You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘History’ category.

Come write flash nonfiction with me this winter (January 2021) in this unusual hybrid-genres workshop series hosted by Westbrook Adult Education (Maine). We’ll dip our toes in the literary works of the Lake Poets but we’ll really electrify our brains (and imaginations) looking at elements of dark Romanticism and life writing in the literary lives, loves, and works by Romantic women writers like Mary Wollstonecraft, Ann Radcliffe and Mary Shelley.

Experiment with hybrid genre in this online workshop with Leah Stetson

Write by the flash of lightning–or candlelight, or the flicker of your woodstove fire, –or your desk lamp, and respond to writing prompts that come directly out of dark Romanticism. If you are the sort of person who likes to forage moss in the fall to make a moss garden (for the home and kitchen, or your writing room), why not think about moss as a writing prompt? Moss grows on the walls of castles in dark Romantic fiction that we’ll read in this workshop series.

Blarney Castle grounds, Co. Cork, Ireland. Stetson photo

There’s just something about Mary. But it’s not just about one writer. My love for all things darkly Romantic goes back to my childhood obsession with castles–medieval castles for the most part–and those are a distinctly Gothic element in dark Romanticism, especially in works like Ann Radcliffe’s novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho. (Click on the link at left to see a brief preview of the course content.) Have you ever seen a castle? I grew up next door to a castle in coastal Maine. But last summer, I traveled to Co. Cork, Ireland, where Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her first novel, Mary, A Fiction, one of the short novels we’ll read in this workshop–and I visited Blarney Castle. Personally, I loved the gardens, the grounds, and the mossy, secret tunnels and hiding places outside of the castle like in the photo I took (shown above) on the Blarney Castle grounds near its fern garden. This is the kind of thing that inspires my writing. What about you? Do you like castles? Gothic motifs? Then this workshop is right up your alley.

My Bride of Frankenstein’s Monster-themed jack-o-lantern (a previous Halloween) Stetson photo

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has captured my imagination since I first read her 1818 novel–a work of Dark Romanticism, the combined or hybrid genre of Gothic Romanticism, in high school. I’m not alone. Many other writers, like Kiersten White, who wrote the contemporary retelling of Frankenstein, the New York Times bestseller, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein (2015), which I really enjoyed. I’ve been fascinated with the idea of the heroine, Elizabeth Lavenza, for decades, the idea –which Mary Shelley’s various heroes–the Monster and Victor Frankenstein–discuss and debate–of a theoretical “mate” or “bride” for the Monster. My imagination twirled into the idea of “what ifs?” and I wrote the feminist tribute to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (last year), “The Bride of Frankenstein’s Monster, on the Eve of Her Wedding,” which was published in BONED Literary Magazine (and their editor, Nate Ragolia, included my poem in the 2019 Anthology — Boned Every Which Way. But what has truly electrified my imagination has been my research into the literary lives, loves and works of Mary Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft and Ann Radcliffe. I’ve noticed elements of their “life writing” in their works–even “fictionalized memoir.” Could Frankenstein have been partly fictionalized memoir?

A sneak preview of this workshop

Did you know that Maine’s first novelist was a woman and that she wrote gothic novels? Yes! Sarah “Sally” Sayward Wood wrote works of dark Romanticism, too, and her first Gothic novel, Julia and the Illuminated Baron (1800) has been compared to Dan Brown novels. How unexpected! Sally Wood is my ancestor by way of marriage to my great-great-great-great grandfather, General Abiel Wood, who was her husband. Like Mary Wollstonecraft, Sally Wood was a pioneer of early feminism in Maine at the turn of the century. She and a friend started the oldest women’s organization in the country–the Wiscasset Female Charitable Society (of Maine) of which I am a member. In fact, I grew up in the same house where she lived and wrote (for part of her life). She lived in Lincoln and York Counties, Maine (even before Maine became a state). I want us to look at her novel Julia and the Illuminated Baron, or her novel, Tales of the Night, in this workshop, if participants are interested. Wood’s sentimental Gothic style might very well be in alignment with themes and motifs we find in British Romantic-Gothic novels, like those by Ann Radcliffe and Mary Wollstonecraft, who pioneered early feminism in the 1790s.

