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.