Monday, May 24, 2010

Poem Written With Wisconsin Students

With what we know,

We’ve discovered the anatomy of snow,
We’ve gone to the moon,
By explorers whose lives have ended too soon,

But with what we dream,
We’ve seen unseen,
Traveled to the center of the earth,
The womb of humanity’s birth.

With what we know,
We’ve made crops grow,
Traveled around the world,
Ancient mysteries unfurled;

But with what we dream,
We’ve found that things aren’t always what they seem,
We’re free of boundaries,
Allowed to create realities.

Monday, May 17, 2010


[Not sure if this really counts as a poem...more like a quote.]

We should print everything we read,
Send or email, watch and receive.
It’s easy to know not to send so much
When you’re drowning in paper.


I recently outgrew my loyally serviceable (and rather unassuming) pair of blue Timberland shoes--my toes push, petulantly, up against the edge of the tip of the shoe, and then hurt later. Being naturally mistrustful of any shoes not of that species, shoe shopping is a rather challenging experience for me (especially as the only shoe store I trusted, Shoe Pavilion, liquidated some time back).

As a result of SP's liquidation, I'm forced to go to the cheaper Payless Shoes down the road, where the selection leaves much to be wanted. After two torturous hours of forcing my feet into shoes which didn't fit and made me only more violently regretful that I'd outgrown my good old blue shoes, I settled for a pair of sneakers (sans shoelaces, of course, since I'm too lazy to tie shoes) but with a tongue, which I found useless and rather annoying as well. I'm not sure what the purpose of shoe tongues are, but they are a bother if you're just trying to slip into the shoe--if all I want to do is get into the shoe, why do I have to deal with an utterly purposeless piece of material scrunching and slowing me down? Sorry for the rant on shoe tongues.

I didn't leave utterly devoid of hope for the shoe market, however, as I was able to find a decent pair of dirt-brown sandals which were very nice and comfortable (if, as my mom put it, a "bit masculine"). Here are my tips for shoe makers if they want me to buy their shoes:

1. Focus on comfort, not looks. As long as you don't put bright pink glitter or Hannah Montana on my shoe, I don't care what it looks like.

2. Make more shoes that don't require tying knots. Who needs shoelaces?

3. Try to ensure that the heel or back part of the shoe isn't too loose. I never can find a shoe that sticks on my foot properly.

4. Build to last! I've seen too many cheap shoes fall apart within months.

5. If you want to get anyone from Seattle to buy your shoes, I have three tips: Waterproof. Waterproof. Waterproof.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lessons Learned in L.A.

I wrote this for a homework assignment--a timed write, where you were supposed to write a two page personal narrative in thirty-five minutes. See below:

The Los Angeles subway system winds through the glitzy avenues of Hollywood and the decrepit streets of abandoned neighborhoods in South L.A.; it brings you down into dark tunnels and up into the sun. It was on this subway that my mom and I spent a lot of our time in Los Angeles--partly because we were too cheap to take the taxi, and mostly because my mom doesn't drive. If you really want to make someone feel like a stranger in a new city, ask them to take public transportation. It's hard to know where the stations are, let alone whether you should take the Blue Line or the Green Line, Bus 54 or 235. That was why it was so incredible to us when someone asked us for help on the subway--we'd come full circle, from tourist to (impromptu) tour guide. But it didn't happen overnight--like anything, it took practice. When we first came to Los Angeles, we were the ones asking for help. In fact, my mom and I got lost several times (even within feet of our hotel)!

One day, we were trying to get from our hotel near the airport to the science museum, in downtown Los Angeles. Although we had our L.A. map handy, we were still completely at a loss as to how to get there. We asked a short, brisk-walking airport official how to get to the science museum, and pretty much the only words we understood in her response were "the," "bus," and "there." The rest was such a jumble of street names--Figueroa, 8th, Broad--that the most we understood was that we should get on a bus. After asking some more people, we finally ran into a couple who were heading in that direction, and kindly showed us which bus to take. Unfortunately, the bumpy bus took two hours on its meandering route through the city. When we jumped on the subway, we had to ask more people (some of whom looked a little disgruntled at spoon-feeding us directions) which line to take. And when we finally figured out that we should get on the Red Line, we accidentally got on the Purple Line instead. By the time we arrived at the science center, we felt like veterans--albeit veterans who were very bad at combat. On the way back, we fared little better. I mistakenly thought that our transit time would be shorter than it really was, leading us to miss a dinner appointment by an hour and a half. This was quite a blow to me, as I value punctuality.

