Buildings are expressions of humans, of us. . . . they have eyes. Windows are the eyes on a building.
— Michael Pollan, NPR interview, 19 April 1997
This past summer I had a cabin built in the woods—a place for weekends and summers, for visiting with friends, and for writing. Before the cabin was built, I spent some hours (agonizing at times) on the design of the small place. It is, after all, only 400 square feet, not including the front and back porches. For anyone to live well in a small space, the design needs to be not just efficient but also pleasing. While planning the cabin’s inside features, I also had to think about outside details. Design is an organic process: all the particulars are fundamental to the soundness of the whole structure.
Nelson Algren spent a lot of time in homeless shelters in Chicago. This was in the 1940’s and 50’s. He wasn’t homeless, but when you read his novels and stories—especially when you realize the measures he took to get them right—you get the impression he wished that he was. He used to go to Pacific Garden Mission, a giant homeless shelter still in operation in Chicago to this day, and sit down with the drunks and down-and-outers. He’d eat dinner with them, play cards, and shoot the breeze. There’s one picture, taken by Algren’s photographer buddy Art Shay, which depicts a junkie with a hypo showing Algren how he shoots up.
Very recently, I turned thirty.
It’s a bit of a no-man’s land, emotionally, this turning thirty business. Anyone older, even by a few months, will dismiss all your grumbling (and will probably be strongly tempted to dismiss this post) with a patronizing chuckle and an eye roll. Anyone younger will take your grumbling far too seriously, and will try annoyingly hard to commiserate with and console you.
“Art is universal,” wrote James Jackson Jarves. “It unites mankind in common brotherhood. . . . art is the connecting link in the chain of great minds. Through its language, thought appeals to thought, and sympathy echoes feeling.”
This mad house is my home. ~ Barbara Weston
The film August: Osage County opens in the home of Violet and Beverly Weston. Their decades-long marriage has been an attempt to blend their divergent natures; Beverly’s is poetic, Violet’s is mean. She wreaks emotional violence against anyone who gets too close to her frayed center. Beverly navigates her tumultuous waters by gripping the gunwales. As the film starts, he is bearing the tempest that occurs when Violet learns he has hired “an Indian” (the tragically and recently deceased Misty Upham) to help care for her through her developing stages of oral cancer. Having provided for Violet in this way, Beverly launches a boat on the lake where he is later discovered to have drowned. His family considers it a suicide. His death brings their three daughters back home, as well as Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae; her husband, Charles; and their son, a grown man they call Little Charles.