on the run

September 30, 2014

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Last weekend I « retreated » with a large number of other women from near, and not so near, where I live. It filled my woman-needy soul in a way I didn’t anticipate [though I had gone into the weekend with a great deal of excitement; just didn’t know why I was so ready for it]. It was a short 2 days packed with activity and intensity. During our free time one afternoon, a friend and I went for a run. As we headed up a hill, we saw a group of uniformed youngsters walking towards us, apparently just getting out of school. I am quite accustomed to being stared at: a « waiguoren, » no matter where in the world I am at any given time. And at first I had a bit of a sinking feeling, expecting them to begin laughing and running alongside us as most children do. My friend, however, in the exact same position as I am, had a very different reaction. She smiled, waved, and began cheering them on. It was a contagious reaction, and I joined her. After passing them, I joked that we had just spurred on the next Olympic racing team of this country. It was a powerful lesson for me in openness: a reminder that my agenda of what my « job » is, and of what sort of outward aura I should have, is not necessarily the best. Sometimes you have to let go of those expectations and just be open to the surprises that may be just around the bend. These photos are of the countryside we passed as we ran—so fast that it was all a blur. Ok, so maybe I was just a poor photographer that day :-)

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bookish

September 7, 2014

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This school year has plopped me into the throes of academic testing stress in a way that my chosen profession has normally exempted me from, even though I have been in education all my career life: librarianship is a more individual job than most classroom teaching roles. But this year I am full-force into the classroom teaching as well. While I would likely have never opted into this level of working stress, there are some intriguing [and potentially useful] musings that it has prompted to begin rolling around in my brain.
The main one surrounds types of intelligence. I have always advocated for teaching that caters to different types of learning styles, so that in itself is not new to me. What is, however, is the suspicion that my career choice stems from this theory, in a perhaps unusual way. I’ll attempt to explain . . .
I tend to be a relatively kinesthetic learner so, as much as I am able, I try to be involved in activities that support this—thus my role as Cross Country coach.
I also love music and, parallel to this, languages. So I teach French.
I did not know I was very interested in Math. But I can do it. And there was a need. So I teach middle school Math.
An interesting outcome of this combination is that fact that I now have a small group of students following me from one activity to the next; it has proven to be fascinating, and inspiring, to watch the different gifting that end up being displayed.
One student, for instance, began the year acting up daily in Math. He displayed no interest whatsoever in the material, but found every imaginable opportunity for goofing off. I had already seen the same scenario in French class. It did not seem to be out of any desire to be disruptive, mind you: simply an inability to focus. Or so I thought. Then he joined Cross Country. We were already a week into the season when he joined, so he missed much of the introductory portion, instead just jumping into a combination distance and speed workout. Rather than complain, as he customarily would do in classes, I saw a new side of him. In his denim shorts and gym shoes, he set his jaw and kept ahead of the others, sticking right with me the entire practice. It was the epitome of focus for the task at hand.
Later, I was able to share this with his parents, who put the information to good use to encourage him in both running and studying. The positive enforcement has, I believe, contributed to the improvement I have seen in the classroom.
So what does this have to do with librarianship? In short, I think that libraries support a whole lot more diversity than one might initially realize. And I think that people of all different aptitudes and sorts can find a “home” in a library. One of the things I’ve been doing with my library classes is studies in genres. If you think about all the different types of books that have their own category, it should make one pause before labeling anyone as “bookish.” I mean, if a shelf of books is devoted to practical guides for athletes, another to wordless comic books, and another to poetic waxings, one can’t be too surprised to find library-dwellers of all sorts [shapes and sizes, too?].

retreat

September 2, 2014

Jianshan Wayao

We have a dream. A dream of clean, flowing water. A dream of air in which to breathe. A dream of space in which to wander.

You see, my husband and I live in a land where clean water is a luxury, not a norm. Where air is polluted and city-smogged. Where people bustle about in a rat-race to achieve some sort of perceived height of [Western] advancement.

« So what, exactly, do you mean, » you ask, « with all this poetic waxing? » Well, it’s really quite simple, actually. With his work in community development, my husband has spent much of his five-plus years here in China in remote, rural regions. His work is water—clean water. So he travels to villages in need of it, with the goal of seeking out the best water source and tapping into it. He then comes up with, uses, and maintains filter systems that will make this water accessible for daily life.

One day, while he was out surveying a particular region, he noticed the way in which the trees gathered in one particular valley, providing pockets of shade from the fiery, high-altitude rays of our province. He then saw the sun-facing hills surrounding this patch, and realized that a  stream of clear water flowed nearby. And he had a vision.

He pictured a cluster of small cottages, making use of the the plentiful solar energy so as to provide a self-sustainable center . . . a center of retreat. Later, mulling over the logistics in greater detail, he explained to me the specifics that his engineering background allowed him to work out in his brain—specifics that would provide mutually beneficial results for both visitors coming to recover from urban stresses, as well as for the longterm rural residents: visitors would come with technological knowledge that would help with practicalities such as education, medicine, and construction. And residents would provide a dose of « reality » in the form of the ability to slow down and take life one step at a time, valuing relationships more than just things.

At the moment, it is just a speck of a dream. A seed. But the more we think about it, the more we see the possibilities, and the practicalities that would make it potentially doable. You never know—you just never know . . .