I began writing poems at about the time I first saw movies (Wizard of Oz and Secret Garden) in the late 1940’s in Buffalo, New York, awakening to a world much larger than what my cultured family and P.S. 64 could provide. I aspired to be a great actress and made my debut at eight in Alice in Wonderland. At fourteen, I played Annie of …Get Your Gun, studied ballet for a few years and modern for eight. I went to New York at Christmas and Easter and saw five Broadway and off Broadway plays each vacation from my tenth to eighteenth year.
I read prodigiously, beginning with the Greek Dramatists, French and Russian novelists, and in college branched into English, American, German and Italian fiction, French and English poetry, philosophy, art history, and the Blues. I went to museums. I went to Florence, Paris, Stuttgart and London, studying European languages to read the great books in the original, but only succeeded in French. I made translations of poetry, won my university’s poetry prize as well as the National Pen Women’s something or other, gave readings, married a fellow poet, and moved to San Francisco after graduating from Syracuse University because having only verse in common doth not a marriage make and adultery, the only ground for divorce in New York state, was not the case.
…which is how I found myself in the Haight Ashbury amidst the flower children in the counter culture for a few years until the friends of my youth, the deciduous trees and articulate seasons made me homesick and I returned to the Atlantic coast, to New Hampshire where I briefly taught at a co-ed, hitherto boy’s only prep school, and then slipped intoVermont for graduate school, where I read the entire bleeping Fairie Queen while my more sensible and happy peers perused the Cliff Notes, drank beer and boogied ‘til dawn.
In 1971, I returned to California where I have lived mainly happily ever since with intermittent forays into academia, studying screen and comedy writing in LA and earning a doctorate at SUNY Albany, the credential for my English Professor day job, a sinecure which has made possible continueing my education while corrupting the youth in two counties. I raised my daughter in a small community in a beautiful landscape where I cultivate my garden and now that she has fledged and I’ve semi retired from teaching, I am at long last fully engaged in writing as I have always meant to be.
Years ago, I came upon Eric Erickson’s Insight and Responsibility and was drawn to the title which suggests that those who see and understand have a responsibility to share what they know. Here at the cross roads of human history, life is imperiled. We who see have an obligation, like Sebastian in The Never Ending Story, to speak. I don’t want to grouse, but to summon us to a more conscious keeping of our history, to really see what has happened, what has changed, been diluted or denatured of nutrient so that we will understand and restore healthy viability to our environment and revive all that gives heart and meaning to our lives.
Our world is upside down and inside out, our values skewed, means and ends confounded. Things break down, fall apart, come unhinged and our requisite work is fixing and mending. It seems daunting, even insurmountable…all that needs rectification and repair, but we must begin to restore and heal. Who really wants to wound and destroy our planet, the ground of our being, the mother ship that provides sustenance, all we need to live? The unconscious ones, the greedy ones, the knaves and fools stuck in a perpetual narcissistic quest for advantage without entertaining consequences, the way adolescents do before we come to understand reciprocity, responsibility, generativity and connection to the whole… whereby we become sapient and mature. We need to grow up.
It seems imperative we come face to face with the demons of our excesses and abuses and relinquish enfeebling self -deceptions that “lay waste our powers.” Unexamined precepts that are passed on as the given have impeded the intellectual and spiritual growth of humanity everywhere. We’ve been mired in mindsets from which the light of understanding sets us free.
We’ve been carrying our uneasiness and distress and need relief. I am proposing, then, that right and left, red and blue, traditional and progressive, conservative and liberal recognize elemental truth, that the well being of the whole has precedence over any partisan part, exactly in the same way that a couple, both parties, acknowledge the marriage preeminent and they both make compromises to make their marriage, that which is greater than each of them, work.
We were once a nation of resourceful people, rugged individualists with ingenuity and native wit. We were the can-do yanks, ingenious inventers, industrious and productive farmers and manufacturers, who made more than enough to feed and outfit ourselves, whose productivity enriched the world and we could be again.
