|Doris Kearns Goodwin|
I am reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and have been interested in the ways people can find meaning in their lives. Frankl posits that there are three main ways to do this; through your work, through your relationships, or by sheer will. When I saw Doris Kearns Goodwin (DKG) talk this week, it was clear that she is lucky (although that word choice is not meant to diminish how hard she works) to draw meaning from both her relationships and her work.
She started talking about “the men [she] has spent [her] life with”, and it took me a minute to realize she was talking about the historical figures she has written about, and not her father, her husband, or her three sons (because she spoke about those personal relationships in such a kind and significant manner).
At the end of her speech about the book, she spoke for a few brief moments about why she thinks she was drawn to history. At this point, I put my pencil down and just listened to her, because it was so touching. When she was six years old, her dad taught her how to keep score of a baseball game, logging every play with a special code (much as I imagine she does when compiling research). When he would return home from work in the evenings, he would ask her how their team, the Brooklyn Dodgers had done, and she would regale him with a retelling of the match, play by play. She said she quickly learned the power of the narrative because if she started her story with “The Dodgers won!” he’d have a hard time maintaining interest in the rest of her story. Her dad passed away when she was in her twenties, before her sons got to meet him. She said that when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, she had a hard time following baseball for a few years. But then a boyfriend took her to a Red Sox game and her love was restored. She and her family have been season ticket holders for thirty years and she said that sometimes when she’s at a game, she can close her eyes, feel the sun on her face, hear the action from the game, and imagine that she’s sitting there with her dad. Then she opens her eyes and where her dad would be sitting is one of her sons. See what I mean about finding meaning in her relationships?
One of the questions at the end of her speech was about the three main women in the book: Edith Roosevelt, Helen (“Nellie”) Taft, and Ida Tarbell. Each of the women were distinctly different; Edith happily played the role of wife and mother taking care of the home. Nellie, intelligent and ambitious, thought she would never marry, but Taft valued these qualities and she became very active in the public life of her husband’s office. Ida Tarbell was a muckraking journalist who never married, but was a critical member of the press in the early 1900’s. The tie between all three women, though, is that each found such significant meaning in some aspect of their life that really propelled them to success both outwardly, and I assume internally as well. DKG spoke briefly about being a professional woman; when she was a young professor at Harvard, she went to teaching part-time, and shortly thereafter at a cocktail party, overheard someone say “what ever happened to Doris Kearns?”. She said “I wanted to hit them over the head with a book! I had three boys! That’s what happened!” In her response, she said that women still have a hard job finding a way to balance their roles. But what an example to hold up for what can be achieved! As David Axelrod said later in the night, she’s a “national treasure”.
Kearns Goodwin has a new book out, The Bully Pulpit, about Teddy Roosevelt (TR), Howard Taft, and the role of journalists during their presidencies. Her enthusiasm in sharing her work is evident in the girth of her books (this one clocks in at 750 pages with 150 pages of notes and citations), and in the way she gained energy when sharing the stories she uncovered. This is just the start of her book tour, but I would be surprised if her passion waned at all. If you get a chance to see her, I am confident that you will see how, in addition to her relationships, she draws meaning from her work. If you don’t get to see her in person, hopefully the notes can convey this conclusion.
(photo credit: nndb.com)