The Simple Life is Not a Narrow Life

This was my grandpa’s prayer table when he lived on a farm in Idaho in the 1920s. It’s now my morning tea and poetry table—my own form of prayer and intention.

This was my grandpa’s prayer table when he lived on a farm in Idaho in the 1920s. It’s now my morning tea and poetry table—my own form of prayer and intention.

This morning a thought came to my mind: do not confuse a narrow life with a simple life. A narrow life is small and limited, ruled by fear. There is only one way, one equation, one path. On the other hand, a simple life begins with a love of all things and all ways and all people—there is an appreciation and joy in all the universe has to offer. What makes it simple is a gracious restraint—a resistance to attachment, attainment, and hoarding. Someone with a simple life makes a conscious choice to only use and keep what is necessary for sustenance and the joy of the heart. Everything else is simply witnessed and allowed to live its own life.

Yesterday my maternal grandfather passed away at 10:14 a.m. This time is significant to me. I was born on October 14th: 10/14. I knew his passing would be a rebirth for me—though I feel guilty saying that out loud. I had complicated feelings towards my grandpa who never received treatment for his PTSD fighting in Germany during WWII where he saw unspeakable horrors. My compassion and sorrow for his experience are sincere and deep. And now, with the discoveries of epigenetics, his trauma is most likely part of my own genetic makeup. Perhaps this is why, in his last few years, I had a hard time being in the same room with him. It was all too painful and messy and agonizing.

Over the years, he cloaked his pain, anger, and manipulation in righteous religious speech and pious ritual. It was the guaranteed road to perfection and salvation. He was right and that was that. He could love you if you agreed with him, followed in his footsteps. One step off the path, and you experienced his pent up anger—his fear that there would be no redemption for any of us if you broke the chain of believers. There were ordinances, religious rituals, that bound the family together—your unworthiness threatened everyone’s salvation and his reputation as The Patriarch of the family.

He grew up on a small farm in Idaho—a simple life, yes? Of course in many ways it was. As much as he longed to be back on the farm all his life, the stories he told of life on the farm were quite sad. His birth mother died when he was only four years old, and his souther baptist stepmother would ask him every night before bed if he had been a good boy—he never believed he was good enough. I’m not sure that he was ever allowed to feel real joy—it would have been seen as arrogant and irresponsible. He married a city girl at 18 years old and was quickly sent away to war in Europe. Life was no longer so simple.

And so it became narrow. “Straight and narrow is the path, and few there be that find it.” If there couldn’t be simplicity, there would certainly be perfection and redemption.

As long as I can remember, his language took on an unpredictable rhythm about redemption, atonement, and repentance on some days; on other days it was laughing to tears about harmless misunderstandings; and sometimes you would be the unprepared target of anger that was a personal condemnation of your soul.

My mom, whom everyone agrees is a saint—myself included, wants to remember the gentler moments she had with him. I, the skeptic, never grew to trust his soft moments. I felt he was luring me in with his sweetness just to get me with his anger and a heavy dose of unworthiness.

Three years ago I wrote a letter to my grandpa about his love for the deserts of southern Utah—his place of refuge and redemption from the night terrors and memories of bombs and death and evil. I want to have compassion for him, and I think I do, but I also knew that my physical reaction to his presence was intense and full of fear. I felt I could only be small and fit his prescription of what a woman should be: a mother, working in the home, silent, adoring of her husband, and pretty. None of this is what my heart wants nor is it who I am.

As we left his room at the assisted living center where he lived for the past 4 years, I noticed all of his handwritten notes taped on the walls, the computer, his TV, the shelves—everywhere. The same words: repentance, atonement, redemption…then this one:

Be still, and know that I am God.

There is something very holy about religious language that still moves me. I have noticed in the past few years that I have begun to redefine and reclaim these words that became so complicated for me. I want them at their essence, away from my grandpa’s fear. I want them in their expansive and simple integrity. I do not want to narrowly associate them with the anger and manipulation of my grandfather—I want them to live simply and beautifully within my psyche.

Redemption, Resurrection, Repentance. These words remind me that morning will always come; weakness becomes strength; rest in darkness and rise again; realign with my soul, daily.

Pilar Pobil: "I had to lie all the time to accomplish all I wanted to do in my life."

Born in Mallorca, Spain, Pilar Pobil moved to Salt Lake City when she married her husband in the 1950s. She’s lived there ever since. She paints women because she wants to make women visible, to emphasize that women can do and be whatever they wish. She came from a very Catholic background where “my mother believed that a woman’s place was at home or in a convent. During my youth in Mallorca, I had to lie all the time to accomplish all I wanted to do in my life.” 

