by Elizabeth T. Andrews
American Reporter Correspondent
February 20, 2007
HOW TO OWN A MANSION
CARTERSVILLE, Ga. -- I live in a mansion that, by today's standards, probably cost less than Henry David Thoreau's $29 cabin in his 19h century New England woods.
Choosing between good money (which I have made and
know how to make) and a "poor" poet's life, I chose
the latter. I bought a beat-up mobile home and set
about making it into a simple mansion fit for a
The kitchen of this mansion was nonexistent as the previous residents had allowed the pipes to freeze and the owner had reduced the kitchen to mere walls with a hole in the floor big enough to store a small aircraft.
The place boasted of two bedrooms and two baths, so I did a little Arkansas math and concluded that one mere poet couldn't possibly be in two beds or two baths at the same time; that saving an entire room for infrequent "guests" was an excerise in stupidity; and that I needed elbow room for books and more books and stacks of files so high you could rest behind them in the shade.
I thought, in the first cold nights of scrubbing dirty floors on my hands and knees, that the fancy bathroom in back would make a grand kitchen and my kitchen mess would be forever out of sight. I was scared to death of trying to light the ancient gas furnace and so scrubbed on, leaving the furnace to the handyman who knew far more about such things than one "helpless" (duh) female poet.
On a poet's budget, I swapped the fancy fixings in the Cleopatra bathroom for handyman labor. Out went everything including the garden tub, the shower stall, the his-and-hers sinks. Who said a kitchen can't have many mirrors and lights all over the place? Leave the mirrors; leave the lights.
Out with the master bedroom. A person doesn't need a huge room in order to get a good night's sleep. In with my grand green children. Plants and more plants, ringing the room, encircling the dining room table in an outdoor atmosphere.
In with the forest-green carpet from the sale of my daughter's house. The ritzy new owners wanted all things new.
And at last, finally and at last, I had a large Writer's Room - the space from the now nonexistent kitchen plus the "living room" space - and I set about happily unpacking boxes and boxes of books.
In the biting cold of that first December, I scrubbed walls and corners, swept closets free of the uninvited spider guests. I painted and puffed and huffed in the sweet knowledge of no more mortgage payments the size of the national debt and no more property taxes big enough to turn a teetotaler into an alcoholic.
Today, I waltz lightly among my few earthly treasures. Today, I wait like a trembling expectant mother for the blooming of tulips entombed in the good earth two falls ago by my hand.
And today, I accept that I am materialistically incorrect but free, finally, from my own silliness: the unwholesome belief that things validate my existence, define my identity.
Ever curious about "See John run. See Mary run. See John and Mary run," I have no easy insight into why we Americans run so hard for the goodies that enslave us. We no longer seem to be straining to keep up with John and Mary but rather want bigger and better, and more than John and Mary have. And so we endure our heart attacks, our bleeding ulcers, our loss of good quality time with our families, and we run faster and faster 'round the rat-race maze, getting and grabbing, and robbing ourselves of the freedom of simplicity and the simple joy of personal validation by grace and not by possessions.
I wrestled the "all-American dream" from the capitalistic system that says you can have it all if you are willing to work hard. I worked three years without a day off to build my first business ... and I got it all. The pool home. The maid three days a week. The two new cars parked in the driveway. The Ms. Somebody image in a town of other misguided Somebodys.
My quality time with my daughters was a happening that rarely happened; my migraines were horrible enough to make a saint swear; and my years went spinning past me like a puzzled Frisbee caught in a tornado.
Today I bask in priorities redefined and in the sweet knowledge that people and poems take precedent over material myopia. I have no desire to convince anyone to adopt my chosen lifestyle. I only know it works for me and as I submit one more poem, write one more column, connect with one more mind across miles and time, I marvel that I ever thought the race-of-rats was so important.
Almost anybody can make the kind of money I used to make. Only I can write the poems that are my soul's song of gratitude to a natural universe rich in wonder and unfolding hourly with magic and miracles.
A-R Correspondent Elizabeth T. Andrews is a former columnist for the Orlando Sentinel now living in Cartersville, Ga., where she writes poetry. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 816, Cartersville, GA 30120.