I lived in Seattle for a little over ten years and became familiar enough with the city. Among the major neighborhoods, I frequented the U District the most after Capitol Hill, where I lived. In contrast, I visited Ballard and Fremont the least, mainly because it took longer to get there on bus. (I owned a car for less than a year.) I might have gone to Ballard no more than twice, and learned most about it from a fellow who supervised one of my L’Arche disabled housemates at their work. This fellow was inducted into the Sons of Norway, the ethnic organization whose members met at the Leif Erickson Lodge in Ballard, and knew quite a few things about the neighborhood.
Fremont I frequented a little more: once or twice with my L’Arche housemates for dinner, and maybe a dozen of times on my days off. In a city known for alternative goofiness, Fremont was the most alternative or, depending on how you look at it, the goofiest of all. Its best-known landmarks are the Fremont Troll and a large statue of Lenin: the former created in 1990 and the latter purchased from the former Soviet Union a few years later. (Apparently it’s still on sale for a cool quarter-million.) More conventional is the sculpture “Waiting for the Interurban,” shown briefly to the world at the beginning of the 1980s romantic comedy Say Anything, and frequently decorated by locals and even non-locals for various events and occasions.
In the late 1990s, I met up with an Irish friend two or three times in Fremont. He had worked at another L’Arche community, rode a motorbike, and moved to Seattle with his Canadian girlfriend. They later broke up: quite bad a breakup, illustrated by the fact that, in his words, she took everything “even the toilet plunger.” It was a lousy time even for a natural pick-myself-up like Nick. There was, however, a happy ending. About a year later, he met a fellow expat from Éire. They rode his bike throughout the Northwest one summer, fell in love, and got married.
The last time I met Nick in Fremont, he had told me that Tricia was coming with her boyfriend. I knew Tricia for quite some time since we became L’Arche assistants – she in Portland; I Seattle – only a year apart. Both of us were also live-in assistants longer than most assistants in our respective communities.
There had been a wave of changes in the Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland communities during the early and mid-1990s. There was expansion of at least one new house in each community. There was also a new group of assistants, including many newly college graduates, mostly Americans but also some Europeans (for Seattle and Tacoma), that did L’Arche for more than a couple of years. Tricia and I were part of that wave, and I got to know her and a few others well enough through L’Arche activities in the region, especially regional meeting over Labor Day’s Weekend and the assistant retreat.
There were many things that I remember about Tricia. One was seeing her accompany a tall and sweet but actively mobile non-verbal core member at Cornet Bay, the site of those annual Labor Day gatherings. Another was hearing myself tell a joke quite badly to a few assistants. No one laughed, and Tricia took a look at me and kindly said, “It’s the delivery.” Ha! As former and current assistants could attest, the primary relationships for an assistant center around the assistants and core members within the same community. But it was enhancing to meet and know assistants from other communities. We shared in the same experience, after all, and it was both profound and challenging. The knowledge that there were others engaging in the same calling elsewhere helped to lift our spirits at least for a short time.
In any event, I hadn’t seen Tricia for some time before that evening. Both of us were no longer live-in assistants by this time. There was no more Cornet Bay gathering after 1998 either, as the North America was divided into the Canada and U.S. zones for administrative and organizational purposes. In Fremont, I met up with Nick and her – the boyfriend was coming later – and I remember the three of us had a very nice time catching up over a beer or two.
Since she had the most changes, Tricia had the most to say that evening. She had joined a small intentional community – a house of six young adults, if I remember correctly – and one of her five housemates was Paul, who later became her boyfriend. I can still recall the excitement on Tricia’s face and in her voice as she described her new life and, especially, Paul, who came from Missouri. His grandfather, she told us, had been a lawyer, and his father too. So, it was hardly a surprise that Paul went to law school after college. After graduation, however, he decided that law wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He found out that he was good with kids and went into teaching instead.
People change careers all the time in America. Still, it isn’t everyday that people move from the legal profession to teaching grade school. Paul’s was a very interesting story, and more than once I have shared it with my students in Great Books classes, usually after being prompted by something one of them said when we discussed the reading for that day.
Back to Fremont, Tricia told us that Paul had taught for some time by the time they became housemates. Having had some interest already, Tricia explored the possibility for herself. She went to the school where Paul was teaching, and did some classroom observation. I don’t remember all the details she said, but I remember one thing very clearly. In one class, the teacher clearly had a hard time running the classroom. “She couldn’t really get a hold of her students,” said Tricia. “I went to Paul’s class later,” she continued, “And he kicked ass!” There was a glow on her face, and I’m pretty sure that she took a good long sip of beer after finishing the story.
Now, a basic requirement for a college faculty job application is the personal statement of teaching philosophy. The recommended length is one to two single-spaced pages, but depending on the person, the statement could be one paragraph or three or more pages. Although it was still two or three years before I went to graduate school and entered academia, what Tricia said about Paul has stuck with me ever since that evening in Fremont. It has, indeed, become something of my teaching philosophy.
Sure, I’ve written two or three statements of teaching philosophy for job applications. All of them conformed to academic norms and described the usual suspects: to distill knowledge, dissect information, further conceptualization, get students think critically, stimulate their desire for further knowledge, etc. These are good things, mind you, to ponder upon and type out.
Ultimately, though, my teaching philosophy is to thrive and, well, kick ass in the classroom, in the way described by Tricia about Paul. Some classes I’ve done just that, and some classes I didn’t at all. The ideal nonetheless remains to this day – and, I think, for the rest of my academic career. For starting this ideal, I’ll have to tip my head towards Tricia and Paul, now parents of a couple of kids in grade school, and send them my thanks and appreciation.
This post was prompted by Tricia’s FB notification of Paul’s fiftieth birthday this week. Belated happy birthday to him!