How do you sum up 12 years of blood, sweat, fire and fun? Where do you begin to explain 12 years?
I got married last year, to my long-suffering sweetheart, who teaches up in San Jose, 282.6 miles north. (ask me how I know that…)
Santa Barbara being the mecca of affordable housing that it is, we were reluctantly forced to conclude that the road to our future was the 101, heading north out of town. If you could actually make a living here, you couldn’t get me out of Santa Barbara with dynamite, but there’s only so long you can live like a gopher in a hole, with 4 jobs, just to make ends meet in paradise.
For those who follow my occasional blog or orchid posts, I’ve spent the past 12 years teaching at Santa Barbara City College’s adult-ed jewelry program. Even if I do say so myself, we’re one of the top adult-ed jewelry programs in the country. I’ve taught in college studios that weren’t half as well equipped. The studio is truly outstanding. But that really isn’t what matters about the place.
Another word for adult-ed is ‘community education’, which fits us far better. We really are a community. It’s the community of people that makes the Santa Barbara shop such an outstanding place. It isn’t the gear I’ll miss, it’s the people. I came out to Santa Barbara 12 years ago, for reasons that seemed good at the time. When those reasons evaporated several years later, I could have packed up and headed back East, but I stayed, largely because of the family I’d found in the jewelry program. Suddenly, without quite realizing it, somehow it’s 12 years later, and I’m not leaving a program, I’m leaving a family.
One of the things that sticks with me the most is 9/11. It was a Tuesday morning. The first day of class for the fall term, so it was the ‘big’ first day when everything was a little screwy on the best of days, and that was far from the best of days. It began for me with a pre-dawn phone call from my sister, who lives in NYC, to let me know she was OK. Funny, I was asleep, with no clue that I should have been worried. The TV quickly cured that, for good and all. I remember watching the footage of the first tower falling, turning and saying “well, we’re at war with somebody”. Little did I suspect that it’d be our own better nature and common sense. What I remember most about that day isn’t the images of fire and smoke, it’s the students who came to class anyway. Gathering together, determined to get through that day regardless, together. We were 3000 miles away, and although most of us had friends or family back East, there wasn’t a bloody thing any of us could do from the western edge of California, so the best we could do was come together. I sometimes say that I got two classes through that day, on time, and on track, but I didn’t really. We did. We, the community that came together that day, decided to get through it, together. There was no way I could have held those classes on track if they hadn’t made an almighty effort to stay together. There was an unspoken agreement not to talk about it until after class, because there wasn’t a thing to be done, other than organizing blood drives, which had already begun by 9AM. We did talk about it afterward, some of us, some of us who remembered Pearl Harbor, and battles high in the skies, and freezing in the mud, half the world away. The memory of that conversation will stay with me to the end of my days as well, but mostly, I’ll remember the quiet words, the sudden stillness at the sound of a cell phone’s cry, and the absolute, iron bound determination to get through that day. Together. We did get through it, and all the years since. Together.
It’s the community that makes the place. Janice, the heart and soul of the outfit, and Margot, both of them my adopted foster moms. (thanks!) Lord knows we have our share of crazy aunts & uncles, and dysfunctional family squabbles, but none of that was really mattered when push came to shove. I remember so many people, so many vibrant personalities, and gifted artists. Kathy Smick, taken from us far too early, David & David, both of whom have been outstanding assistants, and are well established now, on their own roads to their futures, and so many others. Jane, my favorite “not Pat”, Jonas, still making jewelry for his wife at the age of 96, Susan and her bunnies (and fish, and…) Eleanor and her exquisite enamels, Kelly jumping up and down tonight as her magic box finally worked, at the last possible moment. Nick with his handmade anvil, Saint Mel of the Woodshop, Tom, Harvey, Fritz & Karla (and Carol, of course)…. all the hundreds of people over the years who became not just random students, but friends. I remember.
One of the great things about community education is that it isn’t about random students, coming and going every semester. I’ve been working with some of these people for ten or twelve years. That’s an incredible opportunity to come to know them, to know their strengths, and where they need to be pushed. An unmatched opportunity to watch them grow, and help them develop as artists and makers. The wonderful thing about community education is that it is also known as ‘continuing’ education. Our relationship with these students continues. Sometimes for years, and that’s a very good thing in many ways. It’s not just “here, do this project and go on your way” it’s more of “where are you on the road today? Where do you want to be tomorrow?”
To all of my friends here in Santa Barbara, my road leads north now, and takes me away from the family I found here. Never doubt that I will remember the years I spent here, and the family we built. Together. Take care of each other.
For some reason, an old Irish blessing is rolling through my head.
May the sun always be warm on your back, and the wind at your feet, as the road winds ever downward to home.