At 16, I was hired to be a junior counselor at a camp for “underprivileged kids.” We were in a building with a tin roof while outside, a storm was raging, rain pounding relentlessly, flashes of lightning cutting through the too-sudden darkness, cracks of deafening thunder making us all jump. The girls began to cry hysterically, clutching each other, terrified.
Between my junior and senior years of college I was hired to be a recreational therapist in a large mental hospital, in charge of a building of 300 women. When my supervisor told me I had to meet with a psychiatrist, my first thought was to wonder what I’d done, if I was somehow going to be transformed from staff to patient.
The psychiatrist, a bear of a man, did not waste time. “Miss Rubin, I hear you’re a storyteller. We have some children who are patients here. Your supervisor has changed your schedule so you have time to tell stories to the children for half an hour three times a week.” What I didn’t say was: What? Me? Work with mentally ill kids? I don’t know anything about mentally ill kids. “You can begin now. A staff member will take you to their playroom.”
In the fall of 1984 I had a grant from the University of Delaware to do storymaking projects with faculty, returning adult students, undergraduates, graduates, and administrative units. Each group was formed by participants who signed up for the classes and workshops.
The faculty who chose to participate came from a variety of fields—business, science, arts, humanities, social sciences—and most did not know each other. All went well until the fifth and next to last, session.
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.