As the World Falls Down

A legend died earlier this week. This comes as no surprise, as legends — no matter how great – are still mortal. Like everyone else, they die. It may be the only time it feels like we can relate to such greatness. What’s remarkable about David Bowie’s death is that it happened peacefully and secretly. For eighteen months, the man knew he had cancer and chose to keep that fact quiet. Remarkably, so did everyone else close to him who also knew his condition. In these times of rumors, internet gossip, and major incentives to provide news, no one strayed from Bowie’s trust. It was only when he was gone that the public knew the truth and began to mourn. Each and every person that knew – from loved ones to medical providers – remained silent about the fact that a musical icon was dying. This strong and unanimous act resonates with respect for the man’s wishes and the man himself. And now the world grieves as they reflect on how much this artist and his music impacted their lives.

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Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do

When I was in Oman, Sultan Qaboos was nowhere to be seen. The country knew he was in Germany because of his poor health, but otherwise an entire nation remained ignorant. What was wrong with their leader? Was he going to heal? Was he already gone? Six months went by without an appearance. Oman stayed positive but uninformed. Then, November 15, 2015, three days before his birthday/National Day, the Sultan made a television appearance letting his people know he was OK, but needed more time in Germany. The country erupted with pride, excitement, and relief. Four months later, the Sultan surprised everyone by stepping off an airplane onto the soil of his land. He was back and the nature of his illness was never discussed. Complete secrecy from his providers, the medical facility in Germany, and his advisors.

I knew a relative of the Sultan’s doctor. When this person saw the Sultan step off the airplane, it was only then that they knew their brother was back home. This doctor kept all secrets from his family to the point where they had no idea he was returning after being gone for ten months. Only the television coverage let them know. The Sultan’s secret and the man himself were granted the respect of privacy. My friend could not know the truth, because so few were permitted such knowledge. And immediate family members of the Sultan’s doctor were Omanis, nothing more. My friend was hurt by the secrecy, yet she understood why it had to be.

I wonder how many of Bowie’s friends experienced similar pain. Who knew of his cancer, and who was treated like the rest of us – left to learn of his illness only through death. A death that appeared so sudden yet was far from it. Secrets held tightly during a year and a half of suffering and creation. Bowie living long enough to create one last masterpiece for all of us – friends, family, the rest of us. Most equal in ignorance.

RIP Sultan Bowie. Thank you for shaping our lives. And thanks to those who remained silent and honored the man in the best way possible – by letting him live out his last eighteen months as he wished and letting us grieve only when it was time.

 

Ten ways I embraced the holiday season (mostly in pictures)

Usually I don’t do much over the holidays. I’m not all “Bah, Humbug,” but then again I tend to feel sort of “Meh” when the jolly season comes around. This year, however, I went out of my way to savor the time since last year I pretty much missed the whole thing being in Oman (though we did celebrate a little). This is how I got into it:

  1. I got a tree. After several years of not doing so, I bought a tree. Nothing beats the smell of a fresh tree. It makes me so happy. As soon as it gets dark here, I turn on the lights and eat my dinner to the ambiance.

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    My view from the couch as I watch TV

  2. Saw lights. My friend has a house on Peacock Lane, Portand’s street of holiday cheer. I also saw the big tree downtown. Pretty. It’s hard to hold back holiday cheer when seeing so much festivity.
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    The Portland tree. The local statue is dressed for the weather.

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    Crazy lights on Peacock Lane.

  3. Spent time with friends and family. I love how the holidays is one huge focus on getting together with people who matter. I’m lucky enough that this is a relaxing time and feeling.
  4. Saw movies. I saw The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D, and the Hateful Eight in 70mm. There was a long dry spell in my life where I really didn’t see many movies in the theaters (or at all, really). This is slowly changing, thanks to being overseas where seeing an American film felt like a special treat. I like going to the movies again. Yeah, the snacks are still too spendy, but I have found that belief that the ticket price is worth the fun and escapism I see on a huge screen.
  5. Experienced holiday entertainment. I went to a former student’s Christmas cabaret. I heard carolers at the hospital where I work. Played Christmas carols in my house and in the car. These musical events left me laughing, touched, and nostalgic. Magical.

