Lately I’ve been longing for another Ferrante or Knausgaard experience, that long abandonment of present to the narrative world. A hefty and engrossing biography, Georgina Howell’s “Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations,” satisfied.
Born in 1868 into a wealthy family from the north of England and one of the first women educated at Oxford, Bell – mountain climber, explorer, historian, archaeologist, writer, linguist – became one of those redoubtable English women of the 19th Century who broke with convention. The Victorian era began to crumble in her lifetime, spurred in part by women who, in spite of still wearing long, tiny-waisted dresses and big hats, began to agitate for education and freedom from male supervision.
Bell’s greatest renown comes from her journeys in Arabia, adventurous by any measure as she crossed empty deserts, explored ancient historical sites, and got to know chieftains of nomadic tribes. Her travels ring with names now sadly familiar in a modern context.
Because of her deep knowledge of the Middle East, Bell took part in the historic negotiations after World War I and the end of the Ottoman Empire, which imposed borders on ancient peoples and lands (a contribution not without controversy). Part of the fascination of the book is to read now about a time before these nation states.
To people back in England Bell probably seemed just a spinster, but Howell uses Bell’s rich letters to weave into her story the two, ultimately sad, but passionate romances of Bell’s life.
We travel so lightly nowadays with our easy outfits, roller bags, and airplanes – the two-page listing of what Bell took on one of her expeditions boggles the mind. Howell writes of a 1913 expedition: “She would take plenty of luggage this time and be ready for anything. First, there were her two English-made tents, one for bathing and sleeping in, one for eating and writing, both with a loose flap that could be tied back, laced shut, or used as a shady canopy. She ordered more of the skirts that she had designed with her tailor for riding horses in the Middle East: neither side-saddle habit nor breeches, but an ankle-length divided skirt with an apron panel. In the saddle, she would sweep this backward and gather the surplus material behind her and to one side, where it looked in profile like a bustle. When she dismounted, the panel fell around her like an apron and concealed the division. She bought lace and tucked-lawn evening gowns for dinners with consuls and sheikhs, for sitting at a dining-table at an embassy or cross-legged on a carpet in a tent.”
There’s more, lots more on her list, from a caseful of shoes and boots, candlesticks and linen sheets to a crate of revolvers.
What a life she lived – and what a great pleasure to read Howell’s book about it.
At the beginning of March, sunshine and daffodils in yellows warm and pale lit up the world. Cold mornings gave way to warm middays, and all day the sun shone into my workroom onto bird photos and paintings. Welcome rain returns this week, but I loved sitting and painting in warmth.
I discovered other amazing bird photographers to add to my acknowledgement list, most specially Alan and Elaine Vernon’s beautiful photos. They are generous and their site a fine resource: www.naturespicsonline.com.
With frets in the air about the early spring and low snowpack, I wait for the migrants to return. No sign yet of these two, the White-crowned sparrow and Violet-green swallow, but I hope to see and hear them soon!
If you are thinking about how to shape 2015 to pursue a project, space remains in The Workroom beginning the 12th of January. You could join the friendly, interesting group coming together for this session! (More info here on the blog under “The Workroom” category or at www.katygilmore.com. Please just email me to sign up: firstname.lastname@example.org).
I include words from some past participants (and thank them for great comments!), because their feedback explains The Workroom best:
“I LOVED The Workroom. I don’t know that I would change anything…I liked your daily posts very much – they were brief, relevant, and good motivators. I think your comments to our posts were the most helpful part of the course, and the other participants’ comments added much too. The group aspect of The Workroom is definitely important. My expectations were more than met – thank you!” Michelle T.
“I got so much out of the experience. I loved your steady and encouraging posts, the weekly page postings by participants, and all the commenting. I was able to knuckle down and find an area of focus and a new approach to my schedule.” Carol H.
“I allowed myself to take the creative process seriously, as a study or a discipline or a practice, giving myself time, space and energy to pursue the process. It was a permission slip.” Caroline S.
“I liked your ‘themed week’ approach. You were very organized and the way you had constructed The Workroom made a lot of sense. I felt confident – that you had spent time thinking about how this would work best, and that made me feel maybe I could be successful in it.
I very much appreciated the daily themed posts during the weeks. It helped me to have you touching in each day. Helped me to begin building the ‘daily’ muscle, too. Knowing you are doing your daily work helped me to try to do mine.
My expectations were met and exceeded and it was just such a deep pleasure. So many of us (I now believe) have this deep desire to do this/our work and it is worth a LOT to have someone create the space and structure for the support and encouragement to just do it and to understand that there are basic needs to satisfy in order to give yourself a good shot at success: routine, habit, encouragement, someone to point you towards the resolution (inner and outer) that you might need, etc.” Margy C.
“This was a new experience for all of us, and to my mind an incredibly successful one. The most surprising thing for me is the closeness I feel to everyone in the group. And I think that is partly due to your guidance and the way you talked about everyone’s posts. You set a good standard and I think we all tried to follow it.” Carol B.
“I enjoyed all the posts and definitely all the comments. At first I was leery, resistant to all the computer time. As the time passed, I enjoyed that time and my new skills. I feel like I have a new circle of caring friends.” Pat H.
“When we started and friends asked me about “The Workroom.” I had difficulty explaining exactly how it would work. Now that we’re done, I ‘d recommend the Workroom to anyone stuck or starting a project.
Your postings have been excellent. So well thought out and very timely. I marvel at how you figured out what we would need and when we’d need it. You integrated inspirational quotes, references, your own ideas very well — sometimes within one Post even. The sideline topics of books, quotes, etc. are helpful since they are easy to access in a glance.
Setting up Weekly Pages for us worked well, too. Your feedback to each of our Pages was very thoughtful in helping us sort out the next step or think of approaching something in a different way.
The success of the Workroom can also be measured by the way everyone participated so creatively with their own projects and also the depth and sincerity of their comments to one another.
Everything worked! I can’t think of anything to change. Congratulations and THANK YOU!”
“I learned a lot about myself and also feel the spirit of kinship with the others. And honestly, I would recommend The Workroom for a lot of people. I told a friend about it yesterday and she said, ‘why with a group?’. And I explained to her the support and creative spirit that comes with reading about other people being creative and then feeling it from yourself.” Judy R.
“The daily posts kept me going and inspired. The comments from fellow participants were great. Having a deadline once a week and at a certain time meant that there was closure on that week’s work. Thank you, too, for responding to questions so rapidly.” N.D.