Thursday, May 20, 2010

Things I Am Not Good At #1

Ms. Musings (who seems to show up in almost all my blog posts these days. Oh well, don't complain. You'd be hard-pressed to find company much better than Ms. Musings) recently asked us in a blog post what stresses us out. Well, I could probably write a whole book on that (maybe I should? No, too stressful), but, happily, she knocked off one of my stressors for me. Anyone who has been reading this blog for more than five minutes knows how much I hate public speaking. Apparently, though, according to those who have been subjected to one of my barely coherent ramblings, I am good at it, so it is not appropriate for a blog post with the title this one has. That's typical, though, isn't it? Only I would be good at something I so loathe. Could I be good at ice skating, which I love? No. Could I be a good singer? No. I have to be good at public speaking and hear over and over, "You're lying. You can't possibly hate it. You do it so well. I've booked you for a panel on dinosaur eggs that I'm hosting next month."

So, let's move onto another stressor, something that not only stresses me out but that people will actually believe I am no good at doing. That would be inviting people into my home. If you have ever been invited to my house for more than ten minutes in the foyer, consider yourself lucky. If you happen to be someone who has actually sat in a chair, say, and maybe even been offered tea (or perhaps something a little stronger), it's because you are someone I so love and whose company I so enjoy that I am willing to put aside all "house-isn't-perfect" and "Miss-Manners-would-lock-me-up-for-breaking-every-etiquette-rule-in-the-book-if-she-could" fears for you. If you've been invited as an overnight guest, well, you are either family or someone I wish were family. You also happen to be someone I am quite sure enjoys me for my company and couldn't care less that I am a terrible housekeeper and an even worse interior decorator (and that I can't be bothered and don't have the money to spend billions on a good interior decorator).

Basically, Bob and I live in a messy house whose sole focus is on books and reading. When we were newlyweds and bought our first home in CT, we were house poor. We couldn't afford to decorate or do much of anything other than eat whatever was on sale and marvel at the fact that we owned a whole house. I got into the habit of thinking I couldn't afford to do anything and never adjusted to the fact that we now can. Almost all of our furniture is either inherited or is stuff that was donated to us at some point. We have exactly one couch and one bed that we shopped for and bought together, and even that couch was found in a second-hand shop. This furniture has all merely been plopped down in our house with our biggest concern being comfortable places to sit/lie and read. Occasionally, we will do something wild, like hire an Amish man to custom make bookshelves for us, because, well, you know, they house books.

Some of our furniture is actually gorgeous, though. I mean, when parents pass on furniture, they tend to pass on family heirlooms that they want to keep in the family. Our dining room table was a given to my great grandparents as a wedding gift. The desk at which I work every day belonged to my grandmother. We have a beautiful corner cupboard from Bob's parents in our dining room that has been the envy of many a dinner guest. However, we have never done the sorts of things most people do with such pieces, like build a room around them (the corner cupboard definitely does not match the dining room table).

Despite our haphazard decorating style, though, there is only one room in the whole house that I really can't stand. It's the living room, where we only have two nice pieces of furniture. One is a Victorian chair that my parents gave us. The other is a birch bookcase (a bookcase, but of course!) that a friend gave us when we moved to PA. He's a lovely friend to have, one of those men with impeccable tastes who buys things impulsively and then, seemingly just as impulsively, decides to get rid of them (we also have a beautiful carpet, a fantastic quilt he commissioned a friend of his to make for his parents that they then didn't want, and a favorite wooden salad bowl, thanks to him). The rest of the living room, however, is nothing but junk, big old chairs and couches left over from pre-marriage days or from the people who sold us their house in Connecticut, who left quite a lot behind. None of it is attractive or particularly comfortable.

Yet, the living room is where one is supposed to entertain. And when one is a minister's wife, she often has to invite people whose company she does not particularly enjoy into her home. That feeling is probably mutual, which means they are the sorts who are not likely to overlook pieces of furniture that are out of place (that would probably be out of place anywhere other than a junkyard), screws that are loose, tattered rugs, and a hostess who serves them tea in the wrong sort of cup. They are the sorts who say, "Wow! You sure have a lot of books," and not as if they want to begin reading any of them, especially since they make no move to examine what might be on the shelves. If you want to know stress, just observe me when I know those sorts are about to arrive.

I can hear you now. You're thinking, "Well, why not just redecorate the living room?" The answer to that question will probably have to be saved for "Things I Am Not Good At #2: Making Decorating Decisions with the Man Who Thinks that Huge, Ugly Chairs Spewing Stuffing All Over The Floor Are "Nice, Comfortable Chairs.'" Maybe, one of these days, when someone has given me Valium intravenously, I will do something about it. In the meantime, I will do what I do expertly: avoid, as much as I possibly can, inviting people into my home.


Rebecca said...

I love your house and you are an excellent hostess! Let's start with the fact that there are bookshelves everywhere (which is about as much interior decor as one needs if you ask me), so that it's almost impossible not to browse and then flop into the nearest comfortable chair under a perfectly positioned reading lamp to start reading. And then, when one wanders down stupidly early in the morning, still in pyjamas, there is coffee available (unless one breaks it) and there are sticky buns. Did you see Marcy and I at your place? We were so relaxed that we were practically unconscious.

Hannah Stoneham said...

Your reference to Miss Manners made me smile - by brother in law found her book in a charity shop some years ago and ever since it has been kept in the toilet in his house for toilet reading - best place for it! I am sure that you are as good at hostessing as public speaking.

Thanks for sharing this funny post


Stefanie said...

I think I would feel right at home at your house. And you are welcome to come over to my place anytime especially since you won't mind the cobwebs in the corners, the dust on top of the picture frames, the stains on my ugly old carpet, or the books everywhere :)

Emily Barton said...

Becky, thank you. Of course, you happen to fall into that "wish you were family" category. I do think, however, the dream chair would look lovely in our living room, though. Don't you?

Hannah, ha! Miss Manners in the toilet. I like that.

Stef, oh, I am absolutely positive you would feel at home here, as positive as I am that I would feel at home at your place and not notice a single cobweb (well, unless it had a spider in it with whom I could converse. I happen to be one of those weirdos who loves spiders and talks to them about how much I appreciate the fact that they are setting up their webs to get rid of all those nasty flies for me), any dust or stains at all. I would be too busy reading, when I'm not happily chatting away with you.

Rebecca H. said...

You have a lovely home. I feel very privileged that you allowed me to share it with you for a weekend, and I hope one day to find my way back! It's a pity you haven't seen my house yet, because it would make you feel better about your cleaning and decorating habits -- much, much better, believe me :)

litlove said...

How lovely - all my favourite bloggers have the same sort of house as me! All about the books, and what I like to describe as 'comfortable', not too pristine to feel you can't put your feet on the sofa. Believe me I know how you feel, though, when someone who doesn't understand is about to come through the door. It's a horrible prospect!

ZoesMom said...

Although I can understand how you feel, I have to echo what Becky wrote. Your house is so great to visit. Anyone who doesn't think so needs their head examined. I can't wait to come back and given this post I am honored I've been invited so many times!