CLAUDIA CARROLL TEACHING AND CREATIVE BIO 8.9.22
“An Adventure: the Quest to Teach.”
Until I was thirteen, my life was about reading, drawing and pretending, climbing into a tree and waiting for “the prince” to rescue me. My mother had passed away when I was six, and my sister and I lived, for nearly three years in various situations, and with relatives, a street over, in the small, rural, California orange orchards town, not far from the ocean. There were no books then, just playing Batman and Robin with my cousins, falling off the back of Red, the horse, and sliding down grassy hills on home-made tin slides. I got placed in the lowest of three classes. While these were designated by students’ ability to learn, they were pretty much economically divided.
Suddenly, at nine years of age, we – my sister and I – had a stepmother, determined to be the best ever. A “40ies” woman, she was not only strong-minded, but, having been a chef in the Navy shipyards at Long Beach, California, there was nothing she could not cook. The first thing she did was order Wonderworld books for me, and adult, Book of the Month selections. I dived in. The second thing was to march into the elementary school and demand that “her daughter,” (me), be placed in the highest of the three classes. So, in the third grade, while subjected to a teacher of German decent, who believed in both discipline and reading in two languages, I found reading again. I mostly remember her for teaching me how to walk across a room carrying a bowl of water, without spilling it, and then casting me as the “good Fairy,” in our class play. My stepmother said it was because teacher knew “mother” who create a beautiful costume, which she did, but the teacher said she gave me the role because I could read aloud well. So, it was in school that I found myself. In fourth grade, I reveled in holidays, making window decorations, and also drawing every minute – mainly creating a book of fashions of my own design. At holiday season, when the teacher read “The Bird’s Christmas Carol” (published 1888), when she got to the sad part, she couldn’t continue, and asked me to finish reading the book to the class. In the fifth grade, a sub teacher was generally tormented by the kids, and I befriend an Asian girl, who was equally tormented on the playground, and in that era, called a “dirty Jap.” In sixth grade, I found my multicultural self, with a teacher who, teaching California history, had us create paper murals that wrapped around the classroom walls, read to us, played music for us, and produced a play with, again, my being given the lead, as Mother Nature, because I could read and enunciate well.
At YWCA camp on Catalina Island, I felt lonely with books to keep me company, but loved going out with a leader in a boat, looking down at the crystal clear water, and catching a very rare, crusted fish, which the leader quickly threw back. On Sunday, somehow, reader me, was asked to lead the chapel service, high on a hill among pines, a view of the sun turning the sea into sparkling crystals.
In the seventh grade, at what we called then, Junior High, I wrote a version of the Christmas scene from “Little Women,” and gathered some classmates to rehearse it with me. The principal saw our effort, and decided the school would enjoy seeing the play, and so they did. The school joy I had, was the option, not of the sewing class, but the typing class. I never did get past 40 words a minute, from that moment on, wanted to be a writer. From the time I was eleven, until graduation, I worked after school in our family restaurant. It wasn’t easy doing homework between customers, or after we closed up. The work ethic I learned was good, the stress was not. Due to my father’s illness, we moved to a northern California, shipyard town, where my stepmother again, opened a restaurant, calling it, not by her name, but my name, Claudia’s. The struggle between what she wanted for me, and what I dreamed up was one I lived with much of my life.
Let me skip to the 1960ies in southern California beach towns. I had two children. Living in Venice Beach, I met some of the artist movers and shakers who would become famous one day. I was more into theater and writing. The Venice Beach Pavillion was new, with a wonderful stage. Somehow, I gathered a group of performers, artists (like Claire Falkensteing, who became a well-known sculptor), to put on a two day show and “experience.” I dressed as a witch, played my auto-harp with the kids, and then, on the last night, when some performers wandered out to the beach, I followed along. When a young man with wild hair, strumned his guitar, and sang, I played along. Later, I would discover the performer was Eden Abez, the song I play along with was “Nature Boy.”
