Saturday, July 30, 2016

The need to go on retreat

The dust of arrival having settled, I'm able to look around more now.  Coming back from SE Asia has been altogether a much gentler experience than coming back from Uganda, probably due to a number of factors including age (hopefully a bit more mature now) and degree of culture shock experienced (from a rural village in Uganda to a semi-urban setting in Lao).  I've happily landed in a funky, convenient house in the Seward neighborhood, easy bike ride and walk away from all sorts of cool places.  I've landed as well in a great job, where I get to interact with a diverse set of adults in a shabby, friendly school in NE Minneapolis.  I'm reconnecting with old friends, and forging brave new friendships with people who very much reflect my values and interests.  I came home at the right time for me.

Some things are harder to adjust to.  I've found that many people in my circles have moved onto a slightly different stage of life, whether that means a committed relationship, having kids, or simply a more focused outlook or approach to life.  In some ways, I probably have changed too.  It's a big difference going from your early/mid twenties to your late twenties/early thirties, and I'd hope that that's also reflected in a more honed type of focus that better reflects my self-knowledge, outlook on life, and passions.  Nevertheless, I'm finding it less than automatic to find  a community here, and I can tell it'll take a lot of initiative and exploring if I want to surround myself with meaningful human connections.  It'll definitely require a fair amount of risk-taking and reaching-out, the latter which isn't always a strength of mine, given my introverted tendencies.

Something else hard to adjust to has been the dichotomy between 'work' and 'life' here.  Even adages such as "finding a work-life balance" freak me out because it points out the bizarre need to search for such a thing in the first really reflects US society that so many of us are searching for a balance that should never be a concern in the first place.  I never want to find myself in a position where my job assumes such importance that it co-opts my life and I have to actively fight against it to gain free time.  Work is just another thing I do in my life, not more or less important than other activities I involve myself in, and I don't think it should assume priority over anything else, or that it has to be its own special category to resist.  If work becomes so integral to who I am, then it has the potential of eating up all of my energy, so that I'm not able to reflect any light day to day, outside of it.  I want my energy and love to always be reflected as I move through life, not just for certain categories.  Along the same vein, I don't want to have to 'go on retreat' or holiday as a way to escape from the stresses of life in America.  I want to live my values in all of my moments, on work days, on weekends, and not have to experience joy and harmony in small, explosions of retreat.  I want to always have it with me.  After all, I'm not what I do, I'm the specific energy that I bring to the world, and the way I move through the universe.  I'm not a 40 hour work week or a task list or unread emails.

I think stripping cultural paradigms bare, like work ethic, relationships, etc, really helps me to see them for what they are, and realize that deviating from them is just to allow yourself to be a bizarre, imperfect, and loving human creature.  It allows for yourself!

Love and Learning,

Thursday, June 16, 2016


I am, super confusingly, an introvert who needs and seeks connectivity.  This connectivity can be found within myself, by being outdoors, and in other solitary ways, but it also is often found through human connection.

Sometimes it feels like waging an inner battle between the Ilse who needs a quiet atmosphere of introspection, reflection, and alone-time, and the Ilse who wants to meet bizarre people with big hearts and explore things together.

Being home makes me long for more and more connectivity in and out of myself.  This summer and beyond I hope to focus on nurturing existing relationships and finding new ones.  I hope I do an ok job at this, although I'll be rusty at first, since I've usually been 'far away' and off the grid.  I'm ready to be on a grid again, and be part of a community.

Love and American Soy Lattes,

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Leave Taking, Day 16

Day 16:  Beauty

I think I partially moved to Luang Prabang to bask in its beauty.   I can't believe I have lived in a place of such amazing physical beauty.  Without further ado, here is Luang Prabang:

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Leave Taking, Day 15

Day 15: The Proudly Exposed Man Bellies

I unfortunately have no photographic evidence, but I'll miss Lao dearly for exactly this phenomenon that I'm about to describe.  If you happen to be a Lao man of a certain age (middle aged or above) and you happen to possess a protruding belly of a certain dignified girth, then it is acceptable and encouraged to let your belly air out/hang out when it happens to be a reasonably warm day.  What this looks like in practice is a bunch of otherwise-normally dressed Lao men with their t-shirts pulled up so that they rest just above the majestic paunch, with said paunch displayed for all to see.  This is truly a sight to behold, and also makes me ponder the comically quick transition that many Lao men seem to undergo when they change overnight from lithe, slender men to wise wielders of great oft-displayed paunch.  Thank you for your work.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Leave Taking, Day 14

Day 14: Women's football/Soccer

I've had the pleasure of breaking into the women's football scene in Luang Prabang.  I'll miss playing with my rowdy, loud, good-spirited groups of women here.  My closest female Lao friends have come from being part of this.  In just a half hour, I'm off to my last double-header match with all of these lovely women.

