authors, Books, Travel

All roads lead to Austen?

Are you a Jane Austen fan? I am. And I have often wondered how the simple stories of villages and the fate of women can hold so many generations.

I think it comes down to style. Jane has a quiet satirical style. For her novels are not really romances (though Hollywood might disagree). Romances are  not enough to hold my attention. And, I think, the attention of generations. Instead, her novels tell of the raw  life of women – in her time, and in ours.

Jane Austen is thus a mistress of much deeper emotion than appears upon the surface. She stimulates us to supply what is not there. What she offers is, apparently, a trifle, yet is composed of something that expands in the reader’s mind and endows with the most enduring form of life scenes which are outwardly trivial. Always the stress is laid upon character……Here ……are all the elements of Jane Austen’s greatness. It has the permanent quality of literature. Think away the surface animation, the likeness to life, and there remains, to provide a deeper pleasure, an exquisite discrimination of human values. Virginia Woolf

Looking deeper into Austen’s novels has thus become a habit of mine. Her characterisation is, indeed, her genius. Her commentary on social mores and the lives of women are both humorous and full of depth. So, you can imagine my delight at finding a copy of  All Roads Lead to Austen: A Year Long Journey with Jane by Amy Smith at a local thrift shop. All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane

Smith, a literature professor at a college in California, embarked on a sabbatical of travel through South America. I don’t know about you, but I love travel stories and travel diaries. During this year, Smith taught some classes to American exchange students, gave some lectures and talks on her travels, and on Jane Austen ( her special interest). Importantly,  however, for the book and for Austen fans (whom Smith calls ‘Jane-ites’) Amy Smith runs Jane Austen book club discussions in each of the six countries she visits.

Smith’s writing style, alas, is not as poetic or delightful as is the style of Jane Austen. Indeed, parts of Smith’s book seem simplistic and, well, a tad boring. Overall, however, I have enjoyed the book – for two main reasons.

The first is the description of Smith’s travels. I adore travel. I also adore armchair travel, reading about the travels of others . Having never visited South America, I became engaged in the descriptions of the six countries that Smith visited, their similarities and their differences, their culture, their food, their bookshops. For Smith, rather than imposing  the English Austen on her audiences, also engages in collegial book sharing. Each book club she visits makes suggestions for Smith on must-read novels and authors from that region. As a book-lover myself, the suggestions of new-to-me authors, against the backdrop of their culture, was an introduction to new reading and new paths of exploration.

The second reason why I enjoyed All Roads Lead to Austen, regardless of the somewhat prosaic writing style, is the discussion of how Jane Austen’s novels superseded culture and time. Each book group found something of value in Austen’s works. Each found connections with characters and conflict. Each book group, in each of the six South American countries,  found time to read a translation of an Austen classic in order to discover or re-discover the relationship between art and humanity, that relationship which marks human solidarity.

As one of the book club participants in Ecuador said, while reading and discussing Pride and Prejudice, “If you don’t fight for space in your life for art and conversation, so much will pass you by—for anybody, but especially for women, since we’re always taking care of others.” 

A feminist thought that Jane Austen echoed, in her life and in her work.

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Books, Goals, Life, life hacks, self-help, Travel, Unschooling

The energy of travelling-to-a-place.

In Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert notes that ‘Traveling-to-a-place energy and living-in-a-place energy are two fundamentally different energies’.

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That bullet journal thing.

On my monthly trips to Canberra (Australia’s capital city) , on the Greyhound bus or Murrays coach, I have noticed the ebbs in energy. The day starts with promise. On the bus at 8 or 9, depending on which coach service I use. Books, snacks,  a drink, laptop, phone, bullet journal, all accompany me. I am set for the day. The energy level is high, full of portent, for who knows what the day will bring?

My lunch time forage in Canberra is always at the National Gallery. Sometimes I find thirty minutes for art. Sometimes I spend twenty minutes in the gallery bookshop, amid books and journals and awe-inspiring merchandise. Always, I retreat to the coffee shop, with the view of trees and water and the intriguing, tasty menu. I eat. I think. I look. I rest. Before work and seminars.

I imagine that this feeling of thoughtful rest is what it would be like to live here, in Canberra. I imagine that I would visit the gallery regularly. I imagine a life of creativity.

