Posted in Joy in Nature

Elephant Ears & Spiritual Readings

Is there a botanical specimen you’re just WILD about?  There certainly is for me!  It’s the Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta in plant taxonomy).  And not just because they make my big ears look smaller (though, of course, that’s part of it).  Elephant Ears also exude a mysterious mystical and magical quality.

Okay that sounded rather silly and new age-y.  So I’d better explain.  But when you hear the WHOLE story, DO NOT JUDGE ME!  Or at least do not judge me too harshly.  Deal?  (If no deal, you’re not allowed to read the rest of this post.)

Well, I have always simply adored the Elephant Ear family of luciously leafy plants.  But my REAL love affair with EE’s heated up last October when I trekked to New Orleans to make an academic presentation at the Popular Culture Association in the South annual conference.  Really, I’m telling the truth.  Okay, fine, here’s proof:  a blurb from the conference program:

Saturday 11.8 Pedagogy (Babylon) [DVD/Monitor]

Chair: Michael Moeder, Salisbury University

“A Presentation Software By Any Other Name: The Light and the Dark of Shakespearean Powerpoint Presentations in College English Classrooms” Mark King and David Janssen, Gordon College

“The Visual Essay: Thinking and Playing Outside the Paragraphs” Neal Saye, Georgia Southern University

“Teaching Students to Write for TV and Film: A Comprehensive Plan for the Undergraduate Dramatic Scripting Course” Michael Moeder

So maybe mine doesn’t sound quite as smart as the other two.  But I had lots of visuals, with continual streaming over two screens!  And handouts!  And samples of student work!  And I gave out colored construction paper and had everyone do little projects!  (My hypothesis is that a few bells and whistles, along with hands-on tinkering, can make up for intellectual depth.  And besides, it was Saturday morning, for heaven’s sake.)

The Elephant Ear connection is coming, I promise–just give me a minute or two.

When I got to the Hotel InterContinental on St. Charles to check in, I used the Winning Strategy a friend taught me years ago: ALWAYS ask if an upgrade is “possibly available.”  But BEFORE you ask, set the stage: say something either Pitiful with a Touch of Humor (“I’m SO glad to FINALLY get here to your BEAUTIFUL hotel. My flight was SO turbulent!  I prayed more in those two hours than I have in the past two decades!  But what a peaceful aura both in this gorgeous lobby AND coming from you!  Thank you so much!” or something excitedly exuberant, again with an attempt at a tad of humor (“New-Party-Orleans!  I’m HERE!  And you’re my INCREDIBLE host/hostess!  Can you show me around when you get off work?  THANK YOU for having me!  You RULE this city!).  Then smile like you’re high on beignets and plead for the upgrade.  IT WORKS.  SO VERY OFTEN.  Try it.

I did.  And Bam!  I was given a Club Level upgrade with full food and drink privileges and a nifty elevator key card that whisked me up to the exclusive Executive Floor.  (Another thing, always buy a thank you card and give it to your benefactor during your stay.  It’s good karma.)

Swinging from chandelier in “the club”:

So the second night in Nawlins, after Wandering around Bourbon Street and Wondering, both quietly to myself and out loud to my fellow conference attendee friends, “Do those people on that balcony KNOW they are sorta naked?” and “Why am I catching all these beads?  I have forty strands now”  and “That’s a real alligator that monkey is holding, isn’t it?!” I left the decibels and the adult circus, and meandered over, first to sweet Cafe Du Monde, and then to Jackson Square.

With powdered lips I walked the square’s perimeter, taking in the colorful display of late night street performers, vendors and musicians.

My watch yawned midnight, but my heart gave me the injunction: walk around the square again, and if I make “comfortable, knowing” eye contact with a spiritual reader, I will stop and, uh, be read or whatever.

I walked slowly, my footfalls methodical and audible.

Two-thirds around, I saw her.

A tiny, wisp of a woman from the islands wearing a bandana and clenching a shawl in the sticky October heat.  She sat at a card table.  Breaking eye contact first, I walked on, feeling silly.  So we made eye contact–but “comfortable and knowing”?  I don’t think so.  Looking back confirmed my foolishness.  Her gaze had dropped.  Nothing but a bird-like woman beginning to close up shop.

