My love of spaces and what is in them has been a lifelong interest. As a child, inspired by a book I read or a show on television, I rearranged my bedroom to create the same environment. I came by this naturally. My parents frequently moved furniture and changed up rooms. By reordering a space, I discovered new parts of me woke up. Attempting to figure out how spaces impacted us, I pursued degrees in sociology and interior design. Eventually this led to a master’s degree in environmental behavior and a consulting business that interpreted the language of a space. How a space affected my behavior was always the deeper and consistent question.
When I read May Sarton’s, Plant Dreaming Deep, I found a woman who spoke of a space, her farmhouse, as I spoke of our home, Simplicity. Each chapter of her book offered gems into my understanding of the unique relationship of house and resident, something I also felt. I wondered if I could write about our home in this way. For years I sat with this question. For years I did nothing. The question persisted.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Big Magic, she says, “I believe that inspiration will always try its best to work with you – but if you are not ready or available, it may indeed choose to leave you and to search for a different human collaborator.” She tells of her great book idea that she kept postponing to write until one day, a writing colleague wrote a similar book. Her take away was to follow the inspiration given you or it will find another person to fulfill it. This awareness was the energetic push to write the book I held in my heart and soul. Fed up with saying ‘someday I will write this book,’ and knowing I would live with regret if I did not, I moved into action.
I promised myself three years to write Simplicity’s story, concluding with my seventieth birthday. What a grand birthday gift this would be to myself! Knowing I needed accountability and increased writing skills to make this book happen, I joined writing groups, took classes, and was coached and mentored by writer, Julie Tallard Johnson. During one of our writing circles, we explored the idea of blogs. Blogging provided the perfect writing habit and invited a manageable and enjoyable way for the stories to be written. At this stage there was no intention to order the stories or weave them together. Each story stood as a single work.
To get away from the distractions and procrastinations that occurred at home, I frequently stayed at my daughter’s apartment about an hour away, found coffee shops and libraries where I could write, and booked an overnight or two at a Bed and Breakfast. One year into this blog project, we sold Simplicity. The book felt finished as well, except it wasn’t. I had managed to write a very third person account about a house. Julie and my writing partners wanted more. They wanted me to share my personal struggle, my intimate relationship with this house, which I had deliberately kept from revealing.
It took another year to write the personal vulnerabilities, the parts of me that were crucial to understanding the impact this house had on my life. As a faithful writer of Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, I looked back through my writings and began to integrate those feelings into the stories.
From day one I had a vision of how I wanted this book to be experienced by the reader. An admirer of the few succinct words that capture it all, I have collected quotations for years. They have been a source of comfort, wisdom, and insight throughout my life. An appropriate quotation was to introduce each chapter.
As a reader, I would want to ‘see’ the stories. A glimpse into Simplicity through a black and white sketch offered a way to both see and imagine her spaces. The sketches were created from photographs taken by husband, Don, and me, as well as paintings I painted of Simplicity while we lived in her.
An intimate story required an intimate size. This resulted in a 5 x 8 book that was comfortable to hold in the hands. Aware of my own reading habits, preferring to start a chapter on the right side of a book, the sketch and quotation were placed on the left side with the chapter beginning on the right.
Shanti Arts Publishing and publisher, Christine Cote, made the magic happen. She listened carefully and honored my vision of this book, asked great questions, and made insightful suggestions like ‘Do you think it might assist your readers to have blueprints of Simplicity?’ When the proof was sent my way, I looked with awe. Before me was my vision and more, beautifully cared for and conceived.
This book will not likely land on the New York Times Best Seller list, but it is the fulfillment of a promise I made to myself and honored. Through its stories, the book invites readers to see their own homes and spaces with new eyes, to wake up to see the ordinary and everyday place they call home in extraordinary ways.
More about A House Named Simplicity: Stories of Finding Home and ordering links can be found at www.susaneatonmendenhall.com
TWO AUTHORS ONE ROOF
Don Mendenhall and Susan Eaton Mendenhall
Don, author of Civility joins Susan for a talk through the DeForest Area Public Library
THURSDAY, APRIL 29th, 6:00 PM via ZOOM
Join us for a glimpse. into the writing lives of two local artists.
Susan, a watercolor artist, recently published A House Named Simplicity: Stories of Finding Home. Her husband, Don, is a fine art photographer and author of Civility: Belonging with Dignity.
In her book, Susan has written a collection of stories about a house that supported their quest to find home, both in a place and within themselves.
Don’s book explores the practical expression of civility through a series of personal stories that serve as outstanding real-life models for civil behavior in the face of conflict. He encourages us to take a closer look at our lives and offers useful ideas about how to live more respectful and trusting lives.
If you have a disability and require accommodation in order to fully participate, please contact library staff.
203 Library Street DeForest, WI ● (608) 846–5482 ● www.deforestlibrary.org
All Write Wednesdays: World into Word
All Write Wednesdays is a blog about living the writer's life. Everything in our lives is material to explore & write about. Here, the spiritual path meets up with the writer's path. Read the All Write Wednesdays posts.