Subject met to talk in Fayetteville in order to avoid the long drive to her rural home. Born 1954, New York City.
There was a lot of political activity and discussion in my high school. For instance, my social studies teacher in high school had us read an anthology of women’s liberation readings before the term was being used, which was real unusual. There was a lot of progressive thinking, a lot of people being active in my high school. There were student organizations, although we were too young to be doing a lot of the college protesting.
While I was in high school I was working for the Vietnam War moratorium. I left New York after that. We stood on street corners with bumper stickers, passing out petitions, that kind of stuff. I did that in downtown Manhattan. There were a lot of us doing it, but it wasn’t a majority. My neighborhood was very mixed -- my parents were Jewish, but there were blacks, Puerto Ricans, Irish and Italians in the neighborhood, so I never felt like a minority there. I worked against the war because it seemed normal to me at the time. All the people I hung out with were feeling the same way and doing the same thing. Part of the scene with that group was getting high, but I did have another group of friends who lived in my neighborhood but did not go to my high school and that wasn’t part of the scene with them.
It was an eye opener, people calling me names [about the war protest]. I was incredulous that people could feel that about us.
I wanted to leave home, and the most acceptable way to leave home at that point was to go to college. So I did that, about 200 miles away, because I didn’t want to be anywhere near my parents. My pursuit in college was academic and social. We talked about stuff, but I wasn’t an activist. I liked where I was and stayed there even when I found out they didn’t offer a degree in the field I wanted. I knew I’d go on to graduate school. I got high on social occasions, but never when I was by myself. I never had much interest in it. I did LSD once and it was fun, but I never did it again. I did mescaline a few times, and I’ve enjoyed mushrooms a few times since, but it was never a big focus for me.
When you get out of school in New York, everyone’s goal is to drive a VW van to California. So that was the plan. That’s what you did. I graduated December ‘74. I remember -- I was going to do it with a friend, and she copped out on me, she decided to stay in New York for graduate school -- I went with a friend who was headed to Berkeley. He had a job but he had no money to travel. I had the money, so we put our stuff together and the two of us headed out at the end of January. By the time we got to Tucson, it was pretty clear we shouldn’t be traveling together any more. So I stayed with someone I knew there and he went on.
I ended up going to Colorado, where I proceeded to live for about seven years. I got my residency and did my master’s at Boulder, a dual certification in educationally handicapped, working with learning disabled and emotionally disturbed kids. My major as an undergraduate was elementary education with a concentration in educational psychology.
I’ve always worked with kids. When I was growing up, we would go away from the summer, and after I was old enough not to be a camper anymore, I was a counselor. But I wanted the special ed kids. I worked there for five years, teaching emotionally disturbed kids. And when I left there, I wanted nothing to do with education ever again. I was burnt out on special ed, the paperwork, the work was extremely draining. I was exhausted. There was too much, and it’s a hundred times worse now. At lot of it is for a good reason, for the rights of the kids, but it takes an incredible amount of energy and time away from working with the kids. I couldn’t deal with it. That’s when S-- and I met, at a conference for emotionally disturbed kids.
We came here. S-- had bought the property before. It was very different, culture shock. The first time we came, we camped out and I discovered that 78 of the 80 acres was poison ivy, and it was mosquitos -- met a few of his friends who were absolutely nuts, and I was like, what am I getting myself into. But I checked out what was going on, the bulletin boards, the coop. As long as I could get the food I wanted and there was some good public stuff going on, I thought, well, sure, I’ll try it and if we didn’t like it, we were going to leave.
I stopped eating meat as a freshman in college, which has been about 25 years. The reason was the food on campus. It was awful. I realized I felt a whole lot better from that. Then that summer I was working at camp in upstate NY for emotionally disturbed and mentally retarded -- you name it -- reject kids from the city, as well as adults -- a weird combination of people, but it was also institutional food and it was terrible, so I continued not eating meat, and I felt all right. Then I took a natural foods and nutrition class and went to the local health food store and started learning a bunch of stuff, and slowly dropped [foods]-- after red meat, it was poultry, then when I got to Colorado, I stopped eating fish. A friend of mine went out and caught us some trout for breakfast one morning, and I just looked at it and said, well, if I can’t decapitate it and clean it and do everything that should be done with it, I have no business eating it. So haven’t eaten fish any more. By then it was much more an ethical thing. Then I stopped eating dairy when we got here. It was a continuation of that, plus health reasons. It’s been real easy. Now I try really hard to use zero leather products. Shoes are still tough sometimes. But pretty much everything is non-animal product.
Sometimes I advocate my ethics, if the audience is right. People at school certainly know my diet. The non-leather goods things has come up in conversation, but I don’t preach about it. But yeah, I get in jabs all the time, like somebody today was saying something about the food they were eating that grossed them out, and I said, well, why is dead fried cow any better? I do that a lot, if the opportunity arises.
I have paid dues and written checks supporting activist groups. But more of my focus has been what I can do with my issues that are important, and to teach that to the kids. The focus of my work in terms of prevention with kids is conflict resolution. Those kids live and breathe it with me. My second graders can talk with you about win-win situations, and how conflicts escalate, and first graders are starting to learn about the word "prejudice" and my third graders can tell you what a stereotype is. The bulk of work with kids is conflict resolution and prejudice reduction. I started a peer mediation class this year, where kids go out and mediate kids on the playground if they have problems. So the things that are important to me, I’ve put my energy into teaching those skills to kids. I feel like that’s the most beneficial thing I can do. It works for me. I feel like I’m doing something, plus I just feel like it’s really important.
The kids will say, this issue is really stupid, and how can anybody be prejudiced, and how can anybody be like that? The kids don’t care about the stuff that adults are hung up on, obviously, and I say, well, that’s why we talk about it while you’re kids, because when you’re grown up, you’re going to know how stupid it is and you’re going to teach your kids it’s not ok, and maybe one day, you know, we talk about conflicts in the news, and wouldn’t it be cool if they knew how to deal with that stuff in better ways and they never got to learn about that stuff -- this is prevention, I hope.
Kids love to talk about conflict, with brothers and sisters, with parents -- we could spend all day brainstorming all the different areas. I teach them that conflict is part of life and there’s nothing wrong with conflict, it’s what you do with it that makes it productive or destructive.
I can infuse my activism into what I do every day, so it’s not an add-on.
I’ve been doing some reading in the last six to eight months about Buddhist beliefs, and there’s always been an attraction there, but I’ve never really studied it. I was bound and determined to start meditating this year -- it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, something I’ve always felt would be beneficial to me. Being still is the hardest thing for me, physically as well as mentally. It is something I plan to pursue. So far I haven’t had the self control to stick with it. My goal this year is to slow down. I think I need to work on patience sometimes. But I don’t think it’s coming from anxiety, I think it’s just my mode of operation and I don’t like moving a hundred miles an hour.
But at the same time I embrace simplicity in my personal life, I book myself in. Even extracurricular activities, I’m doing this this and this -- it’s all really fun, it’s stuff I want to do, I don’t want to give any of it up, but at the same time I have no time for me. If I had a half hour of meditation, it would be me doing nothing but being with me. If I could build in just fifteen minutes a day, just to sit still, it would be really nice.