Thordis Niela Simonsen talks of a writer and painter's tangible and dream-like journeys
What an interesting path to cross -- a woman who was born in a house you've given new life to.
You know what? This sounds really stupid that I should have thought of this before, but if the house and its light is a metaphor for the light in my life, than going out into the world with this program is the light for me. It's what I can give.
Is this the first time you'll be sharing this particular program with audiences?
I did a preview before I went to Greece in May, but this is the first yes. I've been working with Mare (Trevathan) on this program and I'm really excited about it. It will definitely evolve. I just came back from Greece and I'm just feeling so incredibly grounded. I'm so glad I went to Greece on the eve of bringing it out.
Why did you choose Greece as your second home? Do you have a personal or familial connection to it?
I had a roommate after graduate school who was first generation Greek-American and her cousin visited us. Her cousin left the states and married and lived in Greece. She lives in Elika, my village. So I had met this woman who lived in a village in Greece. When I came to Colorado in 1973, I was teaching biology at Kent Denver School, and I asked to teach cultural anthropology. They said yes. I had never studied any anthropology, so in order to prepare, I bought some books and went off to live in a village. I wanted to experience village life, that's how I was preparing. That's what took me to Greece.
What happened was that I went there, and stayed for a number of weeks in 1974 and I was finishing up my first book. When it was finished, I went back to Greece in 1981 -- I had been teaching cultural anthropology all of those years. So when I went back in '81, I thought, I had experienced the villages as a guest and observer. I wanted to experience it as a participant. I left the classroom and went to Greece and lived there for two years, and at the end I felt this irrepressible but totally inexplicable urge to have a house of my own to go back to there.
I don't feel as if I chose Greece; I feel like Greece chose me. I feel that it has to do with the light there, it's something I wrote in the beginning of my book, Dancing Girl -- my ancestry is Norwegian and British. So I thought I should seek the light and the warmth of the Mediterranean.
People tell me they are moved and inspired by my stories. They tell me, I wish I could have done what you did, if I could live my life again. I hope to be able to take my program to younger people, so they can say, this is what I'm going to do, not this is what I wish I had done. It is very humbling for people to say that to me, because I don't feel like I chose my life. I feel that I'm living the life that was given to me.
A woman years ago said to me, if you allow the tear to roll down your cheek, it will release our tears. One of the things I wrote in Dancing Girl (was that in Greece) to be a woman is to be married and be a mother; I'm single and I have no children of my own. To be Greek was to be Orthodox; I don't practice or adhere to organized religion. To be Greek is to do women's work; I do men's work. The women embraced me as much as the men. In thinking about that, thinking about what the common denominator was that leveled our differences, and we all have feelings that need to be expressed and we all have a spirit that needs to be set free.
So (back to the question of) what the audience can expect, they can expect someone who shares feelings and experiences. For me, it is a story of self-discovery, a story of discovering my joy through these experiences that I have. Particularly painting.
How often do you go back to your house in Greece?
I usually go to Greece at least once a year, and often twice -- I host a writing group in Greece. It's for women writers who like to travel. It's a way for me to go back. We base in the village, and the house -- I never knew why I bought the house, I just new that I needed to. The book I went there to write -- Dancing Girl -- was written before the roof even went on the house. So why did I buy it? It's a headquarters of my writing program. We've had some very, very moving experiences there.