Dorothy Jardin: You Have to Say Yes to All of It

A beloved teacher, counselor, poet, and dancer, Dorothy Jardin is an artist in every way, especially in how she lives her life.

“My name is Dorothy, but when I was your age in school, everyone called me Dottie. Do you ever think about your name? My middle name was my grandmother’s name, and I was embarrassed by it. For a long time, I wouldn’t tell anybody, but now I like it. It’s Eda. It could have been Ida, but they said it in a French way. My confirmation name was Catherine — Catherine of Sienna.”

“My family name is a French name — Gagner. It’s not a pretty name, but that’s it, and so I was Dottie Gagner. Then, when I was twenty-three years old, I married a man whose name was Monahan, an Irish name, and for many years, my name was Dorothy Monahan. Later, when I wasn’t married to Michael Monahan anymore, I didn’t know what to do – -now what should my name be?”

“I thought about being Gagner again, and I tried spelling it different ways so people would say it differently. But finally I decided I would pick a name I really like. I chose the name jardin. It means garden. I loved how it sounded and how it looked, and I love the idea of a garden. All my life, I think that I can feel related to the idea of a garden. It’s a metaphor. And I thought, ‘That’s my life.’ I am a living thing, and I like beautiful things.”

“My father felt insulted, and my best friend, whose name was Marilyn Pink, of all things, said, ‘You can’t just change your name!’ And I said, ‘Yes, you can.’

“For twenty years now, I have a very nice husband whose last name is Ryder, but I had already figured out what my name should be, and I didn’t want to change it when I married him. That was okay with him, but my mother calls me Dot Ryder! I think she wants to see if I’ll get mad, but I won’t.”

“I picked Jardin because of the metaphor, but also because it sounded like Jordan, and Jordan is a special name to me. I’ll tell you why. When I was a kid, I liked dancing, but I didn’t take many dance classes until I was thirty. For a dancer, that’s old, and I was already a mother. Then I heard there was a really good dance teacher in this town where I lived –Chico — and I went to her, and I said, ‘Do you think I’m too old to learn to dance?’ Well, guess how old she was? She was in her seventies when I met her! She was fantastic. And her name was Elsa Jordan. She was important to me in my life because she was a dancer.”

“In the little town I grew up in, there wasn’t much happening for the arts. I think that’s part of my story. It was a small town in northern Minnesota. It had a lot of things that were good, but it lacked many of the things I loved. Even as a kid, I loved dancing, and I loved music, and I loved art. I didn’t know a lot about these things, but I knew I loved them.”

“My parents didn’t oppose this, but they definitely weren’t ‘into’ it. So I didn’t have any dance classes until I was thirty. I was too old to start ballet, so I did modern dance. And I was a dancer for many years. I still love to dance. ”

“What I did a lot growing up in Minnesota was ice skating. I started when I was very little; I can barely remember the difference between walking and skating. In fact, I’ve been tempted to get roller blades, ’cause I bet it’s similar.”

“We had outside rinks, and all the boys would play hockey. They had these sticks and they were always trying to slam the pucks into something, you know how guys like to do that kind of stuff. Meanwhile, the girls are into spinning around, doing swan dives, glamorous things… ”

“It was a fun place to grow up because we were very free. No one worried about anything except drowning in the river. A beautiful river went through the town, and there were bridges over it. The river would freeze, and suddenly, the ice would crack. The ice was thick, and in the ice there were all kinds of junk that had fallen in –branches, leaves, a crumpled up newspaper, an old shoe. Then the ice cracks and it starts moving. These big chunks move and clog up and bang into the bridge. It was very exciting. People would go out and stand under the bridge to watch it.”

“My life was involved with water. There is a lot of water in Minnesota, land of ten thousand lakes. There was the river, of course, and in the summer, my family would go to the lake. We’d go fishing, water skiing, or just wandering around. We spent a lot of time in boats; my dad loved to fish.”

“I have a sister who is one year older than I am. She’s a tall sister, almost six feet tall. Her name is Sally and she is a nurse in Minneapolis. All of my family still live in Minnesota.”

“But I was actually born in California! It was 1943, and we were in the middle of World War II. My family moved to California and my father worked building battle ships. The war ended in 1945 and we moved back to Minnesota. I didn’t have any clear memories of California, but after I finished college, guess where I went? California.”

