Friday, September 28, 2012


I read your comments over and over.  Katrina, Tammy, Sherry and Leah, Bri, Julie, Alice, Pam and Emberthank you each for remaining so awake to what I am trying to say.  I am calling up thoughts from such hidden places that sometimes at the surface they sound strange even to me.  

Katrina, yes!  It is exactly as if the veil of the world is held back within the house, and we plainly behold all day and night the ceremony of innocence. 

Tammy, I apologize for appearing to write from behind a veil.  Inside the house the veil is held back, but between the house and our conversation about it, a veil perhaps lies in the nature of things.  

I read all of your comments aloud.  I find that speaking your words is a truer revelation to me of what we are all sharing here together.  If the meaning of a post seems veiled, you might try slowly reading it aloud, and listen to your voice as if I were speaking to you.  Which I am!  I live in a world where words have a body—where every thought is given speech.  Our Conversation is a spoken communion.  When we read, we read aloud.  I am not skillful at putting my very inner experience of life into written words.  And if a sentence or paragraph doesn't make sense, just let it go.  What is left may become clearer.  I often do that when reading.

Life in Innermost House is almost incommunicably simple.  It is as simple as the dawn.  It is as simple as the seasons.  I am sorry that my words should complicate it.

So often it seems that one of youat times it has been all of you togethersee in what I am trying to say something true, which I had no deliberate idea of saying!  I only try to say what is in my soul as simply as I can, but as subtly as I perceive it.  I simply let my thoughts seek a resting place in words.  The path is almost never straight, but it moves in one direction.  Julie, what branch of navigation would you call that?  Or is it just steering downstream?

Leah, your idea of baking is a very companionable one.  Maybe we are here together to compare recipes.  But if so then I must confess that I never could follow a recipe in all my life.  There is no one to whom the mystery of baking is more of a mystery than me!  So I couldn't help smiling when you concluded your explanation by explaining how your feelings don't always translate well into words.  That's just how I feel.  And Katrina, now you apologize for the same thing.  But neither of you could have spoken more generously or clearly.  

If I have lived most of my life seldom being under-stood, I suppose it is because I lay so low as to make it hard to find a place to stand underneath me.  Alice, Julie and Pamthank you for showing me you understand.  Thank you for teaching me what I mean.  And Sherry, thank you for staying.  For me too, this is a good place to be.

Julie and Pam, you have added so much of such depth that I can hardly find a satisfactory reply.  Not at least tonight. But I am grateful for every word.  You offer us all your invaluable perspective.  You are like the morning songbirds who inhabit the woods, announcing with your vitality the promise of the Innermost Life.

You said something Ember that my husband has often observed to me, that "Innermost House is also the modern world."  I think that is true.  Innermost House is almost unimaginable as a response to any other world than exactly our own.  I never expect to occupy a more inward place than Innermost House.  It is as inward as the world today is outward.

And I am moving outward now.  I am gone from my house in the woods and reaching out to friendships across the expanse of the modern world, the same world from which I once retreated.  I believe in the rightness of where I am and what we are doing together, though I cannot entirely explain it.  I am more than consolable.  By your patient kindness, I am consoled.  And you are right.  I am not within the house now, but I am protecting its precious seed within me.

My life in the woods was very simple, but it is not simple to explain.  I cannot do it alone, as you all see.  We together are describing what life in Innermost House is and means.  You are helping me to see as much as I am helping you.

And Bri, I too love that ladybug right in front of me.  I remember her from my earliest days, "when all things were tall, and our friends were small, and the world was new."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Flesh And Blood

On Monday, Leah asked what makes the difference for me about Innermost House, the elimination of worldly stresses or drawing its close quarters around me.  It is a very good question, and helped me understand the difference between the two aspects of my one experience of the house.  I tried to answer that it is both equally, that the emptiness and fullness together make for the experience.  It is in their unity that there is no otherness to me withinside the house.

Tonight I want to address Pam's question that seems related to Leah's.  Pam you ask, "Does this remain true for you, Dianathat 'there is no otherness'even back out in the hustle and bustle of the larger world, so that now you are able to perceive the entire world as one unified whole regardless of where you find yourself to be? As a result of living for so long at/in IH are you now able to INCLUDE the contracted belief in separateness and meaninglessness that you perceive in most people's relationships with the world as part of the wholeness that has no 'other' that you experience in IH? Do you continue to transcend the perception of linear time even when you are not in the controlled environment of IH?

From the moment we left Innermost House, those who knew of our homelessness expressed what I can only describe as a kind of avid longing for me to reassure them that I now experience life in the world much as I did life in the woods.  I can hardly think of a single friend who did not enthusiastically urge upon me their expectation that "Innermost House is within you now."

Thank you Pam for simply asking this important question.  You offer me the space in which to feel my way toward a more complete answer.  

To me, life in Innermost House is a relation.  That relation might be reconstituted in a hundred ways, but it remains in essence one relation.  The emptiness encloses the fullness—that is the Conversation—and the house encloses the Conversation.  That is the whole relation.  

