- Mikel Kelly
- The Times - Features
That's the question posed by former Tigard High School teacher A.R. Nanna in a new book, upon his third (and final) venture into the world of retirement
Former Tigard High teacher A.R. Nanna - retired from teaching school and his psychotherapy practice for years already - is one of those rare people remembered by many former students as their favorite instructor.
Known for challenging kids to question everything, Nanna (who went by 'Art' at work) spent 27 years at Tigard High before moving on to counseling out of a home office and teaching teachers at Lewis and Clark College before charging full-bore into the phase he's in now: retirement.
His new book, 'Now What? (What Was, Was! What Is, Is!') pretty much sums up, in 360 pages, his life so far.
And even in retirement, this Sherwood resident has been very busy.
In fact, the first two retirements didn't really take. He kept starting new careers. The third time, he writes, was different.
'In 2000, I was now thrown into my third retirement, My new focus and challenge was learning to adapt and adjust to living without meaning, purpose, fulfillment and challenge in an aging body. I was also learning to accept that this was the honored position and reward for working a lifetime. My wife and I were now free to enjoy anything we wanted to experience. We had our health and finances to live 'the American Dream' we all look forward to.'
He and Donna, his wife of 44 years, traveled overseas for three years. Then they spent another five years exploring this country in a motor home. But it wasn't what he expected.
'Even during the time while we were having experiences most people only dream about, I had a new emptiness and discontentment in my soul, which I could never identify.'
All of this prompted him to evaluate his life and to thoroughly question the meaning of everyting he'd been through until he came up with this goal: 'To have a balanced life physically, mentally and spiritually, while utilizing my gifts and talents (and) while enjoying life, retirement and the aging process.'
But trying to give a shorthand explanation to how a guy gets from being a 16-year-old lifeguard at the city pool in Cape Girardeau, Mo. (where there were whites-only and blacks-only swimming days), to this Socrates-quoting retired person who evenly splits his time between Oregon and Arizona just won't do.
It's kind of like trying to understand the Bible by scanning the Cliff Notes.
And A.R. Nanna is not your typical Cliff Notes-scanning kind of guy. He believes in doing the work.
'I loved teaching,' he said recently in the living room of his home near the back fence behind Sherwood High School. 'But I only taught full time for about five years. The rest of the time I only taught part time.'
Still, he shrugged, 'I've done a lot of things.' Those 'things,' in addition to counseling, have included stints as an attendant in a mental hospital (twice), in the Army, as a hospital administrator, as a licensed electrician, a hospital engineer and even a gentleman farmer.
He already had a couple of books under his belt - 1983's 'What Price Dying' and then 'Learning to Put a Comma After Retiring and Not a Period,' which he concedes, 'Everybody said that was a horrible title.'
But this book, he said, may require a little explanation.
'You have to understand that I only started out writing this for my family and friends,' he said of the self-published project. So he had only a few printed. Then friends told him he should make it more available, maybe for his ex-students and clients. So, he wrote some more and put it out again.
For many Tigard-area residents who know Nanna primarily as a teacher, much of the material in 'Now What?' will be a surprise, and his trips down memory lane are likely to entertain, enlighten and maybe even teach a bit.
But it is also great fun reviewing some of the trouble the longtime teacher got himself into trying to stir young minds into thinking for themselves. The class he team-taught at Tigard High with two other instructors was called Social Psychology, the same sort of sociology/modern problems course offered at most schools.
But his approach was different. Remembering what a poor student he had been (207th in a graduating class of 212), he was determined to make his classes interesting - and to make the kids think.
In the interest of making participants feel comfortable in his classroom, he swapped out the rows of desks for a bunch of couches that the students hauled in from various places.
'It was just a different way of teaching,' said Nanna, adding, 'I never gave a lecture in all the years I was teaching.'
What he did do was bring in guest speakers; whether the subject was religion, philosophy, racial strife, sexual orientation or death and dying, he did everything he could to expose his students to people who knew about these things. The kids were expected to then form an opinion and defend that view, he said.
'These were seniors,' he explained. 'I never taught anything but seniors. These were people going out into the big world.'
It also wasn't an easy class, though sometimes that was the perception.
'They'd start me off with about 25 students, and within a couple of weeks, I'd have 'em down to 15. They just didn't know what they were in for.'
One of Nanna's juicier scandals occurred in the 1980s when, during the class's discussion of 'contemporary religion,' he invited a spokeswoman for the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh to speak to the class about the religious sect based in Central Oregon. It turned out to be Ma Anand Sheela, the bhagwan's right-hand woman.
When the students asked Sheela about reports that the group practiced free love, she answered with some four-letter frankness, creating a huge stir with moms and dads. It finally got so hot, they invited concerned parents in for an evening discussion, and more than 100 showed up. That meeting, which began at 7 p.m., ran past 10, but the issue was thoroughly aired.
'The big question is, was I damaging their morals?' he said. His personal philosophy, he added, is that openness and freedom of expression usually trumps everything. 'If you've got a problem, deal with it head-on.'
Every topic came with that sort of open dialog, including the death and dying unit, in which Nanna took the class to Young's Funeral Home to talk about what is required and what isn't in the disposal of a loved one.
(Full disclosure time: Not only did I write a feature story about death and dying based on Nanna's class back in 1976 - it also prompted my parents to discuss the subject and inform the rest of our family what their wishes were.)
Often Nanna found himself in hot water over his curriculum, and he always received the full support of Dar Shinn, the principal - at least once all the way to the School Board, which also backed the teacher, even when he had flunked the student body president for not doing the assigned work, preventing him from graduating on time.
'I wouldn't have survived without the support of the administration,' he said.
He added, with a smile, 'I don't think I'd make it as a teacher in this day and age. I think I would have been fired a long time ago.'
'Now What' covers all kinds of interesting aspects of Nanna's life, from his humble beginnings in the South to his numerous careers, life on the farm in Sherwood and into a busy retirement in which he spends six months in Arizona and six months here.
Perhaps the most provocative chapter - especially for those of us of 'a certain age' - is the one called 'Is Fear the Basis of All Challenges?' Of everything covered, this is the section of the book that truly takes on the question raised by the title, and it wanders into one of Nanna's areas of expertise: death and dying. Those wanting to know what he says about that need to get a copy of their own.
Nanna published the book himself. 'I went through Clearspace, and I loved them,' he said.
The book is available on Amazon.com now in hard copy and soon will be on Kindle. Just type in 'A.R. Nanna' or 'Now What?'