Chance is Destiny [Herman Hesse]
I came to teach at SBCC on a fluke that turned out to be destiny. After receiving my MA in English from UCSB, I taught freshman comp there as a lecturer, spending 1967-68 as a Fulbright teacher on the island of Cyprus with my husband Rodger Dawson. Evanne Jardine Gilleran was taking a year’s maternity leave in 1969. George Frakes, whose PhD dissertation I had helped edit when I was at UCSB, and a professor of mine, Richard Robinson, put in good words for me with Pat Huglin – and Guy Peterson hired me for a temporary contract for that year.
By 1969, the campus was looking good. Many temporary buildings remained: classrooms along Cliff Drive and collective faculty offices above the stadium. I felt I had gone to heaven. Not that my schedule was heavenly: I had a MWF 8 a.m. and a 4 p.m. class, which posed a difficulty with my obligations to my son and two small daughters. But I worked those out and loved the teaching. Evanne had taught American courses. What I loved wasn’t so much the setting – UCSB is a pretty place as well – but the students. Instead of focusing on grades, they enjoyed reading, learning, and exploring. Every hallway conversation was stimulating.
As the temporary contract year was coming to an end, I asked the new chairman, Charles Courtney, what I needed to do to apply for a full-time job. A hiring committee was assembled, including Helen McCarthy and Royce Adams, and I got the job. SBCC was now my professional home. Evanne returned to the American lit classes and I began teaching pretty much every literature class we offered, with World literature special favorite.
I feel so lucky to have taught at the college in the 1970’s. We participated in the peace movement; we started the Women’s Center; we taught challenging books in literature classes; we were always experimenting. Later I marveled at what my students were willing to read in freshman comp courses: novels by Hesse and Faulkner, Margaret Atwood and D.H. Lawrence; plays by Ibsen and Arthur Miller; poetry by William Blake, a favorite in those post-hippie days, and Sylvia Plath. We started teaching more and more literature by women, sadly lacking in the curriculum at the time (and in my own education).
It was time for a course devoted to women writers. As a preview, I offered it through Adult Education. The year I returned from Cyprus I’d taught an Adult Ed course in mythology and the Mediterranean world; this was more of a novelty. Our texts were paperbacks: a poetry anthology, The World Split Open, and Doris Lessing’s novel The Golden Notebook. There were no textbooks on the market. When the course was approved for the credit program, Joan Grumman and I alternated teaching it – and sat down to write a textbook / anthology. Woman as Writer was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1978. We divided the book in half, first something about writing by each of the authors and then a sample of their poetry or fiction. The book was a great success, though in our naivety about contracts, we managed to make very little from it.
Still, it opened many doors and interests, and never would have come into being if not for our SBCC students – and the SBCC library. I spent summers going down the shelves and checking out everything written by women.
The library, now the Social Services building, was my favorite place on campus. Many English courses were upstairs on the ocean side, with a gorgeous view: there was no Life Science building then. Outside, the long white trellis entwined with scarlet bougainvillea was like a walkway in ancient Greece. But the books! I could always find what I wanted or what I never knew existed, and the librarian Virginia Rowley was my literary buddy. In the early 80’s when I went back to UCSB for my PhD, she was a tremendous help.
I’d never aspired to an administrative job – as a single mom I had my hands full. But in 1978 when my kids were older, the head of the English Department, Lorraine Belmont, encouraged me to succeed her. That too proved a wonderful opportunity, thinking about what was needed (an assessment program to place students at the correct level of English, for example) and being able to bring it into being.
That position, which I held for 7 years, also led to the best phone call I ever received. In 1982 John Romo, then a dean, called me to say that Peter MacDougall had returned from a conference wanting to start a semester-long Study Abroad program. We had run summer programs in Cuernavaca for years and a summer Shakespeare-in-Ashland, Oregon, program (which I had assisted Lorraine Belmont in directing in recent years), but no semester programs. Since I had traveled to England and had experience leading the English department and Joan Grumman owned a house in Cambridge, England, John suggested that she and I get together and come up with a program. He emphasized that it was theoretical: we should give it our best shot but not expect anything.
