Former QUEST kid shows appreciation
What a wonderful way to start the New Year. And what a wonderful reminder to me of why I started this joyous circus called QUEST.
I trade Facebook communications with many a person who is either growing up or has grown up at QUEST. At the beginning of the New Year Chrissianne was posting her reflections on her life past and thanking those who had helped her on her way.
And I quote, “Judy Atchinson taught a young girl that there is at least one person who cares and that nothing is impossible.”
She has just finished her third semester at Empire State College, taking three courses and the grades are as follows,
88 in Writing
98 in Human Biology
99 in Math.
I wrote back to Chriss to say, “Thank you my dear -- you have made me proud.”
To which her response was, “Judy you are an amazing woman and I have never met another as spectacular as you. You have touched so many lives in a way no other could imagine. The impact that you have made and continue to make is out of this world.”
Chriss is signed up for four courses this term, is working two jobs and raising three children. She is the one who deserves the tribute. Let’s hear it for Chrissanne. If you send a comment I will make sure she gets it.
And this quote came immediately to my mind.
Every student needs someone who says simply -- “You have something, you count.”
-- Tony Kushner
My kids continue to astound and confound me. What a large encompassing family QUEST is. As far as I am concerned we form an unbroken line reaching from now to forever. Each child a singular glowing star flying on its own continuum. We are not the usual agency operating on schedule, true to some restrictive form. We are simply who we are. Fluid, ever evolving and moving forward. Who else has a skinny Santa? We do. Where else do you find 12-year-olds delivering food to the hungry and gifts to the needy? We do. Who has youth toting garbage and shoveling and cleaning and taking charge? QUEST does.
And while I’m talking about living in the stars, Damian Woetzel, in himself a President Kennedy award winner, co-produced the film on Natalia Makarova which was shown on her award night this month at Kennedy Center. Ballet people of the best character and commitment -- both of them. I know Damian better that Natalia, having worked closely with him at SPAC. Damian, who brought his golden retriever everywhere, even after he ate part of the studio wall; Damian paid for it and brought him back the next day.
The New York State summer school of the Arts is a mecca for dogs. The dance studios are teaming with animals. And Mary Daley is an amazing woman because she adopts animals who do not meet breeding standards or are carrying genetic abnormalities that will lead to health consequences later in life. Her car knows the way forward and backward to the veterinary school at Cornell in Ithaca. Mary is one of the founders of N.Y.S.S.S. of the Arts. She claims no one would take the job. All the more power to you Mary, you took the ball and ran with it all the way and is now the secretary of the National Conference of Governor’s Schools.
In the press photo release you see an ocean of men standing around Mary, who is seated demurely at a big table speaking into a microphone, her red hair a beacon shining through all the grays and blacks. Here’s a kiss for you my lady.
Sometimes I get very tired of all the snobbery and ignorance I see in this city. Especially when it comes to the arts. I will say it again, I have an I.Q. of 165, I have toured the world -- Slovakia, Turkey, Ireland, Australia, etc. as a composer and musician. I have been a guest teacher at multiple colleges and institutions, including Temple, Barnard and Trinity (in Dublin Ireland) I have been reviewed by Dance Magazine, the New York Times, Village Voice and more, most favorably. I have received honors and grants and awards as a musician/teacher/composer. I have worked with every major dance company in this country. I had a collaborative piece in the Smithsonian, and still -- in this little town of approximately 60,000 people that has no art museum, no national dance company, no major theater company and only a small local T.V. station, people are looking down their noses at me.
I worked with Zachary Zolov, the very first choreographer at the Metropolitan Opera. Was offered a job with Mark Morris at his block-long new building, and I’ll bet most of you reading this right now are scratching your heads and saying, “Who is Mark Morris?” When I walked in to play for the company class for Bill T. Jones they would stand up and give me a standing ovation. And still, in this grand old city, the citizens think I’m daft, ignorant, a fool. A nobody.
I worked with GE Radio Theater when it began, I did soaps as a little girl with WRGB Channel 6. I was part of arts beginnings in this city, I was a protégé of Harry Linton. Does anyone anymore remember who he was? It used to be Linton High School before it was Schenectady High. We never remember our heroes any more. I put this aside to start QUEST. I never expected to be a star in this city, but I never expected to be a pariah either.
This city was different in the 40’s and 50’s. It had a future but now it doesn’t seem to want one any more. A future isn’t brick and stone and concrete, it is people. Living, breathing people who carry the city along on their shoulders on their way to tomorrow. My uncle was a glass blower for GE. My two aunts were female factory workers during World War II. My other uncle owned a family store in Mont Pleasant. I was born in this town. We went to the P.N.A., and St. Albert’s Church.
