Sunday, November 17, 2013

Laurie Colwin

*Or, "Why I love Laurie Colwin so much I wish I could marry her, but she died and that makes me extraordinarily sad."

That's from More Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin, published posthumously, in 1993. Twenty years ago, Laurie had a clear understanding of how things were without ever knowing how much MORE they'd get just two decades later. I imagine that if Laurie Colwin were alive today she'd be at the fore of the slow food movement and would be the gentlest, but most insistent, advocate of simple life.

"On the other hand, I know that the people who are going into the supermarket and buying those things in plastic are not happy."

We're heading into winter, in my part of the world, and I think I should re-commit to living simply but with intention. Because a simple soup, made by hand, is always better received than a can of the same made in a factory. Industrial food does not make me happy. It doesn't make my family happy or connect us in any meaningful way. 

No one ever remembers the meals that were taken from the freezer and removed from the bag and reheated in haste. But even as my own mother worked two jobs, and struggled most nights to just get pizza delivered, I remember with great affection the nights she fixed Welsh Rarebit. Such a simple dish; quicker than pizza. And it's a heartwarming memory for me over 30 years later. 

I challenge all of you to find one simple thing you can do for yourselves and your familes. Find one ritual. Claim one moment and treat it with reverence. Even if it's only a piece of toast with cheese sauce.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Extraordinary Value of an Ordinary Life

It's difficult to be a "creative type" person in my society. It doesn't often pay well and it requires a great deal of what looks like listless downtime. In other words, to be successfully creative, you kind of have to look like you're wasting time. But it can't be helped because for many people the downtime is where your idle mind is spinning its wheels the fastest.

Everyone in Western society is taught that they're special. It's a rare parent who doesn't raise their child to think they can do anything, be anything, reach any limit and surpass it. We all want our children to live more successful lives than our own, no matter how high we've reached...there is always better and higher for our dear children to climb. You know....but there are bills to pay. Cars that need new tires. Trees that need to be pruned. Arms which are broken and need to be mended as well as that pesky gallbladder that once laid quietly in your guts but now needs to be whisked out absolutely as soon as possible so you can get back to eating double bacon cheeseburgers. The stuff of living a life gets in the way of achieving the highest personal and creative goals a person may set.

Because we are society which prizes money above most all else. We like the cars and the houses and the stories of travels here and there. "Oh you haven't traveled abroad?!? You really MUST! The Alps are honestly something every person should see!" You've probably heard some iteration of that sentiment at some point in your life. It might have been enrolling your child in outrageously expensive summer ice hockey (and let's face it - how DOES one survive a life without ice skating in the dog days of summer?!?) or the weekly private massages (manicures, pedicures, Brazilian waxes etc) that really make life worth living, assuming you have the hundreds in disposable income for it.

We all face this. But most of us are living rather unremarkable and ordinary lives.

We wake up. We make a living, which may or may not meet our basic needs, which means we may be working two jobs. Then we feed our bodies (if not our souls and psyches) and we raise our children in whatever time is left for us to do so and we go to bed at some point. When we wake, we do it again.

Because the dollar rules and if you don't have enough of them, you're doing something wrong. In fact, if you don't make a ton of money doing what you love, then you're doing THAT wrong too. I see admonitions everywhere to take the leap! Do what you love! Commit to your creativity and find your paradise! Gawdsakes, I have a mortgage to pay....the mortgage holder doesn't give two shits about my bliss.

It's such a contradiction every day: follow your dreams but make as much money as you possibly can so you aren't a listless leach on society. Never be idle. Work, work, work and LOVE every minute of it. If you don't, it's your own fault.

So this up there made me really mad. Because I am in a space of my life where my own needs must come second. I have children and I am part of a family unit. Our collective success currently depends on a steady diet of money and I have not been able to provide that by following my bliss. Is it my fault? Was I not dedicated enough, or hard working enough?

I don't know. All I know is that my family unit fell ill and anemic, and a supplement of stupid, ridiculous, money is all that would bring this blessed group back to good, vibrant health. What does a person do in that moment? Perhaps a more committed creative weathers the storm of malnutrition, and uses it to spur a heightened pursuit of creative/financial fulfillment. But I chose the the first path. I chose the security of cash in a position with a bunch of people competing for limited positions, none of which will likely let me come even close to living the life I want to live.

And so I am going live an ordinary life.

What value resides in an ordinary life? How disappointing to "just do" anything. How does the reality of living an ordinary life, like 99.9% of the populace does, match up with every single teaching I've ever heard that I can do anything? That I can have anything? That the world is my oyster and I can make my own pearl?

I don't know.

I have no idea what the extraordinary value of living an ordinary life is. Except that I matter to my family. I am making extraordinary changes for them, and opening wonderful for doors for them. In years yet to come, I may even find I've prepared for a chance to be idle and listless and explosively creative. But for now - I am on path one. I am living an extraordinarily ordinary life. And that has to have value; because it's mine, because it's the only one I can be assured that I get, because there has to be importance in "just living."

After all, the most beautiful flower hasn't done anything extraordinary by germinating from seed, growing in the sun and then bursting into color. It's done a very ordinary thing for a member of its species. But how beautiful and wonderful it just be a flower in bloom. How extraordinary.

Photo Credit: byb64 via Compfight cc