Author: Etta Madden (page 1 of 4)

Riding the Holiday Waves: Writing for Health

Hello, friends.

How have the first of the holidays been for you? Have the emotions of 2020’s elections and COVID caused these past few days to seem calm, by comparison? Or are you riding those holiday waves that are common to many of us? Do you slide from peak to valley, with ups and downs ranging from anticipation and jubilation to dread and despair?

For me, the rough riding usually begins with the change from Daylight Savings time to November’s extra early darkness. The days seem way too short, and the list of holiday “to dos” way too long. This year–so far–has felt slightly different. I’m not sure exactly why, but I have a few hunches. One is that a bunch of us women were able to check out from some of the holiday hosting stresses. But for me there’s a little more to it than that.  In short, I’m advocating more regular reading and writing for health. Today I’m sharing a bit more about writing (the reading part will follow at a later date).

Last week I shared on social media a moving  article by Janice Nimura on “Wingtips and Shell-Toes.” It’s a beautifully crafted essay on what she gained from her father as well as on how she differs from him. (You can read that essay here.) When I shared the story, I promised to write more about Nimura and her work. Here’s the follow through — and it’s about her journaling.

Author Janice Nimura (Photo Credit: Lucy Schaeffer)

Just a few days after Nimura’s essay about her father appeared, the PBS News Hour  ran a video with her: “The Value of Writing our Way through a Tumultuous 2020.”  You can watch the video and get Nimura’s advice here.  If you don’t have the three minutes it takes to watch the video, you can read the transcription at the same link. Basically, she encourages people to write:

  • for posterity’s sake
  • for their own health and wellness

She says it more more beautifully than these bullet points summarize.  And she does so by sharing a bit about her own journaling habits.

Nimura explains that her research (recently on the 19th-century Blackwell sisters, the subject of her forthcoming book) depends upon journals and diaries.  She asks, how will future researchers know anything about life during COVID, if some people aren’t writing about it??? And what about your children and their children, Nimura asks, when they want to know about your life in the first part of the 21st century??

Nimura’s forthcoming book on 19th-century physicians, Emily and Elizabeth Blackwell

Regarding health and wellness, she explains from her own experience through the years that she has written in her journals to figure things out. She puts down on paper thoughts that need sorting. And she has done so for years–going way back to her adolescence.

Nimura’s interview, on the heels of that beautiful essay about her father, made me feel a little “lesser than” (a little “crestfallen” –to continue the wave imagery). I

have never been one to keep a journal. That is, until recently. In 2019 I began writing morning pages.

So Nimura’s account also gave me a lift of affirmation. And it made me determine to share her account with you.

If you’re already a journaling enthusiast, you can stop reading now. If you’ve tried to keep a journal but never been successful, don’t give up trying. There’s hope.

If you’re already a journaling enthusiast, you can stop reading now. If you’ve tried to keep a journal but never been successful, don’t give up trying. There’s hope.

I’ve never been one for morning activities.  Yes, as some of you know, I’ve long been an exercise enthusiast–swimming, cycling, jogging, walking. But I’ve NEVER been one for morning physical exercise. At least, not until I’ve been upright for at least an hour or two and consumed at least that many cups of coffee.

Morning coffee, black

I kid you not. I only began journaling regularly in 2019.

But you’re a writer, you say. Surely–haven’t you kept journals for years? You travel. Haven’t you kept travel journals?

The answer is yes and no, but mostly no. Someone brought me a diary for a birthday gift when I was still in elementary school. A couple of family members gave me travel journals when I was in college, preparing for a study abroad semester. At least one professor assigned a teaching journal, as I began my career (and I have assigned them to my students). A good friend gave me a journal when I became a mom, to record thoughts about motherhood. But in each case my journaling was short-lived, an enterprise encouraged by someone else.

And in each instance, the brevity of the practice meant the return on investment was less than that first savings account my parents helped me open with my babysitting money. Then, as an adolescent girl, I quickly learned that my immediate needs –make up, jewelry, after school outings–far outweighed savings for the future! Until recently, keeping a journal or a diary was similar–less important than what I deemed my immediate needs. How could I keep a journal as a new mom when I could barely care for my baby and myself??? And when I was traveling, so busy out and about, seeing and experiencing new sights–how could I find time to write?

Now, though, I find myself in a different spot. In fact, I realize now that the daily journaling is as important as the morning coffee. (Well, almost.)

Photo of cover of book by Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way advocates daily journaling

The tipping point? Not one factor but several came together in what might be called “a perfect storm.”  A long-time friend and advocate of “morning pages,” Deborah Cox, directed me to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Her book’s subtitle says much:  “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.” Deborah and I used the book in a writing workshop we ran in February 2019. Knowing Deborah and her habits of creativity and self-care, and then reading this book, were the trigger I needed.

Writing “on task” while I was a college student

After years of daily writing “on task” for specific book and article assignments, I found something both soothing and energizing in this new “free” writing.  Being less-focused and not “on deadline,” this writing allows me to release concerns and anxieties that are on my mind. Issues surfacing in my crazy dreams go right on the page, and I often generate new ideas for the “on task” writing as well. As Cameron explains in her book, this daily discipline–disciplined in routine but not in content–causes creative juices to flow. And these same juices contribute to mental health.

Of course, none of these insights are anything new. Advocates of journaling have voiced them for years. But if you have not tried some daily writing for your mental health–do it!

2020 isn’t over yet, nor is COVID. You still have time to write for your health and your posterity.  Pick up a journal. Pick up a pen. Give it a try.


If writing doesn’t seem to be for you, then consider reading. Reading practices and some recommended titles will be the topic of a future letter. Social media, as we know, uses unpredictable algorithms. So be sure to subscribe to receive notifications by email when new letter appears.

I’ll also keep you updated on events, such as writing and health workshops with Deborah Cox,  or virtual talks on any of my writing projects.

As always, I’m happy to respond directly to messages as well.

Meanwhile, may you have a happy and healthy holiday season!


The Past Hauntingly Repeats Itself? National Elections of 1844

George Perkins Marsh portrait engraving by H. B. Hall, reprinted in Life & Letters (1888) 







As presidential election news was pouring into Washington, DC,  in early November, 1844, a junior US congressman captured visions of the city:

“The excitement was intense. Torch-light processions paraded the streets with wild hurrahs; heavy guns were firing, now by one party, now by another, according to the latest news received. At last, an hour after midnight, a yell of triumph, protracted, hideous, demoniac, rang out from one end of the city to the other. There was no occasion to ask questions. Everybody knew what it meant.”

