- By addictive nature
- No Comments
Alma-Ata: Father of Apples
Everything I knew about Kazakhstan was a lie. No sane person would think a movie as stupid as Borat would be an accurate representation of a country, but sometimes the joke is just easier than the truth. The need to know often escapes us Americans when it comes to the culture and affairs of other countries, and learning doesn’t favor the content adult. Necessity began to sweep across me as I stared at my flight itinerary to Almaty.
I decided to read the book “Apples are from Kazakhstan: The Land that Disappeared” to combat this ignorance. My imagination readjusted as I tasted truth for the first time, looking through the page at a country rich in natural resources and plagued by a history of soviet oppression. I learned that apples, tulips, and possibly even the story of King Arthur all originate from Kazakhstan; that hunters raise eagles from birth into giant, flying hunting partners; and that a sheep’s head is something I actually might see on a menu. It felt good knowing more than a fake national anthem, and despite my desire, I had avoided watching that damn movie. I’d soon be farther than I’ve ever been from home, nestled between Russia and China in a place that, despite my newfound knowledge, still wore a mask of mystery. I finished packing a few hours before I had to leave for the airport, made one last Moscow Mule, and turned the TV on to kill a little time.
Can you hear that? That’s the sound of coincidence reaching out of the screen and slapping me across the face. In a twist of fate, Borat comes riding into my living room uninvited, behind the wheel of an ice-cream truck, throwing his fictional mockery in my face. Alright, the movie is actually pretty hilarious. But still, I mean, come on! I was so close. “Very nice” echoes in my head until the hum of the plane engine puts me to sleep.
D.C. -> Frankfurt -> Almaty
I walk into Kazakhstan’s U.S. Consulate twenty hours later, greeted by two burly Russian men who carry themselves with a timid authority. I couldn’t help but feel like a 007 agent every time I finessed my way through their gaze. Every morning I would go through this security check, and each day the guards would get a little more comfortable with my presence. By the end of the week we would be laughing at one another as we attempted to learn new words. Someone from the Central Asia Health and Education Office (HEO) pokes their head through the door and calls us in.
Working in the U.S. Consulate without a security clearance is a bit like being in a white-collar prison. It’s comfortable-ish, but I can’t go anywhere in the building without being escorted, including the bathroom. I spent a majority of my time conducting focus groups and one-on-one interviews in a small conference room buzzing with fluorescent lights. I’m not sure if it was the high altitude or the idea of traveling to the other side of the world to sit in a tiny room with no windows, but every other day I would get dizzy and ask for permission to get some water. Poor Inna. A woman who speaks as if words are a dandelion being passed around on a windy beach, whose internal strength radiates from her delicate frame, now played an integral role in my bodies reaction to eating large amounts of foreign food at odd times. “Aren’t we supposed to be sleeping right now?” says my stomach. “We’re in this together, whether you like it or not,” responds Inna. A gracious walk to the bathroom, followed by an apologetic walk back to the conference room. My first Kazak apple was baked, stuffed with dried fruit, and shared with a colleague inside this room.
So why am I here? I’m a blended learning instructional designer, which means I create professional and organizational development opportunities that blend learning methodologies and delivery methods. My job is to understand what people need to know and how they prefer to learn, so I can create solutions that fit within the context of their environment. That might mean creating an e-learning course, webinar, job aid, podcast, video, face-to-face training, virtual learning website, or any combination of the instructional options that exist. The end goal is to help people internalize new information, turn that information into knowledge (or skills), and then use that knowledge to become better at their job.
I spent my days collecting as much information as possible about the HEO team’s learning preferences, work environment, and professional goals. At night I sat in the beer garden of the Intercontinental hotel watching a cuban band cover Elvis songs, sipping whatever was on tap, and developing learning tools. I made a few friends along the way, who were nice enough to show me around their beautiful city as soon as the work was done. I had four days to explore.
I spent the entire week wandering around the city, distracted by the beautiful, snow-capped mountains that sat just beyond my reach. There is something special about the Tien-Shan mountains. The highest point in the country, Khan-Tengri Peak (which translates to “Lord of the Spirits”), can be found here. A marble temple sits at the top, where I assume an old man with a scraggly beard can tell you the secrets of life. As the birthplace of apples, the foothills of these mountains could be the original location of the Garden of Eden (if one believed in said story). Either way, I was looking at a painting. There were no blades of grass swaying, no wind whistling, and no crisp air running through my nostrils. I didn’t come all the way here to sit inside a conference room and look at a painting, but going into these mountains was against the law. No foreigner is supposed to get within 20 kilometers of the Chinese boarder, and the cable car ride that takes you into these mountains would put me in the red zone. This is where you should stop reading, mom.
