education, music, musings

Repost: There’s life beyond your senior year… confessions of a C student

Here’s a repost from the original blog, written March 28, 2018. It appears as/is. I know it’s not currently college application season, but I think this post could be useful for some people.

Yesterday, my alma mater did a fundraising drive called #LoveYourLongwood.  This is apparently a new development.  For many years after my graduation in 1994, Longwood University was rather relaxed about fundraising efforts.  I’d say in the past ten years or so, they have become much more assertive about pushing alums to donate money.  I usually ignore the pleas, although I did donate during the holiday season.

I probably would have made a donation yesterday, had I not looked at our rather paltry bank balance.  March still has three days left in it.  Still, as I get older and our finances have improved, I have given some thought to donating more money to my college.  The truth is, I owe a lot to Longwood.  Maybe my time there didn’t lead to a smashing career, but it did leave me with a lot of intangible gifts like wonderful friends, some excellent experiences, and the opportunity to study music simply because I love it.  It was a warm, nurturing place to go to college.  Today, almost 24 years after I graduated, I still reap the benefits of my four years there.

I have written about my college admissions experiences before, but I’m going to briefly repeat the tale for anyone out there in Internet land who is currently experiencing the pain of rejection from college.  I’m inspired to write about this after reading an article in the Boston Globe about the immense pressure high school seniors are dealing with at this time of year.  It takes me back to the spring of 1990, when I was myself trying to find a place to go to school.

I may call myself “The Overeducated Housewife”, but the simple truth is, I was a very ordinary student.  I didn’t earn great grades in high school and didn’t have super high SAT scores.  I did do well on standardized tests, particularly in writing.  However, I was a singularly unimpressive student in high school, even in English class.  I would get praises for my writing, but I didn’t care enough about the books we were reading to put a lot of effort into my papers.  Consequently, I earned average grades.

My parents, who had already raised my three sisters, didn’t really care too much about my performance.  I got through high school pretty much on my own efforts, with lots of Bs and Cs and the occasional D.  I remember working hard in school, particularly in my math and science classes, but not as hard as I probably should have.  I didn’t have any extra help, nor did I have anyone pushing me to excel.  I was also completely unmedicated, which isn’t a bad thing, but I think if I had grown up ten years later, I probably would have taken meds for depression or perhaps ADD.  I was encouraged to get good grades, but it was entirely up to me to accomplish that.  I didn’t really know how. 

In high school, I spent most of my free time riding horses.  I did do well in that activity, although I wasn’t particularly talented.  My success in riding was mainly due to my fabulous pony, Rusty, a dedicated riding coach, and a lot of dogged hard work.  I was definitely not “born in the saddle”.

When it came time to decide on a college, I had sort of a beer budget and champagne tastes on every level.  I didn’t have the money to consider attending private schools.  I didn’t have the grades or impressive resume to consider trying to get scholarships or applying to super competitive schools.  My mother, ever the pragmatist, told me I shouldn’t bother applying to the one school I really wanted to attend.  She didn’t think I’d get in there.  She was right.  In fact, Longwood was the ONLY school out of the four I applied to that accepted me.

Looking back on it, I think I would have had more choices if I had applied to a couple more schools.  The other three that I’d applied to, besides Longwood, were in a slightly higher league– too high for me at the time.  I do think I would have ultimately succeeded if I had gotten into any of the other three schools, but they were very popular choices among my peers.  My crummy grades and mediocre test scores were simply not competitive enough and I got the dreaded rejection letters.  Even Longwood accepted me conditionally, mainly because I was struggling in math.  Fortunately, I had a wonderful math teacher my senior year who made sure I got through with the required C.

My trend of mediocre academic performances mostly continued at Longwood.  I never once made the Dean’s List; however, I did blossom in other ways.  It was at Longwood that I finally started doing what I was probably born to do.

People who knew me when I was growing up didn’t know that I could sing.  My mom knew that I had absolute (perfect) pitch, because I took piano lessons when I was very young.  My piano teacher noticed I could name pitches without a reference note.  But I would never sing in front of anyone because I was (and still am) very sensitive to bad singing.  I knew I could sing on key, but didn’t think I sounded particularly good.  So I wouldn’t sing in front of other people, and was never encouraged to try.  My parents were both musicians, though, so it makes sense that I’d have a knack for music. 

To earn a bachelor of arts degree at Longwood, I needed to take a course in one of the fine arts.  I chose music appreciation and a one credit voice class.  I ended up excelling in the voice class and my teacher invited me to study privately.  Before I knew it, I had joined Longwood’s Camerata Singers, which required an audition.  I was soon singing with people who had been in choirs all through high school.  That experience was truly life changing for me.  Making music is now something I do most days, even if not many people hear my efforts.  It’s made me a much happier person.

It may seem like a minor thing now, but that one voice class opened up a whole new world to me.  I only wish I had taken it sooner.  I might have majored in music instead of English.  I both excelled in and loved my music classes.  I got straight As in them, with the lone exception of that one music appreciation class I took.  By contrast, I was a mediocre English major, except when I took writing classes.  In my writing classes, I excelled like I did in music.

