wild pomeranians

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." ~Henry David Thoreau

Category: Dreams

The Utility of Winter

For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated winter.

There are moments of love…early January…the first good snowfall that obscures the boundaries of our neighbors’ yards and the walking trail behind our home, creating a vast and pristine field of white…crystalline trees glistening in the soft light of the winter sun.

December, too, is more than bearable, with the anticipation of Christmas and all that extra time with family.

I even look forward to winter in late fall: the wrapping up, folding in, cozy warmth that the idea of winter inspires in me.

But that’s the problem. I love the idea of winter, but in actual practice, I feel empty, cold, too tired, and engulfed in a saddish haze.  I am seized by a deep desire to escape, somehow, everything

It’s as though the preceding three seasons erase my memory of what winter truly is. By mid-February, I feel the walls closing in and am genuinely bewildered as to how I still live in western Pennsylvania, after all these winters of my life. I should know by now.

I’m on Craigslist at 2 am, browsing apartments that I could never afford in Key West. Crazy, yes. I’m cursing the paltry, gray light that only brightens a quarter of my bedroom.  I’m craving (and eating) entirely too many carbs, all the while indignantly reminding myself that if I lived somewhere warmer I would be a healthier person.

A cold nose, while wrapped snuggly in my bed with the furnace running, shouldn’t make me this angry.   

But for me, winter feels like one, long, personal insult. It’s not very attractive, me in winter, and more than one person has suggested I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which, of course, I’m sure I do.

But today, something new happened.  

I was driving back down the winding country road that takes me to the nearest Starbucks, when I passed an historic house I often admire and noticed new wire fencing covering a freshly dug strip of earth. The man who lives there is very old.  If he has a wife, I’ve never seen her. What he does have is an incredible garden in the summer that he is forever tending, alone. It seems much too big for one old man, but he does it.  

I have no idea what he was doing with that long, narrow strip, as I’m sure nothing could possibly be planted in January, and yet, there was very clearly the beginning of that marvelous garden getting underway. It’s so easy to miss what he’s doing when it’s warm out and there are people everywhere, freely taking what the sunshine affords, but this man has been out in his yard, digging in the dirt, in the dead of winter, and I find this nothing short of stunning, because it feels so far beyond what I could manage.

I suddenly felt privy to a secret I couldn’t fully appreciate or understand.

Maybe winter is useful, somehow? Or at the least, able to be engaged?

Maybe it isn’t necessary that I simply lay down and die around the end of January.

Maybe, winter isn’t the problem at all.

Here is an eighty-year-old man fully engaged with the season, and clearly with his life, in a way that I haven’t been able to muster, honestly, in all my thirty-four years. Perhaps if I opened my eyes a bit, made more of an effort to see things that are more elusive than the warm embrace of springtime, I could find happiness in spite of the weather.

In spite of myself.

I might stop living as though I’m subject to everything, as if my life is happening to me, around me, but never because of me.

I need to make a concerted effort to find beauty in winter.

Or, if necessary, winter in something beautiful.

I want to feel the continuity of life and the seasons. I want to be fearless like the gardener, digging into earth and beginning something against all odds.

It’s a start for someone who is always half-frozen, regardless of the season, but who, until now, was unable to own it.

“Winter then in its early and clear stages, was a purifying engine that ran unhindered over city and country, alerting the stars to sparkle violently and shower their silver light into the arms of bare upreaching trees. It was a mad and beautiful thing that scoured raw the souls of animals and man, driving them before it until they loved to run. And what it did to Northern forests can hardly be described, considering that it iced the branches of the sycamores on Chrystie Street and swept them back and forth until they rang like ranks of bells.”

~Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale

Advertisements

My Journey to Minimalism…

I’ve been thinking a lot about minimalism lately and what it means to me. I’m always fascinated to hear how other people became minimalists, and after a recent string of interesting conversations, I’ve come to a deeper  understanding of my own inclinations and I thought I’d share it with you.

For me, minimalism has mostly been a tool that I’ve used to escape the excess stress in my daily life. I can’t say that I’ve been very moderate in my approach. But it’s more than just that. It evolved, at one point, into something closer to a purification ritual- the getting rid of and stripping bare.

It didn’t started that way, though. 

A little over a year ago, when I was still pregnant with Thunder Thighs, I wasn’t feeling particularly overwhelmed by my possessions. I’ve always been interested in interior design and to some extent architecture, so my surroundings were important, but any dissatisfaction I felt had more to do with not feeling like I had enough art, furniture, etc in my home. However, I was aware that due to all the kid clutter, as well as my own, I spent two-thirds of my day cleaning up messes. At least. So even before all of this minimalism business, I had faint ideas beginning to form around how I spent my time. It was depressing, of course, to realize that most of my daily life centered around the picking up and moving of objects. 

Objects.