I am a self-taught artist who has always worked alone. Although I  knew from an early age that I was an artist, I was born in Spain at a time when women were not encouraged to pursue their ambitions. From what I heard of my father and the little I can remember, I believe he might have helped me. However, he was an admiral in the Spanish Navy and was killed in the Civil War, when I was a very young child. My mother was very conservative and I received a convent-school education. I married and came to the United States of America, had three children, and at last, when I was already in my forties, I started to work seriously in my chosen field. It has been, and it is, a wonderful experience. I feel grateful for my strong dedication to the Arts. I am alone now. I am still growing and learning and hope this will continue throughout the rest of my life. I am still on a journey of discovery.  

I work in several mediums: oil, acrylic, watercolor, and clay sculpture. Within these different mediums, there is a common denominator that defines my style: I am primarily interested in expression. I use form, color, light and shadow, to define as strongly as I can what I want the viewer to see and feel.  

Whether I paint figures or landscapes, flowers or still lifes, I push the essence I perceive as far as I can. Everything speaks to me: faces, body language, the shape of a mountain, the relationship between the mountain and the plain, the sea and the shore, the objects in a still life. I strive to translate this language I see with my painting.

My perception of things changes continually. Because I paint very much from a place of feeling, I may paint a landscape one day and if I paint from the same spot a week later, it will be completely different, more so than any change of weather or time would justify. My work often surprises me by evolving into something very different from its original intent.  It is representative, but represents my own reality.


Why Wisdom Anthologies: a personal manifesto

This is an ongoing series as I continue to question the why and how of this project. This is the first installment of an evolving vision and experience.

Perhaps it is a symptom of human attachment theory, but I feel that the elderwomen of our communities are disappearing at just the moment I need to see them. I often hear women in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s talk about how freeing these decades of life are. They no longer feel pressure to please anyone but themselves. These are the confident, brave, joyful, genuine, and witty women I want near me. They are confident that no matter what happens to them, they will find a way to gratitude, joy, and love. They know this because they have lived it again and again and again. I need to see, to hear, to feel these women in my life.

I need the Wisdom of Elderwomen.

There’s a lot of pressure to be high-achieving, money-making, family-creating, hustle champions of America in our country of Efficient Productivity of The Most High Impact of Empowered Women. I often wonder what our elderwomen would think of our endless “boss babe,” “badass,” “change leader” pop sermons that leave us all exhausted at the end of every day. We’re constantly wondering if we’re enough, if we’ve done enough, and if it will all turn out ok.

What these women have is Wisdom. What they remind me to consider is that I rarely have to hustle to make change; change will come, and I better conserve my energy to steer through the storms without creating them as well. All this hustle kicks up a lot of dust that blocks the feminine vision of the heart, of intuition.

We’ve seen how the patriarchy ran this planet to a climate crisis and inequality with all of its getting and achieving. The feminine Wisdom that the elderwomen embody is one that requires deep roots grown and developed deep beneath the surface. The elderwomen remind me that it’s the long game, endurance, persistence, and ordinary rhythms that will support the grand beauty we wish to create in our lives.

Men and women both can learn how to cultivate this deep feminine wisdom from the elderwomen.

And, yet, part of me does not blame these women for wanting to disappear in an era when everyone else is desperate for fame, attention, and praise. They are right that it is pretty ridiculous that I want to talk about their ordinary lives. But this is the thing: we have forgotten the rich value of an ordinary life and how to live simply. Ordinary is natural, intuitive, and automatic for them.

Something that is so natural to our elderwomen has become foreign to all of us who feel we must save the planet and everyone and everything on it from imminent destruction of Armageddon proportions. A few years ago, I heard a rabbi on a podcast ask his audience about their pursuit of happiness--as if it was something ahead of them. He asked them to consider that maybe in all their hustle to get there, they passed it up. This wasn’t to say that they missed their chance, but a reminder that running faster and faster will probably burn us out rather than win the race.

The elderwomen show us how to slow down and savor what we already have. Theirs is a Wisdom of Slow Content.

I’ve never been angry about a book title and wanted to burn them all up in a pyre of self-righteousness until I saw Akiko Busch’s How to Disappear on the shelf of my favorite little bookshop. I walked by it for weeks and refused to even pick it up off the shelf to read its summary. I didn’t want to know why a woman in her 60s would write a book giving instructions about how to disappear when it is getting more and more difficult for me to find women to interview and document. They all want to stay in the shadows it seems, and I question the foundation of this project every time I consider that I’m trying to bring the shadow/feminine way of knowing to light. Is this even the right thing to do? Am I trying to do something completely unnatural? Perhaps one of the best things about aging is that you get to disappear, especially as a woman, from the male gaze and pressures of society.

And yet, I cannot let these women disappear. I’m in this project for the long game. Now and then a woman agrees to be interviewed and documented. She somehow understands that we need her--that we need to remember that ordinary, daily tending to our relationships, careers, and homes matter. It is absurd that we have forgotten how to be ordinary. We have forgotten how extraordinary the daily rhythms and seasons are.

The elderwomen show us how to slow down, to see, to hear, to feel, to touch, to taste, and to find a way. Please do not disappear.