Riding the Bus: A Love Story

Fung Wah Bus Van Hool C2045 coach on a stopove...

March 30, 2012, Boston, MA

I sit on the floor, the cold from the rust-colored tile seeping through my pants. There are seats next to me, but I want to try to get a front seat on the bus, so I sit in line. The Chinese bus (Fung Woh) just loaded, so I hear the chatter of Chinese around me. I’m watching people, trying to be subtle about it. I don’t really have to be subtle though, as most people protect themselves with various technological devices. I bet that travelling by bus in the past was friendlier, as people asked questions and discussed the adventure ahead, rather than hiding behind mini screens.

Flashback, A Peter Pan Bus, Sometime in 1990

I remember falling in love, briefly, with a man on a bus. I was taking the bus home from college, either just before or just after I graduated. I got into a discussion with this cute black guy who was heading home from college as well. We talked the whole ride: about our times at schools 20 minutes from each other, about our fears as both of us graduated, about life and dreams and where we were heading from there. My future was still unknown. I can’t recall what his was, maybe moving to New York or something. “I wish we had met earlier,” he said. “Me too.” I surprised myself with that reply as I was perennially shy with guys. He got off the bus before my stop, and we never saw each other again. These were the days before everyone had cell phones, e-mail addresses and Facebook. For people in transition, contact was more challenging. I believe we exchanged phone numbers, but his life was moving forward quickly. A flame for a moment that blew out with a puff of smoke.

March 30, 2012, Boston, MA

Now the line is silent. Nobody speaks, not even the people travelling together. There are a few hushed conversations, and a few less-hushed cell phone conversations. Most of the noise comes from buses beeping, honking, moving, backing up. Nobody really makes eye contact even. I try to look up and be friendly, open–but that is not the norm nowadays. That seems like such a sad loss. The Fung Wah bus backs out and moves away, opening the space for my Megabus to move in. It’s still early though, so there is nothing to do but wait.

Waiting for the bus home in NYC.

When a Door Closes . . . Kick in a Window

 

“Dear Dr. Kramer, we were impressed with your credentials and the high quality of your work but . . . ”

“Dear Ms. Kramer, Your poem was beautiful but too personal for our . . . ”

“Dear Lisa, While the article you wrote does not suit our needs at this time, we were impressed with the writing and hope that you will submit again . . . “

 

I get them all the time, beautifully written, respectful letters that tell me I am really good, really talented, really impressive, but I still didn’t make the cut. I’m still not what they are looking for. While the above are made up examples (based off of memories from past letters) the following is from an e-mail I received yesterday:

“Dear Dr. Kramer,

Once again, thank you so much for sending in your course proposal to [. . . ].  We received over 80 applications from scholars and artists from all over the country.  The committee deliberated with great care over all of them and in the end chose the three that most closely matched our curricular needs; this was not an easy task, as you may well imagine.  Although your course was not finally selected, we were impressed with its quality and hope that you will keep an eye on our website [. . . ]o see when we might send out a call again.

Thank you again; we are so appreciative of the obvious time and effort you put into your proposal.”

Again, good . . . but not good enough.

Now, obviously this was an encouraging one, and I will indeed continue to apply and keep my name in the game, but meanwhile I have to deal with the emotions of what simply feels like another defeat.

Yesterday I also learned that I didn’t place in a children’s poetry contest that I entered a few months ago.  (I’ll post my submissions later).

Yesterday, I began my new writing course, only to face a complete dearth of ideas. I have no clue what I want to write. I just spent a lot of money, only to have a panic attack  and stare at blank pages while I call myself a fool.

I hear the sound of doors slamming in my face.

I’m tired of that sound, and I don’t accept it anymore.

Too often I’ve heard it only to discover the ideas I expressed in an interview, the suggestions I made to improve a program, the thoughts I shared along the way have been taken and used by somebody else. My ideas are always good enough to “borrow” or “steal” but I never get the job or the recognition. (I’m not saying this is going to happen in this case, just that it has happened in the past).

I went to bed feeling defeated. I woke up feeling like kicking doors down or smashing in windows.

You don’t believe me? A picture is worth 1000 words:

Yesterday, someone on Facebook posted a link to an article called “Being a Success, Without Being a Bestseller” by Dan Blank. In the article, Blank writes:

How you measure success will define the type of writing career you have. While we all dream of being bestsellers, of having the world validate our work on a grand scale, the fact of the matter is: many of us will not be number 1 New York Times bestsellers.

