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 Many words and images come to mind as I look back at 2010. Here are a few:

 Provisioning: to provide needed materials and supplies

Much of the year was spent (on and off) in preparation for the next stage of my journey—retirement—arranging pension, social security, retiree health, part-time work. A word of advice: if you don’t want to do a lot of paperwork, don’t retire.

 Confounded: confused, perplexed

I have always envisioned retirement as the time when I would at last have the luxury of being able to write full time. I had a book in progress that I was excited about. Things changed early in the year, and now I have the time but, ironically, am not at all sure about this book.

 Re-visioning: making a new, amended, improved or up-to-date version of

Flowing with the irony is the name of the game: reflecting on forms that the book could take; writing and submitting related personal essays to journals and magazines; planning a blog that I will truly commit to; dusting off YA and middle grade novels in progress. No matter what, it seems I cannot avoid writing.

 Gratitude: appreciation for benefits received

            The definition says it all.

 Rhythm: movement, fluctuation, or variation marked by the regular recurrence or natural flow of related elements

I’m still trying to establish one for this new way of life. Work for pay used to set the pace to a large extent. Now the average six hours per week that I still work as instructional coach and mentor teacher at my school often constitute a disruption to my attempts at routine. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for all that the work brings me, tangible and intangible.

 Third Culture Kids (TCKs): children growing up in a culture other than the home culture

            I am exploring different aspects of this as I, at sixty-two, still attempt to discover my identity for myself and to write about it.

 At home: relaxed and comfortable, at ease, in harmony with the surroundings

One characteristic of adult TCKs is “restlessness.” A coworker once said of me that I was always looking around the corner. I have moved 64 times in my life, and am still trying to figure out where home might be in the new stage of the journey. Part of me wants to stay where I am; part of me is, yes, Michele, looking around the corner for what’s next. Home or adventure? Or both?

 Wishes: expressed desires

Peace, joy, love, productivity, sustainability for us all, for the planet and all who make her their home. May we all thrive. Imagine.

Writer's Block: Cold turkey tremors

What is the longest, uninterrupted stretch you've stayed offline (without mobile access either)? How soon did you suffer withdrawal pains? Did you find it liberating?

About 50 years--prior to getting my first e-mail account, so obviously I had nothing to withdraw from or be liberated from then. Most recently  about 2 days, while I was in Cambodia. But the internet is everywhere.

Cambodia Journal Updated (Chay)

In my Cambodia Journal, I wrote about one of my favorite kids at Wat Opot, 3-year-old Chay. His father had died of AIDS, and his mother was wraithlike, seeming to be ready to leave the planet, except for the love of her son, who is HIV positive. Chay was the little guy who didn't smile at all the first few days of our visit and slowly transformed into a laughing, hugging, engaging little fellow--the little guy who was so excited about the crab on our last morning there. A few weeks ago Wayne wrote on the Wat Opot Children's Community website that Chay's mother, Yeang Lab, had died. He wrote so movingly that I can't improve upon the account, so I asked permission to write it here:

INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS

Those eyes gave her away on the very first day I met her... I have seen that look before, so many times in the past, and although it has been awhile, I knew then and there that she would not be with us for very long.

I suppose it did have an effect on how I related to her. I wanted so much to be wrong, at least for Chay’s sake, but when she asked to return to the hospital after a months stay with us, I knew she would not be coming back.

For two weeks I had watched as she slowly released, the only thing she had left in this life to live for . At  first it was difficult for her, because Chay had known only her skirts as the boundaries of his world and only his Mother’s loving arms for protection and comfort... from a world that had already taken his Father. She was determined however to make sure he would be taken good care of and so she pushed him… into the arms of strangers. She would never let him out of her sight but day by day withdrew more and more into the shadows of his world...watching with motherly pride, yet with tears in her eyes, as he won over the hearts of others, and showered them with the hugs and kisses once meant for her alone. She left his life quietly...with no word of farewell, requesting to be taken to the hospital while he played in his new world.I wasn't planning to tell him of his mother's passing, until he grew a little older...but our children have no secrets from each other and before I knew it, his head was shaven and he had changed from a rambunctious little child to an attentive young man dressed in white. Chay seems to have accepted his mother's passing without question, or perhaps...like so many of our children, still feels his mother's presence somewhere in the shadows of his existence.