“The first college I went to was an all-women’s college called the College of Saint Therese and we had to wear nylon stockings and hats sometimes. It was before women’s liberation. But it was a good school, and it had a lot of smart women in it, and I liked that. But I only stayed one year because there weren’t any boys, and that was weird. Then I went to the University of North Dakota. It was a great school — they had everything: a law school, a medical school, now there’s even an aeronautical school. I was a sorority girl. We lived in a nice fancy house. There was a cook, and we did a lot of singing. I liked the pin; it was an arrow. Pi Phi. An old sorority.”

“In college, and in high school, I was a cheerleader — for football and hockey. We did our cheers wearing ice skates. I was an ice hockey cheerleader. We were so slick! We wore blue corduroy pants with a white satin stripe.”

“Even though you might start out in a small town somewhere, who knows where you’ll end up in your life? ”

“When I graduated from college, I came to Lompoc and was a teacher. I was hired over the telephone to work at a brand new school – Cabrillo High School. I was twenty-one years old. Before I left, I looked at a map, and Lompoc looked like it was a beach town. It’s cold and foggy there, but when I looked at the map, it seemed like a nice place.”

“I had great colleagues, and a wonderful mentor — Barbara Whelan from Boston. There was great literature to teach, and kids from all over the country who called me M’am because they were military kids. Yes, M’am. No sir. And they meant it. I was Miss Gagner, and Yes, M’am.”

“My students loved me because I was a young teacher. I was cool. I had long brown hair, parted down the middle. It was 1965. It was just the beginning of things that were really changing in America, and especially in California. I loved being in California. I loved going to Santa Barbara and San Francisco. And I had a Plymouth Barracuda. I wanted a T-Bird or a Mustang, but I got a Barracuda because it was what my father wanted. It was a guy car, a muscle car — it had this big muffler thing and made so much noise. But all the boys at the high school who liked cars really thought it was cool. The English teacher with a Barracuda!”

“I came to Dunn Middle School twenty years ago. It was the second year of the middle school. There were nineteen kids in the whole school. I think our first year we were all in the Humanities house, and I taught in Linda’s room, the living room, but it had a divider and bookshelves. Jim Brady was the math teacher and he was in the kitchen. We’d meet in what is now Cynthia’s room, for G.M. — general meetings. All of us, the entire school. We’d talk about a lot of things. We’d have long discussions. Every Friday we did a field trip. It only took two vans. Jim would drive one, and I would drive one. If there was snow on the mountains, we’d say, ‘There’s snow on the mountains! Let’s go!’ And we would drive up and play in the snow.”

“It was very different for me because I hadn’t taught full time for nine years. I had gotten married after two years to an art teacher, whose name was Mike Monahan. We moved up to Seattle; I taught one year there, and then we came back, and I taught again at Cabrillo High, while Mike went to UCSB and got his master’s degree. Then we went one year up to Humboldt County, where the redwoods are, and Mike taught art at Humboldt State. That’s when I had my son, Matthew.”

“I had a kind of epiphany after my son was born. Epiphany. I imagine a lot of light when I think of the word. Your world gets bigger; you get a different understanding of something. I had such a moment when my son was born. I was still in the hospital. I really wanted to have a child, and I was happy to be pregnant, I was 29 years old, happily married, and had a very good delivery — April 29, 1972. It was a big deal to have a baby. I got up from my bed and went to look at my son. I went down to where the babies were, and he was in his bed sleeping.”

“It was his first night. His first night out in the world. The nurse who was with me had just come out from delivering another baby, and she said to me, ‘My daughter is 21 years old today.’ So her baby was 21. That’s a pretty important age. She and I stood next to each other. There were just two babies in there, and I sort of had a feeling of a big circle. Have you ever heard the word, mandala? It’s a beautiful word, too. Within that circle, there were many pictures — pictures of light and dark, day and night, happy, sad, high, low, birth, death, opposites, and it was — to me, what it said was: This is life. You choose it all. If you’re gonna live, you have to say yes to all of it. That was kind of an epiphany. It came from having a child, and the love I felt immediately was so big, so big that you could cry all the time.”

“So I was feeling very big. And the feeling was, ‘You can’t just choose to have the nice, but it won’t be only hard either. It’s all life.'”

“It was a moment of great joy for me, but there are people who die in the hospital too. The best thing in a hospital is babies being born, but there are people on their way out, also.”

“I’ve always been a fussy person, a little timid, and suddenly it was, “‘Okay. I’m ready.’ Being a parent is hard business. Children are not just going to be little and cute. But I think I was given some clarity about: You’ve got to say yes to all of it.”

“Later, we moved to Chico and we lived up there for nine years, and I came from Chico down to here. Chico is where I started dancing with Elsa Jordan, and I also started playing the flute, ’cause I always wanted to play the flute. And I had a chance to do some different things that I hadn’t had time to do when I was teaching English all the time. I started writing poetry. I was very involved with artists because my husband was in the art department.”

“Then, I moved down here and started teaching at Dunn Middle School. One year went by, and then two years, and before I knew it, it was twenty years that I had been teaching at Dunn Middle School! Matthew went to the middle school, and I was his teacher for three years. I liked being my son’s teacher. I didn’t miss out on any of the fun stuff that he was doing.”

“I taught in several different classrooms at the middle school. I had to move my books around a lot there! We kept growing. But now the school is the biggest it’s ever been, so it’s very different this year.”

“Jim was a math teacher, and I was an English teacher, so the kids got an awful lot of math and language arts. So much so, that we would often use that G.M. time to do some science or history. We also talked a lot about world events. We’d bring in the newspaper, talk about things in the community, and in the school. It was like a big family meeting. We didn’t give letter grades. We had progress reports. We would write a lot about the students, but we didn’t have grades.”

“Through all the changes, one thing that is absolutely constant about Dunn Middle School is the kids. Being 11 or 12 or 13 or 14 is what makes it a middle school. We have kids who are shy, loud, athletic, artistic — they are all kids of middle school age.”

“Middle school kids are changing. Their bodies are changing. Their feelings change; their thinking changes. They get excited, and they’re curious. Middle school kids want to know stuff! Things are interesting. There’s a lot of feeling about things. It’s so exciting!”

“The other thing about the middle school is that people are very creative. They get all kinds of ideas and they like to create stuff. Kids at your age (middle school) aren’t as afraid of some things as older people are. You haven’t decided yet who you are. You still want to try things. Kids can be everything. Little kids can turn into anything — a wild horse, spider man, a dragon! And middle school kids are not that far from that. As a middle school teacher, I worked very hard to keep the doors open, to keep the imagination going. And physical activity is important, also. ‘Cause kids of your age have a lot of energy, and you can do almost anything with your body. Your bodies really work well. You are flexible in mind and body, so it’s really fun to teach kids your age.”

“And that’s why DMS will always be a good school — because kids are great at your age.”

“I also got to work with wonderful teachers like Marc Kummel and John Boettner. John was like the giant — 6 feet 8, really nice guy, with curly black hair. The kids adored him. He drove an old VW convertible. He’d get out with his long legs, and he’d be carrying a milk crate with all his school stuff in it. We had great teachers, and we kept giving kids problems and projects and books to read. We did a lot of acting, too. We’d get costumes; we’d make videos. It has developed into a fantastic school, very creative with lots of challenges, which is what you kids deserve.”

“After a while, I thought, ‘It would be nice not to grade papers.’ So I’m taking a little break from that. I’m the wellness coordinator at the upper school now, although nobody really knows what a wellness coordinator does. When I left the middle school, the kids gave me a magic wand, and that reminds me that I’m still making things up. There’s still magic involved. Being a wellness coordinator generally means I go around and pay attention to how people are feeling. What’s your stress level? How are you getting along? How’s your love life? Sometimes they make an appointment; sometimes they just drop in. Sometimes, I just say, ‘Can we talk?'”

“My husband and I are now building a home in Baja, Mexico. I love it there. I love to travel. I like to go to Europe because my son has been living there. One of the farthest away places I’ve ever been is Bali, in Indonesia. In Bali — talk about dance! People will work all day in the terraced rice fields, but at night, they start dancing, and they play exquisite music. They move so beautifully, and I never saw anybody angry there. I wanted to go to Bali ever since the song, ‘Bali Hai.’ But I want to go everywhere. I’d like to travel around the world. And I like to travel in my mind, too, through books and movies.”

“Books are very important to me. Every book influences me, even if it’s a book I don’t like. Every book allows me to travel outside myself. I couldn’t even tell you my favorites –if I had to take ten books off my shelf, I’d have to spend days deciding. The only thing I know for sure is I would bring Rilke.”

“I love music, also. My favorite sound is silence, but it’s never totally quiet. If I could only listen to one composer, it would be Bach — I love the cello suites. I’ve played the flute, the clarinet, and the recorder, but my favorite instrument to hear is the cello. Now I’m learning the keyboard –last Christmas I got a keyboard, and a beginner book. The piano is a favorite, too. If I keep plugging along…”

“I have a studio in my house. I live on Figueroa Mountain road. And I have a big room that’s mine. I can go in there and shut the door. That’s where I do music, and paint, and dance. I walk up the road a lot. My favorite season in the Santa Ynez Valley is fall. The light is so exquisite, so clear — blue skies and yellow leaves… And I love to go to the beach. I look at the sky, and I look at the water. The ocean is always special. We are really lucky to be living here.”

