"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

December 30, 2007

A Welcome End to 2007





I know, I know. It's been a while.

Honestly, the three of you who've recently brought to my attention that I haven't posted since July aren't really telling me any news. I just haven't felt much like writing. I decided today, in talking with a friend, that perhaps it's a good time (it's New Year's Eve-eve) to take stock of what I am most thankful to have had in 2007, though admittedly I'm looking very forward to a better 2008. In the spirit of what has become my favorite holiday correspondence, the holiday letters from my favorite Pittsburgh gals, which recount the past year's exploits, traumas, and adventures, I hereby submit the high- and low-lights of Old Man 2007: these are what I am most thankful for.

1.) Our house. 191 Vassar Street continues to be a source of comfort in my favorite spot in the city of Rochester: the Park Avenue area. On a quiet Sunday morning, light comes through the front windows and illuminates three of the four stained glass windows that are original to our house, constructed in 1902/3. Sure, it has it's share of Money Pit woes common to old houses, like faulty, strange electrical stuff that has me convinced that a (friendly) ghost lives in my closet, and leaky windows through which 75% of our heating bills go, but we're able to host gatherings and parties that allow us to invite more than just immediate family.
In August, Heath and I opened our home during Park Avenue Festival weekend to celebrate the many people here who'd helped us through a difficult winter and spring, and to turn a corner. Some stopped by before attending the fest, some after, and Heath led a rowdy tournament of Corn Hole (traditional sport during Park Ave Fest weekend) in the backyard. The hit of the party: the cold cucumber water.
In September, we hosted a Rosh Hashana feast, and later on, in November, Heath and I hosted Thanksgiving--and at the end of the night, had seated about 20 people. Our Cool Cousins from Cleveland were, I'm happy to say, present at both. To top off the house events, in December, I hosted our local Hadassah chapter's annual Chanukah Brunch, during which we assembled baskets of canned goods for needy Rochester families and holiday cards for the Rochester elderly (and of course, brunched). Thanks, spacious house!

2.) A really, really good gig. Anybody who's followed the trends in public education between the Clinton and Bush eras knows that it's a tough time to be a student and a teacher. Presently, 1 out of 5 young teachers quit due to poor salaries, inability to pay their student loans with those salaries, or the demands and responsibilities of the job have become extreme (compared to what they were when many of us entered the profession). Having said that, I have wrestled endlessly with the fact that I love what I do--I still teach English, Film as Literature, Theater, and Humanities--and that I have a long way to go before I'm any good at it. I happen to be teaching in a high-performing district, one of the best in the country, but it's reputation has little to do with why I enjoy it.
My colleagues are the kinds of teachers I aspire to be: and they're really freaking funny people, to boot. Our banter consists of everything, from the origins of crazy words we've never heard before to things that can only be spoken between people who are close enough to joke about body parts and such. There's something poetic about being surrounded, all day, by intellectual goofballs. What's more, we meet monthly for our Writer's Circle, whereby we discuss each other's personal work at someone's cozy home. It's professional development in the best sense: in becoming better writers, we teach the craft of writing more genuinely. (One of my shorter pieces is posted below.)
I also happen to have some pretty amazing students this year, and the right combinations seem to have found their way into my courses. I am constantly impressed by their ideas, dialogue, humor, sensitivity. In a few weeks, I'll begin teaching three sections of Humanities (my favorite class to teach) to seniors on the verge of graduation. I can't wait. And I enjoyed directing "A Streetcar Named Desire" in October--the second Williams play I've directed, my 8th show overall. The kids were fabulous: click here for production stills.

3.) The JCC. I've only just started exercising regularly again, and I can't believe I stayed away so long. This place, our Jewish Community Center, has smelled exactly the same way it did when I first became an official member in 1979--like sweaty racquetball court and someone's cologne--but that's no deterrent. The J has modernized itself from a "gym" to a "fitness spot," replete with cycling, yoga, pilates, fancy-shmancy equipment with personal video screens, and personal trainers. Where else can you go to workout AND get yelled at by old, Jewish men for not stretching long enough, I ask you? And to that end,

4.) Yoga. Having taken one course at the J and one at the Retreat House, I think I'm beyond the beginner's level. OM-G! This was a terrific way to relieve some stress and find a way to laugh at myself again.

5.) Acupuncture. Still not a fan of needles, but Heather is amazing--and the foot warmer thingy while you rest for 20 minutes is sooooo nice.

6.) My family. We braved an excruciating season when dad got sick and so quickly passed away. We continue to survive it. Lucky for us, we have a tight family here in Rochester that celebrates birthdays and holidays with panache and sentiment. We also have a constant source of entertainment in my niece, whose intelligence at 2 y.o. is staggering.
As you probably know about us by now, the Hiller clan has always regarded close friends as family, too. And late-summer visits by Danielle, Tina, and Allison, who are like sisters, made the transition from a tough summer to a working fall a lot easier. (Looking forward to Dani's and Tina's weddings in '08, not to mention cousin Ethan's, friend Amy's, old roomate Mason's, friend Elizabeth. . .!) With Dani's visit home to Rochester from Colorado came her first taste of bridal showers and engagement parties, for which some of our oldest friends from middle school gathered--here's a shot of the gang, twenty years or so after we all first met. Other cousins' weddings provided opportunities to see/explore D.C. & Annapolis, MD (Congrats Elaine and Phil), and visit with old friends in N.Y.C. (Congrats Brett & Heather).

7.) My Heath. My East, West, North, South. Since our engagement, it seems we've had more than our share of hardships to weather. But this kid has a sense of humor that doesn't quit, the most optimistic outlook I've ever been asked to share, and a mean flare for pan-searing when the mood strikes. We traveled to Argentina in February, and then, it seemed, began a different kind of adventure: through the trial of a lost pregnancy and my Dad's cancer, we learned more about love and companionship than, I believe, some people ever do in 50 years of marriage. I look forward to more life adventures with My Main Man, if for no other reason than I know we can tackle anything together.