Friday, November 28, 2008

A Korean Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving from overseas is an interesting thing to experience. I decided to teach a lesson on Thanksgiving for my advanced class of 3-4 graders (kids 11-12 yrs). I started the class off with my usual question, “how are you today?” to which the students replied, almost in unison “It’s sunny!” I took a deep breath and tried again, “no, how are YOU today?” trying to mask my frustration under a friendly smile. This time the class became quiet as the kids pondered what was obviously a difficult question. Finally someone raised his hand and answered, “Tomorrow is Friday.” I clasped my hands together and prepared for what I knew would be a long 40 minutes. Later, when I asked why November 27th was an important day, I got a variety of answers:

1) Because it’s Christmas
2) Because it’s “a day for class”
3) Because “teacha here today”
4) Because it’s Halloween

“No, no, no and no,” I said. I finally got them as close as I was going to when they guessed “American Chuseok” (Chuseok is the Korean holiday that we foreigners dub “Korean Thanksgiving.”) So the lesson proceeded, and I hope I was able to educate them just a little as to what Thanksgiving really is.

So my Thanksgiving really has been a two-part experience. The first part of my Thanksgiving was a celebration that took place at the Ambassador’s house in Seoul. I have to say, the word “house” doesn’t do this place justice. The land that the Ambassador’s house is built on is directly next to a giant palace, and the residence itself is a huge Korean style house built from giant Douglas Fir trees shipped from the United States. To get inside you have to walk through a conspicuously huge metal gate that slides about two feet to the side, and after you walk through, quickly slides shut like a giant prison door. I was joined by the majority of my Fulbright colleagues and together enjoyed a huge American Thanksgiving feast complete with entertainment thanks to the “US Embassy rock band” (consisting of a couple of interns and two middle-aged guys who butchered classics like “Paint it Black" and “Take me Home Country Roads.”) All in all it was a great evening, and the new ambassador was gracious and kind to talk to (she is from Arizona, so that goes without saying.) Below are a few pictures:

The second half of my thanksgiving took place on Thanksgiving Day here in Cheongju. My principal, a few teachers and my co-teachers took me out to dinner at a favorite restaurant where we ate a not-so-traditional Thanksgiving meal of goat and duck. It was a great time. After making a toast to me, of which all I understood was “Joon Kerry,” my principal and vice-principal handed me their glasses to share a drink with them, and once again was grateful for Korean drinking culture and it’s ability to bridge language barriers.

As the night wore on, I became engaged in a semi-philosophical conversation with the teacher next to me, Mr. Hong. Mr. Hong is a really amazing guy, he speaks almost no English but the man tries harder than anyone I have ever seen to communicate, and he is not afraid to look goofy, which I suppose is why I feel such an affinity towards him. He would lean over to my co-teacher and whisper to her, asking her how to say something, then lean over to me and try to verbalize what he had just been told. Each time he could never get the words just right, and would have to ask her again, always preferring to say it himself rather than have her simply tell me. After a while of this, due to the strange nature of our conversation we had garnered the attention of almost everyone at the table. The subject that we were discussing was what he believed to be a serious subject, and, although impossible to recreate the conversation just as it was, I will try to give you a taste:

Mr. Hong: Jon
Me: Yes Mr. Hong.
Mr. Hong: (after a long translation from my co-teacher) You tink bot sol have?
Me: I’m sorry, what?
Mr. Hong: (after turning to my coteacher again) You tink wobot hev soul?
Me: (surprised at what I thought I had heard) Do I think robots have souls?
Mr. Hong: (a large smile lighting up his face) Yes!
Me: (not sure what to say) Well, that’s a difficult question. I think, (trying to structure my answer in an agreeable way) maybe robots don’t have souls. What do you think?
Mr. Hong: (sighing loudly) I tink, maybe don’t, but maybe do. You see Eewobot?
Me: Eewobot…..oh, you mean iRobot? The Will Smith movie?
Mr. Hong: Yes! Will Smif-uh! I see and maybe tink wobot hev sol
Me: Oh I see, well the robots in iRobot, maybe they did have souls, I guess its possible…

At this point in our conversation each of my co-teachers could barely contain their laughter, and I myself was having a hard time being serious. As absurd as the question of robots having souls seemed, to Mr. Hong it was a serious debate.

Thus went my Thanksgiving dinner. A time of laughter, friends and colleagues, and some poor goat that tasted great with kimchi. And the truth is, I am really thankful to be in this place. As strange as things sometime seem, as frustrating as cultural differences can sometimes be, if I am honest with myself I know that I am incredibly blessed. Blessed to have a great girlfriend, blessed to have wonderful family and friends, and blessed to know incredible people here in Korea, both Korean and American. There is so much I am thankful for, and I’m glad to remember it today.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Simple Times

There may be no joy as pure, simple and complete as walking hand-in-hand with a young girl as she swings back and forth, kicking fallen leaves and singing to herself. Such is the joy given me by my youngest host sister, Dachan, who is seven years old and enjoys the blissful naivety so common to those her age. We walk around Cheongju, her tiny hand in mine, and collect fallen leaves from the trees lining the streets for her collection of brightly colored leaves. Most of the time this consists of her pointing to a branch high above her head and making me jump to grab whatever leaf she desires. It’s that pure kind of fun that most of us haven’t enjoyed since we were kids, before we had so much foolishness to worry and think about.

Teaching continues to be a good experience, my coteachers never ceasing to provide me with a bit of comedy, even when they don’t mean to. The other day I began teaching at 9 in the morning, and for some reason, most likely due to the delirium from which I suffer during early mornings when I am made to teach, I had that song, the name of which escapes me, that goes: “what the world needs now, is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing, that there’s just too little of” stuck in my head. So I was softly singing this song while the kids were busy at their worksheets, and, when I perceived my coteacher looking inquisitively at me, I asked her if she had ever heard the song I was singing. She said she didn’t know, so I sang it again, and she proceeded to repeat each line, in her thick Korean accent, as best she could:

Me: What the world...
Coteacher: Wa da wood...
Me: ...needs now...
Coteacher: ...need now...
Me: love...
Coteacher: ruv...
Me: ...sweet love...
Coteacher: ...swee ruv...
Me:’s the only thing...
Coteacher: the onry fing...
Me: ...that there’s just..
Coteacher: ...da there rust...
Me: little of...
Coteacher: rittle ruv...

She was so genuine in her attempt, and so sincerely wanting to sing the song correctly, that I had to try harder than ever to suppress my laughter. This is what I love about my coteachers: they aren’t afraid to try new things, to be silly, or to look foolish. If only we could all be so brave. They told me the other day that they thought that they were becoming more like me. Puzzled, I asked how, and they replied that they were making stranger facial expressions, using their hands more when they talked, and talking louder. This was comforting to me, as at least now I can say I have had some impact on the people of Korea, although it has yet to be seen if this impact is positive or negative.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What kids have taught me

The kids I teach never cease to amaze me. The things they say, the things they do, the way they behave, all of these things transcend language barriers and make me laugh, cry, and everything in between. Kids say the darndest things, to borrow the tired adage; and let me tell you this is true universally, not just for one particular ethnicity, or language group, or society, as I have learned from my experience teaching the creatures that inhabit my classes. Although the stories are numerous, I will stick to two that have happened within the last week.

