On the afternoon of 9 May 2011, the English Department of the University of Kansas gave a festive “milestones celebration” in the North Gallery of the Spencer Research Library for three of its new retirees, presided by Chair Marta Caminero-Santangelo, and organized by Administrative Assistant Robert Elliott. The retirees (Mike Johnson, Jim Hartman and I) were expected to say a few words. Here’s what I prepared for the occasion.
Many, if not most, of the people here know me as, until recently, the one and only person who has been teaching playwriting in the English Department since 1989, the same year I founded English Alternative Theatre to nurture, develop and produce the plays being written by my students. But, my history with the department goes all the way back to spring of 1969, and not many people here know how I came to be at KU, so I thought I might share the story with everyone present.
These days, if I am filled with feelings I cannot begin to describe when I’m watching the hit television series MAD MEN, it’s because I lived through the same exciting period in the 1960s as an advertising copywriter for J. Walter Thompson in the Philippines. Many of the ad campaigns that I worked on had won various industry awards, and my colleagues in Manila thought I was “good enough” to make it on Madison Avenue in New York.
Thus, travelling on just a tourist visa, I left for the United States with my hefty portfolio in June of 1968. To my disappointment, after they looked at my portfolio, the people at J. Walter Thompson in New York said that, ironically, I had too much experience. They were only interested in hiring cheaper, beginning copywriters. They suggested I try my luck with employment agencies, which I did, and they in turn told me that I could lie about my experience and start at $18,000 a year, or else I could sit and wait for a $30,000 job to open up at one of the ad agencies in the city. Not wanting to sell myself short, I chose to wait.
Day after day, I sat by the telephone, waiting. Nothing. Six months went by, and I began to worry, because my tourist visa was running out. I had only two options. I could be deported as an illegal alien, returning to Manila with that damned portfolio, my tail between my legs, or I could exchange my tourist visa for a student visa. And then I remembered that, back in 1964, I had met a peripatetic historian from the University of Kansas, who had been in the Philippines first as a soldier during World War II, then as a Fulbright scholar, then as a frequent visitor in the course of his academic research. Although I did not have any of my college transcripts from Manila with me, I turned to Grant Goodman to convince the registrar at KU to accept me as a foreign student. And, believe it or not, that’s how I ended up in Lawrence, Kansas.
As a side note, two weeks before I left the East Coast for the Midwest, the telephone finally rang, not once, but twice, with lucrative job offers from The Wall Street Journal and from Alka-Seltzer, both of whom were starting their own in-house agencies, and they were interested in someone with my background and qualifications.
I had dropped out of school after two years of college in Manila because I was bored with my teachers, but now I felt I was ready to reenter the groves of academe. Had I gone to work for either The Wall Street Journal or Alka-Seltzer in New York, I would not have had the joy of studying with, among many others, Ed Wolfe, Ed Ruhe, Ed Grier, Paul Kendall, John Bush Jones, Jack Oruch, Max Sutton, Hal Orel, Beverly Boyd, George Worth and Jim Hartman. I would not have formed lasting personal friendships with, among others, such wonderful colleagues in the department as Carolyn Doty, Bud Hirsch, Mary Davidson, Mary Catherine Davidson, Jim Carothers, David Bergeron, Geraldo Sousa, Amy Devitt, Dick Hardin, Bill Scott, Bob and Dorice Elliott, Marta Caminero-Santangelo, Brian Daldorph and Phil Wedge.
When Grant Goodman himself retired from the History Department 22 years ago, he let it be known that he did not want to be presented with an autographed 8 x 10 glossy of then-KU Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs Judith Ramaley, a position which, incidentally, no longer exists in Strong Hall. I’ve never met our new Provost, so I don’t think there’s any danger of my receiving an autographed 8 x 10 glossy from him. Truthfully, I am quite happy with all the pictures in my mind’s eye, of everyone I’ve named, of everyone here today, to say nothing of all the wonderful student playwrights, actors and designers I’ve been fortunate to work with through English Alternative Theatre, to remind me that the journey has been worthwhile. Indeed, it has all been more than worthwhile.
These days, given the economy, I’m thankful I never got into the habit of reading The Wall Street Journal, so there is no reason for me to imbibe the “plop plop, fizz fizz” of an Alka-Seltzer. Actually, I’ve never in my life ever had an Alka-Seltzer, not even the mornings after the nights of heavy drinking after some of our more memorable and sometimes even deplorable departmental meetings. I hope I live long enough to tell all the steamy stories on my website at paulstephenlim.com.