When the house and I and my husband are together in a certain relationship, a wonderful thing happens—and not only to me.  The same wonder is experienced by others who visit the house, so within the house we share an indescribable, genuine peace of oneness together.  What the house encloses is beautiful and real.  But even after seven beautiful years living within that house I am still only me, not me-and-the-house.  The wonderful thing happens when I am inside of the house.  It does not happen when the house is inside of me. 

I cannot feel that this is a failing.  I can't feel that the house fails me, or that I fail the house, or even that I fail myself.  I am part of a relation, but I am not the whole relation.

So I can no more live contentedly in the world now after Innermost House than I could before it.  I lack the normal human functions necessary to have a satisfying relation with the modern world, and I expect I always will. 

Still there is something in the way you ask your question that makes me want to say a little more.  I feel you are reaching for something I recognize.  "Are you now able to perceive the entire world as one unified whole regardless of where you find yourself to be?...Do you continue to transcend the perception of linear time even when you are not in the controlled environment of IH?"

I don't know how you thought to ask your question just that way, but it is clear to me you sense something.  For that describes exactly the innermost spirit of the Conversation.   As others have observed, at the heart of the Conversation lies the experience of unfolding time as one thing, as a picture.  This comes from Michael, not from me.  I am the vessel into which that perception is poured, and the house is the whole Place that preserves it. 

The Conversation survives our move from the house, just as it preceded it.    But the relation is changed.  It is not so much that the character of the Conversation changes as it is that our means of sharing it is surrendered. Strangely, the house is an enclosing space that opens a way to include others. Without the enclosure the Conversation returns to its beginnings in solitude.  

But that is an abstract and indirect way of speaking about something that to me is a flesh and blood experience.  I experience my life in the body.  The world makes sense or fails to make sense to me in the body.  And the modern world that makes no sense to me is not just the world of abstract thoughts, but the world of unreal things.  My whole bodily sense tells me that these foods, this clothing, these houses and towns are fictions.

Left to my own bodily senses in the world, I cannot accept what does not feel to me to speak the truth of the body.

On Friday I would like to speak a little about one kind of midway house of communal life we have have often found in the world, where the mind and body remain in some meaningful relation to each other.  We are living in one now.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Close Quarters

Welcome Bri, I too was a long time in finding other people like me.  Vicki, it is so nice to see you here.  And Fr. Will, it is such a pleasure to hear from you again.  Yes I remember that sad time, Tammy, and your brother and sister-in-law.  I'm glad you are better now.

Leah and Pam, last week you asked a very important question.  I have been asked it many times by earnest seekers of the innermost life.  You want to know what it is that makes the difference for me at Innermost House, and whether I am able to maintain that difference out in the world. 

Leah you wrote, "Are you suggesting that once we each manage to eliminate the other stresses in our lives that we will be open to seeing others as part of ourselves and being better able to welcome them in our lives? I ask these questions because I am wondering about the statement about "drawing our quarters close enough.." Was this house so much smaller and efficient and ideal to be "enough"? Is it really about drawing the quarters close enough around you or more just finding a way to eliminate your stresses including more control of your home life and the amount of interaction with people so that when people were around it was because they were invited and were there only for a short time?"  

I don't think I'm quite suggesting anything!  But perhaps I can say a little about what makes the difference for me.  The answer really is bothit is eliminating from my home the chaos of the modern world, and it is drawing my home close enough around me that it changes in nature.

Innermost House is born of my marriage.  It is one nature born of two natures. From me it inherits all of its emptiness—all the ways it eliminates the chaotic manyness of a world that I find meaningless and incomprehensible.  If I were somehow its single parent, then it would be an empty white room, and that is actually what I used to dream of as a confused and unhappy girl.  Just emptiness.

From my husband it inherits all its fullness, its ordered completeness. Everything in Innermost House is present because of him, and because of him the hundreds of objects in the house are not many things but one thing together.  They are like the pieces of a perfectly calibrated clock—just separate pieces when they are spread out on a table, but the moment they are drawn close enough together in the right relation, suddenly the gears mesh and they are not separate pieces anymore, but one working timepiece.  Everyone seems to see that quality in the house, whatever their feelings about it.  

And what is true of the house itself is true of every individual object in it.  Pam and Ember have observed the way that, even in photographs, each individual object seems to carry its own emptiness around with it.  How this can be is a mystery to me, but that it is so is confirmed by all my experience.  It is as though every object and aspect of the house shares in one genetic nature.

Innermost House is the smallest of our many small homes through the years, but it is not just the smallness that makes the difference.  Smallness eliminates largeness and littleness eliminates muchness, but in themselves I see now they could never have satisfied me. 

In some ways the tensions of life in the world that had accumulated in me actually increased during our early months in Innermost House.  I think without the house I could never have resolved those tensions.  Innermost House was not just an escape from outer things, it was a confrontation with inner things.  And it was the intimacy of life in the house that resolved those inner things at last into union. 

"Drawing our quarters close enough" was both a matter of elimination and addition, of emptiness and fullness.  It was their marriage that made Innermost House, and to me that is what makes the difference.  It is not enough to eliminate stresses.  Other people are not other to me in Innermost House because there they become part of the union.

