Meandering Blog Post about My Dilettante Life

In an effort to overcome Covid brain I’ve been doing languages on Duolingo, a free online language program. I don’t like it, but 1) it’s free 2) I have to concentrate. Multi-tasking is (as far as I can tell) the big challenge right now, something highlighted (why not high lit?) by having written the same thing five separate times as I was trying to label my paintings at the museum the other day. Someone was talking to me as I was trying to write — well, print. We won’t mention that I’d already written the labels correctly only moments before, but couldn’t find them (18 inches away from my hand).

I started with Spanish, my best foreign language. It was kind of fun to move ahead from where I’ve been for 50 years. Then, to challenge myself, I turned to Chinese. That was strange. Chinese ideograms were always easy for me to recognize, but not on Duolingo. I have no way to know if it’s my brain or the way the program has decided to “write” them. Also, the program presents Chinese the way it presents alphabet languages which is a little strange, too. But I honestly can’t tell if it’s strange or my brain is strange. And, since my Chinese is primarily directly out of daily life, the practice conversations seemed strange. But then, I never lived in a place where people speak Mandarin, so I don’t really know. Most of the ambient Chinese in my life was in Cantonese — which I don’t speak or understand well. I spoke Mandarin in Guangzhou, but it wasn’t until I visited Hangzhou that I had an actual conversation in it.

It’s funny but even thought mosquitoes were ubiquitous, I never learned to say “mosquito” in any Chinese dialect. I like the word best in Italian, “zanzara.” It sounds like a mosquito sounds. Italian is my second best foreign language but practicing THAT on Duolingo is incredibly noisoso.

I’m a dilettante in everything, the kind of person who walks around in the shallow part of a lake and imagines she’s an Olympic swimmer.

As I was writing Christmas cards, I was contacted by a woman I met at a conference — the SISSI Conference– Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery — really fun, very eclectic, conference. SISSI is long gone. We met what, ten or eleven years ago? She was giving a paper on Goliardic poetry which was mostly sung and written in Latin in the Middle Ages. I guess that’s pretty obscure but it’s right up my alley. When I saw the write up in the program I really wanted to meet her. She’s a classics teacher at Purdue. We had so much to talk about — it was as if we were old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long time. She’s NOT a dilettante. She can speak and read several iterations of Greek and Latin. She has worked on many translation projects on manuscripts I dream of even just SEEING.

I was giving a paper on the Medieval Leper. I think we might have been the only two medieval topics in the whole show. Anyway, they scheduled us for the same session. I was sitting outside the session room, waiting for my session to begin, reviewing my stuff, and I saw her. She walked up to me, and asked if I were in the next session in that room. I said I was. Then I realized who she probably was, based on the program. I said, “Are you Liz Mercier? I really wanted to meet you!” She was so surprised and told me no one had ever really wanted to meet her. We struck up an instant friendship. I loved her paper and if I ever return to the story of Benedetto, Michele and Gaspar the donkey it’s all because of what I learned from her. Anyway, we both miss SISSI and our annual meet-ups and listening to each other expound on little-known and possibly irrelevant topics.

Anyway, I realized that Covid brain — which is either slowly receding or I’m getting used to it — is worse when I’m nervous, tired, or have been over-stimulated. Both were the case yesterday after all the events of Monday. I found myself struggling with many things that should not be a struggle.

Last night as I fought insomnia (thanks Covid brain), I was thinking that maybe the solution to the painting phobia might be small paintings like those I painted when I first got the natural pigments and didn’t know how they’d work or when I first started doing oil paintings again after not doing any during the forty years since high school.

That painting happened because my stepson and his wife gave me a canvas for Christmas. I loved that present, and the painting was surprisingly successful so I kept at it. Here it is.

A herd of red Angus cattle lived across the street from me and they liked to bunch up against the fence and watch me and the dogs. Their pasture was grass and oak trees with a few boulders interspersed. I liked them a lot.