It was an adjunct music professor at Longwood who cared enough about me to encourage me to study music, even if she couldn’t persuade me to change my major. I can’t help but wonder if I would have gotten the same attention at any of the other schools I had considered.  Looking back on it, it seems as if I was destined to go to Longwood.  Maybe I wasn’t a superstar student, but I think I flourished there.  Even today, I communicate with professors who knew me in the 90s.  My husband, Bill, attended much more prestigious American University and he hasn’t seen or spoken to any of his former professors since the 80s.  Sometimes, the less famous college offers a better value.  I know I’ve often mused about how much more I got out of my time at Longwood than I did the University of South Carolina.

After Longwood, I joined the Peace Corps kind of on a whim.  I was soon exposed to people from other parts of the country and then the Republic of Armenia, a place that had been mostly off limits to Americans only four years prior to my arrival. I used my music skills a lot in Armenia.  Then I went to graduate school and earned those two master’s degrees that I don’t use… which became the reason I call myself “overeducated”.  Still, I recognize that I was able to compete with people who went to “better” schools, both as a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student.  I don’t regret any of those experiences now, but sometimes I wonder how in the world I ended up here.  In some ways, I have been extraordinarily lucky.  I often feel kind of like a fraud, but I know deep down that I’m not one.   

I empathize with high school seniors who are now dealing with the hell of trying to get into college.  I don’t envy them at all.  They’re dealing with so many things that I didn’t have to deal with.  Life has gotten super competitive on many levels.  I thought it was bad in 1990, but my generation had nothing on their generation. 

It’s harder and more expensive to go to college these days.  So many young people are racking up huge debts, and competition for well-paid work is stiff.  Young people are having to worry about gun toting lunatics invading their schools and killing random people.  We have a total buffoon in the White House who doesn’t care about anything but making rich people even richer (ETA: Remember, I am writing about Trump, not Biden). 

I don’t envy you young folks at all, although I am very impressed by how young people are standing up and making their voices heard.  And young people today are doing such incredible things… things that perfectly average, mediocre people can’t conceive of doing.  I would imagine that the pressure to stand out must be insane… and yet it gets harder and harder every year.

I’m impressed by that insane drive to succeed that some young people have, but I have a heart for those who were perfectly average folks like me.  It’s true that life is not a dress rehearsal, but most people end up okay, even if they aren’t stars.  These years on the brink of adulthood can be tough going, but eventually, most people come to a place where grades and test scores no longer matter.  So take heart.  There’s life beyond the spring of your senior year.  You just have to get through it and keep your eyes on the prize.

A musical project I completed at the time I wrote this piece. Lately, I’ve focused more on playing guitar than singing. I’m better at singing than guitar playing, though.
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Military, music, musings, nostalgia

The “road not taken” is sometimes an overrated thrill… Common paths can still lead to spectacular places!

In the spring of 1991, when I was a freshman college student, I joined the concert choir at Longwood College. I did so because the previous semester, the very first one of my college career, I had taken a group voice class. The teacher, who was acquainted with my musical dad, recognized that I, too, had some musical gifts. She thought I should join the Camerata Singers, which is one of Longwood’s auditioned ensemble. The trouble was, I had never really sung in a choir before. In fact, I had never really sung before. So, just so I could learn the ropes, I enrolled in the concert choir with the plan to audition for Cameratas that semester. I also took my first private voice lessons that spring.

My parents are/were musicians and I somehow knew that I’d wind up being enmeshed in their stuff if I studied music. This was not so much an issue with my mom, who was a church organist for about 50 years. But it was an issue with my dad, who had a habit of either competing with me or trying to show me off to his friends. My dad and I never really got along that well, especially once I hit puberty. I loved him very much, but we rubbed each other the wrong way. He was extremely active in choirs and choral societies. I relished the times he was at practices or in rehearsals, and I didn’t want to end up in a situation where we would end up spending too much time together and get into fights.

Also, I honestly didn’t know back then that I had a good singing voice. I knew I could sing on key, but I didn’t realize it was anything special or unusual. I did have some rudimentary music knowledge, having taken piano lessons as a very young child and been identified as having “perfect pitch” (AKA absolute pitch). I was in band for a year… first playing drums and then, when that turned out to be the wrong instrument for me, I played my sister’s clarinet. Although I was pretty good at playing clarinet, I didn’t like the band teacher and wasn’t encouraged by my parents, so I dropped out of that and focused on my horse. I have much less talent for horseback riding, but I do love animals. 😉

Years later, when I decided to study voice outside of college, my dad proved that my instincts about his tendency to want to “compete” with me were dead on. I signed up to take lessons at the Eastern Virginia School of Performing Arts. I didn’t tell my dad at first, because somehow I knew he’d also sign up. Sure enough, when he did find out I was taking lessons, he signed up with the very same teacher. 🙂 I wasn’t all that happy about it. I was taking lessons to help alleviate my depression and relieve stress. And at the time, he was a major source of my stress, as I was living with my parents after having finished Peace Corps service. As grateful as I was that my parents let me live with them, it was definitely not an easy time for any of us. But I am glad that they didn’t object to my decision to supplement my treatment for depression with voice lessons.

“The Road Not Taken” from Frostiana… words by Robert Frost, music by Randall Thompson.

Anyway, I digress… back to 1991… and my first semester in a choir. I remember during that semester, the concert choir did a piece from “Frostiana“. It was the American poet Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken” set to music composed and arranged in 1959 by Randall Thompson. Much to my shame, when I was 18 years old, I had never been exposed to Frost’s poetry. “The Road Not Taken” was a new concept to me, and I actually loved the choral piece. I see from YouTube that it’s still commonly performed.

