Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Daraja Here We Come!

Tomorrow night, Friday morning, at 2:00 am I will be boarding an airplane to fly to Kenya. I will be leading a school trip to The Daraja Academy for girls. I have been to this school twice before. The first time I went, Kaia was only this big...


The other time I went, we were literary painting the walls...


...and hiring teachers...


There were no students and the campus sat expectant, heavy with ambition and promise. I remeber sitting on Jason's (the founder and my best friend since we were 15) deck talking about how I might be able to help him design a Wordpress blog to promote the school. We were so naive and innocent. Well, I was. Jason had a fire in his eyes and a vision that must have been crystal clear, because since that first trip, not only did the school open, but it is now filled to capacity with over 250 girls from grade 9-12 and has graduated at least one class. Their website is stunning and they are a fully sustainable and operational school. We will be arriving a few weeks before Daraja's fifth anniversary.
You can look at more pictures here or read previous posts for some context here.
Daraja is the opposite of the slums and poverty from which her students will come. It is beyond politics and good intentions. Daraja is the realization of a dream. Hope actualized and made real. Hands in soil, trees planted. Seeds sown. It is beyond donations and charity. Daraja is a place where regular people like you selflessly give their time, money, and energy in the hope that change begins within each of us.
 I can't pin-point what excites me most about this upcoming trip. Will it be...

...seeing this guy again, after so many years.


And relaxing on his deck and talking about what it feels like to be forty and sitting on the grounds of a school that was born in our dreams. Together. Talking about the students he has hand picked from across Kenya. He will tell me about the tough young women his school empowers everyday to make a change in Kenya and beyond. Perhaps we will reflect on the work I have done at UWCSEA to stay connected to Daraja. I will relish the fact that I managed to pull off this trip after years of hoping. I will tell him how five teachers paid their own way to make it happen, and how Claire and Joy worked tirelessly not to let this trip sink. We might discuss the strange magic that has followed us for most of our lives. Directing us to moments exactly like the one described.

Perhaps we will be in the kitchen watching his students interact with ours. While there are only five from our school, we will discuss how the beauty of Africa will infect them to maybe create schools of their own in the future. I will introduce him my friends. Worlds will collide.

Maybe I will talk to my friends/colleagues, beautiful women in their own right, under these stars...


We might pontificate on the immensity of the universe and the forces that might have brought us all to this spot on planet. We will shed the stresses of big school big city life and remember why we do what we do. They will thank me. I will thank them. We will be thankful beneath the stars. Paula will take stunning photos. Jen will keep us grounded. We might make a movie, write a book, scream at the universe. Be noticed. Be ignored. We will be alive and we will know it, and we will remind the people around us of the intensity of life. The intensity of our  awareness.

Maybe I am most excited by the quiet walks I will take looking for light like this...


Finding the nooks and crannies of the campus for my quiet contemplation. I will remember and reconnect to the unnameable unmistakable gravity of Africa. I will remember the afternoons I spent in Mozambique. I will envy Jason for the fact that he can live in this place all year, every year, for years. I will promise to be back and bring another group next year.

I am excited to walk each of our students to their rooms...


and I will think about the thrill they must be feeling-- so far away from home. I will be excited to think about them contemplating their place in a continent advertised as so wild, knowing that they are there, alive and safe.We will shatter stereotypes and build worlds on experience. We will hug and love and befriend strangers. We will never see people as charity cases or recipients of our pity. We will learn to see people for who they are. We will learn respect and honor dignity. We will listen and listen and listen. Then we will record and scribble and draw and then...we will shout and share and create until we heard. We will make promises to bring others here.

I am excited by walking down roads like this one...


With the red soil beneath our feet, the metaphor of the path not-taken not lost on any of us. We will be excited by the not-knowing. What will we see? What will we learn? About the school? Each other? Ourselves? We will walk. We will breathe.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

On The Hike Beneath The Sea of Green

Wow! This was quite the weekend. My wife was at an EAL conference in Bangkok, so I was home alone with the girls. It began with the three of us going to a junior school play, then a viewing of Spinal Tap with a friend at Singapore's new art house theater on Friday night. Saturday found me at an all day PD session with Penny Kittle followed by me returning to The Projetor with the girls to see Yellow Submarine. Sunday morning we woke up and went on a three hour hike through Mac Ritchie Reservoir and the Tree Top walk. At home we chilled for a bit and headed to dinner and new shoes for us all.

