Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Notes from the field: Opening the Imagination in Thailand

I have just come from a day where I fed, petted, rode, and was hugged by an elephant, and literally lay down with a tiger - if that sounds crazy to you - think about my brain right now! I have clearly, always had an active imagination - sometimes I wish I could be less interested in my inner world, and more enchanted by the outer realms - especially when it comes to cleaning and balancing checkbooks - but "seeing" things like talking animals, fairies, castles that float in the air, have, frankly, never been a problem for me. To be able to see what is not necessarily tangible is easier to me than to comprehend things like why people are so awfully mean to each other, or why drivers think honking their horns REALLY is helpful to anyone. So, it is coming as a surprise to me just how much Thailand is stretching out a muscle I thought was already well used. The colors here - vibrant and bold, give my brain something to chew on for the next time I tell a story of a market place or bazaar. The graceful sway of the elephant as they walk, will forever inform the way these pachyderms will live in my body. And tigers - never again will they be portrayed as evil beasts who just want to sneak up on and devour other creatures. No, now I will give them - even if in the story they are going to ear everyone in sight - the dignity, and respect, these kingly beasts truly deserve. And the temples - I have always loved places of worship, no matter what the faith. It seems that man is able to do his best work, when he is remembering that there is a higher power than himself - no matter what he may call it. The many Buddhist shrines and temples are a feast of color, and light, and serenity, that I not only need, but can infuse into many a tale. With all this at their fingertips, it is interesting that one of the things I have been asked to do at the schools where I am telling stories is to "open their imaginations". To help the children be able to conjure up magical lands and beings for their writings. I REALLY don't want to join the "modern technology is destroying our brains" band wagon - but in this instance - it's pretty true. The fact that the children here are so sucked into their devices that they miss what I, in only a week have seen, speaks volumes. Yes, of course, computer sciences are key in this day and age, and goodness knows that I hope these kids take to math better than I did - but not at the expense of the worlds that are to be found in their imaginations! But, of course, children don't need much help digging into those places where fantasy live, they just need a little prompt, and that has been my job. And, it is one I have been relishing!!! My time here has been filled with stories I haven't told much, but have been falling in love with, the story of three magical wishes - where the magic comes from fairies, but also from the love between a couple. The mystical happenings of objects that three brothers find, and how they can save the life of a princess they all love, but ultimately, only one can marry - with the backdrop of Thailand as my guide, I have found deep inspiration in my work. It has been a joy to watch kids laugh at, and be engaged by these tales, and it was AMAZING to see students and staff embrace Halloween - a holiday, because of the costumes, candy, and color orange I ADORE!! But, even more than the tellings, have been the workshops with the children, in which they visualized magical forests, and, after describing them to their groups, created them with their bodies. There were rocks made out of diamonds, cakes containing monsters, animal-eating grasses. Teachers were fairies, narrators, and loving guides in these fun filled, boisterous romps into the inner rooms of the mind. And speaking of these teachers, and their wonderful administrators - they get it- I mean they get that it's not just the traditional "in the box" schooling that children need. I have fallen in love with these teachers here, largely ex-pats, who see education as their calling, and see that teaching to a child in a holistic way is the road to a truly well educated student. I was thrilled to here them talk about Robert Coles, who said the thing I MOST agree with about education "Parents need to ask not is my child smart, but HOW is my child smart!" "Soft" subjects like the arts, give kids a chance to be intelligent, feeling, creative in ways that other subjects do not. Imagination and self expression are tools that everyone needs, and for this generation, who may grow up with the world a mouse click away, but never actually speak to a real in person "friend" - they are skills that need to be developed. One of the students asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I LOVED that question, because it meant to me that I didn't look like I was "working", that I was just at play - and I was! I try to be grateful for the gifts of imagination and creativity, and on this trip to Thailand, as I bow my head before all those altars, I have been offering up my most favorite prayer (as inspired by the writer Anne La Mott) "please don't let me be a jerk!" but also "thank you, Universe for the gift of IMAGINATION!!"

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