Wishing for Internal Harmony

I bet you thought my next wish would be for world peace.

I don’t want to waste birthday wish  magic on something that, at our present stage, is impossible. It’s not that I don’t want some kind of peaceful resolution to the conflicts that plague us, but that I simply don’t believe that humankind has developed enough to be able  to overcome our innate greed, protectiveness, war-like sensibilities, or our desire to define ourselves by an “us and them” mentality.

On an individual basis, however, I believe we can work toward peace and harmony. I believe that peace begins within. If individuals have confidence in who they are, what they believe, and where they fit in this world without trying to force those same thoughts and beliefs onto others, then they have taken a step toward creating a more peaceful world.

Today another good friend is celebrating her birthday. Tanya is an amazing woman who impresses me with her own inner confidence and  faith in herself. I wouldn’t describe her as peaceful (she’s more like lightning contained in a bottle), but her inner peace always gives me hope. So today I borrow from her birthday wish magic to wish for internal harmony for all.

Tanya and her son Eli two years ago, finding peace in the pool.

Tanya and her son Eli two years ago, finding peace in the pool.

This wish actually comes from reading a comment on my post yesterday, a comment that made me ask some serious questions about myself. Am I too close minded when it comes to religious extremists? Do I practice what I preach when it comes to not trying to force my opinion onto others?

The comment refers to a post I wrote a long time ago called “Hell is Living in the Bible Belt” where I express my disdain for the religious road signs that dot  the highways throughout Kansas and Indiana. I re-read my own post to ask myself these difficult questions. In the post I say that I believe in freedom of speech as well as freedom of religion. I also say that I envy people who have true faith because I’m not sure what I believe. In reality, I have no problem with the signs that say things like “Trust Jesus” or “Jesus is  love” or contain actual quotes from his words.

I have more of a problem with signs that say “If you don’t find Jesus you will burn in the  boiling fire pits of hell for all eternity!!!!!!” (Okay, I never saw a sign with those exact words, but you know what I mean).

I find those signs especially unappealing when hurtling  down  the highway in a machine. (Did I mention that Nathan, Sarah and I had a very near miss the other day, when an  accident  happened right next to us?)

I have the same problem when a fellow Jew tells me that I am not Jewish enough if I don’t ___________. In other words, I have no problem with people believing what they believe and talking about what they believe, but I do have a problem with being cursed or told I’m going to hell or told I am inferior because I do not believe the same thing.

I try not to do that with my own words.

Today a friend posted this on Facebook.

The message against bullying is one that I believe. I don’t think its right to make fun of others. I don’t think its right to make jokes about others. I don’t think its right to judge others based off of one aspect of their personality or appearance. However, I wouldn’t share this post on Facebook because of the last line. Telling someone they will be heartless if they don’t share the post is bullying.

Telling someone they are going to hell if they have doubts or don’t believe the same thing as you do, is bullying and threatening.

Telling someone that their love is going to damn everyone simply because you believe it is sinful, is bullying, and threatening, and unfair.

What does all of this have to do with inner harmony or peace? I think that believing in something is important. Having a moral compass and following  it with confidence is priceless. Having faith  in yourself and your thoughts and dreams is invaluable. However, if you feel the need to push those beliefs on someone else in order to validate them, then you have not achieved inner peace or harmony.

I suppose that simply writing about these things could be seen as an act of trying to push my beliefs onto someone else. Or teaching about arts and  theatre and their value to society could be seen as trying to validate my own belief system.

The difference lies in expectations. I don’t expect my words to change people’s minds or thoughts. I don’t expect everyone to leave my classroom passionate advocates for the arts. I do hope that my words or my lessons encourage people to think, or question, or wonder.

I don’t ask people  to think the way I think in order to be my friend or to achieve some specific goal in the after life. I don’t say “If you think differently than I,  then I will not talk to you, tolerate you, or have anything to do with you.”

Inner peace comes from the  ability to say, “I believe this, they believe something different. Their belief doesn’t hurt me, my belief doesn’t hurt them. That is all.”

Now, I’m not saying I’ve achieved this inner peace. If I had, I wouldn’t have worried about the comment on my post, or worry at all about what other people think of me. I would just be who I am.

That is why I make this wish today. I wish for all of us to achieve inner harmony. To find that place inside ourselves where we can be content with who we are without trying to change anyone else or justify our beliefs on the backs of someone else. Only through that could we ever hope for world peace.

 

 

Dear United Airlines Part 2: The Power of Social Media

 

 

Thanks to all the hits and responses to my post yesterday, I actually did hear from United Airlines. Don’t get your hopes up however, the response was less than satisfactory. For your reading pleasure, I will include the response and my answer to that response. I have removed names because I am not trying to get any individuals in trouble, but to ask a corporation to realize that there is a human factor in what they do.