 My football friends, Daa, and Naly (my closest friend here)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Leave Taking, Day 13

Day 13:  Monks

Monks aren't exotic in Laos; they are everywhere.  Nearly every man has been a monk or a novice. When walking around Luang Prabang, saffron robes are always in sight.  They walk in little gaggles, usually holding orange umbrellas to protect their bald heads.  They aren't allowed to ride bicycles or motorcycles, so they either walk or pile into tuk tuks to go to school.  My favorite is when I catch a glimpse of a monk or novice on their iphone or smoking a cigarette.  They seem so timeless and majestic, so it's a great juxtaposition, and also a reminder that they are just adolescent boys.

My favorite one is the first:  Mutual, shameless picture-taking of each other.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Leave Taking, Day 12

Day 12:  Beer Lao

Beer Lao is so much more than a beer.  It reflects Lao culture so perfectly.  There are some cultural rules surrounding Beer Lao, that I quickly found out.

#1:  It must be had with ice cubes.  Many of my Lao friends will refuse to drink it, unless there's a fresh heap of ice cubes in their glass.  These ice cubes can sometimes partially save you from the worst hangover imaginable, which Beer Lao proudly delivers approximately 3 hours after you start drinking it.
#2:  It is shared.  A far cry from American beer culture where every person buys their own bottle and drinks only their own bottle; Beer Lao is a social beer.  It is bought in large bottles by a group of friends, who then go through them one by one together, pouring the beer into small glasses.  You never have your own bottle of it.
#3:  It is finished.  No one is going anywhere, including you, until the entire series of bottles has been gone through.  We are all in it together.  We all go down together.
#4:  You pour for each other.  And, if you have any self-respect as a friend, all of your friend's glasses will be filled up immediately and often prematurely.
#5:  You must clink glasses and cheers, often.  Approximately every other sip, you all have to clink glasses and say "nyok nyok."  Once in a while, someone will "mot" you, and that means you have to drain your entire glass.
#6:  You can't cheat: If you are 'motted', you must respect the 'mot.'  You can't pretend to drink.  Besides, people will notice.
#7:  More beer must be procured subtly, whenever there's the slightest risk of running out of bottles.  
#8:  You most boldly display your drunkenness 
#9:  Any wishes to abstain or 'go easy' will be promptly ignored.  Begging illness, religion, preference, health, will do nothing help you.
#10: Whenever possible, foreigners must be drunk into a beautiful stupor.  This usually isn't too hard, as most foreigners usually haven't shared beer with lao people before.
#11:  Everyone you vaguely know (or sometimes don't know) must be invited over to have a glass.  You must also make them drunk too.

Beer Lao traditions, like Lao people, reflect a focus on sharing, community, openness, and fun/silliness.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Leave Taking, Day 11

Day 11:  My 5th graders

Some of you have seen first hand how social and fun Lao students are.  Last year, I was victim to a group of rambunctious 9 year olds.  My second year of teaching has generally gone more smoothly.  I have only 10 students, and they are fifth graders (10 and 11 years old).  Despite this small class size, my students still achieve levels of insanity and loudness that I didn't even know were possible.  It's also probably a testament to my 'laissez-faire' style of teaching...I've never been a strict person, and I think my attitude towards my students is, "you do you."  Unfortunately, my students have caught on to this, and my classroom has descended into chaos for the last few months.  Their version of 'doing you' is making our classroom into a slime factory (they seriously produce so much of it) and a gladiator rink.  But, that's okay.  I don't like putting leashes on my students, and some of them are able to shine in a way that they can't when just doing academics.  Such as Namthip, the queen of the slime (and also, the sass):

Or Sok, who could care less about academics, but is a fantastic athlete, friend, and class clown.
Or View, who is a budding leader who is great with younger kids.  He all but runs the classroom, and is usually reeling from his latest sugar overdose.  

I'll miss all of my students so much.  With a smaller class, I've had the privilege of getting close to all of them, and finding out their lovely quirks as individuals.

Dan's verbosity and strangely mature sense of humor:

Josh's bad puns and obsession with Harry Potter:

Brie's kindness:

Jazzy's overwhelming sweetness, and creativity in making things:

Pink's quiet and kind leadership:

Jojo's smile and desire to do well:

Tien's incredible intelligence and drive:

All of their sense's of humor:

And their wisdom:

It was a great year with them!

For your entertainment, a slime 'time lapse' series featuring slime and Teacher Leif.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Leave Taking, Day 10

Day 10:  Living with Wildlife

For those of you who kept up with me this entire year, you'll know that I have had many animal room-mates.  Rats, mice, lizards, geckos, feral cats, huntsman spiders, cockroaches...the list truly continues.  I wake up to mysterious insect bites on my legs and feet every morning.  I won't necessarily miss this every day, but I will miss how there's less separation between humans and wildlife here.  Just how you can't avoid the weather by getting into a car (nay, you ride your bike or motorcycle through wind, rain, and sun!), you also can't avoid interacting with the great outdoors.  Of course, a little separation is ideal, but in Lao, people aren't 'above' the elements.  You have to intermingle with it all, whereas in America, things seem overly hygienic and sanitized: the outdoors stays outdoors.  Here, I never know what creature I'll wake up with!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Leave Taking, Day 9

Day 9:  Noodles

Everyone who knows me probably suspects that I moved to Laos mostly for noodles, and they wouldn't entirely be wrong.  I will miss all of the noodles here.  I will miss Lao Noodle Soup (similar to Pho), I will miss Pad thai, I will miss stir-fried noodles.  Living in a country, where it is allowed and normal to wake up and immediately eat a bowl of spicy noodles (and not have to pretend that I want to eat something like pancakes or cereal) is one of the best things to have ever happened to me.

Pad Lao:

 Lao Noodle Soup:
 Pad Thai:
 I made Pad Thai!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Leave Taking, Day 8

Day 8:  Festivals

Whether it's boat-racing festival, fire boat festival, buddhist lent, Rocket festival, or Hmong or Lao New Year, this country knows how to put on a party.

Boat racing!

 Fire Boat Festival
 Hmong New Year
 Lao New Year (Country-wide water fight)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Leave Taking, Day 7

Day 7:  My adult students

I volunteer at a great nonprofit called @library twice a week where I teach super-motivated, funny, and smart adults, age 16-40.  A few of my students are high school students, a few university students, a handful are college professors, and some are tour guides or service workers who have a passion for writing.  We focus on writing; on one day, we do creative writing (poems, stories), and on the other day we do professional/academic writing (essays, emails, etc).  I love teaching these students for completely different reasons than I love teaching my 5th graders...I can relate to them as adults and friends, and also I can teach an area that I'm really passionate about, and that I believe can really empower someone.

On a field trip to hear traditional Lao folktales:

 Always so focused on writing! In comparison, my 5th grade classroom is a drunken carnival of sugar-fueled tiny people.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Leaving Taking, Day 6

Day 6:  Tuk Tuks

I will miss my experiences in and around tuk-tuks.  Tuk-tuks are the form of public transport in Lao and surrounding countries.  They consist of a motorcycle converted into a taxi, or sometimes a truck converted into a taxi.  They sound like they are exploding, and often, they nearly are!  Actually, their name is an onomatopoetic take on the noise that they make while in motion.  Erica and I have many-a-time calmly remarked to each other whilst riding in an especially special-sounding tuk tuk, "Are we about to blow up?"  Luckily, this has never come to fruition.  They also move at majestically turtle-like speeds.  Tuk Tuk drivers decorate their vehicle with buddhist paraphernalia, flowers, and discrete bob marley stickers.  A lot of drivers in Luang Prabang are part of the exclusive Lao weed ring, which they immediately let you know when you enter their vehicle.  Also, in Luang Prabang, many tuk tuk drivers will roam the town center trying to convince tourist to go see the famous waterfalls by yelling "waterFALL, waterFALL"...and unfortunately, to an unseasoned ear, this often sounds like "what the F***, what the F***", which makes for a bizarre and uncomfortable misunderstanding indeed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Leave Taking, Day 5

Day 5:  The Scruffy, disheveled "ban" dogs.