A Scene from Mary Shelley’s novel, Mathilda. Watercolor painting by Leah Stetson

Currently, I am a graduate student in a tenacious pursuit of dark, Romantic ecology of water and wetlands at University of Maine. I’m studying remotely and that’s why I’d like to take this opportunity to offer this workshop online (for participants, who like me, have been practicing social distancing.) Additionally, I taught college-level English classes for Southern Maine Community College 2007-2017, and in that class, I taught literary analysis; some of the students chose to read Frankenstein, and so I can say that I’ve taught classes on elements of Romanticism in the past. I’ve also led creative nonfiction workshops at several public libraries including Walker Memorial (Westbrook, Maine) and Windham Public Library (Windham, Maine), and a blog-based writing workshop at Raymond Village Library (Raymond, Maine). I belong to the Lakes Region Writers Guild in the Sebago Lake Region of southern Maine. I’m really excited to offer this workshop and I hope you can join me to experiment with hybrid genres and read excerpts and works by Ann Radcliffe, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sally Wood, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. This class starts in January 2021. Visit Westbrook Adult Education’s website to register.

In the meantime, please feel free to check out this short preview video in which I discuss Mary Wollstonecraft’s novel, Mary, A Fiction, which she wrote while living in Co. Cork, Ireland in the mid-to-late 1780s. (It was published in 1788.) I hope the short video gives you an idea of the kind of course content offered in this course.)

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
painted by Samuel John Stump
oil on canvas, 1831 (National Portrait Gallery)

imagesAs luck would have it…

hemingway-and-gelhornI’m a little excited about this serendipitous turn of events at my local library tonight. I took a box of books to donate. Since I haven’t been able to write creatively for months, I thought I better clear away some distracting clutter. This includes donating old clothes to Good Will, a 1986 Volvo to Maine Public Radio’s Car Talk program and a bunch of books to the local library.  While there, I wandered over to glance at the summer book sale that they were just beginning to sort. Genres mixed together, a real free-for-all. I was the sole patron and started to talk with the librarian as she sorted. All my recent obsessive fantasies about Hemingway and Gellhorn came out, the film, how I’d hunted down a copy of a collection of his short stories including, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” which he wrote while he was in love with Martha Gellhorn, etc. She was a war correspondent and travel writer, well-known and well-respected in her heyday. While I’m gabbing away about the 10 year relationship between Hemingway and Gellhorn, I ran my fingers over the spines of various books, looking up at the librarian. She asked me something, I stopped and fingered the cover of one vintage book, a dark cover, without a book jacket or image. It did not have the title on the front. I opened the book to the dedication page:

“This book is for Martha Gellhorn.”

I picked it up (!) and turned it over in my hands. It’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Hemingway, 1940.  It is said that Martha Gellhorn inspired For Whom the Bell Tolls.  The librarian thought it was “spooky” since it was the only Hemingway book in the whole library, to her knowledge, and I happened upon it at the moment I mentioned Martha Gellhorn. I can’t tell what edition it is, if it’s a first edition, or second, but it just has the 1940 date, which is when it was first published. This sort of thing has happened to me before. I once found a 1955 first edition of Rachel Carson’s “The Edge of the Sea” at the edge of a dump in Southwest Harbor and I salvaged it. It inspired me to take some dramatic action at the time. I take these sorts of things very personally as signs or omens the way some people interpret bird droppings. There is a John Donne quote on the opposite page facing pg. 1 of Chapter 1 starting with, “No man is an island…” which is one of my favorite lines of all time. Here is the John Donne quote that appears at the start of Hemingway’s novel:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

In finding this 1940 edition, I feel like I have a new crush, an infatuation with their words, an old story…their love story, their exchange of ideas, letters, writings and the energy between Hemingway, a Cancerian man, and Gellhorn, the war journalist and writer, a Scorpio, over the ten years they were together (as lovers and during their short marriage). It’s been a while since I’ve had a crush like this. It makes me happy and I feel inspired, too. Energized. I’m on a deadline, so I am pretty focused on the newsletter right now….but this happenstance puts a little more pep in my step!  If you’ve found a rare gem of a images-1vintage book, and it’s inspired you, leave a comment.