This morning, I’m reminded of that piece as I reflect on a conversation I had with Bill last night. We were talking about his career as an Army officer. Although he did well enough as an Army officer and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel promotable to Colonel, he thinks he made some regrettable choices during his time in the Army. Had he made different choices, he might have had a more successful career. Or maybe he never would have been in the military in the first place.

My husband is a kind, empathetic, gentle person. He’s probably the antithesis of most people’s vision of a military officer. Military officers are stereotypically tough, gruff, profane, impatient and politically incorrect. Military officers don’t cry easily. They have a “killer instinct”. A lot of military officers are politically conservative and somewhat old school in their views. They aren’t often interested in the arts, psychology, reading books, or visiting museums. They like to watch violent sports and action movies. And they aren’t interested in introspection.

I hasten to add that I realize this is very stereotypical thinking. Of course, the armed forces are comprised of people from all different walks of life, with all of the characteristics that go along with having such a diverse population. However, having been around military folks my whole life, I can attest to the idea that there’s a “type”. And, my point is, Bill goes against type.

When we were dating, my sisters warned me against getting involved with Bill. They seemed to think he was going to be a “knuckle dragger”. Even though I’ve always made decent decisions and have never been in any serious trouble, my sisters, and even my parents, didn’t trust me to choose my own mate. But it turns out that I was right on the money. This year, we will celebrate 19 years of a very successful union. We are shockingly compatible. I guess, like me, Bill sometimes has trouble fitting in with the crowd and goes “against type”.

Last night, Bill was telling me that he wishes he hadn’t been a “combat arms” officer. During his years in the Army, Bill was a “tanker”. He was in the Armor branch. Early in his career, a superior officer wrote that he felt Bill should do something different. The senior officer “fired” Bill from the job he was doing and gave him a bad evaluation. Another superior officer advised Bill that he didn’t have a “killer instinct”. At the time, Bill was offended by his bosses’ appraisals of him. He said he spent years resenting those negative comments that he got early in his military career. He felt that his superiors had been unfair and wrongly appraised him.

Then, in 1995, at his ex wife’s behest, Bill left active duty and worked in low paying and unfulfilling factory jobs in Arkansas. Here was a guy who had studied international relations at American University. He’d learned how to ride a horse and fence. He was interested in politics, religion, arts, movies, music, and so on… and he was making toys at a toy factory. Later, he was supervising a line for Whirlpool, overseeing the production of refrigerator doors. He wasn’t making any money, and he was living in a nightmarish situation with a woman with whom he was incredibly incompatible. Bill stayed in the National Guard to help supplement his meager earnings and, if we’re honest, to give him an escape from his ex wife, who by that time had made his life a living hell.

In 1999, Bill decided to go back in active duty via the Arkansas National Guard. He was unusual in that he managed to get a full time job as a Guardsman, working as if he was back on duty with the regular Army. That decision allowed him to continue his military career, but he was paid from a different pot of money and subject to different promotion procedures. It also helped him avoid lengthy deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He did spend six months in Iraq– again, working for a very narcissistic boss.

Bill later realized that he probably should have pursued another branch… maybe in military intelligence or as a Foreign Area Officer (FAO). Or maybe he should have become a mental health therapist specializing with working with veterans. Any of those fields might have been better fits for him, rather than combat arms. He was sorrowful about it last night, wishing he’d taken a different path, instead of being an Armor officer, and wondering where it would have led him.

I could relate, as I have often wondered what would have happened to me if I’d studied music instead of English. Maybe I’d still be where I am today. Or maybe I’d be somewhere entirely different. As I mentioned before, I didn’t pursue music when I was growing up. It wasn’t until college that I was especially turned on to music… and realized I had a knack for it. I often wonder what would have happened if I’d changed my major. I never seriously considered doing it, though. I probably suffered a bit of worrying about failure.

I was a very mediocre English major. I love to write and read, but I don’t really enjoy analyzing literature, and I had no desire to teach school. Longwood’s English department, at the time I was a student, was mostly set up for would-be teachers. They didn’t have a creative writing program. They only offered a few classes. Ironically, I never even took the creative writing class, and none of my professors knew that my goal was more to write than study literature. I didn’t tell any of them until after I’d graduated and my former advisor, who had been writing letters to me in Armenia, commented that he thought I had a gift for writing stories. I explained that I’d been an English major because I wanted to be a writer. He used to tease me about taking music classes, but I don’t know where I would have been if I hadn’t had them at Longwood. I loved my music classes. I took a bunch of them for fun. I can’t say that about most of my English classes.

So there Bill and I were on the patio, as the sun was dipping down, and we were enjoying the last of our red wine. Bill got a little choked up as he realized that those bosses who had noticed his “lack of a killer instinct” had been right. And if he’d been wise enough to heed their counsel, he might have gone in a different, far more successful direction. There wouldn’t have been any shame in changing course. Everybody fails sometimes, because no one is a superstar at everything they do. For a moment, Bill seemed genuinely troubled at what might have been if he’d only been brave enough to take “the road not taken”.

