On my easel sat "The Blue House”. It wasn't one I'd ever been to or had ever seen. It was merely a vision of a house, perhaps one I wanted for myself, a heavy house. This house, from its foundation to its peaked roof, emitted an aura of sturdiness. It wasn't that way because of anything - not because of the thick application of paint or because it appeared big inside it's small space. The paint didn't matter at all, generally. Its shape, its color, its size didn't matter. As I'd painted it, it stood simply as a symbol and its importance rested with me and could not be derived by any objective point of view. To anyone else, it was just a house.
I have lived in my current house for eight months, enough to memorize the route to school and which stair boards creaked under the weight of a foot. I’ve stood my easel up near the one good window in the house, on the second floor, which overlooks the lawn and the tulip poplar. It is because of this window that I can claim the room as mine. It is for my art. This is the one consistency of the houses I have lived in, the least my mother can do for me as compensation for continuously uprooting us.
My room generally resembles a nun’s cell. No matter the house, I keep only the basic essentials of furniture – a bed, a dresser, a desk and chair set – and zero decoration on the walls. I learned the hard way that, when you live a life of constant mobility, it’s a pain in the ass to post and repost posters and pictures. After the third house, I gave up the luxury of personalization. The only difference between a nun’s cell and my room was the easel and the small community of stretched canvases leaning against the wall. Because I’ve had no inspiration in the past few months, the only existing paintings are of the tulip poplar and a couple attempts at portraiture. I say attempts because my model choice was poor. Lilly would not sit still for long enough. She doesn’t have the patience. In the end, she looked like a sad child, drooping in the chair.
When I showed her the results, she wrinkled her nose and said, “It stinks.”
I love a child’s honesty. But if I could find another to sit for me, perhaps the results wouldn’t be so bad, but under current circumstances, there is no one to ask, not even my mother, for she has no time, and it is difficult propositioning recently acquired friends to sit as models. The end result is I must search for a new subject because already the tree theme has been exhausted.
Painting outside is a wash. I despise plein air painting because I can’t stand being in nature. If I’m going to paint a tree, I’m doing it where I’m not standing on top of its roots or taking the chance of birds crapping on me. And rain! Forget it. Just one big window, no matter the view, that’s all I need. I can stand to paint cityscapes, trees, or rural pasture, whatever. I just need some good lighting.
I have a practice of never looking back. I do not paint the homes I live in or take pictures or talk about them once I’ve moved on. Only the current house is considered and I can then pretend it is the only house I’ve ever lived in. My mother asked me about it once, when she tried to bring up the subject and I refused to talk about it.
“That was such a nice house, that one in Carbondale, don’t you remember? The one with all the trees in the back and the wrap-around porch? Why don’t you want to talk about?”
“I’m never going back there, what’s the point?”
“But is it so bad to remember the good ones?”
“I don’t consider any of them good or bad. I don’t think about them. They are just houses that exist somewhere, they’re no longer home.”
I asked Lilly once, when we were younger, what she thought about our frequent moves.
“I don’t count houses.”
“It’s stupid. If I don’t like a house, that’s how I remember. If I like a house, I mean really like it, then I’ll remember it that way. Thinking about numbers just gets things complicated. The memory of a house is better.”
Lilly has moments of maturity, even as a kid. I’m childish and I’m older than her by six years. We don’t even look alike. Lilly looks pale and thin, where I’m much darker. She is much more beautiful subject matter – if only she could have sat still better, or maybe I’m just not that good an artist. I’ve been through so many different art classes along the way, I’ve had a score of opinions. I mostly like to consider the more favorable ones as accurate.
But just as Lilly cannot sit for portraiture, I cannot sit still when our mother gathers us together to announce that we’re moving again. She’s always saying, “Louise, sit down, this is important!”
“Mama, she’s shaking the table, make her stop!”
“Lilly, just ignore your sister. Louise! Sit still for once, I’m begging you!”
“Lilly will fill me in later,” and I get up and leave. Perhaps this is another form of my childishness. I hate hearing about a new house. It’s hard to try and forget the house you’re living, to look to the future house when it is not yet home.
During past moves, I never used to be able to paint anything. I’d be too clammed up thinking about what came next, I couldn’t even look at the house I was living in straight without feeling a sort of empty feeling for it. It got me all mixed up, because I still had to consider that place home for weeks until we finally left it.
So now, when we move, I ignore it all: the boxes, the mess, up until the time when I have to shove all my stuff into two suitcases and fold up my easel. The paintings I usually scrap or donate to Good Will. Moving is always difficult because my mother often spoils things by talking about the new place. Lilly understands to the extent that she’ll just avoid me altogether during that period. She’s good to me that way, even if she doesn’t understand my problems.
I’ll be leaving for college in a few years and perhaps then I’ll break the cycle of mobility. Lilly and our mother will always be moving, but perhaps I will find my heavy house, with several big windows and a whole room for my art. I won’t have to worry, then, about forgetting old houses or leaving walls undecorated, and if I want, I’ll have friends who I’ll be able to paint because I’ll have known them for years and I won’t have to worry about telling them goodbye. I’ll finally familiarize a place beyond the daily commute. I’ll know other people’s houses and what it’s like to remain, to think of things as being permanent. Then maybe I’ll finally be able to paint my house, like “The Blue House”, and people will look at it and think, “That is one sturdy house,” and I’ll know exactly what that means.