“The Road of Excess Leads to the Palace of Wisdom,” is one of William Blake’s interesting paradoxes.
My husband (who, sadly, is not the most polite of creatures) sometimes says that I remind him of Mr. Toad in The Wind in the Willows.
Mr. Toad was overpowered by his latest enthusiasms. A boat—a caravan—a car! As he realized their charms, their indubitable advantages, he grew convinced that they were the best, the only possible way of doing things.
Ah, embarrassingly familiar!! I loved reading “the classics” as a teen, as much for the cracking good stories, as for, well, having read the classics, the satisfaction of scoring them off my reading list. My goal was to have read all “the classics” by the time I was thirty, and I was progressing steadily towards it until I was 27, and married Roy, and then, well, life happened!
I only read poetry for a few years. In graduate school, and for the first year and a half of our marriage, pretty much all I did was read and write poetry, until, well, I wrote out all my poem ideas, and poetry began to seem too constricted for everything I wanted to explore in words.
If an author speaks to me, enchants me, I buy several of their books, sometimes all of them. If I am interested in a subject—an artist, medieval mystics, or natural healing, or herbs, or using natural supplements to balance brain chemistry, I tend to buy 3-4 books on the subject, and devour them. I then rapidly learn a lot about the subject, though it can be expensive, if it turns out to be less enticing than anticipated, or the waves of the next enthusiasm hit before I’ve sort of mastered this one.
I instinctively believe that if some is good, then more is better. When we planted spring bulbs in Williamsburg, we’d plant 700 or 800 each autumn so that the next spring was magical, seeing all our old favourites come up as well as the last year’s plantings.
It was sad to leave our Virginia garden which we had had for nine years, and so, we have never really thrown ourselves into planting up our Oxford garden, though it’s now our seventh year in it. However, we are slowly planting bulbs and perennials, and have a massive vegetable garden.
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My favourite way of travelling is in a camper van. We first rented one in Switzerland ten years ago, and were amazed at how much we could see of the country in a motor home, which meant we could drop into several lovely sights in a day, start the morning in one little town, and continue until late in a summer evening, resting in the motor home on the way to sights, or over a brief cuppa or a picnic lunch.
For a while, I was convinced that it was the only way to travel, until we enjoyed the pleasures of renting quirky homes in Granada, Istanbul and Rome. My family say they prefer that, though I prefer seeing a huge amount of the country in a motor home, sleeping each night in a different place, especially the free wild camping in parts of Norway, Ireland or Sweden.
We stayed in retreat houses last year, at Lee Abbey and Ffald-y-Brenin and I did love the restfulness of staying in one place, doing nothing, just resting and soaking in God’s presence. On our return, Roy noticed me surfing the internet, absorbed. “I bet you are researching retreat houses,” he said. And indeed, I was.
If Aristotle was right in defining wisdom as the mean between extremes, exploring an extreme means that you learn what’s good about it, as well as its limitations. Then, once you’ve learned its limitations, you might, on the rebound, swerve to the other extreme. For instance, in a scenario familiar to dieters, if you’ve cut out all fat, or meat, or carbs from your diet, for a while you can’t have enough of them. And then, perhaps you return to a balanced diet.
To the path of wisdom, which is the mean between two extremes.
In fact, my days of riding the wild horse of each enthusiasm to exhaustion are over. Yeah, I am middle-aged now, and am choosing the middle path. Striving for a life with a healthy balance of spiritual, intellectual, physical and social activities and interests. I try to make time to pray, read scripture, exercise, read, write, garden, and spend time with family or friends every day.
And oh, I believe, I hope, that all this sensible balance may mean that, paradoxically, in the long run, there may well be more energy to pursue any one interest.