Thursday, June 27, 2013

El's Story

Here's a story me and El wrote. El is one of my favorite students, a quiet pixie in the front row, eager to please and with an imagination that kills me. I wrote the first half of the story and she finished it for me (because I can never solve the messes I create in fiction). I then gave the story to Grace and asked her to draw the illustrations. The result:

Once upon a time there was a fairy named Lucy. Lucy was quiet, the way fairies were supposed to be and Lucy was sweet, the way fairies were supposed to be, but Lucy was BIG. And fairies aren’t supposed to be big. She towered over her classmates and even her parents didn’t know what to do about it. She was too big even to hug.
The other students at school were afraid of her. At recess she couldn’t play with the other fairies because the swings couldn’t hold her and her feet touched the ground on the monkey bars. Every recess she would sit on the ground under a big tree and watch the others have fun. Even Daffiya, the fairy girl with one broken wing wouldn’t talk to her. Even Teran the fairy boy who never smiled—and fairies are always supposed to smile—wouldn’t sit near her.
In class she had to sit at a special desk in the back of the room because she was too big for the normal fairy desks. She sat by herself in the back—forgotten by the teacher—and wondered if there was a fairy magic that could make her the way all fairies were supposed to be.
That day when Lucy got home from school she looked over the garden wall—Lucy was too big for fairy fences—and saw her mother crying.
“Mother, why are you crying?” Lucy asked.
“I am all right,” her mother lied, because fairies are supposed to be happy. “Let’s pick some flowers together.”
The next day at school Lucy was sitting under the tree and she decided to look up. There in the leaves was one-winged Daffidiya.
“Why are you in the tree?” Lucy asked.
“I’m playing,” Daffiya lied, because fairies are always supposed to have fun even when they’re lonely.
When she got back to her classroom, she looked out the window. Because she was so big, Lucy could look all the way down to the ground where she saw Teran’s father slap him. When Teran sat in his seat in front of Lucy, he wore a red mark and a frown.
“Are you okay?” Lucy asked.
“I’m fine,” Teran lied. And then, because fairies are supposed to smile, he smiled. It looked like it hurt.
Lucy sat by herself and wondered. In the back of the class, bigger than everyone, she wondered if there was a fairy magic that could make everyone be the way fairies were supposed to be. She stopped listening to the teacher and instead she thought and she thought. She thought about her mother crying and Daffiya hiding in the tree and Teran’s lying-smile. She thought about being too big and about the way fairies were supposed to be.

There had to be a magic to fix this.
So Lucy packed a bag and went to see the queen of the fairies, who lived on top of the mountain over the city. She was very small and she smiled and laughed all the time. People said she was the perfect fairy and so she had been queen of all the fairies for as long as anyone could remember. Her throne room was perfect, trees and flowers all around and a beautiful pond of sparkling water at the feet of her fairy throne.
“Who are you?” the queen asked when Lucy arrived.
“I’m Lucy. I need some fairy magic for my friends and my mother.”
“Fairy magic?” The queen laughed and dipped her feet into the pond. “There is no such thing!”
But Lucy was bigger than other fairies so she could see the bottom of the pond where the famous four metal fairy pendants rested.
“Then what are those?” Lucy asked, pointing.
“They mean nothing!” the fairy queen lied. But Lucy had seen her mother lie and Daffiya lie and Teran lie. She knew what a lie looked like.
Lucy took a big, brave step forward and reached all the way to the bottom of the pond and pulled out the four metal fairy pendants. Each one shone brighter than ever. The fairy queen started to cry.
“You’re the fairy queen!” Lucy said. “You aren’t supposed to cry. Fairies are happy.”
“It was only a spell,” the fairy queen admitted. “Before I was queen, there weren’t any rules like that. Fairies were free people and they cried whenever they wanted to. But they always came crying to me and I just couldn’t handle it! So I made the spell and put all the fairy magic into the pendants. Anyone who wanted to be a real fairy and have fairy magic wasn’t allowed to cry. They had to smile and have fun, so that I could have fun too.”
“But that’s a terrible, selfish spell! Those are just rules and they don’t make any sense!” Lucy objected.   
And she held the pendants high above her head—and that was very high because Lucy was very big—and she threw them to the ground, dashing them into thousands and thousands of pieces. Thousands of tears scattered over the floor. The fairy queen began to cry.
“Now what will I do?” she sobbed. “All the people will come to me with their problems. I don’t want to listen to all those peoples’ tears—I just want to be happy! I can’t be the fairy queen anymore.”
“No,” Lucy agreed. “You can’t.”
And that is how Lucy, who was quiet the way fairies were supposed to be and sweet the way fairies were supposed to be, became the biggest fairy queen ever to rule over the fairies. She listened to her subjects and she let them cry. She hugged them and taught them how to use their tears. Lucy was queen of the fairies for many, many years and was well-loved by all of her people.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ryan Giggs, Guest-Blogger

It's finals week and the week before I leave for Japan and the week before I give a presentation at a conference . . . so, no blogpost from me. Luckily, we have Ryan Giggs (a.k.a Jungeun Park), former Manchester United footballer guest-blogging this week. On his midterm, Giggs wrote the only paragraph to make me laugh out loud:

"My mother is king of the home. She always shout father, brother and me. She said that wake up sloths who is our nickname until we wake up. And she always cook for us. If she don't give some food, we can't eat food, because we are sloths. So, I don't against my king because I'm always hungry!"

jk. I just don't have a picture of the real Giggs. THAT must be remedied!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Redeeming Proverbs 31

A year ago I was pretty fussed about I Timothy 2:11-15, five little verses that seem so out of place, ambiguous, hurtful and contradictory to Jesus’ words and actions in the gospels. I wish I’d turned around and read Proverbs 31 which describes a “wife of noble character.” I didn’t because who wants to read a list of crappy jobs a woman is supposed to do in order to please her husband and be a good girl? I’m not even married! Even worse, that “proverb” is little more than an impossible list of qualifications, yet another set of expectations I as a woman will fail to fulfill.

