On Swanky Hotels and the Habitat of Being in Motion

I write this from the 12th floor of the Millennium Hotel in Minneapolis. Outside, I can see other swanky hotels, apartment buildings, and if I look closely, trees and ground. While I tend to both be somewhat enamored with the romance of a swanky hotel – just the idea of room service and those carts with doom-covered plates and miniature crystal salt shakers – I also feel a little like a prisoner in such hotels, confined to waiting for and riding elevators. It’s a vertical life, and I guess I’m just a horizontal kind of gal.

I’m here now for a marvelous conference, the National Association for Poetry Therapy, and I love running into old friends, perusing the intriguing workshop offerings, and preparing to do my own workshop. But in my quasi-queasy anti-swankiness, I’m constantly drawn down the slow-moving elevator, out the automatic revolving doors and onto the street. Having done conferences all over the country like this one, I’ve gotten very acclimated to a routine of leaving whenever possible to reconnect with the sky and earth, the sidewalks and stop lights, the occasional sculpture, like in this city, of giant blue herons and the rarer actual blue herons.

Back at the hotel at nightfall, I’m surrounded by the erect bodies of other tall hotels, damp or snow-covered lower roofs, and to my delight, a woman dressed completely in red washing windows on the small terrace of her apartment. This is a good swanky hotel in terms of the view. Two years ago, at another NAPT conference in Boston, I faced another building so close that my room was engulfed in constant shadow. My only consolation was my wonderful roommate, writer Normandi Ellis, who, because the Blue Man theatre was at the bottom of the building that blocked our view, would pull open the slit of air our window allowed, and every night at 11 p.m. She’d yell down, in her Kentucky accent, “I LOVE YOU, BLUE MEN!”

Over the years, I have found small charms in the isolating (at least, for me) vertical life of the swanky hotel: A beautiful lobby in Albuquerque, an especially plush bed in D.C., and the proximity of the Charleston hotel to the enchanting downtown. I’ve also had my share of fear and lothing in such hotels. The room my roommate and I shared in a Costa Mesa hotel, in the land of no place to walk except a large Japanese grocery store, made us both so deeply depressed whenever we were in that room that I labeled it the pit of despair. In Boston, the elevator life of the hotel clashed with my then very vulnerable state at the time, so much so that I fell into all kinds of physical ailments and a far-too-visceral sense of reality leaving my grasp.

I don’t blame the hotels directly; they’re just being what they were built to be. But as I get older, I find myself not craving the comforts of warm rooms, soft beds, and mini baskets of mini shampoo and hand lotion. Instead, I want to simply be on or close to the ground. I would rather be, dare I say, not in this swanky hotel but in an aging summer camp where I sleep in a simple bunk bed and have to trek through the cold grass to the bathroom. My body yearns for the body of the earth.

So I enjoy the swankiness like I would a stupid-funny movie, and I head out to walk for miles whenever I can, paying attention to the trees inhabiting small squares built into the sidewalks, and the quartet of white birds speeding overhead, just like me, heading toward its habitat, even if that habitat is largely defined as being in motion. And each night before I fall asleep, although there’s no theatre below, I pull over the window and call you, “I love you, Blue Men!”