I am following the Kavanaugh story.
I am in awe at the violence against women in this culture. We tell ourselves that it's equal in our country. That women have it good here. And then a woman tells her story, a painful inconvenient story, about a powerful man. And suddenly, she is getting death threats? Accused of being a political manipulation ploy? Discredited because she doesn't remember how she got to the the party?
The story itself is, sadly, not an uncommon one. And every time someone says...
it doesn't really matter, or
it happened so long ago, or
its her fault somehow, or
why did she wait until now to bring it up...
they are sending the message to men and boys...
that their actions do not really hurt women and girls,
that their violence against a woman or a girl won't have lasting effects
that they won't be held responsible for the harm they are bringing to a human being's life...that it's not really their fault,
that they (the men) don't deserve to have their lives affected by "too much" justice.
Most women have a painful, inconvenient story.
The woman or girl doesn't want to talk about it.
Powerful men do not lay down their power easily.
What is done to one woman affects all women. And thus, all men too. Men are also affected when women are afraid and hurt and accused.
Our political arena is a stage. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has become a character on our stage. I hold the possibility for her that in her personal life she is currently cocooned by people who love and care for her. That she feels safe and held by the great spirit of life. That as she lets go of control and watches her life changing before her eyes, a new possibility is arising for her.
Destruction and rebirth are the way of the courageous, wild woman.
Today was a full day of writing. It started with tutoring before school. We reviewed how to punctuate dialogue and my student began a non-fiction piece about the fish of Maui. An interesting topic.
At 10:00am, the women's writing circle began. This is our fifth week of writing together and it feels like home when we gather. We began with a warm-up write as usual, and then we did a writing exercise, veering from our typical pattern just a little. We wrote two or three lines about our morning or our day yesterday, and then rewrote them multiple times in different tenses and perspectives. The sharing was so fun...I loved hearing how each person's short little story came alive differently depending on what tense and perspective it was written from. Everyone agreed that it was interesting and fun, and our writing expanded out of the grooves we normally tend to write in. We closed with a round of writing from a compelling prompt that elicited strong pieces. It is soul satisfying to share this time with these women.
The Alameda after-school writer's workshop was also satisfying. We reviewed the three pillars of a story (character, setting, and plot) and talked about how to use them to start off a new piece. Instead of imparting all my knowledge immediately (haha), I paused to ask the students..."Do you ever get stuck on how to start a story? What do you think about when you are starting a story?" Their answers were awesome. So thoughtful and varied. I added my two cents: consider opening with one of the pillars...describe the setting, or the character, or jump right in with plot action or dialogue. We wrote and shared and I had a chance to check in with most of the students.
It was a wonderful day of writing with others. I love days like this.
Right after posting on FB that all was going so smoothly, we decided to go get dinner. It was in that moment that I realized, I don't have my backpack. We raced down to the lobby. Surely it was there. It wasn't. It wasn't on the hotel shuttle bus either. It wasn't in the hotel room. It was gone.
I was in shock. Slowly I began thinking of all the important things in my backpack. The best backpack in the world too, by the way. It wasn't until we were sitting in the open air restaurant waiting for our quesadillas and beans to arrive that I realized MY COMPUTER WAS IN THE BACKPACK.
Worst Case Scenario. All my business records, materials, contacts are on my computer. All the saved passwords to everything important. Ruah was highly distressed. We were at the end of a huge day of travel that started at 1:30 am in Portland. As the girls began spiraling down into despair, I told them to stop. Visualize the backpack coming back to us somehow. Imagine, we have it back. Feel how good that feels. They both had their eyes closed and Ruah was smiling. We began to think, maybe someone will return it to the lobby. Maybe it's still at the airport. Maybe the shuttle driver will find it. We opened our eyes...back to the reality that it was still missing. How would we ever get it back? We got our dinner to go. None of us felt able to eat.
I couldn't remember if I'd had the backpack on the shuttle. I thought I did, but did I? The last concrete memory I had of it was at customs, but I couldn't imagine I would leave my backpack behind.