Below are tidbits of the conversations from the weekend:

Me, "What did you think of that movie?"
Skye, "It was weird. Why were the blue guys so mean?"
Me, "I'm not sure. What did you think the movie was about?"
Skye, "That music and love make people better?"
Kaia, "I liked the Hiliary guy"
Me, "You mean the Nowhere Man?"
Kaia, " I didn't like how they were so mean to him? I also liked when that guy ate everything, including himself and then there was nothing left."
Skye, "I liked the songs. But I didn't like that glove."


__________________________________________________________________________________

On the hike: 

Skye, "Can we watch Ever After when we get home?"
Me, "I don't really like that show. I said we can check it out a few times,  but I don't like you watching it."
Skye, "But we love it."
Me, "That doesn't make it good for you."
Kaia, "You know how daddy feels about Barbie."
Skye, "But this is not Barbie."
Me, "Do you know why I don't like these characters?"
Skye, "Because they wear make-up?"
Me, "Not just that. I don't like to see girl characters who are so worried about being girls. Always worried about what they wear, who they like, and gossiping. I see girls as so much more complicated than that"
Skye, "What is gossip?"
Me, "It is when you are always talking about other people, instead of worrying about yourself. I like to see girls on TV who are like the real girls I see everyday. Smart, funny, brave, tough. Girls like you.  You like many different things. You play with boys and talk to them about things you are good at and things you love. Like the girls in Wildd Kratts. You don't see the girls on that show, worrying about how they look or trying to impress boys. They are too busy learning about animals and making cool machines.
Skye, "Like Ruby Gloom?"
Me, "Exactly. I want you to see girls on TV that inspire you and make you think about cool things. I want them to be strong and funny. Because that is how I see you two.


Skye," I'm tired."
Me, "That's good. You should be. You are exercising and spending a lot of energy.  Try not talking so much and just breathe deeply. Sometimes when you get tired, but you have to keep walking. There is no other way to get home. Complaining only makes you more tired. So enjoy yourself. Think of every step and keep moving. Look around. We are not going anywhere, so there is no getting there. We are just walking, spending time together and enjoying the nature.
Skye, "I'm still tired."

__________________________________________________________________________________

Kaia, "There's something in my shoe." 
Me, "Yeah? What do you want m to do about it?  Stop and take care of it. There are two kinds of people Kaia, those who complain and wait for other people to fix things for them, and the kind of people who just suck it up and solve their own problems. I would love it if you were the second type of person."

__________________________________________________________________________________

Kaia, "Can we explore that creek a bit off the trail?"
Me, "Sure." 
Kaia, "Will you come with us?"
Me, "No. I think I will just lay here a bit and watch the clouds."
Kaia, "But we want you to come."
Me, "Sometimes Kaia, it is good for kids to explore away from their parents. Go see what you find and just keep it your secret. I don't need to always be there behind you. Take Skyelar, be careful and see what is down by the creek. Kids need time for adventure without their parents approval or supervision."
Skye, "Come on Kaia, let's just go?"
Kaia, "Can we get our shoes wet?"
Me, "If that is what you want to do, just don't complain later when your socks are wet."

__________________________________________________________________________________

Me, "Wow. Guys we did it! I'm so proud of you both. It's pretty amazing that you just walked all that way. I am so impressed you could do that. You can also bike to East Coast Park, paddle board, you can snorkel. There are some kids your age who would complain the whole way. It makes me happy we can do these things with you now."
Kaia, "Can we climb that volcano in Indonesia soon?"
Me, "You keep doing the stuff I mentioned and we can definitely climb that volcano."

__________________________________________________________________________________

There was some less profound and less inspirational stuff too. After buying new shoes

Kaia, "But I want to wear them for PE."
Me, "If you are not a bit more grateful I will take them back right now! I am so tried of you being such an ungrateful spoiled brat! Take some time to enjoy what you have before you start complaining about what it isn't!" 

