Changing Life’s Metaphors

“Back to the salt mines,” Nathan said as he prepared to take Sarah to her before school math prep and then head off to work.

“What does that mean?” Sarah asked.

“I’ll explain in the car,” Nathan said.

Off they went.

Later, Nathan posted this article on Facebook. “The Salt Mines. Really??” In this article, Natalie Houston discusses the possible origins of the phrase, which includes the fact that convicted prisoners were often forced to labor in salt mines, with the commensurate risks to life and limb. She writes:

“Through metaphor, the language we use both reflects our perceptions and shapes them in a continual feedback loop. Each time you say something like “back to the salt mines” (which is usually accompanied by a shrug, or slumped shoulders) you reinforce your own attitudes about your workplace as being somehow like a dangerous mine where prisoners labor. “

This made me think about the metaphors that guide and/or  influence my own life. Over the past few days I’ve recognized that it is time to change my metaphors, or at least re-envision them. First, however, I must be able  to identify them.

Life as Journey

Walking a path.

Walking a path.

This is by far my favorite metaphor, as anyone who has been reading my blog for a long time might realize. I often talk about life as a journey. If you search for the term journey within my blog, you will find 143 entries that  somehow refer to journeys and the journey of life. Maybe I need to get some new material.

Anyway, this is a metaphor that I do try to live by, however it has its dangers. It all depends on how one perceives the journey. When I think of this journey as having a specific destination–as one with  a path that I’m meant  to follow that gets me to some mysterious endpoint–then I take less pleasure in the journey itself because I’m too worried about not getting to that point. When I can think about the journey as the destination–a meandering path that takes me to the next part of the journey–then I usually can just let my feet lead me wherever I am going.

I want to focus on the second type of journey.

Life as Speeding Train 

This is perhaps one of my least favorite metaphors for life. Do you ever feel like you somehow got trapped on a train that is heading toward an unknown destination without any stops? It keeps going faster and faster, and someone else is driving it. You have no control. No matter how many times you pull the emergency cord, the train will not stop.

Sometimes, for me, the train is a roller coaster car, speeding up and down at speeds that defy thought.

Have  I mentioned that I hate roller coasters? The last time I was on one with my sister, long ago at Knots Berry Farm I felt too short to be held in safely and was convinced I would fly out on one of the crazy loops. I haven’t been on one since, except for  the roller coaster of life.

When I lived in Japan, I loved the idea of riding the Shinkansen, because it allowed me to visit more places in less time. However, the difference between riding a bullet train and being trapped on a speeding life train is crucial to recognize. It’s possible to get off the Shinkansen once in a while, to enjoy the journey.

English: A Shinkansen awaiting passengers in T...

English: A Shinkansen awaiting passengers in Tokyo. Français : Un Shinkansen attendant ses passagers à Tōkyō. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

“Another Day, Another Dollar”

Or in my case a few more pennies.

I thought  of this metaphor this morning after reading Houston’s article.  Too often lately, I’ve focused on the fact that I seem to work hard for very little  financial reward.

I don’t  like thinking like that. If my focus on life is on the journey, and the journey  is the destination, then I want to be working  on projects that fill my life with joy and purpose. I suppose the purpose could be to make money, but I don’t want  the metaphor for my life to be “Life as means to financial gain.”

Of course, I recognize that money does play a role in life, but it doesn’t have to be the focus of life.

It’s time to drop this metaphor from my life.

 

What are  some of the metaphors guiding your life? What are some of the metaphors you want to change? What are some  of the metaphors you would like to embrace?

 

Celebrating Fears Faced

When I was in high school, I was accepted as a Rotary exchange student and was invited to go to Belgium for the year. I let the fears of others rule my decision and I stayed home.

That is one of my biggest regrets in life.

As I matured, I began to realize that letting fear stop you from taking chances means giving up on a lot of dreams and on living. I tried, when faced with fear, to push through it and face the fears. I wasn’t always successful, but I grew stronger and more courageous with each attempt, or so I thought.

Yet, something shifted again after I became a mother. Suddenly fear has control over me again, and more often than not I give into those fears. Fear of trying to publish. Fear of making friends. Fear of taking chances. I think this new hold FEAR has on me has something to do with the fact that my life is not my own–my decisions affect Nathan and Sarah. I can’t just pick up, take off, and take chances.