Pam, you ask whether I am able to maintain that oneness out in the world now. It is a very great question, and trying to answer Leah's question has helped me make a beginning.  My answer is not quite the same now as it would have been six months ago.  I would like to address your question next time. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Other People

Dewey writes about Timeless Time:  "That sounds about as blissful as I can imagine Innermost House being...not a single mention of hardship or irritation.  Do you and Michael not face some irritation about the weather, wildlife, wet wood, each other?  How do you handle that in close quarters?"

This is a serious question, but it made me smile when I read it.  I knew I was going to have think pretty hard to come up with something I find irritating about life in Innermost House!

It's not that I don't find things irritating Dewey, really.  Just not things about Innermost House.  When I am out in the world I find things bewildering, disabling, noisy, ugly, and unbelievable.  And irritating.  Cars on the street.   Music in the storesand almost everything else in stores.  The kaleidoscope of what Al calls cartoon towns and houses.  The meaninglessness of it all overwhelms me.  I feel it just as much now as ever when I'm out in the world, and for now I am in the world and part of it.

In many ways dissatisfaction with life in the world has characterized my experience for as long as I can remember.  That dissatisfaction is the measure of my contentment in Innermost House.  I did not add Innermost House to my life. I subtracted the world from my life until nothing was left, then Innermost House arose out of the nothingness.   And it enclosed what I now believe was waiting for me all the time, my original contentment. 

Perhaps that sounds strange, but it is even stranger than it sounds.  Innermost House only emerged at the end of a long, narrowing tunnel that appeared to end in darkness.  When the way opened up again the world we had left behind reconstituted itself.  Food, clothes, shelter.  Correspondence and books. Science and art.  A society of visiting friends.  Everything was there again, but it was all different.  And the difference left all the remaining things without the barb of irritation. 

Ember really did make me laugh yesterday with her talk about hurling herself into a hedge at the sight of an oncoming friend.  How well I know that feeling! There have been times in my life when I would go out for walks only under the cover of darkness for fear of running into an acquaintance.   I knew I could always count on my husband to rescue me, but that did not wholly calm my old trapped, panicky feeling.

There is a line from a play someone quoted once around the fire, "Hell is other people."  Yes.  Very often and for a long time, that was my experience.

Who are they who once made me haunt the night and keep to the hedges of life?  Who are they who drive cars and play music, and build houses and towns? Who are they who find meaning in what I find meaningless?  It must be other people. 

Life in Innermost House has taught me that the real hell is not people, but the otherness of people.  And of things and experiences.  That is the barb that is missing in Innermost House.  I love people here.  I love the music of their voices.  I love the books they write and the pictures they paint and the pots and bowls and implements they make.  I love their joys and their sorrows.  I am them.  They are me.

I think it is the separateness of things in the world that has always made it so intolerable to me.  I cannot get over it.  I cannot accept it.  

In a way there are no other people in Innermost House, whether we are home alone or receiving a roomful of guests.  There is no otherness.  No more is there other weather than there is, or other wildlife, or other wood.  Sometimes it is warm and sometimes it is cool.  Sometimes Michael will spend half a morning digging out what he calls Brother Rat.  But there is no otherness about the rat. Our wood is dry when it is dry, and wet when it is wet.  It all makes sense to me.

I do not mean there are not boundaries.  I would not like to have Brother Rat in the house, or the fire out of the fireplace.  I only mean that even those boundaries belong to one mind and one body of life.

You spoke about close quarters.  I think that all of the tensions and irritations of life in the world naturally increase in close quarters.  Including the tensions in a marriage.  

But when we finally succeeded in drawing our quarters close enough around us, those tensions converged into an inward openness, and everything changed. There is no one and nothing to be irritated with now.  There is no otherness.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Timeless Time

These are changeful times for many of you.  Sherry and Julie, I see how rapidly your lives are changing.  It is strange how we often do not choose our changes.  I suppose sometimes we are thrust into choosing ways outor ways inwe would otherwise be powerless to choose.

Julie you asked a question that I have often been asked at presentationsWhat is a typical day like at Innermost House?  It ought to be a simple question to answer, but it is strangely difficult.  I have tried to answer it a number of times in writing, and trying has taught something about the answer, and something about the difficulty. 

Any ordinary day anywhere proceeds from beginning to middle to end.  That is the difficulty.  At Innermost House time is different.  I do not mean that afternoon does not follow morning, and evening succeed afternoon.  Of course they do.  But there is another way in which all are present at once in every moment. 

We have spoken of what I call Timeless Time.  I don't know exactly when that phrase first arose in my mind.  I cannot even remember a time I didn't think of it that way.  It is like the name Innermost House.  It came of recognizing something I had always known, but had half forgotten.  Timeless Time to me means two things equally; it means Timelessness, where there is no sense of passing time at all.  And it means Time, not this or that time, but All Time. These two things are one in Timeless Time.

This is the time of Innermost House.  I am unaware of time passing, of things done or things to do.  And I am aware of an allness of time, of everything at once in the present.  Michael says I didn't use the words Timeless Time before Innermost House, though I associate it as much with our Conversation as I do with the house.

