Friday, February 17, 2012

Is Your House Burning? Life’s Third Act and Other Great Ideas for the Weekend

The trick to life is how not to have any

What would you save if your house were burning?  That’s the question by Foster Huntington for his Burning House project.  People have photographed collections of their most precious items to add to his website.  It’s fascinating to see and read (here) what different generations consider irreplaceable.  As fabulous as this project is, though, I hate it because it forces me to reflect on what’s most irreplaceable in my own house (beyond the people and dog, of course) and then think “Now, where did I put X?” or “How the heck would I even find my most precious Y in this house full of stuff if I needed to grab it and go?”  I can't even find the butter in my refrigerator, for gosh sake.

I need to make a plan.  I need to get rid of stuff.  I need to get organized.  Hmm, my husband and I are making plans to renovate our house so that we have more room for stuff in our kitchen and books on bookshelves and plants that will die inside of a year.  Perhaps I need to build a glass cabinet next to the front door with a sign that says, “In case of fire, take these.”

The Burning House project has you look back on your life to find your meaning.  In this same week I found a video of Jane Fonda’s TED talk on “Life’s Third Act” (see below).  She asks all the women in the room to start looking ahead in their lives. “We’re still living with the old paradigm of age as an arch,” she tells her audience, “You’re born, you peak at midlife and decline into decrepitude.”  However, thanks to better nutrition, better medical care, and a handful of other reasons that’s no longer the case.  After we retire we actually have another entire adult lifespan to live.  That’s 25 or 30 years of “what am I going to do with myself?”

She reminds these women that as young girls we were “the subjects of our own lives.”  We were smart and feisty and full of sass.  As we age, we give that all away to others.  In life’s third act, though, the time has come to reclaim the girl we used to be.  We have this wonderful chance to start something new.  I’d like to think I’ve got a bit farther to go before I hit the decrepitude stage, but this midlife transition I’m in has become a search for a new identity.  A glamorous travel writer?  A master gardener?  The definitive collector of antique factory bobbins (that's another story)?  The woman who died with the largest stack of to-be-read books on her nightstand?

I don’t believe in leading the life of an ascetic wanderer, chucking it all and possessing nothing from the past while planning nothing for the future.  The trick I’m finding at this stage (not quite the third stage) is striking that balance between unencumbering my life from the “stuff” I trip over every day – discerning my greatest treasures from the past vs. things that possess me now – and purposefully looking ahead to another well-lived 25 or 30 years.  I’ll let you know if I find it.

What would you save from a burning house?  What are your plans for life’s third act?  Have you taken any steps to unencumber your life yet?  Share your thoughts with everyone in the comments box and enjoy your weekend.

Meanwhile, here are some great things to read in your down time during the weekend.

Somebody needs to give the publishing houses in New York a slap upside the head.  And Kristen Lamb is the person to do it.  Perhaps anyone who cares about the written word (whether you’re a reader or a writer) needs to send this manifesto to every agent and editor who has yet to see the future.

While were on the subject of precious possessions and third acts, read what
Kristin McFarland has to say about the tenuous road we sometimes find in finding new adult friendships.  Sex and The City made it look so easy.

Why not create something so precious that it would be added to someone else’s “burning house” list? 
Mary Robinette Kowal talks about “The Month of Letters Challenge.”  While this month might be over soon, there’s no reason you can’t challenge yourself in March.

And if you just want to laugh your pants off, both literally and figuratively, then read
Sara Walpert Foster on the new trend of naked yoga and Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) all the amazing things you can do with a dead weasel.  I kid you not.  It’s brilliant.  And high couture is involved.  And lots and lots of photos to demonstrate.  And lots of doubling over in hysterics until you fall off of your chair.


Anonymous said...

O.M.G. The Bloggess's dead weasel post was hilarious! Thanks for spreading the weasel cheer. (I can't close my eyes and NOT see the weasel wearing the dress, but that's o.k. It makes me giggle all the more.)

Kristen Lamb said...

Thanks for helping me spark the Love Revolution. I hope we can get NY to listen. *hugs*

Astra said...

Great post - lots to think about!! Must go read those other posts!
Re: burning house - we have a box at the front door of photos, CDs of photos and memory sticks of photos to grab on the way out of a 'burning house'. This day and age I should just load them all up on a server somewhere but what a daunting task that would be.
Love the concept of a Third Act. I think many women I know are capturing the essence of this Third Act and hope I do too (let you know!)...

Laura@Catharsis said...

I can see why you'd both love and hate this project at the same time. I have no idea what I'd save (aside from the people, of course). Probably the cradle my grandfather made for me when I was born, which my brother and I and both my kids slept in. But wait. I gave that to my brother now that he's a proud papa. Hmm. I'd say wedding pictures, but those are all digital. I can simply download them from facebook or get another CD from the photographer. Who knows? I believe I, too, need to get rid of stuff and get down to identifying what's really important.

Anonymous said...

One night a few years ago, a house two doors down burned to the ground. When the flames first started shooting out, the wind was blowing them in our direction -- so we had to choose in that moment what to take. It felt really weird to make those choices in an instant, and it was a small stack!

