Monday, May 30, 2011

Adventures in Lecturedom, Part Two

I stood nervously before the podium.
The audience was silent, waiting.
The moment had arrived.

Breathe, Lisa, breathe.

I smiled, took a deep breath and began to speak.

When I think about living meaningfully, I think about all the books I've read and how they've taught me facts and concepts and taken me to the furthest reaches of the globe -- YES -- but how they have also shaped me on a fundamental domestic level. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that more than any other factor, my life is what it is today because of the books I have loved.

* * * * *

Sometimes the most wonderful things happen when you do exactly what you are most afraid to do.

I said yes to speaking at the Mercantile Library because I knew that passing up an honor like that would have haunted me forever. Sure, I was a little (okay, a lot) hesitant about speaking in public -- but who isn't? Was I really going to claim that as an excuse for not sharing my passion for books and design with a larger audience? For turning down an opportunity that -- for all I knew -- could be life-changing?

* * * * *

When I read a novel, I think of myself as a domestic explorer, always on the lookout for clues on how to live a more simple, meaningful life. John Lennon said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" and in stories, it's what happens in between the plot points that really pulls me in. The beautiful moments, the tiny details -- the passage where the characters have an impromptu tea party on a blanket in the garden -- those are the images I find myself seeking to recreate in my life.

* * * * *

I realized this invitation had provided me with an opportunity to decide -- once and for all --exactly what kind of person I wanted to be. Someone whose tombstone would read, "She almost had the nerve"?

Or someone who -- like all of the Victorian adventuresses I so admired (Jane Digby, Isabelle Eberhardt, Aimee Crocker) -- would say "Yes" to the unknown?

I thought about Thoreau's famous quote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

A tiny voice materialized in my head, gradually becoming more and more insistent.

"If not now, when?"

Exactly right, I thought.

If not now, WHEN?

* * * * *

My life is what it is because of the books I have loved. Thanks to "Tender is the Night", I know how to throw a magical outdoor dinner party.

Thanks to "The Pickwick Papers", I know how to make a house feel snug and warm and welcoming.

Thanks to "I Capture the Castle", I know that there is sometimes more glamour in disorder than in order.

And thanks to "Brideshead Revisited", I know that even if you live in one of England's grandest estates, sometimes the only place you want to be is up in Nanny Hawkins' cozy little attic room, sipping tea while she sews.

* * * * *

When I finally sat down and began to write my speech, I pored through my favorite novels, sifted through stacks of old photos and thought about all the ways in which books had been a powerful influence on my dreams and on my life.

It was a joy.

And a funny thing happened: The more emotionally invested I became in my speech, the more my fear of giving it began to fade. All I cared about now was inspiring my audience -- moving them and making them think and laugh and leave with their heads full of images. One woman, they told me, was driving all the way from Iowa to see me. I desperately wanted her trip to be worthwhile.

Is that the key to courage? Thinking about other people?

* * * * *

Everything I've talked about tonight can be reduced to two things: books and dreams.

When you go home tonight, I want you to think about all the books you've read over the course of your life. What details in them -- what styles, what time periods, what rituals, what moods, what colors -- move you the most? Which ones best reflect your personality and passions? What would your Charleston House look like?

* * * * *

At 7pm on May 16th in Cincinnati, I discovered something truly shocking about myself: I like giving speeches. All those years of anxiety were so silly and misplaced...and a colossal waste of time. The truth is, it was a huge privilege to stand there and share my passions with a roomful of like-minded souls. For one hour, we shared a journey, beginning as strangers and departing as friends. And every murmur, every laugh and every nod of recognition touched me deeply, deeply.

And so here's my question to you:

Is there anything in your life that you have been resisting? Anything you are afraid of trying? Anything that has become a stumbling block to your happiness?

Take it from someone who said "yes" to all of these and lived to tell:

If not now, WHEN?


Oh, and if you know of an organization/association that would be interested in having me come and speak, email me. I'm ready.


meenal bishnoi said...

Hi Lisa..I have been a reader of your blog for well over two years now..and i can say without an iota of doubt that this is my most favourite post by you till tells me more about you than all the others ever did..i thoroughly enjoyed reading it and there's a whole lot i am taking away with me..i have said it before but i'll say it inspire me in the most beautiful way..not in a manner that is full of awe but a genuine admiration for your desire and ability to share with your readers the simple yet beautiful aspects of your life. Carry on Lisa..keep up your wonderful work..xx meenal

The Fashionable Traveler said...

What a lovely post. I can relate; growing up in a small town with big dreams; I owe my love of books for shaping my dreams. As I get older and life gets crazier, I consider have uninterrupted reading time the ultimate luxury. Thank you for giving me permission for not feeling guilty about taking the time to read more.

pve design said...

All I can say is that as Mother, I am thrilled that my motto is "Never no to books" - I have always tried my best to let my children know that books may be bought or borrowed to be read. It is the words, the stories that inspire life's adventures.
Again, you so eloquently are the perfect mast head for any book, like a sailor and his ship, ready for any storm. I consider myself a fortunate soul for your fine company.