The street dogs in Laos are just hot enough that they aren't aggressive.  Maybe that's a thing.  I like to call them the neighborhood dogs, or "ban" dogs, because they seem to belong to villages, rather than individuals.  They are barely conscious, most of the time, and can be found in rather bizarre poses like sprawled in the middle of the road, lying on the top of dinner tables, or in piles of mud...Every once in a while, my favorite thing happens, which is when I spot a dog riding either in the basket of a motorbike, or riding behind their owner and sitting like a person.

My favorite dogs are the especially next-level disheveled ones, and I have a name for them too.  They look and act exactly like hangovers, so they are the "benders."  They emerge, confused, and dazed in the late-morning, wandering around with fur in their regretful eyes and covered in leaves and mud and beer lao.  They are the accidental, and forgotten heroes here.

Needless to say, Beppo would wet his pants within minutes of interacting with any Lao dog.  What a pampered dork.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Leaving Taking, Day 4

Day 4:  FRUIT!

Laos has the most bizarre, eclectic, and delicious fruit I have ever seen.  There's little red fruit that looks like a hairy monster, and bumpy purple fruit that looks like something Tim Burton dreamed up.  Every day I eat fruit until my stomach hurts, and I'd have it no other way.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Leave Taking, Day 3

Day 3: Time

I'm pretty sure in America, time shifts-shapes and warps until it is rarer, smaller, stingier.  We spend time in America, like we spend money.  We also run out of it.  In Laos, time is like the Mekong.  At times, barely moving. Great, swollen expanses of time.  On especially hot days here, time spends us.  We lay motionless on flat surfaces in dark rooms, begging for the release of night time, begging for time to release its steadfast grip on us, in the hot hours of the day.  What do I have a lot of here in Lao?  I have time. Time to think, time to do yoga, time to read, time to drink Beer Lao, time to watch the sunset, time. There's no shortage of it here.  The only reliable measure of it: the temple drumming/gonging which happens at the same times each day.  I'll miss waking up on a Sunday with an entire day sitting like a fat, lazy dog in front of me, and knowing that I won't have to spend the time in a myriad of ways.  I can just sit in it, indulgently.

Leave Taking, Day 2

Day 2: The Mekong

Since last year, when I lived in Vientiane, the Mekong has been the center of everything here.   "Mekong" in Lao means "The Mother of all things."  And so it is. It's where we gather, in the half light, to eat on wooden tables and watch the sunset with Beer Lao in hand. The best sunsets I've seen in my life have been from the banks of the Mekong.  In Vientiane, it forms the backdrop of the night market, all red tents and lights and river.  We play frisbee on the beach, walking through the scraggy plants on the sand.  In Luang Prabang, it frames the town, and shapes everyone's life.  Long boats and blue-roofed Slow Boats turtle across, bearing villagers and food.  Fisherman wade, waist deep, with nets in the early morning and evening.  Monks and novices play and bathe by bamboo bridges; splashing in their saffron robes.  It is everything here, and yet you can barely register its silent, persistent embrace, the many gifts it gives.  The Mekong barely moves when you watch it; it's a lazy, brown, beautiful river, framed by soft green mountains.  Right now, I watch its languid, unrushed movement from inside my house.  Living on the Mekong has been such a lucky dream.  I'm happy to return to the fresh, brisk, blue waters of the Mississippi, but I'll miss its more earthy, sultry, jungle-kissed cousin in SE Asia.

My view from today, while writing a paper for grad school:

Friday, May 13, 2016


And so I enter another season of leave-taking.  I think I can truly measure my years in terms of this sort of bittersweet event: leaving a place.  Sometimes, the constant evolution of English results in the perfect word, and I can't think of a better one to express how I'm feeling about my upcoming departure from this fair land...


