My Hope Chest

I recently started a trousseau. No, I am not about to take a bridal leap with my possessions. But I’d like to fly into a new perch and so I’m preparing.

I don’t love my current home and want to move within the next year. In order to not feel stuck and to find a home that is right for me, it helps me to visualize it. I imagine and focus on location, layout, light. I see the entrance and the rooms – and I furnish them too. Coaster 1Where will my couch and bookcase go? Should I trade in for scaled-down models? Will my new interest in mid-century modern translate into a newer, more streamlined living space? Should I get rid of my seldom-used dining table and bring my office to the forefront? Should I go for a mid-century modern theme in other rooms?

Without realizing it, I already have some of that look and it wouldn’t take much to zap it up. My grandmother, who was ahead of her time, left me a Danish modern teak sideboard and some small tables and my mother someCoaster 2 Metlox pottery pieces, which were made in our hometown of Manhattan Beach and where I worked while going to college.

Now when I’m out browsing, I keep my eyes open for these nostalgic pieces – old but ready for a new home, or new but with a decades-old design. For ideas, I’m visiting San Diego stores like The Atomic Bazaar and Boomerang for Modern. So far, I’ve purchased a set of coasters.

This is what I mean by a trousseau. Possessions for a new home. Visualizing and decorating. My hope chest. A symbol of meeting challenges and changes while still appreciating what I have and where I am.Coaster 3

As a bride, I didn’t have a hope chest. The idea for one occurred to me many years later, when I found myself in an unhappy relationship. I had moved in with a man too quickly and by the time I realized I’d made a mistake, I was stuck, at least for awhile until I could save money to leave. I began to visualize where I wanted to live. One day while out looking for something else, I fell in love with a kettle – bright iridescent red, green and yellow with a wood handle and space-age shape. I bought it and brought it home and tucked it away, gradually adding towels, spatulas, salt and pepper shakers in all the bright colors I imagined my new kitchen would radiate. (My boyfriend preferred black.)Coaster 4

It may seem like a silly thing, but gazing at that non-black kettle got me through some dark days until I moved it into my new home filled with light and ocean air and put the kettle on for a cup of tea.

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Strolling Down Enlightenment Lane

Browsing in the bookstore recently, I realized I never look in the self-help section anymore. You’re more likely to find me in home improvement or garden makeovers or fiction or mysteries or current events. All of these appeal to me more than the excavation and renovation of my soul.

Self-HelpThe last self-help book I bought used gardening metaphors such as digging, planting seeds, watering – so many that even this metaphor lover wanted to brandish her pruning shears. Not that the advice was bad – how to grow a good life – but it was so simplistic and repetitive that I also wanted to throw a pot at the author. I put the book in my recycle bin. Maybe it would transform into something really useful, like costume jewelry or coasters.

Don’t get me wrong. I think these books serve a purpose. Understanding oneself is a worthy goal. If we face challenges or feel stuck, then reading and reflecting can help.

And it takes a lifetime. After a few decades of exploring inner and outer terrains, I don’t think I’ve “arrived” at any great pinnacle of enlightenment. However, I’ve earned the right to guide myself, to listen to my own voice rising above the chorus out there. And to like who and where I am, flaws and all. I will never achieve perfection and I don’t strive to.

Some people are lucky or smart enough to learn this early. They are happy to be, not that they are lazy or without problems. But I suspect many of us spend our lives figuring things out, extricating our own feelings and needs from those imposed on us by family and society.

Self-Help 2In recent years, gardening and writing have captured my soul and so my strolls through bookstores usually wind up in the non-human improvement section – how to toil in the soil and earn a few bucks with words. Before then, I read dozens of helpful books on work, relationships and mental and physical well-being.

A few of these books stand out in my memory like light bulbs. No, searchlights. Much more than “self-help,” they are a rich mix of history, culture, and science, including psychology and sociology. In them I found help for myself – as well as a larger view and understanding of our common human condition.

“The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan (1963)

“Compassion and Self Hate: An Alternative to Despair” by Theodore Rubin (1975)

“Solitude: A Return to the Self” by Anthony Storr (1988)

“Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990)

“Women Who Run with the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes (1991)

“The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron (1992)