A Midsummer Night's Passion

by Alexandra Heather Foss '05  |  illustration by Ana Bagayan

Illustration by Ana Bagayan

I am passionate about many things—creativity, words, love, nature. But I wonder if I would have pursued my passion for writing if not for a class I took at Rollins, where one teacher showed me what it means to live our passions out loud, regardless of what others think.

It was my sophomore year, and I was concerned about receiving good grades. I doubted whether to take Alan Nordstrom’s Shakespeare course since so few students received an A, but I thought an understanding of Shakespeare was a requirement for anyone interested in pursuing, well, anything.

The course started off regularly enough, but I soon realized that Dr. Nordstrom’s approach to education was different. He seemed called to teaching. Each day, he shared his knowledge not just through lectures but with handouts of his own poetic prose—the way Shakespeare did. He demanded more than papers and tests, challenging us to become artists of our own. We were encouraged to understand ourselves, both as students and as individuals of a much larger whole.

My favorite memories are when we left the classroom entirely for the courtyard of Orlando Hall, where the sitting area served as a stage, allowing students to become Puck, Ophelia, Prospero, and Hamlet. We took our books outside, to the place they had been born as trees and thoughts and fairies dancing on a midsummer night’s breeze, and we sang out prose from our hearts as it was lyrically intended: “Not marble, nor the gilded monuments / Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme” were words that stuck to my thoughts like molasses, and as I stared at century-old walls, I wondered if Shakespeare had been right in his poetic prophecy.

I was scared to stand on this stage of uncertainty and speak to the world, but surrounded by my fellow students and calmed by Dr. Nordstrom’s smiling demeanor, I felt more confident. Maybe not to be myself fully (that has come with time), but to be present, to get excited. I cracked open Shakespeare’s tome and out came a voice—mine—though I was playing the part of another.

There are many ways of teaching, but I believe Alan Nordstrom’s Shakespeare course was so challenging because he demanded the kind of devotion that one might call passion—passion for words, yes, but also for life. He insisted on respect for what it means to really live.

Over the years, I have both retreated into my art and found myself through it, so that when I write now, there is no struggle in finding my voice. I hope I make words—my passion—come alive the way Dr. Nordstrom taught me that they could. Sometimes I worry whether my words will allow me to earn enough to live on. I fear how my writing may be received, whether my rawest moments will have an audience as I search for a home for my words. Most of the time, the process is beautiful. When all that is left of me is the spirit of what I once was, it will be these words that carry me forward. I am grateful to Rollins for honing my craft, and for teachers like Dr. Nordstrom for paving the way. We are not yet ghosts like Shakespeare, and for that reason we all could use an Alan Nordstrom in our lives, showing us what it means to live a dream.

Alexandra Heather Foss '05 is a freelance writer, a photographer, and an adventurer. Her writing has been published in The New York Times Sunday Review, and she is a regular contributor to the website Owning Pink. Her article "Finding Beauty in Your Scars," which appeared on the website Tiny Buddha, will be published in a forthcoming book. When she is not wandering the globe in search of inspiration, she can be found at home, working toward fulfilling her dream of becoming a novelist.