Little by little, I am building a nest.
Imagine a little brown bird flying around gathering twigs and bits of string — that’s me. Last summer, my daughter and I walked through the park near my apartment in Boston and saw two robins, male and female, flying back and forth, back and forth to their nest up in a tree. They were bringing things to it, and as we stood and watched, waiting, we saw that each time one of the parent birds would fly to the nest, little heads would pop up, little beaks would stretch out. Those things they were carrying — worms? insects? — went pop into the waiting, cheeping beaks.
My nestling is not here right now — she is back in Boston finishing her final year of high school. Nevertheless, I am building a nest, flying back and forth to Ikea and Jysk and Pirex and other home goods stores. Well, Pirex is not exactly a home goods store — it’s a stationery story, which to a writer is much the same thing. My home decor includes books and paper and pens and staplers and hole punches and index cards. Yesterday I realized that I did not have a staple remover, so I had to go out and find one in Budapest. There are all sorts of things I can’t do without, if I am to do my work — like a printer. Those things are also my home decor.
I think we don’t live in houses and apartments, exactly — those are just boxes around us. What we live in are the nests we create for ourselves, which are both physical and psychological. My physical nest includes soft rugs to walk on, pillows and warm blankets, places to sit and think. It includes boxes to store things in. (I find that I spend a lot of time working on and thinking about storage, certainly as much as I spend on decoration. Everything needs to have its proper place.) My nest includes the clothes in my closets, the cleaning supplies in the pantry, and after the early days of this pandemic, a nice big stack of toilet paper! It includes the oatmeal and raisins and almonds and brown sugar that I keep in the kitchen cupboard — and all my tea bags, enough for probably another month. My physical nest is made up of the colors and textures I have chosen, on walls and carpets and in furniture. It’s my version of twigs and string. And also, I suppose, worms.
My psychological nest is made up of the habits I develop as I live here, so that I don’t have to think too much about how I use this space. Some habits: I keep a notepad on the kitchen counter — that is my shopping list. If I run out of anything, I list it on the notepad so I can get whatever it is, whether apples or soap, the next time I go shopping. I keep a bowl of apples on the kitchen counter as well, so I can have at least one piece of fruit every day. Umbrellas are in a basket close to the front door, and shopping bags are on a hook on the front door, for quick grabbing. (In Europe, you always need to bring a shopping bag.) My psychological nest includes the time I go to sleep (often too late, I know, I’m working on it . . .) and the time I wake up. They include oatmeal for breakfast, yoga in the morning, reading before bedtime. Or the delicate dance of the dryer here in Europe, which includes putting clothes in the dryer, picking the right setting, waiting for the clothes to dry (which can take from anywhere between one and two hours), cleaning the lint trap, and emptying the water container — since water goes into a container rather than disappearing in a cloud of steam, as in the United States. I feel as though my clothes dryer and I are dancing a sort of waltz. The clothes dryer is definitely leading.
There is still quite a lot I need to do, to build a nest here. For example, after a year, my grandmother’s paintings are still wrapped in brown paper. I will need to take them out, but it will be a delicate operation because when I wrapped them, they were in old, sometimes crumbling frames that my grandmother had salvaged from wherever she could find them. Often, they are behind glass and held in with nails she drove into the frame herself. I will need to delicately get them out of their frames, put them into a portfolio, and dispose of the glass. They will need to be reframed, eventually. I still have a curtain to shorten, some minor repair work to the apartment. Shortly after I got here, there was a problem with the boiler, and a friend had to help me call a company to service the boiler (since my Hungarian is not up to phone calls with gas boiler repair companies, at least not yet). The boiler repair people came out, made sure the boiler was working properly, and put a sticker with the company’s telephone number on its side. That’s an important string in my nest.
I’m still very much working on this nest of mine. I think this is how we create homes, one piece of string at a time, one pillow or call to the boiler company at a time. Slowly we bring things into them, and then we add feathers from our own breasts, as birds do — you know that many birds line their nests with down they pull from their own bodies. We pull from our minds and hearts and sensibilities to feather our nests. Our feathers are the books we select, the art we love, the music we listen to — they make our nests soft and comfortable.
I’m not quite at soft and comfortable yet! Supply shortages have made it difficult to get some things. I have two desks to work on (one for writing, one for teaching), and one of them still needs a chair. I need a guest bed that has been out of stock at Ikea for months, a way to hang coats in the coat closet. I have an extra rug that I need to figure out how to return to Diego (not a person, a rug and flooring company), since I made a rug-related mistake, the sort of mistake one often makes in decorating. There’s something wrong with the billing for the electricity, and I have to figure out what — everything is more difficult in a foreign language. There are still so many little things to work on, but twig by string by feather, I’m getting there . . .
(The image is Primroses and Bird’s Nest by William Henry Hunt.)