Life Goes Ever Ever on, including Death

Greetings all visitors whether friends, future friends or fellow travelers on this planet.

My mother died less than a month ago, very soon after the last post.  Blog posts and updating my web site, as well as many other tasks, suddenly lost importance as Death stared at me, and even feelings from babyhood visited me.  Regardless of the specific relationship we have with our mothers, a mama dying triggers visceral reactions beyond our control.

Allow me a break from updating my web site – feel free to roam and check out some pages and old posts – and I will return, after I regain some balance in my internal life.

And, in honor of my mother, I will be even more frugal with any gifts you may offer to support my projects (donation button on the left column).

And, one more note honoring my mother – she was one of the many “Rosie the Riveters” in WW II.  She drove ambulances, was trusted as an assistant surgeon while being a student nurse, and performed many responsible tasks.  At the end of the war, she was delegated to being a “dumb nurse” under the thumb of all the male doctors that came back from the war.  Since that generation is now dead or dying, I wanted to share that with any of you young’ns.

I’m in Louisiana and soon off to Fort Worth to present the 20 minute documentary, A Man Without Words.  If you would like the gift of a copy, write me and send your address, or donate any amount to the left, and I will automatically receive your address (but you will need to write to tell me if you want a book or DVD or both).

L’chaim – Gracias a la Vida – to Life,

susan

Who Do I Think I Am?

From Ossining, many places, people and adventures have continued to create new life and community.  Blog writing did not happen in July while I took up a new career in farming:Eduardo, garden and me

Along with the vegetables is my July co-harvester: Eduardo, who also helped my Spanish from being completely forgotten to being that of a two-year-old.  I have picked up a Spanish book and am working on becoming three, soon.

Whether with vegetables and Eduardo and our hosts, on a train, in a crowd or looking for a locally owned grocery store in a new city, traveling has been teaching me who I am.  The people in my life, given to me or chosen by me, have made me who I am.  I have an unrecognizable accent where the original Wyoming sounds can rarely be heard.  When I was quite unaware and unconscious of my ability to choose, I was easily influenced.  As I work at being alert and awake, I make better choices, looking for and spending time with people who practice the principles I want to practice.  Most of you reading this have some connection to me or my work which I hope inspires or supports the principles we want to become, and we have, hopefully, a good idea of why we are connected.

Ironically, recent experiences are teaching me that regardless of how influential or connected you or someone has been in my life, my life today changes, evolves and absorbs new influences.  I am constantly challenged to let go of old ideas, old images of my friends and family so I may incorporate the new me, the new you, the new we. Recently, in the western mountains of North Carolina, with Boone folk, I was, in a given activity or conversation, other than who I was when I met or ate or lived with you.  It is quite shocking, for example, that being a mother of twin babies/toddlers/children/ teenagers/ university students has so little to do with who I am now. Giving birth and raising twins was tied to my identity and life for such a long time and being “Mama” seemed to be what I was all about, but now you could and do meet, converse and live a day with me, and not even know that I was and am a mother.

This strange mixture of past “others” forming me and me continuing to grow out of who I was, changing everyday with new people, cannot be reconciled, if I hold tightly to anyone from the past, including a stagnant self image.  Everyday I must practice letting go of the past – who we used to be together.  Only then, can I accept who I am now, including all the influences from the past (the ironic bit), good and bad. Fatigue sets in when trying to wrap my mind around this task precisely because I am holding on to some self image or dependency on a friend or relationship that I perceive defines me.  This grip is never neutral.  Fear of loss, desire for intimacy, acceptance, love or deep beliefs on who I think I should be (to gain intimacy, acceptance and love) are the driving force fueling the attachment.

My former, languageless student, Filadelfo, a.k.a., Ildefonso. changed my life, and is part of who I am and what my life is about.  A Man Without Words, the book and the short documentary (available as a gift – just write me) are also a part of who I am and what I am about.  However, as I have changed, how I present them has changed.  Realizing how we all influence and change each other, I prefer book talks and film screenings to be in living rooms rather than on stages, so we can share our stories, connecting in ways that build community.  The more each of us move from “I” to “we,” the more we have a chance at facing and solving the challenges of violence, the insanity of nuclear weapons, poverty, global climate change, and economic systems built on greed.  We can begin building alternatives, starting with that change from our society’s “me-ism” to connecting with family and friends, cooking, eating, playing or reconciling, and not running away through our many ways of numbing out from social media, packaged entertainment or snacks to a hundred other addictions.