In large part because of our adventures, or misadventures, on the public transportation system, I determined to familiarize myself with it more. Instead of just asking people where to go like my mom had been doing, I studied the subway map ahead of time, enthusiastically circling, marking, and plotting out our route in great detail. I even memorized some of the names of the stations--Pedro, Slauson, Union, West Hollywood, and Universal City, just to name a few. Sometimes, I would spot familiar landmarks as we passed by, like torn-edged signs, in both Spanish and English, advertising "Party Supplies," giant grey warehouses surrounded by unfriendly fences, and the boarded up windows that marked desolate neighborhoods. You could tell you were approaching downtown when you saw the tall buildings off in the distance, and the "Christ Glory Church" with its sign in Korean. A trip on the subway (or at least the parts that went above ground) was like traversing a canvas--a full, rich canvas dabbed with colors that spanned the rainbow. From a hassle and a pain that we tolerated because we were too "cheap" for a taxi, taking the subway grew to be a daily treat.

It was on our last day in Los Angeles, as I was yet again consulting the subway map (just to make sure that we got off at the Imperial/Wilmington station for our transfer), a thin man asked quickly, "Do you know if I need to get tickets here, or at the end of the line?"

"Here," I responded. He nodded his thanks and bought the ticket. I felt rather pleased that I'd been asked such a question (easy as it was for me to answer). Then a short, portly, middle-aged Indian man walked up to us and asked, "Excuse me, I'm trying to get to Union--do you know how I'd get there?" I easily showed him the route on the subway map, adding that the Union Station stop was where we were going as well. He thanked me profusely and started up a conversation with my mom.

"I actually used to live here two years ago," he confessed, "but I never took the subway." I smiled--my mom and I had really made progress when it came to learning the system! Best of all, that knowledge hadn't just stayed with us--it'd gone to help someone else. Knowledge is best when it's shared, and it made me feel good (not just because I was helping someone), but also because I realized that we'd learned something after all those hours of bus and subway rides. After all, if taking public transportation is the tourist's test, then when a former resident asks you for directions, you've gotten an A++.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On Grammar and Spelling

Recently I got very mad (as I usually do) after reading yet another misspelled, grammatically incorrect piece of writing from my mom. Some people evaluate others by the way they dress; I evaluate them by the way they write. To me, a misspelled and grammatically incorrect piece of writing either shows that you're a) ignorant of some of the rules involved, in which case I would say LEARN, or b) you don't care enough to use Spell-Check. I've found that for too many people, the answer is b.

The problem with my mom is that she makes the same mistakes, every time. Before I even sit down and edit her email for her, I can predict there will be a comma splice, an overly repetitious (and often incorrect) use of the word "to," a non-capitalized or non-italicized book title, or some other kind of heinous mistake. It's not hard to write an email and sound like my mom. All you have to do is use (at least) one comma splice, a "Hi ______" salutation on the same line as the body, and close with "Best, Joyce."

There is nothing so very wrong with this except that I do form my impressions of people from the way that they write, and much like any dutiful child would tell their parents, "You're not wearing THAT to go out--it's hideous," if they were wearing badly matched clothes, I take it personally when my mom misspells, comma splices, or under-capitalizes. Though I may grumble and form bad impressions of strangers who use bad grammar and spelling, I can't really go up to them and scold them, can I?

Last night I watched NBC's Marriage Ref with the rest of the family, and one of the stories was about a man who had devised a sock-sorting system. He numbered each one of his socks, which would then "match" with a corresponding number and letter to represent Left or Right. This was all very well, except that his poor wife had to sort them. In the end, the call (which I found very just) was that he could keep by his system, but he would have to sort the socks himself. I just thought of that because, if my mom wants to keep on using incorrect grammar, she can deal with that system herself. I'd be more than happy to teach her the correct rules--if she'll stick by them.

I did think of another thing from the Marriage Ref, though--one of the panelists was Howie Mandel, the "Deal or No Deal" host (who I personally think looks like a con-man because of the goatee, but that's just my opinion). Apparently he has an obsessive cleanliness problem. This is not to say that I have correct spelling and grammar a hundred percent of the time, but maybe I just have an obsessive correctness problem.

P.S. Jenny, thanks for the comment! I didn't mean the article as a serious comment on how I look at people, but a satirical post to make readers laugh. My mom thought it was pretty funny; sorry if it offended you.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Skip the Massage--Write a Letter

There is something rather therapeutic about writing a letter, and while I have extolled the glories of letter-writing before, I think that this is one aspect that has not been too much explored. Recently I was replying to letters from fifth graders in Massachusetts--some very wonderful, well-written letters--and I felt a very nice sense of peace and calm when writing that letter, that one doesn't really feel with the frenetic pace of tapping out an email.