My assignment to the class was simple: I will say a word, and, in your groups, you will spell that word with letters on a felt board and hold it in the air when you have finished. I asked if they understood and they nodded a sedated affirmative; good enough for me I decided. The game began as well as I could have hoped, with the kids creating each word in their groups after I said it, and holding something resembling that word in the air upon finishing. Then, I encountered one of those moments in which I had no idea what to do, a moment that left me dumbfounded and exasperated, having no idea if I should seem angry or just laugh, but certain that a couple of 10 year old kids had got the better of me. I called out the word, “door,” and the kids began to work furiously in their groups happily accomplishing the task I had set before them. After each group was holding their assembled word aloft, I surveyed the results: the first group had correctly assembled the word “door,” “good job!” I enthusiastically said, throwing two thumbs into the air. The next two groups had also correctly assembled the word “door” to which I swelled with pride; but the last group had assembled something quite different, something different entirely. They had written on their board, and I will edit this for my readers who are of a more delicate persuasion: “f***er man.” Where several 10-year-old kids learned this nonsensical phrase is anyone’s guess, but I was shocked. I probably would have laughed, had I not been so intent on the other students not seeing what they had written. I practically jumped on their board and, in a polite but firm voice and with a forced half-smile, told them that they had assembled the wrong word. The next time around the word was “pirate,” and I hoped beyond hope that my troublemaking kids had resolved to amend their vile ways and spell with the tenacity and competence which I knew they possessed. I was wrong. When I came around to reading what they had pain-stakingly spelled out, I read, again to my horror: “you die.” Needless to say I took this less as a death threat and more as a couple of kids messing around, doing something that I would have done had I been their age. So I chose to assume the best; these were just kids who had tried to spell the word pirate and become confused, instead making a benign threat on my life of which they hopefully had no plans of carrying to fruition. This time I chided them more severely, making sure they knew that what they had spelled was most certainly not “pirate.” I told them that I was disappointed with them, and they had better spell the next word right or else I would take away points. So I called out the last word, “boat.” Again, the first few groups spelled it correctly, but my mind was already looking ahead to what sort of terrible sentence had been discovered by the last team, no doubt another threat or curse word of an unknown variety. This time, however, I was pleasantly surprised because, although they didn’t spell the word boat, they had managed to spell out “love teacher.” Needless to say, that team lost the competition, but they certainly won in terms of creativity.

The second story I that stands out is a lesson I implemented last week, and remains one of my favorite lessons of the semester. The lesson was about story, and each group in the class was to assemble a series of 6 pictures in any order they pleased and write a sentence per picture telling a story, which they would then read to the class. The pictures were these:

Here are two of my favorite stories, copied verbatim from the hurriedly scrawled writing of my students:

1) “Boy is sleep. And boy is get up. Boy was dug in grownd. But dog is climb. So he was shouted. And dog is wait. He is find a treasure. So he has a money.” This one has a happy ending and also includes some excitement with the dog, which I much appreciated, and is fairly detailed in the discovery of the treasure. This team knew what was happening.

2) “John was saw treasure in his dream. John was dug ground for find treasure with shovel. Next hole soil was return pile. John was dug and gug. Finally John found bong.” I enjoy this one particularly because they know how to spell difficult words like treasure and soil and shovel, and yet cannot seem to spell bone right. Then again maybe they wanted John to find a bong. I also appreciate their inventing the phrase “dug and gug.” I don’t know what it means but I want to do it.

So although these kids are young they are teaching me about the nature of playfulness and creativity, and helping me to not take myself too seriously, and for that I am grateful.

I'm not Glen, I'm not Jesus, I'm Jon

Lately I have encountered several Koreans who have compared my looks to those of two famous people, and have left me shaking my head. In the last two weeks I have had literally six different Koreans come up to me and tell me I look like the guy from the movie “Once” which actually happens to be one of my favorite movies. The guy they are referring to (his name is Glen Hansard, and he’s Irish) has curly red hair that looks nothing like mine, but I guess is easy to overlook due to his having a beard. Its crazy, because the movie “Once” is an independent film, and most people I have talked to haven’t seen it, yet all these Korean people have somehow seen it and think I am the walking talking clone of Glen Hansard. So, that is person #1. Person #2 is…can you guess? Jesus! No I didn’t just swear, people keep telling me that I look like Jesus, to which I try to respond with something witty and Jesus-esk like, “you are forgiven, my son,” or “stop illegally downloading music, every time you do I kill a kitten in heaven.” Anyway, although I don’t claim to be like Jesus, nor do I claim omnipotence, omnipresence or the ability to forgive sins, I would be lying if I said I didn’t see this one coming. I mean, lets face it, the Jesus comparison is practically a default for anyone who wears the beard. Jesus made the look cool, I’m just trying to keep it in style.

Anyway, that’s the latest, and although I would not claim it to be a thought of much depth, I hope it will cause you to reexamine the stereotypes you hold, and to think twice next time you call someone with a beard Jesus.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stranger in a Strange Land

I don’t know how to begin, any thought I can offer will be incomplete by default, so I suppose the least I can do is offer up some thought, some observation about my life here in Cheongju thus far. It amazes me that, as of next Monday, I will have lived in Cheongju for a month, an entire month come and gone in what feels like the blinking of an eye. In many ways my life could not be better, I have a great homestay family, I have two of the sweetest homestay sisters I could have asked for, and my colleagues at work are far more helpful, kind and understanding than I could have imagined.

Quickly, a few notes about the people and things that make my life what it is:
My homestay sisters, Dabin (다빈) and Dachan (다찬) are young, 8 and 12 respectively, and still exist within the bubble of youthful energy, zeal, and ignorance. It is interesting for me, being so unaccustomed to having sisters, to discover firsthand the emotional ups and downs my sisters experience daily at what seems like the flip of a switch. They are nice and sweet one minute, and the next they are yelling “hajima!” (stop) at each other in the worst kind of nasally whiney voice you can imagine, and won’t even acknowledge my existence. I am learning to develop a kind of sensor that can detect such unfavorable moods so I can avoid at all costs. The girls and I play games a lot, when I am not at work, among the favorites are UNO, badminton, and yoga (my sisters have a book of yoga poses that we try to duplicate to the best of our ability.) Recently, Dabin, the older sister, has taken a liking to chess, and challenges me nightly to a game or two. Unfortunately, sometimes these games end in a bad way. For instance last night, at the end of our game, our interaction went something like this:

Dabin: Teacha there! I ween!
Me: No you killed my queen one move after I killed your king, therefore I win.
Dabin: No! My rules!
Me: Read the back of the box, those are the rules.
Dabin: No I kill queen so I ween!
Me (beginning to become annoyed): Listen, if you don’t want to play by the rules, then I won’t play anymore.
Dabin: No! You play my rules! I am weenah!
Me: No, you are not winner, you are cheater!

Immediately after this interaction Dabin began to tear up and ran to her mother. I began to see that my reaction may not have been best, but I remained resolute in that she was indeed a cheater and deserved to lose, she just needed tougher skin. So as you can see, living with girls is a bit different than living with boys, and I am still adjusting.

I am about to finish my first week of teaching at Namsung Elementary School (남성초등학교) and I have already lost my voice. This happened much sooner than I was expecting, as I was not expecting to lose my voice. But, due to the raucous nature of that jungle they call elementary school, my voice has met its untimely demise quickly. Everywhere I go, and I mean everywhere, students react in one of two ways:
1) They let out a high-pitched yelp and run and hide behind their nearest friend (which annoys me to no end,) or,
2) Punch their friends to gain their attention, point at me and together yell “teacha teacha nice to meet you!” or “teacha so handsome!”

I may never get used to the attention, I have to plan when I go places based on when kids will be out of the halls, and I have to be careful of when I walk pass other classes, because even the sight of me is enough to get kids yelling things and completely disrupt their class. As I sat at my desk today during my short ten minute break between classes I looked up from my computer to see a crowd of elementary aged girls standing in a semi-circle around my desk, saying nothing, but only staring very intently, examining me carefully, and it is weird after a while. I enjoyed the attention at first, but feeling like a rockstar has quickly devolved into feeling like a zoo animal, kids pointing their greasy fingers at me and yelling their incoherent English phrases.

Every morning I drink coffee with my principal: a kind old man who wears his pants up to his nipples and walks down the hall with fists clenched and a confident swagger. He is a powerful guy at my school, and he knows it. Unfortunately for me he knows no English at all. Our interactions usually go something like this:

Me: Annyong-hashimnika
Principal: Oh yes yes, prease ah sit down.
Me: Thank you
Principal (after several seconds): Ah, wesa is berry nice?
Me: Yes sir, the weather is very nice today.
Principal (after several minutes of silence): Ah, copee?
Me: Oh yes please, I would like some coffee.
Principal: Oh ah, ah (nods affirmatively as he calls his portly assistant who brings us our morning cup)
(At this point we both sip our coffee in silence for a while, both sitting and staring at nothing in particular, until I offer up some kind of slow, basic English phrase I hope he will know.)
Me: Rrrrhmmm (I do this to gain his full attention prior to speaking in a slow, deliberate manner) Do you like warm weather? (as I say this I use my arms and point to the sun as I gesture to him to indicate that I am asking a question.)
Principal (after a few seconds of looking at the ground): Ah, ah yes thank you berry much.
Me: Ok….but do you (gesturing to him) like (pointing to my smile) the sun (pointing out the window to the sun, then shrugging my shoulders so he will have no doubt that it is a question.) Do you? (I reiterate in hopes that somehow by repeating it it will sink in.)
Principal (after a long pause and more staring at the ground, looks at his watch and says definitively): Ah, about 10:30.

So this is how our interactions usually go, I have learned to embrace the awkwardness and let it be, for whatever reason he wants to drink coffee with me every morning, and other teachers tell me that is a big deal, so for now I will soak up the awkwardness, and enjoy the coffee.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Turning Wheels and Pulling Strings

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think of how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”
- Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

How profoundly true resonate these words of Dickens, even so many years after they were written. I love his allusion to iron and gold, to thorns and flowers, to these very different but equally binding mechanisms that hold us fast throughout our lives. And it makes me think. As I read this passage I did stop as the passage suggests, and I did think of what had led me here; of the peculiar and confused chain of events which did coalesce to create this very moment in which I am sitting, looking up at a clear blue sky somewhere in Asia sipping a Coke and writing this run-on sentence. It really is quite extraordinary, if you want to know. So I realized something, namely, that I don’t think that things change because of time and place, especially if those things are truths. For instance, Dickens’ basic observation, however rudimentary in its composition, is nevertheless profound and true, despite when it was written or what it was written in direct reference to. And regardless of who one believes has orchestrated such events, one cannot deny the truth that a chain of events has been set in motion, from farther back that we can know, and that those events make us who we are, shape what we do, and guide us to who we become. It is interesting for me to remember, a conversation I had with someone a few weeks back who works at the US Embassy in Seoul, and he was remarking of the nature of life and its habit of following a certain course despite an individual having no idea what course that may be. He was talking about his prestigious position at the Embassy, and the path he followed, (rather inadvertently,) to get there. He said that it was funny how things had worked out so well, and the whole time he had no idea that he was bound for such a position, nor that what he had done would work so to his advantage in his current career. “Its as if something is up there,” he said candidly to me, “turning wheels and pulling strings, pushing people towards certain places, and others toward different places.” He took a sip of his beer, looked away from me and at the rain falling gently beside us, shrugged, and turned back. “Its strange” he concluded. In a way, I agree. I doubt very much that this individual thought that the person “pulling strings” was anything divine, instead perhaps fate or some concept even more abstract, but what he said I think is true, as I have witnessed some such guiding presence in my own life, and I am certain I will continue to. I am not trying to make any kind of a statement, but simply an observation. And it makes me wonder if I will be looking back on this time years from now, marveling at how each event and each subtle influence somehow shaped what I will eventually do. But the interesting thing about this whole idea is that it mostly operates in retrospect; one cannot foresee the future any better than one can see through a perfectly dark room. As frustrating as this is, maybe it is good, after all. Maybe it forces us to live with some kind of faith that things will line up, that things are lining up, although all seems confused as of present. Maybe it forces us to believe something uncomfortable, to exercise a muscle seldom used, to force us into comfort when there seemingly is none. I am stubborn, I will tell you that, and it is hard for me to learn from things the first time through. But as I look back I am able to see something undeniable, something that I would do best to learn from and understand, something that would make my life easier if I were able to comprehend. Again, it is not my intent to make any kind of statement regarding the state of my existence or yours, I am not sure I am qualified to, there are simple observations from a simple man.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Cause, a Protest, and Violence

So I find myself with internet for the first time in several days, and oh my so much has happened. Indeed it would seem unfair to relate all that has happened/is happening in one short post, so in an effort to do justice to the recent events I have experienced, I will devote this post to one event in particular.

*Note: the picture to the left was take not 50 yards from where I was standing on the 15th of August in Seoul. Note the green dye from the water cannon on their arms, this dye was used to mark protesters for later arrest.

