Sunday, January 31, 2010


I got lucky in the homestay in Xian. No, not like you are thinking. My homestay was in the home of the Tai Chi Master. I first met him when we were given our morning instruction in tai chi at the hotel. Looks can be deceiving. He was my age, shorter and had a flat top. Flat tops. You don't see too many of those in Vermont. I remember them as the preferred coif of PE teachers and coaches. Those memories come with some baggage for me. Even though I have coached. Even though I was a PE teacher. After the tai chi, homestay assignments were made. I was sent to stay with the PE teacher, I mean, the tai chi master.

He spoke little English, but his daughter was there to translate. He soon got on his high horse ... the philosophy behind the tai chi. His daughter said that when he started this with her friends, they just left. Much to her chagrin, I was mesmerized! He talked about the yin and yang. He talked about the five elements. He talked about circles of life and wholeness.

He did not know that he had made a friend for life. It was the circle thing. I am drawn like a magnet to the shape. I know circles mean something. I know there is a connection between circles and the wholeness of life. That just about does it for the scale of "know" for me. I have circles tattooed on my leg. I have a yin/yang tattooed on my hip. I make circle patterns in the snow on lakes and in fields. There are connections. I don't have to have reasons.

There's more. The tai chi master allowed me to glimpse his passion. For a moment, I was fluent in Manderin. It was not about his likes and dislikes. Those fade ... passion does not. It was more than tai chi. Bigger. Wholeness, and that feels like life to me! I use the term "stories" instead. I have passion. It is about life ... about wholeness ... about stories. It is not about tai chi, but through tai chi, I tell stories. It is not about my art. But every piece I do has a story. I told my nephew once, "It is not about what you choose to do with your life. It is whether you have stories to tell in the end." I have stories. I don't have the answers.


It is hard to believe that my China trip was the summer of 2008. It is even harder to believe that I am just getting around to writing about it one and a half years later. I had the best of intentions back then - to journal. Didn't know how to set up a blog. Doesn't matter. I was not ready. Hindsight is a must. I believe there is a scientific explanation for it. Something to do with the connection between the neck muscles and the turning of the head and its effect on the optic nerve when looking back. It is a scientific fact. Hindsight is a must.

Looking back. I tried to approach it like painting a landscape. Look for the lines and shapes that stand out. The rest is just detail. I turned my head inside out and looked for signs of impact. The rest is just detail. I settled on five. I will write about those. The first was our visit to Tianamen Square, the People's Square.

The Square was one of the first sites we visited. We walked there from the hotel in Beijing through a series of back streets and alleyways. I am a good tourist. I keep a little awe in my back pocket for emergencies, but my forte is mildly amused. I wasn't ready for the Square. It wasn't the size of it, though it is truly huge.

When we crossed the street and stepped onto the Square, the group huddled to get the lowdown from our guide. I generally never listen to Guidetalk. It was like I was in a trance. I just started walking slowly across the Square - like Frankenstein with his hands down. I did not see the hugeness of it. I did not see the mausoleum to Mao. I did not see the gates or the thousands of people. I was overwhelmed by the history. It was different. I have seen the Roman ruins. I have seen ancient history. This was different. It was my history. I saw the tank. I saw the lone protester and his defiance. I was unarmed. I never expected to feel it. But I did.

I heard my name and felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Bruce, our leader. He had to come and find me to bring me back to the group. I thought the Square was huge. I was only looking at about one fifth of it. I listened to the guide this time. He told us facts and figures. Too much noise. You have to be quiet to hear the history. They sent us out to wander the Square ... to hear the history. There are things you see. Not the things in the guide book. Things like the guards. They were everywhere. Must put on a good show for the Olympics. Squeaky clean. No incidents. High security. We were not the only ones watching. I wandered with Bill for a while. When he left the Square and came back, he was pulled aside to be searched. Gentle Bill. Mild-mannered Bill. When they asked him to open his backpack, he said, "Say please". Of all people. They looked in his pack at the materials used to make a fire-twirling device , but said nothing. Bill could have been a part of my history ... was that Bill that I saw in front of the tank?

I spend my time wandering. I spend my time wondering.

