Inside my Safety Deposit Box, hiding among adoption papers for my children, I found a letter. “Marj” Barstow, the first person formally certified to teach the work of F.M. Alexander, had actually written about me.
Marj wrote a letter like this for about 25 other apprentices. She did so in 1986, only after Michael Frederick, as only Michael Frederick could do, persuaded her to do so. He felt it was essential that Marj formally recognize the people she thought capable of imparting to others what F.M. had “discovered”. Marj never professed to teach the Alexander Technique. She said that F.M. was the only person who ever did and who ever would do that. What she did say is that she taught others what Alexander had discovered.
Marj was a stickler for detail. She had verbally given me permission to teach almost 8 years before she wrote this letter. We were teaching in Boston. On one particular day she had me assist a good bit. Often, we would work at the same time with someone, Marj usually on the right side and I on the left. For me, this was heaven on earth.
After class we went out for ice cream, a kind of ritual, then back to our hotel. I asked Marj how I did and she said that I had done a good job. “Bruce”, she said, “if you know this much, putting about three inches between her large hands, and your students know this much, reducing that space to about one inch, then you can help them this much, about two inches. If you know this much, putting her hands two feet apart, and your students know this much, one inch apart, you can help them this much, almost two feet apart. You know something. Go and teach and help people.” This was Marj’s way. Simple. Informal. Clear. Person to person.
Marj never ran a formal teacher training program. She chose to bring about teachers much the way Alexander did before 1932 (which he did for 30 years). Marj used to love answering the question, “Do you train teachers?” She had two answers she would give with a subtle grin on her face. “No, she said, I don’t train teachers, I help people to become sensitive, and what they do with their sensitivity is their own business.” Her second answer, which I loved even more was, “No, I don’t train teachers, but some of my students have gone on to become very excellent teachers.”
Marj was a straight shooter. She told the truth as she saw it, no matter what anyone thought. She didn’t take the credit for us becoming good teachers. She gave us the credit. That’s humility. And that is being a good teacher; a teacher who helps instill confidence in her students. I am grateful to Marj, well beyond words. I do my best to pay her back by doing the best teaching I can do. And though my teaching differs from Marj (as hers did from Mr. Alexander’s) I believe I, and her other 25 apprentices, all do our best to carry on Marj’s spirit.