I kept at it, doing small paintings because paint is expensive and surfaces are also expensive and we won’t talk about frames. The first oil painting I ever sold was one of the cows. It’s the featured photo, 5 x 7. My next door neighbors came to the little art and craft fair at the townhall and bought it, well my neighbor’s wife bought it for her husband for Christmas. I guess the moral of the story is just go try, dammit, Martha.

WordPress’ daily prompt is “Do you have a favorite place you have visited? Where is it?” Here’s my answer. Zürich. It’s in Switzerland.

20 thoughts on “Meandering Blog Post about My Dilettante Life

  1. Martha, I was so deeply flattered to have made it into one of your blogs and to be spoken about with such kindness and generosity. The friendships that I treasure most are the gloriously unexpected ones. They seem to have a spark that makes them more dazzling than the friendships that come due to synched schedules or work. They also seem to have a longevity which I have always found incredibly fascinating and beautiful! And I love how an interest in a topic that is relatively obscure can instantly connect you to another soul with just the same obscure interest. The SISSI conference was one of a kind because it celebrated thoughts and perspectives from every corner and edge of life. I loved the variety of it. I loved Colorado Springs. And most of all, I loved meeting my dear friend Martha! Thank you so much in including me in one of your wonderful posts! ❤

    • I feel the same way. I figure with interests as “obscure” as mine, it takes a very wide net to discover anyone to truly SHARE them with, but when I do (that’s happened 2 1/2 times) it’s a gift beyond valuing. I treasure the memory of all our conversations and the spontaneity of all of it. ❤️ We really had wonderful times together.

  2. I love your little cattle paintings! When I was making glass beads, one of the things I liked about them was the smallness. They didn’t take a lot of time or supplies, and if what came out of the kiln was ugly, not a great loss. Yes, when the brain is recovering, its vulnerable to all the things you mentioned, and symptoms will intensify. When we’re young, we tend to have enough reserve that its barely noticeable, but with age and/or prolonged stressors or challenges, it becomes much more obvious when we’re “down a quart”. Keep healing!

    • Thank you, Steph. It’s pretty scary since my mind is my best feature. I think I got a gift from the San Juans this morning in clouds hanging low over the mountains. “Here, Martha, you will love it, and we’re sure you can paint it. Please try. It doesn’t matter if you fail. We can do this again. Your pals, Silver, Windy, Bennett, and Pintada”

    • She was a really beautiful cow. I watched her one day when the bull decided, “Hey baby” and mounted her. With all that serenity she just walked out from under him. He looked so bewildered. It was so cute.

  3. “Dilettante” is a strange word in English, used demeaningly in the same way that “amateur” is. The origin of “dilettante” is a verb meaning “to delight”, just as “amateur” comes from “to love”. It seems odd that we disparage doing things for the love of doing them and for the delight they bring us. If we called you a “Renaissance Woman” instead of a “dilettante”, everyone would respect you.

    On a side note, I think “multi-tasking” is a myth. I think I’ve met one person who can actually do it. She could type 140 wpm and carry on a conversation about something else at the same time – like there was a direct connection from her eyes to her fingers and most of her brain was free for other tasks. Most people who claim to “multi-task” just seem to be unable to stick with one thing and jump around. Some can switch more quickly than others (some have to backtrack when they switch and would be better off finishing one thing before moving on to the next) and that ability seems to be what COVID took from you.

    • Everyone DOES respect me! 😉 I don’t mind being a dilettante. I know the root of the word and seriously, what’s better than doing what delights you? Doing anything else seems insane (or necessary to live). I’ve been pretty lucky in my life (so far). I haven’t had to do much that did not delight me. Teaching delighted me. ❤️

      I think the most disturbing thing that happened with those cards was that I had already done them, forgot I’d done them, they were sitting right there, and I proceeded to do them over and repeatedly did them wrong. Forgetting I’d done them? wow. Scary.

  4. I think your COVID brain is figuring it all out! I do think the little paintings are so very delightful – and from the sound of it fun to do!! I think dog portraits would be a perfect project in the Bark of Beyond! Also love how the universe conspires to bring people into our lives!!

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