One Of Us

Dean Stecker

Posted

Can you please briefly tell us about your background?

I was born in New York City, where I lived untill age seven when the family moved to Long Island. In high school, I developed a keen interest in English literature and creative writing, an interest that stayed with me into my undergraduate years, and I graduated with a B.A. in English Literature from George Mason College of the University of Virginia.

I married my high school sweetheart in 1970 while still at college, and a year after graduating, we both left teaching in the Fairfax County, Virginia school system to join the U.S. Peace Corps as volunteers in Thailand where we taught English in Thai public schools for three years.

In 1975 we left Thailand to move to Athens Ohio where I had been given a scholarship and graduate assistantship to study in the linguistics program at Ohio University.

Following graduation from O.U. I taught English in Besançon, France before returning to Athens to teach English in the public schools there, eventually becoming the director of bilingual education.

After devoting pretty much all of her time to caring for our two beautiful daughters, my wife desired to return to work and, unable to find a good job in Athens in her field of art education, I followed her to Palm Beach County in Florida in 1986. There, she taught high school art and I, starting from scratch, taught English as a second language (ESL) at an elementary school. It was in that position that I designed a new and effective approach to teaching ESL for which I was recognized as one of most effective teachers in the U.S. by a consortium consisting of Learning Magazine, Oldsmobile, Michigan State University, and the Disney Company. Soon after and because of that recognition, I was asked to chair a newly formed committee to develop national standards for teaching English as a second language for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, standards which are still in place at this time.

Eventually I became an administrator for multicultural education in Palm Beach County and finally became the director of the district research department.

I retired from the school district in 2011 and later moved with my wife to St Augustine to be closer to my oldest daughter, her husband, and their two young daughters who reside there. We currently live contentedly near the ocean in North Beach and have just recently celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary.

What do you enjoy most about your photography and poetry?

It was always my intention to return to creative writing once I retired, and I am grateful I managed to do so. I spend between two and three hours each day writing poetry and/or fictional prose, depending on my muse’s interest of the day. I need to point out, however, that, while I am passionate about writing, I rarely enjoy the actual writing process: Writing is hard, and good writing is just this side of impossible. I write because I am driven to do so, but all that said, I suppose that the enjoyment I get from creative writing, fleeting though it might be, comes when I have completed something and am satisfied with my effort.

I find pleasure in photography easier to come by, perhaps because the camera and Photoshop do much of the work for me, or perhaps because my self-image is not tied as tightly to the success or failure of a photograph as it is to the success or failure in a writing project, but I’m just guessing here. If I had to choose one part of photography that I enjoy the most, I think it would be depressing the shutter release button. During that brief moment, there exists for me the potential of excellence, an ideal image not yet lessened by the reality of its flaws when developed in Photoshop.

What are some of the challenges that you face while working on your creations?

My first challenge in writing is to fight against an inclination to give up on a project in its earliest stages before it even begins to take shape, and to see it through either to its completion or to abandon it only once I’m sure that it should not be saved.

I am a photographer principally of seascapes and cityscapes and want my photographs to be free of people. Fortunately for me, the light just before and just after sunrise is much richer than later in the morning, and I am an early riser. At this time of day only a few visitors are out and about.

In both my photography and my writing, a continuing challenge is to capture a sense of peace and comfortable quiet in encounters with the smaller matters of existence, including things like a garden gate, or a boat dock, or a shady street. The underlying messages of these encounters are generally subtle, elusive, and fleeting; as if they just exceed the reach of our grasp, much like the faint sweetness of a drop of nectar on a honeysuckle stamen, a taste that is both there and not there at the same time. To approximate the fleeting nature of these tidings, my garden gates are preferably closed, my docks veiled in morning fog, and my streets curving away from view just ahead.

What do you enjoy most about living in the North Florida area?

I have lived in many places, both here and abroad, and I am fortunate in the sense that I have enjoyed my stay in every one of them; each place coming with qualities I find appealing. Living here in North Florida, I most enjoy, of course, being near my oldest daughter and her family, which is why we moved here from Palm Beach. This aspect of my life could only be better were my youngest daughter and her husband to move here as well, but they have been successful in Atlanta, and at least we’re four hours closer to their home than we had been in Palm Beach.

Secondly, I am pleased to live a quiet and peaceful existence here in North Beach with the ocean two blocks to the east, the Intracoastal two blocks to the west, and a canopy of live oaks overhead.

Besides running your Etsy shop, what else do you enjoy doing in your free time?

A retiree, I’m largely free all day, but rarely is any day long enough to do everything I set out to do each morning. As I’ve mentioned earlier, writing takes up much of my time. My gardens also require attention year round, and I find comfort working in my raised vegetable beds, my showy flower garden areas in the front of my house and my native plant butterfly garden at its rear. I also enjoy fishing, principally in the surf, during the fall and spring. and taking photographs in the summer and winter when fishing is less productive. Finally, I make all our bread, including bagels, and much of our pasta.

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