Yet, as I approach this birthday (Eek! The actual day is tomorrow) I find myself yearning to become the person who does not let fear stop her anymore. After I graduated from college and was on the job hung (following a one year internship at a theatre) I had two interesting options on the table:

  1. The more practical option of working for a Canada based Arts Administration Organization that sent people throughout North America to help arts organizations with reorganization and planning. This would have probably led to a solid career in Arts Administration and or Arts Advocacy (one thing I would still love to do ) and–more often than not in recent years ;)–I’ve thought being Canadian wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
  2. A job teaching at an English conversation school in Okayama, Japan.

If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time (or even just the first of the celebratory posts), you know where I ended up.

In Japan in my early 20s.

Yet, the decision to go to Japan was not an easy one. It was a fear-filled one. It took some words of wisdom from one of the actors at the theatre company I was working out to help me make a choice. He said,

“There are no wrong decisions. There are choices that can go badly, but they always lead to the next decision.”

I tried to make those the guiding words of my life. This doesn’t mean we never make mistakes, but if we face those mistakes head on–despite our fears–we will make it through to new opportunities, new decisions, and new moments to face our fears.

So today I celebrate the moments in my life when I faced my fears and moved through them. Among those moments, I celebrate the day I got on a plane, headed for a country I’d never been to a job I never thought of, and cried my way from Boston to California before sitting in sleepless fear from California to Japan.

I hope someday to be that courageous again.

Celebrating Life’s Ups and Downs

A comment on my post yesterday made me pause for a second, and ask myself if this list I am creating is about EGO. Am I trying to say look at me and how wonderful I am? Why did I decide to write a list celebrating my life?

Our lives are all made up of stories, some large, some small. Some victorious, some failures.  Unless someone has walked through your life with you for entire thing, by your side through it all, there is nobody who knows all of your stories. My mother doesn’t know. My sister doesn’t know. My brother doesn’t know. My childhood friends don’t know. My adult friends don’t know. My husband doesn’t know.

It’s not that the stories are secret, simply that nobody can be there at all times to experience them.

However, those stories make us who we are today, and those stories guide us toward who we will become. In a world (or at least a country) where middle age is sometimes seen as “less than” youth, and where I “aged out” of my highest academic degree by not getting a tenure-track position within a couple of years from graduating, it makes understanding and valuing your own story all the more important.

There’s a scene from the movie The Holiday which gets me every time. Iris  is having dinner with Arthur Abbott who points out something very important:

Arthur Abbott: Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.
Iris: You’re so right. You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for god’s sake! Arthur, I’ve been going to a therapist for three years, and she’s never explained anything to me that well. That was brilliant. Brutal, but brilliant.

I’ve too often been the best friend.  This list is to help me understand myself as the leading lady in my own life.

Today, I will include some things that I celebrate because they made me stronger or helped me grow. I hope you will celebrate those moments in your own life which may have been difficult at the time, but through which you came out a new (and improved) person.

22. When I was completing my MFA, my committee chair threatened (and tried) to fail me because I hadn’t done some things for her that had nothing to do with my thesis project. She, literally, sat me in her office one day and said “that’s your second strike” when I was unable to perform a time-consuming task for her because I had other (paid) obligations. After this meeting, I didn’t remain meek. I went to a dean and discussed my concerns. He told me there was little he could do, as it was her word against mine but he would help me in any way he could. After my thesis production, my chair wanted my committee to fail me for things that could have been fixed if she had advised me earlier in the process as was her job (I’m not saying I had no errors, just that if she had pointed out her concerns when I was in rehearsal I might have been able to answer those concerns). Yet, she came to rehearsals and said nothing, leading me to believe all was well, until my committee meeting where she attacked. The other two members of the committee seemed somewhat speechless. They offered me an alternative, which was to write a paper answering some of the concerns, and reflecting on how or what I might have changed. I turned in a 12 page document that couldn’t be disputed. My chair isn’t the one who let me know I had passed, another committee member did that. I never spoke to my chair again.  I learned to stand up for myself and my (future) students against injustice in the system.

23. I mentioned being told in Japan that I was the “weakest” teacher at the small conversation school I taught at. I was crushed. I asked for an explanation. What was I doing wrong? What could I improve upon? What were the complaints against me? My boss told me he couldn’t be specific at the time but he would find out. I remember going to the river, sitting under the cherry blossoms, and sobbing for hours. Being in a foreign country is difficult enough, but then to be told that you were failing in that country was even worse. It was terrifying. The way I saw it, I had two choices, quit and go home or stay and try to improve. If there is one thing I’ve learned about myself, is I am stubborn to the end. Despite the fact that I never got any more information from my boss, I chose to stay, and worked as hard as I could to become better. In the end, my boss asked me to stay on for an extra month (I was supposed to be at that school for a year) until my replacement came. I then moved onto a bigger school where I stayed for two years until I decided to go to graduate school.

24. I miscarried my first child. I know this happens to many women, but I blamed myself. Before I knew I was pregnant, I had asked my doctor to put me on antidepressants. I don’t remember what I was on, but it was one not considered safe for pregnancy. As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I stopped taking those pills. About 6 weeks in, I lost the baby and I mourned. I still mourn the child who never was, because I blame myself for that loss. However, if I had that child, I would never have received the wonderful gift of Sarah.Sarah turns 10

 25. I completed my doctoral program in three years, including course work, research and writing my complete dissertation. My dissertation was then nominated for an award. I had to present at a conference where they would then announce the award winners. I was pregnant (with Sarah) at the time, but hadn’t had any problems with morning sickness until my nerves about presenting kicked in. Picture me sprinting from the elevator to my hotel room, carrying my bags, saying hello to roommates who I hadn’t seen in over a year, and running into the bathroom to vomit. Fun days. Anyway, my presentation went well, despite some antagonistic questions from audience members. The other nominees presentations were interesting, and we awaited the awards ceremony. Just before the ceremony, the head of the committee (who I had met in other situations) pulled me aside and said, “Lisa, nobody is getting the award this year, but you are getting an honorable mention.” I am the ONLY ONE who got an honorable mention, but NOBODY got the award. Politics that I will NEVER understand at play. To this day, I still can’t understand why that happened. When they announced it at the award ceremony, nobody there understood it either. I had to try to be stoic, try to hold in my tears. I failed miserably. From that I learned my first lesson in the brutality of academic politics, a lesson I would (and still am) continue to learn over the years. A lesson that has led me to know that there is something else out there for me, even if I have yet to figure out what that is.

26. The last one for today might surprise you. Nathan (my now husband) was my first and only boyfriend. I was a complete and utter failure when it came to dating as a young person. In junior high, I “dated” Stephen for like a minute. (Basically he called and asked me out. One of our friends convinced me to say yes. I got scared and broke up with him before we even had a date.) I had one date with Chris in high school, but he liked me a lot more than I liked him. I ended up going to the prom with him as friends, because my friends wanted me to go with someone. I had a few flirtations in Japan (Gacho, Scott, and Mike) but I wouldn’t call those dates. I met Nathan in grad school in Hawaii, and didn’t even know our first date was a first date. (For that story read this). We dated (including long distance) for five years and then we got married (now married 13 years). I think I learned enough from being the best friend, to know that I had found a good one. At the same time, I always thought I’d never find anyone, that there was something wrong with me which prevented me from connecting beyond friendship. Always the best friend, never the leading lady. Lesson learned.

Senior Prom

 What are some of the challenges in your life that have made you become the person you are today?

Continuing the Celebration

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” (Oprah Winfrey)

Have you ever done this?

Have you ever tried to come up with a list of the things that make you unique? Things that are worth celebrating?

It’s difficult.

I don’t know if it is modesty or humility, or simply an unwillingness to stand up in front of the world and say “This is me. This is what I’ve done. This is who I am.”

Maybe I simply compare myself too often to others, and am unable to see the good in me.

On yesterday’s post, the talented Andra Watkins, who also shares this birthday month with me, wrote this comment:

“You did this. Period. [. . . ]”

Why can’t I just say, “I did this. Period.”? Without the but . . . or the clarification, or the explanation that somehow tries to justify why I am celebrating this particular thing.

Today, as I continue the list, I will try to keep to I did this. Period. (Explaining only enough for you to understand what I”m talking about). Here goes.

12. There’s no way to count the number of words I’ve written, in journals, in stories, in blog posts, in academic papers. Some words remain hidden from the eyes of others, some have been read by a handful of people, and some are just beginning their fearful journey into the light of day.

13. I have completed one novel for middle-grade readers, and one novel for YA/NA. Neither have been published, yet, but I am still hopeful and working toward that.

14. I was nominated for a Po’Okela award (kind of like the Tony’s of Hawaii)  in playwriting (as part of a group of writers) for The Kabuki Mikado.

