Do you know about Wunderkammern, Cabinets of Wonder? Earliest examples were mini-museums for natural history objects–shells, bones, rocks, leaves, feathers. They could hold anything about which one was curious–hence, their other names, “Cabinets of Curiosities,” or “curio cabinets.” I like “cabinet of wonder” better; “curiosity” can mean “odd or strange” and “curios” can descend to the diminished status of trinkets and knick-knacks. A “cabinet of wonder” holds your attention, seeds the imagination, excites possibilities.
Cabinets of wonder came to mind this week, because I’ve just had hardwood flooring installed throughout the main floor of my home, and I had to empty all of the rooms to get it done–even my precious study. There’s nothing like new flooring to make old walls look dingy, so I followed behind with fresh paint. My north-facing study is now clothed in “Nautica White,” and boy, are these walls bare! I mean, really bare!
That’s kind of nice, though, because I have a blank canvas to work with. The pictures, books and memorabilia that I took down had been around me so long that I had stopped seeing them. There’s no inspiration in that!
Look around you a moment and see what your surroundings bring to mind. Are you closed in? Do you have a window you can gaze out, so your thoughts are encouraged to take flight? Do favorite objects encourage sentiment, adventure, reflection?
When creative thought matters, the environment matters, too. Space, light, color, sound, texture, and content all make a difference. Our visual environment, in particular, can wake up our imaginations and keep them producing.
I do two things in my study: I research my family’s genealogy, and I write about Emilie Loring. The genealogy corner is ready–notebooks, scanner, charts, maps, and a few objects to keep my curiosity percolating.
The rest of the room is for Emilie Loring. The books I wrote about last week in “Our Selves in Our Libraries” (See it here) fill the corner behind me. One quick swivel, and I’m in their midst. If I need to read awhile, I have a deep, swivel rocker and a good reading light. A catamaran-striped rug (blue and white, of course!) lets me pretend my study is in Maine, where it ought to be.
But what shall I put on my walls? Where do my thoughts want to travel? What will get me over the finish line on Emilie Loring’s biography? (No, I already decided against a checkered flag.)
I start with a framed quotation that my eldest sister (a quilter) gave me:
“Every experience deeply felt in life needs to be passed along–whether it be through words and music, chiseled in stone, painted with a brush, or sewn with a needle…” Thomas Jefferson
Emilie Loring’s books profoundly influenced me, and learning about her life deepened the experience. When inspiration lags on the biography, Jefferson reminds me that the hand-off is all-important.
I bought this Boston mug the first time I visited the city. I remember how excited I was to be where Emilie had lived, to discover each bit of information, and to first realize how much of her life she had written into her books. My mug brings back that “first time” feeling and also reminds me how far I have come.
The brass eagle was a gift from Emilie’s grandson Selden. It sat atop the ensign staff on the Lorings’ boat, the Sally Blanchard. The bird and the boat both suggest forward movement, and the origin of the gift is deeply personal–symbolic of Emilie, of course, but also of the relationships I’ve enjoyed with her family. “Let’s get going!” the eagle says to me.
Clara Endicott Sears’ tiny book, The Power Within, has traveled the country with me, and Emilie read her copy daily. I don’t have to open it to be reminded of Clara’s note on the title page, “This little volume must radiate serenity and happiness in order to fulfill its mission.” Serenity, happiness, the power within… Those are nice reminders. So are the Owen sisters’ photograph of Blue Hill from Emilie’s shore (ca. 1910) and my framed invitation to tea at Arcady!
Here are two more gifts from Selden and Tuulikki. The poster was from the Jordan Marsh department store in Boston. Wouldn’t it have been amazing to stand in line at one of her book signings? The photograph with her signature below, “Sincerely yours, Emilie Loring,” was taken at the height of her career. Those direct eyes, her determined mouth and chin, her four strands of pearls–all testify to her description of successful authorship:
“Work, work, work! With plenty of steam behind it.”
I add sea glass because… well, because I love it, but also because it was a happy, unexpected discovery in this process. My jars of sea glass take me instantly to “my” beach in Blue Hill, let me feel the breeze off the Bay and smell the briny kelp that we all know from her books. If my walls are to be a “cabinet of wonder,” sea glass must surely be part of it.
After all of these additions to my “cabinet,” I’m afraid I still have quite a lot of white wall left, and maybe that’s a good thing. If you’re a writer, maybe you, too, feel a thrill when you have a brand-new, white page before you, ready for whatever you decide to put on it. There’s freedom in it–and an invitation.
I’ll go with the “negative space” for now. If I find something else that needs to be included, that’s where it goes.
My last addition goes on the floor. It’s my door stop.
I got it on the beach near York, Maine, where Emilie Loring wrote To Love and To Honor. If you know about beach rocks, you may know that the ones with a stripe that goes all the way around it are considered lucky. Some people call them “wishing rocks” and say that if you trace the stripe with your finger and make a wish, it will come true. Just having it in your pocket as you make a wish is enough for others, and the version told first to me was that it brought good luck to the owner, wish or no.
As I push toward the biography’s finish line, I don’t mind giving the rock a chance.