 

 

 

Dear Mrs. Kramer:

Thank you for your reply. We send our condolences for your loss.

Your comments clearly convey how disappointed you were to learn of additional costs associated with changing your ticket.

I was glad to see that our reservation agent made an exception to our policies and waived the change fee for you due to your recent loss; however the additional fee that was assessed was applicable as your original fare had an advance purchase requirement.  The amount you paid was the difference in fare of your original ticket & the current fare level.  I regret the circumstances which required you to change your ticket on such short notice.  I accessed our past-date database to verify the inventory for the day you wished to travel. According to our records, the itinerary no longer met the advance-notice criteria for the original fare.

You state that your original return was changed and our records indicate that the change on your return travel was done when your husband called to change your ticket. I regret any confusion in regards to what happened with your return flight reservation.

Most excursion tickets are non-refundable. A service charge usually applies for changing the time or date of travel. Service charges help cover costs associated with processing ticket changes, adjusting passenger manifests, and filling empty seats.

Tickets are often reissued for a $150 service charge; however, depending on the available inventory when the ticket is reissued, an additional collection may also apply. Customers must pay the difference between the original fare and the new fare when there is reduced inventory or published fare increases.

Our published terms and conditions are designed to balance the needs of customers with the business needs of our company. We sell several types of tickets with varying levels of restrictions. Please visit our website for more information: www.united.com

Mrs. Kramer, we appreciate your business and look forward to welcoming you on board a future United Airlines flight.

With kindest regards,

XXX

Corporate Customer Care Manager

 

My response is as follows. Note that Nathan was on the phone with them about 20 minutes after my mother had been informed of my father’s passing. (which was when I heard the news):

 

 

 

Dear XXX

While I understand you have rules and regulations there is also such a thing as a bereavement fare, which (although still ridiculously high) should still have been considered in this situation. I also think it was completely inappropriate for you to cancel my return flight with my family, and then when I wanted to get back on that flight try to charge me another full fair. Yes, the agent who worked with me did the right thing, and I commend him for that. That doesn’t excuse the fact that your company put the bottom line ahead of the reality that life happens and that, just because someone shops for a less expensive fare shouldn’t mean that they get penalized in times such us this. I’m sorry that my father did not pass away in time for me to make your “advanced purchase requirements,” but that is, in my opinion a crass business tactic.

I’m sorry, but I do not accept this apology and will make every effort to never fly with United again. I have flown with you for a long time and I used to enjoy the flights, but now it is simply not worth it.  Perhaps your policies are in line with the standards of the industry, but to me they are evidence of how much more important money has become over the human factor. I am also aware of other airlines who will make exceptions and refuse to believe that you couldn’t have done the same.

Sincerely,

Lisa A. Kramer

 

Soapbox Warning

 

 

 

I realize that I may just be tilting at windmills here, but the powerful response on social media since yesterday has taught me something. We have allowed corporations to treat us like dirt for too long. We have allowed the voices of people who don’t have lots of money to get subsumed by the voices of those who do. If we want a better world, we need to stand up and say we aren’t going to tolerate being treated like this anymore. I know that United probably doesn’t care if I ever fly with them again. I know that travelling is probably going to be slightly more difficult and more expensive if I try to avoid United and all its affiliates. I also know that I can no longer support companies that do not take into account that human beings matter. I avoid the big stores like Wal-Mart etc. Now I choose to avoid a company that simply doesn’t care.

 

Honore-Daumier-Don-Quixote

Honore-Daumier-Don-Quixote (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

My Spooky Fascination

It’s that time of year again, when children’s minds turn to costumes and candy, and adult’s who are in touch with their inner child think about spooks and specters as well as their own opportunity to dress in costume and become someone else.

Charlie Brown and Snoopy last Halloween.

I find Halloween fascinating. I don’t usually dress up, and prefer to stay home handing out candy and commenting on costumes. But I love watching the specials about hauntings and ghost hunts.  I thrive on the spooky feelings, and often wonder what is real and what is imagined. I admit that, when my mind is too cluttered to think straight,  I will sometimes (or often) distract myself by searching for videos of ghosts caught on tape, even though I know the majority of them are lame attempts at creating something spooky. (I hate the ones with pop-ups). Still, at this time of year I can’t resist . . . and if I am to be completely honest (as I try to be) when I feel overwhelmed and need to just get out of my own head I will even look for these videos at other times of the year. It’s my guilty pleasure.

I’m not talking about horror or slasher movies. I’m talking about the videos and pictures that give you a chill and make you feel like things go bump in the night. Of course, if I watch too many of them, then I start seeing shadows move or hearing things in the night. My mind begins to play tricks on me, or perhaps I open myself up and become more sensitive to what might be out there.

I am fascinated by the psychology of it all.