15. I was also nominated for a Po’Okela award in lighting design for two productions The Staircase and Gertrude Stein and Her Companion. Did I mention that I studied lighting design and almost thought of going in that direction?

16. I was the first student at Smith College to design lights for a faculty directed production.

17. For a year after college, I did a combined internship in Electrics/Stage Management at StageWest, a (now defunct) regional theatre in Springfield, MA.

18. While in Japan, I moved from being told that “I was the weakest teacher” (without clarification) to becoming the Head Teacher/Trainer at a bigger school.

19. Over the past few years, I’ve tried to do something outside my comfort zone at least once each year. These things have included: taking a tap class and performing in a recital; taking piano lessons; creating a piece of art that I actually hung on my wall; travelling with a group of near strangers; attending a conference on my own; and starting a blog.

This is my creation that hangs on the wall.

This is my creation that hangs on the wall.

20. I have a couple of poems published in anthologies, and a few articles published in magazines and journals.

21. It’s impossible to count the number of books I’ve read in my lifetime. I love books. They are the things that I haven’t been able to let go of, despite the weight of moving them. I have slowly weened out my collection, but it always grows again.

That’s all for today. It’s getting harder.

What are some thing that you’ve done. Period?

 

Celebrating 45

A few posts back I wrote about how I have no intention of fading away as I move into the future. Yet, I’m the first to admit that I am the hardest on myself–unable to see my own successes when I’m not quite where or who I thought I’d be. However, my journey into memory through pictures made me decide that I should celebrate the interesting life I have lived. I should acknowledge the things I have done, that make me unique. I should, basically, celebrate myself. Please bear with me as I toot my own horn, because sometimes doing things like this is necessary.

I plan to make a list of 45 (wonderful) things that make me who I am, in no particular order, with details provided if explanation helps. However, I will spread it across several posts because A) I don’t want to bore you and B) It’s really, really difficult for me to do this.

Here I go:

  1.  I was born backwards (breach) which says a lot for who I am now. 😉 In some ways, being breach saved me from a car birth. My Dad used to say that he dropped Mom off (after getting stopped by a policeman as he sped to the hospital) and went to park the car. When he got back, someone congratulated him on the birth of his daughter. A woman, waiting for her daughter to give birth, turned to him and said “How did you do that?” Way to make an entrance.

    Cheeks.

    Cheeks.

  2. I started reading when I was very young (like 3 or 4 or something). Mom says it was in competition with my older brother Steve (who you might know from his many blogs, such as this wonderful post about helping others). I’d like to think my love for words simply insisted on making an early appearance. I vaguely recall people handing me newspapers and asking me to read out loud. I didn’t necessarily understand the words, but I could read them. Sounding out words, and finding meaning in those sounds, or finding interesting ways of putting those sounds together, has become the passion of my life.
  3. That leads to my love of learning languages. All languages. While I’ve lost my fluency in most (including English sometimes) in my life I have studied (and in some cases spoken to some degree): Hebrew, French, Spanish, Japanese, Russian (for a very short time when I was supposed to go on a trip), Slovak (again in preparation for a trip) and a few words in Chinese.  I believe that, if you want to travel, the best way to learn about people is to learn their language. It is the height of ego to expect others to learn English, and make no effort to communicate with the words that represent the culture.
  4. I have visited 8 countries. Now, that’s not a lot, for a girl who dreamed of seeing the world. My list of countries that I still want to go to is large. However, when I travel, I rarely do it just as a tourist. I try to see the country beyond the tourist image. I lived and worked in Japan for three years, and hope someday to be able to live and work somewhere else, even for a short time. My travels have not ended, I just have to find new ways and means to go. Even though I haven’t been to many of the places I’d love to go, I have friends from countries all over the world, many of whom I have actually met in person.

    Red: Where I've lived (although HI has disappeared)Blue: Where I've been
Green: Where I want to go

    Red: Where I’ve lived (although HI has disappeared)
    Blue: Where I’ve been
    Green: Where I want to go

  5. I’ve lived in 9 states and visited 44. I would like to get to all 50, and there are a few I might want to live in.
  6. I have earned three degrees: a BA from Smith College with a double major in English Language & Literature and Theatre; an MFA from the University of Hawaii, Manoa in Theatre (Directing); and a Ph.D from Arizona State University in Theatre (Theatre for Youth)
  7. I have directed 25+ plays at all levels (from beginning actors to professional).While this is one of the areas where I feel like I somehow have failed, I always wanted to direct, and at least I can say I have directed some truly wonderful and challenging pieces.

