Wednesday, December 2, 2009

LIGHTEN UP


I’m always curious about the places where writers do their work and the manner in which the Muse comes to them. For me, the dining room table suffices – or a striped chair in the living room here in New Iberia, or a faded, red velvet antique chair in the bedroom of the cottage at Sewanee. My favorite place to entertain the Muse is in the passenger seat of a moving car, and I often think of taking a train trip so that I can write poetry while traveling at a high speed, hurtling toward some favorite spot in the U.S. (like California).

Recently, I picked up a book entitled JOURNEYS OF SIMPLICITY, Traveling Light, a book that features writers who made an art of “unencumbered living” and the few things they took with them on journeys or to preferred writing habitats. My favorite vignette is the one about Annie Dillard who wrote her famous PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK in a small cinder block room overlooking a rooftop next door and a parking lot. Dillard claims that writing is done best in “a room with no view so imagination can meet memory in the dark.” The list of objects she took to her unadorned room is short: books, quotes on index cards, various colored pens and yellow legal pads, and her brilliant mind. She reports that one day she closed the window blinds and never opened them again during the time she was writing the book.

In the early 2000’s, Dillard set up a writing tent in the yard of her home on Cape Cod and conceded to using a computer, put down a rug, moved in a desk, chair, cot with mattress and took along all sorts of bird skeletons, stones, and whale bones. By taking only this sparse collection of objects into the writing tent, she felt free to invite the Muse daily.

One of the most arresting essays in JOURNEYS OF SIMPLICITY was about the renowned chef M.F.K. Fisher who tells of WWII food shortages. She describes a cook named Sue who, at 70, lived alone in a deteriorating house that had “the scent of bruised herbs.” Sue spent less than $50 a year on food and wandered along cliffs and beaches, picking up weeds, sea spinach, pink ice plants, and kelp for salads that became legendary for taste and variety.

JOURNEY IN SIMPLICITY is a guide to simple living and provides a peek into the lives of writers, chefs, explorers, etc. who know what is essential to good living and what they took on their important life journeys. It’s written by Philip Harnden, a Quaker who lives in northern New York State.

Reading this book inspires me to ponder how much baggage I think I need so that I can live the good life in two dwelling places–in a subdivision house here in Teche country and in a cottage on The Mountain at Sewanee. The implicit message in JOURNEYS IN SIMPLICITY is for us to learn to dispossess ourselves of so many things–to practice non-attachment. My excuse is that I like a change of scene, but, then there is that statement by Dillard about living in a room with no view so that we can meet imagination in the dark!
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