I wrote my first children’s book then, and learned to play guitar. I wrote songs, played and sang with two other women in a trio, and finally, wrote my own version of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol,” calling it “Scrooge.” With determination that is sometimes lacking in my life now, although persistence and creativity is not, I got the owner of a small but well-known cafe/dinner theater venue to let me produce the play there, utilizing neighbors, most of whom had some connections to Hollywood. But, I lacked a “Scrooge.” One evening, during our rehearsals, he walked in. “Understand you need a Scrooge,” he said. He sang something acapella, and I handed him the script. Only when I was writing some publicity for the L.A. Times, did he tell me he was one of the majors in London’s Doyley-Carte Opera company. For a year, during that time, I served as chairperson for a local PTA group sponsoring visiting plays for children, acting also as MC at the events.
I also helped some local boys (we lived just a canyon over from the likes of the Beach Boys, and others hanging out there playing and composing like crazy), the Mass Confusion, record. You can still find that record, (Google Malibu Records, Mass Confusion). I wrote their theme song, which is on one side of the record, and their own song, which shows in the Google search, as “The War Rages On.”
In the 90ies, I continued to do whatever I could to keep the roof overhead, and traveled, for two seasons as tour manager for a group of young adults with National Theater for Children. I had, by then, gone back to college perhaps three times, once, to major in theater, another in art which I was continuing to do, and another in what was then called “Mexican-American Studies.” Life was too difficult to finish up with any of those, but the combination of the theater and Latino studies gave me an idea for the required 30 minute production in the college’s theater-in-the-round. A USC professor had written a long dialogue about Bracero workers and their challenges in the fields. I got his permission to create a play from this, and staged it, the opening scene in the dark, with the men sitting around an electrified fire, only the brief lighting of cigarettes to be seen. Then a guitar, with the song I’d written for the play, using “Spanglish.”
During the Great Lakes part of the National Theater for Children, however, I came across a newsletter about “Kids For Saving Earth.” The story of young Clinton Hill, and his caring about whales, dolphins and Earth’s growing things – this, before dying of leukemia at age 11, touched me. Back home, which was San Diego, California then, I wrote a play, a fantasy quest, with young Clinton then, battling the Pollution Monster, and meeting up with a Giant Penguin who guided him, the play was put on by my former drama teacher, during his summer “College for Kids.” Parents made costumes, and, because the role of Clinton was too demanding for one child, the teacher/producer/director had two students about ages 11, a boy, then a girl play the role.
I had sent to the play to Clinton’s parents, who called me: they wanted to publish the play and make it available on the web site. It’s still there, still available as a 100 page download – the length due to a whole section of play production, should a teacher, or school wish to do that. But meanwhile, over a period of years actually, I became good friends with Clinton’s mother. Today, at long last, we’ve published a new version of Clinton’s “quest,” as a paperback book, readable by kids, ages 7 to 13, updating his dreams to saving the Earth. I may, one day, turn this into a play, but now, having written six other books for children: Old Dumpling and the Rainy Day; Schmadiggle and the Imagination Asteroid; Missy Mouse and the Rocket Ship; and a read-to book for youngest children: Clara Cow and the Country Fair. I’m about to make corrections on the proof book of my latest, written quickly after receiving a letter from a school for Native American orphaned children, “Little Bravebird and the Grandparents’ Gifts,” the others, set in imaginary universes, but Little Bravebird grows up in a New Mexico pueblo.
My other current writing efforts have now included three books for adults (along with several others, journals, mostly – my year teaching in Taiwan, my travels in Guatemala, a journal re an early venture living in New Mexico, and a guide for adults, who may have something to say/write/publish but need mentoring: “Remembrance Writing 101.” The grown-up novels are all set in New Mexico: “Dark Winds Rising,” features a female protagonist, a photographer for National Geographic, living in Taos, with a relationship with a creative Paris businessman, as they get caught up in a web of neo-Nazi activities ‘on the rise’ in the late 90ies, before 9/11. While I indie-publish these book, including my most current, “Ride the Wild Wind – Sheriff Robert