But again, it’s not like he was unsuccessful in his role as an Armor officer who lacked a “killer instinct”. In 2014, Bill retired from the Army with a full pension. He now gets a paycheck for getting up in the morning and gets to enjoy the benefits from having served in the military. Not only that, but he left the experience mostly mentally, emotionally, and physically whole. I’d call his career a success, even if he hadn’t done work he was perfectly equipped to do.

Realizing that Bill actually was a success, I said, “There’s no point in feeling badly about the career decisions you made. Because even though you might have been better at a different job, the fact of the matter is, you still managed to succeed. By all accounts, retiring from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel promotable to Colonel is still a very successful career. And you left the military whole– with two master’s degrees and marketable skills– free of mental illness and basically healthy and strong. You are very fortunate.”

Bill nodded in agreement. Then I said, “And now you are doing well in your post retirement career. Maybe what you’re doing isn’t thrilling for you, but you are among MANY people who work in jobs that aren’t a perfect fit for them. God knows, I have done plenty of jobs I hated so I could pay the bills. So have you.”

I continued, “You now not only have recovered from a terrible first marriage and financial disasters, but you completed a successful career. Now, you are also enjoying a very comfortable and, I dare say, luxurious lifestyle. And you have the freedom to explore things that interest you. You can study Carl Jung. You can work with a therapist and talk about your dreams and travel to Switzerland to see Jung’s house. You can take courses at the Jung Institute and read Jung’s books and learn guitar… And the reason you can do those things is because, even though you think of the military as a ‘easy choice’ in terms of secure, decently paid employment, and maybe it was not where your true gifts lie, you did a good job. When it comes down to it, you were still successful. I think you should celebrate that, because you’re way ahead of many people.”

Likewise… although I have visions of where my talents and dreams might have taken me, I really can’t complain too much about where I am. I have had the great fortune to see and do many things that my peers never will have the opportunity to do. And they have seen and done things I will never do. That’s the nature of life. We all have strengths and opportunities that take us on a path through life. Maybe it would have been more exciting and fulfilling to take the “road not taken.” But we’re both halfway through life now… and we can’t recapture our youth. What we CAN do is take those experiences we had when we were younger and follow our passions now. So Bill will probably never have a fulfilling career as a FAO or as a “healer”. He can still pursue his interests and learn new things. And who knows, maybe there will still be a fork in the road that takes him down the “road not taken” after all.

Same for me… maybe in the second half of my life, I’ll finally write a book or record an album… or do something else that is earth shattering, life changing, or even just interesting. It beats the hell out of working in a factory or waiting tables to pay the bills. And before anyone gets upset, I hasted to add that there’s nothing wrong with working in a factory or waiting tables if that’s what gets you through life or it something you even enjoy doing. That’s not the point of todays’ post. The point is, there’s no use in lamenting past career decisions that can’t be changed. Life is a continual journey. As long as you’re still breathing, you have the opportunity to change course and try new things. And Bill, for one, is especially fortunate, because he truly does have the ability and the freedom to explore things that interest him, even if he got here on a well-traveled road that maybe he wasn’t the best suited to travel. He still got here… and he still has places to go. I’m glad I get to travel with him.

We’re both lucky, because we can and do continue to do things we love. Not everyone has that luxury. There are so many people who, due to financial, health, or personal constraints, end up spending their lives on the hamster wheel, working to get by and not especially enjoying the process of life as much as they could. We should count our blessings and realize that all things considered, things have worked out just fine. I think it also makes sense to consider that sometimes the “road not taken” is a road straight into Hell. 😉

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nostalgia

Repost: Artistic personalities… a look back at my first English professor and his ilk

This is a flashback post I wrote on February 23, 2018. I was fondly remembering my very first English professor at what was then known as Longwood College. I think it’s kind of a cool memory, so I’m reposting it as is.

Because I’m tired of writing about politics and mean-spirited people who send me hate mail, I’ve decided this morning’s post will be about one of my old professors at Longwood.  He was an interesting character and I loved his class, although his methods were very unorthodox.  I’m not sure, but I don’t think he got a lot of love from the other English professors.  It’s probably because he was a very eccentric man… or at least that’s how he seemed to me.

Last night, I looked up Otis Douglas III.  There isn’t a whole lot about him online.  I never knew how old he was, but when I knew him, he had a rather rumpled look, with wild white hair and old sweaters.  Some might think of him as an “absent minded professor”, although I never really thought of him in that way.  I figured he was well-seasoned by the time I met him in 1990.  He’d been teaching at Longwood for almost as long as I’d been alive.

The class I took from him was called Rhetoric and Research, otherwise known as English 100.  It was a basic class that almost all freshman took upon arrival at Longwood.  It was supposed to help us learn how to write.

A short blurb about my former English teacher from a 1974 issue of The Rotunda…  If any of my classmates are reading this, I highly recommend checking out the whole paper.  It’s a hoot!  Especially the letters to the editor!

As I was researching Mr. Douglas, I learned that his family was from Reedville, which is a town not too far from where I grew up.  I’ve only been to Reedville once.  It was in 1998, when a friend and I caught a ferry there.  She was working for a bike tour company, scouting out places to do new tours.  Since she was visiting my neck of the woods, she and I got together and spent the day driving around the Northern Neck of Virginia.  We stopped in Urbana and Irvington, then went to Reedville with bikes, which we brought to Tangier Island.  

