Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why I'm Quitting My Job

1.  I feel like it!  I'm doing this all on intuition and from a place of pure joy.


2.  One day I will die.  I intend to live the life I want to live.  Fully.

3.  Funny how I never thought I'd leave when I was digging my job, which I am for the most part.  I love my students.  I like the vibrancy of the campus.  I enjoy the classes I teach.  It just feels like time.  And how fabulous to be leaving not out of rejecting the old but through embracing the new!

4.  Maybe it feels like time because I have been in academia for 46 years doing thus in this order: Preschool, elementary, middle school, high school, B.A., teaching credential, student teacher, high school teacher, learning center tutor and administrator, M.A., Teaching Assistant, Lecturer in English and Education, student teaching mentor, English teacher in Japan, instructor at two community colleges, Ph.D., educational researcher, Assistant Professor in Education, MFA in creative writing, lecturer of English and Creative Writing.  It's been a beautiful ride.

What retirement can look like...when you're on Jam Cruise.

5.  Technically, I'm retiring.  I became eligible when I hit 50 last November.  Although I've never made much money as a teacher, I've had excellent medical benefits that will continue on in retirement. I can make money doing other things without losing those benefits.

6.  Of course I'm not retiring in the classic sense.  I'm moving onto the next part of the journey.  By opening up the space and time, all other kinds of fabulous possibilities will flow my way.  I'm already exploring some ideas--such as creating yoga and writing retreats in Maui and Santa Cruz.

Going with the flow...and enjoying anticipating what'll come 'round the next bend.

7.   I want to read every winner and finalist of the National Book Award, the Pulitzer, the Orange Prize, and the Nobel Prize. I've always read a lot, and most of my life I've read with this in mind:  how will we discuss this book in class?  It will be quite the experiment to read extensively without that disposition constantly churning in the back of my mind.

8.  I want to write.  I want to finish a book I've been working on for a while, and begin several others.  I want to expand this blog, my website, and my "Ask Dr. Kate" column.

Getting crazy with friends on the streets of New Orleans during winter break this year.
9.  I want to travel any time of the year.  I haven't gone on a long trip in fall or spring my whole life!  I want to continue to explore new places with Dave.  He'll take pictures, and I'll write.  We started journeying together more than three years ago--and in our new life configuration, the world is the limit. 

10.  But first, as soon as I've turned in the last grades of the semester--and perhaps ever--I'm going to open myself up to deep listening.  I'll put my ear to the shell of the world, to drink in the new, sweet sounds.  Sounds of being.  Sounds of possibility.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Other Mother

I was a deer-in-the-headlights graduate student in my late twenties when I first met Gabriele Rico.  She walked into the classroom the epitome of grace.  And then, over the course of that semester and years to come, she became my mentor, my friend, and my other-mother.

Gabriele when I first met her--in her early 50s (about the age I am now)
Her work on creativity was intellectual and profoundly intuitive.  She seduced me!  Because of her, I fell in love with literature, language, writing, and teaching.  She prompted me to honor--and really see--the amazement of my own creative possibilities.

Gabriele developed "clustering."  This book changed lives.

Gabriele invited me into her home to work with her on writing projects.  I remember looking at her life and thinking, this is what I want.  A life filled with people who thrived on creativity.  A home inspired by art, and infused with books and plants and love.  And flexibility of time:  to teach, to mentor, to write, to travel, to exercise the body and mind. 

And truly:  this is who I've become.  Gabriele is woven into the fabric of my life.

Gabriele has always been open to change and growth.  In her 50s and 60s, she learned to wind surf, to rock climb, to snorkel--and she became a true yogini.  She stretched herself physically, mentally, emotionally.  She led creativity workshops all over the world.  She traveled to more and more exotic places.  And when she was diagnosed with life-threatening cancer eight months ago--at the age of 75--she dubbed the experience an adventure.
With Simone, Gabriele's youngest daughter; check out the bracelets!
When I visited with her today, in spite of the pain medications she's on, she was still her loving, funny, astute self.  Two of her three daughters were there.  In the midst of a hug, she called me her "sixth daughter."  I said, "Wait a minute, I thought I was the fourth!"  And she laughed.  Her daughter Suzanne (who has written a lot about about her family's journeys) said, "There are at least a hundred daughters."  Now there's a legacy. 

One thing I come to expect being around Gabriele is that nothing is a surprise.  There are always serendipities that arise--"coincidences" that are a given when Gabriele is around.  Today's was this:  I was wearing a bracelet my long-time friend gave me last year on my wedding day.  It has a bead on it that looks like a blue eye.  Simone was wearing a bracelet also given to her by an old friend; it incorporated the exact same bead.  Simone said the bead wards off the evil eye.

Today I realized that Gabriele is the one person in my life who has always seen most clearly the veil between this world and the next. In fact, it's not even a veil for her.  It's a continuum.  As she once wrote:

"When human beings grow creatively, they learn to  step out of categories such as 'either/or' and begin to see the world in terms of 'both/and.'"

Here's the both/and of the situation:  Gabriele is dying, and Gabriele is living. Gabriele will be gone but she'll always be here. I know I will continue to learn from her throughout the rest of my days.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

First Love

When I was little, my mom used to read to me at night.  Teeth brushed, pjs on, I’d nestle in, sitting up under the covers, leaning against pillows.  She’d sit next to me on my bed holding the left side of the book, and I’d hold the right.  When she paused, I knew it was time to turn the page.

