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 stores—and 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.