Tangier Island is a tiny, fascinating place in the Chesapeake Bay.  It’s accessible from Reedville, Virginia, Onancock, Virginia, and Crisfield, Maryland.  Unfortunately, environmental concerns now threaten Tangier Island’s existence.  I’m sure there were concerns in 1998, too.  Beach erosion and serious storms are big problems for the little island.  I’m just glad I got to see it twenty years ago.  It’s a very interesting place populated by just a few families who have been there for generations.

Mr. Douglas’s roots were apparently near the water, not far from Tangier Island.  I found evidence that he has many kinfolk from Reedville and the Northern Neck, and ties to the College of William and Mary.  I also noticed that there was a United States Navy minesweeper known as the U.S.S. Otis W. Douglas.  She was purchased from the Douglas Company of Reedville, Virginia in 1917 for use in World War I.  Sadly, after serving in Brest, France until 1919, she encountered storms on the way back to the United States and sank.  I’m not sure, but it appears that the Douglas family of Reedville might be linked to McDonnell-Douglas, the company that makes airplanes.  At least the Wikipedia article about the ship implies that maybe it does.  Reedville is not a big place, so I can’t imagine there were many other Douglas families there in the early 20th century.

I grew up near the water, in fact in a county not far from the Northern Neck, but my family comes from Virginia’s mountains and valleys.  I found out that Mr. Douglas’s father was kind of a famous man.  Mr. Douglas is the son of Otis Douglas Jr., a very well-regarded football player and coach who once played for the Philadelphia Eagles.  I don’t have to read too much about Mr. Douglas’s father to know who he is.  The photo of Otis Douglas Jr., included in his New York Times obituary, reveals that his son bears a striking resemblance.  In fact, when I looked at Otis Douglas Jr.’s picture, I was momentarily stunned by how much he looked like a cleaner cut version of his son.  

I learned in an obituary about Mr. Douglas’s sister, Eleanor, that their family moved a lot, due to their father’s career in sports.  They lived in twenty-six states and Canada.  Mr. Douglas never mentioned any of this in class.  Much like my former philosophy professor, Dr. John Peale (son of Norman Vincent Peale), he kept it quiet.  Instead, he engaged us with stories about how to publish articles and talked about how difficult writing well is. 

My very first English professor at Longwood was very intent on teaching his students how to gamble.  I remember Douglas telling us that writing well is one of the hardest things a person can do.  He taught us that it takes many drafts to get something just right.  He wanted us to write many drafts of papers about rather mundane subjects.  Our class consisted of nothing but keeping a portfolio with assignments that I recall seemed either bizarre or tedious.

Mr. Douglas didn’t have us write essays.   He’d have us write directions to locations.  We had to pay close attention to specific details as we wrote our directions.  I found the process pretty boring, although I enjoyed Mr. Douglas’s offbeat teaching style.  He wasn’t like any of my other professors.  He would tell us stories sometimes, but mostly, he talking about playing games of chance, like Blackjack. 

He even had us learn the basics of shooting craps.  I had never shot craps before I met Mr. Douglas, and I haven’t in the 27 years since I was a student in his class.  I don’t gamble.  But Mr. Douglas taught us the basics of the game, and as he taught us, he had us write about how to shoot craps.  It was bizarre and I’ll never forget it, because it was so unconventional.

I also remember the one final paper I wrote for that class.  I really don’t know where my wild streak comes when it comes to writing things down, but for some reason I decided to write a paper about sadomasochism.  I titled it “The Chains of Love”.  I think I was inspired because I was reading a lot of Nancy Friday’s books at the time.  

The late Nancy Friday was famous in the 1970s for writing My Secret Garden, which is a book about women’s sexual fantasies.  It was shocking and groundbreaking at the time.  I think it was published in 1972 or thereabouts, right around the time I was born.  In those days, people evidently didn’t talk frankly about sex, but it was obviously a topic of interest.  Nancy Friday went on to write several other very successful books about sexual fantasies, most of which I read when I was in high school and college.  Because there’s a provocative side to my personality, I guess I decided to write about them in Mr. Douglas’s class.  He must have liked my paper, because I got an A in the class.  I had been told by an older hall mate that Mr. Douglas didn’t give out As.  Obviously, she was wrong about that.

Incidentally, I was a piss poor English major.  I mostly got Bs and Cs in my major, except for classes that focused on creative writing.  I also got an A in a non-fiction writing class.  That class was taught by a similarly eccentric professor named Mr. Woods, who would never correct anyone who called him “Dr. Woods” by mistake.  Mr. Woods could be spotted riding his bike around campus.  I had him for two classes.  One class mostly involved him talking about Madonna’s Sex book, which had just been published and was causing a scandal.  He also talked about the Price Club a lot.  I got an A in his class because I wrote about being flashed while riding on a bus on I-95.  I’m sure I’ve written about this incident before, but since I’m in a stream of consciousness mood, I’m going to write about it again.

It was during my junior year spring break at Longwood and I had gone on spring tour with the Camerata Singers, which was the auditioned choir.  We went on a recruiting tour every spring break that generally culminated in New York City.  We’d perform at churches and schools, then take in a Broadway show.  

The choir was usually pretty exhausted by the end of the spring tours.  Such was the case in 1993, as we headed south toward our college.  I was looking out the window, daydreaming.  Some guy in a bright yellow car pulled up alongside the bus.  I looked at him.  He looked at me.  I looked away.  He dropped out of sight.  When I turned to look out the window again, there he was.  But he’d pulled out his penis and it was kind of flopping there as he drove alongside the bus, flashing everyone who happened to be looking out the window.