What really interests me though, is that questions about the existence of ghosts and  holidays celebrating and honoring the dead exist in cultures throughout the world. While modern Halloween has become a kind of bastardization of the Druid ceremony of Samhain, the roots and traditions of these ceremonies say a lot about human psychology, our attitude toward life and death, and our fears about a natural world that functions beyond our control. (I believe that our attempts to control nature have led us down an ultimately self-destructive path). Samhain  itself was a celebration connected with the harvest and the transition into winter:

“The origin of Halloween can be found in the ancient Celtic festival of the dead, Samhain (pronounced SOW-in). From present-day Ireland to the United Kingdom to Bretagne in France, the ancient Celts celebrated October 31st as the day when the normally strict boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead became mutable, and the ghosts of those who had passed away came back to earth. The celebration coincided with the final harvests of the year, the stockpiling of stores for the cold winter months when the sun set early and rose late, and when nature itself hibernated, dying until its rebirth in the spring.” (from “Not Just Halloween: Festivals of the Dead from Around the World“)

If you click on the link above, the article gives a brief overview and comparison of festivals of the dead from around the world including the Japanese Obon festival, the Cambodian P’chun Ben, and the Mexican Los Dias de los Muertos. I’m sure if I spent more time delving into research on the topic I would uncover many other cultures who have some sort of ceremony or day that honors the dead. (I have too many other things to work on so I can’t distract myself with that research now. Focus, Lisa! Focus.)

Why does this topic fascinate me so much? There are many reasons. I’m intrigued by the very human desire to seek out understanding about life and death. Most of us seem unable to live completely in the Now, which means we want to know where we are heading. What is our purpose in life? If our purpose isn’t simply to do good and live a happy life NOW then  we seem to need the reassurance that something else happens after death.  We also, I believe, yearn for an opportunity to connect with our loved ones lost, and festivals like these make the veil between the living and the dead seem less permanent.

I’m not 100% sure that I believe in ghosts, but I do believe that we are all somehow connected through energy. Perhaps that energy retains some snippets of our personalities or our thoughts and some sensitive people can sense those moments, those memories, those thoughts. Or perhaps ghosts are merely our brains trying to send us a message. I doubt I will ever know, but I will remain fascinated by the topic. I can’t help it, it’s my Spooky Fascination.

For some of my past posts about ghosts, you might want to read these:

 

 

 

The Question of Art

Thomas Kinkade passed away on Friday.

I already wrote about my fascination with his work in “In Search of Light” so I won’t repeat that here. But his death, and the discussion surrounding him and whether or not his art was anything more than ” mass-produced kitsch” as many critics claim has made me think about a question that runs through my life.

What is art?

I walk over to flip through my trusty Concise Oxford Dictionary (preferring the feel of printed pages to the more easily accessible dictionary on-line) and look up this simple three-letter word:

1. a. Human creative skill or its application.  b. work exhibiting this. 2. a.  . . . the various branches of creative activity concerned with the production of imaginative designs, sounds, or ideas, e.g. painting, music, writing, considered collectively. b. any of these branches. 3 creative activity, esp. painting and drawing, resulting n visual representation 4. human skill or workmanship as opposed to the work of nature. . . . 5. . . . a skill, aptitude, or knack . . . 6. . . . those branches of learning (esp. languages, literature, and history) associated with creative skill as opposed to scientific, technical, or vocational skills.

Hmm. Based on that definition, then, art has something to do with creativity and expression. There is nothing in that definition that requires art to be elitist or accessible only to a privileged few. There is nothing in that definition that suggests that something popular cannot be considered art.

To me art is something that elicits emotions and makes a person think. That doesn’t mean it has to be so obscure that your brain does gymnastics trying to uncover the deep hidden meaning of a piece of art.

abstract art;Compo,3332.555/ oil on canves. bi...

abstract art;Compo,3332.555/ oil on canves. biography; http://www.palacsztuki.pl http://www.whoswhogallery.com/artist/smolarek (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Occasionally I enjoy the mental gymnastics created by looking at a piece of art that means many things to many people. I like discussing theatrical productions that can be interpreted in multiple ways depending on your relationship to the art. Look at my post called “A Weekend of Powerful Arts”  for proof of this. I believe that arts should motivate thought and discussion, as well as interpretation.

But, even the simplest piece of art allows for interpretation.

Boys in a Pasture, Winslow Homer

Granted art like the above Winslow Homer piece requires skill and talent, but the picture is clearly of two boys in a pasture. What needs to be interpreted? Well, to me the power of art like this is the potential for a story. The questions it raises. Why are these boys sitting in the pasture? What are they looking at? What happened right before they sat down? Did they plan to meet here or meet each other by accident and decide to sit and rest. Why are they sitting in the middle of the pasture, rather than under a tree? What are they talking about?

When I look at or read a piece of art, my mind asks questions and I search for answers. The answers do not have to be hidden in obscurity for me to consider it art. Nor do I have to love a piece to call it art. Of course, I admire art that shows the skill of an artist, but art can be just as wonderful when it simply shows the heart of an artist and his/her interpretation of the world.

