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28

Mar

Opportunity: The Honduran Lens

My cab will be here in 4 hours and getting any sleep is starting to look unlikely. I’m staring at the ceiling, holding the woman who holds my heart, imagining the adventure in front of me. I’ve received numerous calls from my parents in the past few days telling me what they’ve seen on Google, that scary place where a fear can become a fact if you look long enough. I play it off- “bad things happen everywhere, ma”- but I’ve been to the same websites, seen the same glaring statistics of the highest homicide rate in the world, and part of me is questioning this move as well. My mom fears for me due to my genuine trust in people and social nature, and she’s right to be afraid. I’d end up putting myself in a few sketchy situations, but at least I left with the full experience.

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I’m above the clouds on my way to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, in a plane that sounds like a lawn mower being pushed through tall grass. The old lady sitting next to me is quiet but I can tell she shares my dislike for turbulence. Something about being shaken around in a metal box, 3000 feet in the air, by Mother Nature herself is, well, unsettling.  I close my eyes and talk to all the loved ones I’ve lost on Earth and found again in my heart. I hate when I catch myself praying for the first time in months and only doing so to ask for help.

I haven’t had a chance to eat and my stomach is singing a duet with the planes engine. The old lady holds out a bag of Cheetos and smiles. I refuse politely but she insists, reaching the bag out a little farther and opening her eyes a little wider. Her eyes are kind and her smile warm. Her daughter offers to trade seats with me so I can see the view as we land.  They both seem to be amused by my lack of certainty, offering advice for places to visit and things to avoid. I miss the kindness you find in people while traveling to an unknown place they call home. They sense my vulnerability and see it as an opportunity, not to take advantage of me, but simply to help a stranger.

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This word gets to the very core of the reason I’ve traveled to a country plagued by violence. The old lady offered me a snack because she had something to share and could sympathize with my discomfort. But what about the kid who was raised with next to nothing, never coached to strive for more than what his arms could reach, who lives either trapped in or surrounded by a life of gangs and violence? The kid whose hunger runs deeper than mine might see vulnerability as an opportunity as well, not to share, but to survive.

I am here to work with Proyecto METAS, a project that focuses on improving the lives of young people by creating new and strengthening existing opportunities for alternative education throughout the country. The METAS office is a place where people walk around to say hello in the morning and goodnight in the afternoon. Stop and think about that for a second and you’ll come to appreciate it like I did. Everyday your colleagues walk around to see how you are, shake your hand, and welcome you to the day. I really felt like I was part of a team, one made up of extremely talented and motivated players. In fact, many of the employees in the main office are young people who enrolled in a METAS sponsored program, worked harder than you could imagine, and ended up getting certified and employed. A handful of young men and women whose lives were dramatically changed by the project they are now contributing to. Their stories shake the walls of my reality, reducing my problems to a rubble that I walk upon with privileged feet and a heavy heart.

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Tegucigalpa is a city where people take pride in their culture and the beauty of their surroundings. It’s a place where people acknowledge each other in passing, if only to say hello or excuse me (for a southern boy moving to DC, it’s been challenging getting used to people living in their personal bubbles all the time). The city sits in a valley surrounded by mountains, much like Medellin, with brightly colored houses running up the mountainside creating a mixture of colors like a painters pallet as he searches for the perfect shade. The mountaintops break through the lowest lying clouds, giving just enough room for a yellowish-white light to shine onto the lush green mountains; A spotlight showing me how far I’ve come. From one of these mountaintops you can watch the sun set behind the great city walls, slowly pulling a line of light across the city as houses turn into stars that flicker in the darkness beneath you. I’m sitting on one of these mountaintops imagining myself as a young boy, climbing above the clouds to get a glimpse of the heavens.

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I’m staring out the window as we drive down the winding mountain roads on our way back to the city. The driver thinks I’m tired and turns the music down, but I’m really wide awake, attentive, taking in everything I can. This is one of my favorite things to do in a new place. It’s amazing how much I get out of seeing a few seconds of a strangers life. I see kids celebrating after a score; a mother getting off a bus, pulling her son by the hand and fighting her way through the exhaust; and a man trying to sell a few more flowers before it gets dark. They’ll probably forget the moments that I witness after a few hours, but the small window I get into their life builds memories that will connect me with them [and their country] forever.

