Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Living nicely

While Botany Pond maintains the consistency of a frozen margarita, something resembling spring has settled over Hyde Park.  A new café catered by our beloved Pleasant House Bakery has opened on campus.  I’m having a hard time not walking in and clapping for everyone’s attention, “FYI, fellow patrons! I will be raising my children here. This will be the spot of their future first memories…thanks.” (I get no response after this make-believe announcement; people just return to their conversations as my cheeks redden from speaking out loud to more than one stranger at once and I make my way to the counter to order.)  A declaration I do want to make is that the parfait, oatmeal, and biscuits are wonderful (and I’ll report back when I’ve been cleared to eat the ham sandwich).
These excellent local developments combined with my recent binge of Laurie Colwin novels—specifically, Happy All The Time, or My New Favorite Book Forever—has inspired something deep within me.  Holly, one of two main lady characters in HATT (one who I can’t help noticing shares many of Laurie’s personal designs on food), is strong, decisive, and complex.  Her “one ambition” is to “live nicely from day to day.” Which is just about the best thing I’ve ever heard—especially the implication of quiet, modest living. Living not grandly, or better than anyone else, just nicely. It’s the kind of phrase that sends me to the market for fresh flowers each week; to a new café in the neighborhood for a cup of tea and a biscuit with butter and jam; or to the bookstore to buy Laurie Colwin novels for the special people in my life.
Perhaps it’s that I’ve never been particularly career driven, more drawn to the conduct of the “domestic sensualist,” but when Laurie gives Holly the right to prioritize a nice life, I feel like she’s giving it to me, too. “Even Holly worked: she worked to make life sweet… she fought to keep the ugly chaotic world at bay and to keep a sweet, pretty corner to live in.” Yes. Yes!

If you read this and feel the world shifting into balance, we are truly kindred spirits. Letting your life be your work is a worthwhile, noble endeavor. Even in the last pages, after Holly reveals a hidden insecurity saying, “I don’t work. I’m lazy. I don’t do anything very important. I don’t even know how intelligent I am. I just live day to day enjoying myself,” she immediately returns to form, amending: “None of this self-criticism.” She too knows that what she does is good enough.
And I take this as permission to focus on enjoying myself and keeping things sweet; as a reminder that those are ambitions, too. We may be eating the same simple meals each week (sausage meatballs with peas over shells and chicken wings are in heavy rotation alongside ceaseless quesadillas), but neither the simplicity nor the repetition of meals is a failure.  What matters is that we take time to set the flowers in a vase, light a candle, and have a nice dinner.  This is our pretty corner to live in, and we are living nicely.