I remember the first time I really understood Thoreau. It wasn’t the time I tried to read Walden. Oh, no. I didn’t make it far into that book at all. I think partly because I was too young to appreciate the good of it. There’s a lot of unbiblical gunk in that book; I won’t pretend there isn’t. However, there is also a lot of beautiful truth in it. I wasn’t mature enough to glean that the first time I tried to read it. So when did I first understand him? Dead Poets Society. Yep. Robin Williams standing before a classroom of bored boys who just want to get through the day, do their assignments, “study Pritchard,” and get into the Ivy League so their fathers won’t make their lives miserable. “I went into the woods because I wanted to live life deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life– to rout out all that was not life, and not when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”
That one part of that movie planted a seed in my spirit that nestled there, germinated, and then took root and grew. It first manifested in my writing. That principle was the impetus for writing Past Forward (my seemingly never-ending “blog opera” at Fairburytales.com). Before I knew what was happening, I found other characters in other stories encouraging their friends and family not to wish away their lives– embrace them. Live them.
How am I sucking the marrow out of life, living deliberately, purposefully, and with an eye to beauty and truth? This is the question that I ask myself on a semi-regular basis. I never answer it to my satisfaction. I think that’s a good thing. I really do. If I answered it to my satisfaction, wouldn’t it mean that I was done “living” and now just existing?
I think there are people who have made an art of “sucking the marrow out of life.” Tasha Tudor was one. I think Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman is another. I grew up with this mindset. My mother created a beautiful haven in every single one of the many, many homes we lived in. We never lived in a state of transition between homes. We’d arrive, I’d go to school, and by the end of the first day or two, the house would be in order. She didn’t take six months to unpack. She did it in less than six days. Now, she only had three people to unpack for and two of them were gone all day. I don’t think I could unpack a house in a day or three. The why of it is where the difference comes in. Mom was the epitome of a “home-maker.” She made a house into a home. The scents of my childhood are cinnamon and sugar, beans, cornbread, and fried okra, and dill bread. In every single house, I can tell you where the console radio (from the 30’s), the phonograph (from the 20’s), the stereo system (new) and that awful copper toned floral couch was. The table and chairs were the same everywhere. My bedroom set– the white teapot with the green lid. The Fenton glass basket she got from John and Gloria. It sat atop a doily that she hand crocheted on top of the center of the phonograph– always.
Mom doesn’t live with an eye to, “when xyz is perfect, then I’ll be able to live the life I want.” She makes the life she has the life she wants. She’s learned that beautiful art of contentedness– to want what you already have. She is always learning, always embracing– always living. I think that is what Thoreau meant.
Evaluation is a beautiful process in life. Without it, we never change, grow, or experiment. It’s like looking at a compass once when we’re just starting out on the journey of life and then hoping that in doing so, we stay on the path we wanted. That’s insane. Sailors are always adjusting their course. Between the winds, the waves and the warp of life’s rudder… it’s impossible to set a course once and stay on it. That’s where the phrase, “stay the course” came from in the first place… isn’t it?
I need beauty. I thrive on it. We live in the middle of the desert where our nature doesn’t have the green soothing loveliness Thoreau found at Walden, but in my home I can create rooms that have the aesthetic that appeals to my senses. I have colors on my walls (I think a lifetime of living mostly in rentals with WHITE FLAT WALLS created a dislike of boring walls), I have photos of my beautiful children (taken by my talented Braelyn) arranged around me so I can see them, and I keep the shelves and clutter gone.
A few months ago, I kept finding myself unsettled, even when the living room was spotless. No matter how perfect I had things, I never felt that calm peace I usually get in my home. At last, I located the source. My couch and chair were ugly as sin. They were both falling apart, and nothing we did helped. The slipcovers looked just as bad as the furniture. I had a choice. I could have reupholstered, made new slipcovers, or even just draped blankets over them and kept them neatly tucked in. I could have done that if I didn’t have the money to buy new furniture, but since I did, I ordered new. Usually, I don’t do that. Usually, I try to make do with what I have and just improve it. This time, I couldn’t. I don’t have the strength I once had and the money was there… sitting in the account… and I used it. Since then, every time I find myself unsettled, all I need to do is clean the room, pull out the clutter, and it’s relaxing again. I feel that calm peace.
I’ve been feeling unsettled all day. I finally looked around as I was typing the above and what do I see? Three hangers hanging from the hooks under the shelves. A basket and a bag hanging from those same hooks. A purse that doesn’t belong hanging from those same hooks. The living room table is full of stuff, and the backs of the couches have little things all over them. It’ll take me fifteen minutes to clean it up and I’ll feel at peace again. Why? Because the bones do. At the core of the room, everything makes me feel good. But it could be better. I keep the copies of my books that I sell from my website in this room. I want them gone. I have an idea of how I want to make this room more beautiful and it means removing those things from that area. When I find a good piece of furniture for that spot, I’ll be adding it. Until then, I need to clear out the cluttered look and that means the books go. Where? Yeah. Gotta figure that one out.
Because beauty is such a big thing for me, I have a deep need to create. I’ve always been a “creator.” It started as a child with rearranging my room. Then I learned to sew and embroider. Those two things really made my life richer for a long time. I added quilting, smocking, and porcelain doll making. Yes I did. When asthma attacked my body, my stamina died. For a while, all I could do was write about creating. It wasn’t very satisfying. Then, I started rubber stamping. Cards are beautiful, quick, and useful. During that time, I also started my craft blog. I don’t post every single thing I ever make… but I do post most. Why? Because when it seems as if my life is passing with nothing to show for it, when it seems as if I’m living, day by day, in maintenance mode, I can go to the site, look at the things I’ve finished, get inspired, and start again. I need that.
So how have I been sucking the marrow out of life the past week or two?
- I started stamping again
- I’ve been using up my fabric stash (it gets rid of clutter and feeds my need to create)
- I’ve been evaluating possessions. If I don’t love it or it doesn’t enhance my life, it goes. Bye bye.
- I have also been trying to notice the little things. Wipe the fingerprints off walls, dust things, fluff pillows… that sort of thing
And one last thing? I’ve been trying to ensure that I feed my soul. Without the Word of God, I can’t survive. My natural tendency is to go toward books like Matthew (Sermon on the Mount), James (practical living), and Peter (encouragement to deeper understanding). But the Lord didn’t write a book full of “to-do” lists and orders. He wrote beautiful music, poetry, stories that feed that part of me that craves loveliness. I need music to feed my soul. So, when the house is quiet at night, once I’ve enjoyed the silence, I turn on music, close my eyes, and let it seep into the pores of my spirit until I feel “full.” I love it.
I think I need a weekly evaluation. I need to think about how I live and what I do to make my life an expression of what I think the Lord wants from me. I need my life to be an outpouring of what the Lord is doing in me… if it isn’t, isn’t my life a lie?