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The last drop of light vanishes with the setting sun but the mountains continue to cast a shadow of violence over the city and all it’s beauty. It would be unwise to see one and not the other. After all, I’ve come here to confront this violence not ignore it. An example of its effect on the community can be seen when you walk into the stadium that their local soccer team, Olympia, plays in. Two sections on opposite ends of the stadium are blocked off by walls with barbwire fences, separating the two local gangs from each other and the general crowd. The people who I worked with during my two week stay told me they’ve never been to a game because they don’t feel safe, just like they don’t ride public transportation or rarely do any outside activities for fun. This is a hard truth for me to swallow, as I imagine my own day-to-day life living behind the self-made and community-built walls meant to protect me from my own people.

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The gift of perspective is what I love the most about traveling.

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This was one of my first opportunities to design and produce an e-learning course/website outside of my masters program. The website that I built for Proyecto METAS is a community of practice site, where 11 local NGOs that each work with youth in a different way (sports, music, ect.) can communicate and strengthen their capacity through courses on topics such as M&E, Communications, and HR. It was also my first opportunity to conduct a user analysis in a professional setting. I’m blessed to have a job that allows me to practice the skills I’m studying, travel to new corners of the world, and most importantly, help improve the lives of others. I have always thought it wise to value the opportunity to gain experience over the income that I generate at this point in my life, and this trip only strengthened that belief.

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Write the word “opportunity” on a sticky note and put it next to your computer. Anytime you feel down about where you are in life just look at that word and remember what it means, not just to you, but to all the other people in this world.

26

Jul

Right Now, I’m Swimming

Spark

There’s no better feeling than knowing you are where you’re supposed to be.

I’m sitting on a beach in Surf City, North Carolina. A night sky filled with stars, the shadow of an ocean blowing the summer breeze, and cool sand are here with me. Fireworks are shooting into the sky along the beach, showing signs of life in the small neighboring towns which hide in the darkness.  We have a handful of our own and are as eager as a child with a box to unwrap to start the fire that produces such an explosion of color. A cooler filled with beer is in arms reach, as well as a blanket and enough beach chairs for the small group of extraordinary people I came here with.

Take a walk to where the ocean meets the sand and close your eyes. Feel your body sink into the ground as the fingertips of waves reach out to cover your legs. Be there for a while, alive, as a conscious observer of the now, standing in the midst of an ocean which has been singing before ears were around to give audience. Look at the brightest star in the sky and feel as close to it as you are to the sand crabs which look upon you with a similar fascination. Take a few steps around and notice the sand light up when you move. There’s an explanation for this but don’t go looking for it, just enjoy it. We don’t get enough opportunities to wonder anymore.

It’s too dark to see anything but the sparklers stuck into the sand back at our campsite. We follow the light back and lay down on the blanket. The Milky Way runs across the sky directly above us, creating a spider web of foggy light that divides the countless stars. Shooting stars remind me of the paradox of life, as you seem to see everything when you look nowhere. To see one is to look beyond the facade, behind the curtain of our modern existence, and into the wonders of the universe that surrounds us yet somehow hides from our everyday eyes.

At some point you have to leave, it’s inevitable. Say goodbye to the moment and walk back to the house a few blocks away. You will never be younger than you are today, so go for a late night swim in the pool. Relax every muscle in your body, close your eyes, and sink to the floor. You feel like you belong here because you do. This is where you came from, what you’re made of, and what you will one day return to: weightless and worriless.

Looking at the same stars I gazed upon over a decade ago makes me feel like time is slipping away, as if it’s something I can control. Time doesn’t fly. Flying is an action, something that living creatures do to travel. Time travels effortlessly. It is the same today as it was millions of years ago and as it will be in a million years from now. Time is not the water that we float on, or the wind that pushes our sail, but instead the presence of the unknown and untouchable terrain that life’s stream flows through. If you think about time in hopes of grasping it, it’ll slip away before you can recognize it for what it is or is not. In the now you can only do one thing. Every decision in the now is made independently of everything up stream and everything down. Right now, I’m swimming.

ussurfcityStay at this beach house yourself: http://www.vrbo.com/484104
When you sit on the picnic tables on the porch think of me, because I built those things!