Sarah creates

“All art is an individual’s expression of a culture. Cultures
differ, so art looks different. ” (Henry Glassie)

How do you define art?

Spending A Day with the Roma

I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Image via Wikipedia

Today seemed like an appropriate day to write the most challenging post of this trip. It is challenging, because this event was the heart of this journey. It is challenging because this one day had so much impact on my personal journey. It is challenging because I am still trying to process and understand the amazing journey that lasted about 8 hours of my life.

My time with the Roma was too short and incomplete. I hope that someday I will be invited back and able to join Dramatic Adventure Theatre on an Action project in that community. If not, however, this day was a key moment in my journey of understanding my own life and rediscovering purpose. That must be enough, for now.

I don’t have any photos from the day, because I was too busy living it to take pictures. I will try to borrow a few from other’s who managed to pull out their cameras.

[Moment of excitement!! I knew that the sponsors of the program had been taking pictures, so I did a Google search to see if they had posted pictures and found this article “New York Theatre in Stara Lubovna”. Now I shall borrow some images. ]

 I still, however, struggle for the words to write this post, so I must resort to sharing excerpts from my journal, some of the “creative writing” it led to, and my more recent interpretations of the events.

First, a bit of a journal entry from a couple of nights before, when we had dinner with an American man, his Slovakian wife, and one of her friends who I will call K:

“K. lives in Bratislava and works for IBM. ‘”I don’t like my job,” she said, and we all nodded in understanding. This woman, when in school , had traveled and studied all across Eastern Europe. She seemed intelligent, friendly, and interested in the world, until . . . we mentioned the project with the Roma. In a valiant effort she tried to be polite and keep her personal opinions about them to herself. But her hardened shoulders and pursed mouth spoke volumes despite her polite questions and ‘we shall see’ comments.

It’s those silent messages that fascinate and scare me.”

She was not the only person to react that way. The reactions varied in degree but they were all there. One Slovak man tried to explain the prejudice away, by saying that the Slovak’s sort of see the Roma as animals. Does that sound familiar (and disgusting) to anyone else?

We knew going in that this would not be easy. We knew that the hatred and misunderstanding between these two cultures is thousands of years deep. We knew that the Roma both hated and feared whites (rightfully so).  I admit to being nervous and carrying with me my own fears and doubts. I think all of us were.

Now to the journal entry from the actual day:

Yesterday was an amazing day! While it started off badly, with the alarm not going off . . . it became a day filled with energy, disparity, love, laughter, smiles, and a little fear. We took the train and a bus to Stara Lubovna to work with the Roma community there.

The Tatras from the train to Stara Lubovna.

Our contacts picked us up from the train station and drove us to a Community Center that services the Roma community. As soon as we pulled up and stepped on the slushy snow, I heard music coming from inside and saw faces peeking out the door.

 . . . we went downstairs to be greeted by at least 50 Roma children and several adults (actually, I think there were about 75 people there.  They performed three Christian songs for us, including hand movements . . . and then we began teaching.

I almost can’t put into words the power of that day. The children themselves were a little overwhelming. They like to touch, and everyone in our group claims to have been fondled inappropriately. I didn’t notice except for a couple of feeble breast touches, but that happens to me a lot with children so I guess I just ignored it.

[Side note: We later learned from our interpreter that the teens were egging the younger kids on to try to push our buttons, suggesting touching and other things to see how far they could go. I believe it was just trying to test the whites, but I also believe we passed the test.]

The girls were shy, the boys were aggressive. Few of them enjoyed “moment in the spotlight” games but they all loved using their bodies and imaginations.

At some point during the morning it really hit me that kids are kids everywhere. While I was clearly not in the States, watching the swarm of imaginative excitement could have been in any class of children being offered fun and joy from strangers.

[During our break where they served us a delicious treat of donut-like pastries] we watched a video of a drama created by a group of teens in the Roma community that call themselves the Slum Dog players. They created a show based on a true story about a boy who escaped hunger and a family that didn’t give him support by sniffing (or huffing). He died. The play toured across communities all  around Slovakia, with a discussion session folloiwng. The power of theatre speaks again!

Although they gave us scripts, I didn’t need to read the words to understand the pain . . . one of the songs emphasized the fear and anger these people feel because of a white community that offers them only abuse and hatred. I struggle to see, [understand], and live in a world where that much hatred and misunderstanding leads to people being treated like something less than animal.

We structured the afternoon session to focus on language sharing. I led part of this session, and felt good about it. At one point . . . they came up to me to see if we could do something geared toward the teenagers in the room–which we hadn’t planned. I dipped into my bag of tricks to have them do the double line improv exploring relationships . . .

