Thailand Poem, #5: A 3CK Abides

“Whenever possible,” said Chase,

“zoom with your feet.”

It was tempting to only go as close

as the airport lounge could get you,

drinking wine coolers like a Spy.

But you can’t abide there

in Abu Dhabi or Seoul,

You have to go through customs,

To speak the language,

“Sawasdee krub,”

to dwell, like the Word,

among them in the flesh,

Because after all, you can’t live

duty-free.

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Zoom with your Feet, Revisited, Uh.

Further reflections on my personal experience at the Connect Conference in Thailand. This might be an extended reprise of an earlier blog, I forget and I’m too lazy, uh.

Chase was giving me photography tips.

“Whenever possible,” he said, “zoom with your feet.”

That’s why we went all the way to Thailand, to the Connect Conference: to zoom with our feet. Sure, we could have sent the artwork with our blessings (like the Reuels did this year, we may have to do in future years). The best way to get a picture of people far away, to see them better, is not to use a telescopic lens, but to walk up close to them.

The thing about the Connect Conference that makes it difficult to write about from a journalist’s perspective is the way that even (especially) visitors are invited to participate. There is no dispassionate position you can take when the boundaries of a division of the Company are so generous as to include you in such an open way, once you have chosen to accept that invitation. Anyway I’ve never really been a journalist; besides, from reading Thoreau I came to an understanding that journalists say very little that is new. I started out the week trying to write a few blogs as a reporter, but as the week progressed I turned toward poetry to express what was happening. There are four poems in my blog’s archives in February.

I have been comfortable for some time calling myself a writer. Now, as I discovered a non-journalistic role I could only describe as “poet in residence”, I came to terms with myself as a writer on a new level. The term “poet” was as intimidating to me as the term “artist” is for many people. Our Dandelion Seed Company Conferences have often functioned as the catalyst for people to allow themselves to claim the term “artist”. Before, they may have said, “I sometimes make paintings”. In the same way, before the Connect conference, I might have admitted that, once in a long while, I write poems. Maybe, in my head, calling myself a poet was a sort of arrogance, not too different from calling myself a “prophet”. In fact, the two terms might be a lot more interchangeable than I ever imagined, and a lot more effective as a role when embraced and engaged with intentionality by those of us who are called to it. The Connect Conference, to my surprise, did this for me: Yes, I am a poet. Yes, I am a prophet. Oh, I have (and continue to be) a life coach. That’s a huge part of who I am, but it’s never been, never been, me being fully me. A life coach listens, but a prophet speaks and a poet writes. A prophet performs art. A life coach and poet, like the Dude in The Big Lebowski, abides.

In Lebowski, Jeff Bridges plays the title role. Only he doesn’t. In this story with a case of mistaken identity, Bridges’ character, the Dude, whose formal name is (coincidentally) Lebowski, never refers to himself as the Big Lebowski. In fact, without his namesake’s interference there would be no story, because the Dude abides (does nothing) and there isn’t a story in that. His friends know what his real name is, but they never call him by it. As he explains to his namesake (the real title character, the real Big Lebowski)

“Look. Let me explain something. I’m not Mr. Lebowski; you’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. That, or Duder. His Dudeness. Or El Duderino, if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing—“

The point I’m making is, even in our own lives, at our best, we’re not really the title character. At our best, we just abide. If we just abide, then what makes life interesting? Two things: first, the thing that can happen which provides conflict, the thing that pushes us over the edge into living at least a mildly interesting story, is when we are involved in something against our will and assumed or expected to be someone we aren’t. In the Dude’s case, someone urinated on his rug. And it tied the whole room together, and since it messed up his feng shui, (uh, which is never identified as such) it created enough of a problem to drive him to act. Something, in other words, has to push us out of our comfort zone to make life interesting. Or, we live for something bigger than ourselves, and we abide in a Vine where we are rather prune-able, a certain sort of disposable, but not in a bad way, just the kind of way that’s annoying to our friends, like Donny, if we are dust in a coffee can which then blows into their faces; I mean, once we are gone, we are going to continue to abide. Poor Donny, his heart couldn’t bear being outside his comfort zone; and yet… uh.