16

Jul

My Opinion on Our Current Infatuation: Become a fence

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I’d much rather spend my time contemplating the mystery of life than the actions of other people. While both are incomprehensible, one process leads to celebration and the other frustration.

When the news becomes a “who done it?” TV show, I tune out. When people start speculating and speaking from a place of anger, I tune out. Everyone rightfully has an opinion, but not enough people approach their belief with the uncertainty it deserves. What I know is that two families lost a child in this tragedy. Everything else is speculation and I choose to not let that consume my time. I’m not making the right decision by not following the Trayvon case; I’m just making my decision.

I know there is a cause worth fighting for, however, I knew that way before the spotlight landed on this unfortunate event. If you feel strongly one way or the other about a cause I urge you to look for other people who feel the same way and align yourself with them. The people who don’t unite usually only stand in the electronic picket line as long as the spotlight keeps it warm for them. This wavering consumer confuses the anger produced by ignorance with the anger inspired by passion.

Don’t allow yourself to be entertained by a tragedy. Become informed, create an opinion, and act on it if you feel the fire. One piece of wood can’t stop a calf, but a fence can move a herd.

26

Jun

Diesel

It’s been four months since I last posted. I’ve had a hard time viewing anything as worthy of words since I lost my grandfather. It’s like flipping the channel from a news story of great tragedy to a cartoon; it just doesn’t feel right. Nevertheless, I know I have to take control and allow myself to analyze the world again to continue growing, for a tree doesn’t stop reaching for the sky when a leaf falls from it’s arms. Before I get back to trying to decode this world, I need to catch up on a few things.

Since my last post I have lost another great friend, Jason Hargrove. He was so many things to me- high school homie, college roommate, back up singer, body guard, party wingman, and above all a brother in a small group of friends who consider ourselves as such. I painted on the day we lost him.

Jason and I

Jason

Welcome home, Jason.
Where are we?
We are everywhere.
What’s next?
Anything you want and all the things you could never imagine.
Will I ever live again?
Jason, what you knew as life was but a nights sleep in the world of eternity. Do you miss a dream when you wake up?
No.
Well, good morning. You’re home now.

So far this summer I have seen my great friend Grayson get married in Charleston and my little cousin Julie get married in Delaware. People keep telling me this is what your late twenties is like in a joking manner, as if I’m supposed to frown upon the idea of getting together with my family and friends to drink and eat for free and dance all night. Weddings don’t make me feel old, my knees do.

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I’ve also completed my first year of Graduate school at George Mason University. I’m studying Instructional Design and Development, which is teaching me the theories behind how people learn and ways to utilize those principles when designing and implementing different learning environments. I developed prototype webpages that do things like promote cultural awareness for exchange students, teach people how to avoid computer identity theft, and help Spanish speaking teachers develop lesson plans for teaching English language speaking skills. I’m still not positive how I want to apply this knowledge to build my career, but here are some things I know I enjoy:

  • I enjoy audio and visual design. I don’t mean to say that I’m a great graphic designer or musician. In fact, I’ll probably never master those skills nor do I think I wish to. I love coming up with an idea and working with someone, who is talented and passionate about their skill, to bring that idea to fruition. I see what lives inside me for writing and performing inside them for playing the guitar, taking pictures, or designing graphics. I want to be surrounded by those people for the rest of my life and work with them to create something we can own.
  • I enjoy coaching and teaching. I like speaking to people, connecting with them and helping them improve. I think I could find a similar pleasure in managing a production team… but what to produce?

My mind has undoubtedly been occupied on school and work, as I’m still working full-time on the ELA program I started a year ago and taking three classes a semester while doing so. I haven’t had as much time to write and perform but the good news is I’m taking the frustration that goes with that and turning it into music. I think my peers will be able to relate to my next project.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IEKhEB6LoA&w=420&h=315]

I’ll be turning 27 this Saturday and feel good about where I am and what is to come. I have a great girl, my family and friends are healthy and happy, and the music of my soul continues to resonate through my body. God willing the path before me will be as challenging as it is prosperous, for so much of my character has been built through moments I would have wished to avoid. I look forward to a future filled with adventure, art, and love.

