Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Carolyn Kremers: The Non-Conforming House – Part 4

Word count.  My goal for each installment of this 4-part experiment was 750 words or fewer (remember?).  I'm painfully aware that I was never able to meet that goal and always wrote more.  I think I'm not cut out to be a blogger (!)  Not only do I write too much, but I also do the opposite of what a blogger is supposed to do: I revise, edit, polish.  Spend way too long on one blog-post.

Anyway, yes, the dream: my night-dream.

How many people in the US—of all ages and backgrounds—aspire, I wonder, to not being homeless?  Or, more precisely, how many have a fear (even vaguely—in the back of their minds, or in the front) of being homeless someday?

I did.  I remember the two main emotions I felt when I "bought" this land and cabin in 1993: relief that Now I'll never be homeless, and humility that I was now the steward of a singular small stretch of boreal forest and tundra and of all that might dwell or visit upon it—then, and perhaps far into the future.

So, the dream.

[Well, but first.  I already know that this Blog #4 will be, as the other three have been, too long.  And I know there won't be room for me to comment on the dream and its (ironic, multi-level) end.  Therefore I'm inserting a few points of information here:

My writing is often influenced by topics and writers I'm thinking about and reading at the time I create a draft.  In the case of this month (October 2014), there were several such texts.  One of the most influential, I think—perhaps because of its own experimentalism and courage—was British writer and translator Ted Hughes' astonishing collection of poems (begun a few years after Sylvia Plath's suicide in 1963 and completed more than 25 years later, published 1998), The Birthday Letters.

For more insights about how Jungian thinkers attempt to interpret and interact with dreams, consider looking online at Digesting Jung (by Daryl Sharp) and Understanding Jung (by Ruth Snowden), among others.  Also, of course, read Jung himself.

A fascinating and useful text for me has been Radmila Moacanin's book (published 2003), The Essence of Jung's Psychology and Tibetan Buddhism: Western and Eastern Paths to the Heart.]

So yes, the dream.

Last weekend, on the night before Blog #3 was written, I dreamed about my non-conforming house.  I dreamed about a non-conversation with Tony, the 30-something, apparently competent drywall-hanger and expected mudding-and-taping painter—who, in my waking life, had come to my cabin last Wednesday and hung most of the drywall in the new bathroom, but then had not returned (inexplicably) on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.  I dreamed that Tony needed to be told by me, and to be provided with, the proper kind and color of fabric to nail to the newly-paneled walls.  And I dreamed that this fabric would hang down beneath all that beautiful, albeit vertical (I would have preferred horizontal), golden tongue-and-groove: the T&G paneling that already covered the top half of the walls.

In actuality, there won't be enough money this year to do the T&G ceiling that I would have liked for the new bathroom.  But maybe someday.  And (as far as I know) there won't be any paneling on the walls—just paint.

In the dream, though, I felt very worried that Tony would use the fabric already available in the room: a big, neatly folded stack of ballet tutus with pale-blue satin bodices and calf-length white-net skirts.  The netting would not be useable, but the light-blue bodices could be cut away from the skirts and laid flat to hang all around the room.

I did not want pale blue!

My cabin already had plenty of blue.  I wanted something neutral—something to match the T&G paneled walls (paneled?) and the natural-colored birch-plank vinyl flooring (which, in actuality, was ordered by me from Spenard Builders Supply, arrived in Fairbanks from Portland, Oregon, via barge and truck, and is currently sitting in a stack of three heavy boxes in my cabin.)

I wanted Tony to use a warm off-white cotton fabric—ivory? bone? vanilla?—something like the length of puckered, cream-colored cotton that had covered the open back of the kitchen sink cupboard all these years (since 1993, when I bought the cabin and had the sink and shower put in, and the hot water heater and water pump were installed in the horrible, dank root cellar).  Something simple and plain.  Natural.  Something that blended in and fit the feel of the new room.