Timeless Time is as far as can be from any routine or schedule, though our days are punctuated by patterns.  It's like a child's day, where time is marked outwardly by events, but remains open and unmarked inwardly.  The child doesn't think of it as routine or schedule or ritual or any other defining agenda. To her it is simply good time, whole time, at-peace time.  It is before-the-world-begins time. 

I have sometimes wondered if the institution of the Sabbath is a kind of remembering, or a trying to remember, that time before the world began.  It is a holy day, a holiday from the condition of outward events in time. 

So to speak of an ordinary day at Innermost House places me in a position outside the house itself, looking on at events in an external way.  But I have often thought in these late months that I am between houses now for this very reason.  I want to try to speak now. 

It is strange to begin by speaking of electricity, but for us the way into Timeless Time was paralleled by our way out of electricity.  I think it is hard to overestimate the subtle effects of electronic culture on our lives.  I at least find that when I am in the world I take electricity for granted.  It is uncomfortable to do without it, and it is hard to see around it.  It touches everything, beginning with the fundamentalmost thingsdarkness and light, night and day, heat and cold.  To me living without it in one room at least was the beginning of regaining a timeless relationship to time among the common things of the world. 

Living without electricity is something we made our way to very slowly, almost imperceptibly.  Our many searching moves made little changes much easier.  We were so often thrust into the opportunity to change.  Innermost House is the first home we ever occupied entirely without electricity, and it concluded our long approach toward Timeless Time.

At Innermost House we wake just before first woodland light to the sound of the birds.  There is a great silence in that sound, a stillness that will remain with me through the whole day until it gives way to the stillness of the evening.  

My first thoughts are most often of the Conversation we shared the night before, perhaps by the fire, or perhaps that stirred me from sleep in the middle of the night.  It is all present to me in an instant, but I do not remember the words.  I only feel the peace of it, the healing.  At the beginning of the day my first thought is of the end of all things in the Conversation.

In the summer our mornings are cool and in the winter they are cold, so we most often have our first meal in the warmth of our loft.  First we wash a little and take our seats by the hearth.  

There Michael serves us a shared piece of roll and some of the red wine from the previous evening.  It is a kind of solemn celebration of waking together into Timeless Time, a reminder that, through all the difficulties of our life, we have always been grateful and happy in our married Conversation. 

My husband speaks briefly very much in the way he concludes our Conversations with guestsalways spontaneously, always movingly.  Between ourselves first thing in the morning we are not asking questions, but beginning with answers. 

We have breakfast in bed upstairs in the loft.  That may be a key to passing into Timeless Time!  From out the window there we can watch the waking life of the woods, where Sabbath time is renewed each morning.

After breakfast the day begins, but it is a long beginning.  We are half the day at it.  In a real way nothing is ever much doing and nothing much ever gets done in Innermost House.  Somehow the floor gets dusted, a little outdoor work like gathering branches or cutting wood, or checking for mice nests or sweeping the porch gets done.  The fireplace ash gets cleaned and a new fire laid. 

We write, or take a walk, or sit and talk.  At any time of the day or eveningor in the middle of the nightsome thought may occasion a Conversation, and then everything else is set aside until we have explored it through.  Conversation has always been the first priority of our life together, and it is always beginning and always ending.  

Through our years on the farm we had very little need of income, and that was supplied by clients my husband preserved from his days in the design world.  If he has calls to make they get made out of my hearing.  

We have an uncooked meal at midday.  It seems the day is no more begun then it begins to end.  But it is a long ending.  The evening reveals itself only very slowly.  It is patient, and I am patient for it.  

I prepare dinner and set it to cooking over the coals.  Cooking for us is so simple that it even took me awhile to believe it.  One pot, no recipes, two bowls, wine and water.  We always have our dinner by the fire.  Perhaps that is another key to Timeless Time.  

In the evening after dinner Michael will take us through our nightly ritual of preparing and serving tea.  This is a quiet time, accompanied by the calls of night birds, a reflection of the morning.  He boils the water in our iron kettle over the coals, then pours it over powered green tea into earthen bowls.  Just to see the white steam rushing out of the black bowls in the candle light is the most vivid experience.  And the silent graceful movementsthere is no time and all time in it.  

Then we sit together between our wall of books and the fire and we talk. Sometimes we read aloud to each other.  Through most of our evening we are burning four or five candles at once, and we gather them around whichever of us is reading.  As the evening draws toward midnight the candles are put to rest one by one, gradually.  The room grows slowly darker, the night deeper.  

These hours between tea and bed are our hours of deepest Conversation.  We may talk until any hour of the night.  We may talk until dawn.  We have wakened each other a thousand times to keep vigil over our beloved Conversation.

I cannot inwardly count the days of our lives or the passing of the years.  One day succeeds the next, each one different and all the same.  In a way it is all the beginning, all the end.   

