Sunday, 31 October 2010

Contradancing in a Sari, and on Halloweeneen, Too!

I've been a grumpypuss about Halloween for years because I have serious moral reservations about celebrating the macabre and demonic however much I love fancy dress, but I have to admit that the holiday has been redeemed somewhat in my heart this year.  Here I am, back in the USA for my least favourite holiday, rolling my eyes at over-the-top horrible horror decorations on sale in stores and planning to avoid wearing anything that can be remotely construed as a costume so as to anti-observe it (actually, harder than it sounds with my wardrobe, I discovered!).  Yet, today I found myself putting on something of a costume to get in for free to my cousin's orchestra concert. 
Ok, so I conceeded to the holiday to save five bucks and here I am, wearing a sari as a sort-of costume.  Saris are every-day wear for me in PNG (I wear one maybe once a month or so to work or church or a concert or somewhere), but if I wear one in America it looks like a costume so it'll do.  Add lots of eye makeup, silver bangles, necklace, and earrings, and some jewellry in my hair and I'm set. 
At my cousin's concert I noticed right away how charming and festive it was to have everyone in the orchestra in some sort of goofy or scarey or at least bright costume.  It's like a party!  Even the death/demonic/macabre ones weren't winding me up like they usually do.  And the audience was full of people wearing silly things.  My grumpyness lessens. 
After helping out at my cousins' after-concert party, I still had 1/2 an hour to squeeze in attending the nearby contra dance, also a Halloween-themed affair.  The dance hall was filled with more people in silly costumes.  I danced with John Lennon, an minuteman, a jester, an explorer with a real pith helmet, some guy randomly wearing a rubber snake around his neck, a cool cat in a zoot suit, a ladybug.  I realized how much fun all this fancy dress is and that most people aren't being demonic, even inadvertently, but just being festive.  Without meaning to, I've been won over--but just a bit.  Besides, heaps of people told me they thought I looked beautiful in my sari, so I am gratified and feeling generous.
And so, I found myself pulling off two contra dances and two waltzes in one of the world's most un-contradancable outfits, unwinding and flying away as I went, my earrings tangling in my necklace, but full of the joy of dancing and enjoying the surprise of each new neighbor's costume.  I won't wish you a Happy Halloween, because I am still grumpy enough about all of it, but I can say:  nice costumes everybody, and thanks for making the effort. 

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Movie review & musings: Departures

So far my favourite movie for Theology and Film class is Departures (original title:  Okuribito; directed by Yojiro Takita, 2008), which I saw tonight.  I admit to a nerdy/arty prejudice to like subtitled foreign films, but Departures also charms me with spot-on acting, a theme & story that will keep me musing for days, and enough comedy to make me want to show it to others.  This one is going on my list of movies to buy to take back to PNG.  

A dissappointed cellist returns to his provincial home town and finds work preparing the recently departed (hence the title) for being encoffined.  The goofyness and absurd side of life portrayed here made me laugh aloud--don't you agree that death can be awfully funny?  I also realized how I miss Japan after only being there for 11 days!  There's a lot of beauty in that country, and I like the Japanese aesthetic of restraint and balance--clear in this film, too.  

I may be swooning over it partly because I'm still off-balance from being bludgened by Deep Themes of Humanity in all the other films from the class, which have already put me way over my yearly limit for my bad language intake and viewings of deviant sexuality.  All true to life and representing the human condition, but a lot to digest.  Departures is just as true to life and profound, but gentler on me and I thank it for being so.  We've so far seen Crash, American Beauty, Crimes and Misdemeanours, Magnolia (these four are the worst offenders for bludgeoning me with despair-inducing human behaviour), Little Miss Sunshine (my second favourite of the class, though not without troubling dimensions), Moulin Rouge, Decalogue I, and Stranger than Fiction (also a charming favourite--I wanted to eat cookies and celebrate life after).  Yet to go:  Run Lola Run, The Princess and the Warrior, Slumdog Millionaire, Water, Atonement, Smoke Signals, and Field of Dreams.  Yeah:  not exactly a lighthearted distraction from my other classes, but a big dose of art nonetheless.  Students of Uka International School beware:  your once-and-future(-sometimes) English teacher is now more trained at examining film as an art form!  Though I don't think I've found a movie I can use at school yet...

Thursday, 28 October 2010

How not to antagonize your students

Being a student instead of the teacher is good for me.  I'm reminded of two important traits of good teaching:  stick to the outline if you can (a three-day topic in one class has taken six, which means that other interesting things will be deleted!  angst!), and don't belabor basic points by talking on and on because your students will start plotting ways to escape and run away at the next break...assuming you remember to give them a break....   Another lesson that I'm not sure how to apply to my middle school classes is:  use up-to-date resources.  Harder to come by in Uka than here, for sure!

