Bestselling author Naomi Wolf was brought up to believe that happiness is something that can be taught -- and learned. In this magical book, Naomi shares the enduring wisdom of her father, Leonard Wolf, a poet and teacher who believes that every person is an artist in their own unique way, and that personal creativity is the secret of happiness.
Leonard Wolf is a true eccentric. A tall, craggy, good-looking man in his early eighties, he's the kind of person who likes to use a medieval astrolabe, dress in Basque shepherd's clothing, and convince otherwise sensible people to quit their jobs and follow their passions. A gifted teacher, he's dedicated his life to honoring individualism, creativity, and the inspirational power of art. Leonard believes, and has made many others believe, that inside everyone is an artist, and success and happiness in life depend on whether or not one values and acts upon one's creative impulse. In The Treehouse, Naomi Wolf's most personal book yet, Naomi outlines her father's lessons in creating lasting happiness and offers inspiration for the artist in all of us.
The book begins when Naomi asks Leonard to help build a treehouse for his granddaughter. Inspired by his dedication to her daughter's imaginative world, Naomi asks her father to walk her through the lessons of his popular poetry class and show her how he teaches people to liberate their creative selves. Drawn from Leonard's handwritten lecture notes, the chapters of The Treehouse remind us to "Be Still and Listen," "Use Your Imagination," "Do Nothing Without Passion," and that "Your Only Wage Will Be Joy," and "Mistakes Are Part of the Draft." More than an education in poetry writing, this is a journey of self-discovery in which the creative endeavor is paramount.
Naomi also offers glimpses into her father's past -- from his youth during the Depression to his bohemian years as a poet in 1950s San Francisco -- and the evolution of Leonard's highly individualistic vision of the artist's way. She reconsiders her own childhood and realizes the transformative effect Leonard's philosophy has had on her own life, as well as the lives of her students and friends. The Treehouse is ultimately a stirring personal history, a meditation on fathers and daughters, an argument for honoring the creative impulse, and unique instruction in the art of personal happiness.
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Simon & Schuster
May 05, 2005
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Excerpt from The Treehouse by Naomi Wolf
Leonard Wolf, my father, is a wild old visionary poet. He believes that the heart's creative wisdom has a more important message than anything else, and that our task in life is to realize that message.
Leonard has spent a lifetime identifying his own heart's desires, and it shows in the things that surround him. He has twenty ancient typewriters. He has a kukri knife, used to behead bullocks in a single stroke. He has an elaborate filigreed toiletry set used to remove the earwax of a Persian caliph. He has driftwood in piles, and heaps of seaworn glass in bushel baskets lying around the house. He has a box of horseshoe nails "because horseshoe nails are intrinsically beautiful." Those are all part of his heart's desires because they are symbols of a life of adventure and discovery.
Among the things he does not have: current maps for a given destination. Like most men, he does not wish to ask directions, so my mom, my brother, and I often find ourselves patiently biting our tongues in the backseat while he navigates by memories of foliage and lyrical years-old impressions of passing landmarks. ("Can the Golden Gate Bridge be on the right When did that happen ") However, he happily brought home from one trip a collection of silk paratroopers' maps dating from World War II, which show roads and boundaries of countries that no longer exist. He gave them out as useful gifts. The idea is that you keep the silk map handy in your breast pocket as you are parachuting into, say, Prussia, so you can find your way around once you hit the ground.
My father does not have a cell phone or a personal organizer. He is the only person in America who kept the impossible-to-remember generic e-mail address that AOL assigned him. I have been trying to explain to him the principle of compound interest for my entire adult life. He overlooks these details because they have nothing to do with what he thinks really matters.
One of his greatest treasures, one that sat proudly displayed on the bookshelf in San Francisco when we were children, is a set of medieval Arabian astrolabes. They are crusted over with what looks like recent antiquing, and are probably mass-produced. He needs them because Chaucer used an astrolabe. Most of these were bought in North African bazaars for exorbitant prices that my father, who is far from wealthy, was always glad to pay.
It makes him happier to pay more for something he can believe is a medieval astrolabe than it does to pay less for what he must then acknowledge is probably not a medieval astrolabe. The very words "medieval astrolabe," and the way they flow off the tongue, add to the objects' value. North African souk dealers see him coming from miles away, and when they part, they do so, after many glasses of sweetened mint tea, as the dearest of friends.
("How do you know they are not real " he wrote in a testy hand upon reading this.)
Why did Leonard accumulate a series of astrolabes After all, he does not live on a ship: "You live in Manhattan," someone might say.
"It's surrounded by water," he will point out. Why, he feels, should you accept that your life will never call upon you to navigate by the stars How sad would that be
My dad is still a very handsome man: six feet two and distinguished-looking. He has an aquiline nose, fierce white eyebrows that seem to have lives of their own, gray-white hair that, depending on how it is brushed, makes him look either like an elderly Lord Byron seated at a formal dinner or like a homeless man having an alarming vision, and smiling hazel-brown eyes.