The Life Imagined

Tasha Tudor ~ August 28, 1915--June 18, 2008

Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.

The Henry David gem had been buzzing at my mind all day, and all day I had been tenaciously smiling it down.

I had smiled it down when I cut out one of the skirt pieces upside down, and when I had to trot back to the store to buy the lining fabric I had somehow managed to forget, and—gritting my teeth a bit—when I found I had to rip a whole long careful row of neat stitches that just happened to be on the wrong side of the fabric.

“I need to do this for myself,” I insisted to the air as I took a deep breath and hunched over the billows of pale blue eyelet on my lap.

For weeks I had been so busy I’d scarcely had time to breathe. I had a barnful of newly acquired baby goats and lambs and a whole litany of new responsibilities to go with them. A household regimen threatening to implode under the pressure of forestalled spring cleaning. A garden that had gone in by the sheer grit of an exhaustion wrung out into one last burst of fatigued productivity. Not to mention a world of needs and their care that clamored outside the boundary markers of my own particular ‘vineyard’. And we were leaving on vacation the next morning, leaving all those babies and seedlings and dust bunnies to the oversight of others and packing-ironing-unpacking-repacking-cleaning-out-the-fridge-changing-the-sheets-watering-the-garden-remembering-to-feed-the-fish-and-don’t-forget-the-chicken-feed to get on the road first thing the next day.

So, of course, it followed, that the very best thing I could possibly do for myself was to make a new dress.

After the incident with the seam ripper I stood up for a stretch, thinking a cup of tea would clear my head a bit. And maybe still the pounding in my temples. On the way downstairs I stopped by my desk and checked my email.

A moment later I was in my chair with my head in my hands, weeping.

Tasha Tudor had died.

Peacefully, in her own home, the message said. With her loved ones around her and all the evidences crowding in of a life lived well. Well? Thriving, glowing, fine and high and noble! The life she had imagined and gone after with a passion rarely seen, in our age or any other. The life that had become a world, for her family and friends, and for those of us all over the globe privileged to have a share in it through her books and paintings.

The news drew me up, halted me in my mad career through the day. Sickened me with the sham I had been making of my own ‘life imagined’ of late. All she had imparted by her life and her works seemed to wash over me in a flood and mingle with my tears. Those little Nubian goats out in the barn were her doing—I had fallen in love amid the pages of her books. The dream of a kitchen hearthfire and fairy rings in the garden and magical Christmases and ‘farm-fresh eggs’ (from the most coddled chickens, of course)–a homeplace where the old ways were revered (though of an 1850’s variety, instead of an 1830’s)—these all came down to me through the goodly lineage of Tasha Tudor.

Or they rose up in me, rather, latent longings that were as much me as the blue eyes I’d gotten from my grandfather and my slightly crooked smile. Tasha Tudor helped me to validate them, and a thousand others. To look the world and its expectations in the eye and say, “Well, hang it, this is the way I want to live my life!” This careful attendance upon beauty—this devotion to the moments that make for real living—for myself and those I love. Alone in the garden; sipping tea with a kindred spirit at my kitchen table or feasting with friends in the dining room; nuzzling a thoroughly spoiled goat in the barn; welcoming my husband back to a haven at the end of the day. I embraced the choices offered me as a young woman in the era into which I had been born. And I chose this.

And Tasha had given me the courage to do it.

Autumn clematis ~ Tasha called it virgin's bower

But I’d gotten sidetracked over the unthinking course of a busy year; lost some of my moorings. I had forgotten how unnecessary some things were, and how essentially vital were others. I’d given my perfectionism its head and I’d jostled along brain-rattled in its wake. When choices had pressed in hard all around me, I hadn’t kept faith with the original vision. The vision was rooted in deeper things, of course, than a fellow human creature’s chosen lifestyle: it was anchored in the eternal and completely unique calling of God on my life. It had to do not only with the temporal elements of making a home, but with the undying realities sustaining it.

I had forgotten.

