Episode 257: The Land of Counterpane


I’m home sick today, as opposed to homesick. It made me think of being sick here in mom’s house as a child and the various things I did to entertain myself. My grandmother came to read to me sometimes also, and she loved poetry. I especially remember this poem by Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Good morning. Happy Sunday. Hello, my friends. How are you? I am not feeling well at all. I have a really rough cold that has been keeping me up at night, coughing and such. But I did go to urgent care yesterday,  even though it took hours waiting and such, but I did because my mom kept insisting that I should go. So I’m on the old Z Pak, yeah, and some kind of cough medicine tablet thingies. So it’ll work its way out, I’m sure. But this might be a bit of a short episode today, because I can’t keep from coughing. But anyway, that’s okay. 

I had a very interesting doctor at urgent care whose name was Dr. Rash. Now, you’d think that if you’re going to go into the medical profession, perhaps you want to do something about that last name? I don’t know. He was very funny, though. Very wry and full of jokes, one after the other, so it was a fun encounter.

I have been here at my mom’s for almost a week now, and I’m trying to figure out new routines, you know, like, where do I go and sit in the morning? I used to have such a clear place I’d go. I’d make my coffee, and then I had this big blue arm chair with a poof thing that I could put my feet up on. And I’d go and sit there in the morning, have my coffee, and the cats would jump on and off my lap. That was so fun. And that was my day. Well, I mean, that’s the way I started my day, when I lived in my own home. 

So now what? I’m trying out different spots. But then I was sitting at the kitchen table and it was like, ‘oh, but now I don’t have my glasses, and where’s my pen?’ and on and on. So then I go into the living room and a mom’s living room is lovely and pleasant. It faces the rising sun, but there’s a lot of trees all around so it’s very dappled light. And all of the animals are not usually allowed in the living room, so they all come in as soon as you open the doors to the living room. They’re like, “Oh, yay, we love it.” And the cats sit there at the sliding glass doors and just stare out into the garden at the squirrels. They love it. It’s like TV. So that was nice, you know, like snuggle hour with the cats. 

It made me think about being sick in this house when I was kid. And I don’t know if this is my imagination, or if it actually happened this way, but I remember being sick, and being confined to bed for something (maybe I had the flu or some kind of thing?) and my grandmother coming to read to me. It was very much like The Princess Bride, you know. But I think she did, because she loved poetry, always, all her life. She had numerous volumes of poetry of her own that she would pick up in different places, that would be sitting by one chair or another, and she just read a poem or two when she was needing an old friend.

She had given us this old, great book that starts a lot of kids on their love of literature and poetry. I think it’s called The Child’s Garden of Verses. Maybe some of you remember that book from childhood? But I remember particularly this poem by Robert Louis Stevenson called The Land of Counterpane. First of all, I love that word counterpane. What the heck does that mean? You know, it means a quilt. It’s an archaic word, and I looked it up and it’s from the Old French word ‘pan’, which means panel, right? And deriving from Latin ‘panos’, which means cloth. So that’s perfect. It’s like panels of cloth, squares of cloth that make up the old quilts. You know, old quilts were only squares. They weren’t all these fancy patterns and stuff that people do now. So it’s the little pattern of squares. I love that! And the poem. I’m gonna read it for you. It goes like this.

 When I was sick, and lay a bed,

I had two pillows at my head,

and all my toys beside me lay

to keep me happy all the day,

and sometimes for an hour or so

I watched my leaden soldiers go

with different uniforms and drills

among the bed close through the hills,

and sometimes set my ships in fleets,

all up and down among the sheets,

or brought my trees and houses out

and planted cities all about.

I was the giant, great and still,

that sits upon the pillow hill,

and sees before him dale and plain,

the pleasant land of counterpane.

I love that it just describes the child exercising their imagination, even in a bad time, feeling awful and feeling sick, and yet still not succumbing to boredom and malaise, you know? That’s wonderful! And that that poem seems to encourage children to do just that, which is great. So yeah, I had books piled about me and such, when I was sick in bed and crayons, and all kinds of things. 

It’s important to remember that imagination and creativity don’t just come in the best times, you know, when all situations are perfect. But you have to make room for them. You have to, you know, plow the land and lay the field open for that to come. And I was thinking, you know, there are ways to awaken that imagination. It made me think of one of the processes that I used to do when I made costumes for the Children’s Shakespeare Theatre. Because people would ask me, “oh, wow, where does that inspiration come from? How did you know to put those things together? And where did you learn this?” But what I really did, my process, was that I would think about the different sets of characters in the play. Usually, there are families or there are armies, or there are peasants and nobility, you know, and I would decide that this group has this sort of theme, you know, rich colors, gold and shiny stuff. And perhaps you know, russets and browns, and blacks, and then I would pull out fabrics. I had been collecting fabric. Always when I go into the fabric store, I always bought much too much fabric for the project at hand. So I always had these piles of different things together. So I’d pull out pieces that seemed to go together, and I literally threw them on the floor. Throw them on the floor, and see how they land, and then just keep moving them around. And finally go, ‘okay, these three things seem to go together really well.’ And I could see I had enough of this piece to make a dress out of this, and then the sleeve bits out of this, and a collar out of this. And that’s how it all came together. And that’s all I did. And it was really fun. You know, it’s just a matter of putting the colors in front of your eyes. So I loved that process. 

Then I would always listen to music and the soundtrack – I just put my iPod on shuffle (iPod back in those days), and whatever came up would be an interesting influence. So there’s an example of laying out the possibilities in unexpected ways. I remember once, one of my friends orchestrated a donation from a person that she knew who ran a fabric factory. And this huge box arrived one time that had 100 yards of velvet in it. And man, that was instrumental in shaping the design possibilities for a long time to come. It really helped our costumes look authentic and rich, and, you know, wonderful, and have a quality that my mother always said was worthy of the Metropolitan Opera House, for which I was very grateful. That was nice. Okay, well, I’m gonna have to stop here you guys because I’m having to pause every few sentences and cough my brains out. So I’m so sorry. But I just wanted to say hello today. And I will definitely be better by Thursday and I will see you then. Thanks so much for being here.

Published by dianathebard

Podcasting about growing up in the Hudson Valley in the 60s and 70s, falling in love, raising kids, getting divorced and being a free and creative world traveler!

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