We checked in with the hotel desk yet again. The supervisor said he would review the security tapes to see what they could learn. They tried calling the airport lost and found for me. They said they would call if they learned anything.
We went up to our room to go to bed. After only 45 minutes of sleep the night before, I was exhausted. I texted several key friends and family to please pray that it would be recovered. I went to sleep.
A couple hours later, I woke up... alert. What is it?, I asked myself. I looked at the time, and I kid you not...it was 11:11. The girls were sleeping soundly. I crept out and went down to the front desk yet again, to see if they knew anything else. A new man was working the night shift. He told me he had worked at the airport in customs for 11 years, and that so many people left things there. "I think your backpack is at customs. You need to go there."
"Should I go early in the morning?"
"You should go now."
"But I have two children sleeping upstairs. Are they safe?"
"They are very safe here. It is night. They are sleeping. Do you want me to call you a shuttle?"
"Yes." I answered.
I took the elevator back up to the room to grab my passport and money. Ruah was stirring, so I told her I was going to the airport to get my backpack.
I rode in the large shuttle bus back to the airport, about half a mile away. The shuttle driver helped me talk to the night guard, who had begun checking me out a little too much, and was leading me to a different door. The shuttle driver came out and explained, and soon I was back at customs, now a quiet dark room. A woman interviewed me extensively about my backpack, and when I passed the test, she pointed over to the wall by the conveyor belt luggage x-ray machine. THERE IT WAS! Just leaning against the wall as if waiting for me.
It was one of the happiest moments of my life. I don't think I'm exaggerating.
When I got back to the hotel, I placed the backpack on the dresser where the girls would see it when they woke up. Then I fell back into deep sleep.
The next morning, we were eating breakfast and saying goodbye to San Jose by 8:00am. We got onto our next shuttle bus, and headed off for our first full day in Costa Rica, with all our luggage in hand.
I received our placement today! We will stay in La Cruz, a "tiny hilltop town" close to the Nicaraguan border. This is where I will teach English and the girls and I will live with a host family for four weeks. La Cruz is known for its pristine beaches and excellent surfing. One website has this to say: "Though there is not much to see in this rural town, there are a number of good markets out here in addition to quite a few sodas." Haha. Ruah does love soda. We will definitely want to find access to a 4x4 vehicle, as it appears to be necessary for accessing many of the nearby beaches. Here are some pics...
This rural school serves a small population of students at mostly primary and secondary grades.
Playa Junquillal, La Cruz
A street in town.
A view from above.
La Cruz on the Costa Rica map.
We are going to Costa Rica! My daughters and I will live with a host family in a rural part of the country and I will teach English to 7th graders about to enter their first year of high school. The schools in the rural areas of Costa Rica are not as funded and rigorous as schools in the cities. By improving their English, these kids will have a better chance of graduating high school and finding a job.
I know Costa Rica will make a difference in our lives, and I hope to make a difference in the lives of the people we meet as well. I want to make friends, experience another way of life, another language, the land and the animals and the ocean. I want to help the students I work with to love English and to speak it with confidence.
Traveling to a Central American country and learning Spanish has been a dream of mine since I was 19 years old, when I went to the Dominican Republic with a group of college students to build a school. I'm so happy to be taking action toward my dream at last (25 years later!), and to be bringing my children with me. This action is directly related to the Life Brief I wrote for myself about 10 months ago. Check out this article by Bonnie Wan about the Life Brief, what it is, and how to write your own. I highly recommend making one.
I will keep writing... about the preparation, adventures, struggles, and joys of traveling with kids, exploring a foreign country, teaching English, learning Spanish, living with a rural host family, and more... including coming home and sharing new ideas and stories with my writing students here in Portland, Oregon.
Here's to taking action on dreams.
The moon is full tonight.
It is red with fire and smoke as the Columbia Gorge burns.
It is a time of irreversible consequences.
One person's foolish action changes the world for all of us.