The life Tasha Tudor lived so graciously was her choice. Likewise, no matter what I had been saying to myself to the contrary, the pace I’d been keeping over all those weary months was my choice. It had been my choice to respond to every need that came to my ears as if I alone in the universe could answer it. It had been my choice to prefer one opportunity over another simply because it seemed more ‘spiritual’ and important, personal desires notwithstanding. It had been my choice to try and do it all when I realized that personal desires were getting the shaft.

Every day I have the opportunity to choose how I am going to live—this is a great privilege but also a great responsibility. The way of our dreams–the Alpine Path, if you will–is not a leisurely stroll in a shaded wood, or even a pleasant hike up a rolling grade. It is a daily battle. A limiting unto more freedom. A devotion and a discipline, and it will sometimes require a shedding or a pruning or a sundering. It means that I cannot be choice-less in the matter because every day’s fruit is only a result of the choices I have made all along the way, from the time I get up till the time I go to bed.

Into this equilibrium for many Christians is added the uniquely evangelical bugbear of separating the ‘sacred’ from the ‘secular’. The judging between options and activities based on so-called ‘spiritual merit’.

The low priority of certain desires on the mere basis that they are mine and must therefore somehow be less than God’s will. The notion that tiredness is next to godliness. The goading to keep pace with the frenzied music of the world around me rather than the still, soft music that God would sing over my life. Viewing life as a compartmentalized series of duties and earned pleasures instead of the holistic dance of sacramental joy that it is.

The voices hammer loud in my head:

“What? Devotion to a lifestyle? There is nothing eternal in that outlook—it is all wrapped up in temporal things that won’t endure. And besides, you need to be out witnessing rather than letting your self-image get tied up in that house and whatever it is that you do there.”

But then I brush fingers with the great ones and my heart breathes out the pure air of eternity:

“Don’t be too easily convinced that God really wants you to do all sorts of work you needn’t do. Each must do his duty ‘in that state of life to which God has called him.’ Remember that a belief in the virtues of doing for doing’s sake is characteristically feminine, characteristically American, and characteristically modern: so that three veils may divide you from the correct view! There can be intemperance in work just as in drink. What feels like zeal may be only fidgets or even the flattering of one’s self-importance. As MacDonald says, ‘In holy things may be unholy greed!’ And by doing what ‘one’s station and its duties’ does not demand, one can make oneself less fit for the duties it does demand and so commit some injustice. Just you give Mary a chance as well as Martha!”

C.S. Lewis, Letters to An American Lady

“You can’t witness to a computer screen,” said one friend in exasperation at this supposed dichotomy.

Josephine amid the forget-me-nots

But because of Tasha Tudor and her example to live the life uniquely suited to one’s calling, I can hold my head up a little higher and say, “No, you can’t do much witnessing to a computer. Or a row of tomato plants or a loaf of bread. Or to a barnful of animals, but it’s highly unlikely they would need it. I prefer to let them witness to me.”

And it’s at that computer screen and in that garden and kneeling amid velvety, inquisitive noses that I find God. It’s in the quiet mornings of a quiet life. It’s in poetry and music and fabulous talks with my husband on the front porch over a glass of wine. And with my friends over a pot (or three) of tea. In novels and in the classics of my faith and in old cookbooks. This is me. This is my life—the life I have been called and equipped to live. No one else will have the same destiny with God that I would amid flowers and goats and cats and dogs and stories and duets—this one is tailor-made for me. And for some reason, this is where He most pleases to meet me and show me Himself. This is where Christ dwells in me and where eternity touches time. And that’s what it’s all about.

I grew to hate that silly dress I had been stewing over when I got the news of Tasha’s death. It’s an absolute dream, a frothy cloud after a 1950’s cut. But just like the tare that inspired it, it’s too much. Too fussy; too burdened with its own presence. It represents a false me, a me that frets over stubborn projects just because I happened to think them up. A me that says I can do it all and still have grey matter to spare. And save the world while I’m at it.

A me that is not me. Not really. And it’s such a relief to be reminded.