 

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Flooded When We Can

The crazies in Syria threw a man they believed to be gay from a building and when he didn't die upon impact, others stoned him to death. This made me sad, then slightly angry, then numb. Apathetic and mildly annoyed. I didn't know where (how?) to start even thinking of a world where things like this occur. I knew that perhaps, I had heard of something similar on a TV show or another newscasts. Reality is too bizarre- some Japanese dudes were recently beheaded and now the Japanese president is angry.

I had no choice but to move on.
The news.
Background
noise.
I am flooded.
A vessel draining and filling.
Never sure what's coming in or going out.

Sufjan Stevens is bothered by Miley Cyrus's grammar. I mulled over the line, “Hold my place in line while I take your turn," while listening to the  new Modest Mouse song. Fidel Castro is an old man. Some people are excited for McDonalds in Havana. Other people are not.

I am afraid of apathy, but do not have the energy for much else. Next week, I will go to Kenya. This feels useful and "compassionate." I will see my friend and spend time beneath the stars and in the wild and reconnect and disconnect.

They are talking about MOOCS again and social media and ethics and journalism and things that will be obsolete by 2020. The CIA and Google. Student Effectiveness. Spain and energy. Palestine and Ukraine. Today I sat with a boy and talked to him about effectively arguing his claim and explaining his evidence. I cam home and passed out.

Played Uno with the kids...(I'll soon eat some grapes and dark chocolate. I will savor the flavors and pretend to be living in the present. It feel good for a few seconds. I will remember the dead gay Syrian and know that nothing ever changes, we just enjoy our fruits when we can.)

...and now. These words. Each night feels the same in this brave new world which is not new or brave and barely considered a world. But guitars continue to make new sounds and this has to me something.

I listen to Sleater Kinney full blast and it helps:

We win, we lose
Only together do we make the rules

We live — say goodbye to your old way of life
I can breathe way up high, now it’s our turn to fly

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Exhume Your Idols

There is little better in life than when you miss a cultural phenomenon, only to discover it years later. Maybe discover is too tame a word for what I do with cultural phenomenons that I may have missed the first time around. I become obsessed, addicted, enraptured.

Example- last year I started watching The Sopranos, and for a few months, that show consumed my thoughts, my dreams, my life. I slowly made my way through every season and was left crushed and empty when it ended. But I loved the realization when I began that there was so much Sopranos just waiting for me. I have had similar expereinces with Wilco, James Baldwin and even David Foster Wallace. I cherish the feeling of sitting at a nearly endless trough, with an empty stomach, ready to gorge on artists and shows that have extensive bodies of work. Bodies of work I know little or nothing about.

And well my friends, I am currently stuffing my face in the trough that is Sleater Kinney. And, holy shit, is this a good one. With an eight album back catalog spanning back to 1995, there is more than enough music to keep me satiated for weeks to come.

What I knew- after a ten year hiatus, Sleater Kinney was about to release a new album in early 2015, so I began to explore their work from different eras in their career. I started with The Woods and Dig Me Out. I had heard of this band for years, but for whatever reason had chosen to not listen to even one of their songs. WTF?

I guess a feminist punk band involved in the Riot Grrl movement was not on my radar as a twenty something year old dude in the 90's. (Which is surprising, since they have had a pretty close relationship with my fave band Pearl Jam. Singing Hunger Strike? Are you kidding me?) But oh no, I just chose to block them out.

Not anymore. My musical universe knows little beyond Sleater Kinney these days. Still gorging on the original two albums I downloaded early and their latest No Cities To Love, I am in jaw-dropping amazement at the shear gravity of this band.

First off, the guitar sound is unlike anything I have ever heard. Three piece band without a bass player. It's hard to tell who plays lead and who rhythm. Think Creedence Clearwater Revival, meets Modest Mouse, meets Led Zepplin and nothing you have ever heard before. Between Carrie Brownstein and Corrin Tucker, you will be left crushed under the power of sound. Bizarrely tuned guitars sing melodies beneath, over and through Tucker and Brownsteins vocals.

