I keep a book of quotations. It looks exactly like any other journal, but it’s for a different kind of journaling. Journaling with the words of other writers, if you will. Here I scribble down quotations from all kinds of books: poetry, theology, memoir, literary theory, fiction, you name it. I write down anything I want to remember.
Sometimes I use these quotations later, in my own writing or maybe just in conversation. But, it isn’t really about utility. It’s about beauty. Language can be so beautiful it stuns. However, I am generally reading so much, so quickly that I need a way to hold on to those beautiful bits that I just can’t bear to let wash down the stream of words, words, words.
In The Poetics of Space the French philosopher* Gaston Bachelard tells us that “the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”
That is pure poetry and reminds me, once again, that I will always find more truth in poetry (and myth, and story, and art) than in the dictionary.
Like many introverts, I imagine, I am happiest when in my own home. I also love the purely abstract idea of houses. As a middle-schooler, I wanted to be an interior designer. As an almost-college student, I considered architecture. Ultimately, my desire for fame and fortune led me to study literature. (For those perhaps unfamiliar with the current job market in the humanities, I should explain: that was a joke.)
After ten years of English lit. and babies, I finally did finish with school, and we left Chicago. I have missed my Chicago home for one year and six months. When I picture what it is that I miss, I see what Bachelard prompts me to call my “dreaming spot.” A soft green chair is huddled up against a corner window. A tall built-in bookshelf is just on the other side of the window, and through the glass there are rooftops with one-hundred year old chimneys and treetops that shift from bare, to bright green, to rich green, to shades of fire, and back again.
When I leave this Florida house, I am sure that I will miss the big bay window that shelters my writing desk. I still have the soft, green chair, but I no longer spend much time there. I prefer the hard-backed desk chair, here by the window, where I can see vegetable beds, ripening citrus, water, and (when I’m lucky) river otters. Right now, this is my spot for dreaming.
For me, one of the saddest and most troubling verses in the Bible is Matthew 8:20 where Jesus tells us, “‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’” To follow Jesus, is to say, “Lord, I will make my home in you.”
But we have also been given a promise. In John 14:2 Jesus says, “’In my Father’s house are many rooms . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you.’”
I love houses, mine (wherever it happens to be) most of all. I simply cannot imagine having no place (let alone a cozy, book-filled place) to lay my head. And so I stumble upon yet one more difficult, beautiful paradox: my desire for Home is God-given and good, but this fact gives me no right to hold my house in a possessive, white-knuckled grip.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’”
(Matthew 16: 24-25)
*Lest anyone formulate an unduly high regard for my intellectual habits, I must admit that I do not actually spend my days reading French philosophy. I encountered this quotation in the travel section of my Sunday New York Times. Poetry can find us in the most surprising places.