“Early the next morning,” the congressman, George Perkins Marsh of Vermont, “called a friend to the window and pointed out a huge flag floating over a distant quarter of the town. ‘Do you know what that flag is waving over?’ he asked, with an excitement of manner very rare with him. ‘There is the Slave Market of Washington! and that flag means Texas; and Texas means civil war, before we have done with it.'”

Marsh had spoken out against slavery and the annexation of the Republic of Texas in the period leading up to the election. As this passage from his biography records the events, Marsh appears to have been a bit in shock and dismay at the nation’s division and the election results.

It would be more than a decade before the Civil War would officially erupt, but Marsh was prophetic in his prediction.

Let’s hope that our coming election night is not so fierce and that the past does not repeat itself.


Marsh’s political career and his years as an early environmentalist, a co-founder of the Smithsonian Institution, a scholar of languages and as  a US ambassador abroad in the Ottoman Empire were recorded first in The Life and Letters of George Perkins Marsh (1888) a biography composed by his wife, Caroline. The second volume she composed, never published, includes the record of his twenty-year career as US Minister Plenipotentiary to Italy.

See more Caroline Crane Marsh on the New York Public Library Archives website and in Transatlantica.

Follow me on social medial or subscribe to my website blog for more entries on American women writers such as Caroline and their relevance to contemporary culture.

Coffee Passions: One of These Things is Not Like the Other

A cup of coffee in a clear mug next to a breakfast cookie with a glass of water and a small pitcher of milk in the backgroun

Double espresso and breakfast cookie in Rome

A paper cup from Starbucks with a lid

Cappuccino from Starbucks, small

One afternoon this week my desk work demanded a break. A good strong coffee called to me, as I sat staring at the computer. I had skipped my usual morning dose — two strong cups of bold espresso to fulfill my passions. “Un doppio,” I would order in Italy, usually “macchiato”–stained with milk. In Missouri, instead of Rome, I moved to the closest coffee spot around and ordered an afternoon brew.

Why? I wondered once again. Why? What is it about American coffee shops–independent or otherwise–that causes the cost to be twice as much as the near twin abroad? (This question is not a rhetorical one. Please clue me in!)

Am I paying for a personalized cup, with my name scribbled onto the paper takeaway-and-throw away? Is it real estate, insurance, advertising, and/or other overhead?

No complaints about the taste of what I consumed from that paper cup–except that everything tastes better in a glass, pottery or porcelain vessel.

Notice the clear glass cup from which I sipped an espresso doppio in Rome (yeah, sometime back before Covid). (Notice, too, the little pitcher of milk–the barista knew I was an American and suspected I would want more milk!) This delightful beverage, served at a table and with a healthy breakfast cookie–and a healthy serving of water–cost the equivalent of that single takeaway liquid treat in Springfield.

Yes, I’m longing for those Italian treats I miss: the coffee that soothes my passions, the many places in Rome and elsewhere that serve it up quickly and well.

Anyone else hoping that memories and what’s nearby will be enough to satisfy?

Food Memories: Utopian Visions?

I missed June’s blog. I’m making up for it by referring here to a short blog that appeared elsewhere last month. I wrote “Koulourakia Cravings” for a website called  Historians Cooking the Past.  I, like most other contributors, wrote of a strong food memory. It simmers up at certain seasons. When the light, the weather, the smells–all the senses–send me back to another place and time. And then, I reconnect to that past place by recreating that food with my own hands. In this case, it was the Greek sweetbread, koulourakia, that I wrote about, after baking a batch this spring.

Since first writing about utopian foodways before Eating in Eden: Food and American Utopias appeared, I’ve thought and taught about them often. But what I’ve not asked anyone is this:  how are food memories utopian? And how is nostalgia connected to utopianism?

Generally, utopia, or the perfect place that is no place, is in an imaginary elsewhere in time and space. Often, visions of utopia are futuristic. Utopians seek to make the world a better place. They are forward-looking rather than past-gazing, right?

Actually, no. It’s past experiences–memories of them–and the current conditions–often dystopian–that motivate dreamers to visualize utopia.

What was it that I was trying to recreate when I made koulourakia last spring? What was it that I was craving that went beyond butter and sugar?

As the blog explains, I associate those sweet treats with time abroad in Greece, younger days of marriage and motherhood in New Hampshire, and even my early career in Missouri. Certainly those days were not all utopian bliss. I was not living in a utopian world. But the conditions of the current moment–amidst the Covid pandemic, sheltering in place, and teaching online–pushed me to recreate cookies that I associated with moments of sheer pleasure. Consuming cookies, shared with friends, neighbors and family, speak to me of a perfect place. Nostalgia is more than longing for the past. In the best cases, and in the healthiest conditions, it can be a stepping stone for moving forward in community. In the worst, nostalgia can be holding on to something unhealthy that should only be remembered for what it can teach us about how we may move forward differently.




As Italy crawls back to life, many of us mourn the loss of trips planned and cancelled. This week-after-semester’s-end at the university often finds me in flight across the Atlantic. For most of the last decade, returning to the peninsula I fell in love with during a study abroad semester has been an end-of-term ritual. Often those trips to Italy are with others–sometimes university students, sometimes life-long learners like me. This year was to be no different.

Image from a plane of Italian coast north of Rome

Nearing Rome in 2019

But the change of plans became official a couple of weeks ago. When the airlines sent the flight cancellation notice, I wiped off my calendar a group trip scheduled for late June. Our small group had anticipated the change, discussing it even in early March. Nonetheless, the message still delivered a sting of reality.

The trip would have been my fourth with a group of curious adults willing to follow my lead. Our goals?

  • Personal pilgrimages to lesser-known sites, but with a small group flair
  • Fun with a few others willing to explore “off the beaten path”
  • A schedule with time and room to explore individually
  • Daily reflections on the unexpected and serendipitous.

Rome would have been a starting point. The Colosseum and St. Peter’s were to be mere touchstones, as these spots famous for early Christian martyrdom create the context for thinking about the ways in which religious life and cultures change over time.

Connecting Spiritual Sites to Personal Journeys

Considering our own paths, our journeys would intertwine with what we would witness.  Passersby in the popular Piazza Barberini, for example, often miss the bones encasing the crypt of the Cappucin church in Via Veneto. Nathaniel Hawthorne twisted these into an evil scene in the Marble Faun. Yet we  would consider how they reflect a reverence for life and for death, admonishing us to think about our places in this Great Circle.

Another stop, Santa Pudenziana, originally a Roman bath house, is now a thriving Filipino congregation. Visit on a Sunday to experience a lively mass that exhibits ever-changing church life, but another morning allows a close up view of the apse mosaics. These date from the fourth century, demonstrating visions of Jesus and his disciples as Roman rulers–not uncommon imagery in these early Christian worship sites. Nearby, for example, the church of Santa Pressede offers similar mosaics and cool silence among central Rome’s heat.

Image of early mosaics in church of Santa Pressede in Rome

Mosaic in Santa Pressede, early Christian church in Rome

Image of mosaics in dome of chapel in Santa Pressede, Rome

Dome mosaics in chapel of Santa Pressede, Rome

Other early imagery decorates the mausoleum of Santa Costanza, outside the city’s walls. Our group would travel east on the Via Nomentana to experience the explosive floral and organic imagery inside this burial site of Constantine’s daughter. An effusion of flowers and abundant grapes combine to create an almost Bacchanalian aura. They evoke celebrations a far cry from Victorian pearly gates, golden streets, and singing seraphim and cherubim. On the same campus, the body of Saint Agnes lies entombed, at the entrance to the underground catacombs that provide insights to other ancient burial practices.

These three ancient sites are not secret–certainly others visit them–but they are far from the madding crowds of central Rome, thronging the piazzas and streets winding from the Colosseum and the Campidoglio through the Campo dei Fiori, the Trevi Fountain and the Piazza Navona. We would visit these–Saint Agnes’s head is in the church bearing her name in the Piazza Navona–along with other “not secret sites” in the city. All ask the thoughtful to reflect on their own journeys within this larger context.

From Rome to Umbria and Arezzo

Umbrian verdure from heights of La Verna

Our group after a few days would have escaped the urban hubub to the cool heights of La Verna. Perched aside a hilltop northeast of Arezzo, the village of La Verna sits sleepily. I learned of it while reading On Journey, the autobiography of social activist Vida Dutton Scudder (1861-1954), who visited regularly as she wrote a history of Saint Francis and his early followers. Further above the village, at the end of a drive that veers off a windy mountain road, the Franciscan Sanctuary that arose in the saint’s honor lies almost hidden in a thick forest. Arriving at the monastic sanctuary and guest house, I sense I’m following not only Francis’s footsteps but also Scudder’s.

Buffered by the dense foliage, the monastery and its inviting guest spaces inspire rather than intimidate. Of immediate note, the birds’ mesmerizing songs send spirits soaring. They speak the language of Francis’s life, known for a connection to animals. And they remind visitors of nature’s bounty, a far cry from the sounds of urban traffic. Rome’s sounds and diesel smells are also dissipated, as forest paths underfoot release their damp, earthy pungency. The paths, part of the larger system of The Way of St. Francis, lead to the nearby spot where the saint is said to have received his stigmata. Here our group would spend part of two days in times of silence, walking the trails and mediation. (Thanks to friend and former traveler Deborah Cox for giving me permission to share these four photos she took a few summers ago.)

Along one of the paths at the Franciscan Sanctuary above La Verna

Franciscan Sanctuary La Verna


Other Sites of the Saints

Other sites associated with Francis would dot our travel. Lodging two nights in another monastic site in Assisi would allow us to begin and end our days with views that stimulate and stir the senses. Later, an easy morning’s drive would take us to Siena. Although both Siena and Assisi are thick with tourists, we would add some lesser seen sites to our days–like the home of Anne Hampton Brewster, Philadelphia journalist who died in Siena, after writing from Rome for twenty years. And of course we would visit sites associated with Saint Catherine, whose life also motivated Scudder’s writings and social activism.

Assisi in the evening, when most tourists have vacated the streets


Siena’s campo, famed for its annual horse race, has fewer visitors after dark

A quiet corner in Siena, near the final home of American journalist Anne Hampton Brewster

Siena’s Basilica of San Francesco, slighted by visitors who opt for San Dominco, associated with Saint Catherine


Along the Tuscan Coast and South

After Siena, a short stop in Porto Santo Stefano, would precede a longer pause in Tarquinia. In this ancient Roman town, an Etruscan necropolis reminds visitors that other civilizations predated the Romans. And Tarquinia’s peaceful streets speak to most travelers’ needs for time outside of tourist centers.

We would end our trip with another site similar in its beauty, history and distance from the crowds. Ostia Antica lies near Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport in Fiumicino, yet far away from its bustle. A national historic cite, the grand park offers an expanse of ruins that exhibit an almost pristine amphitheater, ancient toilets, and rich mosaics. The remnants of former worship sites, such as the Jewish synagogue, would remind us once again of how ancient Rome embraced diverse religions. Ostia also boasts beaches–so some of our group would stroll the lungomare, or venture into the sand to dip their toes into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Perhaps this touch, like throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain, would signify a journey that they hope to remember, if not repeat.


Image of the amphitheater at Ostia Antica, Italy

Amphitheater at Ostia Antica

Remnant from the Jewish Synagogue, Ostia Antica

Restructured toilet fragments, Ostia Antica

View of the Sea from Lodging in Ostia

The Tyrrhenian Sea at Ostia


What’s Next?

None of us knows what the future holds for us, but we plan nonetheless.  As far as travel is concerned, we wonder what’s next.  Some trips have been cancelled–others have been postponed. Our group trip is a mixture of the two. With the indefinite future ahead, we hope to know more by fall. Then, if possible, we’ll plan more specifics–new dates, new times, new itineraries. And perhaps even a few new travelers. Maybe you would be interested in joining the group? Or maybe you are part of another small group–a few couples, a few single friends–with whom you’d like to travel? If so, let me know.  One of my passions is advising, planning, and sometimes leading such small group trips. Contact me here or through Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


A Privileged Perspective: On Escaping A Stricken Field

Photo of the book cover of Martha Gellhorn's novel, A Stricken Field

Cover of 1940 edition of Martha Gellhorn’s A Stricken Field

In January, reading Anne Boyd Rioux’s review essay of Martha Gellhorn’s A Stricken Field,  I was intrigued enough to order a copy. Rioux had written for LitHub that Gellhorn’s 1940 novel delivers “a gut-punch” as it “powerfully illustrates how Western societies fail in their duty to protect the most vulnerable among us: stateless and homeless refugees.”[i] I didn’t really want a “gut-punch” from reading about refugees. Instead, the novel’s setting in Prague, where my husband and I were headed in March, prompted me. I thought Gellhorn’s account would help me prepare for our planned spring break trip to the Czech Republic, where we would visit our son who was studying abroad. Put another way, we’d be escaping the late-winter doldrums of life in the isolated Ozarks.

Put another way, we’d be escaping the late-winter doldrums of life in the isolated Ozarks.

Gellhorn’s best-selling fictional account of the Nazi regime’s rise in power would be more interesting and engaging than Count Francis Lützow’s The Story of Prague (1902), another historical volume I had begun in hopes of educating myself. (The volume’s illustrations by Nelly Erichsen, a professional expatriate artist from England, had caught my eye—but she’s the subject of another article). I soon set that history aside, as Gellhorn’s journalist heroine sucked me in to her relationships—relationships both with young political activists she had befriended and her fellow journalists.

Martha Gellhorn during the Spanish Civil War, c. 1937-1938. Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Described in heart wrenching and soulful scenes, without one bit of sentimentality, A Stricken Field provides a story of an occupation that arrived gradually—creeping in like a virus—until suddenly it has ravaged the entire city and destroyed those the journalist (and sensitive readers) have come to hold dearly. As the one character jokes nervously upon her arrival, “What, no pictures of Adolf in the windows yet?” But within a matter of days, the ancient city has been turned upside down.

Gellhorn’s account differs from Anne Frank’s famous diary,  not only because it’s fiction, but also because it captures the interiority of adults—more mature characters as they move about the city—even as they hide in isolation or huddle in quickly established “quarantine” housing for recently arrived exiles from Germany. Most notably, Gellhorn’s account differs from Frank’s in this mobility.

Mobility through Privilege

The mobility emerges through the movement of the journalist’s and the narrator’s privileged eyes, blurred by the perspectives Gellhorn’s crafting creates. She allows readers to witness scenes of passionate lovers in hiding—clinging to each other in moments of unknown futures; abuses of resistors, victimized by German authorities; and slight fears of news-following journalists. As readers, our eyes move from scene to horrific scene, often with the eye of the American journalist, Mary Douglas, who generally feels her position provides her safety.

The journalist’s choice, finally, like Frank’s, is to use writing as a tool. She will tell the story of her experience, as she smuggles documents in her suitcase so that the records will remain. Yet the journalist’s experience, she tells herself throughout the account and especially as she flees Prague in fear, is an experience of privilege, from a privileged position. The horrific life she witnessed in Prague, under Hitler’s regime, was not her own. She has credentials that will help her to escape it–and she has the documents that will help her tell the story.

Yes, journalists were traveling by plane in 1940, and the plane becomes the most fraught symbol of her mobility and privilege.

Culminating the novel’s numerous nerve-wracking scenes, the narrator moves through intimidating customs clearance questions at the airport. Yes, journalists were traveling by plane in 1940, and the plane becomes the most fraught symbol of her mobility and privilege. In fact, the novel opens inside a plane, where the narrator and journalist recognize that “the land looked the same as when they flew across France, summer green and rich.”  Were they “looking for . . . maybe a swastika painted on roof?”

Fertile fields in the plain of Forez, Les Massards, Loire. Wikimedia Commons : Hélène Rival / CC BY-SA

By the circuitous return to the plane setting in the novel’s closing, the book title’s meaning emerges. Here the journalist and other travelers who have escaped the horrors of the occupied Czech terrain observe once again from the plane window, happy to have crossed the Rhine and be over France.

View from a plane of fields in Sicily

Fertile fields of Sicily in late summer–one of my privileged views

Photo from an airplane of fields near coast of Rome, Italy

Fertile fields along the Italian coast near Rome–another privileged view

Yet as the journalist gazes “down at the neat fields, brown and green, purple brown, yellow” she recognizes even more than she had months before—“the land doesn’t look any different . . . the land doesn’t look different at all.” What has “stricken” the “field” are the behaviors of people within it, and those infectious actions might happen anywhere. As she returns to France, where the fields are not stricken, she struggles with what she will choose to remember and what she will easily forget.

A False Sense of Security and Privilege

The irony for readers today, of course, is that we recognize the travelers’ and the journalist’s false sense of security and privilege—for France soon will be occupied as well. A Stricken Field becomes a metaphor not merely for the Czech’s land but for almost all of Europe. The journalist’s privileged escape is only temporary and in a physical world rather than in her emotional state.

Gellhorn’s tale resonated even more with me a month after I read it—by mid-March—and now. When my copy arrived in February, news of the corona virus outbreak in Wuhan was becoming more on our radar, as the virus had made its way to western Washington. But I was reading with plans of my own privileged spring break trip yet ahead. A month later, when my trip had been cancelled and I couldn’t even enjoy a pizza out at a local pub with friends, as I reflected on Gellhorn’s Stricken Field, I realized that China’s virus outbreak had become Italy’s and Italy’s had spread to Prague and other parts of Europe. Soon the outbreak would become our own. Our son was headed home, with thousands of other American university students, and we would not be traveling.  No perspective of privilege would prevent the impact.

Anne Hampton Brewster: Another Perspective of Privilege

In a few days I’ll be discussing another mistaken “perspective of privilege.” This time it will be an American journalist in 19th century Rome who wrestled with cholera and Roman fever as she shared the news with readers in the US. My discussion of Anne Hampton Brewster‘s writings is part of a webinar series sponsored by the Library Company of Philadelphia. The webinar is FREE, but you do need to register through the web page for the series.  I hope you’ll tune in to have your thinking piqued about quarantine and our relationships with those around us. History continues to speak. It teaches those who are willing to listen.

[i] Rioux’s phrase has since been picked up by Amazon and by the University of Chicago Press, who published a reprint of the 1940 novel in 2011.

A Valentine’s and Presidents’ Day Book: Precious and Adored

Cover of book Precious and Adored

Cover of Laskey and Ehrenhalt’s book, Precious and Adored

Here’s a book suited for both Valentine’s and Presidents’ Day. No, it’s not about Abigail and John Adams. Nor is it yet another account of Honest Abe and Mary Todd. But it is about a First Lady.  Melania? Michelle?  Hillary? Their love and marriage stories are certainly intriguing. But no, the story is not one of recent years. The First Lady was Rose Cleveland (1846-1918).

Rose served as First Lady in 1885-86, although she never was legally married. So what’s the story?

Lizzie Ehrenhalt and Tilly Laskey give the account in Precious and Adored: The Love Letters of Rose Cleveland and Evangeline Simpson Whipple, 1890-1918. The book appeared a year ago, but the story remains new and engaging–even though it speaks of a woman and a relationship that began in the 19th century.

Authors and historians Lizzie Ehrenhalt, of the MInnesota Historical Society, and Tilly Laskey. Outreach Curator, Maine Historical Society

Rose became the official First Lady when her brother, the unmarried Grover Cleveland, became US President. (It was essential that the White House have a “First Lady,” of course). She remained in the position until he married. Not long after, Rose began writing to a “wealthy widow,” then Evangeline Marrs Simpson, whom she had met in Florida, sometime in the late 1880s. The rest, as they say, is history–and a fascinating love story. It includes the widow’s second marriage to Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple in 1896 and Evangeline’s life with him in Minnesota.

