Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sibling Assignment #118: Tied to Spokane

Silver Valley Girl gave the sibling assignment this week.

Think about one of the places you were living in the 1980’s and write about how you are still tied to that particular place.

Inland Empire Girl sure got me to thinking back to some fun times as she reminisced about being tied to Richland, WA, here and Silver Valley Girl relishes her ties to the place that's not the end of the world, but you can see if from there, Glendive, MT, here.

During the two academic years from 1982-84, I taught on two separate, consecutive temporary full-time appointments at Whitworth College (now University) and they remain the two most memorable years of my life.

As I've written before, it was a very painful time and I probably did more things during those two years that I regret then at any time in my life.

My behavior, especially for an instructor at a Christian college, was sometimes not very exemplary.

I was, however, alive.

I was alive to music, especially on KHQ-FM and MTV.

I was alive to movies, especially those showing at the downtown art house, The Magic Lantern, and the movies I rented and recorded on my, well, yes, I bought one, on my Betamax.

I was really alive to teaching. I was enamored with teaching at Whitworth. My mind was young, supple, alive, and in high gear. My passions for teaching Shakespeare, composition, Intro. to Literature, The Family in American Drama, Creative Writing, the American Romantics, non-Shakespearean Renaissance Literature, a course in Hardy, Eliot, and Lawrence, and working on the Core 150 team, teaching all aspects of the Judeo-Christian Tradition, well, my passions were on fire and burned furiously. My passions animated me. I've never known, nor will I know again, such a period of intellectual adventure, excitement, exchange, and animation.

Thanks to this blog and to Facebook, I've renewed three deeply satisfying ties to this time in my life in Spokane.

First, I'm back in touch with Bill Davie. Bill was a student in the first composition course I ever taught, during my first teaching stint at Whitworth in the fall of 1977. He was my favorite kind of student at Whitworth. He was creative, a superb musician and songwriter and a terrific poet. He had great intellectual respect for the Christian tradition and enjoyed studying philosophical and theological questions, but he was not a cheery Christian; I don't even know if he ever professed to be a Christian. I never cared. What I cared about was that Bill was finishing his senior year at Whitworth when I returned in 1982 and we renewed our friendship and he enrolled in my Renaissance Lit class and he helped make it one of the most invigorating and fun courses I've ever taught. Outside the classroom, Bill and I drank a few beers, warmed our bellies with George Dickel Tennessee bourbon, smoked a few cigs together, and had a lot of good conversations and a lot of good laughs.

That was twenty-seven, twenty-eight years ago. We got back in touch around 1991 again and visited each other. I came up to Seattle. He came to Eugene. He performed in the Eugene area multiple times and we had some good times.

We fell out of touch after Bill was down here in about 1997, but we've renewed contact and those great ties to music, ideas, alcohol, laughter, mutual friends, and the city of Spokane, the Knight's Diner, Ferguson's Cafe, the Viking Tavern, the Bigfoot Tavern all come alive and nourish me, now that Bill and I have renewed our friendship.

I'm also back in touch with Colette Marie, who went by Klingman back in Spokane. Colette was a senior at Whitworth during the 82-83 school year. She was in my Shakespeare class and then a teaching assistant for me on the Core 150 team and we had a ton of fun together, especially around the building where the English department was housed, around Westminster Hall.

As we've renewed our friendship, I'm amazed at what a deep bond we formed back in Spokane. As we get to writing to each other, it's obvious our lives have changed a lot, but a deep core of honesty and trust remains between us.

While at Whitworth, I didn't always want to go home in the evenings to my apartment. I didn't want to be alone. So I stuck around my office where Colette and other students studied in the basement of Westminster Hall. The lounge was just outside my office.

We distracted each other from our academic tasks, not only with telling tall tales and poking fun at the Whitworth evironment and with laughter, but also with poems and excerpts from stories and plays.

It was really fun, especially as we brought poems to life. We rarely explicated them. We weren't reading these poems in a classroom. We were reading them for pleasure, to be blown away, to experience their vitality and music. To hell with meaning, we might have said. We might have said, "Yeats didn't write 'He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven' for an English class, he didn't write it to be broken down and for students to write papers about. He wrote it to create beauty, to move us, to bring us to tears." I think we were right. See what you think:

Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Naw. It's not for school. It's too good for academic treatment. Colette and I understood this back in our twenties and so we enjoyed poetry at its purest, without the clutter of school talk, without the vocabulary of academic explication. We just read, listened, and sighed.

