“I had all of the tools and none of the skill to light that fire. And I kept thinking, ‘Man, I am one lousy Girl Scout…’”
Hi there. I’m Jean Synodinos, I live in Austin, TX, and welcome to the Big Scout Project, a modest adventure in mid-life learning.
We live in an age of heightened specialization. We know our niche, we know our place in the world. As we age, we typically live with increased focus on our families, our jobs, and if we’re lucky, one or two side interests. We turn 50, and we start to make the lists of all the things we’ll do and learn when we retire. We make our bucket lists. And we keep those lists for “someday,” because there’s no time now. We have to stay… focused.
The BSP is an argument for generalization over specialization. It’s an argument for simple, continuous, adult learning, and it uses the badges in the Junior Girl Scout handbook as its framework. By stumbling through small studies across a wide array of subjects well out of my own comfort zone, I hope to make the case that we don’t need jump out of a plane to get a decent thrill, that simple and regular learning — even on small scale — feels good, and that we don’t need to wait for our golden years to have a good deal more fun.
Let’s learn some stuff!
The Genesis of the Big Scout Project
The Universe Laughs At Our Plans: Oh, Boo Hoo Hoo
It was January 2010. I’d planned what was supposed to be a magical, sexy, romantic winter beach vacation for me and my husband Charles—a quiet, perfect getaway in the small town of Surfside, TX. Free of people, free of work’s demands, free of the internet, free of all worries and cares. Boy, I had that week all mapped out. And while I didn’t get the vacation I wanted, I sure got the one I needed.
But maybe you’ve heard the expression, “Make a plan and watch the Universe [or God] laugh.” As we headed off, Charles was clearly ill—let’s go ahead and call it the flu—and after two days, he said what any sane person would say. He said: “Given the choice, I’d rather feel lousy at home than here.”
I was angry at him for getting sick. Angry that he left. Angry that my plans had been trashed. I became a petulant, pouty bee-atch. I was left alone with just our dog, Freida, to keep me company in a lovely house on an empty island. Oh, boo hoo hoo.
But it turned out that solitude was just the ticket for me. While walking Freida on the beach one night, I saw a black sky so crowded with stars that it just knocked me over. It was so quiet, so big, so beautiful. And it had the lovely effect of hushing me up inside. And in that moment of clarity, I counted myself as one lucky soul.
An Idea Born From Ineptitude
Two days later, an Arctic cold front brought record-breaking temperatures to Texas. It hit the gulf coast and turned the world gray save for the whitecaps on the water. And that night, shortly after 7:00, it also brought a power outage to the island.
I get really, really antsy when the power goes out. Can’t read, can’t watch TV, can’t “do” a whole lot of anything. I sat in the warm glow of a small flashlight for about 30 minutes until I got a really good idea: make a fire on the beach! Yep, that was clearly the ticket – make a fire, sit next to it with Freida by my side, and just be all, you know, primitive and stuff. I had wood, I knew where to get kindling, and I had a lighter.
But I couldn’t get the damned thing lit. Not for nothing. Not for thirty minutes. And it just cracked me up. I had all of the tools and none of the skill to light that fire. And I kept thinking, “Man, I am one lousy Girl Scout…”
Even after the fire was finally blazing, the thought kept crossing my mind, “I should be a better scout. I should know scout stuff. I should be able to remember things I used to know. I should’ve learned more… stuff… by now.”
So in that moment, the Big Scout Project was conceived. And it was officially launched on my 50th birthday, October 26th, 2010.
The Actual Project
I’m working my way through the badges in the Jr. Girl Scout handbook—the one that girls have been using for the past several years here in the U.S. When I was a scout back in the late 60s/early 70s, there were about forty badges a Junior scout could do, but lordy, there’s over a hundred of ‘em now. This may take some time…
And here’s what I think: It’ll be easy and hard, fun and miserable. It’ll be a piece of cake, and it’ll kick my ass.
Does it Matter?
I think it’s gonna prove to be a great metaphor for all of us middle-aged men and women who are starin’ that second half of the century in the face and wondering if we’ve done the best we can with what we have—or if we should maybe do a little better going forward.
It’ll be a vehicle for those of us who’ve become so specialized in our work and lives that we’ve forgotten to explore other ideas and disciplines—or we’ve put them to the side for want of time. To put it another way, can we re-learn how to live a “wider” life, even in small ways? And would a life of greater generalization be more satisfying?
It’ll be a tap on the shoulder to those of us who are perfectly fine within the confines of our own comfort zones, thank you very much—even though there’s that little voice inside that says maybe even a little change would do us some good.
And finally, it’ll be a reminder for all of us who just miss having the kind of fun we used to have – or should have had — when we were kids.
Follow the BSP
If any of these thoughts resonate with you, then I hope you’ll follow this sincere and goofy adventure. Subscribe to the blog’s feed, and follow it on Facebook, on Twitter, on Flickr, and on YouTube. Share it with your friends and family. Or make it your own guilty pleasure. Post your comments, your ideas, your wisdom any time.
Big Scout & Chief Instigator
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