What I mean is that when Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches and to abide in him, as he abides in the Creator, is, uh.

But it does drive us to do something about the rug.

The thing is, living out our place in the Company is the kind of thing that flies under the radar all day long, until we encounter resistance. And the only reason we encounter resistance is because we’re not the title character others think we’re supposed to be. It’s not about us.

This is how I know I’m beginning to learn to abide: The day after I got home from Thailand, I took a walk through Goshen, feeling that the best time to truly see your home is the day after you get home from a voyage abroad, and while walking I took some pictures. Comfortable, now, saying that I’m a poet, I might as well say that I’m a photographer, too, though very much more the amateur at that in terms of a developed skill set, uh. I have no clue, just a poet’s eye for moments. So as I walked and thought about this article, I shot pictures of this beautiful, stark place where I live. I found to my surprise that my shot of the day captured two geese in flight, perfectly framed in a space between the trees. I was holding the camera in my pocket to keep it dry when I saw them come honking their way up the millrace, then veer to the west. I drew the apparatus like a cowboy and fired three times, pow-pow-pow, missing the geese completely each time, or so I thought. I didn’t even know if I’d gotten them in the viewfinder at all when I was shooting, there was so much snow in my face.

As I walked, I thought about zooming with my feet, and I thought about how a picture is worth a thousand words, and it occurred to me that if you are a poet your job is to zoom with your feet and then give people a picture in fewer words than a thousand. That is very hard to do. That takes a deep knowledge of your mother tongue. Most of us give it little thought past ninth grade English; I think about it daily. Even so, I am glad I have a camera for the times when I can’t seem to cowboy-quick-draw a poem, when I fail to capture the essence of a moment or a day in the viewfinder of my words.

My colleague Michael Pollock, son of David C. Pollock, who was instrumental in coining the term and defining the sociological concept “third-culture kid”, once told me that 3CKs often report they are most at home in airports. Wow, that described me.

But nobody really abides in airports. Think about this: There is no duty-free life.

To be so much at home in transition is a blessing, to be sure, but it has downsides.

Truly abiding is not needing to be in chaotic transition to feel comfortable. Poets keep it simple, stay home and plow one patch of ground year after year, or, like the Dude, they do nothing, and do it with excellence. Plowmen have been poets over hundreds of years, from Robert Burns of Scotland to Wendell Berry of Kentucky. Burns’ famous poem To a Mouse recognizes even this small creature’s need for a stable home and laments that it was turned over by the poet’s (Burns’) plow. They’re steady and sloe-eyed as an ox. You’d think they’re comfortable in their little acreage, but read Berry’s Men Untrained to Comfort and you’ll see these mens’ entire lives are physically spent, their mental energies, too, on making the load lighter for others, including their own animals. This is what I sense when I coach, alongside my “Big Bro”. He is taking the weight off. He is asking me only to be who I am, not more, not less, and to abide in him.

Some notes in my journal from Thailand as I thought about plowing side by side with my Bro and discussed it with Mariella:

Oxen – field. Straight line wide open field. It’ll be just fine. We can do this all day.

And from Dan Baumann, speaking of my Brother:

He likes ordinary days.

Which reminded me of Ps. 118:24, I think it speaks of ordinariness, too, and the simplicity of abiding.

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

The poet does not need to zip about the world from stage to stage (but can zoom with his feet when it’s called for). The poet, like a caretaker of orphans in Mongolia, sees the value of waking up every day to do the same thing, to provide stability and bear weight for others, and thus to translate the mundane, through languages both spoken and unspoken, into beauty, that beauty of hard ground turned over in a simple straight furrow. The poet may find his most valuable moment that moment of return, because although a poet abides, he does so in a way that offers new perspectives. The moment of return: the moment when you’ve reached the end of the field and swing around to work the opposite direction. You were facing the sun, now you move away from it; your field is the same length, but your perspective changes completely in that moment. You’ve traveled all the way to the opposite side of your known world, and you’re ready to go back again.