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Place To Be Free

Elizabeth asks, "All my life i have felt like a strange creature never really getting the society I live in with its obsession with work and status. I have moved around a bit and always gravitated towards towns with an alternative community in the hope that I would find a place to be free. What I am learning is that no matter how creative and free thinking the community is the pressures of our society just keep pushing in. The question is I guess how to live with honouring my true nature without the support of the society I live in or even that of a partner? I know this is very broad but we are not islands and to feel loved and accepted is part of human nature. I can play along to a degree and do what I have to do to pay the bills etc but I long to live according to my own calling too."

You ask a very important question Elizabeth, one with which I have struggled all my life.  You asked another question last month, about tuning out surface chatter and thinking with depth again.  To me these questions are related.

I too have moved a good deal, and perhaps we moved for the same reason.  When you find yourself in an uncomfortable position it is natural to want to move.  I find that the world today often puts the inner person in an uncomfortable position.  We all have different experiences, and I cannot see beyond the horizon of my own life.  But perhaps we share one discomfort.  I can try to say what has made the difference for me.

When I was young I had no companions who I felt shared my nature.  I was always the "naive" one, the one who didn't like to have fun.  I simply didn't find the same things enjoyable that others did, and living as I was brought up to do, I had a hard time enjoying life at all.  I always felt like a stranger.  I do not think that others who easily feel at home in the world can understand how hard it is for some of us just to keep trying to breathe.

All of that changed for me when I met my husband.  I know that many of us have no choice but to confront the mystery of our lives alone.  Still in some sense we are born for each other, and even Michael and I have need of some society.  And we have done some things again and again through the years to satisfy that need.

We have always begun with a room.  I know that sounds unimportant and even contrary to the problem of our isolation, but for us it has always been our beginning.  A room of our own is a way of accepting our isolation.  It is a way of ceasing to struggle against it.  It is the beginning of making something of it.

What we made of it is a new relationship to life.  A room of your own into which you allow nothing and no one not of your choosing is a kind of fresh start.  It is inspiring and invigorating to make the world new.  There are certain things I need unavoidably, things like heat and light and cool, like water and food, like silence and words and emptiness and images.  I cannot do without these things, but I have the power of choice in what form I let them into my room.  And we have chosen, over and over again.

From the beginning we have chosen to make real friends of books.  This is something I learned from my husband, to whom the classic authors are almost supernaturally alive.  And they have come to life for me.  I always loved books, but I used to escape into them.  Michael taught me to converse with them instead, to make living friends of them, as much of flesh and blood as any other friend.  The best books you can befriend and love may go a long way toward silencing the world's chatter and opening a path to deeper and more satisfying thoughts.

And so even with light and heat and cool.  Once a room has walls it has possibilities.  I can choose to befriend the light that enters the room.  I can choose the warmth, I can choose the cool.  If I cannot have it on the terms that to me are genuine and whole and healing, then I can choose to go without.  I have at least the power to choose my own darkness.  I can choose the cold if I cannot have the fire I have needed for a hundred thousand human generations.  Walls make a room, and a room is for choosing.

I suppose I am a little stubborn.  Perhaps you have to be today.   But walls bear so much of the work of stubbornness that withinside your room you can almost relax.  You simply stand at the door and say, Yes or No to every applicant for admission.   You have to do more than that of course, for you also have a life outside your room, a life devoted in some part to recruiting applicants.  But once you have a room you have a choice; that has been the important thing to me.

The walls of my room permit the power and meaning of my choices to accumulate, over years and from room to room.  It separates the very best choices I have made from all the other, perhaps more careless or less wakeful choices.  And it keeps those choices, like a society of friends, living and moving together. 

I have made real friends of fires and books and bowls and pictures.  I look forward to seeing them at the end of the day or with the coming season.  They are real participants in a living Conversation that has some of its substance in ageless words, some in material silence. 

Michael and I have always tried to have such a room in our life, and it has usually been our living room.  Oftentimes it has been our only room.  But to us it has been a sanctuary, a respite from the world and its endless and purposeless distractions, a withdrawing place of reason and depth and love and sweetness.

There is something more, a very great something.  The friendships we have cultivated in the isolation of our rooms have not led us from but toward a fuller connection with other people, with friends and family and strangers. 

Once we have come home to ourselves, we find other people much more willing to come home to us.  It is almost as if such a room, once well occupied by the soul that does the real choosing, exerts a kind of magnetic pull on the soul in other people.  We do not need to teach them how to behave or what to value, the room teaches them for us.  If a guest truly cannot see us in our room, they are not likely to be the friend we are awaiting.

Slowly through the years I have come to accept and even rejoice in a world that seems to me to have lost all its senses.  For it is that world and our relationship to it that opened for us a path into the soul.  I think just fifty years ago Innermost House would have been impossible, because it was just a little less necessary then.  

Now it grows more necessary every day, and as it grows more necessary, so I believe it grows more possible.  It is a house for all who would live in the soul.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Quality Without A Name

Shea asks, "Diana, the window placement of Innermost House and it's resulting lights/shadows is one of the first things that drew my attention. At first I thought it was a happy accident, but after joining the Facebook list I started to understand that there probablyweren't any accidents in creating your home.

