Thursday, April 28, 2011
I once read an interview with Anthony Bourdain, an American chef and author. He said he knows that deep inside him is a lazy hippy who’d be perfectly happy to lay on the couch, smoke weed and watch The Simpsons all day. He said he was afraid of that guy and his whole life was constructed to avoid reverting to him. So his motto has been to “Stay busy. Stay focused. Try not to mess up.” Like Bourdain, I have always been afraid someone would realize I was just this lazy drama queen who was simply sitting around on the couch, stoned every day, watching reruns of Perry Mason. So I have had to keep moving, keep working on hiding that lazy girl from the rest of the world. I finished high school, got pregnant, got married. My sons and I left that abusive marriage for welfare, moving on to find work as a teacher’s assistant in Special Education for Portland Public Schools. I surprised myself, having continually heard what a stupid fat woman I was, that within three years I had created a new position for Portland Public Schools and became the chair of the Special Education teacher aides. And then I stepped off the ledge to go to college at age 28. I wanted to be a Special Education teacher.
As I started classes, I worried that too many brain cells had died and I would not do well in school. After all, my sister was the smart one. So I just kept pushing myself. As an undergraduate student I wrote for the student newspaper, became the editor of the Marketing Association’s newsletter, and was a ghostwriter for a city councilperson, with the articles published in the Portland Observer. I also worked in the Office of Students with Disabilities, worked in the office of Speech Communication, all the while working 20-30 hours a week at a neighborhood market. I also worked as an aide for a man who was a quadriplegic, and in my spare time cooked and cleaned for a sweet little old lady who lived down the street.
It was important for me to graduate in four years—my sons needed me to start earning us a living—so I took 15-18 credit hours a term. I started teaching college courses while I was an undergraduate, even initiating two courses: Barriers to Communication: Communicating with People with Disabilities, and Communication and Obesity. At the end of my four years, I graduated with high honors as well as selected as an outstanding undergraduate student by the Department of Speech Communication. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Speech Communication and in Sociology, with a minor in Journalism. I was selected as the graduation speaker. I had obviously held off that lazy drama queen for a bit. I also no longer wanted to teach in Special Education. I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew it wasn't in Special Ed.
I graduated into a poor economy. The joke was, “How many Oregonians does it take to change a light bulb? Only one but 300 applied for the job.” I wanted to move to southern Oregon to live on the Klamath Indian Reservation as a house-sitter, and write as a freelance journalist. My former husband sued me for custody. I won the court battle, but it took such a beating on my sons I gave up this idea. I continued to work at the neighborhood store and earn money in any manner I could. I collected newspapers from the neighbors to turn in for money. I swept the parking lot at the store for $5. I turned in cans, sewed clothes for people, and lived frugally. Over the years as a student and then as a graduate we had our water shut off, heat shut off. We lived on food charged at the neighborhood store—bean and cheese burritos were 49 cents and boxed macaroni and cheese was a dime. We humbly received government cheese, powdered milk, pasta, and butter. When Portland State University called asking if I would be interested in earning a graduate degree as a teaching assistant, I didn’t hesitate. While I had no desire to earn a Master’s degree, I couldn’t overlook that PSU was not only paying for my education, it was paying me to be there. Ironically, out of the five graduate assistants hired my first year, I was initially the only one to complete my degree.
To be continued~~~