My friend Billy and I arrived in Seoul with the rest of our Fulbright group last Friday, and decided we wanted to see the town. We thought that Friday night was as good a time as any, and besides, it is only a city of 20 million people, so I was sure we could see most of it in one night. Anyway, so the two of us decided to do a few touristy things, like go to a palace and walk around the city hall area, and as we were doing so we saw riot police almost everywhere we went; not doing anything in particular, just standing around and looking bored. But nevertheless, everywhere we went we saw these guys, hundreds and hundreds of them in their black riot gear. So as night approached we were down by city hall, trying to find a sushi restaurant, and we ran across a large number of protesters, lighting candles and holding signs. A few people were making speeches to the crowd, and we stayed a few minutes as we tried to understand what they were protesting. We soon found out. As we were leaving, we were walking down a street and two lines of about one hundred riot police ran in front of us and completely blocked the road. The lined up with their shields in front of them and stood, staring at us, expressionless, waiting. We were obviously a bit confused, so we just stood there, about ten feet from these gentlemen clad in black, and waited to see what would happen. After a few minutes, several of the protesters came over to the line of police and started heckling and yelling at them. As the situation escalated we stepped back a few feet and tried to go around the line of police, and as we did we began to hear screams, and sirens, and yelling, and what can only be described as chaos. So we ran towards the sounds and as we did a truck with a water cannon passed us, its contents bound for unforeseen victims, and we began seeing more and more riot police, until they were everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Once we rounded a corner and a huge intersection came into view, we found the source of all the chaos. Thousands of people were running and yelling, many trying to evade capture by the riot police, many trying to escape the fury of the water cannon and tear gas that had recently been fired. The scene was complete and utter chaos. So, after a moment of deliberation I turned to my friend Billy and said, "Billy, we can stay here and be safe, or we can risk our safety, run into the this, and be in the middle of something we won't ever forget." With nothing more than a simple nod and smile, Billy and I ran towards the confusion. As we ran into the square, we were literally forced to dodge protesters and riot police as they ran around in a strange game of cat and mouse. We could see the water cannon, spraying the protesters and fleeing the scene, and we could see protesters yelling and fighting with the police. It was insane. As we tried to run across the intersection lines of police (50 or more in each line) would run at us, clubs drawn and shields raised, and we would dodge them as best we could and move on to the other side. Shortly after we entered the square, the police shut down the square completely, sealing off every possible exit to ensure that no one could get in or out. In between chaotic moments in the square we had a brief chat with a korean protester who informed us that the protests were against their President, and the fact that it was the Korean independence day made it a perfect day to protest and make their point. She said that they had been protesting peacefully with candles when the police came down on them, first with the water cannon, then tear gas, then beating them with their batons. She told us that there were around 10,000 riot police in and around the square, and maybe 5,000 protesters; not a fair fight if you ask me. Our conversation was funny in that while she was telling us this she would occasionally stop to yell at the police and call them names, or sing a song with several others about the police not being able to marry and how they are shameful, then return to our conversation with a completely normal tone of voice. Anyway, our conversation came to a brief halt when tensions among our group escalated and the crowd began to yell and push the police, who pushed back, which devolved into a mess with us at the center. As we were pushed towards the violent scene, we decided to try to use the chaos to our advantage and make our way beyond the square where we could comfortably stand (as we had been in the square for a half hour or more). So we were able to slip out and watch at a distance as the violence dissipated.

After we grabbed dinner and proceeded to walk around town a bit more, we continued to see riot police running in one direction or another. We ran across the water cannon truck re-filling at a fire-hydrant, and saw tons and tons of undercover police in plainclothes, (although they were anything but subtle, they all wore close to the exact same clothes and all had the same green plaid fishing hat, as if it would somehow make them blend in) always following the police at a not-so-discreet distance. Anyway, the night was wild and shocking and eye-opening and really made me think about the role of an individual in society and the role of police and government and....well maybe you should just ask me about it sometime. The final tally was 156 protesters arrested, which isn't bad considering all the people in the square. Here are some pictures from earlier in the protests, taken from a Korean newspaper:

Saturday, August 2, 2008

teaching, philosophy, and hedonism

I have spent the last two weeks teaching for the first time in Korea. I only taught three times, but each time I learned a bit more about myself, about teaching, about humility, and about what I believe good teaching is. Ok so let me start by saying this, I believe that if we take a step back and look at education from a broad perspective, really examine it and its intricacies, I think the only honest conclusion I can draw is that the burden of education should be placed on the individual, not the institution. Let me explain this. I was talking about this with a good friend of mine, a guy who is brilliant in so many ways, and he was talking about how, in a perfect world, it would be recognized that knowledge and education are paramount, even irreplaceable, within the construction and growth of any thoughtful autonomous individual. He went on to say, and I’m paraphrasing here, that if this could be realized, then there would be a radical and wonderful shift within communities, as people took ownership of their education, their future, and their lives. After all, the institution can only motivate through bribery, ultimately, and that can only go so far. Eventually students conducting their cost/benefit analyses will discover that this institutional bribery is only so fulfilling and can take them only so far, and that is where their contrived education meets its end. So the purest form of education and learning is one that is done for education’s sake, for the love of knowledge, for the love and desire of bettering oneself. Ok, so my utopian paradigm sounds fine, but it obviously has some serious flaws, and in terms of questions we might as well start with the elephant in the room, namely: if the highest and purest and most desired form of education takes place when the individual is motivated and takes ownership over his/her own educational destiny, how in the world do you motivate someone to be self-motivated and actually want to take the burden of education on themselves? And the answer is: I have no idea. Please, if you know the answer, let me know. So all this theorizing was just so I could make the point that, although I have these grand notions of what education should be and can be, I am at a loss as to how to implement them if the students have no innate desire to better themselves.

Ok so back to what I was saying about me teaching. So teaching is in some ways easier than I thought, and in some ways harder. It is easier in the way that I feel more comfortable than I thought I would in front of the kids I was teaching, and it is harder in the way that I am constantly wrestling with the dichotomy of wanting to be their teacher and also wanting to be a friend. I suppose this division could better be described as my desire to be firm and respected, but also do fun things and have my students like me. Yet even as I write this I find it funny that I can see what I am saying stems from some form of insecurity, some desire to be liked, loved. That reminds me of a conversation I was having with a friend of mine the other day, we were talking about what we thought God was, and we were discussing the idea of everyone in the world wanting one thing, that is, to be loved. And it made me think of how silly it was, how silly it is, that everyone seems to be looking for the same thing but is afraid to admit it to each other, like some dark secret that everyone shares but hides away. And here I seem to have provided a prime example of what we were discussing, that is, my inherent desire for love and respect and someone far from perfection telling me I am special. The other day I read this great quote from C.S. Lewis, and he was talking about how the problem with people is not that we seek pleasure, but that we are far too easily pleased. How profound. I see a parallel between his thinking and my hedonistic desire for love.

Alright, pardon the digression.

So the classes I taught had a good time, I think, and I was glad to see that. There were times when I felt a bit like a monkey dancing for change, but overall I think they learned something. The peak of my teaching experience came last week with a friend of mine, Billy, who is actually going to the same town, Chongju, with me in a few weeks. So we decided that, since the camp these students were attending was almost over, we would give them a fun lesson, something they could relax and have fun with. Our lesson was on “X-treme sports,” and ever time we said the word “X-treme” (which was a lot) we would cross our arms in front of us and yell it out again “X-treme!” So soon the kids picked it up, and for the last few days of their camp kids were coming up to me, crossing their arms and yelling “X-treme!” (ah let me tell you, it’s nice to see you have had an impact on a kid’s educational development.) Anyway, we played a few extreme games that culminated in a giant human pyramid that almost ended in disaster (you can watch the video on this page.) So it was fun, and the kids loved it, and I made a lot of small middle school Korean friends.

So now its on to surviving the last two weeks of language classes, which have definitely intensified as of late, and then its off to Chongju, the magical place I will spend the next year. Let me tell you, every day in Korea I feel humbled because of the significant, changing, and profound events that are taking place around me and to me. Just a couple of days ago, when the announcements were made for placements, Ms. Shim, the Fulbright director said “and now I will make the announcements as to where you will be spending the next year in Korea.” Woah, that statement alone absolutely blew my mind. My fate would be determined in the next few minutes, for the next 11 months, and I was utterly powerless to affect it. Like I said, humbling. But its good, it makes me appreciate things more, like the monsoons that have been sweeping through Chuncheon lately. Sitting in class, the storm announces its presence with a loud clap of thunder and the sound of rain dancing on the roof above us. And I find it so incredible that I can stand outside, just out of the rain’s reach, drinking warm coffee and staring into the furious rain as it pours itself out over the hills, the trees, over all that beauty. How perfect.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Storm

Come clouds and begin your joyful chant
Sweep in over hills and pour out your tearful rant
Eclipse the sun and turn day into night
So I might dream of the sun and of restored sight

* written in class, to the sound of thunder and rain.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chongju, or 청 주

Today was the day I had been waiting for, the day I received my assignment from Fulbright and found out where I would be living and teaching for the next year. The city is called Chongju, a suburban city of 600,000 in the middle of South Korea. I don't have much info yet, but I do have this picture of the school, which is supposed to be pretty nice. So hooray for change and for pretty schools!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Of Struggle, Progress, and Beauty

How time flies. There are mornings that I wake up, and for a second I am unsure as to where I am, how I got here, and I am certain that this thing was nothing more than some wild fabrication in my mind. But only for a second. After that, the synapses begin firing slowly, and I begin to understand the complexly beautiful situation I find myself in here. It is a situation wrought with difficulty, predicated on the idea that I can be stretched, that I will experience pain, and that I will endure. I have come with this backwards idea in mind; that life is nothing without struggle, and instead of run away from it, it is best to meet it head on. To deny it victory but still allow it to change me, as I think it would anyone.