06

Feb

The Last Lesson

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[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/78703809" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

The Call- Wednesday, January 9th 2013

When you get the call, drop everything and go. 

studio I’m at work, recording actors for our English program. If I close my eyes I can picture their voices coming out of a radio in the corner of some over-crowded, unbearably hot classroom far from here. I see students with smiles on their faces like they’ve never been deprived. It’s what keeps me going. My phone vibrates— the screen reads: mom cell

“Hey, can you talk?”

I keep the recording going and motion to the actors I’ll be right back. This shouldn’t take long, she’s probably just checking in. A few minutes later I walk back into the studio, go directly to my seat and stare through the screen. I sit there shivering in the shadow of sadness, drowning in pain and fear, desperately searching for solitude. It’s dark down here. Eventually I pull myself out to tell my boss I won’t be able to come in tomorrow, a day we have a salsa singer in and I’m obviously needed. She asks why. “My grandfather is dying.”

The words wash over me, breaking through my ego like a wrecking ball swung at a damn built of twigs; Everything falls apart. My eyes hide in the lines of my palms as I cry uncontrollably, submitting to the emotion and waiting for a breath. My parents are picking me up on their way to Maryland tonight. The thought of seeing my father terrifies me.

I pray for a miracle.

The Fight- Thursday, January 10th 2013

When it happens, fight.

hosptial room My mom ties a yellow hospital gown around my waist, hands me blue gloves and a white facemask. “You’ll have to put this on every time you enter the room,” she says. I peak around the curtain and take a few small, scared steps towards his bed. “Look who’s here”, says my dad, who is sitting in a chair on the other side of the bed. Pop turns his head towards me, puts his hand as high as he can reach it and says “Hi, mi”.

The fact he calls me the right name eases half the tension in my body. I begin to notice things. The gold wedding band on his finger, the black spots on his feet, the watch on his wrist reminding a room full of people counting down that time doesn’t do such a thing. He never took that watch off.

We begin telling stories and laughing like everything is normal. It’s easy to forget we are pretending until I look over at him, his chest rising and falling as his body puts whatever strength is left into each wheezing breath. It’s hard to see him like this. My father takes out a poetry book and begins reading to him. One of my grandpa’s many nicknames is Poe, short for poetry.

His soul speaks in rhyme

His spirit is contagious

Uplift the world, when it’s your time

Go back to He who made us

The severity of the situation sinks in as my father begins to choke up and passes the book mid sentence to my mother, who continues reading without hesitation. I’m watching my father read poetry to my dying grandfather. The next thought, one day I’ll have to do the same. I grabbed my grandpa’s hand and dropped my head to the floor. The carpet holds no comfort.

We spend days staring at machines, looking for hope in blinking numbers and squiggly lines. Every step forward is followed by two back, more visitors and less sleep. The nurse who keeps trying to convince him to go to hospice, a place where people surrender, has been asked not to enter the room anymore. He says he has 10 more years so we aren’t interested in anything but solutions. The root of our family tree won’t be pulled out by anyone but God.

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It’s time for me to leave. I joke with him about being a ladies man, fishing for a smile, avoiding the word goodbye. He shakes his head, opens his mouth and talks through his eyes. “I love you, Pop.”  Three days later my parents leave as well, as his situation has still not changed. My mom calls around 11pm when they get back to Chapel Hill to tell me he isn’t eating or talking at all anymore. They are heading back up on Friday to decide how to do the end of life. I hang up and cry until the tears are gone. My phone wakes me up the next morning. A call from home at 8 AM? This isn’t good.

“Hey buddy. So, Pop is gone. He died in the middle of the night.”  

The Service- Saturday, January 19th 2013

When it hurts, cry.

pop and us I’m sick. Between that and the crying I think I’ve gone through every box of Kleenex in Westminster. I’m sitting in the front row of the church that my grandfather was remarried in 17 years ago, 2 years after my grandma died of breast cancer. I was there when he married Jeanie, sitting on my hands and fighting to stay still as I promised I would. That was a difficult task for me back then. Today I have no interest in moving, or standing or accepting. On this day I’m sitting right next to Jeanie, watching her battle the thoughts of death and loneliness. My brother is to my left, to his left the rest of the family.

