Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Best and Worst Years of the Decade

The Best

For me, 2000 was a banner year. On the first day of school in the new year, I started substitute teaching in the Northfield Public Schools. I still remember fondly my first day of subbing in Mrs. Kohl's fifth grade class at Bridgewater Elementary School. I find it unbelievable that those little children are now juniors in college! Then, in the late winter of 2000, director Ruth Weiner, choreographer Devin Cary, and the Carleton Players began rehearsals for Euripides' Iphigeneia at Aulis, using the new translation I had made for the production. The production ran May 10-13, 2000. For me it was an unforgettable experience, and one of the highlights of the entire decade. 2000 also saw the publication of the anthology 33 Minnesota Poets (Nodin Press), which included a selection of my poetry and introduced me to fellow Minnesota poets like Joyce Sutphen and Scott King. Finally, the summer of 2000 brought our first family trip to England, where we spent a month living in Kenilworth, with a week-long holiday-within-a-holiday in the Lake District. I returned home to Minnesota to a new job writing scripts for The Writer's Almanac.

One of the choral dances from Iphigeneia at Aulis (2000)

2003 provided a welcome respite after two difficult years (see below). The highlight of the year was our family trip to France, where we stayed with Clara's brother at their sabbatical home in Baillargues, outside Montpellier. During our ten days in southern France, we visited Arles, Nimes, Orange, Aigues Mortes, Les Baux de Provence, and several spectacular ruined hilltop chateaux. We also enjoyed the markets, the seafood, and the wine. The downside: as we were taking off from Minneapolis to fly to France, the first bombs of the Iraq War were falling on Baghdad. And it was a bittersweet year personally: the last summer we spent with Clara's father before his death from cancer in 2004. Before we learned of the diagnosis, we spent a beautiful week with my father- and mother-in-law in Stowe, Vermont, followed by a summer with the whole family up north.

The Hardys and the Shaws at the Pont du Gard, March 2003

In 2005, my poetry chapbook, The Collecting Jar, was published. I spent the first half of the year teaching for Planet Homeschool, a homeschool cooperative in the Twin Cities, and the fall semester teaching Latin at the University of St. Thomas, my first college teaching position since 1992. The Planet Homeschool experience, begun in the fall of 2004, introduced me to Peytie, who has become one of my favorite people in the world. Like 2003, it was also a bittersweet year: my father died in December, after a long illness.

When 2006 started, I was teaching for the first time at Carleton College, and had a wonderful beginning Latin class. At the same time, I was meeting Peytie once a week at a Caribou Coffee in Apple Valley for Latin tutoring, and meeting with a small homeschool writing class once a month. It was a rich and rewarding year of teaching. Then, in August, our family left for a year in England. In the fall of 2006, from our home in Kenilworth, we made excursions to the Peak District and the Cotswolds, and in October we traveled to Salzburg, Austria, for several days of music and sightseeing.

On the Cleveland Way, between Whitby and Robin Hood's Bay, Yorkshire, April 2007

2007 was filled with even more memorable English experiences, including holidays in Yorkshire and the Lake District, a Jane Austen tour, numerous plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company, trips to London and Oxford, walks on the wonderful English footpaths, the world's best ale, and—well, for the full story, see my Sabbatical blog.

2009 has also been a good year, with two terms of teaching Latin 101 at Carleton, and with the massive accomplishment of helping to get the Cannon River STEM School on its feet. And in June, Clara and I celebrated twenty years of marriage. As the year has drawn to a close, we received the exciting news that Will is spending 2010-2011 as a Rotary Youth Exchange student in Thailand.

The Worst

2001 was not a good year. In January, the Bush years began, and on a Tuesday morning in September, the whole world changed. Meanwhile, I had started the MA.Ed initial licensure program at St. Kate's, lulled by my excellent subbing experience in Northfield into thinking I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. I took one course before abandoning that idea, and spent a stressful six-weeks as a long-term sub teaching Latin at South High School in Minneapolis.

If possible, 2002 was even worse, thanks to my foolish decision to accept a job teaching Latin at a middle school in one of the suburbs of Minneapolis. The entire experience—from the hellish morning commute starting at 5:00 am to the overcrowded classroom full of unmotivated students—was a disaster. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration was edging toward war in Iraq and, on October 25, Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash.

2002 was so bad that it makes 2008—a year in which I spent three months of excruciating pain with a herniated disk in my neck, followed by a hernia operation in July, followed by losing a school board election, followed by an emergency remodeling of our leaking upstairs bathroom that cost twice as much as the initial estimate—look like a fabulous year.

In the final analysis, the good years—2000, 2003-2007, 2009—massively outweigh the bad years. I was 35 in 2000, and now I'm 45. The decade was full of difficult midlife experiences—the deaths of fathers, career challenges, the hazards of homeownership, the aches and pains of a middle-aged skeleto-muscular system—but it also brought the new experiences of international travel and book publication, and introduced me to new places and new friends who have enriched my life.


Shan said...

What a rich and poignant post. I hope 2010 is a banner year for you. I'm glad the good years outweighed the bad, this last decade. I don't think I'd have the stamina to reflect in detail on the last 10 years. The high points (babies, friends, writing) are off the charts high, but egad, it's such a roller coaster, finishing graduate school and navigating a career and traversing one's 30s and giving birth to two babies and then trying to raise them on no sleep and scant patience.

Anyway, I guess we all have our wonderful years and our hellish years, right? And it's always nice to see a new year around the corner, to me anyway--so much potential.

Jim H. said...

As a wise blues musician and folk lyricist once said, "You just can't go 'round subtractin and addin, 'cause it just be too late."

I guess there is a difference between taking stock and keeping score. I enjoyed your reflection.

Juliette said...

Dear Rob, Just to say what a privilege it was to read this post and how much I enjoyed learning more of your life - will you be doing another one in ten years time?? Eeeek you will be older than I am now in ten years - if you are with me :)

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .