On satori and self-actualization in the countryside.
BY LAUREN CERAND
Last Friday, I slipped on my twenty-carat moonstone ring, a traveler’s talisman that attunes psychic ability, grants wishes, and, especially in the realm of love, brings the wearer what one needs, and set off for a magically reflective weekend in the country.
Friends of mine, a writer and a portrait painter, have relocated with their small children to a farm in northeastern Pennsylvania. I was unprepared for the staggering beauty and remoteness of the place, with no visible neighbors and craggy, hand-laid low stone walls built by the original Irish settlers to keep animals penned in throughout the landscape.
I spent an afternoon lending a hand in their small bookshop and print gallery, Moody Road Studios, and an evening reading, curled up in a club chair by the wood stove, as night fell. The half-hour drive to and from town gives ample opportunity to reflect on the passage of time and sense of place that the countryside offers. For a few years, I was madly in love with the idea of living in England. When I reflect on that period in my life now, and the attraction that I felt, most of it seems to have been about the idea that people could be tied to a place by centuries of keeping the same traditions and that the meaning of that identity would be handed down. I thought that it would be nice to be free from the necessity of inventing oneself, as Americans, in one way or another, must do.
When I think about a perfect life, it’s located somewhere out past the neighbors, in a house with room for visitors. There’s puffing smoke coming from the chimney, blue hydrangeas in bloom by the red front door, a library of any size for ruminative leisure, and the sort of cozy cacophony that accompanies a house well-filled, and loved. In short, a simple world of hearty pleasures; an early walk on a summer morning when the dew on the grass feels like a relief. As the Virginia country belle in Edna Ferber’s novel Giant notes, “I love old silver and Maryland crabs and plenty of hot water day and night with bath salts, and one glass of very cold very dry champagne.” That’s about all I want.
In reality, I live in a high-rise apartment building in Lower Manhattan that, with its revolving doors, cheery doormen, and marble lobby ceilings so high that scaffolds are periodically erected to change the light bulbs, reminds me of films from the Golden Age of Hollywood such as Baby Face (1933). It’s hard to figure out what aspects of my little daydream are a new chapter to begin, and which parts are an attractive fantasy simply because they’re so different. I have a glamorous, fascinating job as a publicist for cultural and literary figures that I’ve devoted myself to for a decade, and spend most of my evenings in settings that could double as a film set. But it can feel like a lonely life when the party’s over, and I haven’t been able to afford to take a day off in two years.
When I was last in Paris, I had a moment of satori –– Japanese for the kind of enlightenment that comes like a kick in the head –– that part of the reason that my own private dreams for my personal life had gone unanswered for so long is because I have spent so much time nurturing the dreams of other people. As I wrote in a letter soon after, I’m grateful for everything, and “I never really mind my easy, pretty on-duty hours except for when I think that all of these beautiful evenings are one more night I’ve put off living my own life. Especially when everyone talks about their marriage and their kids and how happy they are to be out tonight and I just think, oh my god, it’s like I blinked and seven years went by just like a fairy dream. I was doing exactly this all this time.”
My friends left the city for good when it became too difficult to sustain a life as artists in one of the most expensive places in the world. My father’s parents were flappers, and my grandfather was a hairdresser for society figures and celebrities of the era with a following that was chronicled in the yellowing clips of newspaper and magazines that constitute all I ever knew of him. Gossip columnists breathlessly reported that he must be a French aristocrat, and how he liked to talk about fishing. He moved the family upstate to a farm, went broke, and for the rest of his life, languished, lore says, in small town obscurity. I always wondered how much of that he might have regretted, and yet, as I age myself, I understand that there are all sorts of ways to make it, meaningfully.
The next thing on my social calendar is a dinner party with friends on the Upper East Side in a building populated, according to Wikipedia, by scions of nearly every American family fortune. I’m not sure what I’ll wear yet, but I’ll slip my moonstone ring on, as I often do, and glide out into the spring evening. The night after, I’ll attend a gala at the Museum of Natural History in a silver silk gown with a mermaid hem that ripples in waves down to the floor. While I’ll be in my element of the past dozen years, a part of me will still be sitting on that back porch, sipping Southern Comfort, looking at the hills.
Lauren Cerand publishes notes on living at luxlotus.com.
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