I dry my eyes and look up to watch my father give his eulogy. “My father was the happiest man I have ever known,” he begins.  He truly was a man who found happiness in everything, who stumbled into greatness and told the world the tale.  He was the captain of a fleet of anti-submarine helicopters when he was my age. Before I was old enough to recognize the significance of that he was my captain, as he drove my brother and I across the United States in a Winnebago for two months. I can’t believe he’s gone.

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Leighton, my 6-year-old cousin, has jumped in between Jeanie and I. She shines the most playful smile at me then turns around to give Jeanie a hug. My mind goes back to when I was her age, wandering around my grandmother’s funeral service. I was as clueless as she is today. You can’t understand the sadness of losing life until you’ve lived long enough to know how delicate it is. She still lives in a world where consequences are made by parents. What a gift.

There is a time to mourn and cry. This is that time.

The Tree- Sunday, January 20th 2013

When life stands in the shadow of death, look to nature.

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We have been heading south on the skyline drive for about 3 hours, stopping at almost every overlook to jump out of the car and take pictures. Stand on the edge, stretch your arms out and breathe the air of a great escape. littlestonyman_0516 mic myers arms out

It’s close to 4 and according to the map we’re getting close to Big Meadows, the place where my grandmother’s ashes were spread 19 years ago. I go over the directions my aunt had given me at the service the day before. “There’s a dirt road across from a lodge. Follow it through the meadow until you find a tree. It was small when we were there last, it should be a little bigger now.” We’ll have to walk it.dirtroad_0368

It’s starting to get cold and the wind is reminding us we are on top of a mountain. After a couple hundred yards a tree appears in the distance. That’s got to be it! I walk up to the tree, wearing my grandfather’s hat that I had taken from his house the day before. An evergreen, how symbolic. The mountain sits quietly, waiting for spring to be reborn. In the middle of all this, a tree that holds on to the color of life even in the coldest of times. I place my hand on the trunk and look up at the branches just above my head. As they rattle in the wind I reflect on the belief my uncle passed along to me year’s ago- God speaks through the wind.

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I close my eyes and speak to both of my grandparents for the first time in 19 years.

The Miracle- Sunday, January 20th 2013

When you ask for a miracle, don’t expect it to happen on your terms. 

mikejia_0409 I’m sitting in the middle of a field, 3,000 feet above sea level, at a stop on the skyline drive called Naked Creek Overlook. It’s cold and the wind bites my skin through both jackets. I hold Lisa a little tighter. It’s 5:20 and the sun is beginning to fall behind the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, casting a shadow on the Shenandoah Valley beneath us. I can’t find a single cloud.

As the bottom half of the sun begins to slip behind the horizon the world becomes visible again. A gradient of colors hijacks the sky. As the sun begins to disappear a thought floats across my mind- I wish it wouldn’t go away. My lack of control makes me feel vulnerable; It makes me sad. I lay back and find the moon, take a deep breath and the thought drifts away.

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I sit up and watch the sun fall behind the mountain that dares to stand in its way. The light is gone but the colors dance. The bright yellow that hugs the horizon is the first to give a bow. Then the reds slowly slip away, followed by the hazy green. We’re standing now; spinning in circles and watching the trees turn blue. The moon draws its curtain as the sun’s falls to the floor. There is no end. I say goodbye to my grandfather with a smile on my face.

This is the miracle I prayed for.

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When you get the call, drop everything and go.

When it happens, fight.

When it hurts, cry.

When life stands in the shadow of death, look to nature.

When you ask for a miracle, don’t expect it to happen on your terms.

That was the last lesson my grandfather taught me before he turned the corner. I hope to enjoy the road as much as he did.

All of the good photos in this blog were taken by Lisa Luo. See more photos from her www.jiaimagery.com/

13

Nov

A Tear Drop Becomes a Rain Drop

She was always there. 

