Friday, January 27, 2006

The Art of Story

Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it is an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there...~ Eudora Welty
It always amazes me to think that every house on every street is full of so many stories; so many triumphs and tragedies, and all we see are yards and driveways. ~ Glenn Close
Last week, we had a neighborhood meeting to determine whether our neighborhood, Greenwich Forest, should apply for historic designation. It is a charming collection of homes built in the 1930s, strangley enough, as a retirement community. The streets are named after English towns: Hampden, York, Lambeth. The architectural style is upscale Engligh cottage: a tad Tudor, a bit Cotswold, mixed with the straight lines of Georgian architecture. They remind me of storybook homes with cozy corners, quirky angles, and other charming details.

I used to carpool through this neighborhood when I was a child of 10, 11, 12; one mother preferred the visual delights Hampden Lane had to offer as opposed to the main roadway, Bradley Boulevard. Our unanimous favorite was the castle house. Twelve years later, as a young mother, I took the very same route to get to the neighborhood day care center, initially with Brian, our first child and then, day in and day out, for years, as our family grew. (Two of my daughters work there now, just two blocks from home.) I must have passed by my future house hundreds, maybe a thousand times. One spring day, in 1988, a For Sale sign went up on the white house with the steeply pitched green tile roof and the welcoming front porch. I knew I wanted that house but thought is was an impossible dream, my husband ever the economically sensible one. But he was in love with it too. By August, it was ours.

Fast forward seventeen years, and here we are, gathered with our neighbors in yet another gem of a home, all of us concerned over the growing trend of mansionization ~ tearing down old homes and replacing them with oversized million-dollar homes. One of the first Greenwich Forest homes (2 doors down from mine) was slated for demolition and it was time to act. The turnout was good. Everyone was interested in preserving the character of the neighborhood. There was a lot of legal talk, of procedures, options, pros & cons. And then it was one of the guest speakers, Laura Trieschmann's, turn to speak. Laura is an architect and one of the directors of ETH Traceries, a women-owned research and consulting firm specializing in architectural history and historic preservation. Laura said something that went straight to my soul, artist-speak, rather than legal-speak. She said, "The homes in a neighborhood tell a story. When you tear them down, the story can no longer be told."

Story~ art is all about story. Your story, a culture's story, the story of a feeling, an incident, a moment. When we make art, we not only create stories, we preserve them.

It dawned on me a few years ago that my art was narrative, that each Fragment, each collage, each quilt told a story. I had always thought that my storytelling would have to wait until the kids were grown and gone and the house was quiet enough for me to finally hear the voices in my head. But stories do not have to be written or told. Stories can be visual, told by objects, images, color.
It is the storytelling properties of objects that I find the most interesting. It is their history and how time has marked them that holds the greatest potential. ~ Mark Daughhetee
We all have stories to tell. We live inside of a story, creating chapter after chapter with every layer of paint, every opening of a window, or step through the front door. I have just told you a story. Now go tell one of your own.
We need to be each others storytellers. ~ Mary Oliver

17 comments:

claudine hellmuth said...

We call them Mc Mansions here. ugh!

Hope you guys can do something to stop them. What a CUTE neighborhood you have!!

sharon wisely said...

I am lucky enough to live in a "Story House" too...I think it is wonderful that you are stopping "progress".
I love your house and your neighborhood!

nina said...

your stories, dear one, are lessons to me, each and every day when we talk. i love you with all of my heart. xx

Loretta said...

Your posts are wonderful, Lesley. And I love your neighborhood!

cammy said...

just wanted to let you know that i really enjoy reading your blog. twelve years ago i used to live just across the street from Greenwich Forest. reading your post brought back such wonderful memories of being a new mom and taking daily walks with my son through the streets of Greenwich Forest and admiring all of the beautiful homes. it is truly a gem of a neighborhood.

Lesley Riley said...

Cammy - Who are you? When did you live here? I have been within blocks of this neighborhood all my life!

Enid Yvette said...

I have always loved these houses. When I would go home from work after a tired day of selling furniture, it made me smile to see such lovely houses.

Scraps of my Life said...

Hi Lesley-This is Lynn from England!!I love this story about your house!Because I have known you for so long,it makes me remember fond memories and it makes me feel closer to you and home and Chevy Chase in general.I hope you can save the houses-keep me posted!

Scraps of my Life said...

Hi Lesley-This is Lynn from England!!I love this story about your house!Because I have known you for so long,it makes me remember fond memories and it makes me feel closer to you and home and Chevy Chase in general.I hope you can save the houses-keep me posted!

Sarah e.Smith said...

I recently discovered your blog and I am drawn to your words. I enjoy readng your posts and look forward to visiting again :)

Tongue in Cheek Antiques said...

In Marseille France on a long blvd that goes down to the sea, there use to stand many century old majestic homes that appeared like mermaids on the rocks. Each one unique, each one full of stunning beauty so strong and powerful, they would seduce you to stare and dream. I never thought these homes these mermaids on sone structures would come down. But down they came, one by one, sadly, horribly and in each place where one of those beautiful homes stood a bank, or office took its place.
Now the blvd down to the sea seems just long and collected with debris.
I wish Marseille had a committee like yours!

Karen said...

I love your neighborhood! I wish mine was charming like that.
Around these parts they are putting in condos fortresses amywhere there is space.
i picture you spending a sunny afternoon cruising through the neighborhood on an old fashioned bicycle with a basket in front for all your findings...

The Rich Gypsy said...

Thank you for sharing one of your stories.

(Just discovered your blog through Corey ~ what a treat!)

Anonymous said...

Hi Les...I love your home..and having been able to stay with you, your home is as beautiful inside as it is on the outside. Glad you have a committe to stop the ugliness of those big mansions. I feel the same way here in NJ..I miss the woods behind my house because they had so many stories in them, one of which, my son learning and having so much fun in them. See you soon...Carol

juju said...

In England, I dream of houses like yours. Our houses are all much smaller and with practically no space around them.
But I agree that the stories they tell are fascinating. I love reading historical novels set in Victorian London and knowing that my house and neightbourhood were there. When the houses on my street were built in 1895 they were used to house policemen. If you read the old land surveys they typically had large families and servents living in them. On our street we feel blessed by little crime because we believe the spirits of these victorian policemen keep us safe.

Elle said...

I love that area. My brother went to Landon so I used to be over there a lot.

pattisl said...

I love your pics of your neighborhood, the gate, the bed/office story! Your house reminds me of houses around my old neighborhood, which I miss dearly.
It is true here also that people keep building mini-mansions instead of enjoying the quality, architecture, and history of our old homes. I hope you win your battle!

Love to see your photos! They are exactly what I would like to capture if I were talented!
pattisl