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In Sights

What's a window if not a neatly framed picture of time passing by?

March 18, 2007|Janet Fitch | Janet Fitch is the author of the novels "White Oleander" and "Paint It Black."

When I was a child, I built clubhouses. Secret dark places under the house or in a storage locker, most often in the garage. I craved a space where grown-ups weren't watching me all the time, where I could feel free. I wanted hide-outs and lairs, interior spaces for me to nurse my private thoughts and spin my fantasies, my dreams of a future life.

Since that time, I've lived in houses with and without views. I lived in a house behind a supermarket, and every time I walked outside I was greeted by an enormous wall and an array of dumpsters. In Eugene, Ore., I lived in a basement apartment, and have never been so depressed. Working a crummy job in a town where I knew no one, the lack of a view was the final nail in the coffin. I'd outgrown the need for a hide-out. I was through nursing fantasies. I needed a view.

People who spend their time in the outdoors don't seem to need interior views. When I lived in Colorado at the base of Mesa Verde National Park, my house was surrounded by views--the shining peaks of the La Plata Mountains, the distinctive form of the Sleeping Ute Mountain. Out the back door rose a green mesa, Weber Mountain. The house, however, was oriented toward the highway. I remember being astonished that a house so surrounded by natural beauty didn't even face the view. In fact, in this little ranching community, no one's did. To me, a city girl, it seemed bizarre, absurd. Were they blind? No.

The longer I lived there, the more I understood. It was assumed you saw that view all day long, when you were out working your cattle, while you were repairing your irrigation lines. When you finally went indoors, you wanted the demarcation of inside from out--the comfort and domesticity and something cooking on the stove. You just didn't need the connection with the outside. It would be there in the morning.

When I returned to Los Angeles, I returned to my urbanite self and the need for a view. I found a house on a hill, an unremarkable '70s stucco box along one of the narrow, winding streets in Silver Lake, considered a marginal neighborhood when my husband (now ex) and I purchased it in the late '80s. But we could afford it, and it had a view.

As are most writers, I'm an interior creature. Some days I don't leave my house at all. I may not know whether it's hot or cold outside until I see someone walking down the street in a sweatshirt, or striding in shorts. I've learned to gauge how much it has rained by whether it's dry or wet under the parked cars up the street.

The less contact I have with the daily world, the more important the view from my windows figures in my quality of life. I often tell my daughter, when I'm old and infirm, to just put me in that nursing home on Melrose, right in the thick of the action, where I can sit on the porch in my wheelchair and enjoy the life passing before me. It will be far more restorative than any bed of pansies or big-screen TV.

If I were constantly out in the world, working a demanding job in a busy office, subject to the city's chaos and speed and overwhelm, I might prefer a private view, enclosed, a garden with trees and quiet stones and the trickling of water. The perfect view, it seems, is a reflection of one's current psychological needs and relationship with one's environment. Some people prefer a "Masters of the Universe" view--of the city, but apart from it. Shut-ins enjoy the intimate connection that a closer-to-street-level view offers. Lovers want their privacy.

I have a mixture of views, both intimate and expansive, beautiful and mundane. It's a view I've come to appreciate, though, much the way I've come to accept and embrace what is both beautiful and mundane in myself. My best view at my house is from my bedroom, my crow's-nest. Its north window takes in the curve of the narrow street, flanked with '70s stucco boxes much like my own. In the early years, I'd thought them hideous, but now, over time, I've come to see their unornamented faces, angles and planes as so many Cezanne cubes, stacked and turning, punctuated with yucca and a line of commonplace cypresses that are so dull up close, yet look so beautiful in a landscape.

This particular cluster looks to me like five women, forever huddled in gossip or argument, heads nodding together, a Greek chorus. They've kept me company through the timeless days of caring for a new baby, through leisurely mornings and exhausted afternoons. Someone once asked me whether the view was worth the drawbacks of living here--the narrow streets, the lack of parking, the three flights of stairs, no DSL. "Doesn't it just become wallpaper after a while?"

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