Naturally, I let out a yell of surprise, which woke everyone up.  I think more than a few people were traumatized by that guy, getting his jollies exposing himself while speeding down Interstate 95.

I figured I might as well get some traction from being flashed, so I wrote about it and actually drew a crude picture of what I saw.  Mr. Woods was apparently impressed.  He wrote, “Oh my God!  Is that what I think it is!”  And yes, the paper got an A.

Mr. Woods was often compared to Mr. Douglas.  The two of them were kind of outliers in Longwood’s English department back in the 90s.  They were affectionately regarded by students, especially those who were kind of slack.  I’m not sure they were as well-regarded by other professors.   I remember being at a department social and mentioning to one professor– one I never had, though she had quite a reputation– that I liked Mr. Douglas’s class.  I noticed a flash of kind of a disgusted look on her face.  Then, she diplomatically said, “Well, he has what you’d call an artistic personality.”  

Maybe that’s what’s “wrong” with me, too.  My whole life, I’ve been annoying, bewildering, shocking and offending some people, while apparently delighting others.  My husband seems to adore me, even if my parents never really did.  I never had a lot of really close friends or even too many close family members.  Some people I thought were “close”, actually weren’t.  And yet, here I am, married to the nicest guy ever who loves my inappropriate sense of humor and love of shock value.  On the other hand, maybe my experience is everyone’s experience.  Maybe everyone feels like they’re “weird” and eccentric.  I may have to think some more about that today as I wait for the weekend to begin.  

I am sitting here realizing that I have a lot of time on my hands, time that I’m using to look up people I used to know, learning their histories.  I hadn’t thought of Mr. Douglas in a very long time, but it appears that he has a very interesting story.  I love it when I make these discoveries and uncover cool stories.  It feels kind of like striking gold.

This is the one interesting comment someone left on the original post. S/he also took Mr. Douglas’s class. I want to preserve it, so I’m reposting it here.

Unknown May 1, 2018 at 3:53 PM

Great stuff! I enjoyed reading your article. I was in Dr. Douglas’s class In the Fall of 1990. I vividly remember one afternoon, when Mr. Douglas came in the the classroom, and overheard a female student say, ” Guys suck!”
Otis paused and responded “They’re not supposed to.”

It was classic Mr. Douglas.

You nailed it… we wrote papers on how to play Craps.

Another interesting story that I learened is that he taught two of my friends a system to win at Craps, and had them go to Atlantic City to play for him, as I think he was banned from Casinos because of his system of winning. (Think of the movie 21 with Kevin Spacey.)

Is Mr. Douglas still living?

  1. knotty May 1, 2018 at 4:45 PM Thanks for the comment! I don’t know if he’s still living. I think he moved to Charlottesville. I had him Fall of 1990, too, and I remember he was in Richmond at that time.
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musings

How should I respond to this request?

Today’s post might be a bit convoluted, and some might think I’m petty to write it. I’m going to write it anyway, because I’ve got nothing better to do. To those of you who manage to finish it and follow all the twists and turns, I offer you the gooiest of cookies.I just want to get this off my chest.Fair warning. It’s going to be long, and it might come across as self-indulgent and obnoxious.Those of you who know me probably won’t be surprised.

One night in May 2014, I was living in Texas, hanging out on Facebook, when I accessed the page for my alma mater, Longwood University. I remember being worried at the time. My husband, Bill, was about a month out from retiring from the Army. He was on “terminal leave”, which meant he was using up all of the vacation days he’d amassed before it was time to separate from the service. He was also job hunting, and it seemed like the pickings, even in Texas, were slim. I’d gone to Longwood’s Facebook page to take my mind off of my nervousness about the potential financial ruin that might face us.

At that time, we were also planning our third, and most recent, space-a “military hop“, a great perk for military families that allows servicemembers, retirees, and their dependents to hitch a ride on government aircraft for next to nothing. Because Bill was technically still on active duty in May 2014, he was “category three”, which placed him at a high priority for getting a flight. Once he retired, he’d be “category six”, which meant our chances of scoring a flight to Europe or Hawaii would be significantly lower. We planned to fly to Germany and wander around Europe for about ten days, then come back to Texas and plunge into post-Army life. At the time, I thought this last hurrah to Europe could be our final opportunity to visit there for awhile. I had no idea that within three months, we’d be moving to Germany.

That May night in Texas, as I was perusing Longwood’s Facebook page just before we took off on our third military hop and Bill left the Army, I shared a snapshot with Longwood’s community that I had taken in New York City, back in March 1994. The picture was snapped at the back door of a Broadway theater. I was with several fellow members of Longwood’s auditioned choir, the Camerata Singers. We’d just seen the Broadway production of Tommy, starring Michael Cerveris.

The Camerata Singers were in New York because it was the end of our spring tour. The choral director at the time, Dr. Donald Trott, would use spring break as a means of promoting Longwood to high school students in Mid-Atlantic states. Our choir would spend the week traveling by bus to different high schools and churches in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, where we would perform concerts for church parishioners and students, staying at their homes rather than in hotels. It was exhausting, but great fun and a wonderful opportunity for us to bond. Then, at the end of the week, we’d spend a couple of nights in New York City and catch a Broadway show.

