Monday, September 13, 2010

Outside Myself

My brother will laugh when he learns that I’ve been trying to write a blog about Romance Novels. He’ll laugh because for years he has accused me of reading them and I have staunchly and passionately denied that I did. He of course based his accusation upon the number of Harlequin Romances I had stashed around my room when I was in my teens. That tiny irrefutable fact was not enough to make me pony up and give an inch.

My denial was partly based upon being embarrassed at being caught at such a schmaltzy thing; he also delighted in bringing it up in front of absolutely anyone who was around; friends, family, boyfriends, boyfriend's parents, strangers – it didn’t matter. My denial was also based upon the fact that I wanted to be an intellectual, and be above “that kind of thing.” There are a million reasons behind that, and we’ll leave it to your psychological examinations to figure out the reasons why.

Here’s the big revelation… I still do! As a member of Romance Writers of America, I recently learned through the Romance Writers Report that over a billion dollars was spent last year by romance readers. Fortunately not a single dollar of that came from me (at least not directly), as I use the public library for most of my reading material. My intellectual side would now like me to assure you that I have read many other types of books as well! (Examine that at your leisure as well.)

I have been pondering my need to write a blog about Romance Novels and what I really want to communicate – either about the world at large or about myself. It comes down to this… passion! Like many women I know, we are at the place in our lives where our children need us less and we are looking at the skills we have, what we can bring to the working world, what will fulfill us. What is our next chapter? What is our passion?

If you’ve read my first blog, you know that I spent quite a bit of time at the University of Washington. Twelve years on and off; mostly on. I originally started out in Journalism, but quickly found geology, which then quickly shifted to sociology. I think my true interest in sociology turned out to be that my instructor looked and moved a whole lot like Yoda and I found her fascinating to watch. I pondered this while I sat through a history class and decided I wanted to study psychology.

However, the universe had different plans for me, and I learned that I could get college paid for by the Navy Shipyard in Bremerton if I studied math and engineering. So, I let this direct me. It didn’t hurt my feelings any that I was one of three women, the only single one, among around three hundred men who worked in my division (I worked in the Nuclear Engineering Division while I went to school). It was a very good time for my self-esteem. I cannot remember if I cut back on the romance novels at this time…

Moving forward a few years, I then went to work at a little known company called Microsoft. I lasted just a few years, and the misfit between me and my position was such that I just wanted out. For me it was a passionless experience. I didn’t even stop to wonder if there was a different position to be found. I watched the landscapers dig in the soil, and thought, “That I can do!”

Oddly, my next step was to study Interior Design at the local community college. I think those years of reading romance novels were starting to pay off at this point. I could see spaces and places in my imagination and it was up to me to get them from my head to the paper. In my imagination, not only was I helping to create aesthetically pleasing spaces, I was creating nurturing environments.

It was during these studies that I found a life-long passion which is art. I had a great art history teacher who had been a comedian earlier in life and she made studying art fun. She had HUGE passion for what she was doing and it showed with every slide that flickered on the wall in front of us. She’d get up on a desk and strike a pose and call out, “What culture is this?” (Most cultures have specific poses that represent the hierarchy of their society.) I took every class she taught, and still I wanted more. I began to wonder if I wanted to be an historian, archeologist, artist, or curator. I kind of liked the idea of being the female version of Indiana Jones.

The next logical step was to return to college and take more classes. Wasn’t it?

So, after researching various fields of study, in the Spring of 1990 I returned to the UW and began the battle for a position in the College of Architecture and Urban Planning. It was a grueling class, taken by hundreds of students, and only a few would be chosen. I was pretty clueless as to what I had signed up for. It was five days a week, four hours a day, taught by six professors, all of whom gave us daily work to do. Remember we were all juggling other classes as well! The most incredible thing happened though! My passion, my purpose for being, my joie de vivre was found. By June of that year every part of my brain hurt, I was exhausted and living on pins and needles waiting to find out who was selected, but I was thoroughly happy.

The story had a happy ending and I ended up with one of the coveted positions. The second battle was then waged; a position into the College of Landscape Architecture. I had found out about Landscape Architecture during that grueling spring, and I knew it was where I belonged. Yet another couple hundred students were vying for sixty positions. It took two attempts to gain admission, but I did. The first time I was passed over, I was heartbroken and bewildered. Many friends were already in the program and they were supportive over the next year and pushed me to try again. When I gained admission I was euphoric.

If you haven’t been inside a design studio, imagine a huge room filled with beaten up wood drafting tables jammed up against each other, an aisle for walking, and more drafting tables. Along one long wall are windows to the world beyond, to the “Ave”, to the College Inn, to the sandwich shop run by a really good looking Italian guy, who knows he’s good looking. Opposite are more glass windows overlooking the interior grey concrete courtyard which is filled with mismatched tables and chairs, a coffee shop, students, and all manner of models and drawings on display. On either end of the room are the functional spaces, the bulletin boards, refrigerators, microwaves, and mountains of unclaimed projects.

I sat in my first design studio, excited to have my very own work station loaded up with drawing tools, fancy markers, lettering guides and any other piece of equipment I might possibly need to be successful. I sat and listened to a guest lecturer discuss our first project. The key point of the discussion was that as designers we needed to learn what our process was. The second, and more terrifying point to ponder was, what skills did we have that would lead us to become talented designers. Most of us were floored by these provocative questions, a few were cocky enough to think they knew; by the end of the program, we’d all have many opportunities to passionately, logically, artfully, technically, and creatively evolve our own answers to those questions.

I figured out my process. It requires a window, a cup of coffee and a molasses cookie, and the opportunity to think. To this day, when I have big issues to solve, I return to this process, and it never fails me. The cookie may vary, but nothing else. I stare out the window, sip my coffee, eat my cookie, and think about "what should be."

Passion. Along with Landscape Architecture and art, I have found many other passions along the way; my husband, my children, friendships, and my home. However, this year I have stepped back from many years of being freakishly busy to learn what it means to be quiet, to be still, to hear the thoughts in my head, to see if they lead me to the next chapter. I want to find a place filled with the same passion that kept me enthralled for hours upon years. That which satisfies me; not me the wife and mom, the me that lives all by myself inside my head.

I think many of those I know who are in this same process feel guilty. It is as if we are saying that the life we have right now is not enough. Though intellectually I have always known, I have only recently begun to feel, that it is healthy to want to satisfy myself. We encourage others to try new things, in fact we throw our kids in the deep end and hope they can swim (or kick the soccer ball, or read a book, or be a good friend).

So I say, feel passion, not guilt.

When I say, “Thanks for reading” I truly mean it. Because your reading is helping me to find my passion

Thanks for reading.

I have been asked by a few what was the last romance novel I read. It is When Strange Gods Call, by Pam Chun. A story that includes love, art, history, and folk tales. What could be better?

One review, "One is deluged with the fragrance of Hawaiian flowers and the tantalizing smells from the luau in this riveting love story, a timeless classic of opposing families, between East and West." Teresa Tse Bartholomew, International author and curator of Himalayan Art and Chinese Decorative Arts, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.