If you want to see pictures of Chay and his mom, Chay and the children washing bones, Chay in white in a meditation pose during the funeral ceremony, go to http://www.tsoham.info/index_files/strangersarms.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Horrors Ameliorated by Pleasures

    Oh, the horrors of it. High-stakes testing is upon us. I am administering it to 18 students, and it turns me into a person I don’t recognize. From someone who knows that grading a school’s success by comparing the scores of a different group of 11th graders each year is sheer idiocy, I go to a promoter of the test. Moreover, this 14-hour monstrosity is not a test of skills or knowledge, but simply of endurance. The test, of course, is at 11th grade level, but many of our students come to us working at the lower elementary level. And I have to get them to try hard. We are in our cave together for the next 6 days. I came home utterly exhausted last night, and I’m sure it was the same for them.

    I can only feel fortunate that tomorrow I will go with a friend up to Pagosa Springs in southern Colorado. I will write and meditate and walk and commune with my friend, and we will soak in hot springs that people have enjoyed for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. There are 12 pools of different temperatures, terraced on a hillside beside the rolling Animas River and looking out to the majestic, snow-capped San Juan Mountains. I’m glad I scheduled this in the middle of testing. That’s all I can say.

New Leaves

A friend who lives in Bergen, Norway, wrote me the other day. It had been a long time since we’d managed to connect. She’d seen my LJ and asked why I didn’t write more often. I’d been wondering that myself. I thought about blogs my friends keep–some almost daily, others more like weekly. And I realized that because it’s more or less public, I’ve been taking my blog much too seriously. As in writerly seriously. And I always feel like I don’t have enough time to spend online. Only enough time to read mystery novels. Go figure. So I’ve decided to turn over a new leaf.

I’m on my Spring Break, and there’s nothing like a break to change my way of thinking and being about things. My dad died just a little over a month before I turned 60, and I think the 2 events really affected my outlook over the past year in ways I couldn’t have predicted. I started looking at ordinary things I do, like stepping into my pants from a standing position, which means balancing on one leg at a time, and wondering how long I’d be able to do that. I took each ache and sharp pain to mean that my downhill trend was zipping along at a rapid pace and soon there’d be nothing left for me to do physically, so I might as well sit in my easy chair and do what else? Read mystery novels.

Suddenly something shifted on the first day of Spring Break. I’m not old; Mandie says I just turned 16, after all. I’ll take her word for it. I’ve broken up my days of blessed freedom like this: writing until noon (this is paradise); working on house and garden in 20-minute segments, alternating with 20-minute segments of–reading mystery novels. No, I am not writing a mystery novel, but in my next lifetime, I’d sure like to be a P-I–it’s the puzzles I love.

And yesterday I moved the following from my Subaru wagon into the back yard: 2 3.8- cubic-foot bales of peat; 3 2-cubic-foot bags of organic composted cottonwood burrs; 2 1-cubic-foot bags of steer manure; 1 bale of straw; 1 1-cubic-foot bag of very wet potting soil; 2 280-gallon rain catchment barrels; a rake; and a little bag of 100 red onion sets. And I am all in one piece and feeling very fit.

I also found a fascinating website while surfing my iPhone: http://deadlysins.com  I’m still trying to figure out who the person is that has set it up. Check it out.
And I decided to use this instead of my old "2008 in Review." And next year I think I might steal Dragon's meme:


1. What did you do in 2008 that you'd never done before?
Wrote the renewal application for my school's charter.

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don't remember, but of course I'll make new ones, and they'll no doubt go the same way. But it feels good to reflect and plan anyway.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
No.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Yes. My dad.

5. What countries did you visit?
Denmark, Cambodia, South Korea (if you count that amazing airport for 10 hours).

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
More time to write and desire to exercise.

7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I'm with Vicki--November 4th!

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
My part in getting our school's charter renewed.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Substituting food for deeper, truer desires.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
The usual aches and pains.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My i-phone.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Cheyenne's, who, after her car was stolen said, "I hope it wasn't someone who just did it because that's what they do. I hope it was someone who really needed the money, and it made their Christmas better."

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed.
Dick Cheney's.

14. Where did most of your money go?
My house.

15. What are you really, really, really excited about?
Retiring in a year and a half to write my next book.

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?
"We Are Wat Opotians" sung by the kids at Wat Opot.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you
a) happier or sadder?
I don't remember how I felt last year at this time.
b) Bigger or smaller?
Um, probably bigger.
c) richer or poorer?
Poorer in terms of retirement savings, darn it.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Moving and meditating.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Reading.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
Next year? Hopefully with Cheyenne. Always.

21. What was your favorite month of 2008?
June in Copenhagen..

22. Did you fall in love in 2008?
Nah.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
I watched TV 3 times, all related to the election, so I guess I'd have to say election night coverage.


24. How did you see in the New Year?
I think I was sleeping when it happened. Boring.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
No.

26. What was the best book you read?
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I guess this is another one of those holes in me.

28. What did you want and get?
Pens.

29. What did you want and not get?
Retirement.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?
Rejseholdet.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 60 and went to the St. James Tea House with Cheyenne.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Having completed the proposal for my book.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?
Concept?

34. What kept you sane?
My trip to Copenhagen.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Charlotte Fich, the lead in Rejseholdet.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Knowing that Obama plans to send more troops to Afghanistan and thinking it's going to be his nemesis and get a lot more people killed.

37. Who did you miss?
Susan.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
New-old: Wayne.

Q: "Why are you here?!?"
To learn to love.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.
Be it ever so simple, I'm still living an opulent life.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Not a song lyric, but my watchword:
   Travel light. Live light. Send light. Be light.

Tags:

Wat Opot Contacts

I meant to give, for anyone interested, a way to contact Wat Opot. If you go to http://tsoham.info, that will take you to a link for Wat Opot Children's Community and to Partners in Compassion, where you can donate online, if you are so inspired. Also, for wonderful slide-music shows of these most engaging children, go to YouTube and type in Wat Opot.

Cambodia Journal: Afterthoughts

One of our last evenings at Wat Opot, I noticed 2 brilliant heavenly lights near the horizon and just above a sliver of moon. To be that bright, I thought they had to be planets. A few twilights later, I was walking in my own neigborhood, and I saw those same bodies, the moon now nearly at half, and all a little higher up in the sky. I was missing Wayne and the children, that strange land that had become just slightly familiar, and I took comfort from the fact that we were seeing the same conjunction of planets and moon. I wanted names for these signs of connection, and synchronously, when I walked in the door, Star Date was on KUNM, and, even more miraculously, Sandy Woods was telling me that I had been viewing Venus and Jupiter beside the moon in the night sky. I gave thanks.

Even more challenging than writing about Wat Opot, is the idea of writing about how it has changed me. And it’s good I waited this long, to see how/if the changes have held.
The change I began hoping for already on our first night in Phnom Penh, namely that I be less concerned with cleanliness, especially around food, is only slightly realized. I try to be aware when some food standard doesn’t meet my surgical and Dutch standards, and to let go. I try not to be grossed out when my drink is served in a glass bearing a perfect lipstick kiss. That may be all I can do at the moment.

I’ve been accused at times of being a minimalist, of having a Zen-like household because I try to live simply. But my version of simple is opulent compared with what I witnessed in Cambodia. I thought about ways to simplify further–using solar or crank flashlights when I move around the house at night rather than electricity; collecting water in a basin in the bathroom and using it throughout the day rather than tapping fresh water for each use; setting up rain collectors, which I’ve long wanted to do. I realized that some things I could do in Cambodia because it is a hot country. Cold showers, for example, were a pleasure, not something to be endured. Here the basin of water, in my 56ºF-house was more than I could tolerate in winter. I will try again in summer. If I could, I would live in 200 square feet of space or less, but to do that I would have to find land and build. How to further simplify is something I will continue to contemplate, but I have already been a purchaser in this holiday season.

Cambodia Journal: Days 10 & 11


 

Thanksgiving Day. Thursdays and Sundays are days off from school, but the children stayed away from us. Even when we tried to engage in conversation, they ignored us. They knew. And without saying it, we had said goodbye the night before. The only one who talked to us was Chay, in his excitement about the crab.

 

Before 10, the tuk tuk arrived to take us and Wayne back into Phnom Penh. Wayne had reserved a room again at the Golden Gate, where he would spend the night and we would be able to leave our luggage during the day, since our flight was not until nearly midnight. Wayne seemed much more aware of it being Thanksgiving than I was. We went to the Garden Center Cafe, owned by the Aussie and frequented by westerners. A sign told us it would be open that evening only for guests who had booked for Thanksgiving Dinner. Wayne said that one thing he really loves and misses is pumpkin pie. The owner came in with a stack of pies for the evening dinner, and Wayne finagled a slice to his great pleasure. I don’t think I ever felt so happy for someone else, getting the food they longed for.

 

After dinner we went to some shops to look at silk and cotton scarves. One of the shop owners buys from Wat Opot weavers, and so we purchased several there. Afterwards we went back to the hotel and did what you do in hotel rooms–watched tv. It was all over the news about the attacks in Mumbai and people stranded at the Bangkok airport. Thankfully we were flying out through Seoul-Incheon. Strangely enough, we watched Michael Moore’s Sicko. In the evening we went to a beautiful neighborhood restaurant serving traditional Khmer food.

