So here are my new digs. My dad doesn’t quite see the charm, but I sure do. Ansel Adams says that a good photographer has to know how to “use the frame” to communicate a thing’s, or a person’s, or a place’s beauty with a camera. Well, I’m no Ansel Adams, so these photos may not help you to see what I see in this place and you may end up siding with my dad. But I figured I’d give it a try anyways.
A lot of the place’s beauty is its location. I am less than half a mile from both State and Meredith, and am a quick bike ride away from just about anything my heart should desire or any place I should need to go on a regular workday. But more than that, the surrounding neighborhoods are like nowhere I’ve ever lived before.
On my morning jogs I like to explore. On some streets I feel like I am in the world of Leave it to Beaver and Donna Reed. The houses look like they could have come straight out of Norman Rockwell’s imagination. They have a sort of classic Americana feel to them, with white picket fences, porch swings, and a sort of quaint, settled, hometown coziness.
On other streets I feel like I am in a sprawling secret garden. The dense oaks and sycamores and hickories are punctuated every twenty yards or so with these little ivy-wreathed cottages. Almost invariably these little cottages have either flowers or tomatoes or some sort of produce stretching up out of their front yards. Plain-Jane buzz-cut grass is the exception rather than the rule on these streets, and there’s hardly a patch of land without a fountain, birdbath, or statue.
Ruffin, Van Dyke, Everett, Furches, Clark, Mayview, Barmettler…. The neighborhood is a tangle of old streets, a paved spiderweb. I love getting lost here each morning and finding my way back, learning the intricacies and interconnections of this new, labyrinthine territory. The other week I decided to run past the Raleigh Little Theatre and stumbled upon the rose garden next door. I had no idea it was there. Now I like to go that way just so that I can run through the garden and pause to smell the roses, examining all their variations, fingering their thorns, tracing out the particularities of their petals. I run early in the morning and so I always seem to have the garden and the amphitheater all to myself. It’s just one of the many great gifts of being here.
This place has become “home” more quickly than any place I’ve lived since leaving for college. Part of that, no doubt, is that I have the apartment to myself and am able to do with it what I will. But part of it, too, is that the spaces that I do share, I share with wonderful neighbors. The girl in the little cottage at the front of our little community had me over for a glass of wine. She is always having cookouts with scores of people playing corn-hole and drinking Heineken. The Laurens live above me and we are due for dinner sometime soon. One Lauren is a writer and the other is a librarian. Portia who lives next door is a librarian, as well. Chivan who lives on my other side raises money for First Descents, an amazing nonprofit that takes cancer sufferers on outdoor adventures. Come to think of it, it seems like all my neighbors are women. If there are any men in this little community, I haven’t seen them. At any rate, everyone has been warm and welcoming. It’s the sort of neighborhood where people stop to catch up at the mailboxes, have drinks on each others porches, and have cookouts together on the 4th of July. The sense of community here stands in stark contrast with my apartment complex in Durham where I never learned my next-door neighbors’ names.
The apartment itself is situated in a little cluster of apartments, bungalows and cottages that is tucked away in a neighborhood that is otherwise entirely comprised of freestanding homes. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about this place, and such industrial-sounding words like “complex” and “units” just don’t fit.
I’ve been adding my own touches. I painted the wall at the entrance to the kitchen with blackboard paint and keep an eraser and a box of chalk next to it. I always ask my guests to leave make their mark. So far my favorite quotations from the wall have been “The mind is like the mouth. It is meant to be opened, but only then to be closed again upon something solid” and “Knowledge = Knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom = Not putting tomatoes in fruit salad.” But the quotations pale in comparison to the mural I commissioned Jesse (age 37) and Noah Scharff (age 4) to do for me. Now a landscape with rolling green hills, a farmhouse, and purple Dr. Seuss-esque trees adorns the foot of my free expression wall. The kid’s got talent.
Next to the screened in porch, probably my favorite thing about this place is that I have an office. I have never had an office. My desk and my books have always been uncomfortably crammed into my bedroom in the other places I’ve lived. In Philly I stayed in a closet-sized room and lofted my bed to make everything fit, which meant taking care not to bang my head on the ceiling when getting into bed at night and taking care not to land on my desk when jumping out of bed in the morning. Durham was a little better, but not by much. But those days are over. For graduation I was gifted twelve foot of bookshelves from Nowell’s to replace the hodge-podge of shelving I had picked up at Targets and yard sales over the years to house my ever-expanding (and completely justifiable) personal library. It has been an incredible space for working, writing, thinking, praying and reading. I’ve always had some monastic proclivities and so I kind of think of the apartment as a whole and the office in particular the way Annie Dillard thought of her little shack on Tinker Creek. It’s more than just a home. It’s my “anchorhold,” my hermitage, my cell.
The bedroom is still pretty spartan, but I like it that way. I don’t do anything in the bedroom except sleep and change clothes anyways, right? Well, at least right now I don’t. I have saved a space in one corner of the room for an easel, in the hopes of taking up my drawing and painting again. It’s been about ten years, and I miss it. For now my life is pretty much all about getting the ministry up and running, getting my financial support, and getting settled into life in Raleigh. There hasn’t really been any time for reviving old passions and taking up old hobbies. But I am hopeful. I am hopeful.
The bedroom brings us back around in a way because the bedroom’s double windows open up to the front porch through which you enter the apartment, which means that it looks out onto our beautiful green courtyard. I am always tempted to sleep with my blinds open so that the porch and courtyard are the first things I see in the morning.
So these are my new digs. Settling into this place has felt like laying the first brick in building a new life here in Raleigh. If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing it’s because you are or will be a part of this new life, and for that I am thankful. In a way these are your digs too. So come on over. My door’s always open.