The sky above is grey, the air smells of the rain that fell in the night, and the rain that is coming this afternoon. I am glad to be staying in today.
On this kind of morning I first saw the apartment I have been living in for the past two and a half years. It was dark indoors on that day, too, but I saw the big windows facing west, and the little ones gazing north, and imagined that, on a bright day, light would fill the space. And so, because even mayflies outlive the vacancy phase of a NYC apartment, I signed the lease.
As it turned out, I was wrong in my imaginings. The western windows are completely shadowed by the other side of the building. The northern windows are denied sunlight by the bulk of the building across the street. There is never any natural sunlight in this space. I live in shadow and electric light. Except for her time near Woodstock last summer, the lovely Mrs. Peel has never ever been able to lie on a sunny patch of floor.
I have tried special lightbulbs, vitamin D tablets, abstaining from sugar. I have enlisted the power of positive thinking. I have rearranged the furniture. I have spent hours and hours outside, walking around, gilded with energy, blessed with ideas, energy and ideas that vanish as soon as I turn the key and come into the cave. It has worn me down.
My sister, who once lived in a house surrounded by trees, painted rooms in faintly-tinted whites that so strongly evoked the seashore that I was always surprised by the absence of salty smells. I have thought of trying that, and have collected paint chips. My friends and family know that I inherited from my father a faith in the power of paint and self-medicating with color. Other than my former residence on W. 89th Street, I have never lived in a space I didn't paint and repaint. That apartment was already a perfect color, Benjamin Moore's Beacon Hill Damask, a muted green yellow/yellow green that shifted with light and juxtaposition. Put a green chair by the wall, it was a yellow wall. Put a bouquet of daffodils on the shelf, and presto chango, it was a green wall. Something like this photo, where you can see that the wall shadowed by the desk looks greener.
But after the lease was signed and deposits paid on my current place, and just before I moved in, it was repainted – walls, ceilings, trim, and bits of the floor and bathtub – with beigey-white, high-gloss, oil-based enamel paint. I can't fathom why, unless it's simply that there were a few cans of it rusting away in the basement, left over from other kitchens and baths. Some economy-minded soul might have thought, "it's a small apartment, why buy more?" Every painted surface is shiny. I sleep under a sweaty-looking ceiling. And here's my gumption trap: the only thing that will adhere to hi-gloss is…more hi-gloss, and my respiratory requirements forbid the breathing of oil-based paint fumes. DItto the vapors of products like BIN. You could sand, says the super. How amusing you can be! thinks the singer.
Like every human, I have emotional hills and valleys. Like most artists I know, I live with a high degree of financial uncertainty, and can be hyper-sensitive to my surroundings. Light really helps. My next place will be bright, airy, quiet, safe, and affordable, i.e., everything this place is not. If there can be, nearby, a good bookstore, talkative trees, and a dentist who will barter for singing lessons, so much the better.
Photo by Janet, at Janet's Thread