Fee Fi Faux Fum

Jack and the Beanstalk, by Jessie Wilcox Smith

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I’d been browsing end tables in a vast and sparsely appointed CB2 showroom in La Jolla for some time before I realized that the potted trees scattered about were artificial. Fiddle Leaf Fig, Dracaena, Palm, Eucalyptus. What once cheapened a room, does it still? Not necessarily. Not here apparently. I’d been pondering this issue for a condo we are furnishing for rental in Solana Beach, California. What can you do plant-wise when you’re not there to care for it? 

Like a skater on thin ice, I pressed my luck and slid over to the Arhaus showroom.  Artificial trees there too. If you weren’t looking for them, you wouldn’t know. There, in a backroom among various items that had been marked down, I took the plunge on a 7’ palm tree. Up close, I could appreciate that the trunk was made of real fiber. The hairy fiber got me, and it came home with me. 

And now I cannot imagine the living room without it. How did this happen?

As a child I used to press flowers and string daisies for wreaths to wear in my hair. I still find dried, preserved, and even wilted plants lovely. Silk flowers not so much. Silk flowers trigger an unpleasant memory for me. I was single, getting a divorce, and living alone in a railroad flat in a brownstone that had seen better days in Midtown Manhatten. A sublet apartment. A closet where I thought about hanging myself. On a dinner date with advertising executives in Greenwich CT our hostess pointed out silk flower arrangements gifted by her mad man husband, one for each child born to them. They, the arrangements, were displayed on bookcases, console tables, end tables and side tables in their elegant living room. All I could think was, as if every flower would be in bloom at once! 

Sorrow for my own marriage engulfed me then. At the time it was like seeing the possibility of a life I’d lost. As if my marriage, might have come to this. As if that was what I wanted. It was not a happy period for me. I see all that in silk flowers. 

Even now, artificial trees were something I had to warm up to. No, I had to push myself. From the disciplines of an architectural/interior design background to writing and Master Gardening, what am I doing now but appointing artificial trees in my interiors. Heaven help me.

Here’s what I’ve learned: The first thing I have to do is to stop calling them “artificial trees.” Stop saying artificial trees, artificial plants, artificial anything. They are faux botanicals. The next thing I learned is to place them where, if they were a real specimen, the light would be right and they might thrive. Give them credibility. Also, give them some distance. Let them hang back. People should be surprised, as I was in that CB2 showroom. 

Call it magical thinking but as soon as you disclose something, you find you are not alone. Think of all the photo shoots in the world of design, and how essential we have come to feel plants are in our environments, our interiors. A photograph doesn’t know faux from real, so we’ve all been dupped a trillion times, I’m sure. 

It’s a dirty little secret, and now you have it.

3 Comments

Filed under faux botanicals, silk flowers,

Just a Beach House

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

Sundowning at Seascape Shores, Photo by Ashley Mayer

Who does this, disappear for four or five months? We did. Our goodbyes on island in late June were all about going to San Diego for the birth of our latest grandchild in early July. But no sooner did baby Hudson come into the world, we started to look for a condo. A place we might rent out most of the year, and then use ourselves in wintertime. A home away from home to be near the grands and in the sun. That’s the plan anyway. Time will tell how well it goes.

This is the story of where we are and what we’re doing. I’d like our friends and neighbors on island to know, we did not fall off the earth. Although, here too, we’re living right on the edge.

Just north of Del Mar we found ourselves a condominium in Solana Beach. Not a row of condos, mind you, with everyone over your shoulder or elbow to elbow from one balcony to the next, Seascape Shores is instead designed as a village. Maze-like paths and condos that are turned for light, privacy, and abundant outdoor deck and courtyard space, all on a cliff with a shared staircase of 140 steps to the beach. A highly coveted oceanfront community, little did we know how rarely the units become available.

From first sight I have considered this “my beach house.” I want it to be an oasis. Everything in calm neutrals and naturals, following the edict of Malibu Style. I figure we’re both surfing communities, north of San Diego and north of Los Angeles. 

There is a ritual at Seascape Shores of residents coming out to see the sundown every evening. The thought is: if everyone paused like this, the world would be a better place.

As a child of the Sixties, I can do naturals with my eyes shut and hands behind my back. It’s a look and texture I love, and it’s in again, as it should be. Everyone’s got a hanging basket chandelier. Ours is made of rope. Similarly I was going to resist wall baskets for being too trendy. Well now I have two. Over-scaled. Avoiding big box home stores, I comb Cedros Design District in Solana Beach for vintage and rustic tables, stools, benches, pillows, throws, baskets, pottery, and art. 

