Friday, July 26, 2013

Am I having Fun?

Sacheon is Beautiful!

This photo was taken from a different area than where I walk alone.  Sherry Anderson and I generally walk together 3 times a week and I was with her for this photo.  If you have a sense of direction (which I don't), you can tell which mountain we were hiking, by where the pagoda appears in this shot.   Lacking that ability, I could show you from here, but can't explain...
I doubt that either of us cares, so I'll move on.  Thanks to Sherry I get in a different walk 3 times a week, from where I generally go on my solo, riverside route.  Despite the fact that we both get worn out and sweat pints of water (I prefer to think of it as a free sauna!),  all of the walks are beautiful and immensely satisfying.  A dozen-plus tries couldn't fully capture this lily pond, stocked with koi, little rock statues and a dragon which appears to weave in and out of the rocks at
Su Yang (or Sansung--I've heard it called by both names) Park.
When I'm with Sherry, we talk about anything and everything because neither of us is a judgmental listener, and neither of us speaks Korean!
So, we talk about our families, life in Korea, politics, beliefs, vexations, worries...
and see amazing stuff every day.
She's great, and I end up walking with her longer than either of us intended,
because, not only the scenery's awesome, but the company's delightful.
While walking solo this morning, however, I wondered if I've forgotten how to "have fun," after reading a post looking for the such this weekend.  Everyone seems to want to go someplace else, as often as possible.  What's wrong--why don't I?  A comment by my teen-aged son, from over a decade ago, remains etched in my memory too: "Mom, you don't have any yellow, do you?"  If you're familiar with the color-coded personality scheme (which, like all pop-psychology and labeling techniques, irritates the heck out of me), you know that "yellow," loosely translated, represents the ability to play and have fun.  Some middle-school Korean boys would absolutely agree w/my lack of "yellow" (if they knew enough English to concur--HA!).  As soon as he said it, I understood why and felt sick.
Yet, in my 20's before I became a divorced mom,
most people would've thought "yellow" was my primary color!
But, as a free-lance muralist, I painted anywhere from 8 to16 hours a day, took care of the house & everyone else, along with my son's needs & making sure he got to have a normal, fun life,
church activities and commitments...there simply was no "play time" left over.
We started changing that, by eating out, going to movies and shopping together.
Still, I wonder...
This morning, like every morning, breathing in included the aromatic presence of dense foliage and vegetation competing for appreciation from vast rice fields, persimmons, sesame, peppers, garlic, onions, soy beans, wild flowers, surrounding forests and wild riverside growth.  As a child in rural Maryland, I wished I could somehow open up my chest to inhale and take all of it in.  It's like that here.  Birds of innumerable varieties, cicadas, dragonflies, frogs, crickets, beetles, miniature goats, chickens and roosters, just to recognize a few of the musicians, serenade every moment of each walk.  Farmers smile, nod and continue to wash in the canals, plant or harvest crops, or lay out peppers to dry.  Regular, early morning walkers and cyclists are my brief companions.  We
exchanging a smile and nod, "hi" or "annyeonghaseyo," as we pass.
And as for what I see...There's no way to record it all with a camera,
especially as the combination of sounds, aromas, and sensations
are part of the visuals, creating a symphonic, immersive experience.
Most of that's lost in a 2 dimensional photo, or even a short video clip.   But I try.
   So, what is play and who defines fun?  I look around and, for the more part, it seems like most people are oblivious to the feast which is theirs for the breathing in, hearing and seeing. Considering the oft repeated adage of "get a life," I wonder who out there decides what constitutes a "life" worth having?  The late nights and sleeping in, which filled the years of my 20's, are pretty hazy now.
What was I doing?  Who was I with?  Some of the friends I hung out with then, remain close friends.  But I've forgotten most of the guys I dated, parties, dances, and
various activities which defined "life" at the time.