We don’t live for the transitional moment at the end of the row, though it is glamorous and mysterious as an airport’s first-class lounge (to a 3CK, who travels economy, whose luxury is a pair of really good headphones he uses for Skype meetings doubling as airline movie-goer’s best-seat-in-the-house apparatus). The oxen live for the middle of the row, pulling. The noon heat and the pleasure of a good sweat, of taking the weight off others’ shoulders.

To my surprise, I discovered that I am a poet. This is the kind of thing that happens at a DSC gathering, and so, an obvious kinship becomes apparent. The result was that rather than chafing at being somewhere less exotic, I was pleased to see the beauty of my home and to be back to a place where I too can provide middle-of-the-row stability and end-of-the-row perspective for my own children. And when I’m talking about rows here I mean plowing, not airlines, uh.

I did ask where I should go next, because there will be other travels. Dad said, “When you get home, send in your passport for renewal right away [it expires in November]. When it comes back, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, here’s more of my love.”

PS what I love as I’ve read through the Big Lebowski script recently is the half-completed thoughts, which typically end with an inarticulate “uh” while other characters pick up on the general drift of meaning and add their piece on top of it, ending their thoughts in the same way. So if you want to respond to this blog in half-thought out, semi-articulate pieces, just end with “uh” and I’ll be, uh.

 

 

 

 

 

To Be Known, Thailand Blog # um… 6?

So you go somewhere as a casual observer (or even as what one might call a professional observer / journalist / helper / art groupie and cross-cultural aficionado) and you get drawn in personally because that is actually the point. This conference isn’t just for Cross-Cultural Workers (CCWs) or artists … it’s for me, too.

I’ve written about various core desires, which I’ve seen in others. But I have my own core desires, and here’s my chance to be a little bit vulnerable.

I want to grab the mic. I’m supposed to be this great listener kind of guy, but I’m sorry, I want to be the center of attention. I’m primarily a writer in terms of how I express my creativity, but at heart there’s a performer wanting to escape.

I want to be known. I want to connect, to be heard and to be understood. I identified all this stuff about myself quickly last night as I sat off by myself feeling bad, because I have some tools along that I use for helping coach other people and I used them on myself.

Feeling bad isn’t too descriptive. It goes a bit deeper. Feeling left out, ugly and rejected, these feelings surfaced, and then I realized that they were pushing me to withdraw. From there I felt apathetic and eventually wanted to shut down. I stopped working… at that point I realized this is why I did not post a blog on Monday (or, maybe I did, but it was all visual stuff, just the photojournalism side of my job.) I needed some space to reflect on that.

My dad used to say I was “exhibiting attention getting behavior” (or AGB) whenever I acted wild and crazy. I see it in my son Benjamin, too. Yesterday we Skyped home and asked him what his successes were. Benjamin said, “Well, I rode my bike down the stairs, and then I convinced my butler to punch himself in the face.” Funny. And attention-grabbing. The legitimate desire To Be Known is often twisted into a grab for attention, and this is a paradox I’ll likely fight with to some degree all my life because I’m a performer at heart.

There’s that desire to grab the mic from people instead of getting my desire to be known met in the form of receiving attention from God. But God makes these desires, places them within us, and God is the best at filling them, too.

It was good. I spent some time, had some conversation with the Creator. Rather than wallowing a lot in how painful some of my childhood experiences were when I was left out and rejected, I just asked Jesus some stuff about how He knows me. I felt some powerful response to that; some specific things that I sensed the Creator knows about me and likes about me; I heard Him saying “You’re a great guy, and I think you’re funny. I like your sense of humor.”

There will be times to perform, and times to watch from the back of the audience. A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to sow, a time to reap, and so on. In all that, being Known and Knowing You is something the Creator is really good at.

I’ll read a few poems at open mic. I am open to being vulnerable with people, and reading your poetry is definitely that. And that’s a way that you can be known to other people, which is certainly not a bad thing. It’s only pathological when it’s the only place you’re seeking to be known.

