Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Great Wall, Salsa, and Life: an unending pirouette


Quiet in the hotel next door. Every green thing in China is designed—even the forests.
I'm in a hotel I don't like. I've gotten old. You check in at a bar—the first hint it's not for me. The carpet in the hall smells like it was recently cleaned to get rid of who knows what, the room is small but "well designed" yet the internet and water is costly. That's OK (kind of) but there is no fitness room or common area or restaurant - except of course the aforementioned bar.
The Great Wall - where once the emperor closed off an Empire, now the Empire is ready to embrace the World.
Yet is was chosen for me in part because it is close to a partner I greatly respect—a young woman who has shared much with me about China. This to include the impacts of a single child policy on parenting: how children are so profoundly valued that they are coddled by two generations as that one child  carries the weight of being the only heir for 6 people in a society where the "social security" is the son. What are the impacts of an entire society of adults who have been coddled their entire lives and have no knowledge of giving of themselves but only of being given too? On the other hand, the population is so dense, what are the impacts of a doubled population (or worse) and their demands on our global resources? I have no answers only questions.

Shanghai night
Ahhh China, I have fallen deeply in love with the place and the people even though my description above may seem to be contrary. The land is vast and the people are straight forward. Each time I visit I find that my perceptions were based on such a small viewpoint. It is a land of people who were once hopeless and now find their dreams coming true. A people where the seemingly impossible has become possible; a society where my generation faced starvation and fear, dying in the millions, yet their children have opportunities abundant; a giant that has awakened to the prosperity we in the U.S. are accustomed and jaded by; a population eager and able to take advantage because of their vast size, population, propensity to learn, and hunger.

Frank Lui - the visionary and extraordinary gentleman behind the summit—and Shanghai's growth.
This week I've been to the mountains of Zhangjiakou to present at the "Enterprise Growth Leader Summit". This same area is poised to be the host of the 2020 Winter Olympics. The presenters at the summit were impressive, bucking their cultural upbringing to compete on a massive scale. Their stories resonate with the lessons I've learned and only partially succeeded at.

Dinner for the foreign presenters - a formal affair, a great honor and the means to valued relationships.
The dream.
But China builds up and tears down mercilessly. The resort area of Zhangjiakou is all new and the ski runs are unlike any I've ever seen with an entire resort mountain for each skill level. The mountains themselves are vast with small villages no larger than a football field tucked within and falling into ruin. In these the grandparents live because all the youth have gone to the cities. Fallen down towns for falling apart people. Is this a possible metaphor for a future Vermont?

Mountains not to be forgotten.
A grandfather's garden
The soon to be past.
Back to my hotel in Shanghai, a hot spot for youth, I walk to dinner and the restaurant is full of young salsa dancers. They provocatively embrace and separate to dust their soles and find new partners. It is all about the dance.

It's all about the dance.
Night moves.
And within the glittering lights and high end costs, less than 500 steps away, a man, painful to look at,  deeply scarred beyond recognition without fingers or thumbs, has spent his day precisely writing on the sidewalk in difficult to know calligraphy. I kneel down and touch his shoulder. I ask if I can photograph his work. I look into his eyes and say "it is beautiful" though I can not read his words and he cannot understand mine. I offer $20 American into the stubs of his hands. It is all I can offer to show my gratitude for his painstaking artistic pursuit.
Night artistry in the sidewalk.
Without hands or fingers with a face beyond recognition, he works.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Magic

There's magic in that too. The older I get, the more I realize, we never really parted, instead we've become a part of each other.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Greece

Perhaps it's due to growing up in a suburb named Greece with each high school named for Greek goddesses and gods - or perhaps due to my courses in antiquity - or to reading the Iliad and the Odyssey - either way I have always dreamed of traveling to Greece. And this year, the tenth anniversary of marrying the man who stole my heart and with whom every day I am grateful to have in my life, this year, we are set to travel to Greece!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Covenant: Myself and You And Every Living Creature

The writing demons have been dancing in my mind, begging to be let loose, to share the meandering thoughts, the demanding need to express, to type into this editor — yet this blog has gone unfilled. Some of it may be that I've been constantly working, or that my inner self is working through puzzles: figuring out replies to darker pulls—the skeletal mother with the freshly cut bloody stump of an arm begging in India, the parentless, yet joyful children of unescapeable poverty in Africa, the overwhelming pollution of China and India, the begging gypsy children with the frightening enforcer in Macedonia, the stories of those I know reporting of unspeakable acts of violence and war both foreign and in our own cities, the former husband with the uncontrollable, unexpected, violent anger, the loss of my foundation—my best friends—my parents; resolving grief, loneliness, and exhaustion with the falling in love with the people of this world—me with so little to give in return and the inexplicable contrasting beauty of this journeying planet; intuiting perhaps a gentler path to let those drift and dissolve like clouds on a sunny day or see through them like the illusional rainbows on hot summer pavement.