Recently I discovered Ondine ~ a brand of pre-cooked lasagna pasta, named after the Ondine, a mythological mermaid (or group of mermaids), who dwelled along the rivers. Also spelled “Undine,” they were water spirits who showed up in European folklore. In one eerie version of the story, the Ondine had the ability to “gain a soul” by marrying a man and bearing his child. In a German version of the myth, called “the Ondine’s Curse,” the water spirit, or mermaid, casts magic on an unfaithful man so that he would stop breathing during sleep. Apparently this “curse” and mythology fed the early medical thinking on those who suffer from frequent hyperventilation. I’ve heard several variations of the diagnosis for my sudden and frequent lapses in breathing–but from now on, I am going to think of it as my Ondine’s curse. That’s a little easier to swallow than all of the other freakish-sounding medical explanations from doctors over the past 25 years. It’s my spiritual mermaid self just channeling ancient memories.

NymphsI was nine years old when I stopped breathing one day, while washing my hands in the bathroom sink. I had no way of calling to my mother for help, so I clapped my hands and banged against the counter. A sharp pinch in my lung prevented air from going out or coming in, so I couldn’t breathe in either direction. My mother called 911 and the first responders arrived, and examined me in the living room. I hadn’t been breathing for several minutes–but suddenly began to inhale and exhale tiny puffs, like sipping the steam off the top of hot cocoa. My chest burned. I gathered from the look on my brother’s face, I was turning funny colors, and freaking him out. One of the emergency responders told me I had a touch of pleurisy, an inflammation in the lining surrounding the lungs. It causes sharp intense pain in the chest (the lungs, specifically) and can be brought on by taking a deep breath, coughing, or even laughing. Over the years as I grew up, and to this day, I occasionally stop breathing. Sometimes I am engulfed with laughter with friends, or talking on the phone, and suddenly I go dead quiet. My closest friends and family know this about me, so they know to either wait it out, or my best friends will continue laughing–since frequent hyperventilation is inconvenient and embarrassing, and sometimes funny. Not in a ha-ha kind of funny, more of an obtuse Addams Family dinner way. Oh, she’s stopped breathing again. A part of me wants to think this is the basis for my constant need to speak fast and furious, and to interrupt others with enthusiastic bursts of creative thinking–because there is the likely scenario that I might stop breathing mid-sentence and lose the thought completely. This is a bit difficult to explain to people in the work place, and can sound melodramatic. When I taught writing classes in my usual exuberant and entertaining way, I sometimes clutched my chest and lost my breath. After this happened once in front of horrified students, who thought I looked young enough to be one of their classmates, I explained it away in my best impression of SNL “Coffee Talk,” and told them I was verklempt and for them to “talk amongst themselves.”

Now I find myself sipping raspberry zinger at my desk. The inside flap of the box has this description of the tea: “According to Roman legend, raspberries were originally white – but turned red when the Cretian nymph Ida scratched herself on a thorny raspberry bush.” (Celestial Seasonings) It’s too bad these descriptions don’t make it on the grocery store shelves like the hand-written recommendations of bottom-shelf wines: “Full-bodied and dishes it right back.” I think in another life, I’d like to be responsible for writing the descriptions of teas and under-sold wines. raspberries

Ondine Movie Pic“Ondine” is also a beautiful 2009 Irish romantic drama starring Colin Farrell and Alicja Bachleda. This is one of my favorite movies from recent years. It makes me want to go to Ireland really really bad. (Plus, I’m Irish.) Check it out: http://www.ondinefilm.com/

Tonight I shall experiment with tomato Ondine lasagna with roasted root vegetables, goat cheese and tomato basil sauce.

Grampa

Bob Chaplin

I grew up visiting my maternal grandparents in rural New Gloucester, Maine.  Their yellow farmhouse, barn and a hilly pastoral land, rich with streams, wetlands, meadows, fields and forest, was a wonderful place to play and explore.  As the eldest grandchild, I got to spend a lot of time there in (late ’70s-’90s). My grandfather tinkered in his barn and workshop, and when I was lucky, he built things I designed as a little girl, like a wooden key and lock for an imaginary mansion, a mossy ledge hidden in the woods beyond the upper field and vegetable gardens. (I still have this wooden lock and key.) He took my hand-drawn designs on scrap paper and made the wooden key and lock with his skill-saw, taking this sort of request seriously. Then I took this colorfully painted lock and key, and used it to enter magical worlds of moss and meadow. A perennial stream meandered between fields, along with vernal pools and a freshwater marsh, near land he later gave to his son (my favorite uncle) a little ways down the road. The 30+ acres beheld a wellspring for inspiration. (I’ll have to hunt for some photos of their land and add those later.)