Basically I waver between “We’re going to make it beautiful” and “It’s just a beach house.” When we first bought the condo all the girlfriends inside my head said, “You’re going to have to paint out the cabinets and replace the ugly brown granite countertops.” I know they were thinking white in both cases. Why then, after upgrading to stainless appliances and pulls, am I so happy with things the way they are? Walking home after sunsets there’s a warmth in the light maple cabinets, and the granite backsplash glows like alabaster lit from within. 

A wall weaving in cream colored string by Leanne Ford pulls everything together for me. I knew I could count on her to get my drift. In the dining there’s a twig composition from Bali, and a manzanita tree branch hung on the wall over each bed. It’s all natural and sculptural. I need to “feel the hand” of textures, to see the scale and the nuanced color. That which cannot be done online.  

So I go with what I love and in the process, fall in love with it. I’m going to have a hard time leaving this beach house. Part of me doesn’t want it to ever be finished. 

 “I hope we get out of here by Christmas,” says my husband.

We missed a summer and fall on island to get this condo in Solana Beach up and running. But I’m seeing the boys grow up here year after year. It’s their beach house too. The way the beach house was like a character in “Beaches” with Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. I had such a summer place at a grandmother’s cabin on a lake in Connecticut in my childhood, so I know the importance of it. 

The boys bounding up and down the stairs in wetsuits, carrying boards and laughing. Their grandfather at the grill, and sun on the patio all winter long. A refrigerator that’s somehow always full and beds made up for them. And when it’s quiet, the sound of the ocean never far off. 

I see all this. And if they love coming here like I loved that lake, well then, that’s what I’m after. 

15 Comments

Filed under beach house, remodel

How to Love a Truck

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

We all knew it would rock Hunter’s world when his baby brother was born. But no one guessed how indebted we’d be to a toy cement truck to help him navigate it. A construction yellow truck emblazoned with CAT in black that beeps recorded back up noises and churns—making tons of noise, if not cement.

Cement truck, Cement pumper, Skid loader, Tanker 

Who knew how many construction trucks a three year old would know? As I go out into the world and see it through his eyes now, I realize I know nothing. 

Backhoe, Box truck, Flatbed, Frontend loader, Forklift 

“How about a food truck?” I ask.

“It’s not a construction vehicle, Mere,” he says. 

Excavator, Crane, Grader, Ariel lift, Front End Loader

A day on the beach with Hunter is a construction site. He arrives in a red wagon loaded with a convoy of trucks and shovels and proceeds to build. To demolish, and build again. 

Bulldozer, Service truck, Roller, Scissor lift, Cherry Picker

At home Hunter and I work at a table where I write and he draws. Whatever he draws–just as whatever he builds–becomes real. Crayons go fast in his fist, paying no heed to the lines in a coloring book. Whereas I walk the line in my notebook, one at a time. Yet somehow we find our stride, Hunter and I. One fast colorist, and a long, slow proceduralist with writing.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Ode to Orange

California Poppies

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

California Poppies

Chromatics, or colorimetry, is the science of color. This is not about that. Although to the extent that chromatics includes the perception of color, I guess it is, as color can affect both our moods and behavior. My relationship with the color orange goes back a ways. It wasn’t always friendly. It was, in fact, uneasy. Those were the years when if I had to name my least favorite color, hands down, it would have been orange.

I considered orange too assertive. I thought it attention-grabbing. Well sometimes that is just what is needed, and this is such a moment.

The US is the most heavily armed country in the world with the highest murder rate of any developed nation. Since 2021, guns have been the leading cause of death among our 1-19 year-olds. As I write, March for Our Lives rallies are occurring across the nation to advance gun control.

“We don’t have to live like this!” cried Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser at the largest rally of them all.

#WearOrange, how it began

One week, fifteen year old Hadiya Pendleton had the privilege of performing as a majorette in a band at President Obama’s second inauguration in Washington DC, 2013. The following week, back in Chicago, she was fatally shot on the playground of her school. To commemorate her, classmates at King College Prep High School started Project Orange Tree and began wearing orange shirts. Their actions helped to create National Gun Violence Day, and the color orange was championed as well by Everytown for Gun Safety. 

Orange demands to be heard and seen and offers a clear emergency and “don’t shoot!” message. Orange is for caution signs and cones, and orange for the vests worn by hunters in the woods to keep themselves from being shot by other hunters. 