Before that marriage, Rose and Evangeline had traveled to Europe and from north to south along the East Coast. (Both women owned property in Florida, where they wintered). And they frequently wrote to each other. The letters serve as a record of their changing relationship.

The letters serve as a record of their changing relationship. . . .

After Evangeline’s marriage to the Bishop, not surprisingly, the women’s relationship changed. Evangeline became engaged in Minnesota with women of indigenous tribes–the Dakota and the Anishinaabe, in particular. Rose occupied herself with writing and real estate. She wrote of strong female figures–such as Joan of Arc and the popular author George Eliot (a pseudonym for Mary Ann Evans). At one point she owned property in Maine, Florida and New York, and she was managing two businesses, as well as writing.

After the Bishop’s death in 1901, the women began seeing each other once again. In June of 1910, they left the US together for Italy. After a short period with Evangeline’s brother in Florence, the two settled in the Tuscan resort village of Bagni di Lucca. Rose died there in 1918, when the influenza epidemic (“the Spanish flu”) spread through Europe and the US. She, Evangeline and their friend Nelly Erichsen had all been involved in helping victims of World War I and the epidemic. (Biographies of Erichsen and of Rose and their activism and deaths at Bagni  are available here and here.) Although Evangeline did not die until 1930, and she then lived in London, she had already made plans to be laid to rest next to Rose in the English Cemetery at Bagni di Lucca.

Whipple’s and Cleveland’s graves in the English Cemetery, Bagni di Lucca, Italy

This brief synopsis does not do justice to the story of the women’s lives. Erhenhalt and Laskey provide an excellent and thorough overview in the 56-page introduction to their book. The remaining pages are the love letters between the two women–a remarkable “inside view” of a near-thirty-year romance. Precious and Adored also includes about a dozen photos, a list of “characters” mentioned in the letters, and a Foreward by historian and scholar of sexuality Lillian Faderman.

Not the story many readers are likely to have imagined about a US First Lady,  Precious and Adored  reminds us that history holds many surprising pictures. We need only take the time to look at them to think differently about the past–as well as about the present situations that surround us.

Stephen Fried's biography of Benjamin Rush, early American man of science

Fried’s recent biography of Benjamin Rush, early American “man of science”

Mel Ulm’s recent review of Stephen Fried’s biography of Benjamin Rush prompted me to revisit my writing and research on #BenjaminRush from year’s ago. So when Springfield’s David Cornelison contacted me a couple of weeks later about an interview regarding my interdisciplinary work in early American literature and science for #KSMU‘s #STEMSpots, I said “sure!”

Then, the anxiety crept in.

I am a dabbler–and that’s dangerous. My first disclaimer to David pronounced this precarious position. He propped me up by asking some great questions about how I incorporate “men of science” into my teaching of American literature, and we bounced around from Rush to Benjamin Franklin to Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards and Henry David Thoreau–and their relevance today (that’s the most important part!) Hope you’ll tune in to listen.

We did discuss these men’s positions of power and how that provided them–relatively speaking–the ability to obsess over their inquiries. We should all be so passionate in our pursuits of what we believe will make the world a better place. 

What we didn’t have time for–an egregious absence–was women of science. Perhaps that will come later. Tina Gianquitto’s work on nineteenth-century figures brought much-needed attention to women’s scientific work about a decade ago.  She wrote of Almira Phelps, Margaret Fuller, Susan Fenimore Cooper, and Mary Treat. (Follow Tina’s current project through the website Herbaria). Sharon Harris and Theresa Kaminski have brought attention to Mary Walker, one of the earliest recognized female physicians in the US. And Renee Bergland’s biography of astronomer Maria Mitchell informs my project on American women in Italy. Mitchell traveled abroad as a “professional,” visiting other astronomers and their observatories.

If I get another chance to chat with David, I’ll be ready to talk about some of these women.

The short STEM Spot  aired February 13 and then a longer version became available through the #KSMU & #NPR websites. It’s accessible through this link.

Timothy Miller on Communes in America, 1975-2000

Book cover Timothy Miller's Communes in AmericaFor anyone interested in alternative communities in the US, Tim Miller’s book on the last quarter of the 20th century is a thorough and accessible read. Miller started studying and writing about communal life as a young scholar of American religious history. No one can delve into that topic without encountering such groups.
(I am a case in point–I first published on New England Puritans, then the Shakers, followed by the Quakers. More recently, I have written about two spiritual communities in Italy’s Piedmont, Damanhur and Villaggio Verde.) Miller made his way into 1960s communes as a sub-specialty, and this book reflects that work.
Communes in America is the last in a trilogy, though. The first two focus on the earlier parts of the 20th century. With a broad foundation in America’s past, Miller writes authoritatively, accurately and accessibly.  This final volume is a fine example of his work.
Yes, Miller writes about Jim Jones and People’s Temple, the Branch Davidians near Waco, and Fundamentalists Latter Day Saints, among many other groups you likely never knew about.
My longer review of the book appeared last week in Religion, State and Society. The journal is allowing free access for the first several viewers, so I’m providing the link below to anyone who is interested in reading more. It may help you decide whether to buy the book.

Here’s a little bit of my review:

“For readers interested in church–state relations, Miller’s final chapter ‘Communities in the Media Spotlight: Crisis and Controversy’ is the richest. Here he explains that the communities that have made the media spotlight have done so because of crises, which are not the norm but rather the exception. The reasons for these crises, he explains, are both internal and external issues and differ little from crises that occur in US culture outside of communities. . . .

One example of an internal crisis that bled into an external one was the leadership of People’s Temple. Jim Jones (1931–1978), a charismatic Protestant minister initially in Indiana, eventually led followers to California and Guyana, where they established the community known as Jonestown. Many of them later drank Fla-Vor-Aid laced with cyanide in 1978. Increasingly disturbed by mental illness and drug abuse, Jones’ behaviours included involvement in the death of California Congressman Leo Ryan and several reporters, who had arrived at Jonestown to investigate the community following a child custody case with defectors. Behaviours such as Jones’ are the exception rather than the rule, Miller asserts.”

Read the entire review here.

Traveling to Monasteries: One Part of a Larger Journey

Last month, I interviewed Paul Green, who left his job and took off on a journey to seventeen Trappist monasteries in the US. The journey resulted in a photo book, Silence is Spoken Here, but more importantly, a change in how he sees himself and his sense of place.

Tina Moore hiking, one of her favorite spiritual practices

Paul’s wife, Tina Moore, inspired the journey and traveled along with him. I interviewed Tina, too, thinking they would respond differently to questions about their motivations and what they found. (I also wanted to ensure that  neither husband nor wife would overpower the other.) And, of course, they shared different stories!