I had to do it. After all, the worst thing that could happen is I get arrested and have to pay a fine. Getting there would be another adventure. See, every car in Almaty is a taxi. If you walk to the edge of a street and hold your hand out, a random car will stop and offer you a ride for a price you have to negotiate (in Russian). They call them gypsy cabs. So, I jumped into a strangers car and headed twenty minutes out of the city towards my unknown fate. When we arrived at the base of the mountain, I looked up at the cable cars and began to question myself. Those things were really high up, and well, I’m in Kazakhstan. Is this safe? I swallowed that fear and pushed forward. At the entrance stood two police officers, dressed in green uniforms and oversized, red hats. I kept my head down, waited in line for a cable car, and jumped in. The ride was breathtaking. We traveled for 30 minutes into the mountains, going over an Olympic-sized skating rink and flush green hills. I went back and forth between astonished and frightened, as our car swayed in the wind and got closer to it’s destination. As I feared, another two officers stood just a few feet from where we jumped out of the cable car. Their heads turned as I walked past them, fanning the flame of my anxiety. They had no quarrel with me being there, and why should they? It’s a tourist attraction and I’m a tourist. Or maybe I’m Russian, I live here, and I’m doing nothing wrong. Better not speak English just in case. We walked around the side of the mountain, had some juice, took pictures with strangers, and headed back into the city before night came.
I forced my way through the still life and gave the world to my senses. I grew, built, laughed, partied, got scared, made friends, ate horse meat, and returned home with a story to share with the people I love. “That’s it,” says the imaginary, scraggly bearded man perched on Khan-Tengri Peak. “That’s the secret.”
- By addictive nature
- No Comments
I recently traveled to the Dominican Republic to implement an audio program I helped produce called English for Latin America (ELA). This program uses songs, dramas, games and interactive activities to help teachers teach English in a fun and effective way. We were to spend a week training 185 teachers on how to use ELA, give them the equipment they would need to play it, and send them home to use it in their classroom. But before I could make it to the teacher training workshop, I’d have to make it through customs.
I’ve been escorted by a few men to the back of the Santo Domingo airport, into a large, dimly lit room that looks as if it once was crawling with happy travelers coming and going. Now only a few overweight men and a middle-aged woman stand guard, waiting for someone like me to come through the double doors. My driver, Mauricio, spotted me at the gate and was able to follow me back to this point, although we haven’t done a very good job of understanding each other yet. Nevertheless, it’s comforting to have a local with me. As we enter the main room Mauricio is told he can no longer accompany me and is forced to leave. As he pushes his way through the door he makes one final turn towards me, pointing two times at a widened eye (the universal sign for watch out), and then vanishes. No phone, no internet, nobody… this is about to get interesting.
I’ve spent about thirty minutes letting my eyes wander from the fading yellow walls, to the ants roaming across the desk, to the bolt cutters leaning suspiciously against a chair. Bolt cutters? Really? There’s a large mirror that I can’t help thinking has a man behind it staring at me. The TV in the corner of the room is uncomfortably loud and has terrible reception, a horrific combination. I think they’re trying to get to me. The sign over the door reads “nogocio”. I’m not sure exactly how strong my negotiating skills are in Spanish or what exactly I’m going to have to negotiate for, so I’m shifting around in my chair like a kid at church. The door opens slowly and a woman enters, holding a stack of papers and wearing a numb expression. She sits across from me, folds her legs while pushing her glasses up her nose, and begins speaking in Spanish.
“So tell me, what do you have in your bags?” she says while nestling into her seat as if she expects to make it home for a while.
“Audio equipment to teach English in schools here in the Dominican Republic,” I reply. “About 200 speakers and MP3 players.”
She looks down at her stack of papers, then back to me. “Anything else?”
“No, that’s it,” I assure her.
“Okay, lets take a look.”
The next few hours were spent taking every single item out of my three, 98 pound suitcases. It took me about a week to unbox, organize, and pack all of this equipment, and I cringed as an assembly line of men dumped everything onto an old baggage check conveyor belt. Every item came with a question, and every answer with another. I can’t blame them though, this whole things looked awfully suspicious. The mood in the room became even tenser as a mountain of a man came around the corner and cast his sober shadow over us. This was definitely the man in charge. He had one cloudy eye and the face I imagined Leroy Brown having. He stood there, hardly saying a word, watching me like a dog waiting to be told he can eat. I imagine when they do find something tasty in a bag he gets to take the first bite. But I’m no drug dealer, no smuggler, just a guy with a bunch of speakers. Easyyyy boy.
Eventually every bag had been opened, every item examined, and there was nothing left to do but let me go. They tried to make me pay a fee, but I came prepared with a letter from the Ministry of Education saying I didn’t have to. They tried to take one of the speakers and MP3 players, but I insisted that we had none to spare. They stood there unsatisfied as I piled my three bags back onto the cart and rolled out of the building with a posse of young men hoping to get a tip. Over three hours had passed and it was 6 pm when I saw the Dominican sun for the first time, with an empty stomach and adjusting eyes. What a welcome party.
I finally made it to the teacher training workshop, stuffed my face with pork and rice, and jumped into the mix of showing teachers how to use ELA. Their reaction to it was everything I had hoped for. They were dancing, singing, laughing, and visibly excited to go back to their classroom and use it with their students. They made a Facebook page on the first day to connect with us and eachother, wrote and shared poems about how much they enjoy the program, and one even went home and produced a song about how teaching with it is so much fun. Imagine you spent two years baking a cake and everyone at the party loved it. Now imagine everyone at that party gets to go back home with their own cake and share it with another 30 people. I’m one happy chef.
The Day English for Latin America (ELA) Was Set Free – August 18th, 2014
Today was the first day of school in the Dominican Republic and a very exciting day for my team. Our audio program (English for Latin America) was used in classrooms for the first time today, and will be used throughout the entire school year in 185 schools from all regions of the country. If you averaged 30 students per class, that’s 5500 students learning English using our program every week. The 4000 minutes of audio we produced (100, 40 minute programs) are out there helping students learn and teachers teach. As our VP told me, “today the DR, tomorrow the world.”
Once The Work is Done, the Exploring Begins
An afternoon in Santo Domingo:
the whole town throws dominoes down
slapping a table to the offbeat rhythm of competition
we watch from the shade of a fading wall
as kids walk back from somewhere
wearing baseball gloves as hats
dirty streets and clean uniforms
drums echo off the church walls
the preacher takes the stage
screaming a prayer as if ridding himself of a burden
cars race to the horizon
street lines are just suggestions
merengue is a passenger in every vehicle
we crack our presidentes
the clink of company
everyone is playing something
I like my adventures coupled with my achievements, and this is one of the sweetest marriages yet.
- By addictive nature
- No Comments
I find myself unconcerned with time or any other uncontrollable part of life as I drive on a winding road through the back country. Everything becomes simple, my mind clear, and my smile stretched out like a cat sunbathing on a wooden porch. I’ve been on this road before, in a place with a differet name but a similar personality. It’s the feeling you get while rolling up and down these hills that gives this road its identity, not a sign or any combination of letters and numbers. It’s small towns in between large farms, old rusty barns that tell a story of hard work that goes unseen, cattle resting together in the shade of a lone tree, ponds where birds sit on the reflection of an open sky, and the occasional wooded tunnel where trees on opposite sides of the road stretch out to hold hands and cool things down for a bit.
I love traveling down this road, but as conscious I am of its beauty, I am equally aware of my desire to continue moving. This road has no end in sight, only changing landscapes that inspire me to see more. An able body owes it to the world, and to all those who are not able, to continue on. I don’t desire to see it all, only to see it completely and as truly as possible.
Much of the truth of life lives beyond the road’s bend, in that hidden place where our certainty dies and our imagination blossoms. “You know what you don’t know better than you know what you think you know,” says the road. Perhaps logic is a roadblock between you and your true nature. For the mind, which so desires to make sense of the world, doesn’t experience the moment completely when dwelling on the possibilities of the unknown. As with so many things in life, it’s all about finding a balance. I have discovered much about myself through mental exploration, and while I may be discovering false truths, this process has made me a better man and allowed me to more fully appreciate the moment when I do find myself in it. Happiness and wisdom come from appreciating life, not understanding it.
Just as my body should explore the world because it is able, so should my mind.
We often avoid this road on the never-ending quest to make better time. Why are we so obsessed with getting there faster? Why is the drive not part of the trip? There’s so much joy to be had on the road that moves just a little bit slower. Stop every once in a while to get out of your car and breathe it in, smell it, and listen to the song it sings. Experiences come to the house of an open mind with bread to break and time to share. We, the explorers, are wise enough to invite them in and hungry enough to be content with whatever they bring our way. Shall our appetites never fade, our eyes never cease from gazing, our minds give as much as they take, and our souls rest peacefully when this winding road finally finds a place to stop and call home.
- By addictive nature
- No Comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The gift of perspective is what I love the most about traveling.
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.
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.
- By addictive nature
- One Comment
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.
- By addictive nature
- No Comments
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.
- By addictive nature
- One Comment
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.
Welcome home, Jason.
Where are we?
We are everywhere.
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?
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.
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.
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.
- By addictive nature
- 4 Comments
The Call- Wednesday, January 9th 2013
When you get the call, drop everything and go.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Miracle- Sunday, January 20th 2013
When you ask for a miracle, don’t expect it to happen on your terms.
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.
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.
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/
- By addictive nature
- No Comments
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.
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!
- By addictive nature
- 5 Comments
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/