What does this have to do with language or multilingual education, with A Man Without Words or The Boy Who Cried Wolf?  Story telling connects us.  Regardless of how frightened or disturbed I am by your differences, when you begin telling me your story, my defenses begin to lower and weaken.  We connect human to human.  I no longer see your strange stripes or “weirdness” but realize our universal needs and struggles as humans.

If you think I can be of service, to promote more sharing and community building through story telling, share this with your teaching/parenting/literacy friends, invite me to facilitate story telling in your community or inform your friends that I am available to travel to their living room or library or school or community center.  Write me with your ideas, be a guest blogger and/or push the donate button (to the left) to give the gift of postage, books, DVDs and transportation to your or new communities.

Write me here or directly at susan (at) susanschaller.com with any feedback, insights and, of course, your story.

We are our stories; let’s share them.

 

 

 

 

The Road Goes Ever Ever on, Even to Ossining

For a moment, I forgot what city I was in.

If you have ever been in New York City, you know how absurd it would be to not remember you are in New York City.  Too many places and faces in too short of a time was, obviously, taxing my brain.

The main purpose of my journey is to connect and to talk about connecting through sharing our stories, whether starting with A Man Without Words or The Boy Who Cried Wolf or the new story we are creating simply by being together and sharing. I now have far too many stories to write about.  If I wrote more, then I would have less time to share with others, making new stories – another balancing act while traveling through life.

Traveling is no different from living anywhere.  It’s just more concentrated. With a slower and more routine day, made up of mostly our well worn habits, I can process more easily the new places, faces, and stories.  I have time to reflect, categorize and file, then go to sleep and start a new day with mostly habits, and just a few new stories. Often, however, my habits prevent me from seeing, meeting and creating anything new.  It is easy to lull myself into the feeling of living a full life when I am mostly going through the motions on automatic pilot.

Traveling wakes me up.  I try to have my same old habits, but I can’t find anything or have to ask where something is that I need to get on with the habit. Or, I have to change – ouch!  Meeting new streets, transportation systems, houses, and all the new faces attached to different ways of looking, expressing and being does tax the brain.  I am forced to think and be open enough to learn in order to live through the day without getting lost, going hungry, and doing something besides avoiding getting lost and being hungry.  I am forced to live with my eyes, mind and heart open; I cannot rely on autopilot thinking or non-thinking.

In Berkeley, I know so many people.  Some of those people I have known for years and years. The difficulty – almost an impossibility – is to see a familiar face without all the assumptions accumulated through those years.  I change everyday.  I certainly have changed from year to year.  How could I assume to know the person across the table from me just because I recognize that face which looks almost the same as the one I saw across from me eleven years ago?  It is so much easier to follow the habit of assuming I know someone or something than it is to have an open mind and an open heart (e.g., being tolerant of someone having the nerve to change and make me think afresh).

One of the rude awakenings is having to learn just how to be in Chicago, just walking down the street or asking someone how to find the purple line, as opposed to how “we” do it in Berkeley (you know, the right way, and without purple lines). I actually have to be alert and open enough to learn new ways of acting in public (it was hard enough the first time). Chicago was not too difficult, but then this Western American found herself on the streets of Boston. This is where habits can be dangerous.  Walking out onto the street my first morning, looking for a nice cup of habit, I was operating on autopilot, behaving as if in Berkeley.  “Good morning,” I said with a smile, looking the unsuspecting Bostonian in his eyes.  The immediate tension in his body and eyes darting away from me as quickly as possible, after the initial glare at my offensive behavior, was a clue that I was no longer in Berkeley.  Just to be sure (after all, I hadn’t yet had my coffee), I experimented with simply eye contact with passersby, and a slight head nod of acknowledgement of passing a fellow human. After the third “who-do-you-think-you-are?” or the British “what-do-you-think-you’re-playing-at?” look, I, fortunately, spied a Café where it appeared they were exchanging money for cups of coffee in a somewhat familiar manner.  I hurried past the next two people with my eyes clearly on my destination.

I soon left Boston for New York City where I learned that it wouldn’t have mattered if I had sang, “Good morning” while staring at someone with a big grin only inches away.  My existence was not actually acknowledged in that constant stream of millions.  Also, it was too noisy to say or hear anything most of the time. It is perhaps the noise that turned off my brain for the moment when I forgot what city I was in.

Traveling, like life, is a challenging balancing act.  After feeling a bit traumatized by Boston and New York, I have been a recluse in a Takoma Park home of a dear and generous friend.  I have befriended three cats who act very much like Berkeley cats, offering respite from learning new behaviors.  I did venture out, yesterday, and bravely sat out in public scribbling some notes, reminding myself to work the name “Ossining” into my next blog post.  To my surprise, everyone who passed greeted me with a bright “good morning” along with a sweet smile.

