Simplify, Simplify! (or Not)

In a famous quote from Walden, in the essay, “Where I Lived and What I Lived For,” Thoreau exclaims, “Our life is frittered away by detail… simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”

(To which his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson is said to have replied, “I think one ‘simplicity’ would have done it, Henry.”)

I love Thoreau, and I love that quote for its exuberance, even though I don’t care  much about simplicity and I find most “simplify your life” advice pretty unappealing.

Personally, I prefer complexity.  Not complications — that’s a different thing. But I like depth and nuance and layers of meaning and shades of grey. Blank walls and empty shelves don’t do it for me.

Give me details, details, details!

Still, it’s coming on spring, and cyclical creature that I am, I’m doing some of what might look like simplifying: shifting stuff around, re-ordering priorities, letting things go, making more space.  But it’s not simplifying, exactly. It’s something more complex.

Last night I was talking with a friend, and I got stuck trying to come up with a word for it. Uncluttering seemed too dismissive of previous passions. Purging felt too forceful, and release was too passive.

And then I got this image in my mind of making soup.

Specifically, of making stock, where you throw in bones and ribs of celery and chunks of onion and peppercorns and all the stuff that makes it taste wonderful, and then you let it simmer for a few hours. And when it’s done, you strain it to remove the big bits, and then, if you’re really into making stock, you pour it through layers of cheesecloth to remove the tiniest bits.

This last part is called clarifying. You’re making the stock clear by getting rid of all the lingering stuff that mattered before but no longer does.

Stock only looks simple. A well-made stock is actually pretty complex. Just like life.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. Not simplifying. Clarifying. And you?

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