This past weekend, my teenage daughter and I traveled to New York City for a quick girls’ get-away. One of our main goals was to see a couple of shows on Broadway, taking advantage of NYC Broadway Week (half price tickets!) and my daughter’s intense passion for musical theatre. But I also wanted to check out the new wing of Islamic art at the Metropolitan Museum, which re-opened this past fall, after being closed for eight years.
For those of you who don’t know, back in my pre-kids, pre-writing days, I studied Islamic art history and archaeology in grad school. I was ‘this close’ to getting a PhD, but I just couldn’t handle the whole thesis thing (which is kind of funny, considering all the 100’s pages of unpublished fiction I’ve written since then). Anyway, I’m still passionate about this stuff, so getting to see the new wing at the Met was a big thrill for me.
It was truly awesome—ceramics, woodwork, carpets, glass lamps, daggers, amazing miniature paintings—and all so beautifully arranged. But as we were looking through it, my daughter glanced at one of the descriptions (maybe of some vase) and said, “I can’t imagine who has to write all these things. What a boring job.” To which I replied, “Actually, that used to be my dream job. I wanted to be a museum curator.” I think she was kind of surprised. And I was, too, because I can’t imagine wanting to do that any more.
Instead, when I view objects like these, my mind wanders off into various tangents. When I see an enormous Turkish carpet, I imagine it in a palace, perhaps in the throne room. Courtiers are lined up on it, waiting anxiously for their appointment with the Sultan. When I see an intricate miniature painting, I visualize the artist, spending days—weeks, even—working on it, hoping to please his patron, trying to get every detail right. Or what about this chess set—was it used by a young prince, as a way to learn strategy, perhaps from an older, more experienced mentor?
So I have no regrets about leaving academia. I’m glad I don’t have to be the one who catalogues all these treasures and tries to describe them on small notecards. Instead, I get the pleasure of making up stories about them.