Teachers.

“They” say that everyone we meet in life is a teacher. This may have some degree of validity beyond the new age-y feel, but as a teacher, I sometimes, (like right now)prefer to actually acknowledge that there are real, actual specific Teachers in our lives that deserve to be recognized as such. To this end, I am thinking on my teachers today, and one in particular who many will have the chance to bid a formal farewell to this afternoon, though I will not be able to do this. I have experienced a range of emotions surrounding the reality that I cannot be there to participate somehow in this memorial, and I have come to the (necessary?) conclusion that it might not be that important because maybe I do not need to be physically there to acknowledge the tremendous impact that Gary Hausladen had on my life. Maybe I can just take a moment to be in my own little space with this knowing that privacy in no way diminishes the magnitude with which I would like to scream from the tops of the Sierra that I took the road to the UNR Department of Geography as a result of all of Gary’s subtle (and not really so subtle) encouragement, and that truly has made all the difference. He changed the game for me.

I met Gary through another one of my mentors who left us too soon, Kendyl Depaoli. Thinking back on the completely serendipitous occurrences that led to our meeting makes me smile. In short, it goes a little like this: I moved to Tahoe to be with a boy and had no job and one year of teaching experience under my belt. I had no real idea about applying for jobs and appropriate timelines and such and I saw an opening for a social studies teacher at Procter Hug High School in Reno. I got dressed and drove to the school. I had no appointment, and no real plan. I met Kendyl who was one of the VPs there. And I got a job. Over the next year, Kendyl guided me through the politics of the WCSD and gently shepherded me towards her goal – a geography curriculum in the WCSD. She sent me to a summer institute where I encountered the potential of geographic education, and the illustrious Dr. Hausladen.

And so it began.

A result of simply being in a particular place at a particular time – a geographic coincidence – made a formal geographer out of me.

I have lots and lots of stories about Gary. I am sure everybody does. They all make me smile, and that is not hyperbole. I really cannot recall a time – even when I thought I was crying, or dying – that Gary did not make me smile. He encouraged my tenacity when I needed it. He encouraged my confidence when it was flagging. He encouraged my debauchery at times mostly appropriate. He encouraged my curiosity always, and most significantly as I have come to appreciate, he encouraged me to see connections among ideas, and to acknowledge my intellect in a world where that is not always popular. I loved that Gary thought he was brilliant – he was – and that he thought that of me as well. Maybe I am, too. Time will tell.

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This is one of my favorite pictures of Gary, along with his lovely wife Marilyn, and a spry young waiter named Neil. I took this photo on our summer institute trip to Alaska at one of our formal dinners. For whatever reason, Gary had taken such a shine to Neil – and had a way of pointing out Neil’s characteristics in a way that allowed for truly compassionate hysterics. Neil was, errr, quite the character. Completely over the top in every way, and how he ended up serving us aboard the Semester at Sea boat, I will never know. But I know that he had big dreams of a life off the boat, and I only know this because Gary got him talking. And talking and talking and talking. Eventually, and I have no way to say if this was a result of Gary’s encouragement, though I would hardly doubt it, Neil went AWOL from the ship. Literally tossed his bag over board at port and made a run for it. I still don’t know why this story makes me laugh so hard – but I reckon it has much to do with Gary’s suggested input and beautifully off-color commentary on the entire proceedings. I have no idea whatever became of Neil.

Another of my favorite Gary days was the day of my thesis defense. I was not excited about my defense and was positively put out that I had to actually put up flyers and promote this “public defense.” I was completely irked at the idea of strangers coming to see this production. No matter, Gary (and Paul as well, to give full credit all around) took particular joy in my discomfort surrounding this event. They may deny this, but I know it to be true. They were correct in their assertion that my thesis had a larger public appeal than most, but still. Really? Public? Whatever.

Anyhow, it was fine in the end, as I imagine they – the puppet masters, knew it would be. Following the defense, I went to lunch with Steve, someone I do hope will be in Reno this afternoon, and proceeded to start drinking margaritas. As the second pitcher came, my phone rang. It was Gary. I had to get to the Break Away right away. Yes, that is correct, the Break Away. But, we had just ordered drinks… what to do? In a moment of true Jedi brilliance, I asked the server if we could get the margaritas to go. To go? He said. How can I give you the margaritas to go? You could bring us big soup containers, I said. He looked at me and said, You are right, I could do that. And Steve and I drove to the Break Away with two liter containers of margaritas, complete with straws.

