Friday, November 14, 2008

JENNIFER RABOLD: Of Dreams and Youth and Possibilities

1. Children have so many dreams. Small ones, large ones. They dream of being astronauts, of becoming a princess or a queen or even a king. As we grew older, our dreams became the shape our futures would take. So my first question is when you were young what did you envision your future to be? And as a follow up, how does it compare to where you eventually arrived?

Oh my. I never had a problem finding something I wanted to do with my future. My problem was choosing few enough to fit in this lifetime! I have vague memories of wanting to be a teacher or a ballerina or a scientist as a child. I spent a lot of time teaching my sisters and the stuffed animals long division and spelling, twirling around the house, and doing strange experiments with whatever solutions I could get my hands on. It was in junior high school (ages 12-14) that I really started having some ideas about careers. I had dreams of being (this is pretty much in the order the ideas developed) a rock star, a marine biologist, a Supreme Court justice, President of the United States, a translator, a singer, a nurse midwife. Fortunately, my parents were so incredibly supportive, never imposing their wishes, simply sending me on whale watch trips and paying for voice lessons and really hoping that the rock star dream passed quickly. :-)

In university, I majored in English because I got to read novels, which didn’t seem like work to me, and Women’s Studies, reflecting my newfound feminism. I did internships with a lobbyist and in a Victim/Witness Assistance Program, both of which I enjoyed for different reasons, but which I couldn’t envision myself doing as a job. I went immediately to graduate school to get a master’s degree in Higher Education Administration, but discovered pretty quickly that it really wasn’t what I wanted to do, so after a year, I dropped out and traveled with Up With People. After traveling, I moved to Boston and still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I worked as a counselor and medical assistant in a Planned Parenthood women’s clinic, where I was proud to do important work, even though it was emotionally difficult and dangerous. Then I joined a reading group and remembered how much I enjoyed reading and talking about books, so I went back to graduate school, this time for English. I got an assistantship teaching undergraduate writing classes, which paid for school, and had my epiphany! I loved teaching! I was back full circle. And I’ve been in education ever since.

2. I sometimes fantasize about being able to travel back in time, but not in my current mid-forties body. I wonder what it would be like to become who I was in high school or college but with the knowledge and patience I’ve gained in the years since. Second question…if you could go back and become yourself at a certain time in life which time would you choose and why? And if you could only take one bit of knowledge or one trait you’ve gained as you’ve grown older (but not too old!), what would it be? And why again?

I don’t think you could pay me to repeat junior high school or high school… I’m not sure there’s much I could do even knowing what I know now to make them any easier, except maybe go to a different school, like a private school, where it was cool to be smart.

But I would certainly want to repeat my Up With People year. Correction… I would go back before my Up With People year, deal with some issues I clearly needed to deal with first, then repeat my Up With People year, soak up more culture, learn more languages, find more ways to get out of doing the show and do more community service, take advantage of every spin-off, and most importantly, finish the year with the cast (I left early).

3. As a writer, I started off as a reader. I began reading book after book when I was probably around 8 or 9. For me, initially it was mysteries then science fiction. Were you a reader as a youth? If so, what kind of books did you read? Who were some of your favorite authors at the time?

Oh, I was an incredible bookworm as a child. I’d read several chapter books a week. I read all the Boxcar Children mysteries, the entire Little House on the Prairie series (three times), lots of Madeleine L’Engle’s books (A Wrinkle in Time, for example), and then every horse book I could get my hands on until I finally saved enough money delivering newspapers that I bought myself a real horse. My mother directed me to the classics, so I read Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Gone With the Wind, Rebecca, and lots of others. Then, I hit high school, and my English classes completely turned me off to reading. I can’t recall a single book I read for pleasure in high school until my voice teacher recommended Richard Bach’s A Bridge Across Forever, which got me through high school.

4. Back to the scenario in the first question…I’m wondering if there are any dreams you had which you did not achieve but are still working on, or hoping to achieve? What are they?

I’d love to own a little book store… a cozy little place with lots of nooks for curling up to read… maybe in my retirement.

I very seriously considered becoming a nurse midwife or a dula (a childbirth assistant)… maybe in another lifetime.

I’d love to live in another country for at least a year, with my family. Still a very real possibility.

5. There are many books in my life that have meant something to me. Books and stories that have stayed with me over the years. Some make me smile, some make me think, some even make me mad. The final question…please share a book that has meant something to you, and tells why.

Just one? I can’t. Here are a few.

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. Henry DeTamble, meets Clare when he is 28 and she is 20, but she meets him when she is 6. Henry is a time traveler, a sometimes delightful but usually unfortunate effect of a genetic condition he was born with. He is able to meet his future wife when she is still a child, allowing him to watch her grow up and allowing her to fall in love with him over the 14 years he visited her. He is able to meet himself as a child, mentoring him and teaching him how to survive with his unusual affliction. Despite the improbable story line, Niffenegger creates her characters and their predicament with such realism that the book is much more love story than fantasy.

Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger. This is Enger’s first novel, and it’s brilliant. He creates a narrator in the style of To Kill a Mockingbird’s Scout – eleven-year-old, asthmatic Reuben Land, who engages on a cross-country trip in an Airstream trailer with his father, who can perform miracles, and his kid sister, who sees life as a western epic poem, to find his brother, who has been unfairly charged with murder. It’s got something for everyone – comedy, tragedy, love story, adventure, heroic quest, spiritual revelation, and at times, western epic poem. Beautiful prose.

Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks. An unusual premise for a novel, this is a story of a small town in England during the Black Plague, which quarantines itself when it discovers its community has been infected. The story is told through the eyes of Anna, a young mother and housemaid who is forced by circumstances to step out of her old roles, restricted by gender and class, and assume challenging responsibilities which change her and those around her. Impeccably researched.

Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison is one of the great authors of the 20th century. Beloved is her masterpiece. It is the story of Sethe, a slave who escaped slavery but is haunted (literally and figuratively) by its heritage and scarred (physically and emotionally) by its aftermath. But it is also the story of America, of a nation and a people scarred and haunted by the legacy of slavery. Incredibly symbolic. You must talk to someone about this novel after you read it in order to even begin to understand it.

The Passion, by Jeanette Winterson. The Passion is a mystical story of Henri, Napoleon's chicken cook, and Villanelle, the daughter of a Venetian boatman whose webbed feet carve a unique place for her in the canals of Venice. The magic realism and quirky characters alone are enjoyable, but the deeper commentary on gender identity and expectations are fascinating.

The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. This novel by Indian author Roy is one of the most exquisitely written novels I think I've ever read. The narrative structure is daring... the story is told almost backwards, with event after event unfolding, foreshadowing and building to a violent climax. I learned so much about the Indian caste system and the oppression of the untouchables as well.

The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Her most famous novel, The Mists of Avalon is a retelling of the Camelot legend from the perspective of Morgan Le Fey, who is portrayed as the villain in the original story. The story transpires during the transformation of England from local paganistic and goddess worship religions to Christianity, and illustrates what that change meant for women. At 1000+ pages, the epic sweep of the novel just sucks the reader into a different world.

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