Ann, Retired Medical Technologist, NM

Ann is a retired Medical Technologist. She's spending her retirement playing Duplicate Bridge, singing in a women's chorus, playing percussion in an LGBTQ band, and traveling. She calls Albuquerque home.  Ann is a Catalyst for RE-ENVISIONED.  She was interviewed by her "niece" (close friend's daughter), and Mentor Catalyst, Erin.

 

We’ll start with you just thinking about a kid you know and care about – any kid – a family member, non-family member, someone you worked with in Girl Scouts…  Just think about them for a minute and then tell me a little about who they are.

  Happiness is "knowing who you are and knowing who your friends are, being satisfied with what you have, striving for things you think you need and enjoying every day you can."

Happiness is "knowing who you are and knowing who your friends are, being satisfied with what you have, striving for things you think you need and enjoying every day you can."

I don’t know a lot of kids anymore!  But I’m thinking about Mya - she is the daughter of Rudy’s (my partner who passed away) nephew, Michael.  She’s 19 years old now and I’ve known her since she was a baby.  She’s sort of Asperger’s.  She’s extremely bright and very talented as a musician - she plays viola.  She’s going into her second year and she got a full ride playing her viola.  She also is in a band in the LA area.  Apparently they’re doing quite well and making recordings and putting them out on the internet.  Everyone says it’s great.  Her with her viola in the band makes it unique.

 

That’s awesome.  When you think of Mya grown up – in her thirties, out of school and living her life, what is it you want for her?

First, of course, you want her to be happy and have a sense of fulfillment in her life – that she’s doing what she needs to be doing and what she wants to be doing.

What do you think it takes to be happy?

Well, there’s things like knowing who you are and knowing who your friends are and being satisfied with what you have and striving for things you think you need and enjoying every day you can.  And don’t let yourself be sidetracked by toxic people - which we all fall into.  Nobody can tell you about it either, you have to learn it for yourself.

 

So when you think about this life of fulfillment and knowing who you are and your friends – what do you think is the role of school – what should the role of school be in getting her to that life?

Well I think she’s on the right track – she’s definitely pursuing her dream of being a professional musician and she’s very focused, I think to the detriment right now of her social life.  She’s not what you’d call a well-rounded person – she’s very focused on her music.

She was painfully shy as a child – I could hardly get a word out of her.  Even a couple of years ago I met them in Phoenix – she was at a music camp in Phoenix.  So I went with her dad, mother, and grandmother – who is Rudy’s twin sister – and the four adults, we had a great time in Phoenix.  We went to the music museum, which is amazing, and to Arca Santi – the whole tourist thing.  And poor Mya was in class all day every day.  So the only time we saw her was when we were having meals together.  The first day or so she didn’t know how to talk to me.  I finally started telling her about my chorus – I’ve been singing with them for 15 years – so I told her about that and the kind of music we do, and we’re not professional musicians like she is but we have a good time with our music.  She asks, “so are you the oldest person in your chorus?”.  Hahahaha.  That was the first thing she thought of.  But then we want to a little concert she did and she did well.  I feel like I know her better since then; better than I had in the past because she was so shy and so focused on her music.

So what I would like to see her do before she’s 30 is do something besides music.  By all means, pursue a music career, but get out of the shell. 

Was school a place for her to develop those skills?

She needs to develop those skills, but whether a focused music program is helping her do that is doubtful.

 

Do you think school will do what they should?  You were saying you think she’s on the right track…

In a career sense school is playing the right role – she’s building herself a nice professional career.  And I think the band will be helpful to her in building more social skills because it’s like a rock band, so she’s been playing in clubs and opening for acts that I’ve actually even heard of.  So that probably is going to be a big leap forward for her.

Normally as we move through the questions we ask what school should do, and then I ask whether you think school will do what it should for her.  What I’m hearing is that you think school is putting her on the right track career-wise, but less sure about whether it’s feeding into the whole picture.

  My philosophy now is if it isn’t fun then I don’t want to do it.  

My philosophy now is if it isn’t fun then I don’t want to do it.  

Yeah – her whole being.  Because she’s sort of borderline Asberger’s – sometimes when people are that bright and that focused, it would be hard for school to know how to deal with them.  I know that was the case for me – I was a bit of an Academic all-star.  But then you’re bored because they’re going over stuff you got the first time.  And you have to fight that tendency in yourself to just be lazy.  You say, “I know that already, I’m not going to pay attention in class, I’m going to read this book I have hidden in the desk.”  I certainly succumbed to some of that.  I know I could have studied harder in college but I was bored.