I will tell you now, I am terrified of failure. I always have been, if you want to know the truth. And I find it remarkable that when I look at my life over the past few years, it has been a dance of sorts, an awkward dance around things that are really difficult, things that I know I am not good at, that I don’t understand. And I don’t mean in an academic way; anyone can learn so mething new if you give him enough time. I mean in a way that fundamentally resists categorical struggle, a struggle that involves all my elements, that pushes them towards something greater through something inherently hard. It seems strange that, for some reason, people don’t change, people don’t grow up unless they are forced to, unless they are brought to their knees and told, “you don’t have what it takes. Do something about it.” It seems ironic that the only way one can really be pushed into being a better person, a more complete human being is through the very struggle that we try so hard to avoid. But I will say it again, I am afraid of failure. No dark beast conjures in my mind such grave things as this. But here I am, running headlong into a mist, into a fog that clouds my vision and through which I am perpetually tripping and falling, but ever pulling myself up to continue. I like the way Fredrick Douglass put it: “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” So succinct, so poetic, so true.

I was thinking yesterday about beauty for beauty’s sake. An author I love once said that beauty seems to be the least selfish emotion that we can experience. That beauty is just beauty. But it is so easy to think of beauty as something that we see on vacation, that exists outside of what we experience daily. But that is a lie, let me tell you, the invitation is always open. It is so easy to see here, in both the physical landscape and in the people. My window opens to a beautiful view, the mountains stretch out into the distance, shrouded in mist with the sun penetrating just enough to create a glow as if God himself was lightly touching the hills, the trees, just for the pleasure of my wandering eyes. How lovely, I am often lost in it. I also think of yesterday, while I was at Tae Kwon Do, we were training with several kids, and we would spar across from them. I was sparring across from this beautiful little Korean girl, probably not more than 7 or 8 years old (but a black belt) and in between the Master’s instructions, without saying a word she would walk over to me and gently take my hand or my arm and adjust it so that I was doing the move properly. She would move my arm, step back, and I would smile, and she would smile back. And in that moment there was an understanding that crosses cultures, that crosses languages, and it was profound. My mind also travels to a couple of days ago, when a few Koreans came to visit a few of us Americans in our dorm rooms, and apparently word had gotten around that I played the guitar. The first question out of a few of their mouths was, “can you show me guitar?” At first I said, “no lets do it later, some other time” but as they insisted and brought me a guitar, I realized I had no choice. So I sat in a chair in the hallway of our dorm, picked up the guitar, and played two of my favorite songs. As I was playing, the crowd of Koreans grew bigger until we were completely blocking the hallway. Looking to each of them, smiling and clapping, was something special I can’t describe. We had this wonderful moment together, and when it was over I realized how thankful for gifts like that I am, because they make things so much better, so much richer, they make abstract things like beauty so much more tangible. A smile from a little girl, a beautiful sunset, music played from the heart and shared with friends, these are all things that have affected me lately and kept me sane, and for that I am grateful.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pictures of Foreign Lands

Hey I thought I would find a place to post all the pictures I am taking here. If you want to check them out you can here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

cultural confusion - my first two weeks in skorea

(The picture to the left is me after several shot glasses of soju were knocked into glasses of beer during a night with the KEY Club (kangwon english yard club, a bunch of korean college students who want to study english) beer got all over me.)

Wow, how to sum up the last week and a half…there is so much that has happened, so much I have seen, experienced, done; and all the while I have maintained a healthy countenance composed of fear, excitement, and anticipation.

I suppose I will stick to a few of the more memorable events that have occurred thus far. I find myself with very little time for relaxation, in fact, orientation is keeping me so busy that I am often not back to my room for more than 10 min all day. But the time spent going going going is good. I am learning tons about the Korean culture, what makes them what they are, and how to interact as a foreigner in that culture. There are so many subtle things, so many elements that go into successfully navigating these uncharted waters. I am also spending a lot of time with the Korean language. 4 hours a day to be exact. The classes are fun for the most part, and, surprisingly, they are taught by Korean teachers who speak almost no English. It is amazing to me how effective they can be in communicating to us and teaching us while speaking entirely in a language we do not understand. In one of the more spirited interactions I have had with my teacher (she is young, maybe late 20s, and has a lot of sarcastic attitude) I took it upon myself to explain to her the meaning of the word sarcasm, so I said (in my most sarcastic voice) “I really like this class.” It was obvious she understood as she nodded thoughtfully and imitated me “I really like learning,” “yes” I said, “that’s it.” Then she said, in an incredibly sarcastic voice, “you are a really handsome guy.” The whole class erupted into laughter and I sat back, smiled, and decided to take it like a man.

I have been taking Tae Kwon Do the last three days, and I have really enjoyed it. I seriously feel like I am the Karate Kid, and am obsessed with somehow defeating the Dojo Master to claim my position of dominance. Our class meets for an hour every weekday night, and we kick, and punch, and kick, and punch, and run some laps, and stretch, and kick, and punch, and so on. It is really fun thus far, and, although I am super sore, I am determined to prove that lanky white guys can be TKD masters. Our Dojo Master is a great guy, I should say, and just watching him is a workout. He is a short Korean guy, without an ounce of fat on his body, who can do the most acrobatic things. Today while we were stretching he tried to get us to do the splits and other such moves that men of my stature are not supposed to try. Then he called someone from our group up front to show us how to kick and punch properly. He would kick full speed at the unlucky group member and stop just when he touched the back of his shirt. It was incredible to watch how close he was punching. Anyway, my point is, everyone was completely wowed by this guy and his crazy machine-like efficiency with which he moved. Oh, and on the first day he brought his daughter, maybe seven or eight, who is an accomplished black-belt, to demonstrate an entire routine for us. She was amazing and you could see the pride in his eyes as he watched his daughter perform.

Ok, a few other things. My new favorite desert is called something like “poppinsue” which is half ground ice, half fruit and black beans. That’s right, beans. An unlikely combination, but a tasty one nonetheless. We go out to eat fairly regularly, as everything is fairly cheap, and have enjoyed quite a few staple Korean dishes, almost always involving Kimchi. I went to my first Nolebang the other night, which was a time to remember. Norebang is a place in which you can rent out a small room with your friends and sing karaoke until the break of dawn…which is almost what we did. My favorite moment consisted of my rendition of a Tenacious D song and a lot of screaming Koreans. It was wild. Also I should note that since being here and hanging out almost every night with Korean people, I have noticed how open and honest they always are with everyone. Sometimes this is bad, like if they think you are overweight, but most of the time it is a doorway to awesome conversation and thought. They are so sincere, and will not hesitate to tell you that seeing you has made them very happy. This frank style of talk is refreshing, but is also somewhat intimidating because any judgment they make about you is likely to be verbalized.

