Monday, March 19, 2007


Growing up a girl

From innocent

to an unblocked woman


This is the story about someone telling me “You should always be creating throughout your life”.

In my junior year of undergraduate school, in Naperville, a commuter train ride away from Chicago, Illinois, I found myself at a crossroads. Not a crossroad of joy, but sadness for me, really. This was a small liberal arts college, that I only happened on solely because my dad was a personal friend of the President of the college, President Arlo Schilling, I think it was. And for some unmemorable reason, I was along in the car when we were at North Central College while I was in high school. I think my dad was there to figure a job to sand and finish their gym floor, as he did at schools such as Notre Dame, Indiana University, Purdue University and others every summer when he wasn’t teaching and coaching high school basketball at my high school, Columbia City Joint High School home of the Golden Eagles. Everyone in the Hammel family went to the church-affiliated college of the Church of God in Anderson, Indiana. Or so, it seemed to me. Well, I applied at NCC and during the process met Prof Paul Warren Allen, not only the chair of the NCC music department, but the conductor of virtually everything I was in, the NCC Concert Choir, the mandatory Oratorio Choir that met every Monday night for 3 hours. So, much for doing homework!

When we visited the campus for the purposes of my possible attending, we saw a play. I think it was “Blood Wedding”. Dad fell asleep. My mom made it known that the fact that dancing was allowed on campus was a negative factor…

and that it made no difference WHERE I went to college as all I would ever be was a mother and wife anyway. She had no idea how far apart her vision of my life’s path would actually be from my actual life. Destiny, really.

Before the other freshmen were expected to show up on campus for the first year of North Central College, all music majors were required to go one week early to go to a camp in the woods and do some form of music all day long. I love music. Even more than ever… today. Music is my pleasure, joy and comfort in times of contemplation and heartbreak. During this time, there was a sophomore, P. Ferington, who must have had his eye on me – for once back to campus there was this rush on me – like nothing I had ever experienced. During the year, he gave me his class ring, pinned me and treated me like a princess with his Dad’s dentist money. Paul was favored by Prof Allen and conducted the Oratorio Choir on Monday nights. He was a big deal. I don’t know why he was drawn to me. Anyway, back to the music camp for my first year – I had a ball. Every night we danced in the lunch hall. I only remember dancing the hora. How many times can you dance thehora in a night! I don’t know – but we danced it over and over. It was so much fun.

I love to sing. I majored in piano and minored in voice. I wasn’t as prepared for majoring in music as the other freshmen. They knew what a perfect fifth and a minor third were before they came to NCC. I never had any classes in music theory until I entered Mrs. Watkins’ theory class that year. I got A’s in her class, but I think it had to do more with my mathematic skills and following her rules of no augmented fourths, etc than my inborn musical skills. Worst for me were those ear training classes because no one had ever bothered to teach me to hear music intervals and be able to identify them. If a music major does their work in their music courses, including the musical plays, daily practice and all the extra courses, such as the Oratorio Choir participation, which was mandatory, but no credit was given – there really was little, if any time, for the daily hours upon hours of other course homework . My problem was compounded by Paul, who arrived at my dorm every night to take me for those walks to Burger King, down by the rail tracks in good weather or in cold weather, in a dark piano practice room, under the piano. Can’t believe this stuff, now. I did that?!

But I did. It’s a part of my life and because of that it is a part of who I am. So I just decide to be truthful to myself and embrace everything that has come before and keeps coming today.

It was my junior year. Paul and I ended right before my sophomore year. A whole other story. Dated his roommate on and off for the next three years. Bruce had me at NCC, but he had another girlfriend, Chris, from his Moravian life. I also dated others here and there. At the beginning of my junior year, I had come out on the other side of a year of pining the loss of who I thought I was - with Paul, there to give me an identity. I was feeling my color. For some reason, I ran for an office at my dorm. Why would I do that? I don’t know. Maybe, I needed to. You know… to find some footing in my own right, minus the Paul prop.