Jane said...

What a delightful introduction to your blog - which I have just stumbled across. Love the visual journey parallelling the words, starting with the pic of your expectant audience. Good on you!

ASL said...


Tricia Rose Rough Linen said...

When I was younger I used to skip the descriptive passages, impatient to get on with the plot. What I missed!
My secret vice now is rereading the Merlin trilogy from Mary Stewart, purely for her descriptions of the weather and landscape. Perfect for insomnia.

helen tilston said...

Lisa - I feel like I have been in the audience soaking up all your thoughts and wisdom.

I had absolutely no doubt about your speaking and knew it would be an enormous success. You inject so much passion in all that you say and do.What a fortunate audience.

I truly hope that your path puts you in touch with young children, young adults and all ages for that matter - I see you speaking at schools and such and encouraging the little ones to read.

Like meenal bishnoi said, this is your best post ever!!
I am so proud and delighted for you

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

meenal: thank you so much for your lovely, lovely comments. you have touched me. xxx

the fashionable traveler: i spent my adolescence in a small town too, and echo your thoughts about books and dreams!

pve: "Never no to books" is absolutely what I would expect from you. :) xxx

jane: thank you so much and so happy you found ABL!

lisa: :)

tricia rose: oooh....landscape and weather? sounds perfect for insomnia...and all other times too!

helen tilston: thank you so much for your kind, kind words. would love to do exactly what you have written...! xxx

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I grinned like Cheshire all the way through this! So very proud of you, tickled for you, and filled with anticipation for all your new ventures to come! You should be doing this all the time!!

24 Corners said...

I love that you allowed this newly discovered talent of yours to take flight. Hopefully now, many more will have the very special opportunity of being touched by your literary & domestic splendor in person!
And your quote "Is that the key to courage? Thinking about other people?", couldn't be more perfect for today...Memorial Day, I believe the answer to both queries is yes.
xo J~

Deborah said...

Books and Dreams. A wonderful 'post'. Thank you for sharing it. My my! Just wonderful.

Megan Taylor said...

Key element to public speaking: deep breathing. Sounds like you did a FABULOUS job! Wish I could have been there...


p.s. those pics of book covers are so divine. makes me want to read/re-read every single one!

katiedid said...

In a word, WORD. ;)

naomi.dallob said...

I'm glad you know how well you were received, to a man/woman the audience hung on your every word. It was a delight and a personal journey

Sunday Taylor said...

Hi Lisa, what a wonderful story. And yes, I agree with you, the secret to public speaking is thinking about the other people. The few times I have done it, that was the secret that allowed me to relax (a little!). I for one would love to hear your lecture and know many people who also would.
The novels you mentioned and the feelings they inspired made me think of "To the Lighthouse" by Woolf and the dinner party scene with the boeuf daube and the candlelit table, the feeling of a haven against the dark and dreary night outside. It has stayed with me...xx Sunday

Angeli said...

Hello Lisa,
Your sense of stepping into "the other side" has transferred through your eloquent writing. I cannot wait to hear you speak in your backyard as I live over the hill from you and very much look forward to that day. You are such an inspiration to keep on creating and dreaming.


Miriana said...

Hi Lisa, what an inspirational and moving post, thanks for taking us on this journey with you. I have been reading and loving your blog ever since I discovered it, about 2 years ago, and admired your pictures of beautiful Indian ladies wearing saris, of Tibetan markets and books on your shelves. I have since admired much more in you, your art, your love for books, your zest for life and your willingness to share all that with us. I love the passage where you say "...and thought about all the ways in which books had been a powerful influence on my dreams and on my life" (yes, mine too!) and "Is that the key to courage? Thinking about other people?" (what a touching, meaningful way to describe courage)
... all this to say thank you for sharing and please keep up your wonderful work!

Jane the Booklady said...

I have really enjoyed reading your post today. I give talks on various subjects but my favourite one is how I became an Antiquarian bookseller. You are so right about the little scenes from books being the ones that shape you life-if you let them! Wishing you all the best for future talks, Jane

Cathi said...

Beautiful post, Lisa!

Anonymous said...

That picture of your audience is really quite something. It made me simultaneously gasp and laugh.

Ode to Beatha said...

Lisa, Have you read Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates? I have a feeling that one is right up your alley, provided that boozy brits who let geese in the house, worship wildflowers and light fireworks under old ladies' skirts sound appealing...

Reyes said...

LOVED your post! and you are so right, if not now, when?
I would love to attend one of your lectures, pity I live in Spain ;-)
Thank you so much for all the inspiration, Reyes XXX
Note: in my family we always used to say that a house without books has no soul and you know, I believe it's true.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post, thoughtful and inspiring. I will have your words "If not now, WHEN?" in my mind as a refrain for everyday use.


Janell @ House of Fifty said...

If I were a church goer I would say, "Amen!" If not now, when indeed! :) I wish I could have heard you speak...Janell

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