If one listens closely, there are sometimes clues to this puzzle that pop up in the course of the speaker’s narrative. For example, how does the expertise required to restore an antique wooden Herreshoff combine itself naturally with the art of writing? When this combination results in a vivid and fascinating book, it is because the writer is describing a subject that is, as he puts it, “close to my heart” (Dan Robb, 2009). When an architect is deeply involved in the process of restoration and transformation of an existing house, he refers to it as “placemaking” (David MacLean, 2015); in this case the creative process stems from empathy between architect and owners. A museum executive describes his research and publishing on gravestone symbolism as “living my passion” (Richard Waterhouse, 2012): he turned his fascination with Victorian imagery of death into a professional specialty.
What drives people to pursue endeavors that they know are impractical or seem farfetched to others. One speaker described his 29 years teaching at the Penikese Island School as “the joys of living on a remote island with a gang of juvenile delinquents; no indoor plumbing, no electricity and no place to hide” as his “life’s work” (David Masch, 2011). After a career as a marine biologist, he lived out his educational philosophy in a job that might appear to involve great hardship, even danger. In a talk by a local boat-builder, he described a project building a shallow-draft, 40-foot wooden ketch, using recycled parts – a work of pure imagination and innovation (Paul Moscaritolo, 2010); his degrees in math and physics allowed him to develop a unique boat design and to cast the 3,500 pound lead keel himself (!). For another speaker, his sheer enthusiasm about seaweed has informed a teaching career and publishing specialty... yes, seaweed (Gil Newton, 2013). Before his talk was over, we too were experiencing the beauty and fascination of green slime as well as more elegant types of marine algae.
Without the kind of personal enthusiasm, imagination, creativity, empathy and dedication mentioned above, these subjects might never have been explored. None of them were a direct result of courses taken at school or college, but they were born of a solid educational background combined with an inner drive to know more, work experimentally, take chances, or think outside the box. One speaker put it very well when she said that since completing a graduate degree in painting she felt her life had been a “career of discovery” (Hillary Osborn, 2011); her willingness to spend a life on plein air painting involves loosing herself in light, atmosphere, and her own way of seeing, thereby creating an interpretation of nature on canvas that builds on past visual and mental experience as well as openness to the inspiring qualities of the Cape Cod landscape. Her inner vision was not developed through training in technical competence. With the changing focus and alarming emphasis today on “cost effectiveness” in higher education, we can hardly imagine these speakers if their sole purpose or measure of success had been the size of a paycheck or assurance of a job. Freedom to listen to that inner voice of creativity, curiosity, or dedication, regardless of immediate rewards, can lead to a lifetime of the satisfaction and joy of discovery that we see, surprising us, reflected in our speakers at the Tuesday Talks.