“I am large. I contain multitudes.” Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
In the spirit of that celebrated nineteenth century poet, essayist, and journalist, I am:
- a freelance writer & a published author
- a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer & a sociologist
- a psychotherapist & a poultry farmer
- a daughter & a divorcee
- a mother & a dog owner
- a grandmother & a wife
- a stutterer & a workshop leader and speaker
- tenor & mezzo soprano (and sure; why not, alto)
I can be gracious and opinionated, generous and impatient. I’ve been a failure and a success, a victim and a survivor. All have brought me to where I am today.
Do you know how large you are?
MY MISSION: to foster curiosity in cross-cultural experiences, both at home and abroad–especially the ones that make us gasp.
I want to strengthen your curiosity in the cross-cultural “other,” and through that curiosity come to understand anew your own culture, and your place in it.
It takes courage to follow your curiosity, courage you already have.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer from 2004-2006, I was quickly embedded into a very different culture.
Kazakhstan has a
* collectivist culture (vs. my individualist one)
* majority Muslim population (vs. my Calvinist background), and
* 70-year history under Soviet rule (vs. my American capitalist foundation)
I remember vividly, during my first few months there, breaking down in sobs, wanting “the newness to stop, just for a while.” I wrote about this in my memoir, At Home on the Kazakh Steppe, (in the chapter entitled The Meltdown).
The message of that memoir, and most of my writing, whether on my blog, through social media, or in the new book I’m working on, is (1) we have much to gain from understanding other cultures, and in so doing see how much there is to learn about our own. And (2) it’s hard to do.
But, as our world becomes smaller — through social media, immigration, relocation, or travel — it’s vital that we come to appreciate the role that culture plays in our lives, often unconsciously.
Through my work, I want you, my reader, to stand still, maybe take a breath, and increase your own self-awareness. For therein lies your capacity to be curious about the enriching world around you.
I started writing when my grandmother moved away and I wanted to respond to her weekly letters.
She wrote in large, flowing, cursive letters across both sides of the paper. I did not; I was seven.
By age twelve, I had created and was “publishing” a science class newsletter—on a mimeograph machine.
There were stints as an editor and a columnist on my high school newspaper and again on my college newspaper.
Through it all my voice failed me. I stuttered and the reality of that, the expectation and fear that others would know, weighed heavily on me. I lived in a state of perpetual stage fright.
But as much as I suffered for nearly forty years, my stuttering led directly to my first published book, a dream of mine since grade school.
The co-authored textbook (with C.W. Starkweather), Stuttering, [from the Pro-Ed series on Communication Disorders] was included in Choice Magazine‘s “Best Textbooks of 1997” list, the first in its field to win this award.
My first memoir, At Home on the Kazakh Steppe: A Peace Corps Memoir, was published in 2014. Other memoirs are in the works, including one telling my stuttering story from my first memory at age 6, to my “awakening” at age 42 and eventual recovery. More than that, it is the story of resiliency, of recovery, and of redemption. And, though I still identify as a stutterer, my stuttering no longer rules my life. In fact, in writing this today, I realize I rarely think of it anymore.
I’ve got two books for children: a picture book, Two Bunnies, which is still in need of pictures, and a chapter book, Grandma Goes to Kazakhstan, which will (I hope) be followed by such titles as Grandma Goes to Tahiti, Grandma Goes to Scotland and Wales, or Grandma Goes to Cuba. But I’ve accepted that there may only be Grandma Goes to Ohio.
My weekly blog, And So It Goes, seeks to bring about a greater understanding of the culture that, inevitably and unconsciously, molds us. We do that by looking at cultures that are different than our own or subcultures within our own that we might have been unaware of. And we pay special attention to the parts of those cultures that trouble us, make us gasp, laugh, or that make us turn away.
And So It Goes offers a chance to take a closer look — some say to chew on what we’ve been swallowing whole — and, in doing so, come to appreciate our own culture anew, work to change it, or reject it outright. The choice is ours.
My education includes both a bachelor’s degree (from NYU, 1971) and a master’s (from Kent State University, 1983) in sociology, and four years as a teaching fellow in political science, working towards a Ph.D. (Kent State University, 1989 – 1993).
It also includes over twenty years in 12-Step recovery programs, certification and practice as a Gestalt psychotherapist, and a longstanding interest in the writings of Buddhist scholars and mentors. These different streams all flow into my writing and inform the therapy I do both with individuals and groups.
I married right out of college, raised two sons in a midwest Ladies Home Journal life, and became a professional fund raiser. After twenty-three years, I headed back east to a job in fundraising at the University of Pennsylvania and a new life.
1999 was a big year. I married my best friend, left my job at Penn, and graduated as a “Certified Gestalt psychotherapist” from the Pennsylvania Gestalt Center, hanging my shingle from my West Philadelphia home.
For the next five years, our home was filled with foreign students who rented rooms on the third floor and filled our house with enthusiasm for learning English as a second language. I saw a steady stream of clients in my home and enjoyed numerous trips around the globe as Woody and I met and worked with people who stutter and the professionals who treat them.
This was the life I thought would continue for another few decades, at least.
My husband had other ideas.
Peace Corps Years
In 2004, with my newly retired husband leading the way, I joined the Peace Corps. We were sent to Kazakhstan, the ninth largest country in the world, independent since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and home to Russia’s space launch site, Baikonur.
Like most Americans at the time, we’d never heard of it.
Our two years there are relived in At Home On the Kazakh Steppe, the memoir I began to write shortly after our return. It was published by Ant Press in August, 2014 and an updated version was published by Birch Tree Books in 2015 and again in 2016.
I share my life with C. W. (Woody) Starkweather: my companion, my friend, my spouse, my lover, my cook, and my chief Beta reader. For each of his roles, I am grateful.
I continue to write narrative non-fiction in Vermont with Sasha, my white shepherd, nearby and the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the distance.
This year I’m going back to those workshops I once offered to stutterers and the people who served them, now focusing more broadly on those interested in personal growth and increased self-awareness. If you’d like more information, please contact me.