As a young girl I was brought to elementary schools just to read to the upper grades. I was a junior lifeguard at Steinmetz Park. I was a contributor to the fabric of this city. My father put his life on the line to save a young girl from an oncoming car. He was a police officer his whole adult life and received very little in monetary rewards, but bushels of love and respect which made him feel like a King.
To be shunned and ignored by newcomers makes me ill. I belong here, or maybe not; perhaps I have outgrown this town. Maybe I just don’t and never will fit in. Maybe I am banging my head against an enormous wall of intolerance and dirty game players. I was one of your favored daughters and nowb— and now I am nothing to you. Nothing at all.
If you are wondering where all this introspection is coming from, it comes from a life changing experience on the Saturday before New Years Eve. And this quote says it’s better than I ever could.
“It is looking at things for a long time, that ripens you and gives you a deeper understanding.”
-- Vincent Van Gogh
Snowy trek north
On the Saturday before New Years, my husband, my dog, and myself started the long drive to Nova Scotia. It was snowing lightly as we left but hubby insisted that nothing of any consequence was expected along our route. I should have remembered at that moment how never in our life together had he been correct in his prognostications. “They exaggerate”, he said, speaking of the weather forecasters. “Well,” I thought, “he could be right this time.” I did ask him if we had a snow shovel in the car, he laughed and replied, “What for, we have one at the camp!” “Oh, well,” I thought, “We probably won't need one.”
It snowed from the time we left Schenectady, and by the time we reached the Maine Turnpike it was really coming down, warning signs and storm advisories were flashing all along the side of the road. Speed limit was adjusted to 45mph -- and still it snowed. “We will be fine.” my husband, Brian, said, “We will just go slow.”
Now our journey takes us to Bangor, Maine, and then we exit and take a right on Route 9 -- referred to by the locals as the air line; it is the entry point of Canada’s Maritimes. It is dark and lonely, and deserted and travels through many barren hills and outbacks. It is 92 miles long and 80 of those miles has no habitation whatsoever. No lights, no houses, no gas stations, no buildings, no CELL PHONE Service!!
We had taken the back seats of the car out for travel and the dog and I were sort of bedded down and I fell asleep. I had already had some words with Brian about finding a cheap motel in Bangor and spending the night there but his response had been the same, “We’ll just go slow, we’ll be fine.” And of course the ferry was leaving at 8 a.m. and there wouldn’t be another until 8 a.m. Monday. Sometime later I woke up with a start, it was about 1 a.m. -– we had been driving since 1 p.m. and the snow was driving down like something in your worst nightmare, the wind was howling and we were inching down the center line of the road.
This is only a two-lane road, and you couldn’t see the edges on either side of the road. All of a sudden Brian said, “I have to pull over.” By now we had a half a tank of gas and we were exactly at the 45 mile mark -- just a spot right in the middle of this stretch of road. Then Brian said, “I'm going to take a little nap; there’s too much snow on the road and we can’t push through.” He then proceeded to actually go to sleep.
A small truck with a spotlight on it, a guy got out and asked if we were all right. “Of course not,” I said, the snow was drifting over our vehicle and we had to keep turning the car off to conserve gas. “Snow plow will be by in half an hour or so.” And then he was gone. About 75 minutes later still no plow, still the wind and driving, snow and the ever present cold and fear. All I could think of was the couple who froze to death on the Northway by Lake George.
And then, “Oh look,” the little truck was back! “Snow plow crashed,” he commented, “there will be another coming, half an hour or so.” And off he went.
Again the wait was interminable; Brian sleeping -- the car so covered in snow I almost missed the lights of the plow. “Turn on the lights, start the car,” I yelled. And we pulled out and followed the lights and swept swath of road behind the truck. But then — the snow plow was stuck and the little truck had to plow the plow out; still we continued on for several miles, but then the little truck was back again. “He’s reached the turnaround point, he’s going back.”
And with that the little truck plowed out a circle for the snow plow to do a u-turn. “You’d best pull off the road,” the driver said, and then he plowed out an off road spot for us to park. “Should be another one coming from the other direction soon.” And off every one went and there we were in the 4 a.m. predawn dark with the wind and cold and drifts. And that’s when I started thinking about my life. I truly felt we were going to die.
To be continued…
“Happy the man, and happy he alone, Who can call today his own; He who secure within can say, Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.”
-- John Dryden
Judy Atchinson is executive director of QUEST, a not-for-profit group in Hamilton Hill whose goal is to help children who are considered at-risk lead healthier, happier and more productive lives.