August 22nd, 2009:
After the first hour at the Maitri dinner on Thursday night, after people had had a chance to meet each other, take the tour, watch the video and move into the dining room for dinner, I took a moment to welcome everyone. It wasn't a planned speech that I gave, although I knew where I wanted to start.
"I want to welcome all of you this evening to Maitri. I've invited you here because I want you to have an opportunity to visit my new home. I'm not moving in yet, but I will move in. It's a wonderful place, and it matters to me that you experience these rooms now, before I become a resident."
And then, I went off in a direction that still surprises me and has given me a lot to think about. The rest of the welcome was totally unplanned, but expressed a part of me that wanted voice.
"When I bought the Glen Ellen property with Ann, I looked forward to remodeling my home there. I had never crafted spaces and rooms. I'm used to decorating rooms, but shaping space is different. I found that I have a hunger to do this. It's a whole new direction of creativity for me. At some point in feeling the remorse of knowing that I would never alter the Glen Ellen house to the vision I had designed, I realized that over a decade ago, I had helped to architect the plans for Maitri. I sat on the Maitri committee that worked with the architectural firm to define the blueprints for our new residence. I went through the agony of realizing that we couldn't have a roof garden because we couldn't afford a quarter million dollars for an elevator to go up another story. I participated in the brilliant agreement to shape all rooms around a double atrium bisected by a diagonal glass hallway. I agreed with the design that brought light into every resident's room. That's part of the genius of Maitri, there's lots of light."
As I found myself getting into the history of being on Maitri's architecture committee, I could feel a holographic shape of the residence in my chest, sitting comfortably inside me like a little scale model of the actual building. All of a sudden, it seemed very important to have had an active role in building my final home. Why? Somehow, knowing that I worked on Maitri's floor plan makes it easier to live here. I helped configure the place, and now it's like being in my body which I cherish.
One of the reasons this is so surprising to me is that I've never been terribly interested in building my own place until fairly recently. My first few years growing up in a suburb of Portland Oregon was followed by moving into the large country house where my parents resided for over fifty years. Although we took great care of this house, we never remodeled, added on, subtracted or did anything other than maintain its good condition. When I moved to San Francisco, I lived in apartments and again, took good care of them but never added a coat of paint in the years I lived in one place or another. Finally, in my current apartment, I did paint the walls the whitest of whites to set off the art work and installed track lighting. I realized that I felt comfortable living in an art gallery and that's what I got.
But with the Glen Ellen property, I needed to make decisions about improvements. I read a couple of books that said: talk to the place. Ask the ground and the walls and the roof and the windows what they wanted to become. Work with the building and listen to its yearnings. What a fascinating process! After my cancer diagnosis, I put aside any plans to improve the house before my death.
But there, waiting in the background, was the work I had already done with Maitri and the architects who guided our planning effort. I had already been part of a group that spoke to an undefined space. We had already moved bedroom spaces here and there for maximum effectiveness. We had worked with numbers of bathrooms, location of offices, size of dining room.
As I reflect on the deep importance of moving into a place that I've helped design, it's clear to me that there are some odd features that now make total sense. Foremost, it didn't occur to me that I'd be moving into a group living residence this early in my life. I didn't plan on moving into a residence dedicated to people with HIV. I had no plan to scale down to a small bedroom and jettison most of my rugs, glass, photographs, textiles, clothes, paintings. And yet, I'm delighted with all of these changes. I look forward to moving out of my art gallery into a more quiet zone. Yes, there will be some art but not a lot. Plus, I'll have new focus in my new home. There will be people all around. I'll have a TV and a DVD player for the first time in my life.
But most important at this point is the sense that I am living in a place that I helped to envision and build. That has huge consequence for me, and I had no idea of any of this until I was standing up in the dining room at Maitri last Thursday evening, welcoming people to my new home.