Robert (gurdonark) wrote,
Robert
gurdonark

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choosing to matter when everyone says nothing matters

"The study of nature is a limitless field, the most fascinating adventure in the world".--Margaret Morse Nice




I like the stories of people who carve out niches in unlikely places, or against seeming odds. Today I've been reading about Margaret Morse Nice. In the 1920s, she found herself quite well-educated but ostensibly confined to the role of a stay at home mother to four daughters. She did not have impressive funding nor an important position. She did have a will to make a difference, and a supportive university professor husband.

She began to take her daughters out in the field for ornithological observations. Over time, she began to write research papers about her observations of birds. Her graduate education included foreign language training. This made her able to read foreign bird research journals, and ultimately to write for them. She published some 250 scholarly papers in all,spanning decades, until her death in 1974.

She received a great deal of respect and acclaim during her life, although she largely worked out of her home, studying the ordinary backyard sparrow birds native to her Ohio region. Despite being the pre-eminent ornithologist of her region, she was largely ignored at home. She could not join local bird societies because she was not a man. She titled her autbiography Research is My Passion, a fitting title for a woman who published her findings in top journals in seven languages, and whose key work described eight years of song sparrow research. I like that she found a way to make a difference, using the life into which she was placed.

I also like the story of a contemporary woman, Lisa Wagner. She finished college with a teaching degree from Emporia State in Kansas. Her goal, though, was to be a professional actress, despite the fact that Emporia, Kansas is a mile or two off the great ways of such things. She did not "end up" in Los Angeles, trying out for soap commercials and grade Z films, though. She instead went to Chicago, and co-founded a group called the Still Point Theatre Collective. Now she tours the country with one woman plays, such as "Haunted by God", about the Catholic Worker "radical" Dorothy Day, or a play about Jean Donovan, a religious worker murdered in El Salvador.

Rather than being a doctrinaire dogmatist, she hunts for the intersection of the spiritual in the broad culture in her writing and performing. I don't know her from Eve, but I like the idea of someone who builds something and takes it on the road herself. I also like that various net locations specify her needs--a fairly modest fee, round-trip travel, a half-workable place to perform, and oh, yes, let's see, she's a vegetarian. Apparently, she does not specify which M & Ms must be in the post-show candy dish, and her goal is to perform her work as many places as she can.

I like to remind myself that so many things are built from the grass roots, from the ground up. I like to imagine how I could build things like that myself.
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