Kaitlin’s life is a fascinating tale of innovative solutions, applied as she worked with creative individuals, and a life rich in relationships and positivity. She was 69 years old when I interviewed her in 2015 at Kaitlin’s Creative Cottage, a safe haven for women and young girls, victims of abuse.
H: WHAT IS YOUR TRAINING AND EDUCATION?
K: I am trained as a Nurse and Archeologist. I got my Masters degree in Nursing, in rural communities and indigenous communities. And Masters in Archeology and Anthropology. I had at least as much to learn from the indigenous cultures that I wanted to serve, and I could offer them my services. It was a wonderful trade.
H: DID YOU WORK AS A NURSE?
K: Yes, I worked all over the California coastal areas and with the United Farm Workers. I was young and idealistic and thought I could make a really big difference. I got little tiny Grants here and there to do things, and develop programs. Sometimes the nursing part of me was treating the physiological, and the Archeologist/Anthropologist was treating the cultural issues. So it was a nice learning curve for me as well.
I retired from Nursing last year after 44 years. The last 20 years I worked with the Hospice community. I developed my own Hospice program where I worked with Cultural Creatives, people not able to fit into the normal standard grid of Hospice. They wanted to stay in their own homes, they had artistic collections; they wanted to be productive in their creative capacities until the end of their lives.
I worked out a way to do reconciliation and reconnection. Lots of artists are disenfranchised from family for one reason or another. They prioritize, sometimes, their creativity above some of the structural elements of family. I wanted to get that healed up before they passed.
I also wanted to get their creative and cultural legacy in good order, so it could be passed forward as a part of their legacy. I do poetry readings, and create chat-books with people, and organize their journals and diaries, and expunge certain parts that would be hurtful to others, and recreate them in altered books, and things like that. It was important to take the gifts I’d learned in my own creativity and try to help people transition (through death) as the creative beings they wanted to be.
I had an opportunity to re-create myself, with the traditional education I’d had, to do non-traditional work. So it was a great melding.
H: AT 18 MONTHS YOUR PARENTS GAVE YOU TO A CONVENT. CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR JOURNEY AS IT FLOWED FROM THAT? YOU ARE VERY CREATIVE, HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?
K: It’s not uncommon in a certain brand of Irish immigrant, my story. Of course you won’t hear about it because most of those young women grow up to be cloistered nuns, and their story isn’t known. I happen to have escaped, and had a different life.
A certain kind of very loyal and generational Catholic had some guilt about the famine, and escaping to the United States, and not dying with your kin. You needed to pay that debt, so many people tithe their children to the church. Most that were tithed felt this was their greatest salvation, we ate three meals a day.
It was a very rigid and confined atmosphere. As a very imaginative young girl, I had to live interiorly. I lived very much in my own head, and I took from what I gleaned in the Convent library. Imaginative tales and wove them together with lives of the Saints. I gave solace to lots of young girls who came in the middle of the night as a result of disasters, and were having a very awkward transition. We sat in a tree well, I was just whispering, making little stories up, using things in the dirt to make little vignettes of different kinds.
I realized pretty early on, I had a way of really being able to help people transport themselves out of whatever was hurting, causing them grief.
H: WHERE DID THE ARTIST COME FROM, DID YOU HAVE FORMAL TRAINING?
K: Because I majored secondarily in Anthropology/Archeology I took lots of classes in ceramic making, weaving, in order to understand the cultural motifs. I had a passion for that. I developed a vocabulary to go into indigenous communities as a sort of “novitiate of craft” rather than an Anthropologist that had a clipboard and questions.
I said, “I’m having a hard time with this glaze, and your traditional culture has a wonderful slip that you make. I would just love to apprentice myself to you.” I found that sitting with people that were creative, their stories came out in a very different language than if I used my scientific hat.
H: WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT INSPIRATION AND CREATIVE PROCESS?
K: The women I work with are the most powerful inspiration. Many are working actively, day-to-day, to re-invent themselves. And I work with little girls, 7-12 years old in a project that I built called “Girls with Heart”. They come from backgrounds much more storied than my own. They carry deep and profound woundings that could define them for the rest of their lives if someone doesn’t intercede early and often to say, “How can we make something beautiful of this?”
Hospice patients have given me such wonderment about their ability to transition to the next phase with optimism and hope and a sense of real accomplishment.
I’ve always been a storyteller. In indigenous cultures, very often their entire cultural history is embedded in stories, so it behooved me early on to allow myself to have some imaginative courage, and stories; to understand the implications of creating cultural history through storytelling.
Nothing is an isolate, nothing stands by itself, it’s all embedded deeply in all kinds of other things.
H: DO YOU HAVE A MOTTO OR GUIDING PHILOSOPHY?
K: “Be here now.” That has been my guide all my life. Be precisely, exactly in this moment. I have great confidence.
H: WHAT PERSONAL QUALITIES HAVE HELPED YOU ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS?
K: Imagination is the strongest suit. Resilience is a really important quality. If I can cultivate a certain degree of personal resilience, I can lend you some when you need it. And you can lend it back to me when I need it.
H: WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST PROFESSIONAL CHALLENGE?
K: I don’t do well in competitive environments.
H: WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST REWARD?
K: I’ve seen the healing capacity of art-making. That is the reason I do all of the things that I do.
H: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG ARTISTS OR CREATIVES?
K: Live creatively. Be creative in everything you do. What you wear, how you eat, how you decorate your room, what you decide you are going to do with your life. Make art every day.
When a problem is presented and your first instinct is to run, stand there for a second, and think of another option. Re-scripting in the moment is a creative option you have.