Three times in the last week I’ve stumbled into wonderful conversations with people I didn’t know before we started talking, and found much to affirm the almost constant swirl in my own head about what I’m doing with my life right now, what I think I should be doing, what I could do better if I’m not doing things exactly right or according to some indiscernible grand plan, and how I might be doing something different if that’s what I want. Or think?
Sound confusing? It is, but the conversations helped. The first was with a long ago friend of David’s, at a birthday party for another long ago friend. A group of people who had either lived in or been connected to a large communal household in the Boston area 40 years ago had gathered for the celebration, and David and I had a long talk with Barbara, another artist, trying to understand what role art and painting plays in her life. Right now she’s not interested in “having a show,” painting for the purpose of selling her work, or even painting for anyone else. Instead, she’s interested in finding her voice as a painter, and trying to explore and understand the role of creating beauty as a primary purpose of art.
As she talked, I could feel her thoughts resonating with ideas of my own I hadn’t even articulated to myself. Why do I want to write? Why aren’t I writing more? Who am I writing for? Is it enough just to write when I want, however I want, for whatever reason? Does ambition about getting published and read and recognized help in the writing process, or hinder it? And do I even care about any of that? Talking to Barbara helped all these questions come to the forefront, and I’m far from answering them, but I know this is a conversation I want to keep having, however I can fit that into my life.
On Tuesday, with clear days and clear calendars ahead of us, David and I went north to the White Mountains for a couple of days. We hiked first up Mt. Madison and spent the night at the Madison Spring Hut, allowing us to stay above tree line on the grand Presidential ridge. The Appalachian Mountain Club huts provide sleeping bunks and hearty meals to hikers at high elevation locations, making staying in the mountains a truly in-the-mountains experience.
The night at the hut gave David and me time to summit both Madison and Adams, two of the tallest mountains in New Hampshire, and the chance to share dinner and breakfast with two interesting people, extending our own dialogue, both internal and between us, about what we’re doing, what we want to do, what we should do and how do we fashion our lives in the absence of huge jobs and the presence of significant creative urges.
Francois is from outside Montreal, and was on a multi-day hike, peak-bagging, and staying in shape for his central goal, which is to climb the highest peak on each continent. He’s already done 4, including getting to the summit of Everest last May. He’s driven by a singular goal, focused, direct and intent. Talking to him about his adventures was wonderful, because he seems to live with very few questions about what he’s doing. When we asked him why he’s climbing the highest mountains in the world his answer was simple. He loves it, he loves mountains, he loves the process and opportunity for success.
We also spent a lot of time talking to Cathy, the mother of one of the hut crew members, there to visit and spend time with her daughter in the mountains. Cathy is between major projects at this point, her children grown and starting out in their own lives, her own career as a landscape architect on hold for now. She’s interested in writing, community design, food security, urban garden planning, and her family. Talking to her was, again, like talking to myself. What is this later life I’m experiencing for? What’s the best use of whatever time I have left, where should I put my focus? What am I doing?
One thing I’m doing is finding interesting people who are happy to talk about what they’re doing, whether they have a clear answer to why they’re doing what they’re doing or what it means, or they don’t. Because it’s really all the same, isn’t it? We’re here and we’re doing the best we can.