Sunday, April 10, 2022

Not Just a Job: Part I— The Call

Well, the big day of my retirement party came and went and mostly it was satisfying. Once again, I felt good to be given time to speak to the school community, past, present and future, about what The San Francisco School meant to be, but still missed the formal and public affirmation about what my presence there for 45 years meant to the community. My colleague Sofia and my daughter did speak to me and following the packed schedule, kept it short and to the point. Both were lovely and I’m deeply appreciative. Yet because it was two years delayed and I was shared the time with two other beloved colleagues, it fell short — and I knew it would— of what we have given other long-time teachers who left. But I truly am happy it happened at all and absolutely loved putting together the 9-minute slide show with soundtrack by Judy Collins singing In My Life— and as I saw face after face of the kids and teachers throughout the 45-year span, I truly could say “In my life, I’ve loved them all.” That set the mood for my 20 minutes talk and though it’s a talk tailored to an audience that mostly knows the people of whom I speak and the experiences to which I refer, I offer it here simply to consider as both a model of what a workplace can be and a vision of what a school can be, to be translated as you like into your own personal situation and experience. Since it’s long, I’ll share it in parts. 


Here at the end of the road, it’s a good time to look back to the beginning. That last photo was my teacher Avon Gillespie. I took a class with him my last semester at Antioch College on a new approach to music teaching called Orff Schulwerk, a world that , would become my home in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of back then. After graduating Antioch, I came to San Francisco in the Fall of 1973. I shared a flat with my sister and brother-in-law in the Upper Haight with a lovely view, for $125 a month. Split three ways. With food stamps. Muni was 25 cents. So was an Uncle Gaylord’s ice cream cone.


So I had the opportunity so few young people today have. Take a year or two to try things out and see how they fit. I accompanied modern dance classes, started a Renaissance chorus, volunteered teaching music at a school called Rivendell.  It was in that chorus that one of the sopranos talked about a school where she had just been hired to teach art. Her name was Karen Shultz.


One rehearsal, she mentioned that a school parent (Carol Kusmierski) had bought 6 Orff instruments for the school and they had hired someone to give six Monday night workshops to the staff to learn how to use them. Since I was teaching what I remembered from Avon’s class, I asked if I could join the workshop and they graciously allowed me to come. The whole first class was the teacher talking about what you could do with kids while we sat in chairs. Never played a note of music, sang a song, played a game. 


The second class, he began the same way and mentioned a game and I raised my hand and said, “Can we play it?” He seemed surprised by that idea, but we did. Here’s how it went:


“Windy weather, windy weather, When the wind blows…We all come back together!”


After we played, we sat down and back to blah blah blah. So the staff fired him and thank goodness he was so incompetent. I offered to give them a workshop the next Monday drawing from my experience with Avon and we had a rollicking good time creating speech pieces and xylophone pieces based on Uncle Gaylord Ice Cream flavors. At the end, a few teachers came up and asked what I was doing next year. I had planned to teach officially at Rivendell, but they offered me a job (before even discussing it with the Board) and the rest is history. 


But I soon discovered it wasn’t a job at all. It was a life, a vision, a beckoning finger from the glimmering Muse inviting me into the sacred grove of trees with golden apples. Like many my age in the late 60’s, I was wholly dissatisfied with the world I was being handed and joined the growing movement to create a new one, both for the health of my own soul and the work to heal the soul of the world. Here’s how Yeats describes it: (I recited this instead of reading it):


I went out to the hazel wood,

Because a fire was in my head,

And cut and peeled a hazel wand,

And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,

And moth-like stars were flickering out,

I dropped the berry in a stream

And caught a little silver trout.


When I had laid it on the floor

I went to blow the fire a-flame,

But something rustled on the floor,

And someone called me by my name:

It had become a glimmering girl

With apple blossom in her hair

Who called me by my name and ran

And faded through the brightening air.


Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

I will find out where she has gone,

And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass,

And pluck till time and times are done,

The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.


    And so it happened. That glimmering girl invited me in and called me by name. Not “Hey, you!” mind you, but specifically my name knowing that this was the path I was born to follow, the work that used every bit of my strange and quirky way of being in the world, that threaded together each and every separate thread into a coherent multi-colored cloth.

    I knew it was the path with heart, for class after class, child after child, miracle after miracle, that elusive girl— and she was elusive and made me work hard to search for her— would reappear and kiss my lips and take my hands and we’d pick the ripe and delicious fruit. I was called, I was beckoned, I was invited into a love beyond my imagination with a flirtatious look— and I answered the call. I would have answered it anywhere, but I didn’t. I answered here, right here on this sacred ground where I am standing now. Ain't that something!

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