“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
— Henry David Thoreau
Recently, a burnt out friend of mine quit her high-profile corporate job in San Francisco without another position lined up. When co-workers started asking her the inevitable question “What are you going to do with your time off?” I couldn’t help but get a kick out of the fact that her answer was “I really want to stay home and knit” and that her next “dream job” was to become a park ranger.
The comedic irony I found in her response was mostly due to the fact that for the past four years I’ve been writing a novel that deals with the plight of 19th century women and how they were forced to a stay home and knit. And yet here was this hip, 30-something year old, in the peak of her career, and her sexiest ambition was to knit and disappear into the woods Thoreau-style.
Upon reflection I realized that my friend wasn’t alone in her yearning for the simple. A look at pop culture and the evidence was everywhere. There’s a folk revival in music, a farm-to-table movement in food, a rustic trend in home decor. Things are no longer old...they’re vintage. HGTV’s Chip and Joanna Gaines have captured the heart of America with their down-home family values, thrift store finds, and all-around slower approach to living. (Anyone else, for a split-second, imagined buying a $200,000 mansion in Waco, Texas just to be friends with them? Maybe it’s just me…) My point is, our society today has a serious case of nostalgia for simpler times. But why?
The thought occurred to me that modern women are craving the simple luxury of the downtime a slower, less connected world offered, just as many women of prior generations craved opportunities outside of the household. The fact of the matter is, most women today are running so fast toward having it all that we’ve forgotten to slow down and ask if we even want or need all of it.
It’s the perpetual, in-your-face speed of the world that has us all clinging to whatever semblance of simplicity we can. I myself have had moments of wishing I could pause time so I could hole up in a cabin in Big Sur and write for months on end Henry Miller-style. But I’m not Doc Brown and this is not Back to the Future...the last time I checked I can’t pause time and, that being the case, I don’t think my husband would be super jazzed about being left solo with our 14-month-old while I fulfill my writerly-hermit dreams. Instead, I make the space wherever I can. Whether it’s an hour here, a Sunday afternoon there, I’ve learned if I don’t create the space to listen to myself, I slowly start lose myself.
The fact that I’m a part of a privileged generation of American women, able to decide what it is that we want out of life thanks to those who came before us, does not escape me. I can only imagine coming of age in a time where my life’s expectation was only to become someone’s wife, i.e. property, as it were. But the unique challenge we face today is that, though we are able to do it all, that doesn’t mean we should.
So, perhaps my friend was onto something. Instead of measuring our contribution to the the female sex in terms of having an impressive job title, or the Facebook-perfect family, or a home worthy of being a Nancy Meyers movie set, or having the body of Kate Hudson...or feeling like we should have/be all of the above (let’s be honest)...what if we, instead, take a moment to reexamine our expectations. Let’s just pause. What the hell...let’s knit! Because we need to slow down. Like Thoreau, we need to deliberately disconnect from the daily chaos in order to remember what it truly means to live a life without regrets. We need to remember that, when it’s all said and done, the only thing we’re really accountable for is becoming the very best version of ourselves. And it’s not about attaining, it’s about maintaining what’s essential: our souls.
With the runaway train of social media and the pressure to be connected to the world 24/7, have you found yourself wanting to pull a Thoreau? Do you ever disconnect long enough just to hear your own voice?