Lyrics and politics. Check.
Punk style and over all bad-assery- Check.

But why are you still reading this post? Get your hands on some Sleater Kinney now. I want to get to know these forty songs before I move onto the other FIVE albums. I cannot wait to see what is waiting for me there.

Hyperbole alert- This could be one of the best bands ever.


It takes a lot for me see it
Hope it better set you free
I went through the thought of you
I went through the void of me
I've grown afraid of everything that I love

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Grip of Fear is Already Here

There are so many nooks and crannies in our universe. So many places to crawl into and explore. Watched The Theory of Everything last night and got lost in the commitment and love Jane Hawkings was able to dish out for over fifties years, saying nothing about the physical nightmare survived by her husband Stephen. Just thinking about the world of Cambridge in the late 60's and beyond- dipping myself in and out of those times and that world.

Tonight I'm discovering Sleater Kinney for the first time. What a sound! Checking out interviews by Corin Tucker and learning about the Riot Grrl movement and Bikini Kill. Wondering how I missed it all. Maybe the egotistical drunk 20 year old version of myself was not so attuned to underground hardcore punk scene. Too bad.

But feeling grateful that I can access it now. Watch the shows, blast the music. Read the manifestos.

I think about last week's discovery of Sonic Youth and friends who are introducing me to Townes Van Zant and John Prine. Reading This Is Your Brain On Music (another friend recommendation) and learning about frequency and pitch and keys and the science of why I feel like I'm touching heaven when I here this.

Meanwhile, at work I'm turning thirteen year olds into readers, writers and thinkers.

Funny cuz just last week I was wallowing in a pit of doubt.

The grip of fear is already here
The lines are drawn,
Whose side are you on?

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The World Burns Around Us

Warning: Half baked thoughts raw with emotion and definitely not soaked in any kind of rationality. They were rattling around inside me somewhere and I needed them out.

Either you believe in evil or you don't. Either you think that human beings do terrible things because of sin and demons or you don't. Either you call people evil-doers or infidels or you don't. It is easy to accuse people of evil when they don masks and massacre journalists in broad day light. It is easy to say that people are wicked when they bomb and kill and scream and sin.

But what if we assume that human beings, all of us, are not evil or the experiments of some omniscient being, but just fucked up individuals tied to our expereinces, cultures, and histories. That every tragedy is not based on a soul's value, but on sociology. What if our default assumptions were that we can fix these things. That we can eradicate ignorance.

What if we believed that even the worst of us can be healed and cured and fixed. Taliban or Tea-Party, Extremist or Progressive, makes no difference. What if we understood that we are who we are due to a plethora of variables and it is the exploration of these variables that will lead to understanding.

After every tragedy, and man does there seem to be lots of them these days, we point fingers and assign blame. We volley hate and pain and accusations. They did this so we will do that. But what if, we stop to ask why? How does a person become so angry and disillusioned, so ignorant and terrified, so insecure and so violent to think that because someone thinks differently then they do that they should kill the other person. This behavior is a sickness. It is not evil. It is the failure of the systems we have created. Failures of nation states, churches and mosques, families and schools. Every massacre is proof that we have failed to understand each other.

Every tragedy is a reminder that we have barely advanced from the birth of our civilization. But that is no reason to throw up our hands and yell, evil. We owe it to the beauty of humanity to keep working toward a better understanding of each other. Both Darren Wilson and Kim Jong-Un are reminders of how far we still have to go to educate and illuminate.

These men are not evil, but the results of circumstances. The result of colonialism and war. Misguided immigration policy and failing school systems. Broken families and false promises. These men are the result of failure. 

I know it can be difficult to remain calm in the face of reckless murder and injustice. It is difficult to ignore our natural need for revenge in the face of barbarity and petty ignorance, but if have any hope for the future we have to see the perpetrators of violent acts as human beings. Not evil monsters. Because there is no hope for a monster. There is no cure for evil, but there is work to be done for flawed human beings. This work starts with love and education, empathy and trust.