The first two years out of the three I went on spring tour with “Cams”, everyone saw the same show– Phantom of the Opera my first year, and Miss Saigon my second. My third year touring– which was my senior year at Longwood– we were allowed to choose which show we wanted to see. I remember a lot of my fellow “Cams” went to see Les Miserables. Only four of us chose to see Tommy, a Broadway show based on the 1969 rock opera by The Who. I wasn’t close friends with the other choir members who had gone with me to see the show, but I did happen to be the only one in our group who’d brought a camera. A couple of them were musical theater majors, and they’d sent a note backstage for Michael Cerveris.

Before I saw him perform on Broadway, I had known the American actor Michael Cerveris as the British character, Ian Ware, on Fame, an 80s era TV show that I’d loved as a kid. He’d moved on to bigger and better things. I got to shake hands with him because the musical theater majors I was with were studying under Pam Arkin, an actress who was teaching at Longwood at the time. Pam (as everyone called her) knew Cerveris because they’d acted together and were friends. Mr. Cerveris graciously met us and posed for pictures. It was definitely a memorable moment in my college career, so twenty years later, I shared it with the Longwood community on Facebook.

In Bacharach… can you blame me for wanting to visit again?

A couple of days after I shared that post, Bill and I left on our Space A flight to Germany, which took us on a wonderful journey through eastern France. We visited Reims, Epernay, Dijon, Lyon, Nimes, and Nice. Then we flew to Frankfurt and visited Bacharach, an adorable medieval village I’d discovered in 1997, after leaving the Peace Corps. It has the distinction of being the very first town I ever visited in Germany, and I’d been telling Bill about it for years. We’d never had the opportunity to go to Bacharach when the Army sent us to Stuttgart from 2007-09. Since, as of May 2014, we weren’t sure if we’d ever get back to Europe, I wanted to make sure Bill saw Bacharach. We ended up having a very special experience there, which I wrote about on my travel blog.

While we were traveling through Europe in 2014, I got a message from Kent Booty, a writer for Longwood’s alumni magazine. He thought my story about meeting Michael Cerveris was pretty cool, and he wanted to interview me. I remember explaining to him that I was in Europe at the time, so I would have to talk to him once we got back to the States.

Sure enough, once we were back in Texas, I had a long phone chat with Mr. Booty. I explained what I had been doing since I graduated from Longwood in 1994. From 1995-97, I was in the Peace Corps serving in the third group to go to the Republic of Armenia. From 1999-02, I was at the University of South Carolina, earning dual master’s degrees in social work and public health. I had some big career plans back then. But then I met and fell in love with Bill, and became an Army wife six months after I finished my studies in South Carolina. Over the course of twelve years, we moved seven times to four states and Germany. I never got to use my master’s degrees the way I’d planned. Instead, almost every penny I’ve earned since I finished graduate school has been made from freelance writing, which is a lot more portable than social work and public health are, but tends to be less steady, isn’t very prestigious, and doesn’t always pay well.

Crazily enough, just a few weeks after we returned to the States from our space A trip, Bill got a job offer in Stuttgart. I remember telling Kent Booty that we were going to be moving back to Germany. I was excited about it, since it meant we wouldn’t have to live in our cars and we’d get to live in my favorite of our past duty stations. He congratulated me for Bill’s success, and that was the last I heard from Mr. Booty. He never did write an article about me for the alumni magazine. I honestly couldn’t blame him for that, and wasn’t surprised, given that I have pretty much been a housewife since I finished graduate school in 2002. I understand that part of Mr. Booty’s job is to market Longwood to prospective students, and most students are hoping to be gainfully employed once they graduate from college. I sure was when I was a college student. My role as an “overeducated housewife” is probably not very impressive to most people.

Imagine my surprise last night when I got a message on my contact form for this blog, and it was from Kent Booty. He was requesting an interview, and it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t remember talking to me back in 2014. In fairness to him, I don’t really share my name freely on this blog, although if one searches long enough, it’s pretty easy to figure out who I am. Even if I did share my name openly, he probably wouldn’t remember that we spoke in 2014. I’m sure he talks to a lot of people, and most of them are more memorable and impressive than I am. I even realize that he might have been turned off after talking to me, because I know that not everyone can take my over-the-top personality or cackling laugh (people tell me my laugh is the one thing they remember most about me).

I have a feeling this unexpected contact came about because I recently reposted an article I wrote about how an adjunct professor at Longwood changed my life. What I wrote in that article is absolutely true. My life literally changed for the better because I chose Longwood. In fact, last night, I was telling Bill about the many wonderful ways my time at Longwood has blessed me since I began studying there in 1990. Bill’s college experience, by contrast, was not quite as rich.

Bill attended his first two years of school at a now defunct military college in Boonville, Missouri called Kemper, then transferred to the much larger and more prestigious American University in Washington, D.C. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1986, and that was pretty much the last he’s heard from the school, even though it’s probably a lot better known and is definitely a much more expensive school than Longwood is.