A tall, athletic Scorpio, Grampa was a multi-talented Navy man and 32nd degree Mason. As an engineer, he wrote the book on metal removal technology. He was interviewed in Cutting Tool Engineering Magazine in 2005 about his book, Metal Removal Technology, which has since been integrated as a text book in mechanical engineering programs. I remember when I was in grade school, and my Grampa was drafting early versions of his book. He let me play with copies of his draft, thinking I’d be interested in drawing pictures on the blank side. To his surprise, I was far more interested in the side with charts, diagrams and formulas—all that he had devised for teaching employees at General Electric and engineering students in universities. I liked to take these “metal removal technology” spreadsheets on a clipboard with me to elementary school, where I told my classmates I was “working for my grandfather’s company,” and used a highlighter to “go over the numbers.” A few of my third-grade classmates asked me if he was hiring.  I shrugged and told them, “it depends on your qualifications.”

As a long-time musician, he encouraged all of his grandchildren to take up an instrument (or two). I fear I may have disappointed him, as I could never get the hang of the trombone, clarinet, piano or guitar. (Poetry turned out to be my instrument.) Long before I came into the picture, my grandfather led a band, the “Bob Chaplin Orchestra,” which performed throughout Massachusetts in the 1940s. He played lead clarinet. There wasn’t a musical instrument he couldn’t play, and he taught music for many years in Portland, Maine. Several of his students went onto join metropolitan philharmonic orchestras. He composed music in the jazz and Big Band Swing genres in the ’40s and later, composed chamber music for churches in Maine.

Bob Chaplin, or “Grampa,” as I called him, also served on his town’s planning board over the years (late 1960s-early 1990s).  In the 1980s and early ‘90s, he chaired the Comprehensive Plan Committee in New Gloucester, not far from where I live and work. The comprehensive plan cited the “single most important issue was the protection of brooks, streams, wetlands and groundwater,” based on surveys conducted in 1982. His committee’s emphasis on protecting water resources in the rural town only grew stronger in the decades that followed, and more of the town’s wetlands and floodplains were mapped. In this sense, he and his committee were visionaries.  As I become more involved with local projects for my town’s conservation commission, I’m realizing that this civic interest might be inherited. Aside from a passion for protecting wetlands, I also inherited my grandfather’s love for music. Earlier today I posted a piece on classical music, inspired in part by Suzanne Nance’s morning classical music program on Maine Public Radio.

As a side note, I was thrilled that Suzanne Nance mentioned my blog and ASWM this morning (Jan. 18, 2013) on her program. She dedicated this morning’s program to “Leah Stetson and her Strange Wetlands blog,” –and this morning’s theme on her radio show was “Warmer Temperatures and Wetlands.” She played several of the pieces that I wrote about in my blog post, including In the Fen Country, a symphonic impression composed by Ralph V. Williams (1935). See Strange Wetlands: Lutes & Lily Pads: Classical Music Inspired by Wetlands. 

Most people throughout New England, New York and New Jersey will forever associate the full moon of October 29th, 2012 with Hurricane Sandy, a powerful hybrid storm.  I will also remember it as the date my family lost my grandmother. My Nana, as my brothers and I called her, and I had a special relationship. As the eldest grandchild, I enjoyed the most time with her out of her seven grandchildren, and we were most alike. Nana and I celebrated our birthdays together, since they were just a day apart. I remember spending lots of February school vacations with my grandparents and that usually fell on the week of our birthdays. Nana and I both shared a love of greasy hot pink lip gloss, hot pink roses and the color turquoise. She loved Liza Minnelli and the soundtrack to New York, New York. “There goes the ball game….” 

My Nana was born Mary Martha Knights in Maine, February 1924, the daughter of a firefighter, though she was much closer to her mother, Martha. She grew up near Lake Auburn in western Maine, where she met my grandfather on a double-date. Their mutual friend, Olive, who was to become her sister-in-law, was dating Robert Chaplin’s brother, and the four of them had a  group date. I loved hearing the story of my grandparents’ early courtship.  About ten years ago, I met Olive, and she gave me a pretty turquoise ring that I wear with a heart-shaped powa shell pendant around my neck. Olive’s ring symbolizes fateful love to me, since my grandparents were so obviously soulmates.

