When my husband and I were considering south-of-the-border retirement destinations, he said, “Irene, our next home will be decorated with things we find on the beach: shells, driftwood and sea glass. When we die, our kids can keep what they want and chuck the rest back out on the beach — including us.”
After purging a house on Queen Anne filled with 20-plus years’ worth of accumulation, I could not have agreed more. The process of letting go had been daunting, excruciating.
But the work paid off. I was propelled into a freedom I had never known in my life. As closets emptied and yard sales ended, I felt unburdened, lighter.
Comedian George Carlin was right when he hilariously blasted our insane attachment to “stuff.” Our stuff controls us, he railed, because we need to clean it, rearrange it and protect it. It is a force to be reckoned with, and getting rid of it requires, simultaneously, discipline and abandon.
When we began spending winters in Panama, I collected shells, sea glass, pieces of driftwood and bamboo, planning to bring to fruition my husband’s décor idea. But that’s all I did: collect it. When it comes to using my hands to make something — sewing, beading, knitting, drawing — I am stumped. I didn’t know where to begin.
This past winter, I promised myself that I would make some beautiful wall hangings. I was going for beautiful, balanced, impressive.
I began with a small, curved, silver-gray stick; a delicate, white, translucent shell; and a small blue bead with a floral pattern — all remains of a mobile my daughter made but a storm had blown apart.
Carefully arranging shells underneath it, I considered weight, color pattern, sizes and shapes. I worked on it all of one afternoon and was pleased with the symmetrical, color-coordinated result.
Meanwhile, inside the casita was a collection of sea glass and assorted shell fragments waiting to become my second creation. A week or so later, feeling somewhat of an expert, I started.
I organized the pieces into piles according to color and shape. I laid them out in various patterns. I considered. I rearranged. I drilled holes. I rearranged again.
Time passed. And then, thinking I had abandoned the project, my husband cleared it all away one day to prepare for visitors who would be staying in the room I called my studio.
But I wanted to do this, wanted to finish it. So I just said, “To hell with it.”
I dumped the formerly carefully categorized bits and pieces in a great lump on the table. I used a piece of driftwood with a dozen or so holes long ago formed by sea worms or bugs. I picked the first shell somewhat randomly, a coral-colored fragment, worn to its present shape by years of water and sand movement, and tied it to one of the holes.
I gravitated next to a lumpy, spotted piece of shell that had a natural place to attach the string and tied it on. Next, an elongated triangle piece of green sea glass.
And so on. I just let go and let each piece call to the next.
The time passed quickly, and as it began to take shape, I saw that by letting go of control, of attempts at symmetry, of a desire to impress, the pieces collaborated with me, and together, we made something beautiful. It is imperfect and graceful and makes me smile whenever I look at it.
Free as a child
Relinquishing our need to organize and control whether we are moving or creating sets us free to find out what we are capable of. Surrendering self-consciousness brings purity to our work and life.
Have you ever seen the way a child draws? They just pick a Crayon or a marker and go for it. And their drawings are authentic and fabulous. I have framed many of my children’s early artwork just for that reason.
If we can let go of the wheel and allow forces outside — and deep within — ourselves to lead us, what beauty and goodness we can create.
IRENE PANKE HOPKINS (irenehopkins.com) lived on Queen Anne for 20 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.