Friday, January 29, 2010


The Parable of the Zoo

once upon a time, there was a zoo with many cages
but it wasn’t always a happy zoo
sometimes the animals would growl and fight

the Zookeepers thought long and hard
“here is the problem
there is a snake in the monkey cage”
“no there is a snake in the zebra stall”
“no there is a snake in the rhino compound”

the Zookeepers thought long and hard
they found a special cage
they put sand on the floor
they released live mice on special occasions
they hired a snake charmer named Sabu

the monkeys were happy
the zebras were happy
the rhinos were happy

every now and then a snake escaped
and the Crocodile Hunter was summoned

one day there was an urgent call from Sabu
“come quick the snakes have gone berserk”

the spitting cobra was spitting
the boa constrictor was constricting
the black racer was racing
the diamondback rattler was rattling

there were many wounds to the snakes and to the keepers

the Zookeepers thought long and hard
“it is a snake pit down there”

“crimey” said the Crocodile Hunter
“i am being amazed” said Sabu
“holy crap” said the Zookeepers



There are things that you can avoid ... but only so long. Yesterday, I hit the wall. Let's get it straight; I am no saint. If there is a disgusting task that I can pass along to others, I don't hesitate to do the bridal thing. I do. I decided to clean out the lost and found.

I know you are thinking, "Big deal!" You don't work in a middle school. You haven't seen the lost and found container. For me, it elicits old memories, fantasies. Deja phew. I used to work on the worm ranch...the bait farm. I was the chief shit-shoveler. I was the red wiggler gaucho ... the hired hand. Did I say hand? There really wasn't a shovel. I was the hired hand. The cows supplied the rest.

I approached the container. Good thing the cafeteria was warm. On a cool day, I am sure there would be steam rising from the pile. I get a little dizzy. Visions of the elephant dung heap on the Serengeti race through my mind. A shake of the head and the compost heap for the Victory Garden eases into view. I'm getting there. Compost heap. The massive, stinking, nasty compost heap of middle schoolers abandoned clothing. I should definitely rethink that high-falutin'notion of not passing this task on to others in the office. I'm back at the worm ranch. Dig in!

No need to elaborate. The task is every bit as stinky as I imagined. I thought about rubber gloves, but the juices would melt the rubber ... the little creatures would crawl down the cuff. I empty the container armloads at a time and separate and fold and place the items on a display table. No middle schooler will ever claim his stuff. Others will find things they want - mostly adults for their kids.

A seventh grade girl approaches and spots her boots. How do you lose boots? She frantically reaches inside. "Mr. Marshall, did you see a ring?" She hid a ring in the boot before it was lost. The ring is not there. I quiz her about it's value. I piece together the bits and pieces. Her mom is not here. Her mom gave her the ring. It has value to the student. All I can say is that I will find her if I find it. She knows that what I really said "too bad".

The bin is empty. What I really want is to be deloused. I feel bad for the girl. I recall at the bottom of the bin that I scooped out handfuls of garbage and papers and probably dead creatures and dumped them in the cafeteria garbage can. You don't suppose? Should, should, should! I should do the right thing. I work in a school. I should do the right thing. I DO NOT WANT TO SORT THOUGH THE FOOD AND CRAP IN GARBAGE. The bridal thing. But, I do. It is just as nasty as I had imagined.

I found it! The ring. It is as close to Publisher's Clearing House as I will ever get. I spot the girl at a table in the cafe and walk up to her. When I show her the ring, her face lights up. Turns out her natural mom is in Mexico. The ring is saturated with memories. Tears stream down her cheeks and she whispers "thank you".

I walk away. No one really wants to see me cry.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Maybe this blog is a big mistake. I feel schizophrenia easing in, flopping its feet on the table and settling in for a long stay. This is supposed to be easy. Should I consider paranoia a symtom or an associate of the schizophrenia? The invite list for resident disorders is getting a little long. Here's the problem.

Page 1 Step 1 Create Your Blog. The ice pick slides effortlessly into the back of my neck. NAME YOUR BLOG! The instructions forgot to mention a few minors considerations. BOLD PRINT. Oh yeah, make sure it is a cool name ... and the keywords are ones that generate maximum hits ... and it has some deep, thought-provoking meaning ... or it is incredibly humorous ... and most of all, it is not stupid and does not make you want to puke. Did I mention unique?

Two pages of notes later, I made my choice. This is not a good time for why. My friend and neighbor uses livinginbillville for her blog. I decided that livingacrosstheroadfromlivinginbilville was a little cumbersome. Here are some other losers that I considered:

artyfacts brokenbottles onmymind
abandonedthoughts randomthought scatteredthoughts

See what I mean? I should have considered something like notraceofanyhumanthoughtpatterns. I did, however, strongly consider wideopeninreverse. Anyway, I decided on struckbyheatlightning. Go figure.