Before #WearOrange, I worked on embracing the color. Remember I didn’t care for the color orange. I did it with plants in pots upon a deck. Plants were my color palette. I potted orange dahlia, lantana, viola and zinnia. I found that orange worked well with purples, and planted Salvia Maynight, a dark violet purple bloom. The greens grew in interest against the oranges, everything from emeralds to chartreuse and the deepest of greens. Then at my nursery I stumbled upon Nonstop Mocca Deep Orange Begonia with leaves so bronzed, they look black. It worked. I submerged myself in the color orange and I fell in love.

How had I misread orange so horribly? Today, in light of this crucial movement, I could paint the town orange. 

4 Comments

Filed under gun control, gun laws, orange

When a Writing Piece Becomes a Painting

Suffield Town Center, by Peggy MacKinnon

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

One of the things I love about writing is not knowing where it’s going. Whether casting off or plunging into one’s internal well, writing is a fishing expedition. When asked what makes a great poem, W.S. Merwin replied, “Following what you don’t know.”

Writing about a recent fire in Friday Harbor, Washington led me to this piece. In the process of writing “What We Lost” (https://alittleelbowroom.com/2022/04/26/what-we-lost/ ) I fell in love all over again, with my old town center in Suffield, Connecticut. Which is like falling in love with a ghost town for the center isn’t there anymore, except in my head. And now in this watercolor painting by Peggy MacKinnon that sits upon my writing table looking out to the bay. 

Peggy MacKinnon is ninety-six years old and still resides in Suffield. At one time my cousin lived just a few doors from The MacKinnon’s home on South Main Street. Best friends with her son Ian, I asked Gil about his time there, growing up.

“Ian was the youngest of six boys, all at least 6’1, and Peggy, their mom, so little. Likewise, all the boys and her husband, Dan, had a wild sense of humor,” Gil recalls. “But Peggy, so quiet … perhaps noticing other things.” The slant of light, the saturation of color. Even as a child Gil knew to detect an artist’s mind in Peggy.  

Peggy had met Dan in high school on a tennis court in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Years later they were a family of eight living in Suffield, and as a couple, frequently played tennis with my folks. In my memory of home my mother is often in her nightgown hanging onto the kitchen wall phone in the morning, and the friend on the other end was very often Peggy. Peggy MacKinnon.

Peggy painted. She painted while Dan was the Director of Prison Industries at a state prison, and when he founded the Maverick Corporation, a work program for ex-convicts and juvenile offenders. She painted as Dan served as Commissioner of Administration under Governor Grasso in Connecticut. She painted when Dan ran for Congress. And she painted for the twelve years he was at Merrill Lynch in Hartford, while at the same time running a small sheep farm in Suffield. She raised six sons, helped in birthing the sheep, and she painted. Peggy never lost who she was.

I don’t think I appreciated any of this at the time, but now I can see why my folks found them so interesting. And over the years I’ve grown to love her work, the delicacy of hand, always working in watercolors. Maybe it was my generation, maybe it was me, but we were anything but consistent. So I’m in awe of Peggy always knowing what it was she did and doing it.

2,444 miles away, I am writing to the painting today. In writing we speak of finding a “voice.” In painting it’s the artist’s “hand,” and I’ve found hers here. 

This is the center of town we all lost in Suffield. There was a sense of importance to the town then that is in none of the new-brick outlying buildings, or the building they refer to as “Suffield Village.” My friend Jane Clarke writes, “I too go back to Suffield to capture something that is so deep in my neural fiber… If I stand on the village green and look out over what the town is now, it seems to quiet my memories and I don’t see myself.”

A disappeared town center, there is no getting it back except in memories, stories, art and writing. And what started out as another cry from me lamenting the loss of old buildings, grew into an ode to a gracious lady and her paintings.

6 Comments

Filed under loss, painting, Writing

What We Lost

Spring Street, Friday Harbor WA

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

It was the only time I ever remember dreading going into town, Friday Harbor, on San Juan Island. County seat to San Juan County, and a major commercial center of the San Juan Island archipelago. Still, it’s a small town. Centered on Spring Street, steps up from the waterfront, the ferry terminal, the Marina, and Fairweather Park where carvings honor the island’s Northwest Coast Indian heritage. And where musicians play in summer.

