Monday, October 23, 2006

Plantation-oriented Oddities

Plimoth Plantation, my current place of employment, is a "living history" museum. There aren't many in the US, but in the UK, there are several. It revolves around the idea that we, the "docents" take on the roles of people from the 17th century, live in similar conditions, work there, and through demonstration and explanation, teach people about the time period.

The basic premise of my job is to "educate." Now, granted, that concept rather conflicts with the classification of my place of employment as a general tourist attraction. Every so often, there are some amusing moments.

A few years ago, one of the supervisors, Michael, told a group of us a story on our collective break after returning to the "lounge" space from the Village. He said he had been carrying water by yoke and buckets from the "spring" we have set up just outside the south gate of the Village (this comprises of what looks like a coopered half-barrel, complete with iron rings, with a hosepipe attached to it underneath to ensure it always remains full and yet the visitors do not see the artificial source of the water). It was summer, and a group of people approached him. He spoke to them for a few minutes, describing what he was doing to two boys who had come with their grandmother for the afternoon. Then, as a "let the kids get involved" gesture, he offered to allow the boys to help him carry the water in his full buckets back to his house. The grandmother's attention had been momentarily directed elsewhere, and when she turned back to the boys and saw Michael demonstrating how to carry the yoke and buckets by placing the contraption on the sholders of one of them, the grandmother cried in alarm:
"YOU shouldn't be WORKING! YOU'RE on VACATION."

So much for hands-on learning.

Sometimes, there are interesting interactions between co-workers. We all get "paired" up on the Village site in order to portray the 17th century families that would have lived in Plymouth in 1627 (not all of them). One year, my friends Bertie and Mike were playing the husband and wife of the Cooke family. They had invited me over for lunch because the artisans in the Village had recently decided to take down the house I had been "living" in as Elizabeth Howland in order to build a new one (that to this day, is still a house frame--the frame having been erected very soon after the destruction of my former abode, and this was at least two years ago). I was sitting at their table in rather the back of the house when a group of children came in. Mike had always been good interacting with them, so he started telling the story of "how he met his wife" in Holland (which was entirely made up by him given we have no idea how the Cookes actually met).
He said as follows:
"You know when I first saw my wife?" (hands on hips, slight pause), "I was in Holland and I saw her sit down to take her noonmeats (lunch). She pulled out a thick slice of bread (pause, hand extended flat out to simulate the bread surface), and then, she covered the top of it with butter (back and forth motion with other hand to apply the aforesaid butter). And then (added inflection on this "then"), she took out a thick piece of cheese, almost as thick as the bread, and put it on top of the bread and butter (one hand covers the other). And then (more inflection on this "then"), she takes a great jug of milk and starts to drink it."
He pauses a minute to let the children take in the story before going on.
"And you know, I told her if she continued to eat cheese and butter and drink milk as she did, she would have the brain of a cow!"
He closed this narrative very well insothat the whole audience understood the reason for the build up. Snickers answered his tale.
Now, Bertie, who had been quietly cutting up herbs to put in the boiling pot over the hearth, sort of "deflated" in her posture like a balloon after the children heard his story. She took a deep breath, and in a very dejected tone in her Dutch-accented English, said,
"Now, husband, I know you are smarter than me and stronger than me, I being only a woman, but you have always been so kind and so patient with me. I try so hard to be a good English woman as your wife even though I am Dutch."
Mike's facial expression entirely changed. He must have told that story to a hundred people over the course of the entire season to that point without eliciting this response from Bertie, so he was baffled. He stuttered, trying to make up for the insult he hadn't realize he had given. Bertie did not change her tone or her reaction. It became so uncomfortable that I truly thought he had insulted her, and I was ready to leave the house so this "marital" problem could be resolved. Eventually, Bertie went on break, leaving a very concerned Mike behind.
Later on, at the end of the day, Mike was climbing the stairs to the changing areas after work at the same time that Bertie was coming down to leave for the day. As they passed each other, Mike was all ready with an apology. But before he could say a word, Bertie put her hand on his arm and said only,
"Got you."

Sometimes visitor nonsense goes too far. Now it is no secret that the "Pilgrims" had religion to arm them in a number of ways. I won't go into the whole "they didn't come here for religious freedom" argument, because that is a moot point. However, as in any other case or category, visitors have a touch time separating "reality" from our 17th century environment. We, as Plimoth Plantation employees, do not prescribe to the same religious sensibilities as these people did. We only have to understand what they believed and then accurately portray it--our own personal feelings do not figure into the equation. Some visitors seem to think that they do. Either that, or they believe in spreading God's word so adamently that they will come to a museum and regardless of the religious persuasion of the employees, attempt to convert us all anyway.
The worse case of this occured in my first year. There were a few people my age on site, one of whom was portraying Elizabeth Howland, which would be the role I would subsequently take. One day, I went down to her house for a visit. Very soon after my arrival, a school group came through with papers loaded with questions. While I was attempting to answer them, two other visitors slipped by me and into the back of the room where they struck up a conversation with Beth. They were quoting scripture and talking to her nonstop, but I didn't notice nor did I interfere. After the students left, I could turn my attention to their conversation.
I don't know if they were in "conversion" mode, but they were certainly putting forth a "test of faith" by asking her when and where she read the Bible and why, etc. Not "how and where does your church meet" or "what happens on Sunday," but personal questions about her faith--and I don't think it mattered to them whether she spoke in character or whether she was speaking as herself. This started to go on too long and it was more than obvious to me that they were getting into matters of faith for their own purposes and not to be educated about the 17th century.
So, then I decided to "step in."
One of them asked her whether she had a Bible in the house. Now, we do not have scripture in everyone's house all the time because we have no way of proving that each house had a Bible or even whether or not most of them could even read. She stuttered an explanation--her "husband" had taken it with him in the morning when he went out to work and would not be returning until late. Then, he pulled out a small, orange-bound book from his pocket, and opened it up in order to read part of it to her.
Yeah, I had enough of this.
I asked him, "So, master, what is it that you have there to read?"
His reply, "It is the Proverbs and the Psalms. I always keep them with me."
In response, I said, "Well, master, if you were a truly godly man, you would take the whole Bible with you rather than use your flawed reason to determine for yourself what the best parts of it are."
Needless to say, this ended the "converstion effort."