What follows is my conversation with Tina. As you will see, if you read to the end, Tina views her journey to Trappist monasteries as only one part of a much larger journey. She’s been a spiritual seeker since at least her college years. And her searching has always included looking for the right everyday practices. Today she’s settled in northwest Arkansas, where her volunteer work factors into her training to become a spiritual director. Tina’s advice–if you feel stuck in your situation–look deep inside for what your desires really are. And, reach out. Don’t be afraid to look for someone who will help you take the first steps.

“I was looking for something . . . meaningful”

Etta:     So, Tina, I have read Paul’s book Silence Is Spoken Here, which is full of beautiful photos. But it’s notable that your name isn’t on the cover. Maybe it should be—for how you influenced the journey? I really enjoyed hearing from Paul about how you guys came up with the ideas, from his perspective, and what he has been doing since then, but I’m interested in your perspective. What prompted you to take the trip to the 17 Trappist monasteries scattered across the US?

Tina:    I think in the back of my mind I was looking for something that Paul and I could do together that would be meaningful. I wasn’t sure what meaningful meant, but a few years before, a friend of mine and I had talked about doing a coffee table book. We were both just a tiny bit involved with photography–nothing professional at all–and we were going to travel the country. We were going to take sunrise and sunset pictures from every state, so we kind of had this dream of doing that. We joked about taking her daughter and homeschooling her.

Paul Green and Tina Moore, whose trip to Trappist monasteries throughout the US prompted this interview

That was a long time before Paul and I were in a relationship together. So that was back there somewhere [in my subconscious], and I think all these years later I had this epiphany. I pictured Paul and me doing something that had to do with his photography and traveling and exploring places–meaningful places, sacred places–that was sort of this broad idea.

“I expected that he would turn me down”

I expected that he would turn me down, because he was working full-time and not ready to quit that, but I thought, you know, I’m just going to throw it out there and see what he says. And he actually liked the idea. But we needed to refine it a little bit, because visiting sacred places–you can imagine–we were going to do one in each state, and there’re so many! “Sacred places” is a very broad term. We needed to narrow it down. And it wasn’t too long after that we went back to St. Benedict’s Monastery in Colorado and were able to visit with the Abbot, Father Joseph who has since passed away. He offered the suggestion to start with just visiting all the Trappist monasteries in the US. There are just 17 of them, and that felt doable. It allowed us to envision the journey in a way that we could make it happen.

Etta:     Tell me about Colorado — why were you there, from your perspective?

Chapel, St. Benedict’s Monastery, Snowmass, Colorado

Tina:    I think it was in 2012 or 13 that Paul and I went for a 5-day retreat. My stepfather has been on staff out there for 25 or 30 years–a long time. He’s not a monk; he’s a lay person who leads centering prayer retreats.  So we did that. Then a few years later, I was at a workshop for dream analysis in North Carolina at a place called Kanuga Retreat Center. I knew about Kanuga and about the Haden Institute, which put on the dream workshop, because of my stepdad. (I was getting introduced to a lot of these practices through my mom’s husband.) I had this series of experiences that got me to the point of wanting to do this particular project with Paul.

But previous to all of that, in 2009 I began studying theology at Drury University (just from an academic perspective), where I met Dr. Peter Browning. I was picking his brain one day as I pondered where I might be headed on the spiritual path, and he suggested that maybe seminary would be what I was looking for. So I entered Phillips Theological Seminary in January of 2011, and I believe it was the next year that I was introduced to centering prayer at the Trappist Monastery.

Etta:     Were these experiences something new this point in your life?

Tina:    Yes!  I think this happened because for years I had been really wanting to be able to call myself a Christian, wanting to have a church home, I guess you would call it, because I did not grow up going to church, and I always felt excluded, living in the Bible Belt and living in Arkansas, growing up in this place where everybody goes to church. I was sort of on the outside. At college at Missouri State, I went to church and I had a lot of Catholic friends and I remember doing a weekend lock-in retreat with the Catholic campus ministry.

I remember my ex-husband, who was my boyfriend then, telling his fraternity brothers that I was trying to find myself.

I remember my ex-husband, who was my boyfriend then, telling his fraternity brothers that I was trying to find myself. I was 19 or 20, and I would say that was absolutely what was happening.  Although now I, at age 51, I know this is lifetime process for me.

“I missed the mark for a long time. . . .”

I missed the mark for a long time because I had kids and started doing all of the secular things that we do–PTA and all of that. But I got to this point where I was really, really existentially lost. Part of it was my marriage was not fulfilling, and I was trying to stick with it, and eventually it was obvious that that wasn’t healthy and needed to not continue. And then I had a therapist ask me, “what would you do if you were divorced? What would your life look like? What would you do with your time?”

It was extremely terrifying. You’re doing what you think everyone else is expecting you to do and fit a mold that you think is set for you. I’m not saying it was that–I’m saying I thought it was. And so the therapist said, let’s just try this on. If you were divorced, what would you do? Would you go back to work? Would you go to school? So I really thought about that, and I thought I would go back to school. And he said, okay, what would you study?

I have so many interests, and I love learning in general, but I narrowed it down to nutrition, addiction and religion–and those I would say are all three related. I have a close relationship with people who struggle with addiction, and my kids both had health issues when they were young that related to nutrition (food allergies and such), so I already had kind of immersed myself in that, but the religion thing just kept coming back up, because I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be a Christian, but whatever Christian means, I couldn’t say yes to all the things [some people expected]. I kept thinking there’s got to be a way that I can educate myself enough about Christianity and about religion that I can figure it out for myself. It’s not going to be me going to church and listening to the preacher. It’s going to be studying it in a formal, academic way, following all kinds of different angles.

Tina and monks, prayer chapel, Assumption Abbey, Ava, Missouri

“I never had a feeling like, we can’t make all this come together.”

Etta:     In Paul’s interview, he described a bit about how you planned the travels. You are a logistics person and organized, he said. Can you explain how you dealt with making the planning happen? Were there moments that you thought, “this is crazy” or “we can’t do this”? Were there moments where the organization went out the window or that made you want to give up?

Tina:    Never. That never happened. I can see where that would be a real hindrance for some people because it might seem overwhelming. I have areas in my life that I would avoid because I wouldn’t know where to start. For example, writing a book. But planning this trip was a challenge that was fun, and I never had a feeling like, we can’t make all this come together.

Etta:     You said you wanted to travel with Paul.  This kind of fits into that vacation mode. But you also mentioned “sacred spaces”–so you were hoping to find something spiritually. What did you find?