The boys' lives who threw fireworks into the gorge on a 100 degree day will never be the same. Their parents' lives will never be the same. The gorge will never be the same.
Hundreds of people, hundreds of thousands of people, claim the gorge as their sacred land. I too have memories since childhood there, on through to the present. Will we finally honor our land, our earth, the air we breath? I cannot even breath outside, under the full red moon of early September. Houston is underwater. Florida will be hit soon.
I can't stop thinking about irreversible consequences. They are all around us now. I have often been afraid of them.
But one thing the earth has taught me is that death leads to rebirth.
One thing life has taught me is that whatever grief we face, whatever we may be saying goodbye to, life continues to grow....even from that emptiness.
Our bare, charred land will slowly begin to grow again.
I realize anew that I do not stand as myself alone.
I am me and my daughters.
I am me and my family.
I am me and my new moon group, that has met every month for ten years.
I am me and my friendship with Amy, with Emily.
I am me and my partnership with Jason.
I am me and my body. That one might seem obvious, but it is important to note.
The list goes on, and leads to this...
I am me
who cannot compromise my core
who must simply rise to the occasion
that life presents
as the one who I am.
The tree stands outside the living room window, massive and illuminated by the evening sun. It understands these things too. What kind of tree is it? Can I climb it? I want to sleep high in its branches with the birds and the spiders.
I am a spider.
I build my web, my life that is my art.
It can be torn down.
It can be rebuilt again.
I am a bird.
I eat spiders and fly away.
and return to my nest
"Notice the power of your words to bring images and feelings directly into your readers minds and bodies."
I said this to the middle school writers today after a student shared some gruesomely detailed part of his story and we were all cringing and making faces at each other.
"It is a raw power and can be used for good or for...," I searched for a word other than 'bad'.
"...or for THAT!" One of the students finished my sentence for me.
A laugh went around the room and then the next student began sharing.
Some gore is allowed, as long as we know who the characters are, what the plot is, and how the conflict adds to the story. It has to make sense.
In the writer's workshop today, we heard...in addition to plane crash accident alluded to above...true stories about roller derby and the stranger-danger incident I mentioned in a previous blog post. We heard what seemed like realistic fiction, complete with familiar classmates as characters, until the corner-store shop keeper's eyes began glowing red. I looked around the room and the other students' eyes were literally wide and bodies frozen as they listened with rapt attention. We heard the space adventure saga that is both intense and humorous. There was the story in a futuristic setting about a character who had caught "the plague". And more.
I am continually amazed at all that we can write in such a short time.
Our nurse was the biggest blessing imaginable when I was in labor and delivery with our first baby. We knew he would be too little to live if he was born. There was nothing the doctors could do except try to keep him in my body, but I had a uterine infection. My body was purging all contents of the uterus... perfectly formed baby included.
As the day progressed, it became increasingly clear that Levi was going to be born. Here is what our nurse, Leanne, did that helped so much. She prepped us. She knew every time the doctor was planning to come in and talk about the next steps. She told me ahead of time what the doctor would probably be saying and what I could be thinking about.
For example, "The doctor is going to want to induce. You can agree to that, or you can ask to wait for labor to begin naturally. Think about what you want. The doctor will probably be willing to wait until tomorrow morning." Then she would give me some water or ask me how I was feeling, and go on her way. Because of this, I had the mental preparation to be just one fraction of a step in front of the experience, which made all the difference in feeling empowered vs. utterly along for the ride.
This week, I applied this experience of my nurse to my parenting.
My oldest daughter, Ruah, is in 5th grade. Friendships are deeply important to her and becoming slightly more complex. She and one of her closest friends had a difference of opinion over the weekend. With the combination of some blunt texts, a sizable dose of frustration, and possibly hurt feelings, I saw a recipe for a misunderstanding and maybe even a hurtful conflict at school on Monday. So I modeled after my nurse and prepped Ruah just a tad.