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    These young carolers helped the mood at the hospital.

  6. Gave to charity. In lieu of presents, my parents and I give to charities. This year I donated enough to Heifer International to send a young woman to school for a year. I also donated to help support Syrian refugees. I’m fortunate enough to be able to do this.
  7. Drank silly holiday beverages. I drank the controversial Starbucks pumpkin latte (I liked it better with the real pumpkin, but maybe that’s just me) in a controversial Starbucks holiday cup. It was delicious. I also tried some weird chestnut latte thing. I wasn’t as excited.
  8. Made cookies and traditional foods. Friends came over and we baked sugar cookies and decorated them as if we were five. We made our own colored sugar and used it liberally, mixing all the colors together. I also made Latvian piragi like grandma used to make; I made them over Thanksgiving weekend and again for a Winter Solstice party. Yum.
  9. What are the holidays without leaving the house, at least for a little bit? Despite leaving on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I still encountered airport woes, as my plane was a full two hours late. Thankfully, my friends had come to the airport with me to do some last-minute shopping and so to the bar we went! It was decorated in a strangely, confused festive way.  In the end, I made it to Sacramento to spend Christmas with Dave’s family. Saw movies and the sun! I need to see the sun more often.
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    Strange bar decor.

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    Sun and palm trees in Sacramento. Hooray!

  10. Went to lots of parties. How did this happen? My social calendar was full of house gatherings complete with silly gift exchanges, laughter, yummy food and drink, and connection. I have a ton of outgoing friends who are warm enough to open their doors to others. So much fun – thanks to all of you for hosting and thinking of me when creating your guest lists.
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My three songs*

A friend from college posted this interesting piece about “Your life in three songs”  — basically, can you sum up your life in just three songs? I will continue to ponder this, and instead today I created “My current life in three songs.” Drum roll please…

  1. Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey.  Song from my formative years, a sports rock anthem to reflect my fandom, a song that is epic to karaoke. I like the message as well. Though it’s a bit bleak, I like the idea of just getting on that train and going (on and on and on and on).

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    Me singing a song I can’t relate to at all.

  2. Vienna by Billy Joel  In general, I identify with almost all of his songs in some shape or form and, growing up outside of NYC in the 70s and 80s, he was simply the Man. This is a song that current me could sing to my “younger self.” Begging someone to “slow down” and advising “Though you can see where you’re wrong, you know you can’t always see when you’re right. You’re right.” It would have been nice, when I was younger, to have believed in myself a little bit more. I am turning out just fine.
  3. These are Days by 10,000 Maniacs.  The idea of living in the present, appreciating the mundane, the moment. Hearing this song instantly cheers me up when I hear it. I involuntarily smile whenever it comes on. And, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to sing as well:

These are days you’ll remember

Never before and never since, I promise
will the whole world be warm as this
and as you feel it, you’ll know it’s true
that you are blessed and lucky
it’s true, that you are touched by something
that will grow and bloom in you

These are days you’ll remember

When May is rushing over you with desire
to be part of the miracles you see in every hour
you’ll know it’s true, that you are blessed and lucky
it’s true, that you are touched by something
that will grow and bloom in you

These are the days
that you might fill with laughter
until you break

These days you might feel a shaft of light
make its way across your face
and when you do
you’ll know how it was meant to be
see the signs and know their meaning

You’ll know how it was meant to be
hear the signs and
know they’re speaking to you
to you

Thanks Jennifer and NPR for the inspiration! I was totally struggling to find something to write about. Another lesson about letting go and trusting that things will sort themselves out. And now to ponder how I can condense my entire life into only three songs. It will be interesting to see if any will actually overlap with the ones above. Stay tuned!

*Who remembers this game from KFOG in San Francisco?

I got to wait for my friend

All day I was looking forward to the concert – yes, the Barry Manilow concert. I grew up listening to him, and I was in for an evening of cheese and nostalgia. And time with my dear friend. She got us tickets through Groupon, inviting me because she knew I would be into it. Able to both laugh at the idea of going, but also completely enjoy it, too.