On arrival, Gary and Paul were at the bar with a man who claimed to have worked at Area 51 (my thesis topic) on several assignments. Get over here you have to meet this guy! He said. The guy did seem to know some stuff, but in hindsight, I think he might have been full of crap, he just seemed to be trying a bit too hard, challenging what I said, posturing a bit. No matter, Gary was so excited… Then, What is that? He asked about the giant styrofoam containers we were carrying. We got margaritas to go, I explained. You what? To go, I said. And suddenly Gary made me the star. As he so often did, just when I needed it.

There is so much that I could list in a random collection of my appreciations of Gary, but there is no need. I feel lucky that I get to have them at all. Today that is enough. It must be enough.

Gary was, as I said, a game changer for me, and those are few and far between in a single lifetime. He told me to write. He acknowledged my talents. He pushed me way, way out of my comfort zone. He offered all variety of support for what I did and what I do. He introduced me to “all the right people”. He showed me how everything – absolutely everything – is geographical, a challenge I offer my students every year, and they have yet to find something that is absent some element of geographic influence. He told me, repeatedly and with the appropriate amount of irony, that repetition is the heart of education. And he was right. He was a bright and shining personality, with all of the good bits and challenges that comes with such traits, and he lived. Boy, he knew how to live. I am grateful for the privilege of having been one of his students of geography, pedagogy, and life.

Tonight I’ll raise a glass to you, Dr. Hausladen. You rule.

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I could’ve stayed in Reno: part one

Reno Arch

I could have stayed in Reno. But I did not. I think of this sometimes. Not as much as I used to, but sometimes. I thought about it this morning as I took my place in a very crowded yoga class and looked up at the teacher, and thought, Huh. She looks different. This teacher is known for her love of twisting and just as I was thinking how she looked different she said she would not be doing as much twisting and then I thought, Oh. She’s pregnant. And then she said, I am pregnant.

I thought about this announcement, like I always do when I hear someone is pregnant. Reaching down deep inside to see what kind of emotions crop up. Sitting in ardha padmasana, I felt more longing to achieve padmasana than pregnancy. As the lights got lower I looked deeper even still and the closest I got to something approaching wistfulness regret was the thought that I could have had a baby. I could have stayed in Reno, and had a baby.

But I did not.

As we began to focus more on our breathing I (re)considered this: staying in Reno. What would have been like? Interestingly, there is far less mystery to this than there is to seemingly parallel questions (what would it be like to pick up and move to Tasmania, for example.) If I had stayed in Reno, it is quite easy and predictable to see what would have unfolded.

I could have stayed in Reno. Stretching back into adho mukha svanasana that inverted reality materialized in my mind: a perfectly fine house in a perfectly fine suburb, with a perfectly acceptable job, and a perfectly acceptable partner, driving my perfectly acceptable car, shopping at perfectly adequate malls, eating at perfectly decent restaurants, having a perfectly normal wedding, and the making a (hopefully?) perfectly normal (or at least normally put together) baby. Or two. It is frighteningly easy to see it play out. It would have looked a lot like that. If I would have stayed in Reno.

But I did not.

From chaturanga up into urdhva mukha svanasana I reconsidered this: I could have stayed in Reno. There were a few people who not only assumed I would, they planned on it to the tune of sharing a mortgage and buying an engagement ring. I daresay there were some who might have hoped I stayed too, for very different reasons. But I did not.

Get out of town

I did not stay in Reno and consequently I found Hong Kong. I found that I have an urban soul. I found that I can work anywhere. I found homes perfectly suited to me; in the jungle, in foreign ghettos, in ex-pat highrises, on wide open beaches. I found life without a car, without so many things I thought were necessary. I met people who were so different from me they were just like me. I maybe even found me. I probably still could’ve had a baby.

But I did not.

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I could have stayed in Reno… Back to adho mukha svanasana I smiled thinking how people say Reno is so close to Hell you can see Sparks. I never thought it was all that sparkly myself. In leaving I certainly did not take any road less traveled, or discover anything that had not been discovered a hundred times over by a hundred others before me, or otherwise change the world. But I did not stay in Reno, and that has made me all kinds of different.

…chitta vritti nirodhah…
Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam.

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