Pollution New Delhi, India
Laundry South African townships
My rock, my mom - how one so comforting could have left in such pain?
But today I write, albeit briefly, for this past week has been one of astounding and unexpected celebration. It's as if God said, you can take a break, take a breath, let the work and worry fall away, put down the heavy grief, appreciate those who've made a difference and those that continue the course of good; those biological and the soul sisters and brothers, the children, cousins, nieces, nephews and those who have preceded us.

Put aside your worries and weights and simply b---r--e--a--t--h--e  in happiness.

Expand the space between your lungs, your mind, your heart.

As a former Catholic continually wrestling with the beauty and the darkness of her birth faith - and one with an unshakable faith in God and God's presence in each and every one of us (regardless of our final destination after this life) one of my mind-blowing favorite stories, dating back from my youth, is from the very start of the old Testament. It comes after the flood of Noah:
"And this', God said, 'is the sign of the covenant which I now make between myself and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come:
I now set my bow in the clouds and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I gather the clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I shall recall the covenant between myself and you and every living creature, in a word all living things, and never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all living things."
And amazingly enough tonight, after a soul searching weekend at Image and Voices of Hope (http://ivoh.org/reflections-takeaways-from-2015-ivoh-summit/  - more later) and a week where my daughter returned to Vermont after eight years away and finding a job in her field within three days, the same "bow" arches behind our home - a position I've never seen before. My heart truly aches with gratitude and joy for the gifts life has given to me. The world and life upon it will continue. From the clouds we can take rest—from this point we can continue the difficult and joy filled journey.
Home and my daughter

Thursday, March 26, 2015

March of Faith


March a long time ago. Mom and me. Motherhood is eternal as is being someone's child.
Ahh, March, my birth month, the season of unpredictability and change. Is there no surprise that the Ides of March (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ides_of_March)  happened in March? The planet seems to turn fully towards rebirth and yet has such a difficult time releasing what has been. In the Northeastern part of the United States, the wind gathers, blusters, and roars. The skies alternate from the beautiful blue of deep winter to the laden grey of Spring. Snow, rain, cold, warm — there is no telling what the day or night will hold.

Caesar's downfall, the Ides of March. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brutus_Eid_Mar.jpg
This winter has been especially tough with no Spring thaw in February only deep, deep cold. My father who in his later years avidly contributed to the discussion on climate change, was at first against the idea. Not against the idea that it was occurring, as he saw it as a repeating pattern on this earth, but more that we might be the cause of this occurrence. However, always the scientist Dad studied it from all angles and he predicted that climate change would not mean warmth in the Northeast but could instead mean a sudden deep freeze. All worth watching as March seems to lend itself to soothsaying and naysaying…as it did for Caesar.

From the Museum of Science in Boston looking out this month. Boston experienced a record breaking snow season this year.
Likewise this March has been deeply troubling. There has been much unpredictability and change in my professional life—some wonderful, some worrying….what once was a clear directive, has new influences, and is now uncertain much like a weather vain in a storm, twisting and turning north south west east. In some ways I think perhaps I need to be as decisive as Mary Poppins who knew that certain winds were those to come in on and those to depart because her job was now complete.