"Everything might be fine with _____ today. Or there might be some hurt feelings," I said, "in which case, ____ might say something jabby or act angry with you. If she is acting different, she might just need some reassurance from you that all is well." Ruah took it in. Then she felt sick and didn't want to go to school. She took her temperature. She couldn't hear out of her right ear. She had a stomach ache.
Anxiety and avoidance were not my intended outcomes, and it was time to go. So I tried again. "Let's pretend you are her and I am you," I said. I acted out an uncomfortable, avoidant greeting at school. Then I acted out a friendly, all-is-well greeting. Which got a laugh out of Ruah since I was being so uncool in my role-playing. It put the spring back in Ru's step though, and I sensed that she was equipped for her first potential friend-conflict.
I said a little prayer for Ruah after drop off that she and her friend would both know how loved and awesome they each are, then I went about my day.
Ruah came home feeling great about life. No trouble at all. She talked on and on about her day. Perhaps my prepping wasn't even necessary. Or perhaps it really made a difference. Either way, I think Ruah got the message that I am there for her. I have her back. The next day at drop off, she spontaneously gave me a kiss on the cheek as she got out of the car.
Thank you to my nurse, for teaching me by example that a little bit of prep and guidance can make all the difference. I have a feeling this tool will come in handy again in the future.
Sometimes we make a profound difference in someone's life and never even know it.
There are times to say no.
There are times to say I'll think about it.
There are times to say yes.
And then there are times when all thought drops and you experience your whole body saying Yes! Yes! Yes! without your permission. You are along for the ride.
Those are the best kinds of yes.
When the spirit of adventure strikes.
We've driven by the Asian Food Center, "Hung Phat", on E. Burnside and 82nd a few times recently, and Ruah keeps asking if we can stop and buy some white rabbit candies. Apparently they are her favorites now. On the way home from the girls' dentist appointments this morning, we drove past again. This time I said yes.
We walked in and easily found the candy/snacks aisle. So many were from Japan, and since I lived in Japan for a year, I recognized many. A balloon inside me began filling with excitement. Pocky Sticks! Little jellies, wafers, matcha green tea flavors! Katakana alphabet. Cute little anime characters. Meiji brand name. All these Japanese details delighted my eyes.
"Can we try this?" Ruah asks. Lychee pudding.
"Look at this!" Irie says, pointing to cute panda packaging.
"Yes, let's try it!"
"Oh, I love these? Let's get two," I hear myself say. choosing two flavors of the infamous pocky sticks.
We walked out with a full grocery bag and and a tub of little jellies that we had to carry. The friendly, sweet checker had asked if we were doing a school project. "Nope. Just trying out lots of treats."
In the car, we started opening.
"Hmmm, that's interesting."
"Can I have another of that one?"
"That was a good experience," Ruah stated as we drove out of the parking lot.
"We just got our teeth cleaned and now we're ruining them with sugar," Irie observed.
"Let's go back there again soon," I said.
(Author's note: Asian treats have much less sugar than American treats. Just saying.)
Today was the middle school writing group. Maya and Kai were talking much more than usual. They were consulting each other on some writing piece....something that had happened to them over the weekend. At the end of class, during sharing time, Maya read us her story, a scary "stranger danger" type experience that had happened to her and Kai and some of their friends when they rode their bikes to the corner store. They told us they were going to work together to tell the same story from the different perspective of each of their friends. Maya had only gotten halfway through the telling, so we were eager for her to finish it next week.
As the students left class, Maya and Kai told me excitedly that when that scary thing had happened, the first thing they both decided was that they would write about it in writing class. "This would make a great story," they said to themselves, once it had all resolved.
The anticipation of writing about it was part of the experience for them. This stayed with me.
There is power in having time set aside to write. A scheduled time when you meet with yourself to write your thoughts and feelings and stories. There is power in seeing life with that fresh perspective that comes when you begin to know yourself as the main character of the story that is yours. I saw that empowerment in their eyes and heard it in their voices.
They have become writers.
