Editor’s Letter: Living in the New

Lesley Jane Seymour tries to venture into the unknown every day. Why you should, too

by Lesley Jane Seymour • Editor-in-Chief
lesley jane seymour image
Photograph: Melanie Acevedo

One of the best words I’ve recently learned is autodidact. Because right now in my life, that’s what I am: someone who’s self-taught. In my twenties, I found there were embarrassing holes in my English-lit background, leaving me chagrined when my editor peers referenced writers and thinkers I’d never heard of. So I created my own remedial reading program and got up to speed on everyone from Zola and Jean Rhys to Alexis de Tocqueville. Even if some of the people who made me feel dumb were really just pretentious pseudo-intellectuals, I enjoyed the journey and by my mid-twenties could name-drop with the worst of ’em.

In my thirties, I moved to the suburbs, which are, to a time-crazed working mother, a takeout desert. My small town had just two restaurants—a McDonald’s and a very expensive French joint—so once again it was immersion time. A few courses at Manhattan’s Institute of Culinary Education and a wall of cookbooks later, I’m competent at Indian, Chinese, New Orleans Cajun, London vegetarian and many stops in between. I’m also a killer baker, even apprenticing friends who were too daunted by their convection ovens to turn them on.

Last year my gardening thumb, once midnight black, turned green, and I started raising flowers and veggies from seed. Now I’ve ramped up to planting heirloom varieties from a seed exchange. My husband threw in a new challenge by suggesting I create my own hybrids; he even bought me a book about how to pollinate by hand. Hey, to a guy who taught himself calculus in business school, nothing seems like overreaching.

Am I a wonk at heart? Not really. It’s just that I, like many of you, look at each day as an opportunity to adventure into the unknown. That could mean downloading a new app on my smartphone or finding a spice I’ve never tried at an exotic-food market. It could be discovering an author or a creative hobby or a group of people doing interesting things. What I truly love about these encounters is that I get to start each of them with a clean slate. Being a novice all over again makes me feel youthful and unashamed to make mistakes. After years of leadership and responsibility, at work and at home, I find it wonderfully freeing to be released from expertise—to tear off the mantle of kung fu master and become a young grasshopper again. What are your grasshopper moments? Tell me about them in the comment section below.

Next: Editor's Letter: My Slow-Down Secrets

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First published in the May 2013 issue

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Luellen Smiley 06.27.2013

ADVENTURES IN LIVINGNESS
Is going from my from a 2500 square foot five-bedroom home with a garage movie theater, private garden and roomy front porch into a 325 square foot bedroom without kitchen. It’s not permanent; but there is no end date either.
The big house we converted into a Vacation Rental as a means of income, and so I had to move out a month and two weeks ago. My room, I coined the Wild West Room, is brick red. I covered the walls with yellow and red original movie posters, and furnished it with a slot machine, two tables, two lamps, a TV with western salad draped over it, a double bed, and a four drawer plastic dresser. The closet is tiny; so I only brought my best summer clothes; twenty two hangers is all.
Waking up to have coffee on my petite patio laced with roses and a canopy of vines, settles my nerves after the mini coffee maker falls off the edge of the sink, and other accidental maneuvers. Living in a doll house requires tremendous gentleness, one swift wrong move, and things start tumbling.
My refrigerator has inspired a new diet. I call it the mini-frig diet. I can fit one bottle of wine, one 8oz bottled smoothie, one juice, my Aloe Vera, cream, three condiments: green chili, horseradish mayonnaise, Red Chili Jelly, a small tub of washed lettuce or spinach, two cheeses, tortillas, olives, tomatoes, smoked salmon or chicken strips and that’s it. The only catch is that it's in arms length of the bed, and within four feet of anywhere in the room. Snacking is just part of the atmosphere.
I prefer to eat on dishes then paper, so I wash them in the bathroom sink, but I wash the delicate wine glass when I’m showering. All my meals, usually one a day, is outdoors on the patio, under the new Overstock.com umbrella that works perfectly. I’ve had a great experience with them on a return as well.
My house faces a busy street in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The street connects upper eastside Canyon Road to the downtown plaza. Across the street is the La Posada Resort and Spa. I can walk to the gym, and pool, survey the clientele, drink wine in the bar, and talk to the staff at the front desk. I’m there everyday; and as ying goes with a yang, I tolerate their side of the street being the loading zone. There are pick-ups, and drop-offs, and a lot of racket that I bear with my earplugs.
My shrunken life has forced me out more, eliminated hours of cleaning, shaved time off dressing, rearranging furniture, watching the birds in their nest, and feeling complacent. That is the most important of all; I realize it is time to bolster up, make sacrifices, and use this little room as the place to write my way out of here. I see myself in Portugal, or some place I still haven’t discovered. Pushed out of the crib is what it's like, and each step is new.

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