Sunday, October 24, 2010

Two Kinds of Inspiration

We held a Board retreat for the New England Historic Genealogical Society this glorious fall week at the historic, (and some say) haunted Colonial Inn in Concord, MA.  During the retreat we launched discussion around updating our strategic plan, a discipline (despite all the noise about strategic plans being dead) that has been extraordinarily beneficial to the Society over the last two decades.

This is mostly because, also in the last decade, good ol' traditional genealogy has gone digital, global and Hollywood, been IPO'd and social-networked, and today has some of its largest players giving away content for free.  It's like Alex Haley's Roots on a six pack of Red Bull.  The upshot is that non-profit players have either reinvented their business models, or they've simply given up and gone away.  Unfortunately, there are more examples of the latter than the former.

NEHGS is bigger, more stable, more digital and more Hollywood than it's ever been, and poised to continue its growth.  It also maintains a healthy paranoia because it's dancing well, but dancing with elephants.

But that's not why I'm writing.  After all the planning work was behind us, we had the opportunity to explore Concord, including Battle Road and the Old Manse, built for Concord's Patriot Minister, William Emerson.  It's the home where William's grandson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote his essay Nature and, later, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote his early short story collection, Mosses from an Old Manse.   It's also the home of a funny story about inspiration.

First, a walk to the Old Manse via Battle Road, a metaphor for both history and strategic planning. . .


 Here's the Old North Bridge, essentially in the backyard of the Old Manse, and the Daniel Chester French memorial to the Minuteman. . .


And here's our National Park Ranger explaining the details of "the shot heard round the world". . .


Now, we turn to the Old Manse and our story of inspiration. . .


Here's the view from the front. . .


Now, here's the second story room from which Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote Nature. . .Emerson had his desk pushed against the wall with the two windows. . .


So that he could drink in the view of nature as he wrote, an inspiration for his ideas. . .


A few years later, newlywed Nathaniel Hawthorne occupied this room, intending to draw the same inspiration for his writing as Emerson.  However, Hawthorne found looking out the window at life beyond the Manse a complete and utter distraction to his creativity.  So, he asked friend Henry David Thoreau to build him a (rather pitiful) writing desk on the other side of the room so that he could look away from the busy outdoors and draw his inspiration from. . .a plank in the wall?


It apparently worked, as Hawthorne hammered out Mosses from an Old Manse and went on to rather distinguished writing career.

Two extraordinary talents, two very different kinds of inspiration. 
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