“Once upon a time . . .”
Several years ago now, I wrote a blog about sustainable and local living. It started as a log of the year I attempted to stay out of “big box” stores, exploring, instead, local options: locally produced, locally grown, or at least locally owned retail stores. The topics expanded into DIY, especially knitting and other fiber arts, and gardening, cooking, and storing of food. I shared fashion finds from Goodwill and other second-hand stores. The initial year turned into two, three, five before winding down to a close in year six. The discipline of writing at least one blog post a week provided structure. My enthusiasm for the topic provided inspiration. It was good while it lasted.
After awhile, I felt I’d covered all I wanted or needed to write about regarding sustainable living and localism. I’d incorporated so much into my life that it felt…normal. The urgency faded. Peak oil–or specifically the social breakdown predicted due to it–failed to materialize, thank goodness. The world moved on to other, possibly related, things: global climate change and plastic pollution and political divisions/identity politics ripping our country (and other countries) at the seams. Yes, a “slower” and more local way of life, if adopted by a majority of folks, would mitigate some of the problems of climate change and plastics choking our land and oceans. Plastic is an oil product, after all. Living locally means less traveling, fewer cars, fewer factory farms, reduced shipping, and therefore less pollution and reduced energy consumption. Engaging in community rather than social media sniping could show us we are more alike than we are different and that honest but respectful talk–not name-calling and calling-out–work wonders. But I was done writing about it. I wanted to concentrate on other projects–fiction and finding a job to pay for my daughter’s college tuition and writing for the local paper.
The daughter is almost out of college. I’m no longer writing for the paper. It’s time to launch that fiction writing career in earnest. So, I’ve created a website.
I was told this was necessary in many books and articles on marketing strategy, and I guess it makes sense. “Don’t rely on social media platforms. Create your own platform where you will have control,” I read. And what if you aren’t already a published book author with products to sell online? “Start a blog,” they said. So I built the website and created a blog tab. But what the heck, I ask myself, am I supposed to write about?
Nobody, wants to hear about my “writing journey” all the time. It’s just not that interesting to read about other people trying to make it in the writing biz. Similarly, I don’t want to give writing or publishing advice to other people trying to make it in this industry. I’m no expert! I’m just another struggling writer, bumbling along, trying to figure out not only how to write well but also how to get the work in front of readers. Traditional publishing or self-publishing? Ebooks only or all formats? Audiobooks? Ugh. Even I don’t want to hear it! So what am I interested in exploring?
Doing a little brainstorming on paper, jotting ideas, making lists, creating mission statements, crossing off words, gritting my teeth, ripping out pages and starting again, I finally came up with something. It’s vague. I only have this feeling about what I want to do, not a roadmap. Here it is:
“Creating a good life in crazy times.”
That’s it. That’s what I came up with after weeks of soul-searching and scribbling. I know. You can laugh. I won’t mind.
The idea came, in part, out of research I was doing for a ghostwriting project, a memoir about a philosophy of education professor who hastened his death two years after a terminal diagnosis of Primary Progressive Aphasia, a type of dementia that takes away one’s ability to communicate before progressing like Alzheimer’s. In one of his books, this scholar talked about “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” the title of a Hemingway short story published in 1926. In the story, Hemingway writes about an old man in a cafe and two waiters, one young and the other older. The older one recognizes the loneliness in the old man, feels it himself, and talks about “the nada” inherent in life and death. It comes from an existentialist view that there is no meaning to life. However, Hemingway suggests, there is comfort in “a clean, well-lighted place” even in the midst of darkness, confusion, sorrow, and nada. The professor, drawing on this idea, talked about creating and living “the good life” as a cheery, safe, clean, beautiful space in an otherwise chaotic, ugly world. Art, music, literature, good food, good conversation, companionship–these could be the building blocks of that life, the things that kept the yawning existential void at a distance.
And so, inspired, this is what I am attempting to do. I am trying to create a life that is a warm, cozy haven in a world going, I’m afraid, quite mad. This is what I want to write about, both here in this blog and in my fiction. In my inner space there is a fire dancing in the hearth, books lining the walls, windows looking out on magnificent vistas, the smell of soup and bread wafting through the air, flowers and herbs growing in terracotta pots, and bottle of good wine on the table. Here we are safe. Here we can enjoy each other’s company. Here we can forget, for a bit, the troubles outside in the world and the encroachment of time on our bodies and the creeping existentialist notion that life has no intrinsic meaning. Here we can create meaning for ourselves through discussion, books, art, crafts, community work, food, wine, exercise, home decor, and enjoyment of the natural world.
I believe I can, with persistence and creativity and a positive outlook, create a good life in crazy times. And I believe you can, too. Let’s do this together.
[To read some of my local living blog, you can find it on www.shelleyburbank.wordpress.com. Keep in mind it was started in many years ago, and some of my positions and ideas have changed or expanded or otherwise modified since then.]