Pursuing an Elegant Life

I’m planning to change residences this fall. Not a big move — from Dunedin to Tampa, over the bridge, a dozen miles or so — but for me, a leap. At 36 I’ve never properly “lived on my own,” and although I regard with deep suspicion the American ideal of solitary living (we’re social creatures; ’tain’t natural), still I find it to be a necessary step. For me. At this time.

(I like the pattern of living in community. But right now the force of my introversion cannot be denied. So.)

After more than a year of traipsing back and forth between different communal living situations, it’s time for a year of stability and solitude. A psychic decompression. A detox of some of the habits and assumptions and energetic patterns accumulated over three dozen years of interacting with other gregarious, befuddled primates.

One of the doors I hope to unlock with this process of living in my own defined little bubble is my writing. My writing feels like a houseplant I forgot to water for too long, and now I’m hoping it can be resurrected with attention and nurturing. Kelly Link talks about the necessity of boredom to her writing process, and that resonates. “You need other kinds of work, and you also need significant periods of stillness in order to have time to think. Boredom allows time for thinking.” Not the boredom that arises from numbness, but the boredom that occurs with a certain spaciousness. Fallow time. Evenings and mornings and entire days of not Getting Things Done.

And of course, in thinking about my writing (and ongoing lack thereof), I thought about blogging through this new experience, this year of flying solo. I thought about the many intriguing threads running through this experience: the process of populating a small apartment with the artifacts of modern life; my fascination with tiny spaces; the interdependence of humans with our built and natural environments; my struggles with anxiety and depression and social anxiety and (paradoxically) loneliness; interior design; cooking; growing my own food; and so on.

My first idea for naming this series was “Designing an Elegant Life.” I liked the idea of applying design principles to how I live, from choosing kitchen utensils to assessing my ecological impact. And I’d just watched an excellent interview with Debbie Millman called “Is it really possible to design your life?”

Then I listened to a Studio 360 episode in their “American Icons” series about the Disney Parks — Disneyland and Disney World, and EPCOT, and Disney’s passion for creating idealized spaces. And of course one of the major topics was how Disney so precisely engineered the parks — so overdesigned them — that they lack any redemptive flaws. Buildings are built at 80% scale to feel friendlier. The French Quarter has been tidied up and de-quirkified. Even the lakes have been stripped of fauna to convert their natural brown to a Disney-approved alpine blue. Disneyfied.

And I realized: there but for the grace of Pan go I. Perfectionist that I am, if I hook into the concept of “designing” my life, I’m liable to strip my own lakes to improve the view, and I’d be poorer for it.

So. Design will play a prominent role, no doubt, but the series name I settled on is “Pursuing an Elegant Life.”

Instead of designing, I’ll pursue. It indicates movement, and seeking, and it gives that “elegant life” legs so it can run and zig-zag and generally keep me on my toes. (It’s also a nod to AJ Leon’s “Pursuit of Everything.”)

Which begs the question: What exactly is an elegant life? Which I’ll explore. Next time.