I finally got around to reading a book I've had on my shelf a couple of years. February House
by Sherrill Tippins. It is the story of a house in Brooklyn Heights where Carson McCullers, W.H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, Gypsy Rose Lee, and a few others live---at the same time in 1940.
I don't know if I've blogged about my love for Carson McCullers before, but let's just say she is my favorite author and leave it at that for now. She is the reason I picked up this book to begin with. The things I found out about her in this book make me love her more. I need to read that biography of her that I've owned for a few hundred years. But the main thing is that she was one of the instigators in this experiment in communal living. It seems she had been at Breadloaf and loved the experience so much, she wondered why she couldn't live in such intellectually and creatively stimulating company all the time. Turns out she found a few people to give it a go with her.
But read the book. It's fascinating (and has made Auden a character I want to know more about, too).
What I'm typing about this morning at 1:30 is the notion of community. Maybe communities. I completely get what Carson was desiring. I've been to writers conferences and never wanted to leave. Grad school was a bit like that for me. I had a phenomenal community with my classmates at Columbia College Chicago. Being around other creative types makes it seem less unusual. Or at least less unlikely. It's very easy to go along in life thinking people who write stories and books are not your kind of people. Or you're not that kind of people. That's sort of how I grew up, being told (subtly, not overtly) that those kind of people are another sort of people, not our kind of people. I didn't know any writers until I was in college.
And it's important that we find each other. Make creating seem more likely. If I know a writer, maybe I can be a writer too. That sort of thinking. Same goes for other arts. If you actually know someone who is a professional dancer, dancing seems like a less unlikely thing to pursue.
Maybe this is all obvious. It wasn't always obvious to me, though.February House
is exciting to me, because here were big name people, from different disciplines, feeding off each other, inspiring each other. Success of one made success for another appear possible. Collaborations grew out of the experience. Gypsy Rose Lee would never have written her mysteries had she not been in that house. (and it's good for a stripper to have a back-up career.)
It was a failed experiment, in some ways. The personalities were so different, hours kept were so wide, needs for getting work done was so varied . . . it was a chaotic place, really. If Auden tried to set some rules (he was very British that way, trying to create order), there was a housefull of rule breakers to upset him. The despairing part of me is saddened by the apparent truism that only people of great similarity can live together in peace. This has great implications for the world!
But reading this book has stimulated my imagination again. If it is a cautionary tale to counter the idealism of, say, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together
(which is full of its own cautions), it still looks like a very good idea worth trying.
So I don't know what that means, what it means tonight. But, like Carson, I know I crave that sort of close community, even in my crazy extreme introvert ways. In my defiantly independent ways, I crave community.
I have some. I have some good friends who are writers, dancers, musicians, you-name-it. I have a good church. I have good colleagues in my day job. I am not discounting these.
I am, this morning, wondering if there's a house in Houston somewhere that might contain a group of creative types. If so, where is it? And if it's now empty, how do we start filling it?
Bonhoeffer said it was hard. Tippins showed illustrated how hard it is. Both suggest it's worth trying.
How do I find people who make this more likely than not?