Hubby has lost a house due to flooding and an office due to fire, so he has multiple back-ups of photos, etc., in different places.

As for my Third Act, I like the surprise aspect of it. I'm doing the creative work I always felt called to do, but I didn't know I liked to garden until age 51! We started hiking extensively at about age 49 or so. Now we're moving to a new town in a new state! Can't wait to see what happens next!

Julie Farrar said...

I have a friend who lived in the fire-prone region around Los Angeles. She is also the owner of tons of dogs and horses (showing and training at the time), so when they had to bug out they only ever had room for the food, meds, water, etc. for all the animals and one small bag of clothes and photo album for the family. It does make me start to think a little more about this possibility.

Pencildancers said...

Couldn't have come at a better time as just this week I was thinking, "Am I on the way down or peaking?" I think I'm still climbing.


Julie Farrar said...

Hey, Diana. With at least 30 more years to live, that would be a long, hard fall. So I think I'll keep climbing.

Anonymous said...

Julie, thanks for the posts. The weasel thing is just hysterical. And the one about making friends after school – so true. The older I’m, the harder it is. The only people who are receptive to the idea of a new friend are those who are friendless themselves, and in our society it seems almost indecent to confess to being friendless. So we hide the fact and suffer in loneliness.
As to what to grab if a house is on fire: my laptop and the flash drive with the backup. All my writing is in there, years of work. Which reminds me: I have to backup my computer tonight. :-))

Nancy Hinchliff said...

Thanks, Julie, for a provocative and interesting post and video. I have always felt like I was going uphill and refused to let societal misconceptions and perceptions get in the way of that.

I loved the part of Fonda's talk where she said at sixty she's never been happier in her life. That's the way I felt when I was sixty and, now at eighty one, I still feel the same.

Oh there are plenty of aches and pains, yes, but life is still wonderful; I'm healthy, working out at the "Y" three times a week, running a small business, and just finished a 200 page memoir. What's not to be happy about.

Julie Farrar said...

Nancy - you go, girl! When I'm past 60 I'd rather be like you than look like any Hollywood actress (althought I wouldn't mind looking like Meryl Streep, who will play me when they make the movie of my life)

Anonymous said...

I had a fire some 13 years ago. I ran back to the bedroom to release my dog from her crate, but by the time I got back to the door there was no time to grab anything. When the firemen got there they did ask if there was anything to try to get out--the computer (had all my writing on it, though that was before storage was cheap enough to have photos) and the other dogs. Luckily they were in indoor-outdoor runs and I was able to call them outdoors, but I did lose two who were too deaf to hear me call.

Julie Farrar said...

So sorry to hear about your dogs. As a dog owner I have always had a worry in the back of my mind that a fire would start when I'm gone and my dog is home alone. When I am there, however, she is rarely more than one room away from me. I think the computer is a priority for most of us now.

Anonymous said...

Thought provoking! Yes, like you, I have a lot of "stuff" I need to just get rid of. For the House Burning? I think I'll just leave. Everything is backed up to the cloud routinely. Lots of "people photos" on the walls, but they can be replaced. As long as everyone gets out safely, that's all that really matters.

Ellen Gregory said...

"The woman who died with the largest stack of to-be-read books on her nightstand?"

Oh this is going to be me!

I would probably grab pre-digital age photos or negatives... plus my computer!

Loved this post - thank you.

Tele said...

Funny, my dad just sent me Jane Fonda's TED talk a few days ago. This was a great post, Julie - thanks for the reflections. I haven't spent as much time considering a house fire, but I DEFINITELY think about what I'd want to save if the boat was going down. "Want" is the key word... If we're in survival suits, trying to make it into a life raft with the flares & other survival gear, there'd be no extra space/time/energy for anything else. Every time we're in bad weather, my mind goes there. I try to imagine how I could save Bear the Boat Cat (stuff her inside my suit?) while knowing we probably couldn't. Ugh - even on land, this gives me chills to think about. I'll go visit your dead weasel site now to shake it off!

Julie Farrar said...

Since your conditions out there on the ocean are much more dangerous than even the basic house fire, I understand the risk in saving the cat. We'll be thinking positive thoughts so you'll never have to find out if you could do it.

samantha stacia said...

I FINALLY got in here to read this and what a great and inpirational post! And what a perfect time forme to be reading it, I have asa result of my birthday the 20th really been introspective and melancholy and have managed to really work out why, and just like a pat on the shoulder by someone saying, "Yes you got it right" I read your post which really affirmed what I have been working through.
BUT I am sorry we may have to have a contest about the most books to read next to the bed as I believe I would have most people hands down since I have an actual five foot tall by foot wide bookcase by my side of my bed! lol

Unknown said...

Great post Julie - I'm at the dawning of that third age and it's exciting. Time to move on and change (again). Yes I've got a houseload of "stuff" that I'm no longer feeling particularly attached to, so hopefully the important things will rise to the surface very soon. Our last housemove was a deliberate downsizing and this has really forced me to come to grips with the accretions from earlier times.

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