My various jobs over the years — particularly in public relations and news reporting and as a freelance writer — have allowed me to meet some interesting people and do some interesting things.
I’ve been a modern day Walter Mitty at times.
Mitty, should you have forgotten your school literature class, is a dreamer who imagines himself working in a number of occupations. He was a character in a short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” by James Thurber, first published by The New Yorker in 1939.
I’ll admit it: There’s some Walter Mitty in me. And I suspect there’s some in lots of reporters and writers. Maybe in you, too.
Take last weekend, for example. Mrs. Mitty….er, I mean my best friend and my wife, Sherry….and I signed up for classes in the Villages Folk School (villagesfolkschool.com) of Van Buren County, in southeast Iowa.
Classes there run from January through November in everything from candle making and beginning knitting to blacksmithing, poetry and basket weaving. They are taught by local artisans.
“Our campus is 485 square miles,” says school manager Ken Burns. (No, not that Ken Burns.) “It’s the villages of Van Buren County.”
More than 100 students from five states have taken classes this year from 27 instructors. Burns hopes to double that number and offer continuing education credits in 2011.
On Saturday (Oct. 16), Sherry took an all-day fall bird-watching course ($69 fee, lunch and transportation included) taught by Raymond and Connie Morris. I took an all-day painting-the-landscape course ($55) taught by John Preston. I intend to write a freelance story about the experience and sell it for publication.
Sherry’s only need for her class was binoculars, which she already owned.
My materials list, on the other hand, was longer. Little by little beginning in July, I gathered an easel, palette, brushes, canvas panels and paints from eBay, Amazon and other sources.
We stayed last Friday night (Oct. 15) at our favorite B&B, Chuck and Joy Hanson’s Mason House Inn in Bentonsport.
After one of Joy’s delicious breakfasts on the next morning, it was off to class. Sherry dropped me at the site of an old mill on the riverfront in Bentonsport for my painting class. Then she headed to Mt. Sterling, a wetlands area and the starting point for her bird-watching adventure.
At the end of the day, Sherry raved about her class and all she’d learned. My class was worthwhile, too — although I decided not to quit any of my day jobs. John, a talented, full-time landscape painter, was an easy-going, patient teacher who dealt professionally with my obvious lack of experience and, perhaps, talent.
The class had four students — three women and myself. I wasn’t in class long before it became obvious to me the women had painted before. But, like John, they were kind to this rookie. Translation: They didn’t laugh at the colored splotches I dabbed on my canvas.
John and I had exchanged some e-mails in the weeks before the class, and I had expressed some concern as to what I had gotten myself into.
His answer put me at ease: “Don’t worry, it’s like riding a bike, just messier!”
He was right about that. At least the messier part. When it was over, I had many colors of paint on my hands, jacket, T-shirt and shorts. There was some on the canvas, too.
What ended up on my clothes may actually have been my best work.
Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.