The man-gives-woman-a-reason-to-exist-and-validity-right-or-wrong hold. Anyway, I ran for President of my dorm. My only unconscious, though it was, campaign tactic was to be friendly to everyone I passed. I won. Ran those meetings – discussed ice cube trays in the dorm “community kitchens”. That is the only topic I can remember today. I know we did discuss more important social issues, as well. But this is the one that stands out to me for some humorous reason.

I had been placed in advanced French my freshman year. I didn’t belong there, but my high school French grades were A’s, so it looked like I was qualified, I guess. And as a music major, you don’t have the time for course outside your major, so they try to hurry you through requirements to get in your music courses. Well, it backfired. Mademoiselle Oiseau (that was her name – Miss Bird) gave me A’s in French III in high school, but what she didn’t give me was a French language education that was worth anything. Every question was answered with the same answer – “that’s an idiomatic expression”. I don’t remember anything else about her class, other than I knew I wasn’t learning French and that I got into trouble one day in class. It was the baseball World Series and I was a fan. Sitting in those language lab cubicles where you listen through your headphones and repeat French pronunciations, I was instead listening to the World Series on my radio. And got caught. I wasn’t learning anything anyway….

My point is that I was ill-prepared for college level French II, skipping French I. And the pre-med Biology class my junior year killed my chances to stay at NCC. And my beloved Mrs. Watkins had retired and on board came Dr. Ann McKinley to replace her in theory and in music history. Now that I look back and realize what great private school preparation my son received in high school at Moses Brown School, I know I was certainly at a disadvantage with my very poor high school preparation, as well as extremely poor high school guidance on my course selections. I mean, no chemistry, no calculus (and math was a very strong subject for me), no trig. What was she thinking – this high school guidance teacher? That I was a girl? Probably. Just like my mother.

Mid-way through my junior year, President Nixon had cut the college student loan that I needed to attend NCC and as well, those two subjects’ grades proving obstacles - to beg to stay at NCC. Those loans were called National Student Defense Loans. I love that title for the loans. “Defense”…education thought of as “defense”. A lot of wisdom there – don’t’ you think?

My parents had determined that I would leave NCC, my friends, my welcomed and appreciated independence and move back to live with my parent’s in their new home in the woods and on a lake that my father had made, and commute to Huntington College. The same school that I been born in a house right across the street from. Today, the campus has been greatly changed and enlarged with the donation of one man’s multitudes of money and HC has been upgraded to Huntington University. This school was like high school, academically. Not as rigorous as NCC and the student body wasn’t filled with the top 10% of their high school graduating class. Grades became easier to get. Although, my boyfriend selection quality also diminished. My parents would have been wiser to find a way for me to have found success at NCC.

While I was allowed by my parents to go back to NCC and say good-bye to my friends and pack my things, I was walking through the Union building and I was called over to the table where Dr. Ann McKinley (theory and music history prof) and Mrs. Charlotte Piechl (my voice teacher) sitting. Dr. McKinley had been my 7:30 a.m. professor that fall semester in music theory. And we had just finished an assignment to compose using the whole tone scale. I wrote a piano piece, “Alone in Woods” and had asked Galen, a percussionist to play with my compostion. He and I practiced and he was sweet enough to get up and go to a 7:30 a.m. class that he wasn’t even taking and perform the piece with me – for my grade. Although she, gave me a D in music history, she gave me A+ on my composition.

I had no idea why Dr. McKinley had called me over to their coffee table there in the Union during my transition time to leave NCC. She proceeded to say, “We were just talking about you. And we were saying that you must create in your lifetime. You must never stop being creative.”

I am a creative person. I am never happier than when I am creating.

Unless it is following my passions into my bliss. Some of which are standing up and speaking about human dignity, human rights and morality issues. Genocide is one. Raising my adopted son is one. Slavery and selling children fall in that part of my life.

Dr. McKinley apparently saw something in that 7:30 a.m. composition and in Galen and my performance. Even though once, she had threatened to fail me in that class when she saw me yawn during one of those class periods.