Grampa, a tall good-looking Scorpio, was a machinist in the U.S. Navy and a musician. He led his band, the Bob Chaplin Orchestra, which played all of the colleges throughout Massachusetts in the 1940s, on lead clarinet. He played other instruments as well, and taught music for many years in Portland, Maine. My Nana, a rebellious Pisces, lacked that musical talent and like me, once faked it during a school band concert. Even though they attended the same high school, Grampa was four years older, so they didn’t meet until she was in her late 20s and he in is early 30s. By that point, she was working as a secretary for an insurance company, and as an only child, was very independent. My Grampa had 6 brothers–no sisters–including a brother named Charlie. Yes, we are distantly related to that Charlie Chaplin, too. 

When my grandparents first met, neither of them wanted to get married. Despite their differences, that was one thing they had in common. As it turned out, they shared a love for the natural world, a love for gardening (they grew several large vegetable gardens for decades), a love for the water and wildlife, for animals (they always had dogs and cats) and for their three children and 7 grandchildren. They left the city of Portland for a beautiful farmhouse in rural New Gloucester, Maine, and had one of the first houses on their road. Nana and Grampa preferred the pastoral lands strung together with streams, a few ponds and wetlands. They enjoyed sports together, too, and belonged to a bowling club not far from Little Sebago Lake, where they bought and fixed up a 1920s camp in Sunset Cove near Fish Rock. Grampa set up his office at camp one summer while he was writing his book on metal removal technology, which was later adopted as a text in the engineering program at University of Maine-Orono.  Nana and I floated around on rubber rafts summer-after-summer, peering down at the sun-sparkled lake bottom for a silver ring she’d lost 25 years before, which we never found, but never lost interest in searching, swimming and floating.

Nana spoke of a summer she spent with her cousin, Ruth, and their friends at Old Orchard Beach when they were teen-agers. Stories sounded very much like the Betty & Veronica comics I read at camp. Boys, bathing suits and bonfires on the beach!

Around 3 a.m. Sunday morning, I finally shut off the tablet and the light to go to sleep, when –as if on cue, an otherworldly howl shuddered through the woods. It was a lonely howl, unanswered. Usually the dogs of the neighborhood call to one another late at night. I worry about them since it’s getting colder and I wonder why their owners let (or make) their dogs stay outside all night. But this particular howl wasn’t dog-like, or wolf-like, or like any coyote I’d ever heard either. It was a mix of canine and human-like cries. Logically, I told myself it could be an animal in the throes of death, in the clutches of another animal, and those encounters can bring about strangely horrific sounds. Deer also make strange noises during rutting season – but it’s not the right time of year and it was only one howl, not likely a deer. I ruled out fisher, too, since it didn’t sound like a woman being murdered.

MTV’s Teen Wolf

My mind was full of inventive possibilities since I’d just finished watching the first season of MTV’s “Teen Wolf,” which is excellent. Season 2 is terrific, too, and I look forward to the third installment of the series, which is supposed to have 24 episodes. I liked the mix of settings from the woods to the lacrosse field to the classroom. It picks up on the same premise as the 1980s classic with Michael J. Fox, a movie I adored as a kid, but MTV put a slick modern spin on the story line: hunters, ancient mythology, werewolf packs. As much as I respect a girl who knows how to use a cross-bow, I had to hand it to Holland Roden, the actress who plays Lydia Martin, a redheaded popular girl, who is highly intelligent (perfect grades, leadership skills, on the path to winning a Fields Medal someday) teen-ager who plays dumb strategically. Roden’s portrayal of that complex character is refreshingly original. She’s sort of like a “Mean Girl” who gets a supernatural makeover and reveals herself to be much deeper than anyone guessed.

Holland Roden as Lydia

I think what I like best about Lydia’s character is that she reminds me of my friend, Jodie, in appearance and creative style. Jodie and I have the same birthday, and as Pisceans, we’re idealists. Lydia seems like an idealist, too, and romanticizes her relationship with her beau, Jackson, who goes through a bit of a monstrous metamorphosis, with many, many manifestations. Good thing Lydia knows archaic Latin and sees his true colors (even though he is a snake at times, quite literally!) The show is great -but if you can’t handle suspense or supernatural horror/violence, then pass on this one. This show beats the Twilight series in a number of categories, one being werewolf fights. Well choreographed! The plot is 10x more compelling in “Teen Wolf” than in many other supernatural series on screen today. Two thumbs up!