    The opening scene of CLOUD 9, another play I loved directing, especially because it pushed buttons and promoted discussion.

    The opening scene of CLOUD 9, another play I loved directing, especially because it pushed buttons and promoted discussion.

  8. I have taught hundreds if not thousands of students in subjects ranging from English conversation to writing, from Introduction to Theatre to Special Studies in Drama. I’ve taught at colleges, universities, language schools, after school programs and special programs for adults. I’ve lost track of the types of courses I’ve taught, but they include classes in theatre, writing, honors, and education.
  9. I saved two wonderful dogs from the humane society and they have enriched my life immensely. Even with the begging, the poop, and the constant dog hair.Lizzy & Jasper, 1-1
  10. I found a wonderful partner in life, Nathan, who for whatever reason puts up with my craziness and stands by me even when I don’t want to stand by myself.
  11. We gave birth to an amazing, talented, and beautiful daughter, who surprises me every day.

I think that’s my list for today, as now I’m entering the part where I think “I did this but .  . ” You know, where I start undervaluing everything I’ve ever done.

This isn’t easy, that’s for sure.

Do you ever have a difficult time celebrating yourself and your accomplishments?

People I Have Met . . .

A fabulous couple! Who count in the list of “Bloggers I Have Met”

I’m thinking about connections, again. I write about this often, about the people we meet along the way. People who touch our lives, if only for a moment. People who affect our choices, encourage our dreams, change our paths–without us even realizing that the person or the moment is significant.

Yesterday, I read a post by Linda Katz called “‘Miss Holocaust Survivor’: Celebrate Beauty!”. Linda officially counts as one of the  “Bloggers who I have met,” a small group of people who add to the fascinating  connections in my world.  I met her before I read her blog, during one of my NYC adventures this past year. I connected with her journey to find the Jews of Europe, to understand why they returned to countries which had basically tried to wipe them off the face of the earth. We talked for a while on the evening we first met, and I have followed her through her blog, because meeting her was one of those moments.

Linda’s post discusses the pros and cons of a beauty contest for Holocaust survivors, a contest which really celebrated the inner beauty of a group of women who survived some of the ugliest mankind has to offer, and moved onto live lives that surpassed the horrors of the Holocaust.

I think their story would make an amazing play.

But this post isn’t about their story. It is about the stories of all the people I have met along the way.

As I read the story, I thought back to my Hebrew School teacher, Mrs. Sekler who pulled me aside one day to show me blue numbers faded into her arm. She told me her story. I don’t recall the details, although I do know she watched her family die. When she shared her story with me, she changed my world because she was a woman who faced evil and still was able to love.

I wish I knew more about her.

There are so many people who touched my life only briefly, but my contact with them has affected me in numerous ways. I am horrible, in that I cannot remember names much of the time, and I only see snippets of faces–an eye here, hair there, perhaps a smile. But, when I look back at all the people I have met, even if only for a moment, I realize how amazing this world really is:

  • my French pen-pal who I met while I was in high school. She showed me parts of France that I was lucky to see.
  • Akemi, one of my good friends from Japan, who broke all the stereotypes and taught me how to reach for dreams.
  • The Russian women who I met in Bali. They packed up and explored the world after the death of their husbands, which made me aspire to a future where I live my life to the fullest.
  • Kenro, another Japanese friend, a teddy bear with muscles and an adorable smile, who made me believe in romance and the possibility of finding Prince Charming (no he wasn’t a romance he just made me believe in romance)/
  • Rita Smith, my amazing Social Studies teacher in high school, who taught me that learning can and should be joyous fun.
  • The woman who took me under her wing during my summer in Myrtle Beach,  South Carolina, taught me to dance The Shag (badly) and showed me that friendship can be formed through difference, even of age, if you are only open to it.
  • Mindy, one of my fellow teachers in Japan, a feisty, tough Australian woman who broke rules and taught me how to live life with gusto.
  • The man on a flight back to Arizona from Vermont, who talked to me the whole way about research, life, dreams and aspirations. I usually don’t talk much when I fly alone, but somehow the conversation with him seemed very important.

