Our namesake, Hildegard of Bingen, experienced a spiritual awakening at age 42 that thrust her into a new way of living, a new sense of purpose that would inspire her to engage deeply in a multitude of creative, intellectual, and theological pursuits. Through embracing her purpose and unlocking her creative potential, she would become one of the most remarkable women in human history.
Fascination with Midlife Adventure
We here at Healthy Hildegard are inspired by a lot of what Hildegard accomplished in her lifetime, but it is her midlife transition that keeps drawing us back to the power and potential in all of us that awaits such an awakening. Healthy Hildegard is, in part, a product of our own midlife transitions. Embracing our own awakenings is a big part of what brought us together in this endeavor.
The more we explore Hildegard’s teachings, and test our own mettle as we create change in our lives, the more attuned we are to those around us who embody the very ideals we seek out. Occasionally, as we meander toward these ideals, providence delivers an intersection – a moment of kindred spirits, when we encounter those who have taken their own leap into the unknown and are willing to share their stories.
Espanyolet: the Product of a Midlife Adventure
This is one such story, a story about love, travel, learning, creating, and growing. It is a collection of small moments, drawn together over time, that have become a tapestry, colored by the acts of faith, courage, and resilience of two souls entwined in pursuing a new way of living and a new sense of purpose.
We are merely stealing a glance at a work-in-progress. Yet even in this brief and unfinished form, we see a living testament to the innate generative power within us all, and the rewards that await those who find the faith in themselves to share their labors and gifts with the world.
Celebrating and sharing the success of those who have ventured into their own midlife adventure is an honor we accept with gratitude. As part of our ongoing profiles of midlife awakening, we caught up with Melissa Rosenbauer and Thomas Bossert, who were gracious enough to share some of their story with us.
Love & Linens: a midlife adventure
Melissa and Thomas are the cofounders of espanyolet, a purveyor of hand-painted antique linens. Based in Mallorca, Spain, Melissa and Thomas design and make all of their linens, inspired by the rich history and contrast of the island they now call home. But it wasn’t always home. They both left careers in New York City before embarking on a journey that would eventually land them in a new place, both in body and spirit.
HH: Tell us a little about your background. Where and how did you two meet?
Melissa: We were both working at a digital marketing agency in New York called R/GA. My career was in client service & business operations, and my role at R/GA was Director, Resource Management. Thomas’s background is in graphic design, and he was heading up R/GA’s Brand Development department.
HH: What were your lives like before you decided to make some changes?
We lived the New York lifestyle – working hard, playing hard, and had hardly a minute to ourselves. We lived for the weekends or the next opportunity for time away from work.
HH: What was it about this lifestyle that you most wanted to change?
Melissa: Life was good, but I did have a yearning to do something different than what other 30-somethings around me were doing. I didn’t want to get trapped in a conventional life; I wanted to take some risks.
Thomas: I had worked 20 years in one field, and even though it was a creative field, I had grown into a place where I was managing people and expectations. I wasn’t creating much anymore. I wasn’t making things anymore. And that was the one thing I really wanted to change: to start making again. I wanted to experiment with things that weren’t secure and safe, which is unfortunately not what a workplace expects of an employee.
HH: What ultimately inspired you to take the leap and leave your old jobs?
Melissa: When we started dating, we had a lot of conversations about making wholesale life changes. These conversations were like daydreams, though, because we were too timid to leave behind things that we had worked many years to achieve. When a coworker announced that he would take a year-long sabbatical, however, we recognized that maybe we could do the same.
HH: Did you leave thinking you’d embark on a lifelong journey, or did you expect to return to your lives in New York?
Melissa: A little bit of both. We pushed the limits to about 90%. Meaning – we sold all our furniture, Thomas sold his apartment and we gave away artwork to friends. But that last 10% remained – we kept a storage unit of some things, just in case we wanted to go back. That was how our heads worked. In our hearts, however, we knew a year away would change us. And we didn’t want to commit to going back when perhaps going back would never be possible.
HH: At what point did you realize that you wouldn’t – or couldn’t go back?
Melissa: Sitting in the rice paddies of Penestanan, Bali in March 2014. We had been immersing ourselves in creative projects while living in Bali for 2 months. Thomas spent days making ceramics and Melissa switched between a natural indigo studio and a batik [ed: a method of dyeing textiles] workshop. After days like those, we knew we couldn’t go back to office jobs or riding the F-train between Brooklyn & Manhattan each day.
Thomas: This experience in Bali was our jumping-off point. It was there that we decided to (a) take on a new vocation and (b) build a life centered on this passion around making things with our hands and (c) do it in a place where we could have balance. It was in Bali where began the process of choosing where in the world we could live and set up a textile & ceramic studio.