I think imagine is the clear, cinnamon word here. For then I rush. To work. And to grab an uber  back to the bus station that evening (It has been said that you know a city  by its public transport. Or lack thereof. The paucity says something of Canberra, I think).  With dwindling energy for the three and a half hour bus trip home.

Canberra has become a monthly interlude of solitary reading and reflection. A joy.

Canberra has become a monthly sapper of energy, on the long bus trip home, often sitting in the dark.

In this way, Canberra for me  exemplifies the two energies of which Gilbert wrote. The energy of visiting and the energy of living. That contradiction we often feel in our lives, between doing and being, working and living.

Do we live our life in interludes or is there a seamlessness about our life and work and play and love? Can we grab life by its shirt collar, pull it towards us and enjoy, before it passes in energy drained?

Monthly trips to Canberra remind me that life should be grabbed at, lived in, loved in, experienced. It should reflect the creativity and reflection of both our interior and exterior selves.

We should reach out to life..before things snap us up, and tie us down. Before life decides for us how we should live.

We should decide for ourselves. With reflection and energy and others.

Our life then is never cut and dried. We reflect and make change. We enjoy the status quo but know that there is always another road. Another journey. Another adventure to explore.

And getting there, wherever there is, whatever our goals and duties are in life, is half the fun.

Enjoy.

 

 

Books, Careers, Goals, Life, life hacks, self-help, Travel, Unschooling, Women

Travel far enough. You will meet yourself.

(A paraphrase of a thought, from the novel Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell).

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21 gun salute, seen from the Melbourne War Memorial.

This year I have been to Melbourne twice. I love Melbourne, its theatre and cafes and lane ways . The VGA and Southbank. The museum. The little bars across the city.

I love its warmth in summer but remain ambivalent about its cold-to-me winters.

My recent trip allowed exploration of the wintry Botanic Gardens and War Memorial, followed by a leisurely trek down Brunswick St. in Fitzroy.

It’s those leisurely treks in travelling, those long escapades of wandering without specific intent, that allow us to find ourselves when we travel. Our day to day lives seem to prohibit such meandering but travel? Travel enlarges it, downright demands it.

And in that meandering we discover a little more about who we are and what we want and the life that we wish to live.

Climbing the trails of the Botanic Gardens, autumn coloured leaves scattering with each of my steps, arriving to eat a spicy Indo-Chinese inspired breakfast at Jardin Tan, gave me active pause.

Active pause? Yes, the meditation and reflection that accompanies walking or other physical exercise, and is stimulated by conversation with others over food and drink. Sparkling is best, you know, at breakfast.

I thought about my life and study. Where do I see myself in three years or five years?

Now, I never really plan the future, apart from superannuation. I like to go with the flow. I have a fear of goals. I think my life might collapse (and in the past I have had this creeping fear of life, that when things go good hey must immediately be followed  by bad).

I know now that life just is. It is not to be feared.

I know now that the future will come whether I dream of it or not. So better to add some future dreams to my mindful present.

This I discovered on my Melbourne meanderings. To an outsider I was eating and walking and attending a twenty-one gun salute for the Queen’s Birthday and ransacking bookshops and secondhand shops in Brunswick St. While eating frozen custard.

But inside I was scavenging thoughts and emotions. Fossicking to find the me that sometimes gets lost in the busyness of life.

I realise that it is too tempting to live two lives instead of one. Too necessary for me. I cannot give up one interest or life for the other. This is me. The scanner.

I think it’s just too tempting to have two lives rather than one. Some people think that too much travel begets infidelity: Separation and opportunity test the bonds of love. I think it’s more likely that people who hate to make choices to settle on one thing or another are attracted to travel. Travel doesn’t beget a double life. The appeal of the double life begets travel. Elizabeth Eaves, Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents.

 

Books, compassion, Goals, Life, life hacks, politics, religion, Travel, Unschooling

Why do you go away? So you can come back.

I am a big fan of Terry Pratchett’s books – especially the Bromeliad series

But the quote in the title above comes from A Hat Full of Sky, from Discworld . 

As I sit here in Adelaide, preparing to go home to Sydney, I reflect on my 2017 travels yet again. Last week, it was thoughts of Virginia. Today, it is thoughts of Adelaide.

I used to live in Adelaide. Twice, in different parts of my history. In the last year or so, I have visited it frequently. Family, you know.