I have no idea who they think they are.

 

 

 

 

Hospitality and Reality

The original Latin ancestor of “hospitality” referred to both host and guest. Our  French cousin (cognate), I understand (please tell me if I am wrong,) still includes both.  Recently, I read an inspiring description of “hospitality.”  First, however, I would like to thank my most recent hosts for their kind and generous hospitality (in chronological order from most recent). Thank you to:

1 – the Amtrak train conductor who performed his task with a warm smile, conducting more than a mere ticket scanning operation;

2 – Christine ______, a hard-working educator/ interpreter/community member who missed much of my workshop in Syracuse, yesterday, and asked me to breakfast to discuss our respective projects.  She graciously shared of herself, bought me breakfast and took me to the train station;

3 – Wendy, an innkeeper extraordinaire, who spoiled me with warmth, attention, beauty (a happy CROWD of African violets greeting me in many colors for breakfast, for example ), comfort, two needed long nights of sleep, well-presented (more beauty) homemade, nutritious and plentiful food, and the stories of her vicarious travels via her guests;

4 – Wendy, again, for being so hospitable, she reminded me of my recent inspiration and gets credit for this blog post idea;

5 – Caroline, Robert and Catherine, who invited and took me to an entertaining, nutritious and over abundant dinner (will also be my lunch on the train), and shared their stories and one night of their lives with me.  I learned much about Syracuse, rural area nearby where they grew up, and all the horrid train accidents in the country, many caused from negligence. Thank you, Robert, for increasing my gratitude for every train I am on that is also carrying a responsible and vigilant crew working to arrive safely at our next stop. I am now celebrating my many, many safe train trips;

6 – Caroline, again, for taking me to my temporary home at Wendy’s Wellington Bed and Breakfast, allowing me to use the cab fare to buy another book/DVD set for the next teacher or parent;

7 – Tina G.’s generous gift to support Signs of Literacy. All gifts help me to continue to continue to go where ever I am invited to share whatever support I can give as a gift to teachers, schools, parents or community projects without money having to be the driving force or play more than a minor role in transactions.  All gifts go to the two projects of Trillium, a 501c3, emphasizing community building through sharing our stories to support each other to grow, educationally, and in hospitality (description soon to come); [If you would like to support Signs of Literacy and/or Signs of Life, push that "donation" button on the left or send a check to 1442A Walnut St. #139, Berkeley, Ca 94709 or write me - susan (at) susanschaller.com - to contribute as a guest blogger or set up a living room or community event];

8 – Tina G., again, for beginning the conversation, leading to the invitation;

9 – Tina G., Lisa, Kim, Caroline, Chris, Lyndsi, et al. who participated in the Solvay High School Teacher Training, introducing me to a dedicated and perseverant  team who know what teaching and community building is all about.  I know they taught me; I hoped I gave them something;

10 – Barbara B. who officially invited me, and helped organize the event;

11- Amtrak, my new host and “landlord” and office.  I gave up my room in Berkeley (fear not, my postal address above will forward your gifts to help continue renting my “office” and connection to the next invitation, if you prefer giving by check over supporting pay pal).  Simplifying my life and exercising frugality allows me to stretch dollars and emphasize community building over individual unhealthy consumerism;

12 – the countless persons who have helped me along the way and gave me strength and inspiration to launch myself on this journey without a visible end, and the practice of the gift economy; thank you all, even though I cannot name you all here;

13 – the CoS, Conspiracy of Sharing, who gave me the chance to practice and benefit from the gift and sharing economy, laughter and hugs, support, ideas, exploration and courage, for putting up with me and my weaknesses, and especially, for inviting an old lady into their very young community – my gratitude runneth over; [Long live the CoS !] and,

14 – honorable mention to my first two post-CoS hosts – Linda of Omaha, and Stephen the Brave of Evanston;

Thank you, everyone, for your generosity, and being the tremendous examples of hospitality, which has been described as (trumpets and drums and hand-waving. please):

The creation of an empty and safe place where we can explore our gifts to share.

May we all grow in our hospitality, whether guest or host, whether on a train, bus or traveling through our day, and thereby grow more into who we are meant to be.

And, a final note of appreciation to anyone who read this far, and ahead of time for any who comment or write me via this web site, and/or invite me to their living room for a screening of A Man Without Words or The Boy Who Cried Wolf (I must write my unfinished “Goldilocks” book to get my “ying- yang” balanced).

Let me know your thoughts, suggestions, ideas and feedback (including typos or inaccuracies).

For more hospitality and sharing stories,

Susan