According to Julia Cameron, who originated the artist date concept, you can’t take anyone else with you on an artist date, otherwise you get too easily distracted. This is generally good advice, but after three days’ road trip with Erik to southern Oregon, my creative well was so overflowing, I didn’t need a solo date this week. I told you yesterday about the sketching I did on this trip; now I’ll tell you about the rest of it!
As I’ve been taking more artist dates recently, I’ve learned some of the qualities that make the good ones successful: the absence of obsessive A-type planning, intuitive decision-making, vivid stimulation of all my senses, learning and/or experiencing something new… and ample preparation, in the form of a bottle of water, my sun hat, cash, and so forth! In fact, a good artist date is a lot like a road trip, and a good road trip resembles an extended artist date. You can plan everything down to the last detail, but it’s more fun to not do so. The serendipitous discoveries are what make the experience so rich.
On Saturday’s baking-hot afternoon, we walked across the dramatic, 6-year-old Sundial Bridge in Redding. As we drove up I-5 with Mount Shasta’s imposing snowy peak looming over us, we devoured a slice of award-winning carrot cake we’d bought at the Redding farmers’ market. We prowled antique and vintage shops in Dunsmuir and Yreka, where a very sweet lady showed us how to use a hand-cranked gramophone; setting that needle and hearing the fuzzy strains of a 1910s military march just filled me with joy (it was even more of a time warp than last week‘s Ellington!). As we got further north into Oregon, the Cascades wrapped us in their green grandeur. I’m not a big mountain person, but I found it impossible to gaze upon the landscape without awe. All those pine-covered mountains make one feel very small and temporary!
The drive was gorgeous, but it was the Oregon town of Ashland — and our friends’ Sunday evening wedding, nearby — that most caught our imagination. Ashland is home to only about twenty thousand residents, but it’s known far and wide for its almost yearlong Shakespeare festival. As we walked its quiet streets (refreshed by an incredible rosewater lemonade!) and gorgeous Lithia Park, I started to fantasize about moving there.
For most of my life I was a very local person; I grew up in the Bay Area and went to college there, and after a brief stint in LA, moved back here with intentions to settle. But I guess moving apartments every 3-4 years for the past decade, and watching friends (including online friends like Mo and Katie) make and plan moves to far-flung locations, has made me more interested in trying out new places before it comes time for us to raise a family (which I’d like to do in about 5 years or so, but not before!!). As we took in Ashland’s beauty and the friendliness of the people, I wondered if maybe we could be happy there, or further south in Mendocino (still my fantasy town), or even elsewhere.
It’s a strange thing to say when I love my home so much, but I have a little bit of nesting wanderlust. I get a thrill when I think about throwing everything out and starting fresh in a new place and a new space; moving feels like a chance to reinvent my life from the ground up. When we moved here to the East Bay I thought I was doing that, but — no surprise! — new clutter and old stresses have caught up with me. Is it any wonder I look longingly for an opportunity to start over yet again?
“If we move here,” I told Erik in Ashland, “we could do it really simply this time. Get rid of most of our stuff, store it at our parents’ houses, then drive up here with just the bare essentials. We could live lightly: a home yoga practice, cooking instead of eating out so much, spending all our time writing and drawing and enjoying the outdoors.” Erik’s even busier than I am (though he wisely spreads himself less thin), and I think this vision appealed to him as much as to me.
The trouble is — and deep down I knew it all along — that’s exactly what we wanted to do here, and it hasn’t happened. We started out mostly furnitureless, doing nothing but attending to our creative work, and before we knew it we had a houseful of stuff and were committed to more projects than we could handle gracefully. Maybe in Ashland we could hang on to our minimal lifestyle for a longer period, since we wouldn’t know anyone there and it’s a smaller town… but I’m pretty sure after a couple of years we’d find ourselves in just the same place we’re in now. The trouble, obviously, is not with the city of residence, but with us and the way we choose to live our lives. There’s nothing we could do in Ashland that we can’t do here. (And there’s plenty we can eat here that we can’t get over there. ;b ) Which means… if I’m serious about wanting to simplify my life, I don’t have to run away to someplace new. I just need to start where I am, with the same level of concentration and urgency as if we were moving house, and purge whatever’s superfluous. I know I say this all the time, but thinking about moving to Ashland really helped this sink in for me.
We’re still open to moving in the next few years, but I won’t be hoping anymore for a move to fix all my time management and clutter problems. That’s up to me, and the time to start is now.