 

It was hard leaving Wayne, maybe a little hard for him, too, I think. We may have been the first visitors he had whom he’d known in his earlier life. Me, at least. I hoped he’d come with us to the airport, and he did, on our one last tuk tuk ride.

 

We had a 10-hour layover in Seoul-Incheon, which allowed us a couple of pleasures. This is the most passenger-friendly airport I’ve ever been in. On the third level are 2 hotels–simple but luxurious. You can rent a room for a minimum of 6 hours, base price $47. There are also free recliners and full-length upholstered benches for resting, showers, manicures, pedicures, massages and full-service restaurants. We rented a room, and enjoyed some sleep, while we awaited our second pleasure, meeting up with my nephew, Gabe, who is teaching English in Seoul this year. We visited with him for a little over an hour in a downstairs cafe, before he had to go teach. Every time I get together with Gabe, I appreciate him more and more, in part because we are both writers and have those arcane conversations, the nature of which some of you understand fully.

 

We reached home around 8 pm on Friday evening, our only delay having been in Denver for the first de-icing of the season. There will be one more Cambodia Journal entry, sharing after-impressions and what I know some of you have been waiting to hear about–the life changes.

Cambodia Journal: Days 7-9


The next days developed into a kind of routine. I had recorded the next part of my interview with Wayne on Sunday (Day 6), and when we finished on Monday, I felt an unexpected release. Our talks were fascinating, and I was getting what I came for. But when I turned off the recorder, I started sharing more of myself; it was like old times, when we knew each other 30-plus years ago in Gallup, only better, because both of us have been freed from the constraints of religion.

 

Cheyenne and I spent time reading, and I went for a walk one morning along the road to the school, meeting children in their white tops and navy skirts and pants, saying hello to wide smiles, bowing to parents delivering children by motorbike and to families at their morning chores under houses. Afternoons we played with the children–board games, looking through picture dictionaries and teaching each other the words in Khmer and English, words that will quickly be forgotten by all of us. Some of my greatest pleasure came from watching the children make up their own play outdoors–experiments with water and tubing and cups, pulling each other in a wooden cart with two long front handles, running about, making things in the dirt, diving naked into the new fish ponds then slipping their clothing on over shining wet bodies. It reminded me of how we played as children, building Navajo sheep camps in the moist arroyo bed, hiking the huge pile of rocks beyond the arroyo, play without toys or with very few of them.

 

I had 2 favorite children–Mak Phon, the boy who knew my name and loved saying it, and Chay. Chay I loved in part because he underwent an amazing transformation during our short stay. His father had died of AIDS, and his mother, on ARV drugs, walks around like a ghost, widowed, sick, knowing she has given the virus to her 3-year-old. She won’t try the sewing class or silk weaving, says she’s too tired. Mother and son have been at Wat Opot the least time of any, and they came because after getting on the drugs, mother wasn’t gaining weight. Early in our stay, I remarked that I had never seen Chay smile. If we talked to him, he gazed at us with dark eyes almost too large for his face, and turned his body sideways to us. One day, at supper, Cheyenne said she’d seen him laugh that day with another child. He joined the after-supper group that evening and for the first time rewarded us with a tiny smile. A little later, he giggled. By the next day he was smiling and laughing often, climbing on my lap, running and grabbing my hand whenever he saw me on the compound. His mother watched from a distance, barely smiling when I bowed and smiled to her. I don’t remember hearing Chay say more than a couple of words at a time, until our last morning. I was sitting on the screened porch of the duplex, and I heard an excited string of words outside the window. It was Chay, pointing at the base of the wall and continuing to try to convey something of great importance. Turned out there was a crab with a body about the size of Chay’s hand muddling about by the wall. Chay’s change is typical of the children who come to Wat Opot frightened, lonely, angry, depressed, soon becoming well-adjusted, vibrant, loving and loved.

 

Every evening we went to the crematorium and then to the wall outside the dispensary. It seemed that in the evening the children were more inclined to give and receive affection, crawling over us, seeking attention for this little performance, that English word. Maybe like children everywhere, they are simply having their bedtime ritual. Maybe it is the time of day when they most miss what they have lost.

 

The last evening was different. Both Cheyenne and I felt that the children sensed we were leaving the next day. Several made a point of connecting in ways that were deeper, acknowledging a sort of finality, a closing. Nak, who had not cuddled up to me since the first night, did so again on this night. Srey Mou came to my lap, and so did my Mak Phon. Wayne says they are not good at good-byes. I think he meant that they don’t say good-bye in the way that visitors might want them to. To me it seems that with the many comings and goings, including the big life leave-takings they have experienced, they understand on a deep level the Buddhist concept of the impermanence of life.