I have never been happier in my life than I am now. This happiness was all born last August 7, 2006 after I expressed to my mother my truth about my relationship with her. She didn’t receive my expression as it was intended. But I did my part – I was truthful, kind, not bitter toward her and full of integrity during and upon walking away from her beautiful condo on a golf course. To this day, she has not talked to me. I did write to her once asking her permission to lift the ban on me taking my dad out for car rides from the Alzheimer’s floor at the institution where she placed him for the rest of his natural born life. But she said “No”. We haven’t talked in any form, since.

We haven’t a relationship worthy of a daughter who wants to love both of her parents. But she has been an obstacle for years – keeping me away from my dad. Not to mention the wall she has maintained between her and everyone in her life.

So happy… I am. But not without real life keeping it real with some emotional drama and pain to balance, in an unbalanced world.

The composer and human being, Jimmy Webb said this of creative people, “ My writing is a kind of response to the irritations of life. I’m an unhappy person. I think all creative people are probably unhappy. To me, to be happy means to be content, and I couldn’t bear that. I find everything an irritant, newspapers, restaurants, everything I come into contact with, and my songs are a result of expressing my reaction to those things.

All my life is a conflict between the way I was brought up to feel and the way I actually do feel, but I wouldn’t really have it any other way. This conflict, this guilt, is the cause of all my creativity. For example, I was brought up to think of marrying a nice, gentle, refined, religious girl of my own age, but I don’t believe in marriage anymore. What I mean is that I think there are maybe ten different kinds of relationships you can have with girls, with friends, any number of different things, any of which may be just as satisfactory as marriage. Why should all happiness be based on the idea of marriage? Yet at the same time I’m afraid, afraid of being an old man on a park bench without a wife, without children without grandchildren, being all alone. I’ll probably marry for the emotional security even though I don’t believe in it and I’m fighting it. Life is full of things like that.”

I like the honesty in this…And identify strongly with “All my life is a conflict between the way I was brought up to feel and the way I actually do feel”. If I could have written the script for my life and then lived out that script – I would keep most of my life just as it has been playing out. Of course I would have chosen a close relationship with my mother and with my dad. But I have, what I have and that is the hand I have been dealt. So I hold the “cards” in my hand – and I must figure out how to play them. I also probably wouldn’t have stayed 15 years in my last relationship. It was killing my spirit, sapping my energy, affecting my health . . . and my creativity was languishing and dormant in many ways. But it never was totally not there. For I am the creativity, the music, the humor, the dance. I am full of that life – a life of welcome passion. It is just who I am. Who I was born to be. And unlike Jimmy Webb. I know I am happy. Life is glorious.

I look in the mirror and it even shows in the natural color of my complexion. Okay, I’d like 30-something year old skin. But I am trying to think of a way to embrace the skin I have. It would of course help that the visuals all around me didn’t pretend that we forever look 30-something – and only cast 30 year olds – perpetuating the myth that youth is all that is worthy of our sense of sight.

I love my life. I love being me. I wouldn’t trade being me with anyone. What a great place to be in life. I hope you love your life.

I have found that when I live the life that destiny has for me – joy is the residual result. So trying to control certain things in my life is pointless. It is as though I am moving through life in a sailboat with the wind as my guide and the Great Spirit as my mentor and buddy. Soul mates with the universe, in a way.

I don’t know where I found this – most likely on a tea box – so much of the wisdom I find is written there:

“Each day brings gifts that you have ordered, and each day you place more orders. You do this by setting your intentions, and then acting on them. The Universe takes your orders, and delivers them. Everyone gets what she or he ordered. If you order fear, you get it. If you order love, you get it.” Source unknown. The “unknown” is wise, don’t you think?

Beauty is necessary to happiness.





Use Your Voice to Stop the Four Year Old Genocide in DarfurImportant:



Global Days for Darfur

April 23 - 29, 2007

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PLEASE, sign the petition of Amazing Changes Campaign


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Zach Hunter, a fifteen year old, wants to put an end to world-wide slavery
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