In celebration of Lao and all that Lao has brought to me, I want to revive my blogging efforts in my last 3 weeks, and try my best to post something about Lao every day.  Either a memory, something I love, or something I will miss about living here.

Day 1:  Greetings.
 This town feels like a village.  Wherever I go, whether it's to ingloriously buy a 24 pack of toilet paper and then almost crash into a vegetable stand on my way back, or to dinner, or to a bar, or to teach, I am greeted by faces I know.  "Fa!"  I hear the short, musical, retort of my Lao name barked at me around each corner, as I run into all of the different, lovely, smiling faces that have become part of my daily life here.  Just today, on my short errand into town, I ran into "Beer" (girl who sells me noodles and also forces me to drink Beer Lao with her), "Lee" (tuk tuk driver in my neighborhood who tries to sell me marijuana and smiles for days), "Long Neck" (preschool student at my school who thinks he is a dinosaur), mysterious elderly woman who gives me bananas, and everyone else in the world.  I spend my day saying hello to people.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The True Story of ______

Today we read a short story called "The True Story of The Three Pigs" which took the perspective of the traditional villain/antagonist of the story, the wolf, and how the story went from his point of view. After, I asked my students to choose a well-known story or plot line and do the same.

Without further preamble, I give you the two following masterpieces:

The True Story of Harry Potter
So I was just going over to have a nice cup of tea with the Potters, (everyone knows I have an anger management problem), and James was saying very hurtful things about me so we 'dueled' and...I sort of maybe killed him.  So then I thought "oops, I could go to jail" so I was going to get rid of Lily and Harry but maybe not Lily.  But I was going to kill Harry because I HATE KIDS!  So I was saying "Move over, I want to kill your son" and she said "no" so I killed her.  Then I, the most powerful wizard of all time, was defeated by a one year old.  What is up with that?  So 10 year after I went to get revenge on him but it didn't work so I planned to come back to power instead and then 3 years later I came back and I tried again and messed up AGAIN!  What is with that?  So I kept trying, then when Harry was 17 I tried one last night but I....

The True Story of Star Wars Episode 3
So I changed to Darth Vader just because that poor old Palatine wanted me to be a different person, and I couldn't refuse because...well he's a billion years old so I didn't want to be rude, and I would get a black suit if I joined, and black is my favorite colour, I never really cared about the surgery, and it was cool being an emperor controlling people and being rich and owning the Death Star and Star Destroyer, so all and all pretty good until I killed my son, but that battle was epic and all the famous scenes I was in so I didn't really care about Luke dying, and this is my story.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The complicated endeavor of being a woman and also being yourself

A hard thing as a human is when you don't live up to your own boldly-toted values.  I am a feminist, and someone who cares deeply about gender issues.  I'm also a person who usually sees the world in grays (you see what I did there with "usually?" That's exactly indicative of what it means to be a gray-wave-surfer. Things are often usually and almost never always.)  But- I still have values--things I hold dear to me.  One of these values among others, is that I value equality---racial equality, gender equality,....  As a white American, I am a witness of racism, but never a victim.  As a woman, I'm privy to both witnessing and experiencing all the complicated implications of what it means to be a woman.

As a woman, I'm expected to look like a young girl.  As a woman, I'm expected to look pretty and thin and desirable but not slutty.  As a woman, I'm expected to please others, to be soft, nurturing, kind, sympathetic, giving.  To complicate this, as an individual human, I also have a tendency towards being a people-pleaser and a peace-maker (and in the past, a push-over).  Furthermore, I very often feel joy when I can fulfill this role of supplying joy and peace.  But, because these are also traditionally stereotyped 'female' roles, I have sometimes felt like my essential Ilse-ness is false and pandering if after all it's just me living up to my role as a woman.  On the flip-side, I boldly fail at many traditional 'female' attributes such as neatness, domesticity, willingness to comb my hair...I'm disheveled, messy, more interested in playing sports than cheering, less than interested in tidying, cleaning, playing host.  I love wearing dresses, having long hair, and playing the ukelele.  Like all humans, I am a lovely and nonsensical combination of traits and tendencies that are at odds with each other.  I am a paradox.  This is who I am, and who I have always been, long before the appropriate gendered messages had reached my brain and stuck there.  Am I sending the wrong message?  (And why do I need a message?) Should I cut off my hair, wear overalls, start being gruff?  I like playing soccer, drinking beer, and not small- talking to people, because I can also have the other half of me that likes feeling pretty in a red dress.  It's complicated stuff.  I was and am lucky enough to have family who never enforced these gender stereotypes or expectations, but nonetheless, all these messages are still sent and received as a woman living in America or elsewhere.