Conversely, I have had a bunch of cool Longwood related experiences, even twenty-six years after I graduated. When I decided to join the Peace Corps in 1995, I asked my former advisor, Dr. Massie Stinson, to write a recommendation for me, which he gladly did. I exchanged letters and emails with him throughout my time in Armenia, and even brought him a copy of the Peace Corps cookbook I published while I was there. A couple of years after I came home from Armenia, Dr. Stinson wrote me a recommendation for the University of South Carolina, a school he had also attended. We exchanged emails for awhile until his health failed. When he passed away in June 2013, I sent a message for his family through Dr. Martha Cook, who had also been one of my professors. Dr. Cook and I became Facebook friends, and still communicate almost daily. I have noticed that many of my fellow Longwood friends from the 90s still chat with professors from that time, even though a lot of the professors have retired.

I took this photo from the teacher’s lounge at the school where I taught in Yerevan, Armenia, Ruben Sevak School #151. One of my former students from this school now works for Peace Corps Armenia.

I remember being in the teacher’s lounge at the school where I taught English in Armenia, reading a letter I received from Longwood’s then president, Dr. Patricia Cormier. She had reached out to alumni to ask them what they thought about changing Longwood’s name from Longwood College to Longwood University. I remember writing back to her, telling her that Longwood would always be Longwood College to me, but to the Armenian students I was teaching, the word college denotes “high school”. So I supported changing the name to Longwood University. Dr. Cormier wrote the most beautiful and personal letter back to me, which really raised my spirits at the time.

A few years later, I was living in South Carolina. I had just finished grocery shopping at Publix, and was loading my groceries into my car, which had a couple of Longwood decals on it. A lady came up to me and asked me if I had gone to Longwood. I said I had, and she beamed, telling me that her very best friend, Dr. Patricia Cormier, was the president there. I never had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Cormier, as her tenure as president was after I had graduated, but I remember her strong leadership and how she had transformed the campus with many new building projects.

I remember Dr. Ellery Sedgwick, another English professor from whom I’d never taken a class, writing to me because I’d sent a letter to the English department asking if anyone would be willing to donate books to my school. He sent a very kind letter to me, affirming that Longwood would support my mission in teaching English. I received several boxes of textbooks from the English department, which I donated to my school.

I also remember an incident involving the late Phyllis Mable, back in the summer of 1999. I was working as a waitress at The Trellis Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia. Ms. Mable came in for lunch and sat in my section in The Garden Room. I recognized her immediately, because she was truly unforgettable. I told her that I would soon be moving to Columbia, South Carolina for graduate school. A few days later, I received a handwritten letter from Ms. Mable, wishing me luck and offering me support. She had taken the time to look me up and sent me that note to let me know that Longwood was proud of me. It made my day.

I remember being at Longwood to welcome Drs. Charles and Lisa Kinzer, when they joined the music department in the fall of 1992. I was a junior that year, and even though I wasn’t a music major, I was allowed to take a lot of courses in the music department, including sight singing, which was taught by Dr. Charles Kinzer (who was then still a Mr.). His wife, Lisa, was my accompanist for my voice studio with Dr. Patricia Lust. I last ran into Dr. Lust back in 2000… and yes, she still remembered me six years post graduation. Dr. Lisa Kinzer is now a professor at Longwood and is still my friend, many years after we first met. I have often told Bill about how amazingly talented the Kinzers are. I would love for him to get to hear them perform sometime.

And finally, I realize that I still have many, many true friends from Longwood. It was the kind of place where it was easy to meet and bond with other students. My late father was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, and he was friends with many of his “brother rats” his whole life. I may not be quite as bonded to my Longwood buddies as my dad was to his brother rats, but I still have so many genuine friends from my Longwood years and lots of wonderful memories. My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t have any connections to American University… not even long lost college buddies on Facebook.

My husband has gone on to have a successful military career and, as of a few years ago, caught up to me in diplomas having earned a second master’s degree from Regis University. We have an amazing life together, although I have not yet managed to set the world on fire with my own career. Bill is still astonished when he sees how connected I still am to Longwood, and how every year, I am even prouder to be a graduate. He has often commented at how personal the Longwood experience is, and how amazing it is that I can still reach out to the Longwood community for friendship and support.

And yet, I still don’t think Kent Booty would want to write an article about me for Longwood’s alumni magazine. He’s already spoken to me, but apparently found me entirely forgettable. Six years after our last conversation, I’m still just a housewife, although I’m living an enviable life. I pretty much do whatever I want every day. I live in a safe, beautiful, European country which affords me the chance to see other safe, beautiful European countries. My student loans are paid off, and now Bill and I even live in Wiesbaden, Germany, very close to the picturesque town of Bacharach, so we can visit there easily. I live in a comfortable home, and spend my time writing, making music, and playing with our dog, whom I’m hoping will have a new “sibling” soon. Bill and I are still healthy; we love each other; and it’s not a horrible thing for us to be stuck in the house together during the pandemic.

I’m still proud to be a Longwood graduate, and I treasure my four years there. I’m not sure any prospective students would admire me for being an “overeducated housewife”, nor do I think my story would necessarily encourage anyone to apply to Longwood, but I can’t deny that my life has been vastly enriched by the small school experience. It still is, many years post graduation. So, if Mr. Booty happens to read this post and still wants to talk to me, I’m sure to oblige. But I will completely understand if he doesn’t, and I’m happy to keep writing about Longwood on my own space. There’s more than one way to be successful in life. Maybe I am not very impressive to the average person, but in my own way, I’ve achieved successes and had experiences way beyond my expectations. And that is all I ever could have wished for.

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