Friday, December 02, 2011

Seeing Stars

 The fall of 2011.
 And then . . . Singapore, Beijing, Newark, Mantua, Chicago, D.C.
 Because travel is part of the job of a self-employed writer, busted pelvis or no.
Last night I was walking the three dogs and took one untangled moment to smile up at the broad panorama of stars visible through stripped trees, waving in the breeze, beckoning winter.  I was suddenly aware, I was almost not limping.  That it was high time to finally put the “fall” behind me, just as it began – seeing stars.
In my own defense, the railroad tracks were sticking up higher than the road.  On that misty Sunday morning, August 21st one track grabbed my bike wheel and threw me to the ground, so quickly I didn’t know what happened until I blinked my eyes open to a sideways world.  That unfortunate encounter with irregular railroad tracks led to the dent in my helmet, the ambulance, the wheelchair, the walker, the cane, the promise to myself that I would get on that plane on September 15.  More stars as we flew from Cleveland through Moscow to Singapore.

Three word-filled weeks with the eighth grade, seeing more stars as kids wrote and performed their poems. 

Michael and I made so many new friends – I remember the faces and lines from poems. 

A stand out for all time: Respect does not make shadow puppets in another person’s spotlight.”  But the good lines were flying around and so fast, it is hard to name a favorite.  It makes me giggly to hear that the poetry writing has continued and the poetic spirit has grown at Singapore American School after our visit.

Nancy Johnson was the impetus behind this visit, enriching us personally and professionally by introducing us to her colleagues Bryan, Scott, Rebecca, Crystal and Brenda.  Belated thanks and hugs to all. 

Here is an observation that is a metaphor for something(not sure what), during the precise times that I was actually composing poetry with students, I don’t remember experiencing any pain.  Adrenaline or the healing powers of poetry?  Unfortunately that reprieve did not extend beyond the actual writing experiences, so we were not able to take in many of the cool things to see and do around Singapore with me hobbling around with a cane.  The cane is one I picked up in Korea, thinking it was a cool walking stick, NEVER dreaming I would actually have to use the thing.  I hope to return one day as Jane Kenyon would say, “on two strong legs.”  (Check out her poem Otherwise, available on line).

We did manage an evening boat cruise with Kate Brundage and Maggie Mutsch, friends we made through AIE and TARA in Bahrain, who have now landed in Singapore.  Small world.  A global community of educators – how lucky we are to connect and reconnect.  This picture is of a hotel, about the hugest hotel you could imagine.  I don't think that hugest is a word, but this thing is so big, it invites descriptors thought its mere existence.  And the picture below is of a museum.  Something to see on the next trip.

AND more stars in Beijing!
Well, to tell the truth, it was hard to see the sky most days we were there.  Note the haze in the photo below.  That was a pretty typical day.  And here we are, on the map in Beijing, touring with our new friend (we were old friends by the time we left, but here we were new friends) Trish McNair. 

But one night, the moon was shining so brightly Michael tried to comment on it to the taxi driver.  He got all flustered and thought we wanted to go someplace else and pulled over.  Michael whipped out his IPad and called up a picture of the moon, which made us all laugh, images pulling us past language barriers. That taxi driver is not to be confused with the drunk in the orange juice can on wheels we took back from the Wall.  That experience can be read about on Michael’s blog, check out “near death experiences.”

Hardly any city on the planet can match Beijing in terms of history.  If Williamsburg is a glimpse of the past, Beijing is looking through a telescope backwards.  Thousands of years, walls, dynasties, stories, wars, movements have all sprung from this place and to visit for a mere two weeks is only a taste of history. 

Entering the Forbidden City.

Tienanmen Square.

Chairlift up to the Great Wall.

Beijing itself is huge, 20 million humans. To put that in perspective, the population of Canada is only 34 million, and by size, Canada is the third largest country in the world. Another star to mention, the anonymous guy who caught me when I did a trust fall into his arms diving from this thing on one leg waving my cane around like I was angry with the birds.

You have heard the Great Wall is big?  You have no idea until you have tried to climb the height of it on one good leg.  But knowing the thousands of years and feet that had passed up these stairs was inspiration.

And the wall goes on and on.  A huge concrete snake that follows a mountainous path over 1300 miles.  I have heard it is the only manmade structure that can be seen from space, and it was before space exploration was even a dream.  They don't call it great for nothin'.

Other stars to mention, Alex the owner of The Bookworm, Karen and Kevin who took us shopping.  You would think that all we did was tour, but not so.  We wrote, performed and listened to poems of all shapes and sizes by poets who fit the same description.

We started with a quick two day visit with the elementary students at Western Academy of Beijing.  Elementary Librarian John Byrne lent an able and cheerful hand in making the drive-by visit to the elementary a success.

Poetry is conversational.

Sometimes poetry is emotional.

Then we moved on to the International School of Beijing where we met with upper school students.

At ISB we focused entirely on writing workshops, where students discussed, wrote, discussed, wrote and totally impressed themselves and their classmates with the quality of their creativity and eye for detail. 

For second language learners especially it helps to talk through the writing before committing pen to paper.

Sharing poetry helps us as writers and as human beings.

See the blur in the background (a teacher moving in to help another pair of writers) and the laptop open to the world?  And in the midst of all the motion, two girls sharing poetry?  This is the place we need to find -- the I need to find -- a quiet place for thought in a crazy busy world.  I don't think this challenge, finding space to think, is any worse in a city the size of Beijing than it is in my little suburb of Cleveland. A universal challenge.

Big thanks to Nadine Rosevear for the gazillion arrangement emails (by exact count) and warm reception upon arrival at ISB.  Thank you!

After our visit to ISB, we were back to Western Academy of Beijing to speak to the middle school students. On the last day of our visit, WAB was hosting an international day, a day to further understanding of other cultures and countries.  Here kids are streaming over the bridge between the upper and lower schools.

Trish, as many international teachers, has worked in schools around the globe.  She was kind enough to lend me an abaya so that we could be international queens for a day.  Can you tell who is who?

Most poets dream of reading their poems to admiring audiences.  Depending on how shy the poet and how flexible the school is, this can be a far off dream.  Luckily, Western Academy set up a mic so that students could share poetry with one another at an after school coffeehouse.

Here (to the students' delight,) a teacher and non other than the Vice Principal also came to read poetry. 

Poetry brings us together.

Michael and I were also caught reading into a microphone over the weekend at the Bookworm where we joined a Polish troupe of poets.  Talk about an international experience, the Polish poets performed in Polish with translations of their poetry projected behind them in English and Chinese.  Michael and I just did our thing in English, additional language challenged Americans that we are.

The cities, the poems and the friends.  So many images crowding my memory, jamming to get to the front like a Beijing driver.  Hard to sum up in one blog and my new year's resolution is that I will be more on top of my writing about the day to day.  Now that I look back on this past fall, I wish I had documented every moment.  I'm not sure if I was woefully behind or busily engaged.

Michael took this last photo of a man touring the Forbidden City.

A man this age in China has seen so much, revolution, famine, skyscrapers and donkey carts.  His eyes only glance over his shoulder, though.  He was touring the historical landmark, not texting or updating, but looking and learning.  As people, we have so much to learn from one another.
And, of course, Mou Mou. 
I am not doing justice to the exquisite tapestry of experience that was this past fall.  Making new year’s promises in advance to be better with documenting experiences here on my blog.