Until she turned her body toward me and smiled.  A caramel Mona Lisa.  An inviting mystery.

Thirty minutes later I walked away from Ms. Michelle with 1) a small elephant ear plant wrapped in wet paper towels and 2) ears resounding with what I had heard.

“You live near moving water, a river, an ocean, which is good.  Go embrace it often.  You need the movement of water.  You’re too rigid.”

Many other words and images left me, not shocked or awed by their relevancy and accuracy, but at peace with the connectedness of us all, the encouragement of strangers who are not strange after all.  Oneness.

“What do you want to ask?

I had two queries.  The first concerned the number four (my favorite number).  I loved her mathematics.  They confirmed what I knew–that all is well.

The second, as I took in the sight and smell of her small display of Mason-jarred summer leftover blossoms and greenery: “May I have that elephant ear?”  The green beauty had caught my eye from the start, small but holding its own, even without vibrant yellow or red.

“Of course.  It’s for you.  Take it.  Plant elephant ears, pick them.  Put them under your pillow.  They are health and good to you.”

Maybe I gave Michelle all the answers by coming to her, by asking questions.  Maybe I heard what I knew already.  Maybe I embraced the sugary night too tightly.  But I walked away buoyed by knowing.  Knowing that encouragement takes a myriad of forms.

*****************************************************************************

Unexpectedly I saw Michelle the next day in the sunlight.  We hugged and smiled, amped up in the brightness, having taken care of deep talk the night before.

Later in that final day of my New Orleans stay, I stumbled across the Jean Lefitte National Historic Site and Preserve.

But what was REALLY cool is what I found there:

Water.  And Elephant Ears.  Across the street from the mighty Mississippi River.

Back home in Savannah, one day I strolled the campus of Armstrong Atlantic State University, and here’s what I found:

Huge Elephant ears.

Oh, I planted my own Elephant Ears.  This summer they grew beautifully:

(Excuse me for looking a bit like Captain Kangaroo in the above pic.  Google him, kids.)

Moral of story (at least for me):  Listen.

Posted in Five Friday Happy Bringers

Five Friday Happy Bringers (9/14/12)

Here are five of my happiness providers this week:

1. This little fellow resting in the curve of my Elephant Ear stems. I love how he embraces snugness.

2. Getting to know my new SCAD students from Taiwan, Colombia, India, China, South Korea, Panama, Vietnam, Denmark, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico.

3. Every now and then, quieting down, closing my eyes and enjoying the nourishment of stillness.

4. This scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s when Audrey Hepburn sings “Moon River.”

“Moon River” is a Savannah standard, since local boy-who-went-famous Johnny Mercer penned the Academy Award-winning song. And btw I cross Savannah’s Moon River whenever I head out to Skidaway Island to visit my older daughter and family.

5. Next steps in life.

So those are a few of my bringers of happiness. What about you? What makes you joyful on this beautiful September Friday?

Posted in College Teaching, Humor, Savannah Joy

SCAD-ing Outta Retirement

BFF’s–Blog Follower Friends (or anyone at any restaurant where I’ve eaten for the past two and a half months; or at the Post Office; or at Savannah’s coffee shops) know that on June 21, I retired from Georgia Southern University after teaching English there for twenty-four years.  [First retirement postSecond retirement post.  My final GSU Walking Tour.]  And I had such a fun retiring summer!  Sitting in my backyard, visiting a vineyard, embracing the Savannah Asian Festival, getting put in jail, exploring a fort, going to a Savannah Sand Gnats game, Tybee Island partying, etc.

But then summer started to come to an end, and (as all teachers know) the REAL new year started–the Academic Year.  I grew a bit restless.  And thought about getting a part-time job to keep me off the streets and such, but neither of my Top Five Prospective Second Careers panned out:

1 Tug Boat Operator.

2.  Little Caesars Sign Dancer.  I became interested in this one because the LCSDers at the corner of Montgomery Cross and Waters here in Savannah always seem SO enthusiastic.  So I researched the job a little.  Here’s the description and qualifications from the Little Caesars website:

“Get paid to dance and have FUN!  Part-time Sign Dancer job available!  Are you an outgoing energetic individual looking for work? Are you someone who can attract attention? Do you like having fun at work and staying positive?”  So far, so good.  Work SHOULD be fun!  And I write a happiness blog!  This job seemed right up my alley.

