Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Acceptance and a Hirschfield Poem I Can't Remember

I loaned my book of Jane Hirshfield poetry ("After")  to a friend after she was in a Car Accident. This was over three years ago. I lived on Foster Ave in State College. e sat on the wooden slats of my bedroom floor in the evening light and talked about it.I gave her a change of clothes and the book.

I never saw her again. I'm not even sure where she lives now. Clothes and book didn't come back to me.

Somewhere burried in that book of poems is one about accepting. At least, I think it's in there. It describes flowers in a vase and how the vase receives the flowers or whatever is placed in it with grace and tranquility. It's natural. It is what it is. It holds flowers. Receives. Displays.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

#100HappyDays #HappyDobrich

 My friend Sam posted the link to 100HappyDays. I read it and thought, "Why not?" The idea is to take and post a picture of something that makes you happy everyday for 100 days. The organizers claim that you are more likely to be consistently happy and more likely to fall in love and other such beautiful cataclysms.

I wasn't going to. But then I found I rather need a reminder to be happy each day. Happy. Grateful. Something like that.

It isn't about boasting. Honestly, fb tends to depress me. I want to use it to connect with home but the result, after my mind numbs over with images and words, is depressing.

My life is not that exciting right now. It's very much a normal life.

So what is #100HappyDays then?

I invited my classes to do it with me. Some of my 8th graders are showing up on my twitter feed now. It's fun to see what has made them happy each day.

I'm paying more attention myself. I'm looking throughout the day, wondering what it will be today. Sometimes I'm pretty sure I know ahead of time. Sometimes it's new. I have a rule for myself that the pictures, as much as possible, need to be externally focused. I can't just take a picture of something I always like (such as my blankets) but need to be a new bit of happiness that comes about living my everyday life here in Bulgaria.

The paying attention means a diffused expectation that I will be happy at some point in the day. I love it. I tend to be rather gloomy about future prospects, especially in early March fog.

This should take me until the beginning of June, not long before the school year is over. Already the project has resulted in some lovely finds, most of them including students in some way. Attending basketball tournaments or visiting an elderly home or a folk dance party or a debate team meeting: my life continues to find its way into various Dobrich homes and places. I like that. I also like that I now can't take a walk through the center or the park without seeing someone I know. That's a sign of settling in for me.

I'll take it.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Hobbiton, Kosovo


            The term break in my Bulgarian school was at the end of January. Four other Americans and myself met in Sofia and took a series of buses to Kosovo to explore during our few days off in hectic and draining work schedules. Each of us carried some worn part of ourselves and thought and mulled over our first five months in a classroom.
            Prizren, Kosovo is listed as one of the hottest spots in Europe for young people. We said over and over “Look at all the young people!" In our towns, the average age is 40 or under 18 years old. Finding friends had been hard. We wandered the cobbled streets between mosques and church encased in barbed wire and bright cafes and music and a lit fortress on top of the hillside.
The Whole Set Up
            Our first night, we passed a green sign that said, “Hobbiton”. I looked in the front window and saw movie posters for the Hobbit. I wasn’t sure what to make of it and was intrigued. I left my group and walked straight in, trying to figure out what it was. The “Hobbiton Club”. It was a hang out club with an LOTR theme. A Rohan crest on one wall. A floor to ceiling ornate map of Middle earth on another. A wooden bar hung with Lotr paraphernalia and shelves of LOTR books (along with some Game of Thrones and Stephen King). Young men were playing back gammon and chekers and drinking coffee and eating different tortes. I realized people were staring at me. “You were gawking rather openly” my friend pointed out later. I had marched in there and tried to figure out what it was that I was seeing.
            Later, as our last stop on a long day, we went back for a drink after dinner. They told us that there wasn’t any alcohol there. Ah. So that’s why the average client seemed to be high school! Lot’s of boys were there, a seeming cross-over from the gaming crowd. The workers were Balkan hipster, thick black glasses, long sweaters. It seemed like a great place to hang out for young people. The dim lights made it feel like a bar but there was a light heartedness to the interactions that indicated a life not quite full of the cares one brings to lull with drink.
Map of Middle Earth
Rhunes on Wall
            We ordered tea instead and sipped it as we looked around at the space. My heart was quite happy. This would have been my place ten years ago, deep in the Lotr culture as I was. I couldn't believe I was in Kosovo hanging out in a club of lotr nerds. The owner talked to us for a few minutes. It only opened last year. I guess he was starting up a business and that theme came to mind. To think that there would be enough fans in the town to support his business! He read the books in 1997 and had loved them since. I read The Hobbit for the first time in 99, Lord of the Rings in 2001. I then read them twice a year for the next five or so years. I think my current tally is 12 .
            Kosovo has a difficult story. Its history is a story of conflicting claims for power and ownership. It has civil war and genocide and killing. I’d try to retell its history but I know that I am just getting acquainted with it and so wouldn’t do it justice. A lot of it was expressed in Serbian vs Albanian, Orthodox Christian vs Muslim populations. And it undid generations.
            Lord of the Rings addresses conflict like this. In one moment in particular (a moment attributed to Faramir in the movie), Sam muses on his first view of men fighting men:

" He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered hat the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace—all in a flash of thought which was quickly driven from his mind."
This made the Enemy kin to the hero we are asked to admire. Lord of the Rings can be retold as if it is a simple narrative of good against evil. It is not. It tells the stories of long roads walked into the darkness and asks what it is that corrupts us each from the inside. And there are characters who go one way and then another. Even Wormtongue is offered a new beginning (though he does not choose it). The potential for harm and for goodness exist simultaneously in every character. None are immune.
Hobbit Door behind a table
            A man in Kosovo read this story during the civil war. Loved it. Held it close to him. And now in times of peace, he owns a café/club honoring it and sharing it with others. That’s what literature gets to do when people take it fully into themselves. Things get to be new again.