Saturday, February 7, 2009

The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul. - G.K. Chesterton

Some days I sit down to write this blog and realize that my life is incredibly dull. And after writing all day it’s difficult to find a voice for the rest of my life. My first Scottish Christmas was great; woke up and M opened his birthday pressies, then we had Christmas dinner with friends, who let us crash their family day. I had my first bread pudding, trifle, sherry, brussels sprouts - a great day of firsts. We were lucky to have three sets of friends visit for New Year, and spent a few lazy days chatting, eating and walking along the sea. The first day of 2009 we wandered along Nairn Beach, a stunning stretch of sand a half hour from Inverness. Such a relaxing way to bring in the new year.
I started a creative writing class in January. I’ve been hesitant about this sort of thing; I was involved in a writing group in Seattle years ago and it frequently turned quite nasty - people stealing ideas, catfights, etc. But this class has been excellent so far. The tutor is an American woman called Cynthia who has lived in the Highlands for 30+ years. She is the director of a creative writing retreat a few miles outside Inverness, and has had a novel and numerous short stories published. There are 10 of us, and we’re all anonymous except for our writing. It’s refreshing to be around people who don’t define themselves by their work, or their families, their hometown - it’s just about the writing. We begin the class with a physical prompt, and so far Cynthia has used photographs, Missing Persons ads and a tin of bric-a-brac, and we write for ten minutes. The second half of the class we read out our work, be it from a prompt given in the prior class or another piece we’re working on. The group is eclectic, most in their 30s and 40s, some writing for the first time, others in a similar stage to me.

It’s been a good thing. I haven’t written in a focused environment like this (other than one-day workshops) since my university courses. Limiting us to 150 words, then 500 words has been excellent for brevity. Focusing on a topic is also good; the topics have been cliche, so finding an angle that pushes the subject has been challenging. And it’s inspiring watching others find their voices.
We went back to Shetland last week, as M picked up some locum shifts during a week off work. It was interesting being back, and nothing had changed, not that I had expected anything to be that different, other than that the Somerfield supermarket now is a Tesco. A few shops had a new lick of paint, but otherwise the things I found wonderful and frustrating about life on that island are still both wonderful and frustrating. Lattes still take 25 minutes, the seals are still uber-curious, the food at local restaurants is delicious as long as you are there when the chefs can be bothered to cook. In all, a perfect week away to remind me why I should appreciate Inverness. Below, a sheep posing in the Highland countryside.
Finally, the world lost a special woman on January 27. Mary Crist Fleming went to Radcliffe when Harvard wouldn't admit women. She was the first woman to be approved for a mortgage in Switzerland. She once got out of a speeding ticket by offering the carabinieri a gin and tonic from her glove box. She founded TASIS in 1956, amid a male-dominated European education community. I remember meeting her in the summer of 2003, at a garden party at Casa Fleming, the house with a 17th century tower where MCF stayed while in Lugano. She was clad in a black dress, her makeup was perfect and her fingers gripped a cocktail. Her wit was scathing and quick; her heart was huge, and her memory sharp for a woman in her 90s. Her voice was low and sexy; this was a woman with a story to tell. She was captivating. And I thank her for creating TASIS, a place where I met some of the best people that I know.

Education is man's best hope for a better world. - Mary Crist Fleming, 1910 - 2009

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