At least that's what's stuck with me.

Now, nearly thirty years later, Colette has told me she fears that those days of enjoyment and laughter have passed away inside of her, that she doesn't read poetry much. So I send her poems once in a while, poems I think she might enjoy. I tell her about things that happen in my life teaching poetry at LCC.

The poems and our emails back and forth awaken those fun days at Whitworth. We are tied back to Spokane again.

I'm also tied to Bridgit Harris, who was Bridgit Lacy at Whitworth.

Bridgit stood out as a student, in part, because she had deep empathy for characters in stories and movies that most people didn't like very well. In particular, she stood up for the mother, Beth, in Ordinary People and wrote eloquently about what made her, for Bridgit, a sympathetic character. Most viewers of the movie didn't like her and didn't feel for her at all. Bridgit did.

Well, in the early months of 1984, I wasn't feeling particularly likable myself, for a variety of reasons having to do with drinking too much, being stupid with a particular woman in my life, and dealing with Eileen having begun annulment proceedings, to have our five year marriage nullified.

Bridgit was a wonderful, accepting, kind, funny, and empathetic friend. She, too, studied in the basement of Westminster where we had wonderful conversations.

My favorite day with Bridgit was in downtown Spokane. I don't remember when this happened. We went to a huge Goodwill store and I bought a full length wool coat for some ridiculously low price. I loved that coat. I wore it all the time and it became, I suppose, sort of a signature garment people knew me by.

I never would have thought to go to Goodwill, let alone, buy that coat, were it not for Bridgit.

It seemed like Bridgit was always steering me in different directions, not only in things we did together, but in the ways she talked about things, how she always left me scratching my head, saying to myself, "I never thought of it that way. I think Bridgit's right."

To this day, I'm tied to those days in Spokane through Bridgit. Bridgit has been a faithful reader of this blog and a commenter, too. She continues to write things to me about what I've written, that I thought were really right on the mark, and presents me with a different perspective. As occurred back in Spokane, I read what she writes to me and I scratch my head and I think, "I never thought of it that way. I think Bridgit's right."

Time is such a funny, what?, thing, I guess. Bill, Colette, and Bridgit and I were friends back in our twenties (although I turned 30 in Dec. of 1983)and now here we are, in 2010.

Colette is nearly 50. Bridgit just turned 50. Bill is a little over 50. I'm in my mid-fifties. Nearly thirty years have passed since those two years I taught at Whitworth. And they are still so alive to me.

A week ago, I drove to Vancouver, WA and back and listened exclusively to two of Bill Davie's albums, "Phobia Robes" and "Gravity". His music not only continues to delight me and challenge me with its lovely rhythms and melodies, at times, its surreal lyrics and surreal melodies and surreal rhythms, at times, and its philosophical depth, always, his music also ties me back to Spokane, transports me back to Hennie's or the HUB at Whitworth, and Bill's back there and so are Colette and Bridgit -- I'm deeply grateful to still have these wonderful friendships, all very much alive in the present, and to have, at the same time, such immediate contact with those immensely important two years of my life, to still be so tied to Spokane, WA.


Susan said...

Hi Bill - I was a student of yours at Whitworth as well, although I don't think we knew each other well. (I walked in 83 but didn't finish officially until Jan term 84.) I thoroughly enjoyed your entry. All my memories of the English Dept, Westminster, Bill Davie and other remarkable people came flooding back. I suddenly had this image of your small blue inked writing on index cards - your comments about my writing! Sometimes I feel like I've lost myself and it feels good to be reminded of times when I felt more fully alive. So thanks for that! Wishing you all the best his crazy world has to offer. Susan-Louise (Johnson) McFadden

raymond pert said...


I remember you well from both the Shakespeare course and The Family in American Drama. (I think I got that right.) Your writing was brilliant, not only in its insights, but I remember what a powerful writing style you'd developed. I'm so glad you read this entry and took the time to comment. You've crossed my mind several times over the years and it's good to know our shared memories of our work together at Whitworth are alive. If you read this comment and want to correspond, my email address is easy to find on my kellogg bloggin' page. Thanks again for for your response. It uplifts me.

Susan Louise said...

Bill - I'm very happy that you remember me. Thanks for befriending me on Facebook. I look forward reconnecting with you and all the wonderful Westminster folk.