I tried to write some of these common experiences/expectations below: 

As a woman, I'm supposed to be soft
soft of mind, soft of resolve
but not too soft
actually thin is better
thin enough to see a collar bone
but not too thin

as a woman, I'm supposed to be agreeable
in the right context, of course
not too agreeable
that's just pathetic

As a woman, I'm supposed to look like a young girl
bare legs, long hair, smooth skin
but not too young
because that's just creepy

As a woman, I'm supposed to be pretty
when I wake up in the morning,
in the afternoon,
in the evening,
when I'm asleep,
I'm given compliments on days when I look my best.
I notice.

As a woman, I'm supposed to please
the man's pleasure comes first
but I shouldn't be too focused on pleasing
because that's weird 

As a woman, I should be ready to have sex
when I don't want it
but when I do want it, I shouldn't show it

As a woman, I should be ready with a meal or a drink,
Welcoming to guests,
A gracious hostess,
making small talk,
it's rude otherwise

As a woman, I should be smart
but not too smart
No one likes a Hermione
I should read the news
but not voice my opinion

As a woman, I should be fun
laid back, adventurous
at first
but ready to settle and give it up
the freedom

of just being myself.

**The first person used here not to necessarily refer to my personal experience, but more to capture what are perhaps common experiences of many women.      

Friday, February 26, 2016

Pillars of Living

Dear all,

I had a feeling a long time ago that I wasn't much of a planner.  Long-term goals, plans, desires...I always felt at loss at how to interact with these things, and unsure of how to answer to questions to this sort of tune when asked.  Furthermore, even if I was a planner, I feel like I'd be a wildly inconsistent one, as it seems like my emotions and ideas and goals shift and change all the time, and there's no way I could expect my ever-changing self to even want to do the thing I had planned for in the past.

I still don't have any grand plan, even one that goes beyond a few months.  I started graduate school on a whim but I think a logical one, since it seems I'm currently heading in the direction of teaching, but I don't believe it'll be the one thing that I do as work for the rest of my life.

I think plans are super great too!  And planners.  Lots of my friends and people in my life are planners.  I think this works very well for them.  And, I think they'd mostly agree that it doesn't seem to work great for me.  So, I've been looking around for other models of how to prioritize and order a life in a way that seems to jive more with my inner heart.  Because, the fact that I'm not a planner, doesn't mean that I don't also crave order, and meaning in my life.  I don't want to bounce like an errant electron all over the place in a chaotic world!  No, I definitely crave a harmony to my decisions.

And, then I found it!  Something that resonated completely with how I already order my life internally.  And I should say that I don't think I, or anyone, needs a nicely-summed up and titled definition of the way that they live, just like an experienced yogi doesn't need to read books about the benefits and theories of yogic living, they just need to live it...but all the same, it made me feel validated.

This rad musician-feminist Kiran Gandhi coined the term "Atomic Living" for a life style that finds meaning in spontaneity.  You can read about it here!

I don't really like the term itself, something about "Atomic" rubs me the wrong way, but the sentiment is spot-on!  She says, "Instead of constructing a 10 year of 15 plan that prevents unexpected events from playing a natural role in life, Atomic Living suggests instead knowing what matters to you most, and accommodating various moments and opportunities in life according to those pillars." 

 If you always have about 4 pillars in your life, the 4 things that you wish to prioritize, then you will be able to make decisions that allow you to nurture any one of these pillars when opportunities present themselves.  For me, this was very helpful because this also implicitly means that you will know when to say "no" to an opportunity too, when there is no potential to nurture any of your pillars.  I am an indecisive person, and so framing potential decisions in this way, really helps me to prioritize opportunities that will nourish or benefit me over things I'm not actually interested in.  This way of living also accommodates for the very human phenomenon of shifting goals, passions, and priorities throughout life.  Who knows what they'll be like in 5 years?  I think we are always changing, and so we should allow our priorities and passions to also change.

