Loving and Leaving Goddard: Everyday Magic, Day 981

My first group of students in 1996

Arm-in-arm, Vicky, Eduardo, Ralph, and I walked down the snowy country road, belting out “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” and doing wheelies backwards and forward in the heavy-falling snow as we laughed. It was well past midnight, probably around 1997, and I was in love with my colleagues, students, and teaching at Goddard College, where students designed their own curriculum based on what they felt compelled to learn for their communities and souls. I was sure that I would teach here until I was well past retirement age.

A few days ago, I signed, scanned and sent in my final paperwork to be formally “separated” from the college, and although I had been planning this leap from what I loved for many months, I was surprised by the panorama of emotions that engulfed me in sadness, strangeness, and something beyond naming.

Ruth, Katt and behold! A cow!

Last January, insomnia took me up the mountain of making this decision until I realized it was time to come down on the side of leaving. The urge for going began over a year ago when an economic crisis at the college, coupled with my exhaustion from teaching for 64 consecutive semesters, led me to go on leave. Then the dreams, as some of my readers know, began: dreams of following retired faculty into the woods, dreams of walking away from the college in the middle of the night, dreams of saying goodbye to staff and faculty while wearing raccoon make-up. I would wake up, argue with my dreams that I loved Goddard too much to leave, then the next night, another dream kicked my butt.

A handsome group of graduates at graduation

The dreams didn’t come out of nowhere (as dreams rarely do): my body had been singing, signing, and whispering its leaving song for a while. I rarely went to a 10-day residency, bracketed by 12-hour travel days (and that was only if everything went according to plan) without coming home sick, then struggling for a month or two to reach equilibrium. I grappled with living mostly in Kansas but, close to four weeks each year and longer in my dreamscape, in Vermont also.

I also heard something else calling my name: growing Transformative Language Arts, the MA concentration I started and coordinated at the college since 2000. I believe in paying attention to signs and wonders that nudge us toward our real work, and although I had been able to balance teaching half-time plus doing administrative tasks at the college with facilitating writing workshops, my own writing, and coaching and consulting work, that balance was changing. I felt compelled to develop new ways to help people write and witness the guiding stories that showed them their real work, truths, and strengths.

With Gayle, the first Transformative Language Arts graduate

So I made the leap. The timing was good as the college needed to reduce faculty in alignment with student enrollment, an unfortunate problem facing multitudes of small colleges lately. As I told people and amplified my wishes and ideas for evolving work, I found some new inroads and a whole lot of support. I also tripped into new ways of seeing my work and life by virtue of — surprise! — being diagnosed with eye cancer in late April, then going through treatment, and now recovery. Nothing like a whole lot of illness and healing to land a person in a new place in life!

As I move forward, regaining blurry but increasingly larger windows of vision in my right eye and in my sense of what’s next for me, I look forward to what I’ll see and be called toward. At the same time, I wanted to pause here to honor all that I love about Goddard: sitting with a student at twilight in my office as we puzzle out her study plans until she bursts out laughing and crying at once in relief because she now knew what she wants to do in her life as well as semester. Or singing “Salaam” though the thin walls of our offices with my colleague, the Rebbe Lori, before we scooted out to swim in the freezing-cold waters of the quarry between meetings and dinner.

The faculty at dinner with some friends

I loved rehearsing with the faculty for our cabaret act, the Goddard College Dryland Sychronized Swimming Team, while fellow faculty member Katt kept calling out, “Now remember. We don’t want to over-rehearse” although we only had one 10-minute rehearsal.

I loved walking the wooded  road from the dorm village to the library alone or with students, joking about how the wind in the trees was transmitting magic. Or those solo walks across the now-gone (due to a storm) the forest’s Wabi Sabi bridge after a long day of faculty meetings.

Winter happens

I loved the Wednesday morning field trips each faculty member could take with their students, especially the one where Ruth, our program’s director, joined  my six students and me in the Goddard van for a wander day in which we simply aimed ourselves whatever direction we felt compelled to go. Of course, we ended up at a remote Buddhist center where we fell under the enchantment of the bells.

I loved the quiet moments in the residency cabarets when someone got up to sing, tell a story, dance, or play the piano publicly for the first time, took a breath with all of us, then began.

I loved the summer meteor showers even when, lying on a bedspread next to a dorm with a bunch of faculty, we could barely see the sky through the trees. I loved the winter nights when the snow sparkled in kaleidoscopic ways I’ve never seen anywhere else, and I adored the ways the firs and pines dropped snow from their branches in seemingly slow motion.

Just another faculty meeting

In the here and now of this Wednesday evening when my former colleagues are at the college for a residency, I watch my shadow self sitting in a dorm room, as I would be doing if I were still a faculty member, a stack of student papers to read and a day of meeting ideas still swirling in my head. I tell her it’s time to cross that Wabi Sabi bridge of love and memory to the here and now of where I live. The rich Kansas night air — packed with the music of katydids, cicadas, crickets, and humidity — stirs me home. I am grateful for all of where I’ve been and for wherever I’m landing.