HH: What was it about travel that helped you in your transition, in clarifying your values and your purpose?
Melissa: Travel for us was not about checking things off a bucket list. It was, instead, a means to fulfill other desires – learn something new, be with nature, get in touch with our spiritual side and even do nothing.
Travel was a time where we could step away from the go-go-go and consider what was important to us.
Thomas: Learning something new. For example: while our jobs in New York were challenging, there were periods where we weren’t acquiring new skills. We both wanted to push ourselves out of this stagnation and learn something new. We can now speak three languages (some better than others), design textiles, dye fabrics, sew, drive a motorcycle, sail a boat, rollerblade…and a whole lot of other things that we learn each day.
HH: How did you turn your vision into action? What practical things did you do to help guide you through the process of creating change?
Thomas: We spent about 3-4 months daydreaming about our new lives. It was when we arrived in Berlin in June 2014, though, that we started turning these daydreams into action. We rented an apartment where we could set up a textile design studio. We immersed ourselves in education to supplement what we hadn’t learned at the ceramics, indigo, and batik studios. And we bought a lot of things to get started: fabrics, pigments, hardware and other design tools.
HH: What were some of the obstacles, some setbacks you had to manage – both anticipated and unanticipated?
Melissa: We changed a lot at the same time: the place we lived, the jobs we worked, the language we spoke and our circle of friends/support system/infrastructure. While doing it this way has been intimidating and hard, it’s also been refreshing because we’re not held back by pieces of our old life. It truly was a fresh start. It allowed us to make a fundamental & substantial change.
HH: What did you do to overcome or otherwise come to accept these obstacles/setbacks? What helped you remain true, to keep your faith?
Melissa: Commitment. Our commitment to this new life has been called into question several times and we have had setbacks. These wholesale changes have challenged us along the way, and we had a period after arriving here in Mallorca where we questioned if we’d done the right thing. Every decision was second-guessed & analyzed which brought a lot of doubt, fear & uncertainty to our lives.
Thomas: Melissa went to an acupuncturist for help with some joint problems, and the acupuncturist could sense that something else was going on. She told me to stop questioning everything. So even for us, someone had to tell us to stop screwing around and commit to being here. And then it seemed easier to commit. Life changed immediately after that. Things fell into place and we could get back to what was true: living a life of balance while working in a field that we loved.
HH: What attracted you to craftsmanship as a means for creativity? Was there something in particular about working with your hands?
Melissa: Most of us live in our heads all day long. In conventional jobs, we think, we write, we conceptualize strategies. There is very little intuition, very little gut feeling. When you start making with your hands, however, you enter a completely different logical field. It’s like the difference between math and philosophy. It’s a different way of thinking, and it uses another part of the brain. Intuition takes over, and you make different choices.
Thomas: This is the beauty of working with our hands. Whether it’s a craft like carpentry or an art like painting, it’s the hands, not the head. This is refreshing for us. We got to know a whole other side of ourselves. It’s allowed us to be freer with what we do. We’ve stopped over-thinking things. It’s meditation. It makes for calm moments. And the sum of all these tranquil moments is a tranquil life.
HH: What is it about your craft that excites you? What ignites that fire in your belly?
Thomas: Within what we’re doing with espanyolet, I am able to utilize a lot of my skills from the last 20 years on something new. I use the old to make new in myself. And this creates new results. Nowadays, I think about art or craft in a different way. It’s refreshing and it leads me to want to try other things. And there’s a beauty in applying virgin thinking. It only happens once or twice and then those thoughts go away in time. For me, it’s so nice to have this feeling of approaching something uninhibited.
Melissa: The element of discovery is what excites me. When I mix a new color, I’m surprised & delighted at finding a different combination that results in a beautiful new hue. Discovering new vintage fabrics is fantastic. And, I love discovering something new that I’m good at. I rejected learning sewing for 30-something years, for example, and now I discover that I’m actually good at it. That has been a surprise & delight.
HH: Tell us about the creative process you use in finding and making linens.
Melissa: We travel to antique markets, flea markets, and old estates across the island of Mallorca, looking for our vintage linens. The fabrics are called drap and were historically used as matrimonial bed covers. These pieces were hand loomed on the island 50-100 years ago by artisans who were driven by necessity: Mallorca is hot in the summer and wet in the winter. Linen was the only material that could work in both seasons: it’s cooling in the summer and it’s resistant to humidity & molding in the winter.
Once we’ve bought the bed covers we mend them as necessary and design how to best use them. Some weaves are thick & heavy, which lend themselves to bed covers. Others are thing & light, which make beautiful lamps. We then mix pigments in our small studio kitchen to pay homage to the colors of the island: some are vibrant and others are muted & quiet.
We combine our pigments with algae, a natural substance from the sea, to obtain a jelly-like texture. This medium allows us to control the way we apply the color to linen. Brushstrokes are an important part of our design, and this substance allows us to obtain a very painterly effect. We like to think our hand painted design style is irregular, a bit worn down and imperfect.
HH: How do your surroundings impact your work and creativity?
Melissa: People come to this island for its beauty, but for us it’s color & light. We live in a small neighborhood that hasn’t been touched by tourism or new construction. So we see the rich colors of surrounding homes’ terracotta roof tiles from our terrace. The sun rises in our studio window and sets in our dining room window, and the shadows it creates from the surrounding cacti and palm trees influence us.
In the old town of Palma, many buildings retain original details like azulejos hidraulicos, which are the original handmade tiles full of color and architectural details. And at the end of day, we’ll bike to the beach and swim in cove that’s 14 different colors of blue & green. In all, yes, our surroundings most definitely impact our work.
HH: What is it about where you live, your community in Mallorca that inspires you?
Thomas: Many artists have hidden away in the small countryside towns of Mallorca. Writers, sculptors, composers and painters have all called Mallorca home. This tradition of artisanship has continued to the present day. Today many people leave Sweden, Germany, England or France to come to Mallorca and practice their craft. We have become connected to many of them through a loose association of makers, and it’s an important part of how we stay connected to the creative community.
HH: Where do you see espanyolet going from here? Do you have a specific set of goals for this project or a period of time allotted?
Thomas: We started espanyolet as platform for our creative projects. Right now, we’ve launched the brand with a focus on hand painted vintage linen, but that’s not what it will always be. We have a lot of passions, which span from textiles to ceramics to metal to wood, and we want espanyolet to be a place where we can explore & share each of these.
HH: What do you miss most about the lives you left behind?
Melissa: Iced hazelnut coffee.
Thomas: Old friends and understanding the news properly.
HH: What were a few of the things you learned about yourself through this process, Thomas? Melissa? What did you learn about each other?
Thomas: I’ve learned that my education & the way I was brought up (very German: go-go, achieve-achieve, work for a career) has been hard to overcome. Sometimes this training can get in the way. But by changing my circumstances & surroundings, I’ve been able to minimize these old impacts. I’ve retrained myself to an extent. However, sometimes everything doesn’t always have to be new. For example: keeping some old in the new is ok with regards to education, life experience and my past. It’s good to make a mix between the old & the new.
Melissa: I think some of the things I’ve learned about myself were in fact some things I kept hidden through the years. For one, I am messy & disorganized when I create. It’s nice to let go of being well behaved & neat. Second, I am impatient and easily flustered when things don’t go as planned. There is a certain peacefulness in letting these things go, as well. And in fact, I’ve learned a lot from Thomas in this area. Thomas is never impatient and nothing ruffles his feathers. I take his calm energy and learn from it.
HH: How do you think this process has changed you, your perspectives, your values, how you approach life?
Here in Spain, the word tranquilo [Ed: calm, peaceful, quiet] is used a lot. This one word sums up nicely how we have evolved – we have a much more tranquil approach and live a much quieter life now.
HH: What would be your advice for someone who is considering making a substantial change in his or her life? What would have been – or what was, helpful advice to you?
A few thoughts:
When turning daydreams into action, it’s good to portion out the steps. You don’t have to do exactly what we did and change everything at once. You can change just one thing: your job, where you live. Maybe you don’t have to change your language and circle of friends too. There are small ways of making these changes a reality when too much at once is out of the question. When people manage one thing at a time, it may not feel as overwhelming.
Commit. If you want to do one thing, commit to it. Don’t be in Mallorca, for example, daydreaming about how much easier it would be in New York. Commit to the place where you are and go deep. Be present there and make it work there.
‘Nothing in life is irreversible (except kids)’ is advice someone once gave us. If you embark upon change knowing that it can be reversed if necessary, it sometimes feels a little safer. Jumping off can feel a little less daunting if you feel there’s a bit of a safety net in the background.
Many people have called us courageous and brave. While we don’t feel this way, we can see how people in a more conventional setup could see it this way. In this vein, I guess the advice would be to harbor that internal courage to convert thoughts to action (see commitment above).
And lastly, it takes a lot of planning to be spontaneous. We do not make impulsive decisions on anything. We do our research, compare/contrast all points and are very budget conscious. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes to make our tranquilo life so tranquilo.
HH: Thank you for sharing your lovely story.
If you have gone through a similar, creative midlife adventure or transition – or are embarking on a creative journey and would like to share, contact us here. We would love to share your inspiring story.