“Even going to a baseball game can be a pilgrimage”

Tina reflecting over an evening campfire during the monastery trip

Tina:    One book that probably prompted this journey is The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau. I read it in 2010, five years before all of this. I was going to go on a trip to Iona, which is a very sacred island off the coast of Scotland. It was on the list of books to read before  you do the trip. I signed up for it and I backed out, because that’s when my husband and I started our separation. But Cousineau talks about turning any adventure, any trip–you can call it a lot of different things–but it can become a pilgrimage. It’s all about meaning-making, establishing meaning. He gives an example of going to baseball games with his dad when he was young. Cousineau says even going to a baseball game can be a pilgrimage. At that point I decided I’m not going to travel anymore unless it’s meaningful. Recently, I would say there have been more opportunities like that than I could count.

Etta:     You remember one that you can describe?

Tina:    You know, almost at almost every monastery I found a sense of it being pilgrimage.  Paul was doing the photography, and I didn’t need to be a part of that, so I would find either the book store/gift shop or the library (almost all of the monasteries had one). There are libraries for people that are staying there (the retreatants) who can just pull any book off the shelf. What I felt called to do is to just let a book pick me, basically. I would go into these libraries and find a book, immerse myself in it along with the atmosphere of the monastery and just let the whole experience speak to me. I made that my thing for each monastery visit.

Etta:     I was going to ask you what your plan or routine was, since you’re someone who’s really organized.

“I didn’t have a routine planned when we left home.”

Tina:    It developed. I didn’t have a routine planned when we left home. It was at the first monastery we visited, in a small town outside Atlanta, where I found a book…actually a monk gave me a book based on a discussion we were having and so going forward it just seemed like I would find a spot, and I could nestle with my book.

On the grounds at Assumption Abbey, Ava,  Missouri

Each time it would seem like the book picked me…and the spot picked me. It was anywhere from a bench, or my little cell–you know they call them cells for a reason. They’re tiny. That in and of itself is really interesting, because I would go into my cell and I would move the chair where I wanted the chair, and there’s a lamp where I set my books up. I was making it my own—making it my spot. I would say, now that you mention it, I’m kind of a creature of habit and I would develop my own little routine.

Etta:     Were you and Paul in separate rooms?

Tina:    Sometimes, but it really just depended on what the set-up was at the individual monastery. Definitely there were times when we were split up and I would say, “Good night! See you tomorrow.” And then everyone has to be quiet, too.

Etta:     And there wasn’t Internet, so you weren’t texting?

Tina:    Sometimes there were places that we could text.

Etta:     It sounds like an interesting way of being together but alone. You were thinking originally, “where can we go together?” But you weren’t completely together!

“an interesting way of being together but alone . . .”

Tina:    I can’t picture myself being a monastic in the full sense, but we’re both very drawn to silence and more drawn to places where you can be silent. There’s a place that I go to for conferences called Kripalu. It’s really more of a place for yoga, but they have workshops and guest speakers and stuff. It’s in Massachusetts, and they have a silent dining room as an option. You can go to the silent dining room or the big cafeteria. I always eat in the silent room.

Etta:     Your mention of Kripalu brings me to the question of what are you doing now that’s connected to what you learned from your journey? or do you have something ahead?

“this journey to the monasteries was part of a bigger journey”

Tina:    I think this journey to the monasteries was part of a bigger journey. For me the very first intro class that I took in seminary was where I learned about the vocation of spiritual direction. It is basically spiritual counseling. A person can be a spiritual counselor in a group setting or in an individualized, one-on-one spiritual therapy setting. That really struck me, because I love having personal conversations with people. I think I thrive the most when I can get into deep, meaningful conversations with people in a group, but also with one-on-one time.

I have had this idea of becoming a spiritual director in the back of my head since then, which was 2011, that maybe down the road, when I’m further down the spiritual path, maybe I will be at a place where I can provide spiritual direction for other people. A lot of these things that I’ve done since then have helped me get to this place where I feel like, “okay, now it’s my time.” Typically, the spiritual direction certification is a two-year process. Over the years I learned about many different programs. And then in 2017 a very synchronistic thing happened, which involved finding out about a certain program that seemed like the perfect fit, so I signed up for it.

Etta:     Where is the program?

Tina:    It’s in Massachusetts, between Albany, New York, and Hartford, Connecticut. What was coincidental about it, is that the person that started that school–and this is only the third class, so it’s a new school–was one of the speakers at the dream conference that I was at when I got the idea for the book back in 2014. I remembered her, and I had actually emailed with her and thought I’d like to work with her, but she lives in North Carolina and I live in the Midwest.

“I’m not sure I’m at a place where I can help other people on their spiritual paths, but I’m going to go ahead and take a chance.”

And then I dropped that whole idea and did the monastery trip. Then in 2017 when I was asking an Episcopal Rector in my hometown if she knew of any schools, she told me about this new program in Massachusetts headed by a friend of hers. I remembered her as the speaker from the dream conference.  It felt very synchronistic and also, after eight years of being really serious about the development of my own spiritual life, I was finally ready to delve into becoming a spiritual director in order to assist others with their own spiritual development.

I’m not sure I’m at a place where I can help other people on their spiritual paths, but I’m going to go ahead and take a chance. I’m in the middle of that right now. That’s where I am. It’s exciting. But of late I have decided to consider that I might use all of this to help people at the END of their lives. So I’m gathering information now about hospice care. There’s also something called a death doula. It’s been around for a while. It’s this idea of the midwife-type person whose role is helping people as they make the transition from their Earthly life. As a spiritual counselor, we are basically companioning and listening and just being with others as they explore their relationship with the Divine.  And the importance of companioning a person at the end of their life is really just to be there and be present.

Etta:     I love what you said about having conversations with people. Especially the return of what they’re saying and how you learn from it. You seem to have the right skills for that listening.

Tina:    That’s very kind. I think it needs to play out, you know? I don’t want to presume. There are sometimes that you can say, “I want to do this.” And then you do the training, and you go do it, and as much as you thought you wanted to do it, it might not be your calling. I just want to be really humble about it. I want to find my place.  Angie [a person Tina had just met with] told me some interesting things that make me eager to keep exploring the hospice idea and keep feeling this out.

Etta:     How did you come to the idea of hospice?

Tina:    I had been on a three day silent retreat and on one of those mornings, during the morning meditation time, the word “HOSPICE” just basically appeared in my mind’s eye.  I wasn’t sure what to make of that, but shortly after I had finished my meditation, I picked up my phone to check my email. I receive a daily email from Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and author, and this particular email happened to be one about the end of life and hospice care. It was just such a beautiful quote that really stuck with me–along with the experience that happened during the meditation.  And then further down in my email list was the newsletter from the school that I go to, and in that there was an article about how to tell if you have a true calling.

How do you know that something is your calling?

Etta:     How do you know that something is your calling?

