“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
- a tenor & a mezzo soprano (and sure; why not, an alto)
I can be gracious and opinionated, generous and impatient. I’ve been a failure and a success, and a victim and a survivor.
All have brought me to where I am today.
MY MISSION: to foster curiosity in cross-cultural experiences, both at home and abroad–especially the ones that make us gasp.
As our world becomes smaller–through social media, immigration, relocation, or travel–we will find ourselves bumping up against culture clash, cultural difference more and more. Understanding the role that culture plays in our lives, often unconsciously will become even more important.
I take a line from Alice Walker (There Is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me) to say, “There is a pen nestled in my hand writing me.”
I don’t write because I want to. I write because I have to, because when I don’t write, I find myself moving farther away from who I am, who I still can be. I also write to learn — about myself and others, to discover connections I’d have never found otherwise, to uncover truths waiting for me.
My Three Cs: Curiosity, Compassion, and Courage
Through my writing, I want you, my reader, to increase your curiosity in the cross-cultural “other,” and through that curiosity come to understand better your own culture, and your place in it. But curiosity must be partnered with compassion, otherwise it’s just being nosy. And to do that, courage is required.
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, currently explores the interface of culture, curiosity, and civility and offers a chance to take a closer look — some say to chew on what we’ve been swallowing whole — at one’s own culture and, in doing so, come to appreciate it anew or work to change it. The choice is ours.
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 fundraiser. After twenty-three years, I headed back east to a job in fundraising at the University of Pennsylvania and a new life.
I left my alumni relations job at Penn, graduated as a “Certified Gestalt psychotherapist” from the Pennsylvania Gestalt Center and hung my shingle from my West Philadelphia home, and married my best friend.
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
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.
I soon came to know that 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)
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 2014 with updated versions by Birch Tree Books in 2015 and 2016.
I share my life with C. W. (Woody) Starkweather, 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. And I sing whenever I can.
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.