Jessica Goldstein: In Memoriam

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Though it may be a little gratuitous, with the recent passing of my esteemed mentor and teacher, Jessica Goldstein, I have been thinking a lot about high school and some of those lost memories. So, here's a short introspective.

High school sometimes seems like a blur - ugly smells from the cafeteria, consistently awkward schedule changes, and the occasional detention with Ms. Lee (which didn't really seem like a punishment). I remember that many classes made me scream; even if I was with friends, even if I liked the teacher, even if I thought the material was easy. Theater class, however, was not like that. I never dreaded going into that strange octagonal room that Goldstein fondly named her "bat cave." It had a special brand of crazy that I knew how to handle.

I was a quiet girl who didn't speak up in French class and who wore baggy black clothing outside of theater class. There I was loud. In charge. Encouraged to take risks, even if that meant doing something as wacky as putting a plastic chicken on my head and running about as a spirit from the dead. For all the years that I did high school theater, Goldstein was the woman who gave us a rueful "you kids" smile and let us press on.

A lot of us flocked to theater as an elective that was easy or we knew how to do; there was the standard motley crew of acting kids and techies, overconfident jocks, and nerdy people who needed another class to add on. Some of us wrote papers for the International Baccalaureate and some of us were goofballs that never did the reading. Sometimes the same kid did both. But as much as we would skip class or fight with the teacher, when a sub came in, we were all on the same side. We knew that they had no power over us - and we had a mighty loyalty to Goldstein. Which is not to say that she didn't get played sometimes, but there was definitely an air of respect for her that was not otherwise present. Some of us, I among them, adored her to the fighting end even when she got on our nerves with inconsistencies.

She refused to conform with school policies that would stifle us and administration that would snark at us for being unchaperoned. She let us have run of the theater with our creative expression, let us handle the backstage, taught us to value or waste our time according to our own goals. While these privileges were used and abused, they were always there, a show of measurable respect and honor that she had for us as young adults just as we had respect for her as a wacky adult that gave us more of herself than I ever imagined.

I honestly thought that Goldstein would live forever.

She graduated with my class of 2009, moving back to NY during that summer. While there were cries of "thank God!" and the theater got on a more traditional 2-plays-a-year track, I was glad not to have to be a part of Interlake theater without Goldstein. I can't imagine it would have been much fun. In my freshman year of college, Goldstein sat with me on the Columbia steps and told me how to love the city was to get away from it once in a while and that I could visit her when I needed that break. Now I'll never get the chance.

I know it seems small, to love a high school teacher. After all, aren't we individuals and shouldn't we leave the past to the past? But Goldstein was more than just a teacher for me. I attribute so much of my ability to stand up for myself and to voice my opinions to her guidance. She encouraged me to write, to speak, and most importantly to not be afraid. She herself was never afraid to be silly, to feel her emotions, and to bring her full self into our lives. I will never forget it.

Interlake theater kids and anyone else who wants to share a memory of Goldstein, please send me a message or comment here. I want to cultivate the memories that we have of her in a safe place.