“The main thing in life is to keep interested. Keep finding things to be interested in! Know that you are here for a reason. The odds of anyone simply being born at all are pretty amazing. That we ended up being here, and we ended up in the form we are in? Everyone is born for a reason, and I think it’s our job to figure it out. And the way to figure it out is to watch what you love. Watch in yourself what you really love, what you really get excited about, when you feel most alive. When you feel big and most alive, pay attention to that. That indicates what you really ought to do. If you’re finding that you feel kind of dead, and nothing is any good, you better look around some more. What we are is mostly light. We’re made of the same stuff as stars, and quantum physics talks about that. We’re mostly light. And we are all connected.”

“Sometimes there are hard parts in life, when your light gets low. Learn how to take care of yourself. Learn what makes you feel better. For me, it’s good people, beautiful things, and books. If you get kind of stuck with yourself and can’t quite know, go to each other other, or go to some flowers, or go to the mountains where it’s bigger, and there’s light, and energy, and let it help you. Bring it back into yourself.”

“And don’t be afraid to do things that you’re not very good at. I always wanted to paint. I finally started. You’re not going to be good right when you start. And if you love it, do it anyway, because you don’t have to be good at everything you do. Forget about being perfect. Everything teaches you something.”

7 Responses to Dorothy Jardin: You Have to Say Yes to All of It

  1. Dick Johnson, UND 1964 says:

    Dot: I always liked the name Gagner.

    Dick J.

  2. G. S. says:

    I think you are our missing classmate fron College of St. Teresa in Winona MN, 1965 Alum. It so, please contact me. Another classmte Googled you and thought the picture looks like you. Hope we have found you.

  3. Johanna Sorrell says:

    hello there,

    i’m actually trying to get in touch with Dorothy. it’s been years, but i would greatly appreciate if you could share an email address with me. or, alternately, please let her know that Jo, from way back when at the Dunn School (2000), is looking to connect again.
    many thanks!

  4. Jan Harris says:

    Dottie, I remember you from many years ago in Lompoc! So glad I found this site. jan

  5. Jessika Monsey says:

    Hi! I believe I am a former student of yours and I would like to send you a graduation announcement because you really had an impact on me. I had you in third grade and I’m not sure if I have the right person but if so, please email me! Thank you!

  6. Alan Geller says:

    Hello Dottie,
    This is the month for digging up old memories. I just came back from a golf and martini weekend with Tom Lynch and Ron Currier in Palm springs and we were talking about old friends; including you and your former apartment mates. I’m glad to see that you are fit and well and painting. I’ve resumed painting and and I am learning from the folks in the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society. Do you keep up with any of the old crew. I actually visited Fred and Linda in Albuquerque a few years ago.


  7. Cathleen daly says:

    Hi Dottie. It’s been a long time!! Remember the fun we had in Chico together? I used to be married to terry Clarke and we have a son Brennan. I loved reading your blog and would love to hear from you. Best. Cathleen

  8. Sharon Johnson says:

    Hi Dottie: Jeff and I are driving to San Diego and I was looking at the map…trying to decide how we were going to come home to Newcastle.. I was thinking about Avilia Beach and thought about the time we stayed there with Michael. Then the mandala happened… I googled him and found you! I read your blog aloud as we were traveling down Highway 5. Reading about your life and journey was like finding a hidden treasure. Where is Matthew living in Europe? I remember when he was born oh so many years ago in Humboldt County. We moved to Baltimore in the summer of 72 for Jeff to go to graduate school at the Maryland Institute. We were there for two years and we adopted our son, Jeremy, right after we moved to Houston for Jeff’s first teaching job at the U of St Thomas. Jeremy was an epiphany experience for us. Sj

  9. Kim Taraschi says:

    Hi Dorothy,

    I enjoyed reading this! When I was a little girl, my name was Kimberly. I had friends that went to DMS and loved you.

    When I grew up, I got married and became Kim Larsen. I became a Pilates teacher and had my little studio in Los Olivos with Adrienne.

    In 2009, I moved to St. Paul, MN to make a new start as a divorced, single mother of two. I met this wonderful woman at the Highland Park Business Association that just happened to be your sister! I like to be reminded of home and all the wonderful people I met there.

    Now, I am Kim Taraschi and tonight I read a beautiful poem that you wrote and Adrienne shared online.

    What fun to learn more about you! I like saying Yes! Thanks for sharing,


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