Joan and I designed what we considered the ideal abroad semester for a community college: offer courses in the catalogue so students would get the credits they needed; choose courses that would be enhanced by the environment where they were offered. That meant, in England, they should study Shakespeare, British lit, history of Britain, art, and politics. We proposed a program to be offered the spring of 1984 in which students would live with families, take those courses, and go on field trips related to their studies: plays, museums, historic sites. Even when the program was approved, there was no guarantee. We needed 40 prospective students to be interviewed and approved and to pay the contractor a $1000.00 deposit by November, 1983, for it to be a go. She took on British history as well as literature, and I taught art history as well as Shakespeare. We brought in a political science lecturer, Mike Murphy, who continued teaching for us, later segueing into teaching a British history course, and invited other local guest lecturers. The model for SBCC’s Study Abroad was born – and for many other community colleges as well.
I’m forever grateful for the opportunity of leading those SBCC groups in Cambridge, and later in Florence and London. Living and working abroad has been my dream since that year in Cyprus, and the opportunity to make friends in England and travel the country – and other parts of Europe in the summers following – gave me a background that I still draw on in writing my historical fiction. I was able to join the Cambridge University Library and the British Museum Library, rare and rich opportunities.
No one will deny that paper-grading is a challenge, sitting at your desk evenings and weekends when so much else beckons. We ran countless English department workshops on how to make it easier. Computer labs and tutors help, but reading essays and revisions is the nitty gritty of teaching composition. The pay-off is seeing students’ writing improve as they master the principles of essay form, so we persevere. It wasn’t my favorite part of the job, but I appreciated that my colleagues were in the same boat; a strong mutual support system. The many colleagues who have become friends over the years and the terrific department parties we had – at Doug Fossek’s house, Helena Hale’s, Ann Wilkinson’s, Royce Adams’, and Jane Brody’s, and often, my own – were unforgettable.
My first sabbatical involved studying at Oxford University and travelling; for my second I wrote my PhD dissertation. The best one was the last, a one-semester sabbatical where I produced and assistant-directed an all-faculty production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. We were able to bring Jim Edmondson from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (no relation to the Jim Edmondson in the Math Department) on campus to introduce and audition for the play an then to block it for our performance in the BC forum. When he returned to Oregon, I took over the rehearsals, carefully following his notes for staging.
We set the play in early California, which works for the story – there were harsh land owners and the oak woods to retreat to in those days as well. Costuming, thanks to costume mistress Jody Millward, was easy and the music that fills the play had a Mexican flair, thanks to Luis Moreno who played the melancholy Jacques but was anything but melancholy in his musical arrangements and pre-show guitar and voice concert.
Faculty displayed an amazing range of talent for acting and for music and gave themselves to the production, learning their parts, participating in weekly rehearsals, and making the performances first rate. The college community would see them in action: the pressure was on.
Bojana Hill, who now teaches at Laguna Blanca, played Rosalind; David Starkey, Orlando; Rachel McKeone played Orlando’s faithful Adam. Mike Walker was a guitar-playing Touchstone and Barbara Bell, Audrey, the simple shepherdess Touchstone falls in love with. Kelly Peinado played Rosalind’s friend Celia, and Chuck Grogg was Orlando’s cruel brother, Oliver, who is redeemed in the end. Margaret Prothero and her husband played the woodland pair, Phebe and Silvius. Among the merry men who fled to the woods with Duke Senior, played by Dan Moreno, were Jane Brody, Barbara Bell, and Peter Rojas, good singers all. Ann Wilkinson and Noelle Clearwater alternated as Corin the shepherd; Desmond O’Neill was stern Duke Frederick who usurped his brother’s title. At the end, Elida Moreno appeared as Hymen, the goddess of marriage, to celebrate the four marriages that close the play. This show was a highlight for us all, with packed houses for the entire run. We charged $5.00 and made a student packet available – all terrific fun, and educational.
For the 1999-2000 school year I was thrilled to be chosen Faculty Lecturer and retired a few years later. Since then, besides writing novels, I’ve continued to teach – currently for the Osher Lifetime Learning Program out of Cal State Channel Islands – and to appreciate the lively enriching years I spent at SBCC.