My list could go on forever, with the hundreds of There are also, of course, people who meet and affect life in negative ways. They count too, if only for the lessons they teach. In this case, I am not naming names even if I remember them:

  • My professor from grad school who taught be my first real lesson about power, manipulation, and jealousy.
  • The colleague at another college that continued that lesson, while attempting to destroy our lives and careers.
  • The boy at a swim meet who made biased jokes forcing me to stand up for myself and my beliefs.
  • The family who hated my family throughout my childhood, simply because we were Jews. They taught me to fight against bias based off of ignorance.

Fortunately that list isn’t as long, but it too could continue on if I wanted it too. I don’t want to do that.

I feel like I have met so many more people on this blogging journey, even if I have yet to meet most of them in person. I am so honored to have met a few (you know who you are) and hope to meet more in the future (possibly even at the end of the summer, Tori?)

Dory, one of the “Bloggers I have met.” She lives bravely, and I want to learn from her.

Who are the people you have met, even if only for a moment, that have influenced your life in some way?

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.

Once Upon a Slovak Time

Welcome friend!

First pour yourself a “cuppa” (the beverage of your choice) and pull  up  a cozy seat. Right now I’d like a steaming hot cup of spicy chai but I know some of you would prefer that cup of coffee.

Do you take it black? Cream? Sugar? With flavored syrup?

I’m sure you are wondering why I’m calling this “Once Upon a Slovak Time,” and I will get to that, but first I want to thank all of you for your kindness. Many of you told me you would love to come over and have tea (or coffee) with me, and since we can’t do it in person, I’d like to have a virtual cup with all of you.

Would you like some coffee cake?

As many of you have noticed, I’ve been struggling a bit lately with my inner demons, a complete loss of purpose and loneliness. I often feel lonely at what I call the loneliest time of the year, but my struggles over the past few weeks have been deeper than that. However, many of you have offered kind words and support, reminding me that I have just been through a complete overhaul of my life, and I should be kind to myself and allow myself time. And, in reality, the turmoil of my life has been building for three years now, not just the recent sudden move and change, so I know deep down inside that I really should be kind to myself

I’ve been trying. I’m trying to lie fallow for a while, hoping the seeds will grow. 

I have been mostly silent this week, both in the blogosphere and in my own life. I lurk on the fringes of interaction, unable and unwilling to read the abundance of joyous holiday celebrations posted this week. I have stuck to a few comments here and there, and replying to comments made to me. I haven’t written my usual overabundance of posts except for my weekly 100 word challenge and a little about my new cozy corner, where I spent most of the week reading, watching movies, playing addictive computer games (UGH!), trying to write, snuggling with the dogs, or just thinking.

Yet I still struggle.

Yesterday, I felt disgusted with myself and decided to try something a little different. I turned off the computer game (a habit I need to break NOW) and got out an old video cassette of Yoga for Weight Loss.  I forced myself to work my way through every single pose.

This pose always kills me.

I feel it today, but it’s a good kind of ache.

Then I forced myself out of the house to finally deposit checks that have been sitting in my wallet doing nobody any good.  For the past couple of weeks, I have only left the house to take Sarah to her various extracurricular activities or to teach my Saturday class, so this was a step in the right direction. I headed to the library, hoping to find a good  holiday movie as recommended by my friend Vicky. But, unable to find Love Actually, I ended up bringing the entire first season of Charmed home. I guess I’m not through resting in my comfy chair.

I also brought home a video about Belly Dancing, figuring that might be a fun form of exercise to try in the privacy of my own home. Another step in the right direction.

When dropping Sarah off at her musical theater class for her dress rehearsal before tonight’s performance of Lights, Camera, Action!  (be prepared for pictures of my little Mary Poppins in future posts) I actually got into a conversation with one of the other Moms. We walked out to the parking lot together, and chattered away discovering common interests.

I got brave and said, “Do you have to be somewhere? Would you like to go get a cup of coffee or something?”

We went to Starbucks.

I think I might have made a friend.

I came home feeling better about myself  then I have for a while.

Then came my telephone conference about my upcoming trip to Slovakia. Now, many of you know how excited and nervous I am about this trip. The conference last night simultaneously soothed my fears and brought back the reality of my lost and clueless state of existence.

It all began when I was asked to introduce myself and explain my goals for the trip and I was unable to articulate those goals. After all, in many ways the purpose of this trip, for me, is to find purpose.

Why couldn’t I articulate that in this phone call? Because suddenly I felt, not old exactly, but I felt my life experience, which is all related to my current state of confusion.

