Stacked in Our Favor

Thoughts about libraries, education, children's literature, writing, art and being connected

Monday, March 21, 2011

Viva, Japan!

As those of you who participated in Month of Poetry know, I owe a debt of gratitude to Japan for not only writing material, but also a way of seeing the world – a change in heart. During Month of Poetry, I found my voice in writing poetic memoir, much of it about experiences I had during the ten years I lived in Tokyo.

About a month ago, a tweet led me to this blog post titled No-divorce expat: a mixed identity becomes permanent . The article struck me motionless for a while after I read it. Much of my identity revolves around my life experiences, especially those of living abroad. My outlook is more global and much less regional than they were previous to those formative years. I still don’t separate myself from the places I have lived or the people I have met.

So the news of earthquake, tsunami, and radiation have had me glued to news feeds. Worrying about the folk I know there. Wishing them well. I’ve written nothing, but encouraging emails and inquiries. Mostly, I’ve been paralyzed.

Undoubtedly you have seen plenty of venues for donating to humanitarian aid for Japan. Many of our children’s literature colleagues have started fundraisers to entice us to participate. By all means do donate, do volunteer.

For those who have watched in horror and need to feel some hope, I’d recommend having a look at Deborah Davidson’s blog Etegami by Dosanko Debbie. She has done a wonderful job of turning her own concerns into a healing, cultural experience in “Humanizing the Earthquake” posts. Not only that, but her whole site is a joy to the eyes. Her paintings are lovely.
Looking through my MoP poetry, I could find only one poem which I thought might be appropriate to share at this time. We have heard much of sharing despite the devastation. The gracious willingness to share despite scarcity is what ultimately, will get Japan through this crisis. We see it in the many stories filtering their way to us. Viva, Japan. My prayers are with you.


I took a trip to Sado-gashima
All by myself
In winter
rather brave I thought
I had been there before
but never in the snow
at least I knew the road to take
and how to catch a bus.

A snowy day in winter
the cold wind blew in from Russia
I could feel it age my face
More than a wrinkle or two

As I waited at a bus stop
under an awning
in a rice field
I watched the lazy sight
of a hawk loop through the sky.

Before long three village women
wearing mompei and indigo scarves
came and settled on the bench
right next to me.

They didn’t want to stare
but they had seldom seen a white one
except on the tv
and that really didn’t count.

One woman, much braver
than her hesitant companions
turned and faced me
held out a mikan
round and pocked and shiny bright
she offered it to me
I thanked her greatly
which surprised her
more than a little
I could speak her native tongue

Next I knew they had exploded
questions flew through the frost air
Where I came from?
How I got there?
Why would I attempt the trip?
Once they could
they were only happy
to start a conversation
with this wild, strange foreigner.

When the bus came
we all boarded
they insisted that I go first
We sat together
eating mikans
until their stop came
but I stayed on

When they left me
they left the mikans
and the golden memories
of their gracious gifts

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Nurturing Feedback Update

It seems like as soon as you have a concept in your mind you start seeing it all around you. You paid a lot for that designer dress thinking it was so unique, but look around and you’ll see it everywhere. When money is at stake this phenomenon holds little charm, but when it is about self-improvement it is delightful.

A tweep (twitter friend for those not in the know) posted a link to Erica Johnson’s blogpost “Are You Well-Versed in Comment Etiquette?”

I enjoyed reading the article and would have posted a comment had I gotten there before the comments closed. Johnson clearly stated something I have been thinking about lately - feedback is about community building.

I started blogging out of curiosity about the technology, what it could do and how it could be used in education. Later as I started realizing how much I enjoy writing I read about online promotion. We have all heard about how building an online platform is essential for the writer/artist/librarian/educator/human being. We have all heard that the way to increase comments on your blog is to comment on the blogs of others.

Sure, it works. Commenting on blogs does get your name out there and people are more likely to comment. Seriously though, starting the feedback challenge for myself I was not thinking about attracting comments. (Not to say that I don’t care. They’ve been delightful, so keep them coming.) Honestly, I was thinking more about the opportunity for personal growth that comes through engagement.

In public education we expect this of our students. We don’t want them to just be passive receptacles of information. We want them to actually be able to apply what they have learned. We hear about engagement, the application to a product, synthesis. I say this every day. I work with colleagues to provide this to our students. It takes time and effort, but we know that this is valuable to our students.

Why would I not want that for myself?

So far my effort to engage more fully in the conversation have paid off. I find that I am making more connections between the information I am consuming and I find the conversations are more satisfying. I have always been the type of person would prefers intimate dinner parties with a few select friends with interesting stories to tell than cocktail parties where you meet many, but learn little. Giving increased feedback seems to lead me in that direction. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Classical Children’s Lit Malady

I have always loved the classic children’s works written by the likes of Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett, L. M. Montgomery and their contemporaries. I love the films bringing them to life, especially if they have Shirley Temple in them.

So I have never found it easy to hear someone talk about Scarlet Fever as a treatable, curable malady. The very words bring about visions of sick rooms, drawn bed clothes, the solemn ticking of a grandfather clock and shadows.

A few weeks ago I was exposed to Scarlet Fever. Last week I battled a serious bout of strep throat. This morning I awoke covered in red dots.

After a trip to the doctor, I have been given flight clearance to mingle as much as I want. The course of antibiotics make me safe to be around whether I have a case of Scarlet Fever or an allergy to the medication.

Still, I find the scenes from children’s literature, the classic and its poorer cousin, dance wildly in my head. The drawings of Edward Gorey taunt me and make me want to have that chocolate bar instead of resisting. Life is short and all that.

Children’s literature can uplift, inspire and inform. These old images, however, are not helping me put this into perspective. On the other hand, seen in a providential light, the images so skillfully wrought by our writing predecessors serve not only to make me wary, but also to incite gratitude. Looking back on the works of the foremothers of children’s literature, I can feel inspired by the deftly written story. At the same time, I am grateful yet again that I live in this time. Grateful for the present of a world in which scarlet fever need not be written in capital letters or dealt with in fear. Grateful for a world in which there is the medication to treat the malady.  Very importantly, I am grateful for the fact that I have health insurance.