There was no music now. On April 7th a fire blazed in the night, and although the fire had been extinguished for a couple of days, that block on Spring Street was still sectioned off with emergency vehicles and yellow tape. The fire had caused extensive damage to six iconic historic buildings—some a total loss–two buildings dating back to the 1880’s.

Standing across the street and up a block, I hated to look. It hurt to look then and it hurts to think about it now. The agony of seeing what isn’t there anymore. I hadn’t yet fathomed the interior loss and the loss of livelihoods: a popular tavern, a coffee shop, a real estate office, and a kayaking tour company. Furthermore all of these buildings had had other incarnations through the ages: hotels, grocers, saloon, barbershop, and a silent movie house among them. 

Standing there, I was feeling it architecturally in that moment. My first thought was how can this ever be rebuilt without looking like Disneyland? Like Whistler? As Sandy Strehlou, Historic Preservation Coordinator for the town of Friday Harbor said, “The impact on the historical district is irreplaceable.” 

Later I determined that the fire in Friday Harbor was causing something not unlike PTSD in me, triggering memories of the town where I had grown up. A small town in northern Connecticut, Suffield prided itself on its Historic District running the 2 ½ mile length through the center of town. 18th and 19th century homes lined North and South Main Street, with the town center and a village green. A Town Hall, Masonic Lodge, bank, fire station, a grocer, pharmacy, luncheonette, and various shops comprised the old town center. I always thought the center comfortable with itself. Everything much as you would expect if this were a predictable story, or a stage set for a play. Every bit as archetypal then as Friday Harbor, my western town now. 

The old town center on Main Street, Suffield CT

And then the most incongruous thing happened—entirely off-plot. These were going away to school years for me, so I wasn’t paying close attention. It seemed to me that on one visit home the town center was there, as always, and on the next visit it was not. It was almost like the center disappeared.

In Friday Harbor a rogue arsonist torched the town on April 7th. In Suffield Connecticut, the town center was demolished by committee in the 1960’s. Bulldozers and wrecking balls right through the heart of the town. I will never understand how it happened.

A suburban shopping center was then constructed in its stead, off the site–not in The Historical District. “Suffield Village” is how they refer to it. Some entries are from the outside, some inside, like a small mall. Initially it tried to hold the businesses from town, but now it’s mostly offices and a lot of empty spaces. As a friend in Suffield notes, “Businesses failed and the building went into some disrepair. It’s just not anything special.” All the parking in the world, and no one wants to go there. (Name a nice town that doesn’t have a parking problem). 

The original Suffield Town Center had good bones and charm. It was nothing that fresh paint, new awnings, parking meters, and love wouldn’t fix.  

Islanders know this with every ounce of their being. Love for Friday Harbor has been overwhelming. It’s been shared a lot lately but I cannot think of a better way to close than with this ode to Herb’s Tavern, lost in the fire. It was written by Greg Hertel, a retired science teacher on San Juan Island:

It was just an old tavern in an old building…

But it was where I had my first meal when I arrived on island on a late August afternoon to take a job teaching here in 1974

It was where my wife and I went to many dances and shared many a beer with friends

It was where we listened to The Ducks when they would come over here to play

It was the blue-collar meeting place for the construction crews, the boat crews

It was where many college papers were written by students who had rowed over from the (UW) Marine Labs. We met a woman in Zion Park one summer and when we said that we were from Friday Harbor she said that she wrote most of her master’s thesis at Herbs

It was the first place where many kids would have their first adult drink on their 21st birthday

It was where boaters who weren’t yacht club members would meet

It was never high class… and proud of it

It was my image of what a workingman’s bar should be like. The staff was down to earth, friendly

It was where the food was not gourmet but always OK and the portions were real

It was where the commercial fishermen would meet and eat before heading out to the Salmon Banks on those summers when drunken gill netters ruled the streets

It was the place that Realtors would rush by with their customers on their way to more upscale restaurants

It was the place where kids working multiple jobs could afford to meet and eat out

It was the location of many hookups, meetups and even some breakups

It was never on anyone’s 4-star list but always on everyone’s “meet you there” list

It was an old bar in an old building… and it was the heart of the town. 

21 Comments

Filed under Arson, Fire, redevelopment

Renewal

Untitled by Cy Twombly

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

Inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that’s where you renew your springs that never dry up.” Pearl Buck

Traveling east in a van on Rt. 188 the earth turned red and glacial boulders, large and rounded, studded the hills. Behind us was San Diego, ahead was more of this mountainous landscape as we twisted on a narrow winding road between the desert and the sea. Tecate, a city that straddles both sides of the border, is where we disembarked. And there, with Customs officers and the formidable wall behind us, we were ensconced for a week in Rancho La Puerta, a sprawling Wellness Resort and Spa in Baja California, Mexico.