You, too, can be fully known by the Creator (and already are). That’s something you can be hungry to know in detail. Being heard and understood is an antidote to the effects of being left out or rejected. Stand up, try once more, take one more stab at connecting. If you’re hungry to be known too, ask, “Creator, what do you know about me, and what do you like about it?”

Thailand, 2016, Poem #2

A bricklayer on his scaffold

Drops a plumb line from the topmost brick

To set it just, just so. If it is straight

His wall will stand and stand.

 

A poet drops a plumb line from her head to heart to find her voice

Setting her words just, just so. When it rings true

The culture she builds will stand, and stand

And stand.

 

Thailand, 2016, Poem #1

God of spider webs

God of the fisherman’s net

You catch the greatest game

with the thinnest of threads.

Your creel is filled with fish

You roast goodness over charcoal for breakfast

You bake my bread early in the morning

You wake me for a walk by water whirling, and why?

Because if even one strand connects my heart to yours

I too will have a happy hook in my lip.

Peace (Thailand #4 – ish)

We’ve been working hard to set up an entire room full of artwork. I think the team that has been stressing to overcome jet lag and install the gallery is ready for the conference to begin. I don’t mean that everything is installed yet (and we only have a few hours left) but I mean in the sense that we are ready for the peace of mind that comes with saying “It has begun.” In fact, several of us will be adding to the art or working throughout the conference, but it’s a bit like starting a race. You train and train, you warm up (jogging) but you wait for the starter’s gun just so you can run some more. And then, after the initial adrenaline rush, you settle into a moment of peace. There is serenity in the journey. Somewhere between the preparations and the finish line is that time when you say “we have now begun to really run.” And we are ready for that moment, even if not all the work is quite in place.

Offhand I’d guess we have about nine to twelve people exhibiting some visual work, (several of whom are not attending, and so we have a team of people installing for them via instructions), and a musical team of seven (I count sound guys) and lots of other creativity beginning to flow. Megan leaned over to me and said, “This is becoming an arts conference. But I guess that is the point.” Well, not entirely. But the arts are becoming more and more a part of how we live and breath in a world where we work cross-culturally. Languages lose something in translation, but image can gain communicativeness, as can melody.

Thailand is a great place to be at peace. This sovereign nation resisted colonialism due to a strong monarchy, and there is room for rest here. We are already feeling it, and yet in some ways we still wait for that to be wholly unleashed.

It takes some work to be at peace with being an artist. The value of the arts is much discussed during this time, but becoming established if still elusive.

It turns out I’ll be painting. I’m going to primarily use words, and I don’t have to worry much about color. Thematically there’s a lot of black and white work here, with reds. I can paint that way. I’m content to have a 4×8 panel to work on, and ran my concepts by Megan. There are things I wish I was doing; for example I love to sing but have not done it with a team for so long that it’s not on anyone’s radar. But with blogging, photojournalism, and now a painting to execute plus lots of opportunities to listen to people quietly and ask them questions, I’m at peace with my role. You can’t do everything, and I’m doing a lot. I like to DO stuff, but to be at peace, BEING is the key.

I’m bringing that edge to my painting, as you’ll see.

I’ll start with something that looks pretty abstract. Letters.

Want to join in? Okay, here’s what goes at the top of my canvas:

AAEEFGGHILLLNOOPRSSSUUVX,

AAAAABCEGILMMNRRSSTTUY.

Just letters? We shall see.

There’s more, but all shall be revealed in due time. The starter’s gun is about to bang, and then, we’re off. We’ll settle in, we’ll be at peace, we’ll rest together.

Thailand visuals Saturday (#2)

Clockwise from upper left: 1) sunrise. 2) Jerimae and Ben, Christa’s art. 3) Anneke working. 4) An Asian tourist holds up the fisherman’s creel as if she caught the fish. Cracks me up. 5) Sitting with Kirti and Luke. 6) Glen and Christine hang Christa’s work, Karen works on the next iteration of the same piece.