Sunday, May 23, 2010

Transition again: to secular life

Perhaps I shall find a way to write separately of the manifold experiences of of teaching the secondary-school pupils of St. Hilda's and St. Hugh's School in the five years or so between the novitiate and life profession in religion (for, in the event, it was decided that I was not to be life-professed), but teaching the adolescents and my engagement with it was practically unaffected by religious testing. Indeed, using my art-school training I was able to contribute not a little to the production of brochures and programs as well as, for example, helping the upper school to make attractive posters for annual productions and, in a pinch, making doves to be carried for the Presentation in the Temple in the Christmas Pageant, with their cage made from twigs gathered in Riverside Park. And I photographed some School athletics and gymnastics. Also, told to work out the schedules for the variable, elective courses for the upper school, a formidable juggling of teaching personnel and room use, I simply plunged in and did it, somehow, and it worked (at least as well as it usually did). A computer would have been useful, but, though we had a couple of them upstairs, at the time very little was done beyond teaching a few students BASIC. Only after I had left the Order did I see an Apple IIe, on which one could write text (but not WYSIWYG) or play Space Eggs in green on black. Mostly, however, I taught Latin (and once first-year Greek from Chase and Phillips) and Grade 9 History from William McNeiil's Ecumene, a most admirable textbook. I think it is still used in Canada, but it seems not to be in use in the USA now. In my last year, Teachers College sent me a student teacher; what TC thought of my methods I have wondered, but I enjoyed working with her.
I do not remember the date when my future was decided. From that time, though, I was allowed to go to the Avery Library at Columbia and to the Institute of Fine Arts of NYU, opposite the Metropolitan Museum, to do what I could to catch up on seven years out of my field of study. I applied for every position for which I was qualified in the College Art Association listings, but, considering that I had been an Associate Professor for six years at U. of Oregon, and that the economy was in much worse condition in 1981 than it had been in 1973, I considered quite seriously that my religion might be really and truly tested by utter poverty and the necessity of thinking of myself as lacking even the means to re-train for any kind of employment at all. I begged help of everyone I could think of, advice or recommendation. In the meantime, fearing that I might have a cancer, and seeing the Guttman Institute advertisements in the NY Subway, I asked permission to go there. The upshot was that biopsy confirmed that surgery was necessary, that, lobular, it was usually bilateral, that both were done, and that it was in time, since there has been no recurrence now in 29 years. Meantime, the one place in the USA that wanted someone beyond a new PhD, Louisiana (with Oil still doing well), had brought me to Baton Rouge, had given a freshman class the chance to be taught for one lecture by a fully habited Sister, and had offered me the position in ancient art, with the rank of Professor, with three-year tenure, to be made permanent (or else) after three years. They said nothing to me about the mastectomies when I told them of them, but one can imagine...
Let me say, what is obvious, that I owe my life to the Community, which had health insurance, to the excellent Dr. Payson at Beth Israel Hospital, to the Guttman Institute for its public offering of really good free diagnoses, to all who helped me get a position (and a more favorable one than I'd have dared hope for), and to the former friends from Eugene, Oregon, who just happened to be here when I applied, and finally to several new colleagues here, especially Prof. H. P. Bacot, who, among other things, arranged for me to live at the Faculty Club on campus for the first year. For my part, I taught for 25 years and took only one day of sick leave (laryngitis) and, so long as I might also teach my beloved Greek and Roman art courses, taught everything else that might be needed for which my broad experience at Oregon and the old, broad written exams for the PhD at Berkeley had prepared me. The University of California, my veritable alma mater, richly deserved a life's work for what had been made of me, and I can only hope that my life has been a justification for the existence of state universities "founded for the teaching of the Classics and of such other subjects as the Regents shall from time to time deem necessary." I think I have that nearly verbatim from UC Berkeley's Charter.
Last, among other friends, I would thank Yvonne, who visited in the hospital and brought me Gore Vidal's Creation to read, and let me stay with them, and sustained me beyond words.