Following the second session, we went for a walk into the Roma Settlement. This was an eye-opener for me, as we walked in a street paved in mud (and perhaps feces) where broken toys and garbage lined the sides. The houses all had gaps and showed age, with laundry draped out of windows and across fences. Some of the houses had new wnidows as part of a housing program [offered by the group who brought us to this community]. In each window three or more faces peered out at us. The children swarmed around us, wanting to share stories, teach us words, hold our hand. [One little girl ran inside to put on bright blue eye shadow, then came out to share her beautiful face with each of us]. The older teens stood in a clump by one door and put some music on as we walked by to try to get us to dance.

I danced.

. . . [This walk made me reflect] about how much this kind of life [and poverty] is supported by hatred, because Slovakia is filled with wealth and yet . . . these people continue to live in these conditions. Every Slovak reaction to the “Gypsy” population has been one of fear and negativity and bias. But which came first, the Roma thieving or the attitude that turned the Romani thieves?

I know this has already turned into a long post, but I feel that I can only end it by sharing the Sestina I wrote as I tried to process this day.

What Right Do I Have?

What right do I have to worry about my life
when I have had so many opportunities in this world
while many live in poverty and fear
stemming from misunderstanding, ignorance and hate?
What right do I have to worry about the future
when so many suffer to survive in the present?

This journey I’m on has presented
me with a new perspective about life.
I recognize that whatever the future
brings, I must somehow work toward a world
which is not guided by ugly hate
and enables all to live without fear.

Yet still my head fills with the fear
that I will somehow fail to present
a successful way to combat the hate
that affects so many people’s lives.
How can I make a difference in a world
where poverty, drugs and racism limit the future?

What right do I have to worry about my future
and to hide behind my own imagined fears
when the reality is that I live in a privileged world
despite my confusions in my present
role? I know that I must find a life
that allows me to combat hate.

But the thing inside that I most hate
is my constant fretting over the future
especially as I recognize that my life
is filled with love, friendship and joy–not fear.
If I can focus on the present
then perhaps I can find my purpose in the world.

For this trip has taught me that our world
still runs often on the fuel of hate.
What right do I have to worry about my present
when so many people seem to have no future?
My heart has broken to hear of the fear
that has had such an impact on Roma lives.

I wish for them and all a life without fear in the future
as my heart mourns a world full of hate in the present.

A History Lesson from the Heart of Europe

As part of our Journey, Dramatic Adventure Theatre arranged for the group to have two lectures from faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava. I found both of them fascinating. The first focused on the continually changing historical borders of Slovakia, and the second on the minority cultures in Slovakia (particularly the Roma culture). In both, they emphasized that Slovakia is the heart of Europe–constantly the contested lines of whatever political or  social battlefield is being waged. They take pride in this position of being the heart, because nothing can survive without its heart. Meanwhile, they struggle with their cultural identity–where they would prefer to be seen as more western but have historically been influenced by eastern cultures. They prefer to be from Central Europe rather than Eastern Europe.

Both lectures resonated with me about how many borders are really just man-made constructs.  While language and lifestyles do differentiate between people; the definition of what constitutes a people, a country, a land, a community–all come from political decisions and the desire to control.

The first lecturer mentioned her grandfather, who had recently passed away at the age of 99 yrs. old. “He lived,” she said, “in 12 different countries without ever leaving Bratislava.” The reality of that lead me to attempt the following etheree, which I began writing as we sat in the Bratislava Train Station after we missed our train. While I was inspired to do a lot of creative writing on this trip, I had so many ideas whirring through my brain I found it difficult to begin without giving myself guidelines such as timed writes or structured poems. So, of course, I attempted my recent favorite poetry forms, an etheree and a sestina (which I will share later).

Bratislava is scattered with sculptures that (supposedly) have something to do with Communism. Many of them show evidence of the fall of communism, with bits of graffiti. This statue is marred by red eyes.

Within A Lifetime–Change in Etheree

Child
growing
through a world
that changes with
no sense of control.
One person, many lives
without ever leaving home.
Social, cultural, financial.
Massive movement affecting many
lives. Changing rules, beliefs, dreams, even hope.
Middle life brings war and devastation
followed quickly by more rapid change.
A country taken over by
Communist rule, communist
beliefs and communist
ideals until it
changes again
as the old
child lives,
dies.

It All Comes Down to Relationships, Connections and Communication

On January 9th Nathan and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary, which means we have been together about 17 years.

Of course, I celebrated by taking a bus and a train from Zdiar to Bratislava, and then eating spinach and chicken pirohy followed by a decadent streussal for dessert. Nathan worked and then spent the evening with Sarah.

Strange anniversary, wouldn’t you say? But I don’t regret it one bit.

To make up for it, Nathan and I are heading to a Bed and Breakfast somewhere for the night. I don’t know where, and he decided to keep it a surprise.