My philosophy now is if it isn’t fun then I don’t want to do it.  The year I was 45 – I was still with Chuck – I had a massive mid-life crisis.  I was totally depressed that whole year I was 45.  I hated being 45 and I kept saying to myself…”my life is half over and I haven’t had any fun yet”.  And so I resolved after that year that I was not going to do anything anymore that wasn’t fun.  So I got a divorce, and I came out, and I’ve been having fun ever since.

 

I love that.  We’re going a little off-script – but now that we’re on your educational experience, I’m curious – what was a really empowering learning experience for you?

I think probably the best part of my schooling was Med Tech school – I went to the Medical College of Virginia and learned how to do all the lab tests and things.  I learned how to do something that was real and constructive and useful.  It was my career for 45 years.  And it was probably the most worthwhile year I spent in school.

What made you think of that when I said “empowering”?

Because it transformed me into a professional person.  I had something to do – something constructive I could do with my life.  No matter what people came in and out of my life I had that, I always had my career.

That’s beautiful. 

Shouldn’t that be the goal of education?

Can you say more about that?

To make you grow up – and become a productive adult member of society.  At the time you finish college or whatever school experience you want to do, that’s what you should be – someone who’s contributing to society. 

It breaks my heart to see what’s happening to kids these days.  When they get out of college there’s nothing for them to do.  I don’t know if that’s the fault of education or the way society has evolved to a service economy.  Even kids that never got past high school, people my age they had a productive career to go into – whether it was building trains, which they did in my hometown – they built steam engines from scratch - or plumbing or carpentry or whatever.  They had something they were interested in that they could do with their life and support themselves and be an adult.  When I went back for my 25th high school reunion, it was very interesting to see what people had done with their lives.   Of course not everyone showed up but, those who did, everyone had some sort of productive thing they did: blue collar, white collar, farming, or professional.  Everyone had something they did as a result of going to high school and/or college.  I see these poor kids getting out of college and can’t do anything but flip burgers – it’s heartbreaking.

Why do you think?

Well, the jobs have gone overseas, for one thing.  A lot of it is what Bernie Sanders has been talking about.  The emphasis on the bottom line – they don’t seem to care about their workers anymore.  So the good jobs have left.

I don’t know how to change the culture.  That’s really what needs to be done.  The culture that you and I grew up in was a lot more productive-oriented.  I despair what’s going to happen to our country.

Can you say more about what you mean by productive-oriented and why you are despairing?

Yeah, I don’t know – the only vocational training that I see happening on a large scale is medical.  But they dumb down medicine so much that people with 1.5 year program are the ones that are out there taking your blood pressure and your blood, then it’s outsourced to somewhere else.  The only people who do anything hands-on are medical assistants.  I guess x-ray techs too, but so much of it has been dumbed down.  You don’t have to have a college degree or training to do what they’re letting you do now. 

I had a really bad bout of salmonella from chicken and I was so sick and I couldn’t get out of bed to leave the house for three days.  I finally got to urgent care and it was on a Saturday and the “doc” on duty was a nurse practitioner and they had nothing to send a stool sample to the lab with – they had no containers at urgent care.  They said, “well, you can drive across town to this other clinic.”  I was so sick I had barely gotten there.

That’s terrible.

If someone came in sick like that to our little hospital we would have had a diagnosis within an hour.  I never did get a diagnosis.  No one cared where it came from.  CDC had their funding cut so much they’re toothless.  The Republicans have just ruined this country by cutting the core out of the government – it’s hollow – there’s no there there anymore.  I don’t know how to get it back.  If I knew how to get it back I’d be running for something.

 

You told me about the empowering learning experience you had in the tech program, but do you remember any particular teacher who’s had a big effect on you in your life?

Probably the teacher I had for biology and chemistry that I had in high school.  She was the one that got me really interested in science.  I was headed for English or languages or something like that before I started taking science courses.  I was just so turned on by all that stuff that I segued over into science.

What was her name?

Frances Hurt

What made her classes so good?

She did a lot of hands-on stuff in class.  She would do an experiment for the whole class – get one of the students to come up and do the manipulation of re-agents or whatever.  In biology we did a lot of drawings of organisms and we did dissection and it was the class that I looked forward to every day and we had it five days a week.  She just kept it interesting.  You could tell that she was a teacher who really cared about her students, and cared that we were learning what we were supposed to be learning.  Nobody really fooled around in that class – everybody paid attention and did what they were supposed to without her having to crack the whip because she made it interesting.

What did she do to show she cared?

For example, there was some abstract concept she was trying to get across and we were having trouble with it - I think it was covalent bonds in chemistry (sometimes you just have to believe in chemstry).  So I raised my hand and said something stupid in class and she kept me after class to talk with me about it and make sure that I really did understand what it was she was trying to teach.  I wasn't the only one she did that with.