A State of Mindfulness

When it comes to getting candid about her life, healthy living, and her new love for Cambria, Mariel Hemingway is an open book

When Mariel Hemingway set out to design a new kitchen, she approached the process in the same way that she approaches every significant decision in her life, with considerable thought and careful study—what the Buddhists might call conscious intentionality. She considered a variety of cabinets, she examined numerous appliances, and she looked at an array of flooring options. When it came to the selection of her countertops, she was equally meticulous, studying the pros and cons of every conceivable surface. Eventually she discovered that Cambria, a Minnesota-based company, had a product of high-end elegance and profound functionality. “I love to dig into things,” says Mariel, “and the more I learned about Cambria, the more I thought to myself, ‘Why not meet the CEO of Cambria, Marty Davis?’” So, with help from some mutual Minnesota connections, the meeting was arranged and “we hit it off instantly,” Mariel recalls.

That initial meeting led to Davis inviting Mariel, and her boyfriend Bobby Williams, to a weekend together with him, his wife Anne, and their young son Danny, in beautiful southern California. There was hiking, gorgeous scenery, tasty food, stimulating conversation, and, of course, maybe most importantly, one of Cambria’s elegant design centers. One day, while the others were soaking in their surroundings, Davis, Anne, and Mariel slipped away for a visit to the Cambria Design Center in Palm Desert. Mariel just had to see, firsthand, the product, colors, and designs of Cambria. After a few hours spent examining the different uses of Cambria, the complete naturalness of the stone itself, and the dozens of colors available, Mariel was awestruck. By the end of the day, she simply fell in love with the product; by the end of the weekend the entire gang had become fast friends.

“Even though Marty’s sort of this big-business guy, he’s very centered, conscious, aware and really listens and I love that about him,” Mariel says about their new friendship. However, she does acknowledge they don’t see eye to eye on every issue, laughing as she recounts one dinner that the families spent together when Davis showed no compunction about ordering a juicy cheeseburger, with a glass of pasteurized milk for seven-year-old son Danny, while sitting across from an avowed raw food and anti-factory farm girl like herself. “I love that he would go out and eat whatever he wants and not think that I was judging him,” she explains. “We just all like to hang out because we’re like-minded people. He has his priorities really straight. He cares about the planet in the same kind of way [that I do] and he also wants to affect a lot of people positively.”

Mariel is no less enthusiastic about Davis’s Cambria product. “I wanted to be able to make a great design choice that was beautiful and functional,” she says. “What I loved [about Cambria] was that I could choose from a lot of colors and it is such natural stone. There was one that was a real nautical blue and I thought, ‘Wow, I could also do a bathroom in that color!’ You can mix up really natural looking colors of the quartz and put different colors behind it.”

She also came away enormously impressed with the environmental benefits of Cambria. Indeed, for a self-described “mountain girl” whose greatest passion lies in enjoying and preserving the outdoors, Mariel says she was impressed that Cambria recycles 100 percent of the water used in its Minnesota factory and that the company has committed to minimizing the long-term ecological impact of how it quarries and mines its quartz. She was also pleased to learn that the company purchases its quartz primarily from North America and makes every effort to restore the quarry site after quartz extraction, even going so far as to stabilize the slopes of waste rock and reclaim the flat surfaces with soil and vegetation. The goal is a laudable one and just the kind of initiative to which the company is committed. And that the CEO is so committed to such environmental stewardship, and that he puts his money where his mouth is, was also most impressive in this day and age. Cambria invests heavily in technology to ensure that the company is maximizing the environmental stewardship in all that they do. “Good business practices, long-term economic prosperity, complete environmental stewardship, and integrity are common themes to any well-run business,” says Marty Davis. “My brother Mitch often says, ‘in most instances, the environmentally responsible practice is also the most profitable, long term.’ The two really go hand in hand over the long term.”

What’s more, Mariel says she likes the fact that the product’s environmental benefits continue even after it is installed. “I love that, with Cambria, my new kitchen countertops will be safe enough to be rated as a food preparation surface. I realized that with marble and granite you have to put these petroleum sealants and coatings on them,” she says. “Just knowing that you can physically prepare foods to cook right on it and that there is no detrimental effects is important to me.”

Focusing on what is important, being acutely aware of her choices, feeling happy about her place in the world—these are all relatively recent developments for Mariel. “Whatever I do now, like hike a mountain, I’m conscious of breath and I’m conscious of my intention and my thoughts and my movements. It’s kind of like when the Buddhists talk about mindfulness. It’s a moving meditation. Life becomes a constant practice of being present,” she says. Or, as she more simply puts it: “Doing what you’re doing while you’re doing it, that’s what yoga has taught me.”