Only later, in my waking hours—just now as I'm writing this, in fact—would I remember that this was/is the same length of cream-colored cotton that I sewed into a window curtain for the old duplex that my beloved partner RobW and I rented (and somewhat renovated) in Capitol Hill in downtown Denver, 1975, when I was 23.  And it is the same piece of fabric that I mailed from Colorado to the Yup'ik village of Tununak on the coast of the Bering Sea in 1986, when I was 34, thinking the fabric might come in handy.  Which it did, for I used it—in my little construction-hut-turned-into-a-teacher's-house—as a curtain to hide what Phil, the principal, proudly called "the new honey-bucket room": a small space that had materialized in one corner, as Phil and the school janitor sawed away some bookshelves.

Is it that this fabric washes well?  And/or that I haven't needed—or chosen—to wash it often?  Is it that I am no refugee, no citizen of a war-torn country, no single mother with children to feed and take care of?  Not the victim of a house fire or hurricane, earthquake or tsunami, not someone with money or the inclination to throw things away?  Is it that I have suffered my own tragedies and shortcomings, but this fabric is not (or is it?) one of them?  Is it that this fabric is "simple and plain" and knows how to "blend in"?  That it represents one of my favorite colors to wear and look at?  Or that it feels soft and friendly to the touch—safe, somehow?  What is this fabric's history, this unremarkable/remarkable history?

But back to the dream.

How would I get the time to find and purchase such fabric?  Today was a weekday, and I had no time on weekdays to do personal things like shop.  Furthermore how could I tell Tony—who was no longer showing up at my cabin, so he wouldn't see a note, and I had no phone or email address for him, and Rhett the contractor was out of town for a week—how could I tell Tony that I didn't want the blue-bodiced tutus, and please don't cut them up and nail them on!  And how could I choose this fabric (even if I had the time, which I didn't), when Tony had not yet brought his color-wheel (the one he promised to bring in a day or two) to help me choose, first, the proper paint?

"Just pick an off-white," I'd said to Tony on Wednesday (in actuality).  "Something like the color of this wall"—and I'd shown him the one pair of painted walls in my cabin, where the living-room shower still stands, waiting to be removed.

"Don't ask my advice about color," Tony had replied, with a laugh.  "My wife says I've got no eye for color!  And anyway, there's lots of shades of off-white, you know."

"There are?"

"Oh, yeah.  It depends on what you want.  Some are more golden, some more yellow or orange.  Some are more tan.  Or even grey.  I'll try to bring a color wheel, so you can see, so you can choose the paint you want.  It all depends on what you plan to put into the room with it—what you want to enhance."

Enhance?!  I responded to Tony, in my mind (and perhaps to some of the well-paid people in America, such as the President of the University of Alaska, who have the money to think about "enhancement").  All I want is a real bathroom, with plumbing that can be hooked up and actually works, sometime before Thanksgiving, when it could get down to minus 40 degrees outside.

But yes, back to the dream.

In the dream, I kept looking, again and again, at the amber-glowing T&G on the upper walls of the new bathroom.  Ceaselessly my eyes circled the room, trying to erase the images of the blue-bodiced tutus already nailed below and trying to forcibly replace them with the "more appropriate" neutral cotton fabric from my past—trying to envision that, nail it there, and be certain (reassure myself) that it would, indeed, be the best and right choice.

Carolyn Kremers lives in Fairbanks and teaches part-time in the English Department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  Her books include Place of the Pretend People: Gifts from a Yup'ik Eskimo Village (memoir), The Alaska Reader: Voices from the North (anthology co-edited with Anne Hanley), and Upriver (poetry; a sequel to Place of the Pretend People).  Upriver was a Finalist for the 2014 Willa Award for poetry, from Women Writing the West. Carolyn's website is

1 comment:

Kornelia Grabinska said...

What a dream, Carolyn. So much here.

This may be too private, I just wanted you to know I read this and enjoyed your writing immensely.