"Have you ever heard of Alexandra Tolstoy?"
Responding to this question with a bit of a blank stare, my friend flourished his smartphone and began showing me a few pictures from Tolstoy's Instagram page. One was of Tolstoy and her small daughter posing hand-in-hand. "Cute dress," I responded.
"My wife loves following her," my friend explained, searching for a few more photos to help me see why Tolstoy was such a hit. Then he turned his phone around and showed me another picture. I glanced at it, then let out an involuntary happy sigh as I looked at the scene shown below:
It was so idyllic. So cheerful. So carefree. So....peaceful. Needless to say, I started paging through her Instagram page on my own and let out several other happy sighs over children reading in bed...
working on handicrafts....
and just hanging out and having fun together like good siblings.
Given the size of her Instagram page, I would wager I'm not the only female to ever let out happy sighs over the pictures Tolstoy regularly displays. Often tagged with #childhoodunplugged, the glimpses into Tolstoy's life are a far cry from those many of us experience on a daily basis.
Instead of frenetic shuttling to sports and ballet, her children entertain themselves at home.
Instead of Nike shoes and the latest glitz and glamour outfit which American superstars seem to dictate children must wear, she dresses her children in classic styles which ooze with the innocence of childhood.
Instead of sitting around playing videogames and starring at the iPad, her children are playing outdoors or gathering around books.
To be sure, the image Tolstoy portrays on Instagram is likely not as idyllic as it seems. Her past seems a bit messy, and as with any public figure, one can't help but wonder how much influence professional PR plays in external imaging.
Regardless, she seems to have tapped into something important. Her images portray the simplicity and the peacefulness that we all secretly crave for ourselves and our children, but feel we never can attain in our fast-paced modern world. Instead, we pressure ourselves to keep up with the Joneses, immersing ourselves in every activity that comes along, projecting our alleged importance by our busy schedules and adeptness with modern life.
But are those who choose the path of simplicity some of life's wiser individuals? An essay written by Englishman Benjamin Hoadly and published by Benjamin Franklin in the 1732 edition of The Pennsylvania Gazette suggests such is the case. He notes:
To prove the natural Charm and Beauty there is in this Simplicity, we need only, at this Day, as false as the World is grown, retire but far enough from great Cities, the Scenes of all worldly Business and Action; and, I believe, the most cunning Man will be obliged to own, the high and sincere Pleasure there is in conversing from the Heart
But perhaps we need not be forced always to go into the Country in search of this amiable Complexion of Mind, Simplicity; for I believe it will be found sometimes, that the Men of the truest Genius and highest Characters in the Conduct of the World, (as few of them as rise in any Age) are observed to possess this Quality in the highest Degree.
The interest in Alexandra Tolstoy and the apparent simplistic lifestyle she has her children lead hint at the great longing many of us have for a simpler, less frenetic life. The question is, do we have not only the "genius" to adopt such simplicity, but also the guts to swim against the tide of a chaotic culture that demands busyness, noise, and continual connection?
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.