My Eclectic Career

I think if you look into the backgrounds of many writers, you’ll find a few common threads: insatiable curiosity, an obsession with capturing ideas and images in words, and a resistance to settling down. Something of the vagabond about us! In sharing some of my life story, I take the opportunity to reflect on the experiences I believe have helped me develop the particular style and sensibility that I bring to my work and to my understanding of human nature.

The Iron Range

I grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota-Virginia, Queen City of the Mesabi Range, population 9,000. Most everyone in the area worked in the open pit iron ore mines, and later, after the rich ore ran out, in the taconite plants. My father came home, like thousands of others, frozen from working outside in sub zero weather, clothes and skin embedded with the ubiquitous rust-colored dust of the mines. All the small town schools had Olympic sized swimming pools, courtesy of US Steel, the biggest employer, and until the big bust in the 70s, most people enjoyed fairly prosperous lives.

My mother made fabulous crab apple jelly and strawberry rhubarb pie and never knew (I think) that the apples I presented her with were nabbed from the neighbor’s trees during wild, late night escapades. We were a ragtag band of thieves, fleeing down moonlit alleys with our bags to Danny Olsen’s back steps, where we ate crab apples sprinkled with salt and staggered home with stomach aches. One neighbor, who caught on to our exploits, used to lay in wait for us with his bee bee gun.

Dreaming

I was a bookworm. When I was eleven, I beat the all time summer reading record in the children’s library and was promoted to the adult section a year early. The thrill of climbing the steps and entering into what seemed at the time a cavernous room, filled with new books-a world of unknown, unimaginable delight! Of course, I knew all along that I was destined to escape small town life. After vicariously experiencing the madcap and exotic, the dangerous and the romantic, only the excitement of the big city was possible.

I’ve spent my adult life trying to reconcile my “real” upbringing and my fictional childhood, moving back and forth between the city and the country. I’ve lived in New York City, New Orleans, Upstate New York, and rural Connecticut. Even now, no sooner am I captivated by the exquisite beauty of a white-spired New England town than I find myself hurrying back to the gritty, unrelenting pace of New York City, afraid I’ll become complacent, loose my edge. What we do as writers, I believe, is try to articulate the impossible contradictions of our lives. If you look at great literature, the best ads, the most successful marketing campaigns, they reveal to us some paradox, some ineffable longing we didn’t even know we harbored until we read it or heard it.

Becoming a Player

After college I lived in New York City for ten years, playing at being a writer and doing reviews for now defunct poetry magazines. To try and heal some chronic medical conditions, I began exploring alternative medicine and studied Five Element Theory and Shiatsu for two years. A life-long commitment to using holistic modalities resulted from my success in creating a healthier, more balanced lifestyle.

I also became enamored with theater-the power of the word alive on stage! I studied acting for five years and performed in numerous Off Off Broadway and regional productions. This was an exhilarating time, and whenever I’m in a panic or unsure of what to do, these words of advice, gleaned from desperate circumstances, always do the trick: “Act, Kathleen, act!”

I received two magnificent boons during that time: I met my husband, Paul, who was an Off Off Broadway producer, and our son, Devin, was born. Becoming a mother was my initiation into education-a consuming passion and a cause for which I continue to volunteer substantial amounts of time. I went back to school, earning a Master of Arts in Teaching English and started one of my most rewarding careers.

Teaching and Writing

I began teaching composition and literature at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, and the State University of New York at New Paltz, and ended up as assistant professor in the management degree program at the Culinary Institute of America. I taught composition, business writing, and senior thesis classes, helping students write business plans for restaurant start-ups as well as research papers on current management and leadership theory. I also started the writing center, to help students develop the tools they needed to succeed in an academic setting. I learned so much from my students-how much they knew if they just felt comfortable enough to share their knowledge; how much they could achieve if they just had a little confidence and a little direction; and how much they could grow if someone believed in them enough to create a process they could succeed at.

Most recently, I was a partner in a business consulting company, specializing in communication and staff development for entrepreneurs and small business owners. In running my own business while helping others run theirs, I learned first hand just how central communication is to every aspect of business. I never fully realized how difficult it is to write top notch marketing materials until I had to write my own. And rewrite. And rewrite. How long can it take to write one good sentence? Hemingway was happy if he got a couple in a day’s work. I began to understand his point.

I’m tremendously excited about my current work with socially responsible investing. I’m working with financial advisors to write marketing materials and develop seminars and public programs to help educate the public on the financial rewards of investing in companies that look at more than just the bottom line. Things like the environment, social justice, and business ethics. If you’d like to learn more, take a look at one of the newsletters I wrote.

Along the way I’ve presented seminars and papers at conferences around the country and internationally, including Performing the World: “The Performance of Creativity and the Creativity of Performance”; the International Language and Literacy Conference, Bordeaux, France; National Council for the Teachers of English national convention; Institute for the Study of Postsecondary Pedagogy, The State University of New York at New Paltz; and local community colleges. A chapter I wrote on Fay Weldon for Modern British Women Writers, was published by Greenwood Press.

I now live in upstate New York on the Hudson River with my husband. For over twenty years I’ve been practicing meditation. My perspective is that inside each of us is a center of joy and wisdom that we can tap into and that will always lead us true north.

writing coach; writer’s block; resumes; cover letters; public speaking; job interviews
Located in Woodbury, CT; New York, NY