Morgan’s smile was always one of the first things I recognized as my eyes adjusted to stage lights and shadows became faces. A crowd of comfort; a sea of support; her smile shinning from the darkness like a lighthouse, reminding me I wasn’t alone out there. The band would begin to play and I would grab the microphone, still working through the anxiety no one knew was there. Every once and a while I would look over at Morgan. If she was dancing, I was doing okay.

Oct 8th, 2012

I sat on a wooden bench and watched her loved ones file into a church like debris being washed onto shore after a storm. We sat there, together in our loneliness, helplessly wondering where we came from and how we got here. The feeling of being ripped away from your reality, from the cocoon you call life, helps bring you back to God. My body tingled, my hands shook and every familiar face I saw walk through that door squeezed my heart a little tighter. The pain reminded me I was alive and made me think deeper about that opportunity.

A drop of water will one day leave its home and embark on a long adventure. It will travel down rivers that move too fast and through lakes that seem to not move at all. At times it will feel cherished and loved, at others, lost and unappreciated. While it travels with purpose and determination, it will never truly choose it’s own path.

One day, when it’s as comfortable as it can possibly be, it will be lifted from the ground and carried into the sky. It will live in the clouds until it is once again needed on Earth, at which time it will come back for a purpose only its creator will ever know. Water, like the answers we search for, can’t be grasped by a forceful hand. The only way to hold it is to relax and let it go; to accept that there are some things out of your control. Water, like your soul, can’t be hurt by force. Punch it, burn it, throw it away… it will always find its way home.

Don’t let your ego trick you into thinking you are alone out there, somehow separated from others, from the world around you and most importantly from God. We are all built by a substance that is as soft as it is destructive. A substance that not only makes up our world but sustains it. You are not alone, in life or death.

From which we came we will return. 

I sat in the back pew, eyes closed, searching my mind. All of the sudden a realization showered me with the first positive thought I had felt all day. I closed my eyes a little tighter and listened a lot harder.

If it was true, I wouldn’t be able to see it.

I was finally getting the chance to come to Morgan’s show, as she had done for me so many times. She sang through the loving memories of friends, through the comforting words of pastors and the timbre of every voice in the choir. My senses began to sharpen. I heard her through the cries of a clueless baby and through the weeps of the old man holding her, equally as lost. I heard her through every amen that echoed against the rusty, white walls and even in the silence that filled the space between hard fought words. She was all around us; it was the perfect encore to the song of life.

When the curtain fell and Morgan took her final bow, we gave a standing ovation. Tears replaced applause and we cheered until the last drop.

Morgan was a beautiful, uniquely kind and carrying person.  Her soul was lifted into the sky one month ago and returns to Earth every once and a while to remind me to smile. I don’t view my memories of her as internally stored but instead as thoughts that are triggered by an external happening. That is to say, when I find myself thinking about her it’s because she is here. For some of us it may happen once a month, others once a week, and to those who knew her best everyday.

She will always be here.

-Mike Myers, in loving memory of Morgan Throckmorton.

 

A selfish thought that warms my heart: Morgan started a blog on June 19, 2011. In her first post she wrote, “A few of my friends have them and it seemed like a pretty good way to share my own thoughts.” When I read that sentence for the first time a chill ran over my body. To everyone who loved Morgan, to the people fighting a similar battle and even to those who simply stumble across it, having her thoughts left behind for us to cherish and learn from is invaluable. If I had anything to do with you leaving behind those beautiful words, Morgan, I would have done more than I imagined possible in life.

Read Morgan’s blog (http://momentsofclarity-morgan.blogspot.com/) and start your own!

10

Sep

How Much It Means: A Small Light

I walk into a small, hot classroom to twenty or so turning heads. All eyes on me. It’s a familiar stare they dish out- long and curious, filled with whispers that move secrets; shy smiles that hope to be, yet never are, unseen; and restless bodies that are itching to get out of an uncomfortable seat. Who am I, and more importantly, why am I here?

The first time I walked into this situation I only knew enough Spanish to say my name and ask a few basic questions. “Hola. Como estas? No hablo espanol.” A year and a half later I’m a little more equipped and can hold a conversation when given the opportunity. It takes a few days for some students, a few hours for others and a simple second for that child who reminds me of myself at his age (minus the cool haircut and school uniform). By the second day I’m unable to leave their classroom without giving each child a handshake. Not a, hello Mr. Myers, type of handshake. A, que mas compadreeee, style dap. Each child has their own variation and it takes me 10 minutes just to walk out of the door. It’s important that they become as comfortable with my presence as possible or I wont accomplish what I traveled so far to do.

