This is a difficult blog post to write.
My heart is heavy. Which in turn makes my fingers feel heavy to write what I need to write.
You know when people ask Which teacher most impacted you? I never had a really good answer to that question. I always thought the question referred to teachers you had before college, either the teachers that told you the play area for the week was kickball, or the teachers who helped you navigate the confusion of changing classrooms for each class period, or the teachers who wrote you the recommendation letters you needed for college.
I had gotten it wrong.
A teacher is one who teaches. At any level.
Now I know my answer to that question.
Which teacher most impacted you?
And with a heavy heart and my heavy fingers I must add may she rest in peace.
Barbara Abercrombie recently passed away. I learned of her death through an email newsletter I received from Jennie Nash, current CEO of Author Accelerator, former instructor in the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension.
About twenty years ago, I took my first class in the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension. A weekend course about Writing the Personal Essay taught by Barbara Abercrombie. I remember writing a somewhat humorous post about the women’s restrooms not having toilet seat covers. I remember hearing Barbara Abercrombie tell me she could hear my voice coming through. At the time, I didn’t realize what a huge compliment that was.
It was shortly after that course that I became a published writer with a piece I wrote being published in the Los Angeles Times. (You can read it by clicking here.)
Barbara was a cool lady. She was honest and calm. She encouraged everyone, believing everyone could write — and publish — a personal essay. She was the only teacher I knew who wore a lot of jewelry like I do. Silver jewelry like I do.
Occasionally over the years I enrolled in Barbara’s classes when they aligned with my teaching schedule. Back in 2005, I was fortunate enough to miss two days of teaching to enroll in UCLA Extension’s intensive four-day Writers Studio Barbara taught.
When I retired from teaching, I was then free to take Barbara’s weekday, daytime classes. And it was in one of those classes that I met one of my closest friends.
Barbara also offered four day writing retreats up in Lake Arrowhead. I used to wistfully read her emails and think someday. Someday became two different occasions. Each time, I left my family for four days and three nights to go read and write and talk about reading and writing up in Lake Arrowhead with a group of writers.
It was Barbara who told me the essays I was writing could be — should be — a book.
March of 2020. We all remember it as the month and year when our world ceased to be as we had known it. Originally I was enrolled in one of Barbara’s classes which would have started at the end of March. The class, of course, switched to a virtual format. With my husband working from home, and my son doing his schooling from home, I had to drop out of Barbara’s writing class.
I hadn’t spoken to Barbara for quite some time though I followed her on Instagram and always liked and commented on the photos she shared of her grandchildren.
But I know Barbara knows how much I appreciated her, how fond of her I was. Because I always told her — through a letter. At the end of each class, Barbara told her students to write a letter explaining what grade they deserved. You wanted an A, you wrote and asked for one. I always wanted the A. In these end-of-course letters, I didn’t just reflect on my writing during the class, but also on Barbara’s teaching methods. Barbara created a safe space for writers. Writers, who often didn’t know each other well, came together and created a supportive environment to write and share aloud some of the most personal, intimate parts of our lives.
It always worked, because of Barbara.