But that doesn’t mean we won’t be great.

Sometimes, it’s not about being a bestseller – it’s about being a writer, putting your work out there, and affecting peoples lives. Of creating meaning for others, one person at a time. Of building a legacy for your work that extends beyond your own lifetime.

Today, I am re-defining success for myself. For too long, I have set my ideals of success in the hands of others, only leaving myself open for the feelings of failure and defeat that come when someone deems that I am somehow “not good enough.” But, NO MORE! I don’t need the big paycheck. (Although money coming in would be nice to be completely honest). I don’t need the title and the accolades. I don’t need the big name company or school to recognize my greatness. I don’t need millions of readers.

What I need to be successful is to do my best and feel that I have done my best. I need to create quality work, no matter what that work is. I need to know that I have somehow reached a few people, and made a difference in this world, even if my name is never emblazoned in lights.

Success for me will be a quiet endeavor. Except, of course, for the sound of me kicking down a few doors along the way.

 

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)

Non-Communicative Future

Yesterday morning in my Comp I class I had them share what they had written for the Portfolio Project that was due.  In the portfolio I had asked them to evaluate themselves as students/learners/writers as well as revise one paper and set some goals. I started doing this type of project in another school, and for the most part feel that it is a successful project. I still feel that, even after grading the projects yesterday, except for one thing. Many of my students don’t know how to communicate. Most of them shared their portfolio in as few sentences as possible–not expanding or explaining unless  I asked questions, barely even listening to each other talk. After that, I vamped for the rest of the time (as I had expected it would take longer) talking about learning, why we need to take writing classes, how would they form their ideal comp class, anything that came to mind. (I used up my material for the last class tomorrow, now I have to think of something else).  But, in typical fashion, two or three of them spoke and the rest stared at me in silence. This has been my semester in this class. It might as well have been a class of three people.

I was teaching writing. I helped some of them improve in grammar and the ability to support an argument. I helped some of them improve as readers, or just gain confidence in their ability to learn. That to me is a success.

But many of them still don’t know how to communicate.

In part of the “discussion” yesterday we talked about the changing forms of communication. For example, the fact that more people function by text messages now than any other form of communication. I mentioned how important it was to learn to write proper e-mails and things. Later in the day, I got this e-mail from one of the students in the class:

“Dear Ms. lisa what would be my grade in the class?!?”

That’s it. That was the extent of the e-mail. Now, let’s forget about the fact that they still haven’t figured out that I am Dr. I just wanted them to call me Lisa, but I usually get one of the following: Teacher,  Ms. Lisa, Mrs. Kramer, Mrs. Lisa, nothing, and on rare occasions Dr. Lisa or Dr. Kramer. But, setting that aside, my name is not capitalized. He didn’t sign it. And he wrote this one sentence when I told them that I would be figuring out the grades and let them know on Friday.

Students today do not know how to communicate.

Vicky, at Little Miss Everything, wrote a post today called “My best friend is a screen” that asks if our future will be this

Sadly, I think we are heading to some form of that. I don’t necessarily believe that everyone will be a fat slob (although there is potential for that too). But I do think that we are losing the ability to communicate face-to-face. We are also losing common courtesy and respect for each other, as our skills in face-to-face communication dwindle.  How often have you sent an e-mail and never gotten a reply? Not even an acknowledgment that the person received your e-mail? How often have you made a phone call asking for a return call and never gotten the call back?

I am guilty of these errors myself. I am bad about writing thank you notes and thanking people for invitations. I’m trying to get better. I don’t like to talk to people on the phone, but I will and I will call back. Sometimes I prefer to e-mail, but I always respond to e-mails. I’m not perfect, but I try.

I worry though that we are raising a generation of people who will never try, because they are too buried in their own pleasure. In the self-evaluation I had several students admit to: texting or listening to music during class, or falling asleep intentionally. But then the following statement would be something like, “I respected my teacher and my classmates.”

Is this respect? Where are we headed in a world that does not respect each other or know how to communicate?

Sorry for the RANT! But what do you think?

[Update, another of my favorite bloggers chose to write about this topic today as well. Check out her post  ” A World Without Words”.]

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