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I Hear America Singing At a Just-Closed Minnesota Music College: Everyday Magic, Day 921

When Jen Scovell-Parker and Shon Parker, professors at McNally Smith College of Music, got the email December 14th  that the college was closing in a week and they wouldn’t be receiving their next paycheck, they leapt into action on behalf of the effected 600 or so students. Shon, a vocalist, arranger, and educator, is also a chef, so when the college immediately shut down the cafeteria — the only source of meals for students, most of whom had little deposable income by the end of the semester — he took over the cafeteria kitchen with help from Chris, the kitchen manager. In no time, they were whipping up barbecue and slaw to feed hundreds of students for free. Faculty also got out the word about the food situation, and alumni, parents, and local businesses started sending in piles of pizza and other foods.

Meanwhile, Jen, interim chair of the vocal department, and a long-time performer, educator, and arranger, made a miracle happen. Working with other faculty, she contacted dozens of music colleges across the country and  regional colleges with relevant music programs to put together a list of 33 institutions willing to accept McNally Smith credits, and do all kinds of other things to help McNally’s students find a new academic home: waive application fees, offer discounts or scholarships, expediate application processing, find new students housing, and in general turn a nightmare into a new dream (see the impressive list right here). The director of admissions Matt Edlund, Kerri Vickers, and the registar staff also organized a transfer fair, and according to my daughter, a McNally Smith graduate who was there recently, McNally Smith was filled wall to wall with booths from institutions eager to help student sort through information, fill out paperwork, and talk through the sudden situation they landed in through no fault of their own. On top of this, Maria Vejdani, a former grad students and first semester faculty, set up a google doc form to help all the people in need or willing to help so that there was an instant database. People stepped up from all directions.

This weekend as I was facilitating a writing workshop for people with serious illness, I shared Walt Whitman’s poem “I Hear America Singing,” in which he writes about each of us making a kind of music that lifts up the world through our particular role, whether we’re carpenters, shoemakers, or mothers, “Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else.” I told the workshop participants of how Jen and Shon, through their night-and-day work to feed, comfort, guide, and love students, are the best of America singing, and the best of America. Their actions are born out of their deep love for their students, and expansive recognition of how this college transformed, as Jen wrote about on Facebook, all who walked through the doors of the campus. “We worked there because we believe in the future of music, and we see how bright it was through the magic of our students. It was a calling to teach buy generic cialis from india this music. In some ways the call feels even louder,” she writes.

Jen , Shon, and other faculty and staff heeded that louder call with a series of celebrations that also allowed students, faculty, staff, and alumni to grieve collectively: graduation on Sunday (which only happened because of Sue Brezny, the director of Student Affairs), a Sing-Out concert featuring students and faculty Monday, and a series of concerts and performances in between Shon and others feeding the masses, all week long. Not only is America singing through Jen, Shon, and other shining stars (including alumni who have dropped by to perform, encourage, bring food, and help students pack up dorm rooms and faculty pack up offices), but a whole lot of people at McNally Smith have been singing their hearts out to make a bridge of music and hope for all those who need to cross over from this college to their Plan B. 

At the same time, I can imagine many reasons a college would close: the college where I teach, Goddard College, has occasionally accepted transfers from like-minded colleges that went down, but those closings were gradual, at least a semester and sometimes years in the unfolding so that students, faculty, and staff could transition to new situations. I can’t imagine any reason that a college would close on a week’s notice, especially since colleges (and particularly for-profit institutions) rely on tuition as their main (or sole) income.

The owners could easily have discerned back at the beginning of this semester, if not a year ago, that they were in trouble. That they didn’t act — either to work with the community to save the college  (I read the college was in the process of being not-for-profit), or to let everyone know the campus would be shutting down — is unethical, and a breach of trust. That they would not pay their faculty and staff, and ask them to continue on should be illegal. That they would leave so many students in a lurch — including students who already paid tuition for the spring semester, international students without adequate visas for such a closing, and students in the dorm who suddenly had to move out on no notice — is horrendous.

But that people like Jen and Shon — along with the real community of and around that college (excluding its owners) — would rise up singing in all these ways shows us what we’re capable of at our best. Then again, I’m not completely surprised — I’m extremely graduate to faculty like Jen and Shon who worked closely with our daughter and gave her and so many others a superb education and the most soulful mentoring possible. Our educators are, in many ways, our truest artists and most authentic heroes. And this is how America sings.

If you’d like to contribute to Jen and Shon’s Go Fund Campaign, please click here. Another Go Fund Me Campaign supports the faculty as a whole.