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Rhoda P. Curtis

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Reinventing Yourself This Year

Posted: 01/17/2012 2:33 pm

When people talk about "reinventing oneself" they usually mean reinventing or changing their public persona. During my long life (I will be ninety-four in February), I have changed my public persona many times. Was it really a "reinvention" of myself? No--it was a change in my public identity.

The hardest change was when I closed my business, Rhoda Pack Leathers in 1962, after having been in the business of creating leather handbags and sandals by hand since 1945. During those seventeen years, I created smooth leather for clothing, designed and made jackets, coats, dresses in leather that could be sponged off. It was leather clothing that was fashionable, soft and eminently wearable. I collected many fashion awards, and my designs were available in top stores throughout the U.S. (even in Hong Kong).

My identity WAS Rhoda Pack, and it was hard to give up. I went back to teaching, and gradually acquired a new identity. After acquiring a second M.A. at the age of sixty, this time in English with an emphasis on TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages), I became an expert in teacher training at the University of California, Berkeley Extension. I traveled extensively, teaching teachers around the world, especially in South Korea, Japan and mainland China. My new identity was as master teacher/trainer of ESL/EFL teachers.

I have been teaching the TESOL Workshop at California State University East Bay in Hayward since 2002, but that job is now over (too few students are enrolling in the program). My new identity is that of Elder/Author/Writer/Journalist, and it seems that this is my final "reinvention". However, I am really not reinventing me--I am simply changing jobs, which requires a new public perception of who I am.

When I was conducting graduate classes in TESOL at UC Berkeley Extension, I created an exercise in which I asked my students to create a diagram for themselves, defining their different public roles. It required a reflection of how their behavior changed, depending on their interaction with others. Try it: draw a circle and put your name in the middle of the circle. Now draw radiating lines from your name to the rim of the circle. Name the people with whom you interact. If some of the names that appear are Lover, Mother, Father, Teacher, Student, Husband, Wife, Child, Brother, Sister, you will find that if you react to your lover as you would to your child, you will encounter a cross-communication! You are a different person to the different people with whom you connect during your daily life. It is not a matter of "reinventing" yourself as much as it is ways of adjusting your behavior to the perception other people have of who you are.

People from my past lives still think of me as "Ricky's mother" or Rhoda Pack, or Professor Curtis, or as Educational Consultant. They are all mes, at different stages of my life. There is no question that the experience of changing one's job or physical location or life pattern (marriage/divorce/child birth/adoption), to say nothing of gender change, requires enormous courage and a willingness to fail. The final question of "reinventing oneself" means finding out who you really are, and how well you make sure people recognize the new (or different) persona you have chosen for yourself.

Rhoda P. Curtis is the author of "Rhoda: Her First Ninety Years," a candid memoir of a first-generation American woman who was willing to change the direction of her life every 12 years, and "After Ninety: What." To buy Rhoda's books and to read her blog, visit her on Red Room.