Columns, Opinion

MAOUYO: From quill-point, with love

For me, there’s something incredibly unnerving about my parents coming to visit, which they did last weekend. Of course, they’d never really visited me before, and I’d never encouraged it. They moved me in and out freshman year, dropped me off sophomore year, but haven’t been back since. I’ve been plenty happy with that. Parents coming to visit means answering the questions: Who should I invite to dinner? Where should we eat? What should we do? Will they like my friends? Will they want to hang out all the time? Should I clean up? And so on and so forth. (By the way, out of all of those questions, I was only confident about my answer to the last one, an obvious yes, and I still didn’t, really. Fail).

Happily, my parents weren’t too demanding about being kept entertained; in fact, they were pretty down with relaxing, walking around and going out to eat. But on this past (holy crap, another?) rainy Saturday morning, exploring the greater Boston area seemed like an awful idea. Intermittent mists and torrential downpours kind of threw a wrench into, say, walking around the Boston Common, looking around Harvard Square, checking out Downtown Crossing, etc. Let’s be honest, being in and out of the rain while making your way from small, interesting shop to small, interesting shop, is at least as much of a hassle as simply being in the rain. Opening and closing umbrellas, putting on and taking off and hanging and un-hanging jackets, listening to floors squeak under wet shoes (and if you’re lucky enough to have glasses, having them fog up every time you go inside) are all more miserable, in my opinion, than just standing in the rain with an umbrella (though that’s somewhat contingent upon the wind factor).

It should be obvious – a phrase which should never be in a textbook, but will suffice here – that the best option was to find some place where we could be inside, and be amused for a significant amount of time. Our options boiled down to the Prudential Center/Copley Place Mall or a museum of some sort. The choice between window shopping and a more culturally cultivating experience at an art museum wasn’t a difficult one for my parents. So off we went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. (I’ve been informed correctly, admission to said museum is free if your name is Isabella. Admission to the King St. Stephen Museum in Hungary or the Stephen Museum in Fayette, Mo. doesn’t work similarly, compliments of Google).

My parents and I had already been to the Gardner Museum, a fact that was neither forgotten nor of any importance. I just like a museum that’s small enough to be seen in a few hours, without making choices about what I want to see, and this museum fits the bill. The strict rules at the Gardner Museum also make for a pretty consistent show. There was hardly a moment that didn’t pass when a security guard wasn’t catching someone attempting to use his/her cell phone or forcing someone to check a coat/scarf or else tie it around his/ her waist (which looks hilarious). And of course, like at all art museums, there are couples or even groups traveling together through the museum, but all listening to the guided audio tour at the same time, so their laughter and general reactions are unexpectedly en masse.

Making her way through the museum a little ahead of my dad and me, my mom semi-stumbled upon an exhibition case of letters collected by Isabella Gardner. Letters from presidents to other officials. Appointments and such. She called me over to see it for myself and I, someone who would consider himself not particularly easily impressed, was impressed. There I was, reading handwritten letters from George Washington and John Quincy Adams (Adams’ handwriting was as close to perfect as I’ve seen handwriting) and attempting to read a letter from James Monroe (who, in contrast, had awful handwriting).

It threw me for a loop that there was actually a time before letterheads and lithographed signatures and printers and mechanized/computerized word processing. I bought a typewriter this summer for five dollars on eBay, a 1906 Royal #1 that weighs about 30 pounds. It’s beautiful, and although I haven’t gotten it to work yet, I bought it because when it does eventually work and I eventually use it, there’ll be a sense of permanence that isn’t as achievable on a computer. And then I saw handwritten letters from presidents. I wonder how many revisions they did, how many ink-blotted letters had to be thrown away before a draft was neat and perfect and presidential enough to be sent and read. Every word, every letter, every quill stroke must have been calculated and purposeful. And to some extent, I feel like this unhurriedness must have been preeminent in thought and action in the other arenas of life, out of habit and/or necessity. In our hyper-revisable world, it’s quite possible that we lose a sense of careful deliberation in our liveliness and undertakings.

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