Could that be any more meaningless? I tried not to think about it for a while, but increasingly I felt my life lacked purpose. There were days when I struggled to stay in the present moment with my children. I had too much to do and not enough hours in the day to do it. But none of the things I had to do were significant in any way.

Then, I stumbled upon Leo Babauta‘s blog.  I’ll never forget that moment. His words were like a beacon of truth ringing out loudly over the dull drone of my life. Everything about the idea of minimalism appealed to me. I’m an extremist by nature. Living with few possessions is an extreme challenge for most people, and I wanted to know if I could do it. It didn’t take long for me to discover that I could do it, but what I didn’t anticipate was the high I felt everytime I got rid of something. I felt almost like an addict, constantly scanning the house for objects to donate. 

The more stressful my daily life became with three children, the more I felt I needed to clear space in my mind and in my house. And in fact, the more physical space I cleared, the easier it became for me to manage the daily stresses. It just makes sense that if I only have 4 plates, 4 bowls, and 4 cups, I will never have a sink filled with dirty dishes. If I don’t have knick-knacks covering every surface, then the kids won’t constantly be playing with, breaking, and generally disrupting the decor. The obvious sense that it all made was irresistible.

Furthermore, I’ve come to feel that it’s the right way for me to live, given my understanding of how most of the rest of the world lives. My minimalism is an outward recognition that most people on this planet don’t have much, and I’m not going to have a ton of stuff just because I can. I’d rather use extra money for charity and life experiences with other human beings.   

So, that is how I came to minimalism.   

I love the austerity of it. The cleanliness of it all. The idea that I have stripped away needless layers of my Self, and am left only with the bare necessities and some loved treasures. For me, this kind of simplicity is exquisitely beautiful.

That being said, I have had moments when I’ve felt genuinely fearful. It’s such an odd thing how not owning things could produce anxiety and fear, especially not owning things I don’t actually need. I’ve felt confronted by an unknown future; one that won’t center around performing meaningless tasks and buying things constantly.

What will that life look like?

To be honest, I still don’t know. And yes, that can be terrifying. But I’ll save that for another day.

How did you become a minimalist? I would love to hear your story.

A Girl Can Dream…

Tomorrow, two of my three children will be in school for part of the day. This is going to be my new normal and honestly my mind is spinning at the prospect. What will I do? Housework? Grocery shopping? Laundry, while happily lugging Thunder Thighs on my hip? Probably.

But do you want to know what I’d really love to do? Shh, don’t tell my husband, okay? He’s had enough of this already and the man is just tired of listening to his silly wife talk about impossibilities. I can’t blame him, either.

Nonetheless…

First, I’d like to find the drill and take apart our gigantic King-size bed and just put the mattress right on the floor. (I’ve always wanted to do this, often for practical reasons like not having to worry about babies falling out of bed in the middle of the night, but also for impractical, just-because reasons like wanting to have as simple a room as possible.)

Considering how expensive the bed was, I could probably sell it on Craigslist for a couple thousand dollars and then I would send the money to an incredible woman and her family who have recently adopted another special-needs baby from Africa and who could use the money right now.

Then, I’d like to take all of my husband’s clothes that are currently piled on the floor of the walk-in closet, and stuff them in some garbage bags and take them to Goodwill. Honestly, I don’t think he’d even miss them given that they’ve sat there untouched for months now. What’s the point of that?!  

Moving on to the kids’ rooms, at least two-thirds of the toys would be on their merry way to Goodwill, as well, leaving only their favorites…the ones they play with endlessly, like the dollhouse, Lego’s, blocks, and crafts.  

Later on in the afternoon, after a café mocha at Starbucks, I’d call our old realtor and inform her that we’d like to put the house on the market. I know we’ve only been here for a bit over a year, I’d explain, but we’re beginning a new adventure and we just can’t be tied down to a mortgage. We’re not looking to make a gigantic profit, just to get it sold quickly and painlessly.

With that taken care of, it would be time to hop back on Craigslist and search for an apartment in San Francisco. Somewhere cozy in the heart of a lovely neighborhood where we could get to most places just walking, or if needed, on the Muni. The move would be a breeze, as anything non-essential would not be making the trip.

The kids are so young, I’d love for them to share a bedroom while they still can. A tiny kitchen, a snug living room, lots of natural light and since I’m dreaming, a small space outside for our little garden. No more snow boots, mittens, bulky coats and enough clothing for four separate seasons. Everything would feel lighter. 

Ahhh.  

Now that sure does beat doing housework all morning, doesn’t it?

🙂

 I hope your coming week finds you ever closer to your dreams, too.

 

 

 

 

I want to…

… go to the ocean

just watch from a distance

understand my daughter

learn arabic

journey somewhere important

feel completely unafraid

hang the risque photograph above the sofa and not care what my in-laws might think

have time to write

be beautiful

own almost nothing

do good in the world

feel differently about my husband