Then this morning around 6 a.m., a large dark animal crept over the stone wall in my backyard. It moved stealthily. It was bigger than a dog, even the German Shepherds on either side of my house, and stayed low to the stone wall, creeping like a cat. My dog went bananas, throwing herself at the door. My cats peered out the window. Everyone seemed to buzz with excitement. I guessed it to be the bobcat that shows up in my backyard every winter–only this year she/he is early. My cats seemed to run from window to window, taunting my dog: “the bobcat’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble, hey now, hey now, the bobcat’s back!” I waited a while before I took my dog out on her leash so she could sniff around. I could tell by my dog’s tail that the bobcat was long gone.

Tonight on my way home, after dark, the headlights of the Subaru flashed a pair of glowing eyes in a dark shape moving across the road. It looked like a very big black dog. It didn’t have a collar – at least not one that was visible – and it walked in an awkward way, its shoulders pronounced and protruding above and behind its head. It stopped on the side of the road and turned to face my car, as I slowly drove past, thinking it was a neighbor’s dog out too late, unattended. No houses or people walking nearby, no driveways around. I hope–if it was someone’s dog–that it got home alright. On the other hand, a part of me wondered if it was a stray, a lost dog or a wild dog. This area has been known for wild dogs for over 60 years, though there hasn’t been a large pack since the 1950s, according to the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife guys I asked two years ago. Around here, there is an unspoken understanding among hunters, too, that if they see an animal they believe is a “wild dog,” they’re allowed to shoot it, even if it turns out to be someone’s pet. That’s the part of the culture and deeply-embedded mythology of this place that’s real, not fiction. It’s what people believe, and what their fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers, told them as children to believe. There may not be werewolves around here, but the hunters believe in wild dogs. And they walk right through my woods at Nixie’s Vale.

Fern Gully in early spring

A few years ago, I bought a cottage on a small lot of land near a pond. It looked like a good place to live and write. I was 32 and writing about wetlands for a nonprofit organization. During my first few months, a rainy Maine summer, I fell deeply in love with my new environment. Ferns unfurled, like fingers from clenched fists, and everything gave sway to the unrelenting rains. My little four-acre refuge soaked up the water without flooding my basement. It did a job: the land, freckled with ferny wetlands—a seep, a vernal pool and a perennial stream flowed into the pond, all diverting the floodwaters. Sunlight reflected off the pond in the mornings, bouncing through the trees and in through my windows. Rays off the pond showered mirrors and walls with shapes of light like sunfish swimming from one room to another. This seemed magical to me since I didn’t have a water view or access to the pond from my property directly, but the water still made its way to me. From my upstairs windows, I looked down into a woodsy glen, a bird-haunted haven for deer, fox and porcupine. Though I’ve never been much of a fan of amphibians, I became intimately connected with the daily lives of endangered wood frogs, crawling out of the vernal pool in my woods each spring, passing by the gang of poisonous toads that lived under my deck. Their transformative life cycles and dark-throated hunger for resilience impressed me—I became obsessed and passionate about their survival. I also swam with loons here—on a regular basis, to the point where I became known as a “loon lady” in the neighborhood. I discovered rare butterflies and hummingbirds also thrived here—as would I.

Virginia Woolf’s line, “Five hundred a year stands for the power to contemplate…a lock on the door means the power to think for oneself,” resonates with me. I come from a long line of women’s suffrage and a firm belief in female empowerment.  Many of my literary heroines, Virginia Woolf and Beatrix Potter, for example, wrote at a time when women were not encouraged to think for themselves, let alone express their ideas in writing.  I grew up in a Victorian family a century after-the-fact; I came of age in Victorian homes, and quite literally, one of my childhood bedrooms was in a tower. My perception of what I could do and could not do as a girl was not metaphorical; I sometimes locked myself in a walk-in closet for some privacy to write in my journal and there was nothing proverbial about having a tower bedroom as a pre-teen girl with long blond hair. A locket of my grandmother’s, that I wear around my neck, her initials dented into the back of it, reminds me of my ancestry, my heritage. I was born into the oldest women’s organization in the country: the Female Charitable Society provided education funds to young women. (I’m also a descendant of Erastus Foote, Maine’s first attorney general, born 200 years before me, and I grew up in his house, the Wood-Foote House in Wiscasset, where the FCS formed its first chapter and held its meetings at my grandmother’s house.)

