In Another's Words

"The vision that you glorify in your mind, the ideal that you enthrone in your heart - this you will build your life by, this you will become." James Allen

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cobbling an Education

Since it doesn't appear that I'm ever going to go anywhere in the flesh in this lifetime, I've been getting my thrills vicariously. Since starting my travels with Rita Golden Gelman, I have lived in Canada with Marsha Boulton, on an olive farm in the south of France with Carole Drinkwater, and explored Africa with Mary Kingsley. Frances Mayes took me to Tuscany and I went with Elizabeth Gilbert to Italy, India and Indonesia. I've been to the Siberian Arctic and Nazi-occupied Poland. I've walked across America, twice, and been Around the World on the QE2. I recently traveled through the early 20th-century Middle East with Freya Stark. She and I have many more trips planned, but for the moment, I'm traveling with Alice Steinbach.

I met Alice, a Pulitizer Prize winning feature writer/reporter for the Baltimore Sun, when she decided to take a hiatus from her job at the newpaper and spread her wings a bit. Without Reservations is the book that tells that tale. To make a long story short, she liked her new life so well she decided to make a career out of traveling about, seeing the sights, and learning all sorts of new things. She writes about this development in Educating Alice - Adventures of a  Curious Woman. She chose to learn cooking in Paris and dancing in Kyoto; she studied architecture in Florence, Italy, and Jane Austen in Winchester, England. An educational tour to Havana provided insights into the lives of modern Cubans. She saw "secret" gardens in Provence, took a writing course in Prague, and topped it all off by learning to train sheep dogs in Scotland. I found her "courses" very interesting, but given the world and all possible subjects to choose from, her choices would definitely not be my choices. "One man's meat...," etc. 

I've observed that many editions of modern books are designed to be used by "reading groups" and are equiped in the back with "Questions for Discussion." These are often illuminating and now that I've set the stage, I'll explain where I'm heading with all this. One of the questions in Educating Alice is: "After much deliberation, Steinbach chose the subjects she would study and the places where she would learn about them. If you had to make a comparable list of half a dozen subjects and locations for your journey, what would they be?"

I read this question and pondered it briefly and couldn't, at first, come up with anything I wanted to learn badly enough to uproot myself from my comfy nest and wander half-way around the world to study. There's also the nagging question of financing such ventures. However... the more I thought about it, the more I realized there are certain things I would like to know more about and one doesn't necessarily have to go to the ends of the earth to find knowledge. One can get a feel for this self-education business by exploring the possibilities in one's own backyard. Well, I am nothing if not an autodidact, and this idea really appeals to me. So, I started making a list of the subjects I might like to know more about and where this search might necessarily take me. I am now on Page 2. Once started, I had to consciously STOP! listing "interesting places to go and things to learn."

At the top of my list is quilting. Some of my best friends are quilters and I've been collecting fabric for eight years. Perhaps it's time to discipline myself by taking a course or going off on a weekend quilting retreat and actually making something; hell, a potholder would do for a start. My daughter, Solveig, did a retreat caper a few years back and came home with a quilt top. Of course, I could always spend the weekend with my friend, Claire, and get the same result. I'm sure I'd learn just as much and the food would probably be better. Or I could just stay at home and work out of one of the many instructional books already in my possession. But the idea is to organize an actual program around the learning experience and meet some new people while one is at it. By including a trip to Center Harbor, New Hampshire, to the Keepsake Quilting store, I could make it into the equivalent of a study course and round it out with some mind-broadening exposure. I once met a most interesting woman in Center Harbor, NH. It's just an idea that will have to incubate for a spell before it hatches into a plan.

Another subject I'm interested in learning more about is herbalism and holistic medicine. I'm sure there are courses of study available in these subjects that would meet my requirements. Then there is Feng Shui training. That would be fun. I'd like to renew my acquaintance with Washington D.C. at cherry blossom time, explore Cape May, NJ, and visit Savannah, GA. The redwoods of California are on my list of things to see before I croak, along with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. I'd also like to visit Boy's Town and follow Route 66 from one end to the other.

We're planning to begin this educational quest by exploring Portland, ME, in early May. There we will learn all about the political party convention process, explore the Victoria Mansion and the country's first lighthouse, and ride a narrow gauge railroad train along Casco Bay. I'm also looking forward to exploring the bakeries and eateries for which Portland is becoming nationally known. In my view, a well-rounded excursion should always include something to do, something to see, and lots of good things to eat. 

What would really be fascinating to learn is what is on other people's lists and why. I think this is a brilliant discussion question.      



Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fat Tuesday

Mardi Gras always strikes me as the kind of event one should spend in New Orleans at least once in a lifetime. This year will be an especially fine festival I'm thinking, what with the Saints winning the Super Bowl on top of the usual causes for celebration. I've given some thought to making King Cake, Mardi Gras' best-loved dessert, to mark the occasion, but the very idea of working with yeast intimidates me. I also gave thought this Sunday past to again making Fortune Cookies for Chinese New Year, but that one got away from me, too. (Besides the fun of chosing those cool blurbs to put inside, fortune cookies are no harder to make than brownies.)

If I were keeping track, I would observe that a whole lot of things I consider doing get away from me. I've always been better at thinking of potential activities than I have been at actually initiating motion in a particular direction. When I was a much younger woman dating a lovely young college student with limited funds, we would sit in the living room of his parent's home with his sister (my best friend) and her beau (also penniless) and "have ideas" for amusements. I do not think it immodest to say that I was a superb player. Many of our ideas were absurd and/or foolish and came to nothing besides paroxysms of laughter, a desirable end in itself. A lengthy session of "having ideas" followed by a trip to the Dairy Queen - that was a date. It's amazing how stimulating moneylessness can be when the desire to carry on in spite of it is strong. One becomes very creative.

I make a distinction between being broke and being impoverished. Having no cash to blow is usually seen by the affected party as a temporary condition. Poverty on the other hand connotes a state of mind as well as a zero bank balance - having needs, but no money and no hope of getting any. Even I, with all my positive thinking, can find nothing desirable in that.

Needing money, on the other hand, can be a strong motivation for creativity. Tasha Tudor comes immediately to mind as an example. She became a very successful illustrator and children's book author only because, she says, as a single mom she was responsible to keep the wolf from the door. She only later became a lifestyle icon because she had made enough money to live as she pleased and the public found her "primitive" lifestyle engaging.

Another good example might be the Impressionist artist Claude Monet. We've just finished watching a great BBC mini-series about the Impressionists (Netflix) in which he is depicted as being absolutely compelled to paint for both artistic and financial reasons. One wonders if he would have had such a prodigious output if he didn't need the money.  Ditto Cezanne.  Manet, Degas, and Renoir all had money and although they painted a lot, I don't think they're in the same league as Monet and Cezanne productionwise. Very interesting group, the Impressionists.

I've read many writers who aren't afraid to admit that they wrote for the money first and foremost. Of course, artistic satisfaction and having something to say are part of the mix, but I'm thinking it's the need to support themselves that kept, and continues to keep, 99.9% of them at the typewriter/keyboard/whatever. I'm an exception, of course. I have no idea why I write, but it's obviously not for the money.

Now there's a question I can "have ideas" about. Let's see; it certainly can't be said that I write because I have anything important to say. I'm very careful not to say anything important. So, do I write because of some deep-seated, subconscious need to be heard?  Or perhaps because, for some obscure reason,others claim to derive enjoyment from it? Most likely, it's just for the pure selfish pleasure of pushing words around and hearing the music they make when they bump up against one another.       

Sunday, February 14, 2010

MsMOMA in Maine

Hello there,
Years ago, my forward thinking and computer savvy sister-in-law, Judy, suggested that I should morph my little e-mail newsletter, The Narraguagus News, into a blog. "A what?," asked I. Being Internet illiterate and resistant to change, I waited until everyone else on the planet had jumped on the blogging wagon before beginning one of my own. Today I am feeling brave, so I am setting up this blog from whence I can broadcast my twaddle to the world.

Like the Narraguagus News, MsMOMA in Maine will be all about least nothing of consequence. Here you will hear all about the doings, or un-doings, of Himself and MsMOMA, an aging couple from New Jersey who, against all advice and common sense, moved to Maine in 2002 and took up residence in a 1840's house in the village of Cherryfield, nine hours from their nearest friend and/or relative. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

My daughter, Ms Solveig, was our first visitor. She expressed some interest in our home improvement efforts and our integration into our new community as well as some concerns for the soundness of our minds. The Narraguagus News, a quasi-daily e-mail blurb, was born as a vehicle to keep her informed of our progress on all fronts and to reassure her of our well-being. In an effort to treat all our children fairly and equally, I soon began sending the NN to the other four. Then some of our friends expressed an interest, then some of their friends, et cetera, until now the NN goes to almost a hundred persons in various parts of the world. Who would have thunk it?

Although it's nice to think that the NN contributes to our children's peace of mind, my greatest reward from composing these bulletins has been the responses I've received from readers. I'm thinking this blogging format will encourage more of that, thus increasing my pleasure, which is always my primary concern.

Now I must get on with setting this space up for your viewing pleasure, then I'm off to write the last of the regular e-mail NNs and let you know where to find me from now on.