Tina:    The article that I was reading distinguished six signs that a calling is true– synchronistically. Gregg Levoy, the author of Callings,  formulated this idea that there are at least six different things that happen, based on many interviews he’s conducted over the years. So you can go down this sort of shopping list of six items. I was sitting in the room there after my meditation, and I said to myself, “you know, this seems like something I should pay attention to.”

Etta: Yeah. That’s awesome.

Being Mindful and Present

Tina:    People throughout time have become really conscious and mindful and present at a young age. But I certainly was not. I was struggling a lot and was very self-absorbed. Not just in a typical egocentric way, but in some way of being in the world that felt uncomfortable. And I can see that in other people when they are not, let’s say, comfortable in their own skin. And as long as I lived that way–I lived that way for a really long time–I stayed really self-absorbed because I was just trying to make it. Figuring things out now feels, you know, intuitive. It just feels right. That happens when you can quit thinking about yourself and focus more on how we are all connected and how are we all equal.

Etta:     Can you tell me about how that factors in to where you are and what you’re doing now?

Tina:    I now have the desire to physically, relationally, work with people, but I wasn’t sure what opportunities there would in Northwest Arkansas, where we moved once the monastery trip was completed. However, I found out about a brand new opportunity to work with women coming out of prison, most of whom had been recovering from addiction.

Magdalene Serenity House welcomes women into a  two-year residential program where they can heal from trauma such as sexual abuse, trafficking, addiction, incarceration, and everything that might go along with those things. The original model of this is in Nashville. A woman who is an Episcopal priest started this program about 20 years ago. Her organization is set up now to train other people throughout the country who are interested in developing programs like hers.  One distinction with this program is that there is no real affiliation with a religious organization and so many of them [shelters for trauma victims] are with very specific requirements—the residents must do a Bible study, or they have to be Christians, or whatever.

When I first got involved, the residence had been purchased but needed to be remodeled, so there were no residents yet and the program was just being established. The three women that were the very first [residents] have now been in the house for about a year and a half, and we’ve had a full house for about six months. My desire was to work side by side with the residents. I wasn’t interested in joining the board, and I did not want to become a staff person. What I wanted to do was to be in the trenches with these women as they dealt with the day-to-day issues of recovery and of learning to be self-supportive.

Etta:     How would you describe what you’re providing by “being in the trenches”?

Tina:    Right now, I’m just being there. Each weekday morning they begin their day with what is called Morning Circle. We light a candle and read a daily meditation. Each person can talk about what the meditation means to them, and then we go back around the circle and each person does what is called a “feelings check.” Then we close with the Serenity Prayer.

Etta:     You know how to listen to these women and feel with them?

Tina:    I try to always remember I could have easily found myself in their shoes. It really could have been me. There were decisions I made in my life that could have taken me down a similar path. I really think about that when they’re talking about whatever they’re going through, whatever they’ve been through.

Advice for the Stuck – Reach Out, Collaborate

Etta:     I wanted to bring us around to a question that builds from what you’re getting into now. Question isn’t really the right word—it’s really a topic. Privilege. You are very fortunate that you were able to do that trip, and you’re free to do the volunteer work now. What advice do you have for people who may not have that freedom. Just based on your ability to listen and to be mindful – I’m curious what advice you would give to people who might feel bored or stagnant or not alive anymore? about their ability to do something? Is there some advice that you would give to them, based on what you’re doing now?

Tina:    I would just say for someone who thinks, “I’d love to travel. I’d love to do what you did, but I have to work,” or, “I am not working now but I don’t have the funds to do that,” go back to what I mentioned earlier about The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau. I would highly recommend checking this book out. When Cousineau says, “anything,” can be a pilgrimage, I think we can think of it in terms that fit our own particular situation. Perhaps an overnight stay at a state or national park would fit better with someone’s schedule or financial situation.

Anything that we find ourselves doing throughout the day can feel meaningful and even spirit-filled, but I think sometimes our lives are so full that a lot of the time we don’t really have the chance to say, “what would I really be doing if I could do things that add meaning to my life? What gets me excited? What would I do if no one else was in the position to judge me?” I would tell people to really look introspectively and ask, “what’s truly meaningful to me?”

And if it requires time that I’m short on, or a budget that I’m short on, start collaborating with others, asking them these questions as well. Getting into these types of discussions is a really good starting point.

Etta:     I’m wondering if someone who may be working 8 to 5 and they feel like they can’t leave that, and they feel stuck . . .

Tina:    But reaching out or being with someone else can help motivate a person, once they have figured out what it is that turns them on. Let’s say they love to hike. They don’t have a lot of time to hike. But you know there’s lots of hiking around Missouri and Northwest Arkansas. So you find out if there are any hiking clubs in your area or documentaries that are coming to the area. Really, it depends on having a desire to figure it out first.

Collaboration & Moving On

Tina and Paul with the book, Silence is Spoken Here

Etta:     To conclude I want to circle back to a couple of things about the trip and the book I first mentioned–that are related to your relationship—not to make you say anything bad about Paul—just to kind of understand the collaboration about your book, Silence is Spoken Here.

Tina:    The original plan was for me to do the written part of the book. I was going to use the talent that I don’t have any of, because I have no experience in that area! I can diagram a sentence pretty well. I know my grammar pretty well. But then when it came down to it, I felt so unqualified that Paul finally just said he would do the whole thing. He doesn’t have any experience with writing either, but he doesn’t carry my perfectionist attitude about it all. So Paul ended up taking the photos, editing them, creating the written content, and then he proceeded to educate himself on how to self-publish. He really ended up doing it all.

Etta:    Did you help with selecting the photos?

Tina:    It was a collaborative process in that respect, and I did do some proofreading, but most of my part was just with the logistics of the trip itself.

Etta:     The collaboration was in that you planned the journey, and you were on it?

Tina:    Yes. It wasn’t like I helped throughout the whole project. He managed the whole project. I felt like I was with him on the journey—the physical journey—and then we got home, and I kind of stepped aside. And he said, “it’s no problem.” And I moved on. I moved into the volunteer work at Magdalene Serenity House. It all happened when I could start the spiritual direction certification, so it allowed me to really say, “yes,” to that. And I could jump in with both feet.

“Jumping in with both feet”

 I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview and that it helps you think about your own journey. Is there something you have yet to do? Would you “jump in with both feet”?  Is there someone you know who has similarly jumped into something new?

I’d love to have your ideas or suggestions for future posts about people who have followed interesting “later vocations.”  (“Later” doesn’t mean “old people”–it means taking new steps beyond those earlier career or life paths of young adulthood. . . .)

And, if you haven’t yet, sign up to follow my blog so you’ll receive an email when a new post appears. 


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