"One conversation lead me to Christopher Alexander and his Pattern Language. Once I understood the practical, step-by-step method of the Language, it helped clarify and validate my own convoluted house planning up to that point. "Did his work influence you and Michael in creating the physical aspects of Innermost House? Simply put, did you think, "I want to experience the play of the sun's rays on that wall", and then plan a window placement to capture that - and other such aspects?"

This is a wonderful question, Shea, and I am so glad you asked it.  Feeling my way toward an answer draws me very close to the mystery of Innermost House.

My husband and I met thirty years ago in the seaside village of Carmel, California.  To me even then the sight and sound and scent of the place had all the magic about it of a beautiful memory.

The city of Carmel is about a mile square, with between three and four thousand residents.  It was founded a century ago as an artists colony after a long Spanish and longer American Indian history.

The town gives way on all sides to surrounding ocean and bay and forests and hills and farms.  A fully elaborated town center lies at its heart, with all the essential village services, along with a world of restaurants and galleries.  Its narrow, forested streets form themselves into compact neighborhoods of small cottages of adobe or stone or redwood board, set in half-wild gardens.  Its many churches are presided over by the 240 year-old Spanish Mission.  People walk everywhere, and take their dogs with them to work, or out to early morning coffee, or along the beach.  There are no highrises or electric signs or traffic lights or even streetlamps.  There are no house addresses and no mail delivery.  All seasons of the year the air is scented with woodsmoke and wild flowers and the sea.

Carmel is where Michael and I first shared our love of long daily walks together.  As we walked we would talk about everything.  We would talk about the places we walked passed.  We wanted to know what made some things so alive where they were right—and in Carmel they were often right—and what made other things so unliving when they went wrong.  The aliveness of a house or a shop—or of a door or a window, or the pitch of a roof or the turn of a garden path—seemed to belong to some organic quality, a sense of being whole with itself, its neighbors, its town, its history, its place in nature.  Carmel is a kind of garden of plants and trees, and to me the best among its modest houses and buildings share in that living quality of natural wholeness.  It would be a few years and a few moves before we discovered Christopher Alexander and his "quality without a name."

The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language were published about five years before Michael and I met.  When we first discovered them those books were a revelation to us.  Here was the first person we knew who felt what we felt, who suffered from the same sense of an undefinable something missing.  It is hard to estimate the value of such a companion in our inwardly isolated lives.  Five hundred and a thousand pages may look like a lot from the outside, but we were already in the darkness inside, and those pages shone for us like stained glass windows.

We would go on to make our own language of patterns built from observations wide of the world of architecture, from food and clothes to books and pictures to customs and manners.  Christopher Alexander's idea of a language was liberating because it helped us find a way around the one thing most in our way everywhere we looked—the problem of "styles."  It was simple enough to recognize the ways that industrial materials and methods were denaturing Place, but it was a much subtler matter to see through the attraction of expressing one's own "style."

We were not interested in styles, no more our own than anyone else's.  Most others seemed to be interested in "their" place or "their" thing.  Christopher Alexander was interested in the thing, the language.  And in that subtle difference the mystery of Place began to open for us.  The Place we were looking for had little to do with us personally, but everything to do with Place itself, the living language of wholeness and healing.

We kept those two books with us until we parted with all our books on architecture and towns.  But we had absorbed them by then.  They had become a part of the fabric of our life, an inseparable element in our search for the meaning of Place that finally ended in Innermost House.

It is strange to say now I know, but we never sought Innermost House.  We sought a town for Place and a room for Conversation.   We moved from town to town, and we made room after room.  And each one satisfied a little more nearly our hunger for healing.

It would be difficult to exaggerate how surprised we were by Innermost House.  I see what you see—the light, the shadows.  In a very real sense it was entirely an accident, and we certainly did not consult our old books or plan the windows or anything else for effect.  When that light first streamed in across the back wall against the darkness, it was like the light of grace.  In no immediate sense can I say we earned it.

But in another sense Innermost House was designed and built by a lifetime of seeking and trying.  It is the city that we sought.  It is the rooms that we made.  We only did not know to anticipate, through those long years, the trajectory of our intention.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Questions and Answers

Innermost House to me is a marriage between Place on the outside and the Conversation on the inside.  There might be Place without the house, as there might be Conversation.  But I feel their marriage fulfilled in the house as their union.

I am not a practical person, but the practical facts of Innermost House are important to me.  Whatever it is that I am, I have a mind and a body, and I think that must be significant.  I have been given a mind and body for a reason.

And I have been given a house, even if a house for homeleaving and home seeking. Today I want to try to answer as simply as I can some of your questions about the house and how it was made.

"Did you use an architect to help them draw up the plans so they knew what kind of materials to buy and how much?"

Innermost House is a very simple building, and it required only very simple plans.  Michael drew them.  He is a natural design artist, and without any training has drawn up all our houses and rooms and gardens and clothes and furnishings and graphics through the years.  The building only grew more complex as it developed inwardly.  It also gained a kind of life force with which detailed plans would probably have interfered.  We ordered our materials as we needed them with the help of our handyman.

"How long did it take for the actual construction of IH?"