"Julia" and "Betty" have attended this academy since I started teaching a year ago, and I won't forget them, along with the crazy, critical obsession Korean girls have over their perfect hair!
These two have transitioned from elementary to middle school since I arrived
and watching them "grow" is definitely fun!
"Luke" is the gentle, insightful type, but he's the star of his class.  An only boy usually feels overwhelmed when there's 4 girls who share the class with him.  Not so here.
Whatever Korean comments Luke makes, they keep the otherwise shy, girls in stitches.  One of my girls is doing great now that she's in this class, when she'd had a very hard time saying anything when she began and it's largely due to Luke.  He's sincerely invested in learning, fascinated by everything and has a huge heart, as is illustrated by how he carried out an assignment,
which embarrasses and/or irritates most young male students.
Look what he wrote, especially the last sentence.
The "......" he inserted implies multiple thoughts he doesn't know how to express yet.
Luke's not THE most gifted, but he's one of the most balanced.  One of the reasons I hate labels is because of how constrictive, false and lopsided they tend to be.  For instance, one of my students, "Eric," is so shy I can barely hear anything he says in speaking class and he avoids speaking until he has to.  However, his homework consistently shows a depth of understanding and ability to read and write in English which outstrips any other student's mechanical comprehension.  Another student, "Antony," has a best friend, "Nicholas" (I've mentioned the latter before) who's one of the brightest and best students in the entire school.  However, the other day, during a memorization assignment, Antony started singing his words, irritating Nicholas, who complained to me, apparently expecting support in silencing his friend.  Nicholas knows he's a favorite of mine, but I not only had no problem w/Antony's singing, I was intrigued to note the little guy has quite a natural singing ability!
He took courage from the support, and has been producing better work since.
Other students find their first voice in art, like this "Julie," who loves to draw:
Since none of her fellow students tease her shyness in this class and I've no problem with her added attention to the drawing portion of class time, she chatters like a happy bird now and wrote one of the most grammatically correct notes I've read for my birthday!
Below, "Grace," on the left, suits her nickname.  "Katy" is an absolute dear, so driven and full of life.  I wish I could hang around with her 24/7 to remind her that she's so far more
than just "ok," and not to worry!
"Stella" is a pint-sized tornado waiting to take on anyone who crosses her.  She has an infectious laugh, plays any sport as well or better than the boys and, like an Arizona storm,
is ready to punch out or scowl down whoever crosses her.
She's chose this pink balloon for her birthday.
The three of them are good friends and I adore them--as well as the boys who drive them (and me sometimes) crazy.
...Boys like "Elliot" and "Eddie."
You don't get wackier than these 2.  On the right, Eddie's a good-hearted, party animal.  But his buddy, Elliot (looking at the camera) is a creative genius when he chooses to be, and happily, for now, he's decided that being moody and difficult is less fun than racing plastic frogs and
using English to write and speak his ideas.
This is a "frog race" in action.  Th class had done well enough on the class work to warrant a game in  between speaking aloud.  Yippy!  Luna and Kate remind me of a pair of cartoon characters, with or without game playing to inspire them.  Luna is tall, rather quiet and very slim (she's the one projecting the frog forward).  Kate, cheering her on, is short, slightly chubby and gregariously cheerful 100% of the time!  I love so many of my students (too many to list),
and can't think about leaving them w/o tearing up.
They're crazy and fun, moody, unpredictable, vexing, infuriating, breathtaking,
thoughtful, inspired, inspiring, heart-warming and heart-breaking, extraordinary and amazing.
Everyday is filled with a combo of long, gorgeous walks, the noise of these fascinating kids, and
the time I take to sing, draw and write,
as well as email friends, visit a few others, cook, clean and do laundry.
If that's not having fun and living, what is?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Joys of July