I took a walk this morning,
my legs cold in the morning air,
hands shoved in pockets.
Winston my cat walked with me.
He distracted me some from the Spring Beauty
with his meowing and occasional lagging.
But the warmth of his companionship rode well in my heart.
I could not be distracted, though, from the abundance of the magnolia tree,
heavy with velvet flowers,
draped, and nearly drooping from such extravagance.
The morning light wasn't strong.
It was cloudy.
But the tree gave off its own light.
"Good morning, Magnolia. You are magnificent," I said, stopping to admire.
"I am what I am, as you are what you are," she replied.
The white and purple petals were browning around the edges.
A messy lushness.
The sidewalk strewn with fallen petals, further browned.
Gorgeous, messy, lush, majestic, at it's full ripeness.
An abundant, flashy woman of a tree.
Winston and I continued on.
We came to a huge, old tree with small white petals, branches spread wide;
an umbrella of massive steady sweetness,
I couldn't help but pause beneath and turn my gaze upward.
I wanted to climb it.
Perhaps I could, that one branch began low enough.
I would have,
if we could have had some privacy.
"Good morning, Beautiful," I said to the precious strength of a tree.
It rained love on me.
"Good morning," it replied. "You should know, I've seen it all and still I have a pure spirit."
I knelt down and gave Winston a good belly rub.
Then we turned the corner and headed for home.
Written on April 13, 2017 by Sarah Pemberton Kastrup
Today is Levi's birthday. My first born. My memory of Levi is almost invisible. I have written so much. About 5 years ago, I was compelled and wrote it all. I tried to turn it into a publishable memoir, but then got afraid. Afraid of what I was revealing about myself. Afraid of sharing so much vulnerability with the world. The writing of it was for myself, I said. But the writing is still in an unfinished form. With a little more refinement, a little more attention, I could have a book to share with my family and loved ones.
Twelve years ago, on this day, at this very time, I was checking into labor and delivery, still not comprehending the truth of what was coming in the hours ahead. My first time pregnant. My first time to give birth. The memories I have feel clearer, because I wrote every one of them down. Can I still feel his body slipping out into the cold, gigantic world? Or do I remember reliving the sensations when I wrote about it?
I was thinking about my writing group this morning, being sure to leave on time, being sure I had everything ready. A text from my mom came in…she was remembering Levi and sending me love.
The pain healed.
The great loss no longer brings sadness.
You existed alive in this world for almost an hour. Such a small body. Such a very large spirit. I want to remember you exactly. But I don’t. I want to feel deeply. I kind of do. I want to honor you and myself and that most incredible moment we shared together, two humans briefly held in the wordless closeness of togetherness and love.
This is the beginning of Avery's true story!
It was the middle of 4th grade, 2013. As far as I knew, I was an only child, except for my big sister who then was twenty, so she didn’t really hang around a lot. My mom had signed me up for a musical called “Hip Hop Health”, and of course, my role in it was a carrot. It was the first performance, and I was dressed up in my orange costume and my carrot-top hat. The cast was lined up in order of height, and in front of me was this girl who was like 2 inches taller than me, and still is. Little did I know, she was the best thing that could ever happen to me, besides being born. Being the confident kid I am, I tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Is your mom and dad out there?” to make friendly conversation, and this is what she said:
“I don’t have a dad. I have two moms.”
“Me too!!” I said excitedly, because I haven’t met a lot of people with two moms.
“All I know about my dad is that he has brown curly hair and brown eyes,” she said to me.
“That’s all I know about MY dad!!” I said even more excitedly. Then the impossible thought occurred to me. I said it to her, half believing and half not believing. “Maybe we’re sisters!” I blurted, waving my arms out like a canyon.
“We might be,” she said thoughtfully.
A lot of singing and dancing later, it was intermission and we went to go talk about our hypothesis with our moms. The funny thing is, they were already sitting next to each other!
Sarah Pemberton is a teacher, a writer, and the founder of Write Now!. Sarah lives in Portland, Oregon with her two daughters.