Sometimes surprises are good for a relationship, just as sometimes time apart can help strengthen the bonds.

As I thought about this, I realized that one thing that we all have in common, no matter where we are from, is the desire for connection, for love, for relationships. Those relationships and connections come in all shapes and sizes. Some are healthy, some are not. Some require constant tending, and some freedom to breathe

On this trip, I observed a lot of different relationships, and a lot of ways of communicating within those relationships. Communication, however, is key, even across the barriers of culture. Some of the relationships I observed included:

  • the young married couple who do everything together, including running the theater company, travelling, working, helping, dreaming, and planning for the future. They are still very much in the honeymoon stage, and watching them together gives even the hardest heart hope for the power of a truly committed couple
  • the young couple who met on one of these adventures and balance each other perfectly. They both love writing and words and travel and people. He is more reserved, she is more outgoing, but the things that differ between them make them a stronger whole.
  • The very newly married Roma couple who,  as someone else said, “Are two puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly.”
  • The husband and wife owners of a Privat, who were perhaps the most adorable people I’ve every met. She was sweet and had a kind smile. He went out of his way to fix my glasses when they broke. You just know they are extremely happy together, and it shows in the comfort of their home.
  • The businessman/celebrity couple where I only met the celebrity half. She was supposed to be our guide on this trip, but she had to back out because he was going to America for business and if she wanted to see him she would have to go to. Oh, to have the flexible freedom to travel at the drop of a hat.
  • A slightly strange love triangle, which I will not go into here. Let’s just say that in situations like this, sometimes people try to create connections out of thin air, either as part of the adventure or because they are surrounded by other couples.

As much of this trip was about making connections, since the goal for Dramatic Adventure Theatre was to start a relationship with people in the country to establish the possibility of future projects (we were very successful), I found myself thinking a lot about how we connect and communicate with each other. One thing I realized is how often we learn to connect to each over meals. I wonder if the world’s problems could be solved by simply breaking bread together?

Our first meal as a group in Slovakia. I had beef goulash which was delicious. I loved the warm, cozy atmosphere of this traditional Slovakian restaurant.

Cozy colors and curves make for a comfortable atmosphere to make connections.

During the first couple of nights of the trip we stayed at a hostel in Bratislava. Now I have, I admit, outgrown the desire to stay in hostels. The first night was especially challenging because of the group of loud Russian travelers who spent the night smoking, drinking, and arguing right outside our window. However,  it was a fun and inexpensive way to get to know some of my fellow travelers. The girl’s bright orange and yellow room became the location of  a lot of silly hilarity including a fake fur muff turned elaborate head piece and a visit from a “ghost.”  All, of course, as we began to learn to communicate with each other and make connections.

Silly stuff at the hostel.

The hostel became the first place where I began to understand the thing that connects all human beings–the search for connections, relationship, friendship, understanding and love.  During our second night there my sleep was disturbed by a loud discussion under my window, a discussion that I understood even without hearing every word. Here is an excerpt from my journal written in the wee hours of the morning:

“I awoke early from a sleep filled with both heaviness and distraction all night long. I accidentally pulled the cord attached to the red lamp on the ledge above my head, pulling it down on me. The lamp itself has been humorous as it sat in the window overlooking an alley which isn’t exactly in the “nicest” part of town. “We’re open for business,” I jokingly say as I turn the red light on in the darkness of the night.

I would have gone back to sleep, if not for the discussion being held under my window in heavily accented (British or Kiwi or Australian) English. I don’t need to hear word for word this conversation to understand that it involves women, jealousy, friendships, alcohol, random hookups, stupid mistakes and a little fear. All that asked me, no forced me, to start writing, not just this journal entry but a ‘shitty first draft’ poem that staggered out of my pen, rather than flowed.”

Here is the poem that began me thinking about relationships and communication:

“It All Comes Down to Communication.”

Voices carrying in passionate discussion
from the street below.
Anger, sadness, frustration
in accents that challenge the ear.
I don’t need to understand,
I’ve heard it all before.

The discussion will continue
but end without cure
As language pours upon
blocked ears.Unwillingness
to hear, to listen.
I don’t need to understand,
I’ve heard it all before.

One cries, one lectures, one breaks tension with jokes.
Women arguing over men, broken hearts
and broken friendships.
I don’t need to understand,
I’ve heard it all before.

Sudden silence as they disappear
leaving behind the echoing remnants
of words said from heart and gut
completely bypassing the ears.
I don’t need to understand,
I’ve heard it all before.

The voices return with a new one in the mix.
Male tones join the fray.
Church bells ring the early morning
as the debate starts the day.
I don’t need to understand,
I’ve heard it all before.

Difference doesn’t matter.
Language doesn’t matter.
We all live lives filled
with love, hurt, pain, jealousy
with fears, hopes sadness and joy.
I don’t need to know the language,
I’ve seen it all before.