And like her, I find in those I hold dearest the same change impacting their personal lives. As I write, too many of those who are precious to me are fighting for their lives, or for those they love. And too many of those who are elderly have taken the Ides of March as their departure and transcendence to whatever is next. This is a generation whose wisdom is greatly needed. All in all the extreme cold has taken its toll and March has been the definitive point.
One of my heroes: my mother's father and me.
Tonight where does that leave me? Perhaps what March truly is is a season of waiting, of waiting for what comes next, a time of reflection and preparation. The sap runs in the trees but the leaves are still just a memory and a promise to come. Like the trees, it seems to be a month to go deep and internal: a great time to read, to sort, to contemplate, to play games. For me I've been playing Animal Crossing and doing puzzles. Puzzles as in cardboard with richly detailed imagery that confounds and points the way. Simply, finding missing pieces and patterns is a great metaphor and a tonic to troubling realities. Putting that same thoughtfulness, practiced around a table at night into my daily life can be reassuring—there is a final picture that with patience will be revealed. And then today, in my email the following words of wisdom arrived.
Trust Is Essential 
What part does risk taking play on the road to mastery? Risk taking is essential on that road. The aliveness of aliveness is trust. The religious word is faith, but that means courageous trust, trust in life, cosmic courage. But that courage implies taking risks. To live is to take risks. It’s absolutely central.
—Br. David Steindl-Rast,  Mastery—Interviews With Thirty Remarkable People by Joan Evelyn Ames
March is the month of risk. It separates us from what we had grown comfortable with, it is unpredictable and unstable. It teaches us that risk is always present. And to face risk requires courage to travel the path and faith to know that warmth and joy lie ahead. In effect March assures we develop the strengths to survive and if we choose wisely our path, to thrive. And a key to that path may be to look to the stories of those who preceded us.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Forecasting Futures

"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me."
—Thomas Merton 
For the daughter of a future forecaster and as a professor who has designed degrees with an eye on future technologies, communications, and employment trends, this is a difficult line to swallow. Yet here I am at the end of this year and many of the most important moments in my life, I did not see coming at me.

I did not know that I would return to El Salvador. Yes we hoped to and we worked towards that end, but I thought our funding goal would be difficult to achieve in such a short timeframe. It was, but we did. And it was once again life-changing.

I did not know that I would be invited to present at MenEngage Global Symposium in India. And when there, that I would be asked to present twice. I had no idea that I would be moved by the incredible work of so many, put full trust in strangers, ride in a tuktuk or bicycle taxi, see so many beautiful and horrifying sights, travel with new friends, and be inspired.

I did not foresee that three months of this year I would be in excruciating pain and unable to walk. I did not foresee how an MRI could be a looking glass to my past and my potential future and that an epidural would take most of the the pain away in a matter of days. I would return to normalcy almost as quickly as I had been disabled.

And I did not foresee that my father would die so soon after my mother or that he would die in the painful matter that he did—and I wouldn't be by his side. I had no idea that I would be "beside" my father on his last night due to the technologies of the internet, the iPad, and Skype. I did not foresee how glad I would be that I was. And I did not know how deep and long lasting grief is.

Yet I have gone with good intentions, trust, and hope. And perhaps this is what I need. It's my hope that the upcoming year is a bit kinder, a bit easier, and failing that, that I move gracefully through. I pray for the strength and good humor to welcome whatever path I am given.
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” 
—Thomas Merton 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Pregnant with Hope

"Sandra, 18, is among those who escaped. Offering only her first name and speaking in Los Angeles, where she was awaiting an immigration hearing, she described violence as a part of life in El Salvador. First, a classmate became pregnant by a gang member. Then, the cousin of another classmate disappeared".
Approximately nine years ago, Bill Ryerson came to me with the idea of a game to address over population that he wished to present to his client, the UNFPA. I had begun four degree programs at Champlain College: Multi-media and Graphic Design, and the three Game Degrees based on a cohort model. It was time for a change and working with our former college president Dave Finney, I created the Emergent Media Center with the mission of giving students an opportunity to create media for clients in an internship-like model. Bill's idea was a perfect fit. What I did not know was how it would become a key mission in my own life.

We approached Aminata Toure then Gender Specialist at the UNFPA. She loved the idea of a game but not one on overpopulation. Instead she was insistent that there was a need for a game for boys on violence against women and girls. Let me say this again—a game for boys to change their attitudes and behavior towards girls. Though I was, and still am, an advocate for the power of games to educate, I had a difficult time seeing how this media which often negatively portrays women as either victims to be saved, objects to be violated, or as over sexualized creatures violent in their own right, could be designed and accepted by teen boys for the opposite. Even designers in the industry told me that game play mechanics couldn't support such a message.