So today I’m celebrating Tasha Tudor’s life and all the determined joy with which she lived it. I’m keeping her memory in the keeping of my dreams—many of which have been kindled into life by her own. My grateful and heartfelt love follows her, and my teacup is raised with another bit of  Thoreau that Tasha’s friends will instantly recognize:

I learned this, at least, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

edited to add: In honor of Tasha’s birthday today, I am offering a lovely first edition copy of ‘Tasha Tudor’s Bedtime Book’ at a special price. Visit the Bookshop and sort by ‘Date Added’ to see it!

18 Responses to “The Life Imagined”

  1. Kimberly says:

    Thank you for writing this!
    I, too, loved how Tasha lived. While not agreeing with some of her beliefs, I admired how she met life and lived on her own terms.
    My heart cries, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” when I read this:
    Tasha Tudor helped me to validate them, and a thousand others. To look the world and its expectations in the eye and say, “Well, hang it, this is the way I want to live my life!” This careful attendance upon beauty—this devotion to the moments that make for real living—for myself and those I love.

  2. Lisa says:

    How deeply affecting this is! I am fully uplifted. In regard to “the uniquely evangelical bugbear of separating the ‘sacred’ from the ‘secular,” I would say that I completely agree with your assessment. I would add something I learned from St. Therese, who said: “You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.” Recalling St. Therese’s “Little Way” has been so helpful to me when I feel as if the life I have chosen isn’t Godly enough. Everything one does can be a witness to God, if done with the perfect love that comes from Him!

    I must admit that I do not know much about Tasha Tudor, but I shall correct this slight as soon as possible! Thank you for this piece.

  3. Abby Maddox says:

    I think it is evidence of good writing, when everyone feels that what you write was written precisely for them. You touched my heart at this moment, where I needed it. You have a habit of doing that 🙂 Thank you.

  4. heather says:

    Hello there and Happy Tasha Tudor Day!~
    It is always a thrill to find a kindred spirit. Tasha has meant so much to me as well, and came into my life at the most perfect of times. She inspires me in so many ways, but most importantly to go after my passions and to create my own life.. It sounds like she has done much the same for you!~ What a wonderful post!~ And I too have fallen for little goats because of her….although at the moment my ‘farm’ consists more of rabbits!~

    Do come visit me at my little tasha party! And have a lovely day!~

  5. ellbee says:

    “Like cold waters to a weary soul, so is good news from a distant land”. ~Proverbs 25:25~

    This is the Scripture that came to mind when I read this refreshing post. How I also struggle at times with those same “voices hammer(ing) loud in my head”. Oft times I end up plodding through a dark tunnel because of them. Thank you for sharing this…herein is much food for thought and nourishment for this pilgrim.

  6. Linda says:

    I really enjoyed your post. It was very thought provoking. I was thinking about how as a young wife and mother I loved the idea of the country lifestyle, but I was living in a subdivision house and hated it. I felt I had to make the best of my situation and did feel I could ever make my dream come true. Later, much later in life I got to a little, but I have to say the spirit of that lifestyle was always with me and it showed up in my life in little ways. Tasha has inspired me this last year to try out some of those things that I always wanted to, but never had tried. It’s been fun. I was particularly interested in what you had to say about being a Christian and the call of God on our lives. I agree that there are different times in our lives for different things, but I think living a life of faith is the greatest witness and God can bring people into our lives that will be blessed and ministered to by it.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.


  7. Gretchen says:

    Thank you, friend. I needed to be reminded of those daily choices, reminded that tiredness is not next to godliness. 🙂

  8. Jessica says:

    Excellent, Lanier…so true. Thank you. 🙂

  9. Joan says:

    This is good wisdom. I’ve been enjoying your posts for a while now. Really beautiful words!
    Good courage, to discern God’s call, His handwritten
    wooing of His creation in you, which you participate in creating, and which then bears life.

    For me it has and still requires great courage and keen listening to follow a path that hasn’t been lived before, because God has left that task open for me. But he does provide just enough encouragement, just enough, through the generosity of friendship, through the works of those dedicated to creating and forwarding beauty, truth, and goodness here on earth, through the clarity of His word and the guidance and variety of His saints.