It isn’t on every trip that we carry intentions, but that’s precisely what I’d brought with me. The intention to resume daily meditation practice after all these years, and to paint and draw again. In this way I arrived at a place I’d never been before in hopes of finding some things I’d lost along the way: a Transcendental Meditation(TM) mantra long forgotten, and a hand in art that, over the years, had given way to writing. 

There began the inner journey. “When we engage in a creative recovery,” writes Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, “we enter into a withdrawal process from life as we know it. Withdrawal is another way of saying detachment or nonattachment, which is emblematic of consistent work with any meditation practice.” Much like checking passports into the safe, our cell phones were tucked away for the week. I know I’m not alone in saying I left sleepless nights over the war in Ukraine back in the states. War doesn’t go away; we were just less embedded in it. 

Brick paths wound through 32 acres of naturalized gardens in the 4000 acre chaparral landscape, and our casita was a good distance from everything, by design. Walking like that, in nature and by oneself, is meditative in itself. The rituals I treasured all week were Morning Pages, Meditation, Poetry as meditation prompts, and Sound Healing. I learned the simple truth that all meditation works, it needn’t be TM. I bypassed spa treatments, avoided arduous exercise, and walked endlessly. 

A labyrinth in the woods called to me. My creative life was nothing if not a spiral path.

Every writer will know that The Censor is something we deal with constantly in an effort to keep her out of the room. The Censor is perfectionism. So what did she do but grab her post over the years as guardian at the door of artwork. I couldn’t get in. Here at The Ranch sat a sweet little art studio, empty most of the time, full of supplies, and a sympathetic instructor who strolled through now and then. Somehow I gave myself permission, and from then on nothing could keep me out.

There is so much joy in painting like a three year old again! Drawing is harder, but I worked at it, loving that the instructor called gum erasures “Prozac for artists.” Like Morning Pages there were no good drawings or bad drawings. It doesn’t matter at all; it only matters that I’m doing it. I’ve got this! I thought. 

I had to come all that way to unblock—and now I had to figure how to bring it all home with me: the meditation practice and the practice of making art. The week was ending and as if on cue the climate was warming, time for me to migrate north. A writing hut awaits me on San Juan Island, which will now be shared with sketchbooks, charcoal, kneeded gum erasures, blending stumps, brushes and watercolors. Oh what a happy little hut it will be. 

Like the Englishman who went up a hill but came down a mountain, from here on out I’ll be painting and drawing if not writing.

18 Comments

Filed under art, meditation, perfectionism, wellness Resort

Half of Them Are Children

Green Blanket, by Daniel Cortez

BY Kimberly Mayer

We have seen dystopia. Having driven the west coast recently from the northernmost border near Canada to the southernmost border near Mexico and back up again, we know it’s real. In city after city, Seattle to San Diego, thousands of homeless encampments alongside freeways and in the underbelly of overpasses and bridges. It’s real and has grown considerably since the last time we left the island and went anywhere.

This is the picture I am left with in my mind’s eye: tent after tent, tarp upon tarp—a collage of colors jammed against chain-link fences and concrete pilings like a mural. Flying by, it’s unusual to see anybody in the camps. But I don’t know what it says about us that we did just that, drove on by. 

This now, is our country.

Homelessness in the US was on the rise even before Covid struck. “And we know the pandemic has only made the homelessness crisis worse,” said HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge. The pandemic has severely slowed efforts to house the homeless in temporary housing, while land and construction costs are only soaring. Even the count of the homeless has been delayed due to Covid.

An estimated 800-1,000 now make their beds or set up tents on sidewalks or alleyways in downtown Seattle, according to The Regional Homelessness Authority. Emily Cohen, Deputy Director for Communications and Legislative Affairs San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, states “…for the average citizen, unfortunately, homelessness is still very visible and that drives the conversation.” And in Los Angeles, the number of homeless residents exceeds 66,000, making it the ‘homeless capital’ of the country. Ron Galperin, Los Angeles City Controller, speaks for every city in saying, “It is a moral crisis, a humanitarian crisis, it’s a public health crisis, and it is the existential crisis we have here in Los Angeles.”

