the continuation of a cherished relationship, but instead an unquestionable basic need for a home. "A home," I told him, "is where a person is welcomed and respected by all, and protected from all others. If this is not true for me here, then I have no choice but to go away and make that home for myself. I cannot exist sanely without it. I will not try." For two years now his mother has not seen the inside of this doorstep and I am beginning to feel welcomed enough and respected enough and protected enough to begin brightening the dark corners of my home with what I love.namely, myself.
Can I tell you with a straight face that what is filling these corners is worth more than this house? You tell me. I am filling them with stories to share about my connections with wonderful people, some still here, some gone, and reflections of the most honest bits of a human being called Steph. In one corner is a hundred-year-old trunk bought for twenty dollars from an elderly lady who held my attention for a long afternoon regaling me with details of a well-lived life and stories of her late husband's life beginning well before she met him. A guest inquiring about the trunk is apt to hear one of the thirty richly detailed stories contained therein. I assure you, there is a lot of information about a lot of 'life stuff' in each one of those stories, enough to benefit a listener for years to come. In another corner is an angel roughly carved from weathered wood by a beloved friend and given to me a year before either of us knew I would eventually buy his home and bring the angel back to hang by the fireplace where we sat and shared childhood stories on a memorable Christmas morning. Those memories alone spark a wealth of insight about friendship and fate and faith in the outrageous and unforeseeable future. Two small corners filled with years of tears and treasured friendships and truth and love. You cannot hope to buy that, but if you could, you would surely pay more than what this whole house is worth on paper.
Stephanie K. Hansen © 2004