The first image we saw when arriving in South Africa to conduct research towards development of the game.
But here I am nine years later, returning from my second trip to El Salvador with a team of Champlain College students who have successfully conducted the third series of BREAKAWAY game camps. This year we trained over 45 facilitators and worked with over 95 children aged 8-16. The youth love the game and the camp! The town of Sonsonate embraced and celebrated the camp, my student team, and the mission (you can see evidence in our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/breakawaygame). I am grateful to the original design and narrative teams—Brian, Rob, Jovan, Lauren, Heather, Max, Connor, Joel, Sara, Alex, Kaitlyn, and Maureen who designed such a powerful tool for good—and to the teams of students, staff, faculty, and partners who created it. Little did they know—as college students—the impact it would have years later. I am also grateful to Mahmoud and Mariana who understood how much a solution to violence against women and girls was needed in their own countries, Palestine and El Salvador, and drove the project forward.
Our BREAKAWAY team in 2009 testing the game in St. Lucia
Why has this one project captured my heart and attention? I could begin by explaining that it aligns with my life's dual mission of education and the creation of transformative media. BREAKAWAY does both on multiple levels: 1) the education of my Champlain students in the creation and implementation, and 2) the education and enjoyment of my "students" in El Salvador. My Champlain students have gone on to careers in a time when college student employment directly out of school is depressing low. Our El Salvador students have been deeply loved and joyfully return that love.

But on another level, that of the heart, I need to explain that I have unexpectedly fallen in love with this tiny, troubled nation: a nation embattled by gang violence and poverty. A culture ruled by a deep Catholic faith and yet children give birth to children.  A warm people with nothing to give yet who have given my students and the BREAKAWAY team so much! A nation where parents know there is little hope for the future and their children make the dangerous trek to the U.S. border with hopes of escaping the the violence.

 The Salvadoran children of BREAKAWAY 2014
Just yesterday, only one day home from El Salvador, this article came across my newsfeed "El Salvador's Gangs Target Women and Girls", above and below are excerpts from the article:
"7 June 2013 in Santa Tecla, the girlfriend of a gang member recruited two friends to go to a party. The gangsters suspected that one of the girls betrayed them, talking to a rival gang. Eight men raped the girls. First two were killed with multiple knife wounds. The third was held for 24 hours while they asked for ransom, but when they couldn't get the money they killed her, too. The three were dismembered. They were 12, 13 and 14 years old."
The dedicated El Salvadoran BREAKAWAY Facilitators thanking the Champlain College team.
Is it too much to hope we can impact even more residents in El Salvador? Our preliminary study with Dr. Hua (Helen) Wang of the University of Buffalo indicates that the attitudes and behavior of the El Salvador BREAKAWAY youth camp participants are changing in regards to VAWG. During our trip this year, I met with representatives from the UNDP country office and ISDEMU (the Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Women). We discussed broadening the impact through integration into the school system beginning with the most troubled schools. Our trained El Salvadoran Facilitators can be a key part of the equation. Our Emergent Media Center team will look for grant opportunities to support and grow the initiative. And of course, my BREAKAWAY team led by Mariana and Hannah will be looking at raising funds to return next year.
Gabi
This holiday season, I am struck by the story of a young girl in poverty who gave birth to a little boy in a time of deep conflict for her nation. I think of my young Salvadoran facilitators, Gabi pregnant with her first child and Karly with a beautiful new borne. My hope for them and their babies is that peace will rise up in their land and the children will lead. BREAKAWAY is one tiny attempt in a world of  possible solutions. A solution that is working one small hand at a time. Consider helping us in this mission of creating a more peace-filled world http://breakawaygame.champlain.edu 





Sunday, August 24, 2014

Something Happened This Week...

...and I really am not sure how exactly.
----
I returned unwillingly from a wonderful vacation
...and having said goodbye to beloved colleagues.
My back gave out (literally a "pain in the ass")
nerves knives thrusting through—movement a penance.
...and my doctor's advice "so goes age".
It rained. Damp. Gray. Unseasonably chilly.
...and my pear tree transplanted from my father's house turned black, dropping its once luxurious green glossy leaves.
As the damn Japanese beetles killed yet another plum tree.
And the wild rabbits mowed my beet crop to the root.
----
Old traditions transfused with new. Students arriving
....each bringing bright dreams, untested talents, and enthusiasm of discovery.
I lay on the floor, stretching in the quiet of morning,
....rewarded with a cup of fresh, dark coffee, holding pain at bay.
Later walking anguished steps through beloved woods,
...encountering golden chanterelle awakens a jubilant soul.
Later still the rapture of youth. Energy unbounded,
...with wedding dates, house plans, and joy of the journey and...
----
Something happened this week.
The steady state of renewal.
The promise to re-fill a grieving heart...
...laying aside that which has passed.