Howdy! I am writing to you from my home office in Arroyo Grande, California, otherwise fondly known as Big Ditch. I live here with my wife, Shelagh, who I met dancing onstage in Seattle in 1989 and finally married in 1998, and our two cats – Taz (short for Tasmanian Devil) and Squeak (sister of former brother Pip). Arroyo Grande is a small beach hamlet on the central California coast, midway between LA and SF, near Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, The Madonna Inn and Hearst Castle. It’s a small town – about 15,000 people. After living in big cities most of our lives, Shelagh and I decided we liked living in a smaller community and moved here from Seattle in 1999.
If anyone had told me that I would wind up doing what I have done in my life when I was a boy or young man, I would have thought they were crazy. It truly is astonishing the paths our lives take as we move from one phase to another. Growing up a typical Iowa boy hooked on sports, I deviated from the norm sometime in High School and fell in with a Mime troupe in Iowa City, where I grew up. This was the mid 70’s when Mime’s popularity was at its peak.
One semester, as I was going to the University of Iowa, one of my fellow Mimes said, “You should take a dance class. It’ll improve your coordination.” So I did, and I wound up dancing the rest of my life, performing professionally in Seattle for 20 years, choreographing and teaching dance for 35 years. I became a full-time public school teacher in 1997 until I retired in 2017.
Along the way I performed and taught in Scotland, Alaska, Japan, mainland China, at the Seattle Opera, at the University of Washington and at several professional theaters in Seattle. I received my MFA in Dance from the University of Washington in 1993. Upon moving to California, I helped start a public arts magnet school in Atascadero – the Atascadero Fine Arts Academy – one of the proudest accomplishments in my life. I made a documentary about the school – The Atascadero Fine Arts Academy – A Jewel of a School. Please visit the Documentary page on my website to learn more about this.
I have been blessed with a truly wonderful life – full of opportunities, incredible friends and colleagues, travel, being able to pursue my passion and live a life full of creativity, passion and love. I sometimes have to pinch myself. As a performer, if I can bring some joy and happiness and light into the world, I will have made some small contribution to making it a better place and enriching others’ lives in some way.
I came to writing later in my life. I started writing Ophelia in 2007 while teaching at the Fine Arts Academy. I am a terribly undisciplined writer. It took me several years to finish the first draft, then came several rewrites. I struggled with the ending for quite a while. (See The Story of Ophelia) Finally, last year, after meeting the mother of the girl who was the inspiration for this story, I revisited the story after several years and wrote the ending as it is now.
Getting oneself published these days is a daunting task with a vast array of ways to get your work out there. I procrastinated for many years. Then, a chance connection led to finally getting it published. And here it is! After 12 years of gestating and laying fallow, it is finally born.
I owe a lot to who I am today from my roots growing up in Iowa. My father grew up on a farm in southern Iowa, served in the Pacific in WWII, then returned to Iowa to get his Business degree from the University of Iowa, became Payroll Manager for the university and married my Mother, Doris. They had my brother, Steve, in 1949 and I came along in 1954. Just the two of us. Small family, but very close.
Growing up, we spent a lot of time down at my Grandfather’s farm – helping with chores, playing in the barns and machine sheds. My Father’s father was truly a man of the Earth – he had been a farmer his entire life. He left school in the 2nd grade but became a self-educated man. He read the newspaper from front to back every day. Much of his wisdom emanated from his life on the farm, learning to survive and be subsistent. He weathered the Great Depression and wound up amassing quite a bit of money.
He taught me to respect simple people, hard workers, people who worked the soil, proud people – always willing to help their neighbor. Growing up, I did my share of hard, physical labor – teaching me the value of hard work. I delivered newspapers 365 days a year for eight years, becoming the youngest carrier to win a Des Moines Register college scholarship when I was in the 9th grade. I did well in school, (although I always got D’s in Deportment – classroom behavior).
My brother was the brains in the family – getting straight A’s all the way through school, graduating at the top of his High School class. I went to the same schools as he did, and when I showed up and introduced myself, I was always greeted with, “Oh, you’re Steve Pietsch’s brother.” I felt I was always in his shadow and struggled to equal him in my academic performance.
He was a bookworm – he was a Science nerd, while I was the gregarious, outgoing athlete. I served as President and Vice President of our Student Councils throughout junior high and high school and graduated a National Merit Scholar. During my adolescence, I became a brooding, reclusive intellectual – reading existensialism, religious writings and adopting Thoreau’s Walden as my Bible. I also became an avid outdoorsman, going on a canoe trip through the Boundary Waters Wilderness while in High School and taking a Winter Mountaineering course with Outward Bound in Colorado in 1975.
I was a challenge for my parents while in High School. I experienced a lot of the disenchantment and rebellion against “the establishment” as it was called in the 1960’s. My parents had no idea what to do with me. But, through all this, and my “wild years” taking off on long road trips by myself, they never tried to stop me or express their displeasure (concern, yes, but not displeasure). Even when I came downstairs one day during college and announced to my parents (out of the blue) that I was going to become a dancer and move to Seattle, they didn’t get in my way. My Father was always patient and understanding of me. I luckily inherited his patience, which proved invaluable during my teaching years.
Even though I moved across country to Seattle in 1978, I remained very close to my family throughout my life, returning home at least once a year, while they made many trips out to Seattle to visit me and see what this “dancing” thing was all about. I think they finally accepted what I was doing when I got cast in the musical, Mame, with Juliet Prowse, a famous TV and movie actress, dancer, singer of the era. They got to come backstage and get their picture taken with her.
I always remember my father saying, “The only thing I want is for you boys to come home to see us. That’s the best gift you can give me.” My Mother said he was always happiest when we came home. We were a very small, tight knit family. My Mother had a brother who lived in a nearby city. We spent quite a bit of time with them while growing up. They had three daughters and the five of us were like an extended family. When their Mother died of lung cancer at a young age, and their oldest sister died of leukemia when she was 10, and then their Father met an untimely death in their home, our two families became even closer. To this day, I consider them my sisters. Learning the value of family and the importance of working to preserve it was something that was instilled in me growing up. For that, I am eternally grateful.
I have always had a creative mind. I’ve always considered myself an “idea man”. Coming up with innovative ideas for projects is something that has always come easily to me. My problem is that I have too many ideas and I often never actually get around to making them a reality. Some of them have come to fruition: in 2007, while teaching dance, I noticed that there were no professionally-designed educational posters for dance, as there were for visual art and music. So, I teamed with a graphic designer to create a set of four educational posters showing the basic Elements of Dance for teachers to use in their studios. I started a business and sold them world-wide for nearly 10 years, at which time I sold the business to someone from Canada, where it is still going strong. I guess you might even call me an entrepreneur.
At this point in my life, I no longer dance. Forty-five years of dancing have caught up with my body, so now I get my exercise hiking in the beautiful California outdoors. I have discovered that I derive a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction from writing. It’s a place my imagination can find an outlet. I am learning to tap areas of my psyche I didn’t know existed and am learning how to tap into my natural creativity. Writing is much like dancing – it is an art form you can continue to refine and grow in for the rest of your life. Even though I can finally call myself a “published-writer”, I also realize that in many ways I am just starting my journey as a writer. I intend to become much more serious about honing my craft as I continue to write. And you are my guinea pigs!!