The best line ever goes to Matt. Many people really think that the 17th century was some kind of underdeveloped stone age. They come through the Village amazed we have tools and iron fittings. On one occasion, a visitor started arguing with Matt (who was in character) about the historical correct-ness of having nails in the Village. He was ignorantly insistent that we certainly did NOT have nails in the 17th century. Matt tried to brush him off, but he wouldn't take a hint. Finally, Matt had enough and said,
"Well, they DID nail Christ to the cross."
Conversation over.

How many weeks until the season is over?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Dissatisfaction is the Mother of Invention

I have no idea who it was that said the original quote, substituting "necessity" in the place of "dissatisfaction." I suppose that necessity does translate to dissatisfaction with one's state in one way or another, but I think that the whole premise can be broadened to include just simply not being content as opposed to only involving the things we find we cannot live without, even though we cannot have them, and therefore, we must find another means to supply what is necessary.

Perhaps it is because dissatisfaction doesn't always translate to action on one's own behalf that the replacement of that word in the original quote doesn't really apply. I know many people who are dissatisfied in one way or another, be it in employment or in one's personal life, for example, who have no drive or intention to change that. To be honest, I have always had a difficult time completely understanding that. I have met people who are either unable to identify the cause of their dissatisfaction or able to do so and yet, unable to change it. However, "able" presents a funny concept. In theory, we are all able to do whatever we need to in order to make our lives better. I have seen few instances where someone was truly unable, because of causes outside of his or her own control, to change his or her life, especially if he or she knew something needed to change in the first place.

Habit is, I believe, the number one impediment. It's been this way or I've been this way for this long--why go through the struggle? At least I can give people who see it this way credit for acknowledging that change in one's life is a difficult thing to accomplish and will ultimately affect multiple parts of who they are. However, habit is powerful--at least we know what to expect with habit. We can wake up in the morning, go through our days, and then go to bed without a great deal of reflection and most importantly, without struggling. Change is a struggle--it's an uphill battle with no guarantee of success. If you take the risk to change, you may indeed end up worse off than you were before, which will subsequently require more change and more struggle. No wonder so many people are afraid of it.

I never liked the idea of habit. There have been too many instances where habit did not translate into happiness--instead, it led to more dissatisfaction. I do not think that any truly great person, either people who have directly influenced our lives or people who historically have made a difference in this world, accepted dissatisfaction out of hand. Instead, they did something with it. Some of them ended up miserable, yes, but we still remember them anyway. Their ability to deal with dissatisfaction in their own lives and not settle for less is what makes us list their names and describe what they did for us in personal profiles.

Maybe it has to do with how we see life--either as a bunch of "typical" milestones from childhood to school to marriage to kids to retirement, etc., or as one long process that may or may not include those things--but the point being that life, to be fulfilling, does not have to include them. Instead, life could include moments you realized some inner truth instead of marriage or a moment of great accomplishment instead of having children. Although the "typical" can be and is rewarding to a lot of people, it is a guideline, not a set of rules. If that guideline will lead to dissatisfaction born out of habit, perhaps your potential for greatness is what is ultimately at stake.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Self-Styled Converse and Life Progress

I like to talk to myself in the car. I have a long drive to work now, so I do need to amuse myself given there are only so many ways for me to get to Plymouth from here in southern RI. I, like most people, tend to listen to music. I'll play the radio, as far as morning talk shows allow for any songs to fit between their meaningless commentary, and both my CD player and my iPod are armed for times when cruising through the channels only lands you back on the first one you started from even though your high-tech radio can pick up at least one channel for every stop on the dial. However, there are times when I just turn it off and start talking.

I think I picked up this tendency from my father. Every now and again, I catch him in the middle of a conversation on his own, and this has been the case for a number of years running. He'll be bringing up only half-audible points and using hand gestures. I always wondered what he was talking about. For me, I do the same but only when I am absolutely assured of being alone.

I have no idea if my father and I are really doing the same thing, or if we have different purposes for the same method of behavior. When I do it, it is usually to organize my thoughts. I have found that I tend to have a lot to say to people sometimes, and I like to think it through before I say it. Therefore, I have discovered that I am actually carrying on about five or six discussions with people who will never know they are the subject of such long explanations or statements given fairly often, I may not choose to pursue the discourse with them in the end.

Ok, now for some more interesting stuff:

Yes, I did finish my dissertation.
Word Count: 21,000
Footnotes: 310

I flew out of Manchester Airport for the last time on Saturday, September 22 at 11 am.

I have been re-employed at Plimoth Plantation for the time being and am now part-time participating in a music group there called The Puritones.

I did buy the new Indigo Girls CD, Despite Our Differences. I think it's pretty good, but I do not like it as much as their last, non-compellation work, All That We Let In. There are a few solid, well, written songs there in the tradition of their longer-standing and more well-known music, but nothing that completely jumps out at you. I am slightly disappointed by that because I have been anticipating this one for some time.

I have lost five pounds on what I can only call the "Plantation Diet," which consists of what I can afford on my current salary.

I finally hit up Yankee Candle and ransacked their store for fall-esque scents.

How much I am appreciating minutae...