The Wood-Foote House belonged to my family for 200 years

In my thirties, I mentored young women, twenty-somethings who wanted to go to college. I designed a college transitions class and inspired “success stories” among my students, helping them to build self-confidence and to see their own potential. I think I inherited that trait—to help others come out of their shell—from my grandmother.

The power to think for oneself strengthens a woman’s ability to listen to her own voice, her intuition and to trust that her memory is valid. It takes courage to see the truth and relevance in one’s own perception without constantly having to temper that narrative in a socially correct way based on outside influences—parents, employers, teachers and authority figures. For me, the power to think for oneself drives the ambition to command my voice, rather than to quiet it. This power to think for myself is a motivating force, a true north by which I navigate with an inner compass and conquer private fears of getting lost in a wilderness of my own making.

Nixie’s Vale

Mist rolls off the pond like tumbleweed. Over Columbus Day weekend, I swam in the lake with a juvenile loon, listening to its creaky voice. A flock of geese flew in a V across a sunset hazy sky. They squawked. Alone in the water, I pushed through hydrilla and slippery reeds, coiled ‘round my wrists like odd bracelets. Back home, thumps and thuds clamor through the woods. It’s just deer and moose. A murmuration of starlings explodes suddenly from trees and even the woodpeckers pause their pecking on a rotten birch. My black ash seep, Fern Gully, smells of sweet fern and wild grapes, a strange brew of grape and goldenrod. A perennial stream trickles through the woods and flows into the pond.

Woodpecker in the V branch of a birch

A neighbor told me something eerie about the land—that’s mostly forested wetlands and uplands. We live next to a pond previously called Little Rattlesnake Lake.  It was known as a sacred place. A legend told of a healing energy and spiritual protection over all who lived there. I’ve noticed that a number of healers, and others who work in the health profession, live in the neighborhood. My neighbor retold stories about ghosts and spirits, which she had believed to have seen in the woods between our houses. She thought the land was haunted. A hydromancer came with a dowsing rod and he identified several places where water was hidden underground, matching my neighbor’s maps showing the location of pipes and springs. He also confirmed her suspicion—but clarified that the area was charged with a kind of water force and spirits, and they held positive sway over the land. I listened to all of this with great curiosity because I, too, had felt good vibes. When I first moved here, I named my new home “Nixie’s Vale,” with a nod to Tennyson and to water spirits.

Growing up in haunted houses in coastal Maine, I was no stranger to ghost hunters. My family lived in a home that was featured on the TV show, “Unsolved Mysteries,” for one thing, and tourists wandered in through the parlors when I was a teen-ager.  We lived on top of Tucker’s Hill, beside the famed Castle Tucker, overlooking the Sheepscot River estuary. I loved to sneak down there in the moonlight and pad over the two footbridges to my family’s little one-acre island, named after my grandmother’s family – White’s Island. A circle of seven trees, which I thought of as a coven of witches, stood around a sunken hole, where the tree roots of one tree flipped backward underground, causing an abnormally large rounded dent. There was something spooky about it. Upon approaching it from afar, a person couldn’t tell there was a hole, since tall grass grew all around it. The result was a sort of concave grassy knoll that tripped runners and captured them like an island-sized Venus flytrap. As far as I knew, the island was haunted only by the family’s dogs, buried on the island. Gramma’s dogs, Brownie and Freda, loved the island, so we always pictured their spirited tails wagging in the eel grass as they hunted for things that moved in the rockweed. I like to think that they continue to guard the end of the second footbridge. I can never go back there, this much is true.

Islands and wetlands, especially bogs, moors, swamps, meadows and seashores, set the scene for a good ghost story. In classic literature, wetlands represented something dark and mysterious. In modern fiction, wetlands are still a preferred setting. Read a short story called, “Phantom Lovers of Dismal Swamp,” by S.E. Schlosser or the famed Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, set in a rural swampy Louisiana parish with quirky stories of the undead.

If you prefer to curl up with a book of wetland ghost stories, try Ghosthunting North Carolina by Kate Ambrose. Most of the book is set in coastal wetlands. For more wetland “ghost stories,” see my other post. 