Right now my pillars are:

1. Family and Friends
2. Mindfulness
3. Creativity
4. Social Justice

These are very broad categories.  Under "mindfulness" could be anything from meditation to biking.  Under "creativity" could be anything from playing the ukulele to learning new languages.  Under "Social Justice" could be anything from teaching to being aware of privilege.  And they overlap and blend together at some points too.  I hope that when confronted with an opportunity or choice, I'll be able to think about whether I'll grow in any of these areas, and have an easier time making a decision.

Love and indecision,

Saturday, January 9, 2016


I'm teaching poetry in my adult class right now, and we have been focusing on "showing, not telling", a very similar adage for anyone who has taken a creative writing class before in college.   A resolution that I always have for myself and that I often fall short of is to write more poems, stories, anything really.

For a warm-up exercise last week, I showed a picture that I had taken in Yangon, Myanmar, and had the students "show" the picture through writing.  The picture, and the moment it captures, are bewitching and mysterious to me.  I attempted to put the feeling into writing:

Father and Son
under bright clouds
father and son stand
fields of wet, angry green behind
the air is sharp, like a lover's slap

they stand
back to back
like distrusting allies in battle
deciding who will act next

Friday, January 1, 2016


I'm teaching a writing class to adults and we recently finished our unit on writing a basic essay.  I wanted to share one of my student's essays about why you should visit Laos.  It's rather convincing.

Laos is a good place to visit
Sometimes somebody is trying to find a good place to visit in the world. Actually Laos is landlocked and very small country in Asia and it’s located in the south of China it’s a good and peaceful place to visit and has three big ethic groups, they have their own traditional and living style. I believe Laos is a good place to visit because there are so many things interesting, sightseeing, food, Buddhist, culture and traditional are the most very important things that you should know and learn when you are in Laos.

To begin with, there are so many interesting things to see and beautiful places which attracts the tourists who come to Laos. Mostly people visit Laos, want to see and spend time in the beautiful and peaceful places. Laos is the once very special country in Asia, it’s charming and colorful by golden temples and traditional houses style. It’s surrounded by limestone landscape, and gentle hills. If you want to see a really beautiful sunset there are some high mountains are the best places for you, so it’s easy to get to and there are magnificent from the tops, oh a clear day you can see for miles around. There are so many things you can visit and enjoy and do some activities such as waterfall, cave, elephant ridding and kayaking etc.

The second reason to visit Lao is because there is delicious food. There are delicious and tasty food in Laos but it is very spicy food. If anyone wants to try spicy food please come to Laos. I can say Laos is the spiciest food country, reasonably why am I saying that? Because mostly Lao people eat very spicy, for me I do like spicy food too. When they cook if there is no chili in the food, they say it is not tasty. There are many different kind of food in Laos, also ethnic group food style. The main food in Laos is sticky rice, Orlam, noodle soup, papaya salad and JeoBong. Orlam is a kind of spicy soup, JeoBong is a sauce with chili and buffalo’s skin, noodle soup is a soup with noodle, vegetables and sometimes with meat, papaya salad made with papaya, fish sauce, garlic, chili, lime, etc.

Thirdly, there is Traditional Buddhist culture to learn about Laos is the only country in Asia that has its own language, traditional culture and religion. In Laos there are very strict rules. Lao culture is very different from the other countries, for example the ladies have to wear skirt or (sin in Lao) and scarf on the shoulder when they go to the temple and also when they join ceremony in the village. In Laos is impolite to kiss or hug each other in public. It is polite to invite your friends when they are walking by while you are eating in the restaurant or the house to join you. Greeting in Laos is called Nob. Nob is when you first see somebody or a friend, you raise both hands up in front of your chest and place them together and say sabaidee.

To sum up, Laos is a good place to visit because there are many interesting places, tasty food, and traditional Buddhist culture. I hope you can come to Laos but make sure to respect Lao culture, for example you should not touch the head of a novice or monk nor wear your shoes when you are in the pagoda. Are you ready to taste spicy food and have an adventure wandering in the mountains? If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place. (Lao Tzu), music in the soul can be heard by the universe.