Thank you for the memories, one and all, everyone. A special thank you, too, to all my friends and colleagues who have given so generously to the KU Endowment Association for the annual Paul Stephen Lim Asian-American Playwriting Award which has been established by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.
Congratulations Paul…am very glad to hear the story of your journey to Kansas. You leave behind a huge legacy. Am glad to have been afforded the opportunity to cross paths with you. Enjoy your “retirement.”
An excellent farewell speech.
Although not a KU person, I do go back to 1969 when you first came to Lawrence….as I recall meeting you on my first visit to Grant’s during that spring/summer when you were staying with him. And now it’s 42 years later. Boy, do I feel old.
Best wishes for adventure and excitement during your retirement years.
Congratulations, Paul, and thank you for sharing that speech and your journey. Thank you also, for all the people outside of KU whose lives you’ve touched, mine among them. We are blessed…
One journey down and another starting. I can’t wait to hear what will come in the new journey of life that you are now in.
We’ve been too busy lately and I have to excuse myself from not contacting you but I will, I promise when we return from NYC June 30. Take care of yourself in the meantime.
Alka-Seltzer might help with a memoir in “flux.”
Or whenever I try “stream of consciousness.”
I think it was Grant who shared your farewell speech with me. Thank you to him for doing so, and to you for giving us the story of your journey to KU. !964 was the year I too met Grant for the first time, at a venue in Tokyo; and in 1971, through his introduction, I came to KU, to try to learn to teach and to finish my dissertation. (I did both, but the latter took a year or two longer than it should have.)
You were there then, too, and I remember happy lunches and dinners and a few soulful talks.
Like you, I have just retired from teaching, and plan to devote the rest of my life to literary translation and to personal writing. Re the latter, I may very well be in touch with you for tips — Yoroshiku, as we say here.
You have had a splendid career at KU, and have been a good friend to many, many people there, and especially, of course, to Grant. Best wishes to you for the future, and God bless.
Paul McC. May 11 Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
Enjoyed your story, Paul. All good things must end, but your departure is the worst thing to happen to our department in recent memory. Dick
That is a wonderful story. I had an opportunity to say hi the other day when I saw your truck parked outside of Murphy Hall. Unfortunatey you were in a meeting and I didn’t want to interrupt. Your gift to me personally has been one that I will cherish forever. I hope at some time in the future I can tell you some of my story so that you will better realize the impact you have made on my life. I know I’m only one of many. Thank You so very much Paul for allowing me to participate in the KCACTF. I will keep you in my thoughts forever. Brian Blevins
A compliment from someone who is about to retire from academic life too: a nice speech. As a person whose native language is Dutch, I now rush to the dictionary to look up the word peripatetic. I know what Alka-Seltzer is supposed to do to a person, although it is not available in the Netherlands, perhaps because the Wall Street Jorunal is not read here that often. Fortunately, authority figures of the universities here do not hand out autographed pictures of themselves.
Congratulations Paul !
Im sure where ever your new path leads,
magic will soon follow!
Paul! I wonder if you know what an impact you have made on me, personally. I will always treasure our “dates.” Can’t wait to hear what your next chapter will include. xo, Beate
Paul, we spent so much time in conversation together in the late 1970s. (I wonder if I was as quiet then as I am now. Probably not.) And I still recall our first meeting: it was at a rehearsal of Earnest in September 1977. During a break you came up to me and said “I don’t think an Englishman would stride into the room with as much energy as you do.” Do you remember that? Comments such as that were tremendously helpful to this greenhorn.
And to think that much of what, I take, you consider your most valuable work was begun in 1989 with EAT, almost 10 years after I left town, and more than 20 years before this moment! Ah Time, she flitteth overhead with mocking wings.
I hope your new career lasts another 50 years at least.
This is a wonderful story, from a wonderful storyteller. Thanks for sharing this chapter with all of your former students, colleagues, friends and your legion of admirers. And thanks for all the great EAT memories, Paul, and for a friendship I relish. Best always,
What a story! Thanks for filling in the blank of those early years for so many of us who came later. Appreciate the EAT years even more, and how lucky for us that the offers from Wall Street Journal and Alka-Seltzer came ‘too late.”
Congratulations again Paul. Enjoy your retirement.
thank you Paul, for your career, as well as your memories and astute observations. Thank you also for enabling me to be a very small part of the EAT experience, from which I most especially hold on to the memories of the production of Bent, a highlight for me and perhaps for others as well.
Wonderful! Thank you for sharing.
Now I hope you will get into some of the steamy stuff you promised us. (Big grin!)