Embracing the lives we lead
by Ashley English . photo by Naomi Johnson
I’ve long felt that the places you live inform your look, your tastes, and your activities. If you’re an urban New Yorker, it’s entirely likely that you dress like one, hitting the right notes on the latest trends. You’re aware of the newest foreign films, and are completely on top of the ombre trend, both in home décor and hair coloring.
Similarly, if you live in Sedona, you might completely dig long, flowing skirts, know when your favorite astrologer is coming to town, and have long been aware of the benefits of both feng shui and wabi sabi. The geographic locations in which we hang our hats, for however long a time, shape us, in ways both obvious and subtle.
When I lived in Washington, D.C. in my early twenties, I looked like I belonged there. Not in the Capitol Hill way, wearing sensible pantsuits in a broad range of navy blues and grays, but in the “it’s the ’90s, I love thrift stores and I listen to indie-rock” vein. My apartment was decorated with Salvation Army offerings, I volunteered at a non-profit social-justice publication, and I hit up the local haunts for cocktails and conversation.
When I returned to Asheville in 2000, I lived within city limits for several years. During that time, as well as when I lived in D.C., I socialized a great deal. After work, I’d gather with co-workers for a happy-hour cocktail, or meet up with friends in the evening for a drink or a bite somewhere downtown. That all changed when, in 2007, I met my husband, moved to the country, and ultimately left my job for life as a stay-at-home writer and, later, mother.
Living a mile down a dirt road, 20 minutes from town, with a toddler and a fellow work-from-home spouse has profoundly changed the manner in which I dress, decorate, and socialize. As it should. While I used to head to a local watering hole to whet my post-work whistle, these days, once the clock hits 5 p.m., I pour a glass of wine or open a cold beer and head out to the patio. I’ve traded in strappy heels for farm boots (or flip-flops, depending on the season) and spend time digging up potatoes instead of digging through racks of vintage dresses.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with how I used to orient my wardrobe, home, or free time. I loved the life I led before altering it irrevocably. And I adore the life I live now. They’re completely different, and yet not at all incompatible. They were both simply authentic representations of my life at specific moments. Many of my behaviors are still the same, motivated by the same drive; only now, the manner in which they manifest is a bit changed.
I can’t help but feel that this tendency towards adapting to the spaces we inhabit is, at its core, a survival mechanism, honed over eons of human trial and error. Back then, it was figuring out how to scale a tree more quickly and more deftly than whatever was hunting us. Now, it’s realizing that work boots and sturdy, well-constructed clothing hold up better to the rigors of homesteading and toddler-chasing than do cute shoes and pencil skirts. It’s learning how to start a fire in the wood stove (after first knowing the best type of wood to burn) and how to keep it burning, over knowing how to keep a cigarette smoldering in a cigarette holder. From a busy, single, urban life to a slow, married, mothered country one, I’ve embraced my space and it has held me closely in return.
Ashley English is author of four books in the “Homemade Living” series from Asheville’s Lark Books, including A Year of Pies, out in August. For more of her writing, check out her blog, Small Measure, at small-measure.blogspot.com.