In DC I spend everyday going from studio to studio recording and mixing audio. Eating is our only break and sometimes even that is hard to find time to do. I work with a team of 5 people to design and manage the program and coordinate a team of 10 to turn those ideas into a product on an impossibly tight schedule. Actors, musicians, producers, scripts, master plans, corrections… gasp… class, papers, car is totaled, metro, bus, coaching a U14 girls soccer team… gasp… call your parents, you miss them!

When I walk into this classroom it all comes back to me. What I’m doing is amazing. It’s worth a little stress, a little sacrifice. Every corner that I cut degrades the experience for these kids. It’s something they wake up and look forward to; something they go home and talk about. It’s an opportunity that makes them feel special and puts them on the path to good study habits and ultimately a grasp of the English language. Who am I to deny them of that opportunity?

I stayed at a hotel that was just a few giant wooden doors down from the school I was visiting. At night everyone from the neighborhood sits around the church courtyard and sings a song called community. The little kids play soccer inside the circle, the teenagers flirt and vanish in and out of the shadows, and the old men drink until they fall asleep in their plastic chairs. I went to that courtyard every night, had a few aguilas and played music with Julian and anyone else that was outside with an instrument. The kids from the school would come running up to me, with a smirk like a kid on christmas that knows what’s inside the big box, and say “these are my shoes”, pointing to their shoes. It was the language objective of our program they had listened to earlier that day. It works.

I went to evaluate our programs in one school in Cartagena, Colombia. By watching a classroom using it we can determine what the kids enjoy, what they find boring and what ideas are lost in the noisy chatter of a busy room. My ears pick out every mistake and my notebook fills faster than it used to when Larry would send me a beat sampling some classic motown song. Being there in the corner of that small, hot room puts a face on the other end of the speaker we make a living from. A ministry official came one morning to watch the programs being used and was instantly sold. “We want this throughout Colombia! Send us a budget and lets make it happen.” We are invited to present at a meeting next month as a best practice for English language learning? The president and secretaries of education from every area of the country will be there? Fantastic.

I looked out the airplane window on my way back to Washington, DC and felt like my view was a little clearer. Somehow, we will get this done, and come November it will be playing in thousands of schools across Colombia every morning. But our reach doesn’t stop there. We go to the Dominican Republic in October to begin testing the programs there. After that, who knows? Honduras? Bolovia? Use the structure of the program and switch languages to French and move to Africa? A small light shines into my future and I melt in the possibilities it reveals.

To learn more about the program we are producing, English for Latin America (ELA), see my older post: http://micmyers.com/2012/06/25/producing-ela-english-for-latin-america/

29

Aug

I Drove A Dodge Stratus!

I found my car in a very sad corner of Pohanka Collision Center’s lot- the place where cars are forgotten. I brushed off the vines hanging on the roof like tired limbs as I made my way to the back to remove it’s identity- “RZN2025″. As I circled the car in a melancholy daze I relived the memories that were all but written in the golden paint. The time I flooded the engine trying to drive through a hurricane to pick Larry up from class. The time I drove 14 hours to see a girl just one… more… time. The joy rides to Wrightsville Beach with some hooligans in the back seat and life in front of me. Ahh the good old days. I was instantly frightened back into the moment when a cat jumped out from behind the back tire. He took a few long strides before turning back to examine me. What business did I have in the shadows? This was his property now.

You realize how relative time is when you try to recap eight years. If I asked you “how were the last eight years?” I guarantee that you wouldn’t respond by saying “they were 2920 days.” Time only exist as the clock defines it in the present or immediate future. You know it’s 12 am, you know you have to get up in 6 hours, but you don’t think much past that. The past is built of memories, the future of goals and hopes, and the present of choices. Being aware of that can help you grasp perspective on many of the things that you worry about on a day-to-day basis.

Eight years was 5 towns, 7 albums, 9 jobs but only 1 car.