If everyone learned to really listen
and hear the humanity inside
then we would focus on
connections and understanding.
Body language reveals the not-so-hidden tensions
between people who’ve never met
filled with the hatred and judgement of centuries,
of culture, of difference.

I  don’t need to understand, I’ve known it all before.

Photo taken by Isa McKinney. Visit her blog for more insight into our Slovakian Adventure. (I've linked the picture to her blog)

Cross-Cultural Communication

A view of the highest peaks in the Tatras mountains from the train on our way to Stará Lubovna.

I did a lot of writing on this trip. From journaling, to poetry, from character sketches, to prose, I filled several pages in two different notebooks with my scribbles. As my writing often does, I did not simply write about the experiences of the day, but found connections between those experiences and my understanding of the world. I found myself flashing back to other travel experiences, especially my time in Japan, even though the cultures were completely different. Through those memories, I was able to begin processing and learning from this particular adventure. This has brought me new understanding of myself, my journey, and my own perspective of what it means to be human. I thought I would share some of this writing with you. The first piece I am ready to share I called “Cross-Cultural Communication.”

An older Slovak woman stands at the bus stop watching the approach of a crowd of loud foreigners bundled up in the cold carrying heavy backpacks .

“Who are they and where are they heading?” she wonders, but maintains her silent watching.

“Ah, clearly American,” she realizes as she hears their high-speed chatter and loud laughter. Perhaps she picks up a word or two, but she mostly recognizes the behavior of a group who don’t seem to care about the general silence surrounding them.

She watches as one American woman breaks away to take a picture of a poster hanging on the wall–a poster about a bridal shop. “Now why would she want a picture of that?” the woman wonders, “there is no beauty there.”

The Slovakian woman decides to watch the American woman more closely. The American woman wanders over to a young Slovak male and starts asking how to say words and phrases in Slovakian. She giggles and laughs as she tries to twist her tongue around the complex, guttural Slovak words. The Slovak woman watches, a smile on her face. At several moments, as the american continues to struggle with the language, their eyes meet, and they achieve a silent moment of understanding. The Slovak woman recognizes a spirit who is trying (although failing) to learn out of respect.

The part as friends.

Japan, many years ago

 A giant room at an onsen resort in Kyushu, Japan, tables laid out in low, cafeteria-like rows but with the added comfort and flair of Japanese style. A young gaijin sits with a Japanese family, chattering as much as she can in broken Japanese, while they learned from each other. Luckily, one of the daughters of the family speaks fluent English (and the father spoke some as well) so the conversation can go beyond trivial things. The young American woman still tries to absorb the language, speaking phrases whenever she can, and listening, listening, always listening. She has only been in the country for a a few months, but has still come a long way and craves to know and understand more.

An old Japanese man approaches the table, a determined look on his face. While it was not unusual for the Japanese to approach the gaijin looking to bravely say “Hello. How are you?” in their grade school English, it was usually people from younger generations. But this man was clearly approaching 70 or more. His rich, thick Japanese hair speckled with more gray than black, and his face wrinkled with sadness, care and anger. Yes, clearly anger.

His approach differed from ones she had become accustomed to. Rather than shy smiles and hesitant steps, this man strode forward with purpose and intent, to speak in angry, aggressive tones. She could not follow his high speed Japanese.

The American woman did not know where to look or what to do. His rapid fire Japanese was heavily accented, and she could only understand a few words here and there, including “war.” The father of the family she was with finally stepped in and explained: “Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima,” he said. “This man is angry and says it is your fault.”

The American woman sat shocked for a moment, as the angry tirade continued. How could she respond? She asked the father to translate.

“I’m very sorry we dropped the bomb,” she said with a bow, “but it is not my fault. I was not alive then. My parents were only children during that war. And if they had lived in Europe they would be dead because we are Jews.”

That statement slowed the tirade briefly enough for her host father to steer the still angry older man away from the table.

They parted, but not as friends.

The American woman sat in thought for a moment trying to process what had happened. Only a short time earlier, she had taken a trip to Hiroshima where she had gotten a very different response from a very different Japanese man. “I am sorry,” he said, “That we made America drop the bomb on us. We were wrong.” That man, too, was of a generation to remember.

The apology had been uncomfortable to take, but they parted as friends.

Our guide/interpreter Richard sometimes struggled to understand our fast-paced craziness.

Cultural communication is not just about learning each other’s languages, but about learning to respect each other’s differences. It is about recognizing that we each have our own definitions of personal space, right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate. It is about realizing that we all have suffered from hate, injustice, sadness, fear and pain, but we also all have celebrated the joys of love, laughter, and friendship. Cultural communication is not about impressing others because you are able to rapidly acquire language, but about learning to communicate with others even when language becomes a barrier. Cultural communication is about respect, understand and sharing–not about trying to top each other’s stories. Cultural communication is ultimately about the giving and receiving of small gifts, not ones that take money, but the gifts of each other’s stories. In the stories we share, we can find and create community–even if we disagree.