I want us to reclaim our participatory democracy, to recognize ourselves as citizens, producers as well as consumers, family and community members, makers and doers, thinkers and learners, flesh and blood, fully rounded beings, citizens with rights and responsibilities. It’s going to take not just a village but the whole country, all of us, to put Humpty Dumpty together again. We need to find our way back to life (healthy not polluted living) liberty for all not just the few, and the pursuit of happiness, our life journeys, which education, safe neighborhoods and health care afford.
I want our great grandchildren or great great grandchildren, however long it takes, to be able to pull collapsible cups from their pockets to dip into and drink from the bubbling brooks, clear creeks and clean streams. I want all of our kids to know they are loved and valued, that they will have every opportunity to find their lives’ work, realize their goals and dreams. I want us to turn swords into plowshares and sow the seeds of peace.
Why I became a Professor
I wanted to stand with young people as an ally, to share my passion for art, ideas, philposophy and literature, to encourage students to have faith in their own powers of perception and observation and to ask of them their presence and attention in all they do, to motivate, perhaps inspire us to engage in our enterprise with all our faculties in a genuine pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. Thus we may be able to lead authentic lives and invest all we are and have to make something beautiful, noble and meaningful for ourselves and others. The pursuit of excellence is a worthy, long and winding road…difficult, but ultimately satisfying.
I’ve been inspired by Paolo Friere who observed that we can either teach our students to fit into a system that may possibly hinder or oppress them or to liberate them. I confirm my students as independent, critical, and creative thinkers and problem solvers, unafraid to look beyondthe narrow margins of conformity and inherited notions while holding the highest regard, concern and compassion for themselves and their peers.
For professors whose work is to transmit a body of knowledge, as in the physical sciences, passing the torch from one generation to the next or advancing the parameters of the field in concert with students must be the Summum Bonum. But for those of us who teach a process: how to read and ponder and contemplate the world of ideas, there is a certain value in orchestrating a class of excited students unafraid of speaking what they really think, eagerly encountering what they study, stretching the boundaries of the known world, and bringing to conscious awareness what lies below the surface. When a class of disparate somnambulists becomes a community of seekers, a professor feels all’s right with the little world we inhabit together.
I profess what I know and understand that what I know is but an interim report from the consciousness I now possess (Lifted from Salman Rushdie’s essay, “Is Nothing Sacred?”). Quantum Physics teaches us to question absolutes and objective reality, to temper fact and data by taking into account the position of the observer and to remain humble and open to new ideas and information, however much we think we may know.
Having undertaken the difficult task of self knowledge, what I do and how I live comes from the core and models an authentic life in ardent pursuit of knowledge and understanding which is, I think, the birthright of everyone. I endeavor to be friendly and fair and to make our classroom a learning community where all voices are welcome and persons respected.
We live in a culture that has somehow seduced us into thinking that we need and want what is fast and easy. But since any real work and development takes time and effort, I continually assign what is difficult and challenging which makes us stretch beyond what we already know…surely a purpose of higher education. Many students come from traditional backgrounds where all questions are already answered. I ask that while we respect tradition,we entertain ideas, that it is a student’s requisite prerogative to approach the work with an open mind. America has always been somewhat anti-intellectual, and sometimes students balk at the idea of becoming nerds. So it is a challenge to reframe the role of students whose interests will sustain rather than alienate them.
As a writer, I stand with students learning to be writers facing the stepping stones, cliff faces, and floodplains of experience finding perspective and vocabulary to articulate what they see. I have a long memory and know well the obstacles to unfettered expression, am sympathetic to their struggles.
As well as a writer and professor, I’m a photographer, gardener and cook.I adore great music from Bach to the Blues. I play fiddle and plunk on the keyboard improvisationally, swim in the bay and hike in the woods. I was born to dance.