The primary part of the work took a little more than half a year for two men working part time, then we were months in finishing it after we moved in.  Of course it was twenty years in coming.  It would have been impossible to build it in a hundred years were it not for those twenty years of trying to find it first.  It all began more than two decades ago when we tried and failed to build a city to solve what was to us the problem of Place.  In a real way Innermost House is the city we were searching for. 

"Is Innermost house heavily insulated and, if so, with what?"

There is nothing unusual about our insulation, though the house is very well insulated.  To begin with we used ordinary batting insulation in the six-inch wall cavities, then of course there was the inch of plaster inside and the inch of redwood board on the outside.  We used heavier batting between the eight-inch floor joists and finally closed it underneath with a kind of wire netting called "hardware cloth."  (We learned the hard way that if it is left unclosed during construction it is irresistible to the local rodent population.)  In the roof we used rigid board insulation.  All the year round the house seems to have a natural body temperature of around 55 degrees, which is about the temperature of a cave.

"How long did it take to heat Innermost House back up in the morning when it was 40 degrees in there?"

I think the lowest temperature we ever recorded inside the house was about 42 degrees, and that was on the night of a frost when we returned home late from travel and didn't burn a fire until morning.  Of course when we awoke it was pretty chilly!  But even then it only took an hour's fire to make it comfortable in our chairs.  I must say though that we do not struggle against the cold, and that helps.  And among other places, we have lived before in a 19th century log cabin in the Alleghenieswhich was a good deal colder where water would sometimes freeze indoors.  In cold weather we wear heavy, full length dressing gowns, and I use a lap blanket, and we stay by the fire.  We don't have modern expectations of comfort.  

"Diana, I keep thinking about your comment: "The wood is warm like my husband. The walls are cool like me." Could you talk a little bit more about this? By cool, do you mean impersonal and introverted"

This is not exactly about construction, but it is intimately related.  My husband runs warm, I run cool.  In winter he would warm my side of the bed with his body every night before I came up the ladder, and still have enough warmth left for himself!  He is positive, I am negative.  In a way it is really that simple.  In another way he and I are so woven into one fabric that, like the wood and the walls, we hold each other up and complete each other so that our structure is inseparable.  We and the house are alike in that.  There is no object or element in the house that does not somehow partake in that relationship.  I can no more say just where I end and he begins than I can separate the elements that comprise the house together.  The house is the whole of its elements.  Nothing about it exists independently.  It is its wholeness. 

"What are the dimensions of the kitchen, bathroom and office?"

The three small rooms are each about three-and-a-half feet across by four-and-a-half feet deep.  The study is a little deeper.  Like the rest of the house, their size was determined by their use.  Making them much largerparticularly the studywould have made them considerably less useful to our purposes.

"Did you and Michael leave your thumbprints anywhere in the plaster to seal your intimate connection with the building of the home?"

That is an interesting question that I am almost sorry to answer briefly.  But I promised!  The simple answer is that we didn't.  The strange thing is that nothing like that ever occurred to us.  I think the reason is that we both felt so strongly that the house was not ours or anyone's, but that it was we who belonged to the house.  I suppose I should say that it left its thumbprint on us.

"How did you manage the plumbing in the bathroom for the toilet and shower head. Is it a composting toilet?"

The plumbing is a very simply contrived, gravity-fed system.  Water is pumped from an agricultural well to a cistern on the hilltop above, and from there it is piped underground to us.  The shower head turned out to be wishful thinking!  The toilet is an ordinary, low-water model of the kind required in California.  It empties into a small septic tank and from there into a leach field, according to code.  We were advised that a composting toilet would not vent satisfactorily without an electric fan in our building site's situation, we are so close to a steeply rising hill and tall trees. 
"Would you like to replicate IH somewhere else or start with a new design, perhaps to better accommodate older age (I’m thinkin’ stairs instead of a ladder here!)?"

Well as you know now I expect to largely replicate the interior of Innermost House.  And it is a funny thing about the ladder.   When visitors want to climb up to see the loft, some have said how very uncomfortable they find the round rungs on stockinged feet.  And I realize I found them so at first, but I haven't even thought about it for years.  It is remarkable what you can get used to if it is for a good reason.  My spartan mother is in her middle eighties and I have no doubt she could easily handle the ladder.  Still we have thought about sickness or disability, and in that case I think we would build a sleeping porch onto the back, much as traditional people have often done.

"Are the kitchen cupboards custom-made? (It looks like they might have been because the depth of the countertop doesn’t look like a standard size).  Are the chests in the main room antiques?"

Most everything wooden in Innermost House we either made or designed.  We made the kitchen cabinets and countertop; the cabinet doors we had made at a mill.  We made the bookshelves.  Michael designed the free standing cabinets in the living room and had them made by the same mill.  

"Where did you get the terrific standing candlestick holder next to the chair (it looks like it came from a church)?"

It was given to us by friends we have since lost.  It is the only piece of furniture that survived our move to Europe, the only thing that remains from our old days.  I think of our friends when we use it, and we use it every day.  This candlestand was made by a blacksmith in Virginia half a century ago.  

"You once wrote of "taking a bath, even a luxurious bath..." How does a luxurious bath proceed, if you don't mind telling it?"