Next week is the first week that I will be teaching at Camp Fulbright, an English emersion camp that kids will come to for two weeks to learn English. I have my first lesson planned, its about surfing and the environment, two things that I hope to blend together seamlessly and effectively. I am a bit nervous, but that is how these things go. I find that I am constantly trying to do the things I can’t do, or the things that scare me, so that I may become a better person, a more whole person. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the update, many more will follow soon!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Not in Kansas Anymore

I left yesterday on a plane bound for Asia. South Korea to be exact. I have not been to bed since, and I am losing all sense of time as it exists to me. I left on Saturday at 7:30, and I arrived in Seoul at 5am on Monday, the changing time can be a tricky thing. Anyway, the folks who run this thing are trying to "help us" adjust to the time change by keeping us up for another couple of hours, it feels like a forced march on a sweaty, humid, summers day. The land is beautiful, green hills sprawling for as far as the eye can see, and until mid-afternoon fog swept in and around those hills like a ghost. I have had two meals thus far, lunch and dinner, and they both have included a variation of the famous "kimchi" dish. It is a cabbage like stuff soaked in chili-paste that makes it unbearably hot. And the great thing about Korean meals is that they don't believe in drinking water during their meals, they prefer to drink after, so the whole time my mouth is on fire from bite after bite of flaming kimchi, I have to sit and dream of the end of the meal when I can soak my mouth in ice-cold water. But besides that small issue, the food has been incredible. I have eaten more tentacles in the last two meals than I have had in a long time, squid and octopus being my favorite...and I enjoyed a great dish of beef, crab, mushrooms and noodles. So far so good. I also had the chance to walk around Chuncheon a bit and scope out the town. Well, needless to say its a bit different than Phoenix. Here are a few pictures to illustrate:

Ok, more to come real soon, I promise. But exhaustion is setting in and I need to rest. Sleep is coming soon, in the next few hours, and after that only more adventure awaits.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

People, People Who Need People

I think people are meant to keep other people sane. As if God knew that the monotony of life would drive us all crazy unless we had someone to talk to, someone to laugh at our stupid jokes. Let me tell you what I mean. Today at work I was going crazy with boredom, as was the security guard (Angie), and I couldn’t find anything to occupy my time as my girlfriend was at work and I was tired of reading. I went back to the break-room for a Krispy Kreme doughnut to satisfy my sweet-tooth, and I ended up having a great talk with our maintenance guy Martin, who is the archetype of kindness and strong work ethic, about kids and what causes them to develop their small personalities. After a few doughnuts I came back to my stand and apologized for being gone so long to Angie who laughed and said it was fine. I know that was a simple interaction, between me and Martin and the security guard, but I kept noticing things: like the happiness it brought Martin and I as we shared stories of growing up and Martin told me about his kids, and the smile and laugh Angie gave (the first such smile I had seen all morning) when I told her that I had been talking too long in the back room. Anywhere else those interactions would have been much less important, even negligible, but here, in the midst of our boredom, they became bright moments in an otherwise dull day. It just strikes me as funny, I guess, how circumstances can change everything. People who wouldn’t otherwise get along reminisce happily about life, thoughts and feelings are shared in a way that would never happen unless these people were thrown into the same random situation at a random time in the same random place. It kind of makes me wonder if things aren’t set in motion purposely by something bigger, higher than me.

Of course there is a flip side to this, in which one can overcome circumstances to become good friends. I was talking to my friend Jared the Anti-Establishment Future Pastor the other day, and we were talking about the circumstances through which we met almost a year ago. I’ll just say they were less than favorable, and I admitted I thought at first that he was a tool, and he said that he thought I was a tool at first, too. But somehow we were able to move beyond that and into what has become a very wonderful friendship, one predicated on thoughtful discussion and beer brewing. So I guess circumstances can dictate societal pairings, and in some instances they don’t, but either way we as humans share the fundamental ability to influence other people; for better or for worse. It’s this crazy decision that we make every day, subconsciously or consciously, and because of it the world is literally a better or a worse place.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

From the Desk of Jon Kelley

I was finally able to create some web space for various writing I have done over the last few years. Most of it is academic, although I included an editorial I wrote for ASU's newspaper. Anyway, if you feel like enjoying some reading material, check it out here, I don't claim that its great, but I am fairly proud of it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Swell Season

Last night I went to what is probably the best concert I have ever been to, Swell Season, at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix. The Swell Season consists of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the stars of the Oscar winning film Once. I am a huge fan of the film, and had high hopes for the concert which featured music performed and written by the actors from the film. Needless to say, I was not let down.

The concert started unlike any I had seen. Glen walked to the edge of the stage by himself, holding his guitar. He waited for the hundreds of people inside to quiet down, and began to play a song, entirely unplugged, to delight of the utterly silent crowd. I was in the last row in the balcony, as far back as you can get in what is a big theatre, and due to the amazing acoustics I could hear every word and guitar string resonating perfectly. The rest of the concert was wonderful, and I can only liken the beauty of the music (featuring a guitar, piano, violin, mandolin and perfect harmonies) to what amounted to nothing short of a spiritual experience for me. After the show, my girlfriend, my friend Jared and I sat still in our seats as everyone around us left. It was almost as if we didn't want to speak for fear of detracting from the profundity of what had just transpired. As if we were playing back the last moments and notes of the night, praying that the melodies and harmonies would remain fresh in our minds and knowing that mere rhetoric could never encapsulate something that can only be expressed and understood through experience.

Anyway, after the show I performed my classic "kelley ambush" and was able to talk with both Glen and Marketa after the show. They are both really nice people, and after going to the Czech Republic (Marketa's home) I actually found something substantive to talk to her about. So it was the perfect end to a profound night, and if you have not seen the movie Once, get out and see it, or at least buy the Swell Season CD, its awesome.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Goodbye College, Hello Symphony of Change

Ahhhhhhh. It is with a sigh and a smile that I write this. What you see to your left is what I have been working towards for four and a half years, thats right, a Bachelors degree. Thanks to ASU my "official" graduation was delayed a bit, but, after repeatedly calling the administration office, I got them to correct their error and place a big "GRADUATED" stamp on my transcript...or whatever it is they do. Let me tell you, my mind cannot take in the scope of what college has meant to me, what I have done, what I have seen, what this time gone by means. I can remember vividly that first day of college at NAU, the fear, the excitement, the anticipation. Wow, what an era. So much changed, so much of my worldview was rocked, I feel so different than when I started, yet, oddly I still feel the same.

Oh, see the map to the left? I'm going there. Living there, in fact. About a week ago, as I was sitting in a property rights class visiting Pepperdine Law, I received an email stating that I has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship. Wow, right? Yeah, it rocked my world completely. I suppose it is in some ways fitting, the end of one era and the beginning of the next. I was just talking with my girlfriend the other day, saying that there is so little that is really holding me here. So little that I am tied down to. Other than my close family and her, I have no real reason to stick around. So, on July 7th, 2008, I will begin the 12 and a half month adventure that will take me across the world and back, eventually. A few specifics: I get two months off, from the end of December until the end of February. I am only allowed to spend two weeks during that time in the U.S., so the rest of the time I will be traveling. Daunting? Yes. Exciting? Absolutely. I will be teaching English to elementary school kids in a city outside of Seoul 20 hours a week, and the rest of the time I will be writing and enjoying other scholarly pursuits, such as beginning a Masters Degree. Exciting, changing times are on the horizon.

