Early in Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby exuberantly proclaims that there is no place he would rather live than in a cottage and, in particular, in a cottage that in all respects resembles the one the Dashwoods have let. Eleanor replies–come, come now, dear Willoughby–that the hallways are dark and the quarters are cramped. Would he really change nothing? No, nothing at all.
Willoughby is right and wrong to confuse his love of the Dashwoods with his fondness for their cozy cottage. He is wrong to claim that this cottage is exactly answerable to the best sort of life, yet right to draw our attention to the close-knit relationship between the excellences of a home and the excellences of a form of life. Just as a home is cluttered with chtokes, so a human life can be stuffed with dross and filler.
I’m writing these reflections from a cottage too unspeakably like Peter Pan, somewhere so deep in the canyon of Topanga, California, that I may for all I know be a character in a fantasy. And my God are we feeling cramped, and were it not for our herculean patience we’d be getting peevish with each other. My feet do not feel light and secure against the uneven stone floor. (Just now, we hear baby sounds outside our kitchen window. Is there a baby? She opens the window to check and, sure enough, there’s a baby playing with a cat.) Since arriving yesterday, we have been on the verge of tripping, banging our heads, squatting down in low passages, and wondering about the velvet curtains, Mother Mary iconography, and the 3-D movie-inspired stained glass.
The cottage exhibits too many vices to list. A preliminary list would include crampedness, excess, and inauthenticity. As for inauthenticity, the cottage is Alice in Wonderland meets Peter Pan meets Woodstock. We seemed suspended in a time that never was, a time that is already gone, and a time that will never arrive. So unlike the awkward cottage is the simple bungalow we stayed in in Joshua Tree. What could be more Daoistically excellent and hospitable than the softness, the breadth, the openness, the calmness, the house opening itself into the the desert landscape? In the desert, we climbed like hummingbirds.
Grace is displayed as much in a person as in a home, in the soulfulness, in the simplicity of graceful movement. (Can a home dance and climb? Can one feel as if one were climbing always?) After I finish this blog post, I’ll be turning my attention to my ashtanga practice. I know I’m bound to trip over cabinets, stoves, doorways, and wandering babies. Here I go.