Will Travel For Words: The Importance of Being Earnest by Karen A. Chase
It is a thought many authors might consider. Not just about their writing, but about their career. Bear with me and you’ll see the connection to Wilde’s play.
I’ve written a book about the American Revolution and I recently drove to The University of Virginia in Charlottesville to meet two men who have long been involved in that subject. Professor Edward Lengel has published several books about George Washington, gives lectures around the globe and is the Director of Papers of George Washington Project. The other is Rick Britton, who among a multitude of other talents is an award-winning historian and cartographer, well-known throughout the academic and publishing world for his maps of Revolutionary battles.
I will admit that going into this day I was, well… sweaty. Nervous. I have diligently researched and written my book for six years. But the truth of the matter is it’s a fictional book, I’m not a formally-educated historian, I’ve been a graphic designer, and I’m Canadian. On the drive down, a little part of me thought, “Here’s the part where you’re rooted out for all you’re not.”
However, two points quickly became evident.
Within minutes these two historians overwhelmed me with a gracious desire to share their experiences and knowledge. There was not a skiff of social pretense about them. They are men with families and jobs. Rick feeds his cats while listening to NPR, and drew maps of Tolkien’s fictional lands. Ed loves the adventure of travel and wishes more people would paint George Washington laughing. Like me, they have both delighted in the opportunity to spend their lives immersed in books, libraries and learning. Consequently, within minutes I let go of my own pretenses.
I also had something on my side. Being earnest. I have studied hard, worked with editors and librarians, attended seminars, traveled to historic locations featured in my book and truly believed that I could do this despite my northern insecurities and educational inequities. Like one definition of the word “earnest,” my work in the last six years was “characterized by sincerity of intention.” It showed. I contributed to the conversations, my shoulders dropped and my armpits dried out.
So here’s the lesson tied to Wilde’s play: If I had not taken the trivial notion of writing a novel seriously, I would not have learned enough to engage thoughtfully with people like Rick and Ed. If I had not set aside pretense and assumptions that those more learned do not also enjoy engaging as people, I would have missed out meeting two delightful men with whom I can now exchange ideas and stories.
As Wilde’s character Algeron says, “One has to be serious about something if one is to have any amusement in life.” Thank you, Oscar. I now see the importance of being earnest when I travel for words.
Karen A. Chase is a regular contributor to Shelf Pleasure, sharing journeys near and far in the pursuit of stories and novels in her monthly feature, Will Travel for Words. She is the author of Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log, winner of seven Independent Book Publishing Awards for travel and design. She is currently working on an historical novel set during the American Revolution. Find Karen on Facebook or on Twitter.
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