“If so, this is the job for you! We are looking for a part-time Sign Dancer who can hold a sign and have fun at the same time. We are not just looking for your average sign holder. We are looking for someone who can dance with a sign and attract attention.”  Again, surely I could HOLD a sign and have fun in a non-average way.

Requirements:

  • You must be very ENERGETIC and get people’s ATTENTION!!!
  • You must be in decent health. You will be outside.
  • You must be able to wave at passing cars while on duty.  I’m friendly!
  • You must be able to stand the entire shift.  I’m a teacher.  I stand all the time!
  • You must have reliable transportation and arrive on time.
  • You must be able to pass a drug test.  What about Allegra or Tums?
  • You must be at least 18 years old.  I’m SO over 18!  This job is MINE, I thought!

But alas, after hours practicing with a broom in the backyard, I came to find out that Little Caesars wants sign dancers who are not quite so OVER 18.

3.  Quality Control Praline Taster at River Street Sweets(Pure pralines, NOT turtles!)  Jen, can you HELP ME OUT HERE??!!

4.  Famous Italian singer. 

5.  Part-time CEO of Apple.  Afterall, I HAVE read the Steve Jobs biography, I have an iPhone, and I realize that Jobs and I have a whole lot in common, well except for the LSD, and the no-deoderant issue, and the need for absolute control (okay, maybe we have that one a little bit in common).

Anyway, recently I started seeing all those pencils and notebooks and protractors (is there really such a need for those things nowadays?) and composition books (does anybody else out there like to smell, really smell, composition books?) at just about every store I entered.  And, still frustrated and pouting with hurt feelings over the Little Caesars debacle, I decided to go to Craig’s List to see what kind of jobs were available.  Bad idea.  I won’t even begin to tell you what kinds of “job opportunities” I saw there.  So after an hour and a half, I left that site.

Then, after Googling “part-time job” + “$250,000 per year” + “low-to-no work requirement” and only getting hits for “U.S. Vice President” and “Ostrich Feather Fanner for the Kardashians,” I got down to business and Googled “part-time job” + “Savannah” + “education,” and an adjunct position posting at SCAD came up.  SCAD is the Savannah College of Art and Design, an incredibly beautiful and innovative art school scattered primarily throughout the historic district of my city.  Thrilled, I looked into the requirements, and soon after was asked to come do a teaching demonstration.

Initially terrified that I COULD NOT TEACH ART (well, actually I can do some cool little foam-board pictures with macaroni, dried pinto beans, glitter and Elmer’s Glue), I stopped hyperventilating and realized I would be teaching composition (my old stomping ground).  The demo and subsequent interview process went well, and they offered me the job!  (I figure I can work in the macaroni pics eventually.)

Doing a tad of research about SCAD faculty, I discovered on the college website that SCAD faculty include:

  • Emmy® Award winners
  • Academy Award® winners
  • Fulbright scholars
  • Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize winner
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship recipient
  • British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award nominee
  • LEED-accredited professionals
  • U.S. patent holders
  • Scholars published in academic journals
  • Best-selling authors
  • AIGA Award winners
  • Character animators for Beowulf, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Illustrators for The New Yorker, Time, Disney and NASA
  • Visual effects artists for Titanic and Jurassic Park
  • Sequential artists for Dark Horse, DC Comics, Marvel, Cartoon Network and Warner Bros.
  • Producer of Fried Green Tomatoes and The Breakfast Club
  • Writer for The Cosby Show and As the World Turns
  • Script Supervisor for Driving Miss Daisy

WOW!

I felt a bit overwhelmed.  But then I checked back a while later, and lo and behold, something about Yours Truly was added!

  • Finalist, Eighth Grade Spelling Bee  (perhaps would have gone further but spelled “Georgia” as “Jeorgia” due to nerves)

*****************************************************************************************************************

I am thrilled, THRILLED to be a part of the SCAD faculty on a part-time basis.  I will be teaching international students English composition.  I’m looking forward to this next phase of my teaching career and life.

Here’s the building where I teach:

It used to be the old Savannah jail.

I put retirement in jail.

Later.