Pray for me, if you would, that I would emulate the tax collector who beat upon his chest, saying, "God have mercy on me, the sinner."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Music, Concerts and Moses

"For heights and depths no words can reach, music is the soul's own speech." Those words are displayed on a painting that hung in my parents bedroom for I don't know how long. As a kid I grew up seeing it, and never really was able, (or tried for that matter,) to grasp the concept behind its statement. Every now and then I am reminded, that is, the truth of that statement is revisited in my mind, and I feel like I understand its poignancy. I think that there is a moment in every kid's life when they realize that there are some things that cannot be accurately expressed by words, and that there must be another medium through which to express these things. When this realization hit me it was in the mid-nineties, for me the golden age of music. Third-eye Blind, Goo Goo Dolls, Pearl Jam, Cake, Dave Matthews, it was all so good, so rich in meaning and expression.

What got me thinking about all of this was a concert I went to last night at a local art gallery downtown. It was a small-time band called Limbeck that I have loved for the past five years, ever since they opened for The Format in Flagstaff, AZ, in 2003. One of their songs in particular has significant meaning for me, albeit mostly due to nostalgia. It was one of the first guitar songs I learned to play well, and I played it all the time, let me tell you. The song wasn't on their set list for the night, so, at a particularly opportune moment I yelled the name of the song and they played it. To say I was elated would be an understatement. As they played I saw my last few years strung out across the lines of the verses and chorus, deep meaning dancing like notes spread across a page, changing static to dynamic, trading prose for poetry. Subtlety, nuance, it was all there. I was reminded of Moses and his writing of Genesis. As he wrote he shifted from prose one minute to poetry the next, then back again. It is as if there were certain things he felt he could not communicate through prose, things too beautiful to be communicated through its limited means. I love that idea, as if there are some things that my mind simply cannot grasp, was not meant to grasp, that are inherently impossible for me to understand outside of the artistic realm in which reside song, poetry, and the like.

Anyway, if anything, check out the band Limbeck, their first record, "Hi, Everything's Great" is wonderful.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Food for Worms

Keating: Seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Why does the writer use these lines?
Charlie: Because he's in a hurry.
Keating: No, ding! Thank you for playing anyway. Because we are food for worms lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die.

I think Robin Williams puts it well in the brilliant film, Dead Poets Society; we are food for worms lads, nothing more, nothing less. I have been thinking about this a bit lately, among other things, and I can’t shake the feeling that I am somehow wasting time. Like there are things grander and greater that I am destined for, and by working full-time as a valet I am somehow missing them. I hope it’s not true, and I think that its not, so long as I keep the vision, or, the faith, as it were.

Today I had the opportunity to speak with one of the top guys in Pepperdine Law, one of the schools I applied to, and he told me that, due to a number of factors, I probably didn’t have the best chance at being accepted to the school. My applying to Pepperdine was an uphill battle from the start, I knew that, but somehow hearing him vocalize what fears I had placed in the dark recesses of my mind initially filled me with self-doubt. I questioned my wanting to go to law-school, I questioned my confidence, and I questioned myself. It is a dark thing, I have to tell you, to acknowledge your own deficiencies and shortcomings; and it is a far more difficult thing to make your peace with them. So I allowed myself to give in to the doubt, to succumb to the voices of dismay, but only for five minutes…only five minutes.

I remember what I once heard Donald Miller say; that any good story is defined by antagonism. It isn’t just complemented by it, it is defined by it. Defined by the difficulty, the doubt, the darkness. I love that. When I really stop to think about it, the moments I feel defeated are swiftly followed by the moments I feel the most determined to fight back. It’s as if those moments exist to show me that life is hard, but that difficulty is juxtaposed with resistance. Resistance needs to be the defining element, not disappointment or professional discord. I once heard Will Smith say something in an interview that has stuck with me. When asked about what set him apart from other actors in Hollywood, he replied that it wasn’t his looks or his talent, but it was the simple fact that he was willing to, as he put it, “die on the treadmill.” Upon enumeration he explained that what he meant was that he would not be outworked by anyone. Someone else may be better looking or a better actor, but they would not be a harder worker. I love that idea, that it’s somehow not about how talented you are or competent or successful, but rather how willing you are to get back up. To defy the supposed reality of the human condition and in so doing refuse to give in to the enticing voices of discord. I want my life to be predicated on this principle of resistance, of refusing to believe for more than a few minutes that I am incapable of something great. I want today’s failure to be nothing more than the catalyst for tomorrow’s success.

Carpe Diem; another great idea from Dead Poets Society. An idea that calls into reality yours and my time here; it overlooks our successes and failures, our hopes and dreams, and asks us a simple question: have we seized the day? Have we made the most of what we have? Have we picked ourselves up from where we have fallen? In the end I know my story too will be defined by antagonism, and that I will one day be food for worms. How I sincerely hope that I will have the wisdom and the maturity to welcome my failings, and the strength to embrace struggle and resist.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


After years and years of playing my old, beat-up guitar, I decided it was time to upgrade. This is the new object of my affection, my beautiful Taylor acoustic guitar. Oh how I love it. I have already spent many an hour sitting with it on my old couch, quietly humming along to its melodies while gazing out the window at a cloud laced sky. It seems to heighten my senses, bring me closer to a state of peace and calm where nothing matters but the notes sung from its wooden frame.

Friday, February 15, 2008

truth & risk

"If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act - - truth is always subversive."

Anne Lamott in Bird By Bird

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Moment Between Certainties

I find life to be a funny thing. Funny in a sideways, masochistic and occasionally uplifting kind of way. It seems to be full of contradictions, funny little nuances that might not be noticed unless one is willing to deeply think, deliberate, and eventually become confused. In that way thinking too hard will kill you. I am convinced of that. There are a million different problems and a million ways to solve them and there is simply no way that you or I can find the right solution to the right problem every time. Or even most of the time. And that is where I have a real problem, because, not only am I a constant thinker, I am constantly seeking to solve the problems of my life quickly and efficiently. Both of which are completely impossible.

I have tried, recently, to alter my lifestyle so it is more conducive to making good decisions and forging a palpable direction. I have tried exercise, I have tried something that resembles meditation, I have tried song writing and poetry and several other things to calm myself and carve out a positive niche. Which reminds me; a couple of days ago I found out that I have an ulcer. A stress-induced ulcer, to be precise. I know, so much for calming myself. It sucks, now I feel sick a lot, I occasionally feel light headed and I am generally mad at myself for allowing such an inconvenience to occur, which, of course, only aggravates my ulcer. Freak. I feel like one of those fat New Yorkers, running around in their ill-fitting suits yelling at whomever they can, only to stop momentarily and croak, “ack! my ulcer!” pop a few white pills and continue with their ranting. I’m too young for this. So this leaves me with a few options. My health insurance hasn’t kicked in yet, so I can’t take care of it the medicinal rout, thus, I am forced to keep myself at as low an excitement level as I can, and force myself not to worry about life. Ugh. I suppose in some ways its good, it will force me to slow down a bit, to stop worrying about everything. Which is a strange thing in and of itself. If you were to ask me if I feel stressed often, I would probable tell you no. But the truth of this is that there is some thing, some dark beast of a thing that lives inside me and denies me the luxury of relaxation and a guilt-free existence. I really need to work on taming that beast.