Probably everyone has better things to do than read a blog, but still...this is something of a journalling for me too, of my time here in Korea.  So, I'm sorry I've neglected this.  I've spent most of my free time sleeping or just "checking out" in between pretty big happenings.  You know how it is--I hope!

First biggie for July began about 3 years ago.  I still remember the first time I saw Karli, in the auditorium where my son TA'd for Intro to Film.  I believe I've used the word before, but I'll use it again: she sparkled.  Tall, leggy, with intelligent and compassionate eyes, I thought she was exquisitely lovely and chock-full of life.  "That's Karli," Jordan said nonchalantly, with a "she's just a friend" look.  I wondered what was wrong with him.  Now they're engaged.  Ha!  Once in awhile it's appropriate to express an "I thought so."
There are milestones in a mom's life: first steps, first words, discovering your kid's intellectually gifted, not "challenged," graduation from High School, acceptance into a good college, FT mission call and then completion (if you're LDS), college graduation, graduate school graduation...when you're a divorced mom w/one kid, these milestones are felt pretty intensely, with lots of tears and joy.  The biggest, though, by far, is having your son finally wake up and fall for the girl you thought was perfect from the moment you first saw her.  Even though I didn't get the job I flew out to interview for, I remember thinking how lucky I was to be around when my son fell in love.  We both flew in and out of Utah the same week w/o planning it that way.  Karli, you've no idea just how welcome you are!
Two days later it was "officially" my birthday.  Although the engagement video chat was the real celebration, one still likes to have some sort of remembrance happen on the actual day.  Jordan sent me an email letter--the guy's a writer and I'm always, always happy to receive one of his epistles.  Earlier, because I try to make something of a "ta-da" for each of my student's on their birthdays, I'd mentioned to a couple of them that my birthday was around the same time as theirs.  I'm glad I did now.   2nd grader, "James," kept following me around and saying "Happy Birthday, Joanna teacher," which alerted the rest of the school staff to the fact.  So I got sung to and ate cheesecake with chopsticks, and then received little notes, gifts and so-forth through out the day!  It was lovely!  Sherry Anderson made a rich chocolate cake I want (as opposed to need) the recipe for and the Andersons treated me to icecream on fresh waffles that evening too.  The various notes I received from the students moved me to tears, especially from some of the boys, like this one:
"Nicholas"is a particularly insightful, intelligent boy who's approaching those difficult adolescent years, so getting this meant everything--it's amazing how much my students have changed in a single year.  I've watched several of them mutate from adorable 5th or 6th graders to obnoxious, too-cool-for-you middle-schoolers.  I adore many of my middle-school-aged kids, but when you watch them go through the change, it's like watching the invasion of individual "body snatchers" at work!  Nicholas is right there at that age, vacillating between ridiculous trouble-maker to profound philosopher, writing things like the following in response to the question: "if you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do?" (btw--I think that's an idiotic question to pose to 6th graders as a rule).  I copied down what he wrote verbatim (his English is beyond good).
"If I was going to die tomorrow, I'd play computer games.  I'd say "I love you" to my parents.  And I'd watch TV.  I hate death.  I want to be a god, because gods do not die.  All people want to be a god."

I need to get another picture of this boy--he's the one closest to the camera.  I expect great things from him.  I privately said good-bye to a couple of my favorite middle-school students this week who're headed to the Philippines for a few weeks and won't get back until I'm gone.  I cried after they left the room.  I've talked about Jamie and Jerry before.  They're so very different from each other and I think I'll miss Jerry most.  He's such a creative soul.  If I get my idea for introducing musicals in Korea and Japan up and running, it'll be because of Jerry.  I only have videos of him up on Facebook, bc. I don't know how to post them here.  Anyway, Kelly teacher, who's Mr. Lee's main assistant, was responsible for the cake and had each of her classes write and deliver notes to me through out the day.  Again, I teach nearly all of the Korean teachers' students once a week and these notes meant more than I can adequately express.  Here's just a couple more:
So, I'm headed home in less than a month and so much to do--hence the lack of blogging. ;-) 
        Hmm, some odds and ends before I fall asleep.  I'm tutoring a couple of very bright minded middle-school girls on Saturday mornings who just need to learn the nuts and bolts to earn better grades.  The ability to think is solidly in place, as are their English skills, so it's lots of fun!
Sang a duet w/Sherry Anderson for a musical gathering last night--lots of fun and plenty of jitters.  Also, just learned how to make fun fans w/paper, pens, glue, glitter-glue and chopsticks.  I patterned these 2 after the black one in the middle and we made them together in our little women's Relief Society craft group last week.
REALLY fuzzing out now--fell asleep about a dozen times sitting here trying to finish this--because I woke up at 2 am today for some reason.  Now, 12 hours later, I can't stay awake any longer.  Besides, it's Sunday.

I'll close with a diary entry that I find particularly lovely (edited a bit, for legibility):
"My precious things are... 1. family, 2 friends...
My family is by my side every time.
If I cry, my family notices.
In joy and  in sorrow, they are by my side.  My friends ar precious too.
They gladden me everyday, so I am joyous."