Let me try to explain. The people going on this trip are all either just starting their careers (as in still in school) or in the middle of establishing themselves in their fields. I am a middle-aged woman trying to reinvent herself after years of following a career path that has taken many unexpected twists and turns.

I am lost.

As the teleconference continued, with a presentation of expectations, needs, concerns, safety precautions, etc. etc. I went through a series of flashbacks that served to remind me of a few things:

  1. I have, indeed, lived a pretty incredible life.
  2. I have a lot of experience to share with this group, which either makes me old or an asset.
  3. I feel as confused now as I did when I graduated from college so many years ago.

For example, when discussing how to be safe and avoid pickpockets, I had a sudden flash to my high school trip to France where I got pick-pocketed in Paris. When discussing the importance of being respectful while absorbing and learning, I flashed to my time in Japan and some of my bizarre experiences there. The discussion about not hiding behind a camera and placing barriers between yourself and experience had me thinking about numerous lost opportunities in my life and my own fears on a trip to Norway where I hid behind my insecurities rather than diving in. The discussion about being respectful about food led to more memories of Japan when my students decided to challenge me by ordering dishes that might challenge American tastes . . . I learned to eat first and ask questions later.

Anyone want to try Natto (fermented beans)?

The introduction of all the members of the group and their specific goals,  made me realize that I have experiences that I can offer each and every one of them. That made me feel good in some ways (I know I’m a good mentor) but sad about my inability to define my own goals for this trip.

But, as I said before, for me the purpose of this trip is to find purpose.

In a few weeks I will be stepping on a plane to Paris and then transferring to Vienna. I will get off the plane, and I will eat lunch in that beautiful city. Then I will take a train to Bratislava, Slovakia where I will enter an adventure I cannot predict. I will bring with me notebooks and pens, a camera, my Kindle (with a Slovak dictionary loaded on it), my music player and clothes to keep me warm. I will not bring my phone. I will not bring my laptop.

I will let go, for a short time, my identity as mother, daughter, wife, educator, Ph.D, theater director . . . and try to reconnect with myself.

I may blog, a little, if there is time and an internet cafe. But I will reserve a lot of that for my return. I will check e-mail occasionally, but not obsessively.  Ditto for Facebook and Twitter.  I will be open to adventure, opportunity, observations, inspiration and learning.

Now let the story unfold . . .

 

Life is About Learning: Celebrating Fabulous Friends III

I know a lot of intelligent people. Since I’ve spent most of my life connected in some way with academia, I have often been surrounded by people who blow me away with the way their minds work.

But this morning I had a little revelation, life is not about what you know but about continuing to learn.

While I’ve met a lot of intelligent people who can wax poetic about everything under the sun, many of them don’t interest me. I find myself zoning out when it becomes obvious that the person I am talking to is more concerned with showing off his/her knowledge and sounding intelligent than contributing to a conversation and being open to learning something new.

In the end, the people who remain part of life, the people who I count as friends are the ones who see the world as a place to learn something new every day, and then share that knowledge with others as they seek more learning. So today, as the third part of my (hopefully ongoing) series that I call “Celebrating Fabulous Friends” I would like to celebrate some of the learner/teachers I’ve met in my life.  (For the first two installments read Celebrating Fabulous Friends and Night Marchers in the Bathroom.)

Nancy Lum, World Adventurer

Nancy is in the middle, with myself, my sister Deb, and her friend Karen celebrating my wedding.

Nancy and I met in Japan. She was there teaching for the JET program, and I was teaching for a private Language School. While I’m sure we met when she first got there, we didn’t become close until my last year in Japan, when I discovered an amazing person who had a passion for learning all she could about the world. Our friendship has lasted, with Nancy visiting me whenever she can in all of my various locations. She came to my wedding in Hawaii, while friends who I had known longer were unwilling to make the trip. While she wasn’t part of the wedding party, officially, she stepped up and helped in ways that made her truly the maid of honor.

Nancy returned from Japan to her home in Canada for a short time to get a masters in ESL. She then went back to our home in Okayama and has been there ever since. She takes every opportunity to travel and see the world, learning as much as she can about the places she visits and sharing her knowledge through the eyes of her camera. She and I keep fantasizing about traveling together on some wonderful adventure, but it hasn’t happened (yet). Maybe I should see if she wants to come to Slovakia. 😉

Anyway, I include Nancy in my list of Fabulous Friends because she cares and shares and is always learning more. When she visits, she wants to go out and explore the world. The last time I saw her, when she visited me in Durango, CO, she was distracted by news that her sister was in the hospital, but even then she carried her camera and shared adventures with me and my family. I am so honored to count this wonderful, intelligent, creative, learner among my friends.