I just heard about a week ago that I am a finalist for the Fulbright Scholarship, which, I guess, is a big deal. If I am accepted into the program I will spend a year living in South Korea teaching English to Elementary School kids, bit of an environment change, I know. Both of my applications are off to ASU Law and Pepperdine Law, both great schools. I am still working full-time as a valet at the Esplanade, parking the cars, having a good time. Recently I have been restless, I guess ever since I graduated, and I feel torn between the inevitable change that I so crave and the safety and serenity that home provides. Subsequently, I have been into Bob Dylan lately, and I love his song “the times they are a changing.” So simple, so true.

I love how Don Miller puts it in one of his books, when talking about his relationship with God. He describes it as Jesus walking down a dirt road toward him, and as he comes closer he can see him with increasing clarity. At first only general things, the way he walks, the way he carries himself; then, as he comes closer he can see more detail, his complexion, the lines on his face. This is how I feel about God most of the time, he is on a dirt road, walking toward me. It takes time for me to understand him as I watch from a distance, studying his movements. And as I come closer to him, step by step, I can see more. I long to walk side-by-side him, as I would a friend. I think the beauty of life becomes more real, more tangible, when I stop trying to understand and predict it. When I sit back and try to live in the unknown, in that moment between certainties. I think that is where God lives.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Super Tuesday

I attended John McCain's Super Tuesday party at the Biltmore on Tuesday. It was an awesome and crazy time. It reminded me a lot of my time in Washington DC; people running here and there, trying to meet and impress anyone and everyone who might advance a career. I can't say that I was completely comfortable with it, I have had enough of that kind of lifestyle, but, nevertheless, there is a strange attraction that pulls me like a magnet to such things. I don't know what it is. Anyway, the event was loads of fun. Here are a few pics.

After McCain's speech, I was able to meet and talk with one of my long-time favorite news anchors, Tucker Carlson. He is one of the most down to earth, likable guys you will ever meet in the political world. I was really impressed with him.

Well, it looks as though McCain is going to be the nominee. Crazy. Only months ago it looked as though he was going to drop out of the race, and now he is the only plausible nominee. Thats politics for you. I, of course, couldn't be happier to see my old boss where he is. I think, as I have since working for him, that he is a great man, a man of conviction, and the only man who could possibly win against a Democratic challenger.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Onward, Upward

Check out my new blog, "Onward, Upward." Its basically just an outlet for me to ramble about things I have been doing lately, I am trying to leave the more profound...or at least deeper, stuff for this site. Anyway here's the link:

Sunday, January 20, 2008

2007 Review

So as 2007 is at an end, I thought it only appropriate to list some favorites from the past year. (Admittedly, I stole the idea entirely from my friend Nate, but, as they say, emulation is the most sincere form of flattery.) So here it is, may 2008 hold even greater adventures.

Favorite Times (In no particular order)


This summer I spent more time hanging around and sleeping in airports than I ever had before. I found that the best airports to sleep in are O’Hare and Newark, both have seats that you can fit under or in between, and neither seem to care if you are taking up a huge amount of space as you sleep. I took a few red-eye’s, spent hours on layovers, threw up constantly while in Heathrow (London), I spent a lot of time lost in Newark, and barely made it on time to a few connecting flights. All in all, I came to really enjoy being in airports and dread it at the same time because it meant the end of one adventure and the beginning of another.

Getting a tattoo from a shady guy in Budapest

This is one of those experiences I only need to have once. It reads, Ego Sum Via Veritas Et Vita, which, translated from Latin, means “I am the way the truth and the life.” Jesus said it, not me.

Toga Riders for Life!

On a whim, rode around Boston in a Toga for six hours with some new international friends. We made a lot of enemies among the drivers we encountered, but had an unforgettable blast.

Staying in Boston, in New York City, and at NY cabin

Time at these three locations was crazy and amazing. I made friends I never thought I would and saw beauty in so many ways. The wisdom and goodness of people I met was unforgettable and never ceased to amaze me. Everywhere I went I met good people who offered me whatever they had in return for nothing. I remember with particular fondness a great conversation had on the steps of the chapel in the middle of Harvard’s campus, pancake making in the wee hours of the morning, incredible meals and hospitality in New York along with a great few hours spent with an old friend walking the streets of New York and talking about life, and the sweet and perfect serenity of the cabin and lake in the mountains in New York.

Czech Republic

Beautiful country, wonderful people. This trip was one of my all-time favorites.


From surveying the city to cramming in a phone booth with six other people to enjoying a cup of coffee on the street, Budapest was an incredible place with so much to offer. We took a night cruise down the Danube river that was beautiful and unforgettable. Sitting at the rear of the boat watching the lighted city float by and talking with friends about life; that’s about as perfect as it gets.

Sitting, Smoking and Talking on the Fisherman’s Bastion

Also in Budapest, from my perch in the window of one of these spires I could see the entire city of Budapest lit at night, glowing back at me. I would bring my pipe and tobacco to this point every night and quietly smoke while talking with whomever came with me. Again, serene, lasting memories made here.

Living at West Point

Living, eating, sleeping, and talking with the cadets at West Point was an awesome experience. The beauty of the place combined with the awesome combined intellect of the conference participants produced a really interesting time. I had never lived in a castle(ish) place, and had never been around such a beautiful place during the fall. I wish I had better pictures of this, but I lost every one I took due to a camera mix up...

Friday, January 18, 2008


I've been climbing recently. Literally and figuratively, I guess. I once heard someone say that we become the things we do, so, taking that sentiment to heart, I have recently spent some time investing in things that I really want to be a part of my life. I have been painting, songwriting, reading, singing, writing, biking, and now, climbing. Rock climbing is something that I have always wanted to try, but never had the chance to do outside of a gym. So, in the last week I have been twice, once to Queen Creek Canyon and once to the Praying Monk on Camelback Mountain. I will be the first to admit that I have faced easier tasks. Each expedition forced me far from the comfort of my usual thinking chair at home, and each left me with a feeling of elation upon reaching the end of the climb alive. Here are a few pictures of me climbing the cliffs at Queen Creek Canyon:

And here are a couple from the Praying Monk climb:

Sitting atop these peaks its impossible not to marvel at the simple beauty all around. Its strange to think that these rocks have been around for years prior to my existence, and will still be around years after. Every time I reach the top of one such peak, (only three times thus far, I might add) I have a mixed feeling of terror due to the imminent repel back to earth, and freedom at being so high, so untouched by the world and its busyness.

Anyway, life is uncertain. It always has been, but somehow I feel it more now that I am out of school. It's a funny, restless, feeling that I get all the time. Its as if I am itching to leave, to do something that hasn't been done, but at the same time I have so much commitment here, so much holding me to the grindstone. I feel like so much of what I hear is wrong, is unadulterated groupthink, as if it were a traveling salesman asking me to subscribe to some magazine or something. "Just sign on the dotted line and you will get 24 free issues of Status Quo magazine." In other words, I'm afraid that life will become static. The more I am confronted with this the more I realize that my spirit is not conducive to such subverted living.