BECOMING

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Our tenant, Greg, brings his cactus outdoors when it blooms, a rare semi-yearly event.

One day my favorite design teacher, Hazel Koenig, saw me walking to a metals class in the Art Building. She stopped me to ask if I would be willing to help out at a state art education conference. That would have been about 1974. Later, she got me my first teaching job. I thought of myself as an artist, and I still do. My work space where I write and make things is not a “craft area” as someone recently called it. It is studio space, work space. Calling myself a writer was harder somehow that calling myself an artist. I was exhibiting while I was still in high school. It took years to become a published writer of fiction. I had many articles published in dog magazines, I didn’t count them.

Calling myself a teacher also took time. I came to teaching relatively late in my arts education. I had avoided thinking too much about how I would make my living. I was in a five-year BFA program, most of the way through a BFA in Ceramic Art, when I “moved up the hill” from the Fire Arts building to the great facility in the Metal Arts wing of the Art Building on the Quad at the University of Washington.

From 1970 to 1976, I was a student at the UW. By 1974 or 1975, I was thinking about my future in a more realistic way. I toyed with transferring to a Botany major. I considered the law. I had wanted to be a an architect since I was no more than 11, but somehow failed to pursue it, though I took the non-major architecture history series from Gustav Pundt and then finagled my way into the majors-only series. Later I would make a decent supplementary income drawing plans for clients and for an architect.

Anyway, somewhere along the way, I realized that I was always teaching. Maybe I liked telling people what to do. Maybe I was good at explaining things. Maybe teaching was the creative and professional outlet that I needed. Maybe I was still under that favorite delusion that I would have “three months off every summer” and time to do my own art. That last one for sure, and even working half time as an art teacher, I never got “my own work done.” Teaching is more than full time work.

Even as a student, I knew classroom management would be my greatest challenge. Part of my educational preparation was brief field assignments in classrooms from Kindergarten through high school. When it was time to begin a longer term field placement, I asked for middle school. It was the hardest assignment and the right choice. I earned a k-12 certificate and later taught Art at a girls’ prep school for three years.

Then I moved back to Oregon and my husband and we began our family. For a few years I drew plans for clients and Jay Raskin. When I looked at teaching opportunities on the Oregon coast, I chose Social Studies as a second subject endorsement. I learned to write essays in my SS classes, how to reason and think. I began coursework, but then took an NTE exam and was awarded Social Studies certification.

I subbed for teachers all over the school district, our children were born and graduated and went off to make their lives. After substitute teaching for 11 years, I taught English for 25 years, earned an MFA in writing, and now I teach only two college classes, Writing 121 and Writing 122. I have my 10 weeks of summer and then another 12 weeks in the fall without teaching. In November, I write a novel. I am not inclined to do nothing. I will be busy Winter and Spring with my two college classes.

All this summer, Gary and I have been sorting possessions. We are each of us the end of the line. I have personally cleared the possessions to my parents, aunt, step-grandmother, and even my step-grandmother’s second husband’s brother. People gather unto themselves. Going through tiny professional pins with my son, Ian, I found I had no explanation for the pin from the carpet business in Portland, the mysterious Mason’s pendant from a hundred years ago. I know how they came to me, but there is no one to ask why they exist or what they mean.

Today, we went through the “treasure chest” and the linen closet together, and eliminated a great deal of “stuff” we didn’t need. Blankets and sheets and linens, bits of wrapping paper and ribbons from past holidays. The habit of my mother and her mother before her: keep what might be useful in the future. But I do not think I will ever want that rest of the red eyelash yarn I used to wrap packages a dozen years ago. There is also the joy of finding things I’d forgotten I possessed, the occasional gift I do not remember ever having.

Then I sorted my jewelry. The small jewelry box is completely empty, while the other is neatly sorted. The ladies in my family are going to do well this Christmas.

A necklace I used to wear every time I flew needs to be restrung. I have been putting that off. It is a luck piece, plain elephant ivory beads. I like to think the ivory did not come from a slaughtered elephant, but that is not a story I possess. I only know the beads are nearly 200 years old and when I was in a plane, I folded my hands over their smoothness and stroked them for comfort.

I finished the last of the blackberry crisp this afternoon. I sipped a half glass of wine as a reward for my industry. I feel enlightened.

When I go looking for something, I will know where it is, but I also know the greater value I possess. I know myself to be teacher, writer, artist.

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