Even if you have all the time in the world, the very format of email seems to hurry you up--it says, "C'mon, hurry up, write this, you have a freaking keyboard, you can go faster, the person's going to check their email soon, get it in now!" Whereas no matter how fast you write a letter, it won't make a difference as to when it gets there (unless you're writing it right before they come and collect the mail); the mail is all picked up at a certain time, and all delivered at a certain time. Email has a certain aspect of randomness about it--you don't know if they've received the email, or when they received it, or what, and you can send it at pretty much any time--letters, on the other hand, are fixed, certain things, that (unless you make copies of your letters) cannot be reviewed and regretted and analyzed after sending.

Writing a letter, in addition, is as separate from work as email is a part of it. It's not too often that you handwrite an entire, full-page letter in your office--who has the time? The very act of writing a letter is snuffing your nose at email, that necessary evil of convenience, and saying, "You know what, I have time to actually sit down and write a letter. A real letter. Sucks for you!" And lovely for whoever receives the letter. I love opening my mailbox and seeing something for me.

So skip the massage. Write a letter. You'll be surprised by the therapeutic benefits.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Today's Teaching

Today I video conferenced with students in Arkansas for a session titled "Dancing Fingers: Animal Poems 101." Inspired by a section in my poetry book, "Feathers, Horns, and Claws," the presentation centers around getting inspirations for poetry from animals. A very creative class with an impressive vocabulary, the Arkansas students were able to come up with lots of ideas for poems. We explored using animals as metaphors for larger things, like natural disasters and things were scared of (see example below):


The big brown bear eats everything,
It never stops to think
About what it eats,
And then it leaves a very giant stink.
We also explored how reading scholarly papers/encyclopedia entries/articles about animals could give us great descriptive words for our poem. After reading an article in National Geographic about the Giant Panda, we collaborated on this poem (using the words solitary, hungrily plucked, and insatiable from the original article):

Solitary in the mountains, I roam,
Remote regions of China—my home,
I am insatiable when I see bamboo,
My full stomach makes me poo.
But I must eat for half the day,
At bamboo, I hungrily pluck away.
I’m so shy and I go it alone,
I just like that quiet tone.
I really like to roam around,
I wish there was a Panda Town.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Poem Written with Carson Middle School Sixth-Graders

Today I video conferenced with Carson Middle School's wonderful and creative sixth-graders. We talked about Ridiculous Poetry (writing funny poems), and how to make mundane activities (like walking) into interesting, humorous poetry ideas through exaggeration. We also discussed what makes things funny. Their responses included:

Weird Animals
Made-up words
Finally, we put our learning into practice with an activity that exaggerated a real-life event/activity we dreaded. When asked for examples of dreaded activities, one student said, "Walking." When I asked, "Oh, like walking the dog," he responded matter-of-factly, "No, just walking in general."

Here's the poem we wrote together:

Walking is so difficult,

It’s really very hard,
Your legs hurt so bad,
they might fall off in the yard.

There’s always a chance
That you’ll step on a stick
Get it lodged in your shoe,
And get permanently sick;
Walking is slow, unbearably slow,
It takes so much time out of my day,
It makes me so tired that right now
I just want to hit the hay.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

On Language

I've been mulling over our language, specifically our pull at moments to speak it, for a little while, mostly because of my mom. Originally from China, she speaks Mandarin and Cantonese in addition to fluent English. She always speaks English with my dad, my sister, and me (since we're not as fluent in Chinese as she is in English!) But when my Chinese grandparents (who speak very little English) are over, it's a different story. Is this some kind of language peer pressure? It's even evident when there are people around who my mom doesn't even know. For instance, I remember once being in Hawaii. My mom and I were at a hotel lobby, and a Chinese couple across from us started a discussion in Mandarin. Suddenly, my mom started speaking to me in Chinese.

I do think that the language the people around you speak can have an impact on the way you, yourself, speak. At the most basic, it would obviously explain why babies in Iceland grow up speaking Icelandic (since no other reason would explain someone trying to speak that impossible language--that volcano that erupted is called "Eyjafjallajokull"), and babies in England grow up speaking English.

Of course, there are isolated incidents that have nothing to do with the people around you. I know a couple of words of French--merci, oui, and excusi-moi (if I'm spelling that correctly--it's excuse me). I got used to saying the latter when I was in France, mostly in cases of ducking through crowds at crowded museums like the Louvre. That trip was a couple of years ago, and yet, going into my dad's office, I sneezed. Instead of saying excuse me, "excusi-moi" slipped out.

Whatever our pull to certain languages may be motivated by, it's an interesting topic to think about. And now I have to go eat dinner. Adios.