today is my favorite teacher, robyn bell’s birthday

i have been blessed with many great teachers, but my favorite one was my last official one.

a fan of bob dylan, lou reed, the clash, and less popular stars like emily dickinson and others, robyn had the unique ability to make you feel like you were actually teaching her something every now and then

the college of creative studies was an oasis for many young people like me who struggled in traditional classrooms with bizarre structures and concepts like “grades”

at UCSB’s secret college, creatives were encouraged to allow their minds to roam free and promised that they would not be punished if they colored outside the box.

and yet, guidance was administered. in robyn’s case with the most gentle of nudges.

one young man whose name escapes me was raised in the midwest, which despite its charms, was narrow-minded when it came to matters of “alternative” sexuality. and so in a poem or a story this lad had a character rip into a series of gay epithets,

instead of saying “i get it that you’re 21 but do you not know the first thing about some of your heroes and the names they were called? why would you lower yourself to such base and predictable dialogue from the mouths of your characters? and, indeed, why must you insist on being a basic bitch?”

robyn instead wrote in a little note next to the quotes, “you can do better tony”

and that young man never wrote such things ever again.

while many of my heroes are controversial and divisive and burned bridges here and there, somehow robyn was loved by every single person she came in contact with. which isn’t to say there was not conflict in her classroom. i remember more than one student who felt uncomfortable in a class of hers and acted out, causing quite the scene.

and it was shocking watching her handle the students. her smile became stern. her voice lowered. and lasers shot out of her eyes, hypnotising the young demons right there in their chairs.

i saw one youngster levitate and then fall when he raised his voice to the professor.

he asked to be excused and scurried down the hall past the free pizza and disappear into the sky.

but mostly i watched how in just a matter of weeks students who were incredibly distracted by all types of things at the beach side party school, read the books she assigned, hand in the papers, and grow as writers.

the things i learned from her i use every day in almost everything i write. and when i teach i do my best to steal everything i can remember.

today is her birthday and we are all so lucky to have received the blessing of her presence. the next statue they tear down they should replace with one for Robyn.

as The New England Mystic once said,

spark one up for the woman who gave your life zing. you owe her almost everything.


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