Adelaide, however, is at its best in autumn and winter. Now, I am not a winter person, but the grey clouds interspersed with blue wash the city with watercolours. The starkness of the war memorial is edged against the wintry light. The brick detail of the older bluestone buildings and homes (especially those California bungalows) hints at some of the early city, with its need to promote itself  economically and its wise use of both natural resources and inexpensive labour.

People come to South Australia for its wineries. Who am I to question that?

I hold, however, that a trip to Adelaide should encompass a visit to both the Art Gallery of South Australia, and the South Australian Museum.

The art gallery has an extensive collection, occasionally  categorised by themes, so that you can immerse yourself in works from ancient Rome to the current day. Works from Australia and indigenous Australia, from Asia, and from Europe. All housed in an historic building, along the path of Adelaide’s cultural boulevard on North Terrace.

My recent trip had me enveloped in the Ramsay Art Prize, so that I took home with me images of political commentary, of social and personal angst.

We have a common home but what is our social imagination, that relationship between self and the wider society? How do we imagine our collective social life?

In part, these questions are why we travel.

For our souls and hearts and minds to be smashed with beauty.

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War memorial, Adelaide, South Australia.

 

 

Goals, Life, life hacks, speaking up, Travel, Unschooling, Women

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness….

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Mark Twain

This year has been a kind of a travelling year for me. To Virginia, in the U.S and far from my Sydney home, for a conference (and a meet-up with friends). To Melbourne. Twice so far. To Adelaide and to Canberra, many times each.

And, as Twain wrote in his book about travels {The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It) , travel allows you to see people, in all their humanness, in a different way. You see the architectural choices that differ from region to region. You participate in the natural landscape, both developed and undeveloped. Your sense of the seasons changes. The understanding of other places and ways to live grows.

I find that travel leaves me pleasantly haunted for light-drenched other worlds – the places I have visited and the home to which I return.

Take Virginia, for example. Not my first visit to the States but my first visit post the November election and results, and my first trip to a Southern-ish (southeastern) state. I flew from Sydney to LA; from LA to Charlotte, North Carolina; from Charlotte to Newport News, VA.

I would call Newport News a small city, a planned city. Somewhat reminiscent of my trips to Canberra (but that description will come later). Except for the chain stores and chain restaurants. Barnes & Noble. Chilli’s. Olive Garden. Red Lobster.

I walked. A lot. The almost-spring weather was colder than I am used to but burst into gloriously warming sunshine mid-day. I walked from the university to the Mariner’s Museum ( a 30 minute walk, whose length shocked my co-presenters and the lecturers from the university. ‘We use cars’ one told me. Indeed, the only other walkers I saw the whole week were fitness walkers , on specially designated nature and walking trails. displaying eerily beautiful lakes with forests of a kind you just don’t see in Australia. Deer even).

The history sold me. I uber-ed to a plantation home, one that had been used by the Confederates to shore up supplies and to shoot at Yankees from redoubts. I trailed along the famous area of the Monitor and Merrimac battle. Gracious, generous friends (I would say internet friends but we met that day in person and they are more than passerbys on social media) drove me to historic Williamsburg.  Living museums reenacting Colonial and Revolutionary-era life.

I was there, rooted in the smells and air and memories of   a part of America’s history.

I was there, talking to friendly strangers and taxi and uber drivers, of their lives, of the minimum wage, of health care and the military and opportunities and education costs.

We may differ in our understanding of government but there was no difference in our humanity. They were a friendly bunch, especially to weird Aussie women who travel alone and speak  fast and funny. I hope that we Australians are as friendly to those who travel here.

At the conference, I met people from Kenya, Cameroon, the Philippines, Ireland, Turkey, in addition to those from the States. I was the only Australian. Our sharing of stories of lives around the world highlighted for me, not our differences, but our similarities. We all longed for many of the same things, for meaning, connection, intention, ‘the good life’ (and what that  means was a discussion in itself. An unfinished discussion.).

In our diversity there also existed some homogeneity. There was open welcoming: “Come”, one said. “Come and stay with me in New York for a few days. Extend your trip.” But that will have to wait for another time. next conference, perhaps?

Because every time I travel I rekindle the urge to travel more. Big trips and small trips. Local and afar. My travel appetite is never satiated.

I lean forward to “the next crazy venture beneath the skies” (Jack Kerouac, On the Road).

virginia
Richard Lee Mansion, VA.