Jackie Haltom, Inspirational Artist

Figuring out the hands for a piece of art.

I’ve known Jackie for only a year. We met when Sarah started taking art lessons in Independence.  We probably socialized for the first time last Halloween as we took Sarah out trick-or-treating with Jackie’s girls and other kids in the neighborhood.  However, a relationship that started slowly blossomed into a friendship of mutual support and encouragement. Jackie helped me discover the courage to express myself in a new artistic way, and the results are in the header of this blog. Jackie also took on the challenge with me of learning how to share our love of art and creativity with a different population, as you can read about in “Appropriate Age Appropriateness.” Without Jackie, I would not have had the courage to try to self-publish (although that project is still slowly moving forward). Jackie inspires me because she is continually learning, admitting what she doesn’t know, searching for more knowledge, and challenging the status quo. She lives and breathes art and recognizes how important the arts are to our culture–so she strives to share that passion with others by encouraging them to find their inner artists. Jackie helped me through a complex transition in my life, and I am grateful she has become my friend.

Jackie inspired another fabulous friend, Heather of Little Red Henry (link in my blog roll) to paint this wonderful creation.

There you have it, a couple of other examples of the incredible people you can meet throughout your life if you are simply open to learning about the world around you.

What have you learned today? Who have you met that you would like to celebrate?

Here's a beautiful piece by Jackie.


Been There, Done That, Got the T-Shirt

I am doing it. The ultimate sacrifice. In the name of a lighter load, I am purging my t-shirt collection. Now, to be fair, I believe I have done this a few times before, as many of my t-shirts seem to have disappeared, but it is never easy.

Have you ever thought about the story of your life as it is told through fashion? Well, obviously we all go through trends and stages of fashion in our life. But, since I avoid the camera and haven’t really kept up with fashion trends (or really shopped for myself) for a long time, I can’t share that story here. I can, however, share part of my story as it is told through t-shirts. So join me through a trip down memory lane.

Perhaps the oldest t-shirt in my collection is this beauty from Fitzwilly’s in Northampton, MA, one of my favorite restaurants from my undergraduate college days at Smith.

Bought at Fitzwilly's ca. 1990

If I Tell You What It Means Will You Buy Me A Drink (Back of Fitzwilly's t-shirt)

Next we skip a few years (I don’t know what happened to t-shirts from Japan) and head to Hawaii, for adventures galore.

I got this at Sea Life Park in Hawaii the week after I graduated with my MFA from the University of Hawaii. For complicated reasons this t-shirt meant more than my diploma at the time.

I love this t-shirt given to me when my dear friend Nancy visited me in Hawaii from Japan. I hope she visits me in Mass., or better yet, I get to visit her in Japan someday.

We bought this on Maui, when Nathan finally admitted that he didn't really want to see anyone else. (For more on that story see the post called "Stumbling into Romance"

From Hawaii, we skip another few years to my doctoral program. Nathan and I got married in Hawaii, while I was in the middle of a doctoral program at Arizona State University. 7 months later, he moved to Vermont for work and I stayed in Arizona to finish up my dissertation.  I did research at three different professional companies for Young Audiences: Childsplay in Tempe, AZ; Dallas Children’s Theater; and my favorite Metro Theatre Company in St. Louis, MO (a company I learned about during the year before I started at ASU when we lived nearby.

I think we bought this t-shirt when we were in Hawaii to get married. It is dyed with chocolate (Yum) and smelled like chocolate for a while.

I spent a wonderful week or so at Metro, observing, interviewing and helping during their summer education program called Arts Intersection.

Move forward again, to our time in Vermont. We both taught. I directed, and I started a children’s theater company which didn’t survive much past my time there, as we had to move on.

Short lived, but well loved.

"Life is Good" when you live near enough to the Ben & Jerry factory for a tour.

For some reason I don’t have any t-shirts from the next stop on our living tour, Durango, CO. I guess I never bought any or didn’t keep them. I do have one from the first summer as a family at Okoboji Summer Theater, which happened while we lived in Durango.

And that brings us to the present. A t-shirt filled year in Independence, KS

I wonder what my next t-shirt will be. What is the t-shirt story of your life?

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