Sometimes I imagine adults who commit terrible crimes as children in my classroom. What would I say to the three men who shot up the Charlie Hebdo magazine when they were twelve? How would I counsel or teach the cop who killed Eric Garner when he was ten?

It's not easy to stay loving and calm as the world burns around us, but it seems to me that we have no choice.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Total Trash

I'm forty years old, listening to Sonic Youth, and I just spent an hour working on a short story I am writing for middle school kids about how the cool kids treated me like shit when I was thirteen. It feels lukewarm and cliche, and the story isn't going any where either. I was hoping to maybe write a batch of stories about said issues for said audience, but now I am not sure. I  have a 47,500 word memoir thing of vignettes and snippets that lack any sort of plot, conflict or point sitting on a file on my computer. I'm not sure where to take it.

I know I want to write more this year. That was my goal, but these nights when I ignore my work responsibility and start to write it feels awkward and clunky and not right. Last night after I wrote this, I lay wake in bed grappling with my own mediocrity.

What if I will never be good enough to match my own expectations? What if my lack of talent or the lack of dedication I showed in my youth toward any kid of craft can never be surpassed in my middle age? What if I now know that I will never be good enough? Forget about the need to be famous or good or any of those pipe dreams, but what if I won't even be able to write for my own needs?

It was a hard night before bed, but then there was this memory:

There is a pounding. I can hear it loud and clear. Unbound sets of waves crash like lifetimes against an invisible shore. The sky. A sea. Blurred by an inky shadow, which is only highlighted by cresting liquid rims. Could that be the cold wet sand quivering beneath my feet as they shout and revel in the freedom of a night, tossed so carelessly out of time and place? They are there I am here, but I should not be alone. I look for her hand, but she is nowhere. I am here. I am alone.
 

I can hear them laughing. Raving. Howling. They must be mad. Drunk with the wanton power of these hidden breakers. The incurious moon covers her ears and rolls over, turning her back on the thoughtless soul-slaking below. A patch of bashful stars peaking from behind the remnants of a sole cloud, giggle and point, twinkling in an otherwise empty sky.
 

I can smell the pressure before I can feel it. The scent lingers in the air entangling my equilibrium with its condensed phases. It is a measure of the tendency of molecules and atoms to escape from a liquid or a solid. I am evaporating. Volatilized. It is too dark to tell if I am alone or if the entire beach is disappearing.
 

There is a flickr. A flash. Ignition. The sea is on fire. He is on the wrong side of the breakers behind a wall of fire. They are kicking the empty gas can into the water. He’s laughing. Swallowing gasoline. He is on fire. It’s difficult to tell if the screaming from shore is shaped by panic or ecstasy. I can see his distorted face shimmering through the blaze. Although he’s finally removed his burning jacket, his face is still tainted by the terror of being trapped behind a watery inferno.
 

I can’t make out any words. The wall of fire burning ten feet high as verdant petroleum doused waves crash through it has me mesmerized. The wet sand between my toes is the only thing that’s real. Fear is only what we refuse to look at head on. It is only what we allow to take us from the present moment. 

There is no fear in the unfragmented now. I see it all. Feel the heat from the flames both outside and within. The cool breeze of the raw night and the victorious applause.
 

They have gathered at the end of the fiery line, now subdued and brilliant in its azure and violent glory. He ambles out from the surf as I run over. We don’t even have a towel for him. I will never know whether he won or lost. The fire and the night both die to black and nothing is left.

So who knows?  What else is there in the face of doubt, but to keep at it. Maybe I will be the story they tell when I am eighty, "He didn't get going till he was in his 40's. It was like he suddenly got it. Or, he finally dedicated the time to his craft and began to write well well after he was forty. Maybe they will say, yeah he didn't even write a song till he was fifty."

Or maybe, they won't say anything and I will fade into obscurity having said nothing. A random scattering of digital detritus in the forms of these blogs blowing through the emptiness of cyber space. Melodramatic? Yeah, maybe, but you didn't hear what Thurston Moore just did with that guitar.

It's never the same
It's more than a game
Can't take it away
Can't kill all the shame...


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