For years I had a chair I never sat in. “It’s the wrong color,” I said. “Pale blue and yellow. I can’t sit in a pastel chair.” So it sat by itself. Occasionally we piled blankets on it and yoga mats and meditation cushions. It took up quite a bit of space in the living room. It faced a window onto the busy street. For people-watching, it occupied prime real estate, but I didn’t sit in it. Nobody sat in it. “Those pastels,” I said.
I grew up in floral and pastel surroundings. My mother made slipcovers for all our chairs, and for reasons in line with the 1950s, she favored unobtrusive, non-declarative shades of green, blue and yellow. If roses were available against a background of beige, we sat on roses. I was in my late fifties before I understood that walls could be painted rich, deep colors and the house wouldn’t fall apart. We go to what we know, and other people are there to reroute us if we allow them to. I’m going to suggest we’re in a stubborn time in our country right now, simply because we keep going to what we think we know. And it does, to our surprise or satisfaction, keep producing the same outcomes. Until we reject those outcomes, we’ll continue to not sit in the pastel chair.
My mother moved out of the ‘50s along with everyone else. I was in college when she started using Marimekko fabric. Marimekko designs had big bold shapes, often in black and white, or a red or bright orange—seldom blue and green, and never yellow. In her own clothes she moved on to natural-colored linens that were quiet without being pastel. As her children left home she began to take risks, to move into unknown territory, and I must say there was a deep beauty about her boldness. Boldness, I saw, didn’t have to be loud, didn’t have to shout; it was a frame of mind that dared to explore a new way of being. We, as American people, lack boldness at this moment. Our trenches have deepened over the last four years and we’re digging in, going with what we’re sure we know, living in a vanishing past. We’re operating out of fear, a great wealth of it, suppressed and gone awry. Change, yes, both noun and verb. Change!
When I moved away from the house in which the pastel chair ruled our lives, I astonished myself by taking the chair with me. With one amendment. I took it to the upholsterer and asked my friend, Lynne, to come with me to pick out colors. I wanted rerouting; the whole situation needed rerouting. I exercised boldness and together we chose a magnificent red, a red subtly laced with orange and black, without one trace of blue or yellow in it. This chair—The Red Chair, as I call it—is now the chair I sit in to write. This morning, thinking about America from my perch in The Red Chair, and feeling the last soft days of summer breezing in through the window, and watching the play of light in the apple tree just beyond the window, I felt settled for the first time in half a decade. I felt sorry instead of disbelieving and angry. I felt myself as part of a great unknowing, willing to unknow. It is the boldest move we can make, to give up our investment in a fixed present, a familiar present, whether comfortable or not, and launch into an unknown that does not promise one damn thing except the satisfaction of daring to explore a new way of being. If there’s a chair in the room, please do what needs to be done to sit in it.
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