September 18, 2016
I am so grateful for this opportunity to share my Kapteyn experience with you.
The Kapteyn award is special; it comes with a “pedigree” of affection and a heartfelt intention to commemorate and carry forward the memory of a beloved teacher, mentor and friend. To be honored with an award and a gift like this happens—if you’re lucky—once in a lifetime.
At this time last year, when I received the Kapetyn award, I didn’t anticipate how much of an adventure it would be just to come to a decision on how to apply it—how to use this gift to truly honor Jamie. Molly’s inspiring story, about how she and her siblings received letters from Jamie while on his fly fishing trip, came back to me so often over the course of this past year as I’ve wondered: What is my “fly fishing”? What is the thing that enriches me, keeps me inspired, and keeps me teaching with fresh enthusiasm and renewed focus?
I’ve always loved libraries. And I can’t say that I was a particularly eager reader. Though I loved books, growing up, I read them sparingly. So, it wasn’t the prospect of reading itself that drew me to the library; but, rather, the sense that each book contained an experience—some kind of learnable, transferable knowledge. A new and (ideally) utterly unfamiliar perspective that I could engage with.
But as I’ve moved into different stages of life, I’ve found exploring the aisles of the library has become something different. Instead of embodying possibilities, open doors, uncharted territories, the books I encountered started to somehow speak to paths I didn’t choose, or skills I hadn’t made time to learn.
That same feeling hovered over me in the early stages of mapping out how best to apply my Kapetyn award. My goal was to identify a direction—an experience—that would honor Jamie, as well as the past prize winners, the other qualified teachers who have applied for the prize, and the core mission of the prize itself. I needed to develop some sort of grand, master plan that would be worthy of the purpose behind the prize.
I went back and forth, between having a solid understanding of what my wishes were and being less certain as to whether my choices were just a part of an image I felt I should be upholding. I wanted to be the type of person who could plan a trip to Patagonia and not be held back by worries about being away from my children for too long—or about being with them on such a long flight. I wanted to be able to report back on doing something inspiring, out of the ordinary or strikingly creative. And, as a result, I found myself back in the library.
I checked out all the travel books that the Lee, Pittsfield and Great Barrington libraries had to offer, as well as many how-to books on assorted creative skills and disciplines. I even dug into business strategy, as entrepreneurial visions danced in my head.
And, through my various efforts to come up with the best possible way to use this gift, I found that I was enjoying something I hadn’t really felt able to access in some time: possibility. I read about countries I rarely thought about and discovered public spaces I’d never heard about. I learned where almost every national park is and found out which state parks are the most impressive. I learned about the best ways to travel with young kids—and the best ways to avoid traveling with young kids. I researched local, national and global cultural institutions.
Without even choosing a direction toward my initial goal, I realized that I was already experiencing the most valuable reward the Kapetyn prize could give me: I was feeling—once again, after so long—like anything was possible, and that I really could—still, and always—experience so much more of what this life and this world have to offer.
And so, in the midst of this journey that became its own destination—and after much more self-analysis than necessary—I decided to put this award toward doing the things that truly filled my cup. And, as it turns out, they weren’t the most striking or out-of-the-ordinary choices; but once I let go of trying to nail the perfect, grand, master plan, I was content with my decisions—and so grateful for the possibilities they represented.
For the first time in my life, I now own a bike and ride alongside my sons. I have enjoyed the peace and calm of our town lake while paddling (or often merely floating) in my first kayak. In the past year, my family and I have been to more art museums, concerts, plays and cultural events than we ever have before. I stepped out of my comfort zone and opened myself up to the unfamiliar, knowing that, no matter what, these new experiences would provide the kinds of stimulation and challenges that drive and revitalize my teaching practice.
I took drum lessons, performance and writing workshops, and encaustic painting classes. I went to photography workshops and teaching seminars. I spent so many weekends visiting friends and family with my camera, staging and creating images that are now part of my own personal, curated James C. Kapteyn collection. I took trips with my family to break up the (not so cold) winter. I spent a week in Maine with my entire family, making memories that I will cherish forever. I upgraded my professional photography gear. I took time to plan my time here at work, to shrink those less mindful stretches and clear more space for meaningful moments.
With the luxury of time and the re-ignited sense of possibility granted by this award, I learned more this year about how to challenge myself productively and inspire myself meaningfully, than any other of my years as a teacher. And for that, I am grateful beyond words.
I have been truly blessed to receive this prize. Thank you for letting me share with you what it has meant to me. I am deeply honored to be a member of this collection of inspired and inspirational people.
Thank you, Jamie; and thank you all.
Though I don't have photographs of all of my adventures, here are some to highlight many of the great opportunities from the year.
I have been teaching art and design at the middle and high school level since 2006 and learning about both for a lot longer.