Why I'm Going Back

This blog explains why I'm moving back to the USA, instead of staying on a 2nd year in Korea.  I started it weeks ago, but didn't know if it was a good idea to post it--now it's after the fact, but up it goes anyway.  I'll post another short one today too, as follow up on major events since this one began.
I'm going because of family, getting certified to teach (which has to be done in-state), 
and illustrating/writing and publishing goals.  
First: Family.  
My dear boy, Jordan, graduated with an MFA in Screen Writing from Boston University this May.  Wow.  He flew to Utah from there and will be soliciting additional funding for a joint-venture, feature-length, action movie script he wrote.  And there's a girl...
While our on-line, weekly chats are fun, it so happens that I gave birth to my best friend, and I'm sick of us living 1000's of miles apart.  He's the main reason I bought property in Utah.  
Coincidentally, for the first time in decades, all 7 of my brothers, as well as my son, 
will be living on the same side of the country. 
Three are in Utah now (with wives and kids I adore!); 3 more in AZ, and that tallest one is in Seattle. 
This photo is from the last time we were all together--Mom's funeral.   
We've had so precious few opportunities to make memories together.  
My older brothers in Utah are going out of their way to help me with renter issues, collecting my mail, 
and taking care of difficulties I didn't have time to settle before I left.  They also welcome my son.
Tom, the oldest, and his wife, Marji are "home base" for most of us.  They've been like Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus to my students here in Korea, sending them candy, balloons, and toys galore!  
I've started having the kids call them "Uncle Tom" and "Aunt Marji."
To have everyone so close, geographically, makes my staying on here just feel wrong.  
If we weren't such a transient group, I might stick around Korea for longer.  
I really enjoy my job!  It's taught me that I love teaching and 
I'd fully intended to sign another year's contract, but when it came time, I just couldn't.  
Despite how many loose ends there are, and unanswered questions, 
I know this is going to be a year filled with major events in my family.
A niece was born since I've been in Korea; and 2 more are on the way!  
I lost an uncle and a favorite aunt, his wife, is in an assisted-living facility.  
Making family memories has moved into a very high priority slot.
My brother found this old book and mailed it here to me in Korea, just because he thought maybe he remembered I'd liked this book as a child.  It's a 1968 edition of a picture book based on a series about collies by Albert Payson Terhune.  Few random acts of kindness have touched me more deeply.  This picture book would've been published at around the same time Mom passed her old, well-read Lad books on to me.  Hers were original editions, I think, and I still have them.  We both read those Lad books several times through.  The thing is, my brother and I don't "hang out."  We hardly know each other.  But then he does something like this. Naturally, I am making sure 
he never does anything like it again by broadcasting the fact.  Love the note he included: 
"I'm not completely sure this was your book...I recognize all the illustrations, 
but I thought your copy was a regular hardback."--you remember correctly! 
 These colorized illustrations match the line drawings in the hardback versions.  
One of the reasons I got a long-haired German Shepherd, Gideon (bless that noble dog's soul) was because he reminded me of the collies, combined with Call of the Wild huskies,
I'd read about again and again.
"So Merry Christmas, Joanna.  The 1968 printing of a book you may or may not have ever owned." 
I miss Paul's particular way of turning a phrase, including this recent insight:
"There's a difference between not wanting to leave and wanting to stay."  
I don't really want to leave Korea, but,  I don't feel good about staying.
In an email correspondence with another brother,
I wrote of the pain over memories we're not making.
That's when I knew why I felt compelled to go back.   
Who knows how long we'll have to remedy those omissions?
Ok, and the final reason is both silly and pretty exciting:
I've completed most of the illustrations to go with music and words for 2 children's books.
2 more are progressing quickly.  I need technical/recording resources now.
This is what I do when I'm not teaching, shopping, cleaning, doing church stuff, exploring, etc.
I draw, sing & hum to myself (yep--crazy), and write.
These are snapshots (most of them didn't turn out very well).
But, here's part of an illustration for one story:
Here's one for another story:
And finally, here's one for the newest story,
inspired by a couple of my kids' inventive thinking
and a Korean advertisement:
When I sing the words for this one, even quietly to myself, my 2nd graders sing along!!
A special thank you to my amazingly visionary friends and, especially,
my sister-in-law, Gina, for cheering me on to work on these.  I feel silly, but I also can't stop.  So, since the work's reached the point where I need a good scanner, recording studio and such--all of which I have lined up in Utah, well--there you go.
Also, I won't be able to bring it all home if I keep creating stuff here.