Like, Dislike

Written on 22 October; posted today.

Things I don’t like (a.k.a. Things that fill me with desolation):
  • watching my bus pull away from the curb when I’m still ½ a block from the stop
  • realizing I’m making a mistake as I’m making it...then being corrected by my boss
  • when I’m so tired that I feel homeless, like there is no place on earth I can go to feel comforted

Things I like (a.k.a. Things that reinforce the hope in which we live):
  • chèvre and sourdough
  • bakeries and pastries, oh my!
  • a homeless man who gives me advice about rain patterns
  • crimson maple leaves that transform driveway overnight
  • expansive, generous hospitality
  • getting cooking advice from the chefs at the restaurant
  • vanilla pannacotta in a cranberry coulis with candied walnuts and candied basil
  • getting my side mirror fixed for free
  • getting a job when I didn’t expect it
  • friends to pray with
  • check me out:  I’m out of the house at NIGHT, on FOOT, by MYSELF, wearing PANTS!  Whee!  Join the conga line:  “fur-LO!  fur-LO!  fur-LO!...”
  • burning candles in my room, now that it looks like a room and not a storage shack
  • more to the point:  burning black candles in an iron candelabra in my dimly lit room when I’m tired to tears but listening to recently-acquired, soul-bulwarking music
  • a well-turned phrase in an essay I’m writing
  • learning new things
  • trying something scary and succeeding
  • realizing that I’ve made two new friends
  • …or maybe three!
  • friends from different Christian traditions who can testify about different kinds of prayer
  • Mauritanian mint tea, but mostly the serendipity that goes with it

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Book review: Discipls of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity, by Lamin Sanneh

What a find!  This book blows my mind.  Sanneh, an African immigrant to America who works out of Yale, is writing about the spread of Christianity--about Christian history--in all the regions of the world, not just the West.  The first chapter I read, about African Indigenous Christianity in the early 1900, has more never-heard-it-before, paradigm-shifting history than any of my reference books back in Uka.  His chapter on how Islam and Christianity interacted blows up a few historical genericisms repeated by history-teacher me. Too cool!  I swoon with the love of history written like this.  (Oxford UP, 2008)

Friday, 15 October 2010

A little bit dizzy from the events of today

I got a job unexpectedly today.  I also found out, after much to-ing and fro-ing that I can drop the class that I'd been told I couldn't drop, and I've added the two-week intensive class, Power Encounter instead.  I also backed the Redbird of Despair into Gene's gate: car, 1; gate, 0.  Well, the side mirror, which all by itself took out the gate, is bent and not functional though not broken.  Now it must be fixed.  Gah.  Now I also must petition to get another class filled in as the practicum prerequisite, then faithfully take that class even if it meets on Tuesday nights, and also petition the registrar to have mercy on me in the matter of getting a full refund of my class fees from the being-dropped class (since I'm ditching it in week 3 of 10, late enough to only get a 50% refund without the mercy of the registrar who wields ultimate power) and apply refunded tuition to pay for the new class--it's a gamble that it'll work, a gamble to the tune of 50% of $1400.  I'm also considering shaving my legs to fit in at my new job since all my clothes that are nice enough are knee-length skirts and I feel like I shouldn't wind up the Americans who are bound to object, however silently.  (My new job is as a waitress at a fancy-ish restaurant.)  All in all, a dizzying day.  I got a job!, did I mention?  I dropped the annoyingly un-challenging class!  I crashed the car, did I mention?  Olaman!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

More art, more musings, and some small progress toward furlough equilibrium

Let me continue to list exciting cultural adventures so that I can remind myself later that I haven't wasted furlough!  Friday night was Art Night, and with Jen who visited from San Diego country, we descended upon the Pasadena Museum of History for some turn-of-the-century culture, then on to the Art Centre College of Design for some mind-blowing student projects.  Too cool! 

Saturday we conquered the public transportation system (eventually) and learned again, viscerally, the life lesson that There Is No Free Parking In Pasadena.  At All.  Ever.  We browsed Santee Alley, cloth stores in the Fashion District, flower shops, had superb and dead cheap Mexican food for lunch on a street corner, dawdled through Chinatown and got tea and awesome snacks at Wing Hop Fung, some boba tea, and visited Little Tokyo before returning home tired but happy bearing my new "nerds need love too" t-shirt. 

Sunday a surprising thing happened:  I put the little Burbank church back on my list of places I might regularly attend because 1) There are old people, 2) There were only about 50 people and I could get to know them and I never feel comfortable in larger churches, and 3) Jon's rockin' sermon.  Go Jon!  Also, 4) I appreciated the musicians that were giving it a fair go.  Hm!  In other news, Porto's Bakery makes me glad to be alive because they serve good food and the teeming crowds surely know it.  Ikea came through for me with curtains, so now a little bit more happiness is mine.  Clearly the curtains were a symbol of some greater psychological struggle against the forces of chaos, because the quality of my life has changed verry little but my satisfaction has gone way up.  Go figure.

Today, Wednesday, good things happened:  my classmates liked my banana snacks and my tok pisin song, Dr. Lingenfelter agreed that the intercultural class is a review for me and why am I taking it, and I biked home with only stopping once to rest.  Of such small things is happiness made, and, after all, Ecclesiastes reminds me to enjoy it while it lasts since life basically sucks.  Thanks to Dr. Johnston for that insight (with which I completely agree).  Speaking of Dr. Johnston, the film and theology class continues to be the most useful Ukarumpa-wise of my three classes this quarter, but Dr. Bolger's church vignettes are the most fascinating.  I prepare to go be an Armenian Orthodox for a few Sundays now, and attend a synagogue in a fortnight too.  See:  I'm not wasting my education! 

More art:  Did I mention the Evening Under the Stars a fortnight ago (at which I made my entrance, embarrassingly, with a lightening bug butt since I forgot to turn off my bike light)?  Lovely concert (thanks, Michael Wright for your CD) and drama!  Also, two meetings of the Fuller Arts Collective, which promises to be an enlightening group of which to be a groupie, and two Fuller chapels with art in the form of speeches and music.  And, I attended the opening of the Rouault exhibit in the library, which was fascinating, and a film prof from USC admired my outfit and we chatted about living in other countries.  I was wearing my new Anthropologie shirt with flowers and unlikely ruffles with my hand-me-down Burberry felt kilt-thingy, leggings, scarves, sweaters with flowers embroidered on, and Chinese slippers, also with flowers embroidered on.  I must have been feeling confident when I dressed! 

Thoughts from class tonight (all about cross cultural values, etc.):  I do a good job ministering to my darling MKs, but pretty much I'm a dud at connecting to Papua New Guineans.  Is there a way to change?  Is the inertia of the Ukarumpa Resort for Displaced Expatriates too great to shift?  Am I too much of an introvert to make it happen?  Should I move to a village???  Thoughts to go to sleep on.

In other news, I'm scheming to drop the intercultural class and take up the Power Encounter intensive that meets for two intense weeks in November.  Please, God, pretty please? 

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Adventures in Teaching, Learning and Government

So, all these history ideas about the church before 300 AD in my Church in Mission class are fascinating and I design middle school lessons about them in my head during class, jotting teaching notes to myself in the margins of my lecture notes.  Clearly the only thing for it is to talk Max into putting a Church History class into high school social studies so I have a chance to wax lengthy on this topic.  Wouldn't that be a class entirely in line with our ESLRs?  You betcha.  Bring it on.

In other news, in Theology and Film I continue to discover films that could never be shown in UIS English classes...a moment of silence for our departed English teachers...but I take notes anyway because the ways of examining them will be useful to apply to the three or four films that we can show. 

Another teaching idea that came during film class: 
Obviously each piece of text that we English teachers force on our students to read/see/hear isn't universally loved.  Let them express how they feel about each in the following inactive manner.  How about creating a continuum with little emotion icons, from disgust ("I'd rather stick a fork in my eye than read this again") through to transcendent joy ("Yes!  This is the meaning of life to me!"), to express how students feel about a novel or poem or film or whatever.  Each kid could have a little spot with his name on, maybe an inch or so in diameter, and stick them (they'd be magnetized, did I say?) along the continuum to express the range of feeling about a particular text.  I'd have kids make up their mind and write it down before they went up there to limit peer pressure shifting dots up or down.  Wouldn't that be a good place starting place?  I'll try to scan and include my gorgeous drawings, too--the one with the fork is drops with pathos.  A corollary:  include one of those posters with forty emotions illustrated, and have them complete the sentence This book/poem/film/etc makes me feel ________ because______. 

Perhaps it could be expanded to PFWs?  "This workshop makes me feel _despair___ because ___I already know the material and it's boring_____. "  See?  How useful would that be? ;-)

One more cultural note: 
Yesterday's Siege of the DMV was successful.  After 3 hours and $350 I emerged, shaken but whole, with a car registered in the State of California;  the Redbird of Despair is now street legal.  The process was inordinately lengthy, and yet I couldn't help comparing it favourably to the DMVs in Cote d'Ivoire and PNG.  Thousands of people (speaking far more languages than I can understand--clerks speak Cantonese!) making slow but steady progress through the system, with no bribes or infrastructure breakdowns to hamper the process.  Clearly the state of California needs to invest more in this public service because, I mean, three hours!, but still, it works.  I love America, have I mentioned?

Monday, 4 October 2010

Celebrate life but don't forget to Say No To Burnout!

To periodically remind myself that I'm not wasting my life, or my furlough, I want to keep a list of things that I've done that are worthwhile!  Since leaving home in June:  eleven days in Japan with countless adventures on the Helen-Ben-Gene-Donna Team of Chaos and Fun, a very restorative spiritual retreat in Colorado with other Ms, time to re-connect with my Vanuatu cousins and be cared for at the lovely Chez Gordon, two months of triumph and despair in Fairbanks (about which I could write much), five days that make me smile with the Tucson Posse, and a transition into my grad school life that certainly could have been worse.  While I'm at it, am I mad to add another writing task to my writing-heavy life?  But yesterday at the half-day retreat the idea of blogging kept swimming around in my mind as it has been for a while, so here I am, taking a chance on something new, without any firm commitment to keep this up and without even checking the social media policy for the org I work for (which means I will be avoiding discussing my life with them until I figure out what I can get away with saying and what to safely avoid).

Also yesterday (apparently a day for mad inspiration) I almost-promised myself that season opera tickets were in my near future, as an almost-mandate to care for my spiritual side.  Church services are one thing, but opera is spiritually transcendent on a whole 'nother level!   Bring on the art, baby!  Thursday night's open-air concert and drama showcase also brought me outside myself and stirred up that old longing for heaven, for beauty, for communion with God our Creator and Jesus my fellow artist.  Gah--for how many activities and groups should I sign up? How many paths of adventure should I gallop madly down?  I confess, the dizzying variety here in this country is, well, dizzying.  I can't give my heart to every activity that moves me.  I observe myself, and diagnose start-of-school optimism!  Lord, let me pick wisely and not burden myself with unreachable goals as the term gets busier.

Also yesterday at the retreat I thought I should describe what it feels like to be in transition.  The retreat topic was "Self Care While at Seminary" and lots of the lessons I've learned overseas are applicable!  "Say No To Burnout"--which I have yet to get on a t-shirt--can continue to be a motto here.  I need to remember that while in transition (and boy, am I), a large chunk of my mental processing ability, including my attention span, my creativity, my energy and productivity, are sucked away by just managing to live through the transition and aren't available to me to be applied to living normal life.  (And I'm starting seminary classes in this troubled state?!)  What this means is that I have a harder time talking to new people, I cook less often and when I do it doesn't turn out as well as I expect (and I'm more upset about that than I would otherwise me), I have a harder time picking out things to wear, I get irritated more often, I get tireder oftener, I am less articulate, I am less efficient at running errands, I am less efficient at saving money, less in control of what I eat, and I have more unexpected expenses that stress me out more than they otherwise would.  I am more prone to frustration when things like Internet or shopping or paperwork don't go take care of themselves smoothly, and more debilitated by the frustration than usual--I am less resilient mentally and physically.  It takes me more time than I expect to do everything.  I feel more despair and existential angst and dwell on issues of the "am I wasting my life?" ilk.  I need more time, not less, to think, to rest, to pray, to laugh, to eat well, to dream, to think, to practice hope and stand firm against despair. Because I'm out on a limb I am more at the mercy of helpful people to solve the little and big problems that usually I can take care of myself. I am and must be more open to experiencing Providence as He cares for me and keeps me from drowning in the sea of change. 

Notice that I'm describing things that are not peripheral but rather are at the core of my identity!  I can't be the person I usually am when I'm in transition!  I'm not competent, funny, creative, efficient, effective, employed...  I'm draining the community's and my own reserves to make it from being integrated in one place through leaving, moving, and gradually re-integrating in a new one.  It takes courage to keep going when all is chaos!  I don't even have a place all my own to retreat to--I'm still carving my own habitat.  I don't like the me-in-transition that cries all the time.  Gosh, can I just go to church for two weeks in a row without leaving in tears?  For cryin' out loud! I'm hopeless!

But consider, which is a more true way to see myself:  the helpless, hopeless and absurd creature who can't get her act together until the transition wears off, or the the Donna who can dazzle a middle school class, put on fabulous dinner parties, throw together thrift store outfits of surpassing eccentricity, and accept accolades for same with detached equanimity?  I must remember to rejoice, and to laugh at my utterly hopeless state because, really, I am utterly hopeless, and in utter, absolute need of rescue all the time;  learning that truth redeems the madness of transition.

Thus far has the Lord helped me

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.


Week two of seminary.  I'm finally attempting a blog because I want a record of ideas and discoveries that's in a more public place than my journal.  Thus far has the Lord brought me and helped me, and he helps me yet.  What has this year in store for me?