I had a friend sitting in my kitchen a while ago, staring wistfully out the window towards the lake and the misty mountains beyond. If I lived in a place like this, she said, I know it would be easier. I’d have space to do those things I dream of. You know, to really be creative.
I had just told her about how I’d spent the last year dismantling one of the biggest dreams of my life: The dream of moving here, to the cottage on the mountainside, and how it would give me the quiet life of writing I’d always longed for.
But she didn’t appear to have heard what I’d said, or at any rate, she didn’t believe it applied to her. We hold these dreams so dearly, I know. I did too.
Many of us share some version of this dream. The lovely old house in the countryside, drinking tea on the front porch, snuggling up with a book by the fireplace on a cold autumn day, the slow walks through spring forests or along the beach, the children playing all dirty and happy in the garden. You sitting by the window, writing, occasionally looking out over the green pastures, smiling. The life you’d have there.
This dream – or your version of it – goes deep in us. It’s the dream of home, of beauty, of peace and safety and happiness.
We swoon over Pinterest boards capturing the most delicious essence of it, whispering to our hungry hearts that if we lived in a place like that, our life would be more enchanted. There, you’d have the peace of mind to finally write. You’d turn that attic room into a darkroom, or a studio for your painting or your dressmaking. The quiet and the beauty would nourish your creativity and your resistance would melt away.
That was certainly my dream when we moved here. Some of it turned out to be true. I’ve loved every fire I’ve made in the fireplace, the views from up here still make me dizzy with joy, I love how vast the sky is, how there’s space for me to roam. I love drinking tea in the nook in my study. All of this is true; it’s even better than I could have dreamed of.
What turned out not to be true is that this beauty and cosiness would somehow (magically) translate into a tranquil life of focused writing. In some ways, living here has made it harder for me to write.
Anyone who owns an old house and a big garden knows how much work it is. And it’s not just the repairs, the mold in the cellar, the leaky roof, the cleaning, weeding, watering, chopping and shovelling. There’s all the slumbering potential that this beautiful house is beckoning you to realise, and that you, creative as you are, have a really hard time turning a blind eye to.
What if you painted the bedrooms that magical shade of blue? Created that secret little nook in the garden? Turned the shed into a guesthouse-slash-studio? And what if you …?
That’s creative work too, no doubt. But not the creative work I came here to do. Fulfilling all that potential takes money, effort and time. You find yourself faced with more distractions than ever, and with all the responsibility that comes with owning your house, especially if you’re trying to raise a family in the midst of it, the peace of mind you longed for seem further away than ever.
Looking back, the time in my life when I found it easiest to create was probably the period when I lived in a small rental apartment in the city. Minimal amount of distraction, fixed costs, call the landlord if anything breaks, etc.
That’s not an option anymore, due to a lot of things – kids, who I am and what I desire, the way life changes. But it was good for me to see this. To get real about this dream. Because when I did, I felt so deeply and clearly what is most important.
For me, the dream of writing is ultimately more important than the dream of the beautiful country home. I found, after much grief, that if letting this house and this dream go will give me and my family peace of mind, which in turn will make it easier for me to write, then yes, I want to let it go.
That willingness, that sober clarity, makes a huge difference for me now that we’re starting the process of selling the cottage and finding a new home. I feel like I’ve stripped down to the bare bones of my desire.
Like Clarissa Pinkola Estees writes:
“The first question is: What do you want? Almost everyone asks some version of this, just as a matter of course. But there is yet one more essential question, and that is: What does your deeper self desire?”
I may want to have a beautiful house, a big lush garden, fireplaces and pretty teacups. I may want to travel with my loves, have friends for dinner, buy me some flowy things to wear, have a studio and a study and so much more. All good.
But my deeper self? She desires two things and two things only: To love and to write.
Good to know.