Sadie smiled at me this morning. At less than four weeks, it may not have been a real smile. (What is a real smile, anyway?) But it made my day. And it schooled me. Here is this new baby — this newly born baby — who has shown up here with a perfect capacity to experience joy.
Things are starting to get exciting around here. I fell asleep last night to the sound of my husband and his brothers talking about things I know nothing about. ATV’s and planar saws…in feed…out feed…cutter head. Huh? They lost me at the part where we cut down a tree and slice it into boards and make a house out of it.
I think – don’t let me jinx this – we may be just about to make an offer, on what a friend called our “little piece of Heaven.” This turns out to be a meager chunk of Idaho mountainside, which comes well equipped with trees, and sky and clouds and sun. And not much else.
When we purchase land, then the rest of our somewhat outrageous plan begins to unfold. In the winter, Nick and his brother Luke will build us a yurt. This is a tent, but don’t worry, it is not an icky Boy-Scout-camping tent so much as an Antony-and-Cleopatra-go-to-war sort of tent. In the spring we will move our family into the tent, onto the land, and I will hang out all summer with filthy dirty kids, learning how to keep chickens, while Nick builds our entire world from scratch.
He said to me this morning, right before Sadie smiled, “I was always meant to be a mountain people. I just got sidetracked for the last seventeen years.”
He spent that seventeen years building scenery for theater. A lot of that time he was working with me. I would direct; he would design. We built worlds together. We stayed up all night. We drank too often and sometimes too much and were irresponsible with our money. I spent evenings pacing the floor of our small apartments holding a script and making impossible demands. Can you make it rain? Can you make her fly? Can you make a dragon? He would hold a pencil and draw on napkins, and for most every show stay up all night at least once, if nothing else to get the paint down on the stage floor. It was super sexy. It was passionate. It didn’t work so well for us after we had kids. And it totally ruined us for most any other kind of work.
I love the writings of a brilliant theatre director named Peter Brook. One of his books is called The Empty Space. I don’t remember the teachings so well anymore. I haven’t directed a play in several years, and maybe they were a little pretentious anyway. But I still live by that phrase: “the empty space.” An empty space is the opportunity for creativity to be engaged. It is the space an artist hold open, ready for the muse to occupy. It’s a kind of guest house for the spirit, an opportunity for beauty to show up and inhabit your life.
Full disclosure: I did not, at first, have Good Feelings about this crazy idea of moving on to bare land and building our house from scratch. I’m not just a city kid. I’m an ex-country kid, which means I have twice as many reasons to resist. I was raised by a writer who wrote about living off the land, and also about preparing for inevitable disaster; I have some negative associations with the phrase “self-sufficiency.” And I feel something like panic at the sight of rural homes sporting plywood and plastic on the roof.
Even in a world where my Good Feelings are not the most important thing (and what kind of a world is that?), we can’t pretend that all our numbers line up. We have little money, and no jobs, and three kids — one of them a newborn — and no survival skills to speak of. A few minutes ago we were good progressive party line urbanites, who didn’t believe in Owning Guns. Last night it was suggested to me that I should learn how to hunt deer with a bow and arrow.
What do you think? Could I hunt deer with a bow and arrow?
Who needs a theater in which to do crazy hard things, like learn to make it rain where you want it to rain, and build a house out of trees?! We can just do it in real life!
So now I’m running a little excited, and a little scared. I’m running a little like a child, chasing happiness just ’cause I can, nurturing this absurd notion that it’s just all going to work out, even if the how is still a mystery. No wonder I’m glad to be schooled by a little baby smirk, and the vision of joy on baby Sadie, that has nothing to do with stability or security or planning, but is just right there, abundant, for the taking.