A subtle, hard to define aspect of simplicity is what I think could be called “the unobtrusive life”.
When I was growing up my mother would admonish me fairly frequently not to draw attention to myself. I was raised to an idea of modesty that was not only about refraining from advertising one’s sexuality, but refraining from advertising oneself at all.
As a teenager I worked among nuns, and discovered they had the same take on life. I remember remarking admiringly to Sister Kathleen that she had lost weight, I being about sixteen at the time. She laughed and turned the suggestion adroitly aside. I felt puzzled at the time since she clearly had lost weight – but when I (years) later recalled the event I understood; she didn’t want to draw attention to herself.
Between my mother and the nuns and despite my own compass being set to an inevitable magnetic north of social gaffes and awkwardness, I internalised the concept of the unobtrusive life. This involves doing things quietly – blowing your nose, closing the door, putting cutlery in the drawer, setting logs down on the hearth quietly; ideally with no noise at all. It implies rising from the chair and slipping out of the room in such a way that nobody notices you’ve gone. It means never advertising your skills or achievements, down-playing your emotional reactions, never stealing someone else’s thunder, eating silently, patiently waiting for the dawn to reach the point where your husband finally wakes up and it’s okay to turn on the computer because it won’t disturb him.
The unobtrusive life may allow others to find it, but never promotes or advertises its presence. It resists the intrusion of personal remarks, it never flirts, it goes in search of those it wishes to address so as to speak to them quietly and privately, not shouting across the street to attract their attention.
The unobtrusive life is diffident, humble, hidden and unremarkable. It is what William Penn called “retired” – withdrawn from the public gaze.
As a lifelong habit, it certainly creates its challenges when it comes to taking responsibility for promoting one’s books – making that, in fact, almost impossible. Nobody recognises, remembers or notices me! I like it that way and work hard to keep it that way, but I’m a publisher’s nightmare as a result. Who? Oh, her! Oh . . . no, I don’t think so.
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you . . .” (1 Thessalonians 4:11 NIV)
365 Day 35 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)
What? Receipts? Can that be categorised as a possession to ditch? Oh yes, my friend! I have been known to hang on to every single receipt that comes into my hands, just in case, stowing them away carefully in purses, envelopes, the margins of my underwear drawer; shoving them in handy crevices alongside the shelves where the files are kept – so that if ever the Inland Revenue needed proof or the food blender broke or the package didn’t arrive at its destination, I would be ready with just the little piece of paper to save the world. Now, I don’t care. Life’s too short. I bought a Casio Unisex watch for £9.99? I’ll get rid of the receipt and, just for good measure, the watch as well. But I am impressed by the information that watches can be sexed – you never know these things, do you? I always imagined they were just some kind of machine.