Mother and Child Reading (Frederick Warren Freer, ca. 1896)

One night, when I was four, she sat next to me as usual, but this time I began to read to her.  She said it was like that:  suddenly, I was reading.  She thought maybe my older sister taught me.  Or that I picked it up by osmosis as she read to me each night.

I don't remember being suddenly able to read—nor do I remember not knowing how to read.  I do recall trying to sound out words I didn’t recognize.  I have a vivid memory of staring at all the board games stacked at the top of my parents’ closet trying to sound out a very long word printed in bold red:  “Mo-no.  Po-ly.” 

My out-of-the-blue literacy delighted my mom.  She loved books, and she believed in the power of an education.  She took my sister and me to the library every week, where we could choose whatever books we wanted to check out.  It was miraculous being able to take all those books home.  The heavy stacks fatigued my arms on the way out to the car and impressed dents in my hands and forearms.  Those books had a musty smell that somehow made me feel like they held magic spells.  I remember wondering how all those words and pictures got put onto the paper, how the thick paper used for the covers was made, and how someone devised a story that made me want to turn the page. 

At age three, I started preschool.  This was the early 1960s when free preschools were proliferating all over the nation.  I remember nap time on the floor with a scratchy wool blanket (like the dark grey Navy blankets of my dad’s from the mysterious pre-me years he was a sailor).  I remember the teacher handing me a graham cracker, and wishing for two—so I broke it in half along the seam and forced myself to eat more slowly than I wanted to.  I didn’t like having no more graham cracker while other kids were still crunching away.  

popsicle art
I remember aromatic, chunky paste and how unwieldy certain art projects could be, especially ones involving popsicle sticks, construction paper, and glitter.  I always rushed through those and other tasks so I could go over to the bookshelves and grab some books or a fat crayon and sturdy paper.  I’d print out words, using the help of the alphabet displayed over the blackboard.

before computers
In third grade, my teacher—Mrs. Broadwell—wrote a six-page report card to my parents, rhapsodizing about how one day I was sure to be a writer.  I was so proud to bring home such a long report card, written in Mrs. Broadwell’s  loopy cursive, redolent of the acrid smell of ditto ink.  In the living room, my mom read it aloud to my dad.  They both expressed approval of me as such a good student.  But I could tell Mrs. Broadwell’s passion was a little embarrassing for my mom.  With a half-smile, she said, “Well, I could certainly imagine her being able to say the same thing in fewer pages.”  Dad laughed.  Deep down, I was shocked.  Why did my parents think they had the authority to question or make fun of a teacher?

I adored Mrs. Broadwell.  Although at first, I’d been scared of her.  She was a large woman—as “broad as a well.”  With her patterned dresses and big dark hairdo, she vaguely reminded me of an imposing couch, or maybe a rhinoceros.  The first day of class, she held up a red apple for us to see.  She then proceeded to twist it until it broke in half, like an apple cut by a knife.

Yes, bare-handed.

When we came in from recess, she’d inspect our ears and neck for dirt.  The offending children—almost always boys—she’d scrub with such vigour that their skin would turn red.  I had a crush on Joey, one boy who cowered under Mrs. Broadwell’s bruising washcloth at least once a week.  He had freckles and ears that stuck out (thus probably good dirt-catchers).  He would pull out his teeth before they were loose enough so that he’d have to hold a paper towel up to his mouth all day to stop the bleeding.  I got a little zip up my body every time I’d sit next to him, and the attraction made no sense at all.  Especially since he’d really bug me during reading time because he’d squirm or bang his legs against his desk until Mrs. Broadwell would bark out his name.  

I loved when Mrs. Broadwell would read to us.  She’d perch on a stool next to her desk in front of the class.  Her thighs spread out on the round seat, hitching her skirt up enough so that we could see a hint of girdle.  When she read, the story lived in my head like a movie.  She was always done too soon.

One day she wrote this word on the board:


Just that single word.  Then she said to us, “What do you notice about this word?”
magic words

We looked at the word.  We looked at her.  She stood there, her dress like a brocade sofa cover.  No one said anything.

“Lisa,” she said to a girl in the front row, “spell ‘level’ for us.”

As Lisa said L-E-V-E-L, Mrs. Broadwell tapped each letter with her ruler.

“Now, Nancy, spell it backwards.”

As Nancy did, it dawned on all of us:  This word was spelled the same forward as backward!

“Can you think of any other words that are spelled the same forward and backward?” asked Mrs. Broadwell.

“Mom!”  shouted someone.  She wrote it on the board.  “Dad!”  She wrote that.  Students shouted out a few more easy ones:  “Eye.”  “Bob.”  “Gag.”  “Pep.”  “Tot.”

Then she wrote on the board with the flair of squeaky chalk:  


I had to spell it backward in my mind to make sure it was right.  All the straight “l’s” in level made that one more obvious.  But yes!  “Racecar” was the same each direction.  I already knew words were amazing.  I loved the sound of certain words even if I didn’t know or care about the meaning.  Or sometimes the word sounded like its meaning:  “luscious,” “precious,” “invisible.”  “beautiful.”  But words spelled the same forward and backward?  This opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

Mrs. Broadwell wasn’t done.  Next she wrote:  

A man, a plan, a canal—Panama.  

It took our eyes a moment.  A chirp emanated throughout the desk rows:  Wow!  A whole SENTENCE could be a palindrome.

She still wasn’t finished:

Don’t nod.

Do geese see God?

Never odd or even.

A thrill trilled from my toes up my back, tickling my skin all over.  A rush that felt like the sensation of sitting next to Joey.  Desire.  Bodies and language.  Even at age eight, I felt the possibilities sing.