Over the past 5 or so years, I taught a series of classes for nontraditional students. It was a program called “Success in College,”  a three-credit class for a local university, and it offered nontraditional students a chance to build their confidence before going to college. It was fun and rewarding to engage these students in a positive way and later to hear and see “success stories” happen in my other college class, English Composition, which I taught in the fall semester for 4 years at a community college in southern Maine. Both classes were fun to teach.

While teaching the “Success in College” workshop series,  my students took the Myers-Briggs personality questionnaires, and at one point, I joined in taking it. It was really not a surprise to find out I was an ENFP, the “Champion” personality, since I’d taken it in my 20s and was an ENFP then, too, and once in high school during a leadership training workshop experience for teens. (LOFT?) ENFP stands for Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeling(based) and Perceptive. Charlotte Bronte was most likely an ENFP, too. She’s one of my favorite authors of all time. (I dressed as Jane Slayre, a vampire-slaying version of Jane Eyre, for Halloween last year. I was very fond of my red slayer boots.) 

The Champion is one of the Idealist personality types. And I’m no stranger to the behaviors of a Champion! My mother and step-dad are both ENFPs, like me, so I have seen and experienced the exciting drama, the high energy, the vivacious spilling-over-the-top sensation that is everything that interests a Champion. Like my mother, I write. I speak. I teach. I aim to inspire, to engage, to empower others. I love to improve things, to protect them, to champion a cause (or two, or three or four.) And I put my whole self into a cause as if my very life depended on it. This applies to my job (writing about protecting wetlands), my family and friends, my personal writing projects and even raising a rescue dog. (And my dog is definitely an extrovert. No assessment necessary. The vet said my pointer-dachshund is a “nanny” personality type, which means she likes to play nanny, to raise things, even weird things, like acorns and rinsed-out tuna cans, in her doggie bed.)

Sophie-Bea in her former modeling days

When I was asked to go to some employee training workshops to improve myself, I thought that was cool  since I’ve taught this kind of workshop myself, and attended them before for other jobs in the past.  Some people think these kinds of seminars are boring but I like them.  Topics like “dealing with stress at work,” which is different for everyone and for me (ENFP) is described like this:

“The Champion is usually a bundle of energy, but they can become exhausted if they are overloaded with work. They also will experience stress if their values and principles are violated and they see others in the company being hurt by policies that kill the human spirit. Then they become hypersensitive to what is going on around them. To regain their equilibrium, meditation will help (or in my case, swimming!) Kindness and support by others, but not patronization, will help them get back to normal.” – according to the Keirsey personality philosophy. I’m certainly a passionate type, so whatever I do at work, it’s not exactly subdued. It is especially interesting for me, as an extrovert, to work with a lot of introverts. My boss, all of my co-workers, are all introverts. So I’m sure sometimes they think I sound like a martian, when I’m just communicating in an extroverted way, and they receive information in an introverted way. There is something to that!

On a personal note, this insight into women in relationships based on personality type, e.g. Champion – for me, it’s right on the nose. Check out the sections on dating and mating based on your Myers-Briggs personality, regardless of your personality type. If you don’t know what your Myers-Briggs personality type is, I think there’s a way to find out on the same website. It’s certainly helpful to understand about yourself in a working environment and for those looking for a new job or figuring out what they want to do for a career after college.

Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

Twitter Updates

Past Posts

Strange Wetlands Blog: Strange Wetlands™

Raecine Ardis Wilkinson

Sessions and healings by intuitive reader and priestess, Raecine Ardis Wilkinson

claire houston | p h o t o g r a p h e r

a collection of single images

Truly Teach Me Tarot

The Art of Holistic Tarot Therapy

Confessions from a Homecoming Queen

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Tupelo Press

Live from the Loft

Random Inspirations

Welcome to my blog, full of fun inspirations and insights on writing, self-publishing, and more!

Lezlie Moore

Always leave them wanting Moore

Wish I Were Here

Journeys Through Place and Time

Miss Modernist

Written Word of the Modern Era

The Daily Coyote

Musings of a Maine lake dweller

The Ark of Identity

Laura M Kaminski's poetry practice and links

Introduction

Just another WordPress.com site

Catherine Evans Latta

Poems for Everyone

BridgeBuzz

Public relations issues and trends

Natural History Wanderings

Sandy Steinman's Blog

Mixed Waters

A look at the conditions and events surrounding estuaries, wetlands and coastal waters