week ago Saturday, 10 March, I met Jennifer for the first time at the Rochambo Coffeehouse (or is it more of a Teahouse?) on Brady Street. I had decided to alter long-standing foreign policy on blind dates, and I have to say that had any such experiences earlier in my life turned out so well, I might not have taken so long to try it again. Jen was a delightful surprise. I arrived there flustered and fifteen minutes late after a slow bus, feeling like I was a bit awkward earlier on, asking some of the expected get-to-know-you questions, before the conversation began to flow more naturally on its own. We didn't go too near the "big stuff," and I certainly didn't feel that I needed to pursue it at this point. It made more sense to simply get a feel for one another's personalities before we would have any need to go toward harder points of personal history or perspective. In some ways, that might have turned out to be the key, because despite some very different points of that history and perspective sort, we discovered that the way we approached life and living had some uncanny similarities.
Teahouse gave way to dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant down the street, the Casablanca, where I enjoyed a kabab and more conversation with her. By the time we left, I wasn't sure that anything would come of it, but when I said that I'd enjoy talking with her again if she was interested, she agreed, although we didn't make any specific plans about it at the moment. So I arrived home, more amused by the novelty of it all, and perhaps more curious, than anything else, to see what might come of it. I was then surprised, pleased, and touched later that night to discover a note from her asking me if I'd like to leave Sunday morning to head out of the city to walk in a park she knew along the Lake, north of the city. Harrington Beach State Park turned out to be a fabulous place, and her overture to me in offering this, after hearing me talk of missing the outdoors in my university and city life, was something that kept impressing me. That she was listening so closely to me as to offer me such a gift of time and location to fill a gap in my personal and aesthetic life like that was both honouring and impressive.
So, in eight hours' conversation over those two days, I found her to be impressively self-made, with an adventuresome talent for gainful employment, moving to new opportunities and challenges with an eagerness that I found attractive, although it would not be anything near the sort of changes that I would make for myself, since I so am aware of teaching as a vocation and instead seek only the stability in which to pursue my work uninterrupted. After working in school psychology, working with students with substance abuse issues, and running a film company, I found that she had in the last few years started
a school here in the Milwaukee school system for teens in the area suffering harrassment for various reasons. Obviously, this was something I could much admire, though it is so much not the kind of opportunity for which I'd keep my eyes open: my calling is the classroom, but I can "get" and appreciate someone who would take on the initiative for creating entirely new educational systems. Now she helps lead a Gates Foundation-funded educational consulting group, where she is doing all sorts of mentoring facilitating and arranging online educational resources that I could barely follow. And in addition to that, she has her own consulting and coaching company, speaking of that in a language familiar to me from Kevin (and Erik to a lesser extent) after watching him build up his own consulting corporation and listening to Erik's work with Catholic schools.
Returning to Milwaukee after our morning in the park, I invited her to see the Saw Doctors with me tonight and she borrowed their music from me so that she could better enjoy the concert, asking to do so just before I suggested doing so. Before long, this Sunday seemed an awful long way off, and so I found that my Spring Break became a lot less about my dissertation – although I got a bit of new work in – and a lot more about an opportunity to live in the kind of "accelerated time" that I remember from being a camp counselor at Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center when I was an undergraduate. Her schedule was flexible enough that we were able to spend the bulk of our time together this week, in continuous conversation while we were exploring some of the different food venues of the city, sharing some glasses of wine together, and even discovering that we did
already have one mutual friend already – Roger being more of an old acquaintance of mine through the people I knew at Marquette my first few years here, but close enough to Jen to be the "older brother she never had." So one night was spent closing down the Ardor Pub downtown with Roger and then coming back to my place to finish the night's conversation, with the three of us talking 'til 3:30am or so.
So it's been a bit of a whirlwind week, and we both laugh about that, and the strangeness of suddenly finding someone else taking up such a "space" in your life after that brief a "calendar" time, but that's the way of such "timeful" days. It couldn't have happened the same way during the regular school week, and that kind of time starts up again tomorrow. But tonight the Saw Doctors will close out the St. Patrick's Day weekend – and this utter surprise of a week – in finest style: I missed them their last time through town, and so haven't seen them since Summerfest in 2003, I think. There is no better band for a sheer fun
time, and it's too bad they are not nearly so well known in the States, which is such a huge contrast to their status in Ireland and the U.K. – but I guess that makes it easier for us to get good tickets.