A Turning Point

Leonardo da Vinci: Artist, Scientist, Engineer

Not long ago, I was asked by a friend what were some of the turning points in my life.  Maybe because I recently finished Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci (which in itself was a follow-up to going to see a very interesting exhibit about da Vinci at the Albuquerque Natural History Museum back in March) I found myself remembering an exchange that occurred when I was probably a junior in college.

I don’t know what triggered the exchange…  I was an English major, and I’d certainly had more than my share of questions from concerned adults about what I planned to do after college.  I had spent a lot of my free time both reading Science Fiction and Fantasy, and playing roleplaying games, two activities that encourage big dreams.  I was probably feeling a touch wistful that the things I liked best didn’t seem to have much value in the post-college world that was creeping up on me with every semester.

Whatever the reason, I wandered out into the common room of the apartment and asked my roommate, Kathy Curran, “If you could be anything at all – no limits on education or even reality – what would you be?”

I expected her to pause and consider.  I certainly would have done so in a similar situation.  “What if” questions like that were a staple of my life.  I remember sitting side by side with my sister, Ann, with a catalog spread over our laps, picking what we’d get on each page if we could have anything there.   As we grew older, these “what if’s” turned into debates about whether nature or nurture meant more, or questions of ethics and theology.  (Yes.  Really.  I still have these sort of discussions with some family members.)

So the last thing I expected Kathy to say was “A Renaissance man.”  I blinked at her – both at her decisiveness and because I’d never thought about that as even an option.  Perhaps seeing my confusion, Kat went on.  “I’d like to know at least a little about a lot of things.”

I can’t overstate the impact of her words.  It was like a door blew open in my brain and everything reshuffled.  Up to that point, my life had been like the sketch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “What is your name?  What is your quest?  What is your favorite color?”

Kathy showed me I could have it all.

A few months back, I wrote about how I thrive best when allowed some creative wiggle room.  I always did, but Kathy was the first person to show me that this was okay, to not make me feel I was somehow cheating if I wanted to read about science, or history, or learn some technique that had nothing to do with my future job.

Oh, and Kat?  Did she achieve her goal?  I like to think so.  We’re still in touch.  She’s a Biology professor who knows more about ticks than you would even imagine there is to know.  She’s also a gardener.  A beekeeper.  A painter.  A mom.  And I’m sure a lot of other things that I don’t know about.

Now, off to put a final polish on a high-adventure space opera short story I finished in rough last Friday.  Then I’ll go write more about Firekeeper, Blind Seer, and some people you don’t know yet: a story that has more than a little to do with the question “What do you want to be?”

3 Responses to “A Turning Point”

  1. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    That’s a big question for both of them.
    My you younger daughter and I used to have philosophical conversations every night. We started when she was around 13 years old. Both my daughters and I love to explore the “what ifs”. I think it helps to see what *is*, by comparison.

  2. Debby Barker Says:

    While being a ‘renaissance man’ is a great answer, isn’t it a shame that she couldn’t be a ??? woman.
    Some of the renaissance women is equally fascinating. Lucretia Borgia, her sister-in-law Isabella d’Este, Queen E III, any of the Hapsburg princesses who governed provinces, Eleanor of Aquitaine and so on and so forth.

    • janelindskold Says:

      This was in the 1980’s. “Ms” had barely become acceptable as a term. Women were hyphenating their names when they married, rather than just keeping their original name. (Which is what I did with my first marriage, although I had to go through a hyphenation period because of the number of things that came to me because of the automatic assumption I would have changed my name.)

      As a college prof, I had to teach “gender neutral” language against protest that it was too cumbersome, even when I pointed out that “police officer” was no more cumbersome than “police man.” And that “sanitation worker” was more accurate than “garbage man.”

      Today, Kat would probably have used a different term. But I was quoting, and I won’t clean up the historical record!

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