    I imagine He wants me to desire so much to do His will, to follow dreams planted deep within me and love them into existence, to become who He has made me to be without the comfort of approval or the security of certainty, so that I may know for sure what and who I love.
    He wants me to delight in the mystery of who I am and who I am becoming, through and for His glory.
    I believe, that in ourselves, in our lives, and in our homes, we have an opportunity to create a resting place. A haven for ourselves to come home to, our families, others. I imagine that Christ takes comfort in the friendship of our souls.

    In all things good, there lies something eternal. We do not worship the good things we surround ourselves with or participate in, we value the eternal in them. Our souls are nourished by them, recreated in them, made substantial through them. As Christians, when we fall in love with God, we are attracted to the good.
    Our souls are awakened, and we gain the strength to love and follow the good.
    Someone once questioned me, “What’s the big deal with beauty?”
    I think the person was asking why I cared so much about beauty, why I dedicated so much time to it. Wasn’t that worldly and such…
    I am still trying to articulate the answer to that question. It lies within me, like the Source of the spring.
    Your post has helped to answer it well!

    • Lanier Ivester says:

      Joan, a hearty and resounding ‘Amen’. Thank you for your thoughts…

      You are right. It does require great courage.

      “Courage then to claim it, that is all. But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country, Home.”

      ~Fra Giovanni, 1513

      • Jan says:

        Lanier (and Joan): You have a way with words that speaks to my heart. I fell in love with Tasha Tudor and her lifestyle when I read her first book, and saw her artwork. I even went so far as to desire to be an artist, but God has different plans for me and being an artist is definitely not in those plans. Altho’ I’m excited about a colored-pencil drawing I did of an iris years ago.

        Having grown up on the farm, and missing it when I found myself married and living in a small town, I identified with Tudor’s philosophy, although as someone said, I didn’t agree with all of her beliefs. If my husband had been agreeable, I would have tried to duplicate the Tasha Tudor life, but alas, he was too urbane. Now, I realize I may not have had the physical or emotional strength to take on the responsibility. But, Tasha Tudor helped me realize what is possible and that made a difference in my life. Now, I believe, Lanier, that you may be another kindred spirit who will impact my life. Thank you for sharing all you do, and yes, you definitely can witness through a computer screen.

  10. Theresa says:

    Happy Tasha Tudor Day (one day late). You’ve written a very lovely post. Thank you so much. Feel free to come visit with me for my little humble celebration:

  11. sem says:

    How timely. School started this week in Florida sending my youngest to the wide world of Kindergarten. And so for the first time in over seven years, I am truly the director of my day. It’s always easy to think in terms of ‘when the kids go to school’ or ‘when I get more time.’ When that time finally comes though, it is easy to still not make the most of it. It can be downright paralyzing because all the excuses are gone.

    Thank you for giving me the perspective I lost this week!

  12. Judy says:

    Love it, love it, love it! My soul sings in agreement!

  13. Wow. Tasha Tudor too?

    Lanier, I am amazed.

  14. […] And so, that plunge into darkness and the light that I found there was an experience I mark time from. Reading A Severe Mercy gave me back my Christianity as high romance, as beauty and longing and pilgrimage along which love might goad my heart with gladness. It helped me recover myself from a rubble of accumulated expectations, helped me see that my soul is more gypsy than I’d imagined. Most importantly, it convinced me that what I’m really longing for in all I love is Christ himself and that a life of love to him could be one of such adventure that the fairy tales of my childhood paled in comparison. Love God and do what you will, wrote Augustine so famously. I began, finally, to dare to believe that the two were not mutually exclusive. […]

  15. […] And as a final treat, in honor of this relaunch of my Bookshop (I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for five years!) and in celebration of the happy realization that I’ve been writing in this space for ten years (!), I’m offering a giveway: a lovely copy of The Art of Tasha Tudor, a candid celebration of the life and work of one of the greatest illustrators of our time (and one of my endearingly imperfect heroines). […]

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