That is the reason to travel, to share, to write, to take pictures, and to connect with the world around us.

A Brief Note from Levoča

Levoca old townhall

Image via Wikipedia

I am sitting in an internet café in Levoča, Slovakia. The first challenge to writing has been figuring out the keyboard, which is very different from ours, and slightly more complicated. I still cannot figure out how to access some of the symbols, so please forgive any strange errors and my avoidance of contractions.

I am not sure where to begin writing about this trip and my experience so far. I could simply copy passages from my journal or share the very rough creative writing (poetry) I have begun, but even those words seem confused at this moment. How does one begin to express the complexities of a journey of the mind, spirit, body and soul?

My head is full of words and thoughts that bounce around in a fashion that I struggle to express.  Perhaps I should simply share some of those words:

  • Amazing
  • Exhausting
  • Fascinating
  • Overwhelming
  • Thought provoking
  • Depressing
  • exhilarating
  • Beautiful
  • Complex
  • Contrasting
  • Delicious and fattening
  • Challenging

The list of words could go on and on. Are you intrigued yet?  While I promise more complete posts about my adventures once I am back in the US, including my own photos, rather than things borrowed from the internet, here is a brief rundown of some of my experiences:

Eating, eating, eating: My first meal here was an incredible beef goulash at a traditional Slovak restaurant. In Bratislava, we bounced from cafe to cafe, enjoying coffee and tea and various treats. I have tried to sample a variety of traditional fare, and each dish as been bigger and better. I think the only thing that will save me from being too fat for the flight home is that we are walking and walking and walking, including steep climbs in towns built uphill.

Walking, walking, walking: We wandered through Bratislava in search of attractions as well as places to sit and talk.  We went to a lecture at the University about Slovak history that ran a little long, which led to a speed walk to try to catch our train to Levoča. We missed the train and had to take a later one, but that was fine. Once in Levoča, we (unintentionally) took the long way to our hotel, rooms in a private home that is cozy, comfortable and just wonderful (I promise pictures later). Yesterday we had to get up early to walk back to the bus station and catch a bus to the train that would bring us to Stará Lubovna, where we would do a workshop with the Roma population. After a fabulous workshop with this exhilarating community (deserves a complete post later) we walked through the Roma settlement which brought up a lot of complex thoughts. The children who joined us along that walk added joy in the midst of squalor.

Talking, talking, talking: We talk about ourselves, we talk about our differences, we discover our connections. We talk to learn. We talk in multiple languages. We share phrases in English, in Slovak, in Romani, in Spanish, in Japanese, in Hebrew. We have attended a lecture on Slovak history. We have had meetings regarding potential projects. We have met with a well-known Slovakian actress (who, I believe just made a movie with Jude Law or someone just as big) and talked about being artists. We have talked, we have listened, we have learned.

Thinking, thinking, thinking: Through it all, my brain has moved reflecting on the purpose of my journey, my life, my goals for the trip . . . But also on things like prejudice, hatred, connections, language, cultural differences, war, poverty, peace . . . I believe I will be processing this trips for months too come, and it will fuel my future in ways as yet unseen.

This journey is passing too quickly, but will live with me forever. It makes me wonder what my next adventure will be.

Loss of Wilderness Means Loss of Self

This free form poem is my response to Sidey’s Weekend Theme.

Photo by Steve Kramer

We no longer wander through the wilderness
because we don’t know how.
We have no worlds left to explore
except those within ourselves.

We’ve tamed the chaos of the natural world
clipping and conquering anything we dislike
killing more than we let live.

We’ve lost the majesty of the polar bear
and the mysteries hidden in the depths
all in the name of progress . . .
all in the name of us.

We’ve lost our fearless forays into uncharted territories
choosing instead to stay in safety
of paved roads and well-worn paths.

We’ve lost the quiet kindness
of helping weary travelers along the road
his horse’s head drooping in the glory of exhaustion
her feet hurting from walking miles through meandering terrain.

We don’t offer them a drink, or a place to sleep in the hay.
We lock ourselves in moving coffins of plastic and steel
speeding on black-tarred terrains without ever allowing our feet
to touch the earth.

We sit in front of screens of silence
losing ourselves to imagined worlds
rather than watching pictures in the clouds
or listening to the wisdom of animals.

We lose our wildness daily
except for the innate desire to conquer, to control
and to ultimately defeat enemies . . .
Enemies we create out of our own desire
for more, for power, for perfection.

We perfect perfection to the point of
complete destruction.
And in the end, we will lose it all
as the weeds grow over our fallen creations
and the wonder of the wilderness returns.

  “Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet”

Photo by Terry at The Incredible Lightness of Seeing

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