A couple weeks ago I lost my go-to never have I ever statement— “never have I ever been in a car accident”— when I hydroplaned across traffic, barely missing a tree and sliding down a hill heading right towards a river. The bushes stopped my car a few yards before I got to swim for the first time this summer. Ev and I pushed the doors open, our worlds still spinning, and crawled back up to the main road. The cops had already arrived. What just happened?

I traced my tire marks up the hill, next to the tree, over the streetlight that hadn’t been fully constructed yet (thank God) and across the road. It looked like the trail from a figure skater.  So many things could have gone wrong. How did we not flip? One second we were on our way to a party talking about how good life is and the next we were at the mercy of that pencil in the sky that puts the period on your sentence. Don’t worry momma it was just a comma.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2uUDkMYtrQ]

A lot happened to me in the last eight years and the Stratus was there through it all. If you know me you know it and most likely have some kind of story to go along with your memory. I invite you to share your story as a comment to this blog.

I finished cleaning out my belongings and walked away. I paused at the gate of that lot and considered going back for a few more pictures. Naa, don’t do it. One more flashback to 18 year old Mike using every dime he saved working at Panera for 3 years to buy his first car and I was gone, ready for my next test drive.

23

Jul

It Comes In Waves

A few weeks ago I walked out of my apartment and thought to myself, something has to change. I think the wind heard me.

You have to recognize and react to a feeling like that. It’s there to remind you that whatever rut you are stuck in is escapable. Stress comes into our lives like waves crashing onto a beach and escapes the same way, hitting us with enough force to take us off our feet but retreating without enough pull to take us with it. My life’s a beach but my castle isn’t built out of sand. The tide only reminds me I’m human.

Spend time with your family and friends. If you ever really fall they’ll be the ones around for you. But this feeling that hit me as I watched the sky catch on fire wasn’t like that. I just knew there was more to the experience.

Happiness is a cup that has many straws.

A happy man doesn’t rely on any one thing to make him that way.  You should never have to try to smile but you should always be looking for excuses to do so. Don’t waste time blaming time. Strengthen your body and mind, the sharper you get the easier it becomes to carve out the life you want.

I’d like to think that the storm that came barreling through DC on my birthday was sent to push my sail. We walked out of the restaurant once the rain and wind had died down to find trees bent across streets and half the city without power. The tide had risen and turned my city back into the swamp it started as. Health and happiness came with the morning sun.

[slideshow]

I woke up on the morning of my 26th birthday in the basement of my grandfather’s house and released the album I had been working on for 2 years, Smoothie. I walked upstairs with a big, stupid smile on my face to have breakfast with my grandparents from both sides of the family. We went out and met up with my aunt and little cousin to have lunch. Later in the afternoon we went into the city and had dinner with some friends. The parents left after the crazy storm died down and we went out… with Ev in the trunk. The next day I had a show on U St. and I’ve been coasting ever since. 

25

Jun

Producing E*L*A* (Englis*h for Lati*n Americ*a)

I spent last month working with a team of 4 people coming up with a curriculum for teaching English to spanish speakers, developing characters for a radio drama, working with music producers to come up with songs and transitions and recording actors bringing the scripts we wrote to life. That all got me ready for this week.

Tonight should be my last all-nighter for a while.  Gracias a Dios. We have been working around the clock trying to get the first five lessons of English for Latin America (ELA) completed. Last Friday they began piloting our programs in Colombia to get feedback for revisions. Words can’t express the joy I felt when I got online today and found two videos in my dropbox of kids in a classroom on the coast of Colombia laughing, dancing and most importantly, learning from our programs. It put a special type of fuel in my tank to push forward as files go missing and my mind gets lost in the 40 minute long audio program. The path to knowledge is fraught with conflict. Keep going.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwatjppcJy8&feature=youtu.be]

These programs have 12 segments. There are over 50 tracks in each session! They are made up of a game show, american idol show, soap opera and much more. It’s a very interesting tool we are creating. It’s a beautiful mix between sparking a child’s imagination, using music to place an idea in their head (inception is possible) and helping a teacher teach a subject they don’t understand. With all that said- I can’t wait for this fifth program to be done.

Then we’ll just have 95 more to do… in 3 months.