By Katie Schickel '89
“Everything you do is a self-portrait.” That’s what my art teacher Mr. Lavoie told me as he critiqued the acrylic painting of a cow he had assigned my junior year at Tabor. I have to admit, the cow looked remarkably like me. It had my nose and eyes. Swirls of vibrant color in the forehead made it less bovine and more inquisitive. Somehow, the cow captured my essence more than the mosaic self-portrait he had assigned earlier in the month.
Mr. Lavoie’s wisdom has stayed with me through the years. Looking back at all disparate steps in my path toward publication, I realize that everything I’ve done has been a reflection of who I am.
When I was a senior in college and everyone around me seemed to know exactly what they wanted out of their future (which mostly consisted of law, medical, and business school), I was floundering. One day, my mind would be set on becoming an archaeologist. Then next, I’d decide to teach English in Japan. My path wasn’t clear to me; I didn’t know who I wanted to become. Then, in the spring of that year, I took a class called Intro to Journalism, and I was hooked.
After graduation, with no job lined up yet, I walked into the local newspaper and declared that I was the new intern. My scheme worked and I had my first byline that afternoon. For the next fifteen years I made my living as a writer in both editorial and commercial positions. I worked as a reporter for a newspaper in Upstate New York, a freelance writer throughout the Caribbean, editor of a scuba magazine in Pensacola, editor for a startup in San Francisco, and editor for a retail company in New Hampshire.
My need to experience new things led to brief stints as a middle school English teacher, silversmith, farmer, scuba instructor, sailor, and fisherman. When my first child was born, I decided to become a stay-at-home mom and a novelist. It took ten years and countless rejections, but finally I wrote and published my novel, Housewitch.
Like the cow in Mr. Lavoie’s art class, Housewitch is, in a way, a self-portrait. It’s about a woman in a quintessential New England town who happens to be a powerful witch, and soon discovers that she’s not the only one in town. She struggles to fit in with the town’s ideals of perfection and find her true identity. Writing it involved drawing on my experiences of life as a stay-at-home mom.
My self-portrait has changed over the years from a woman constantly seeking new adventures to a mother and novelist, content to raise children and write books. I hope Mr. Lavoie would approve.
Katie's novel was published by McMillan in February.