That famous verse, Prov. 31:30, makes me sick. charm is deceptive, ladies, and beauty is fleeting--but a woman who fears the lord is to be praised. Yet another man-made snide criticism of women disguised as a sickly sweet suggestion--stop obsessing over clothing and all your other trivial nonsense, women, and read your Bible!--is hardly appreciated. 

Luckily I did read my Bible and realized I’d had Proverbs 31 wrong the whole time, and so have a lot of other people. Let’s start at the end, with not a sickly sweet suggestion, but a command - and not a command to women. In fact, the entire passage is addressed to men, not women. Verse 31:

Give her the reward she has earned,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

The city gate, we read earlier, is where her husband works, the place for the leaders of the land. There is no word on what he does exactly at the city gates--it’s not important. The wife is the breadwinner of this household, the economic powerhouse and commander of a host of servants and enterprises. She’s making, buying and selling all kinds of cloth; she evaluates farmland, buys it with her own money, and starts a vineyard; she trades, she weaves, she imports, she provides. She’s strong, she’s smart, and she’s dignified.

It’s hard for me to read something like this without analyzing it for power plays between genders. I want to argue that she obviously leads men (a household includes men and women of course), operates economically above men’s level (she’s in control when trading with merchants), and is generally a lot more useful than her husband. Her husband is respected at the city gates, but in the poem, his position is regarded as little more than a feather on his wife’s cap. It is she, the author (oft-debated, as usual) says, who deserves praise. Give it to her.

It’s horrifying that people have assumed this text to be advice to women. It is written to men, specifically men who have been blessed with a position of power. It is an ode to women and their hard work in every avenue of life. It’s not a road map for today’s women to read and wonder--am I working hard enough? Is it bad that I sometimes “eat the bread of idleness” and watch Game of Thrones instead of washing my dishes? Should I be getting less sleep so I can learn how to sew? No. Women, this is a description of your life, a wondering look at the many directions in which your concerns are spread and the awe-inspiring way you can hold them all together. It is a reminder that your many tasks (maybe not trading and sewing and ordering about a household; you have your own tasks) have dignity and that your strength is not only noted, but marveled at by men. This is recognition.

But primarily, this proverb is a call to men to recognize women. Proverbs 31 paints a picture of a man getting credit and respect in his job. Does he need more acclamation? Perhaps. We don’t know; Proverbs 31 is not about him. What is obvious is that this hard-working woman deserves public praise and her work--both her domestic pursuits and international trading ventures--has earned her a reward. Maybe she’s not one of the city’s elders (maybe she’s qualified except for her gender, or maybe she wasn’t interested in the position anyway; doesn’t matter); her work is laudable.

It is not a coincidence that the two verses preceding this ode to hard-working women command a king to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves . . . [and] speak up and judge fairly.”

Her work has earned her a reward. Give it to her.

Lastly: to redeem that nasty little verse 30 people take as a sweet suggestion that women fear the Lord rather than obsess about clothes and trivial details. This wife of noble character is dressed in the best clothing, in the most beautiful color. Her household, also, is well dressed and everything in this poem suggests that her impressive ability to note “trivial” details is one of the many reasons she has been successful.

Rock on, women. You’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but damn, you do good work. Keep it up.

Men, go read Proverbs 31 and marvel.

Khmer women: trading.
My big sis being bad-ass on the cello.

Japanese merchant.

Rosa on the far left, commander of the household.

The Korean ahjumma is to be both feared and praised.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Snippets from the Classroom

In less than two weeks (jeepers) I'll be giving a short presentation at a Christian teacher's conference in Pohang, S.K. My goal is to present a coherent lesson plan on the subject of beauty that is both educational in an EFL sense and thought-provoking in a philosophical sense for Korean learners of English. Above were the documents I did to fuel a discussion for my juniors on the subject. They performed marvelously and seemed very engaged.

In part 1 they had to describe their celebrity (each group had a different one) and then write the physical descriptors on the board.
While i snickered.
Then I had the other groups guess whether each celebrity described was Korean or not, male or female, and we discussed how they knew. Part 2 they all had to design their own fictitious culture and prescribe it's standard's of beauty based on what made their culture different from others (no-eyes culture, polka-dot culture, underwater culture, and - my favorite - Androgynean culture).

Part 3 we looked at a few different Bible verses and tried to uncover what Christian culture says (or ought to say) about beauty.

In other news, my Avatar class was pretty baller. Their final exam is next Thursday where the entire class (of roughly 50 students) will perform the first two episodes in their entirety. I'm really hoping they dress up and that someone brings a polarbear dog.

One of their recent assignments including a short sketch:

Not everyone's an artist!
But Grace is. I want her to illustrate my life.
Points off for not following directions. Bonus points for drawing Bolin so well.
Everyone loves Meelo to distraction.
With my freshmen we did a movie trivia game, competing against the other freshmen class. (We lost, but my kids fought hard.) They had to watch 5 movies and answer a bunch of questions. As a sort-of reward/end of the year party type thing we had breakfast instead of class one morning. Their idea of breakfast, turns out, is choco pies and chips. Even I was a little grossed out.

And I'll let you ponder this last one on your own: