An inviting armchair in a hotel room sometimes seems an anomaly, a prop in a stage set, a conscious extravagance. Experience tells you that the most you are likely to need to do in that chair is keep your balance as you put on your socks or tie your shoes in the morning. While someone else is taking a shower or getting dressed, you might sit in the chair and glance through a newspaper, a telephone directory or a guide book. The conventional wisdom is that you don’t spend enough time in a hotel room to be overly concerned about such furnishings. How comfortable does the seating really need to be if there is a lobby in which to wait for people or a bar in which to entertain them or a sizeable bed in which to prop oneself up against several pillows and watch TV?
I recently returned from two nights in a hotel in mid-state Pennsylvania. A work friend’s wedding had drawn a significant number of her colleagues to take advantage of a block of hotel rooms available at special rates for guests of the bride and groom and to participate in a long weekend of celebration and camaraderie.
The sole occupant of my hotel room, I had more space than I needed. A well-upholstered armchair took up some of that space; a coordinating ottoman and reading lamp completed that section of the room. Few things suggest the comforts of home as readily as a chair, an ottoman and a reading lamp, and this hotel was charging its prices to ensure that guests experience something more like the feel of home than they might regularly find even in their own home. This is the way you really want to live, isn’t it? the furnishings seemed to say to the overnight guest.
Who more than a reader would welcome the sight of a well-placed floor lamp next to a comfortable chair? Even an inveterate reader, though, may think that there is enough time to read back at home and that a stay in another part of the country is best spent getting better acquainted with a new environment – walks, drives, tours, visits, meals, at the very least drinks in a downstairs lounge.
Having arrived Friday afternoon and enjoyed an early dinner with friends at one of the local restaurants recommended by the bride and groom, I had a full Saturday morning to myself. I had not committed to meet anyone before the one o’clock ceremony at the church five minutes from the hotel. I eyed the armchair, looked at the biography of Emily Dickinson I had brought to read in the airport and on the plane, and toyed with the idea of spending an hour or two in that armchair and with that book.
Even as I settled deep into the upholstery, I felt some minor twinges of guilt. Was this in the spirit of the weekend? Was this coming close to being antisocial? Shouldn’t I get outside, drive to a mall, shop or do something? Shouldn’t I at least turn the television on?
I forgot those questions as I opened to my place midway in the six-hundred pages of the biography. From time to time in the next two hours I looked up from my book to the view through the window, a range of mountains and the green valley over which the hotel was perched. The peacefulness of the scene and the quiet sent me back into the chapters depicting Emily Dickinson in her twenties. Her awareness of a vocation as an artist was being born in her, and it would be accompanied by a heightened sense that home was her proper setting for responding to that call. What was before her was a spiritual adventure in self-expression that did not require or particularly thrive on the prospect of publication: “…the manuscript books were a private hoard, or a secret garden of work done, or a thing put through for its own inherent excellence.” (Habegger, p.353)
What was ahead of me? In a few hours I would watch a good friend walk down the aisle toward a man she loved; I would sip a gin and tonic amid other guests at the reception; I would initiate conversations with seven table-mates as I cut into the filet mignon; near the end of the evening I would laugh finding myself on the dance floor amid so many people I usually saw only at work.
But for a couple of hours on Saturday morning I chose this quiet time, this book, this armchair.
A year ago to the day I had been sitting at a table for my first breakfast in a new home, a home on my own. On Friday a good friend had written me: “I want you to enjoy yourself this weekend – be in the moment, relax, eat, drink, laugh.”
I can assure my friend – and myself – that I did all that.