Two weeks ago Russia invaded Ukraine and it’s impossible to write about anything without Ukraine folding in. More than two million people have fled Ukraine by foot, bus, and rail, what the United Nations calls “the fastest and largest displacement of people in Europe since WWII.” The refugee crisis in Ukraine is not the same, of course, excepting everyone needs shelter.

This now is our world.

10 Comments

Filed under homelessness in the US, Ukrainian refugees

The Pandemic Pause

By Kimberly Mayer

Approximately four miles off the white sandy coast of Coronado Island in Southern California, sit cruise ships, including Celebrity Millennium and Celebrity Eclipse, in anchorage. They’ve been part of the view from here ever since the CDC suspended cruise ship sailings around the US. Every couple weeks one will go into the Port of San Diego for supplies, otherwise they are not going anywhere. On overcast days the ships appear like small far-off islands, and on clear days, like beach toys that floated off. 

Beach toys with all the amenities. Beach toys with staff at a minimum, mainly engineers and captains. Also, ship doctors on board as well as medicines. Beach toys with booming foghorns when they need to make their presence known to other ships at sea. Beach toys waiting out the pandemic in an outer anchorage area managed by the US Coast Guard.

“It kind of harkens back to the 1800’s,” notes Adam Deaton, cruise business manager for the Port of San Diego, “when ports used to provide a secondary function protecting communities and protecting infections from other locales.” (The Coronado Times, 9/01/2020)

Interesting he should say that, for I’ve been feeling nothing but nostalgic during my stay on Coronado—back to a time when my grandparents first began to winter in Naples, Florida. Back when traffic there was light and elderly ladies wheeled big Cadillacs about like boats. My grandmother wore Lily dresses and brightly colored beads there, and when they built their home in Naples, she specified all pink appliances for the kitchen. While my grandfather clad in cardigans insisted on a massive brick fireplace and hearth in the living room, like no other house around. Florida: where every garage was immaculate, and poinsettia plants grew into shrubs or trees, much to my amazement. Where people risked their lives to live where coconuts could fall on their heads and kill them, or so I thought. But somehow it seemed worth it.

Coronado is much like that. The traffic is slow and crosswalk lights, extra long. The children all ride bikes and scooters, residents drive golf carts on the roads, and every dog is picked up after. Where all the ice cream is gelato, parks are aplenty, and everybody’s got the beach. And now I’m the grandparent.

This is the pandemic pause. We’re all on these ships lately, stuck in time and not going anywhere. We can choose to mask up or not, vaccinate or not, but we’re all in this together. The same boat.

10 Comments

Filed under Cruise Ships, nostalgia, pandemic

A Life Seen in Patterns

Photo by Frank James

By Kimberly Mayer

This is how it happens. Day after day, a boy steps out back to pound nails. After a while he decides he’s pretty good at it. The boy grows up to be a carpenter. A young girl hears again and again, “Go to your room, young lady!” and there she hones certain skills. For me it was making mazes. All I needed was a pad of graph paper, pencils with good erasures, and the sanctuary of my room. There, I was free to lose myself–and find myself–in the mazes of my own making. 

In some inexplicable way they meant everything to me.

Like Anna Shechtman who started constructing puzzles at fourteen in “Escaping into the Crossword Puzzle” (The New Yorker 12.20.21), “I retreated into the grid.” Here we found our solace. “A grid has a matter-of-fact magic, as mundane as it is marvelous,” she explains. “From sidewalks to spreadsheets to after-hours skyscrapers projecting geometric light against a night sky, the grid creates both order and expanse.” Anna moved letters onto the page, while for me the squares became paths of entrapment and escape. 

In time Anna became assistant to Will Shortz, crossword puzzle editor of The New York Times.  For me, maze making led to the drawing of floor plans and interior design—for aren’t they both about how we move through space? That was the sequence for me, and mazes were my portal. 

I have also lived on a fair share of islands: 

  • St. Thomas, USVI,
  • Manhatten, 
  • Mercer Island, WA 
  • San Juan Island, WA.
  • And this winter, Coronado Island, CA.

At some point, it seems, islands and waterways became the grid.

Will Shortz believes people have a natural desire to fill empty spaces. I see the empty spaces as paths. Both order and expanse, entrapment and escape. And how we move through space.

The way land breaks up and becomes inlets and seas and islands, one after the other, 

like jigsaw pieces when the box is first emptied and all the pieces turned over. 

For what are islands but broken land?

2 Comments

Filed under floor plans, Islands, Mazes, patterns