Work that day consisted of listening to interviews of people with chronic illness tell their stories. So many, back to back. I didn’t realize until the last one ended and I removed my headphones how much the hopelessness had sunk in. I sat, numb, until it was time to go.

The sun and the walk down the hill were both welcome. But, somehow I was unable to shake the weight from my mind. But it was OK, because in less than an hour my friend and I were grabbing dinner at one of the most renowned places in the city, and then off to hear a voice from our childhoods.

Then the text came through. No dinner, instead a later meeting at the over-priced restaurant at the venue. I had about an hour to kill. It was too late to go back to work, and not really enough time to go back to the house, only to turn around again to the venue I would pass on the bus to get there. So I got on the 6 and went to the show. And waited.

Tons of people were gathering early. It never occurred to me that some would be from out of town, yet the maps and clueless faces let me know otherwise; people traveled to get here. The sun was out, and the benches were full. So many older people looking so excited. Many dressed up in their finest for an evening out with Barry. People in wheelchairs, and using walkers. Couples holding each other up as they stood in line. I grabbed a seat on the edge of a bench already occupied by a woman in her 70s, but gave it up as a woman of similar age had her mother take the middle seat. I wandered off to another part of the area.

There I saw a woman in a long black evening gown with a huge faux diamond necklace; the whole ensemble clearly Oscar-worthy. Then a group of 20 or so, many developmentally-delayed children, marched by wearing identical “I Love Barry” shirts. I wouldn’t have seen any of this had we met up on time – up the street a mile away to eat at one of Portland’s most famous restaurants as we had planned. I was grateful that I had to wait for my friend that day.

P.S. The show was great! Barry Manilow remains a true performer and he still has serious pipes. Plus, glow sticks were handed out at the gate. I kid you not. I might have cried a little during Weekend in New England.

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Oh yeah — we also had kick-ass seats. Thanks Groupon!

A Day in the Life

Why am I teaching English in Oman? Why did I leave a perfectly good job, a home, and wonderful friends to embark on this journey? Most of the time, I don’t really have a good answer to this question. The trite and profound “Because it’s there” cliché comes to mind, but even that doesn’t reflect why I am doing what I’m doing.

What I experienced this weekend may be the answer. Eight of us from four different countries driving 30 short minutes away from my house. It didn’t take long for the paved road to transition to compacted dirt. Then, as we veered off the “main” path, hard earth gave way to softer sand and a steep hill – one of the reasons we got Horst, our beloved (when it’s not breaking down…) 4-wheel drive transportation. We parked and set up under a full moon. The landscape looked as though we landed on Mars.

A campfire was built using scrap cardboard and pallets pinched from the many constructions sites in town. Canvas chairs were set in a circle. Drinks were served and conversation was well underway. One female (myself), and seven men; four teachers, including me, plus one retired. Three Omani men were part of the gathering, their acquaintances made because cars need repairs and friendships quickly formed thereafter.

Two of the guys went off to hunt scorpions. When the fire grew hot enough, “hobo pie,” potatoes, garlic, and eggplant were wrapped in tinfoil and roasted for dinner. Someone had brought rye bread and sharp cheddar cheese for a pre-dinner treat; these are both rare delicacies in Oman. I think this was the first real bread I’ve had in three months – chewy crust, fluffy yet dense inside. The mighty hunters returned with news of three buried nests and no stings. A successful venture indeed. Then, there was some somewhat ill-advised experimentation with fire-walking. Again no injuries!

A miraculous night that only got better, for minutes later one of the locals brought out his bagpipes and began to play. Musical wails bounced off the surrounding mountains. We clapped along, used coolers as drums, and there were some attempts at dancing. When the fire died down, so did the night. It was well into the next day and we all drove back.

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How cool is this?

 

 

That night could not have happened if I didn’t travel to the other side of the world. I experienced invading an alien landscape, an offering of rustic bread and cheese as special treats, dancing in front of a campfire to the sounds of bagpipes, sharing an evening with unlikely companions from across the globe. This is why I do what I do.