Mariel will be the first to admit that achieving this state of calm equanimity has been anything but easy. Starting with the long mountain hikes she favored as a child growing up amidst Idaho’s rugged Sawtooth Range, just miles away from her iconic grandfather Ernest’s cabin, hers has been a life often lived on the move. When barely a teenager, an unexpected career in acting skyrocketed her to fame and has since served as her passport to far-flung locations around the world. In her mid-twenties, she co-founded a restaurant in New York City with her then husband and later helped him grow it into a nationwide franchise, all the while raising two girls (and a house full of dogs). More recently, Hemingway has set up her own yoga studio, embarked upon a successful writing career—publishing a memoir, a self-help guide, and a cookbook so far—and launched a burgeoning health food business. And on top of all that, Mariel proudly points out that, at age 48, she just took up rock climbing in order to spend more time with her new boyfriend. Now, after years of worrying, Mariel says that she has become truly comfortable in her own skin. “I’ve guided my life toward a point where it’s not about surviving anymore, it’s about thriving.”

Within that latter declaration, though, exists a deeper, more difficult implication about her past, one that is directly tied to the often-troubled legacy of the Hemingway name and her famous grandfather, author of American literary classics like The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and The Old Man and the Sea, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953. (He also was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954.) His spare, muscular style became the model for hundreds of literary imitators, none of whom could match the power of his prose or the breadth of his vision. An intrepid outdoorsman, avid adventurer, and prodigious drinker, Hemingway was truly larger than life, representing for a generation of Americans the ultimate “man’s man.” Alas, the man behind the image and the outsized talent was also profoundly troubled, suffering from bouts of dark depression, one of which led him to take his own life in 1961. “I come from this family that has a lot of dysfunction, mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide,” Mariel acknowledges candidly. “I am really grateful that I have this crazy family, though, because I learned so much from them. I wouldn’t be interested in food and health and the environment in the way that I am if it hadn’t been for all the things that I’ve had to go through.”

One of those things she had to go through was being thrust into a new, very grown-up role at the tender age of 12. With her older sisters Margaux and Joan increasingly following the family’s well-worn path to addiction and her emotionally distant father unwilling to step up, Mariel found herself the primary caregiver to her mother, Byra Louise, after the latter was diagnosed with cancer. Though her mother initially recovered, the ongoing struggle with both the disease and its debilitating treatments continued for years, taking a toll on both mother and child. The impact of all this upheaval on Mariel was, perhaps, predictable. “I think I spent my childhood holding my breath, scared of what might happen next,” she admits today. “Always asking myself, ‘Who’s going to get sick? Who’s going to explode? Who’s going to the hospital?’”

If her real life, then, wasn’t that appealing or glamorous, is it any surprise that she might find slipping into a different persona or character that much more attractive? When older sister Margaux, by then a famous model who had been cast as the female lead in the movie Lipstick, also found a role for her then 13-year-old younger sister, Mariel quickly accepted. She soon found that acting filled an important void in her life. “I wanted it and I needed it,” Mariel says now, looking back. “It helped me get out of my head and out of my fears and out of my own life so that I could pretend I was somebody else.”

Her film debut in 1976 was widely lauded by critics and launched an acting career that has spanned more than three decades. But it was her very next appearance on film, in Manhattan, Woody Allen’s 1979 black-and-white paean to New York City, that stands as a performance for the ages. Playing a precocious, world-wise teenager to Allen’s self-absorbed 40-year-old schlump, Mariel quietly stole the movie and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

“The funny thing is that when I look back at those roles that I played, like in Manhattan, they were very sophisticated girls, but in reality, I was anything but,” Mariel says today. “And what’s really interesting is that I don’t really feel like I need acting anymore. I’ve realized that I like being myself now so I’m not as interested in playing a role. That’s why I’m doing [my cookbook] Mariel’s Kitchen and making Blisscuits. I want people to love themselves too.” Mariel’s belief in the healing power of food, she explains, compelled her to start developing healthy recipes for her then-husband Stephen Crisman when he fought his own battle with cancer nearly ten years ago. “I want my Blisscuits to taste good, be presented well, and be able to sell, and then besides all of that they’re sold in recyclable material and the ingredients are really good for you,” she says. “All of it comes from believing that just being conscious when you’re making, eating, and touching your food is powerful enough to change your life.”

Mariel’s recently discovered sense of security has produced a burst of new activity. Later this year, she and her boyfriend Bobby, a nutrition expert and explorer, will launch a lifestyle brand based around travel, food, and connecting with the environment. And in yet another new challenge, she is in the midst of co-producing a movie version of A Moveable Feast, her grandfather’s bittersweet memoir of 1920’s Paris that abruptly concludes with the breakup of his marriage to Mariel’s maternal grandmother.

Also on Mariel’s docket, of course, is that brand-new Cambria-clad home, to be a prominent part of her new loft inside her yoga studio in Idaho, the state where Mariel and her sisters grew up and where her grandfather ended his life. “It’s in this amazing building that looks up at the mountains. I’m converting part of it into a green loft so I can live there too and the kitchen is going to be the centerpiece,” she explains. “It’s a raw space so I can create whatever I’ve always wanted in a kitchen, which is unbelievable to me. I’ve always had a house that I’ve renovated, but I’ve never created my own. So I’m really super excited about this. I have a Cambria chiseled edge on the mind.”

And so she’ll have it: a kitchen of her own, created from raw space where once there was nothing. One can be forgiven for seeing hints of Mariel’s own biography in that transformation. When the work is finished, some six months from now, one imagines her there, amidst the majestic mountains of Idaho, surrounded by reminders of her past but very much focused on her woman of the future…her own woman at last.