I suppose luxury is in the eye of the beholder.  Innermost House is normal for me, so cold is normal.  Baths in our home are not luxurious by any ordinary standard, but they are to me.  It is a luxury to build your own fire of sticks from the land around you.  It is a luxury to sit by the fire while the water comes to a boil over the coals.  It is a luxury to stand in the light of one candle and mix the hot with the cool into a loved pewter pitcher.  It is a luxury to feel warm water on my skin in a house where water is only cold.  It is a luxury to have my husband pour warm water over my head while he rubs my back and talks to me to keep me warm.  This is what I mean by luxury.

Shea and Julie have asked questions that I'll answer next time.  And I hope you'll feel welcome to ask any other questions.  For now, good night!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Before Remembering

"I lean backward with all my nature toward something I remember before remembering."  

Ember and Julie, Al and Pam, you each in your own way would like to know what it is that I remember, for perhaps you remember something too.  And Maria, welcome, I am so happy you are here.  I see that you too remember.

It is a strange thing, this remembering.  Whatever I possess of that something belongs I think to a dimension parallel to memory.  It is more like an early morning atmosphere through which I see the succeeding hours of the day, which causes some perfectly ordinary things to appear quite extraordinary, and other equally ordinary things to recede into obscurity and confusion. 

It is almost as if memory were born in me with the loss of what lies before remembering.  Until I met Michael, all my memories were of waking up to a sense of something missing, of seeing it missing in my mother's face, of hearing it missing in my teachers' voices, of living with it missing in my home and with my friends and out in the world.

That sense of loss kept me from forming any really normal relations with family or at school, or later with studies or at work.  I knew when I was still a child that I did not want children, because I associated children with that loss.  As I grew up I didn't have any ambition for a career because I associated success with that loss.  I was asked why I never smiled.  I was told that no one would ever marry me, I have no doubt for the same reason.

It was only years later that I learned from my mother the story of my beginnings.  I was her first child.  As an infant I was almost unnaturally happy.  I slept unusually much even for a baby, and when I woke I never cried.  I was never lonely and I was never angry.  My mother was constantly checking on me because she said I would happily lie awake for hours without making a sound. 

Then before the age of memory, something happened suddenly in my family, and it changed everything.  It happened so suddenly that I awoke with a kind of start from my waking dream.  I woke too fast, and it made ordinary life permanently unacceptable to me.  I have never accepted the change.
When I met my husband I had lived for as long as I could remember a life of resistance that defined me.  I resisted everyone and everything as reminders of that loss of a world before remembering.  But from the first he did not see my sense of loss as a disability.  I thought everything was backwards and upside down and so completely incomprehensible I could not even begin to think my way around it.  And he thought I was right. 

He saw something I could not seean experience of life preserved precisely by all the resistance that I thought defined who I was.  Somehow he saw in me the beginning paused in midstep, almost in midbreath, still unmixed with the world.  I think that is what he loved in me, and through him I began to love it too.

Michael says I am like a cake started with a rich cream of butter and eggs, but to which too much flour was added much too fast, so that the moist beginning and the dry substance never mixed.  It won't win any baking contests, but it preserves the beginning at the bottom of the bowl for other possibilities.

And he helped me carefully gather up that beginning again.  It would not be the same of course, and I did not want it to be.  I was not a baby anymore but a grown woman with a woman's needs.  But it was more as if that beginning had needs through me than I had needs myself.  It was the early atmosphere through which I saw things that made for the extraordinary shimmering I sometimes glimpsed, and what shimmered told us which way to look and how to live.

I can hardly say how slowly we moved our way toward living in that world of shimmering.  We suffered a thousand disappointments and confusions along the way.  It was very often very difficult.  I am sorry to say I did not make it easier for my husband.  I took the negative way from place to place"not this, not that."  I was either all the way in or all the way out, and in the world I was mostly out.  But it was all that mattered to us, and gradually I awoke again to that life before remembering.  All I knew before was that something in everything was missing.  It isn't missing to me anymore. 

In a way I feel I should stop here.  I can say only a little of what it is to me positively, though I have lived it now for many years.  Our life of married Conversation in Innermost House embodies it for me in every way, and perhaps that embodiment speaks most clearly.  For the only spirit I know forever seeks embodiment.  I am no more content with what lies wholly beyond me than with what lies only within me.  It is and is not above me.  It is and is not within methough I feel a harmony between the above and within.  It is among us.  I am amidst it.   

The world I remember before remembering is present to me in this world, but inward of it.  It reconstitutes the world I know outside, but turns it right side up and outside in.  Every abiding thing is there, but translucently.  It is fragile for it has form.   But its forms are infused with an inward life that is not wholly contained by boundaries.  I see this everywhere in the inward world, that light falls not so much upon things as it glows within them.  To me every surface and every object in Innermost House is alive from within.

I'm sorry if I haven't answered this satisfactorily.  You have asked very good questions about the material nature of Innermost House, and I want to try to answer them in the comments this week.  Perhaps that will help.  They are important questions, for to me the world of light is to be sought amidst embodied nature.  I know there have been long ages when the light we sought was the light that shone above us and beyond us.  But I seek the light among us.