Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bridge, East, West, Breeze (September, 2010)

In my dream, Master Yanni, under whose unique guidance I had learned Korean energy training, quite suddenly broke the news that she was leaving the bay area after a two -year stay.  She told me on a warm October day, the same day she had been summoned to lead special outdoor training in San Francisco somewhere near the Golden Gate Bridge.  In my dream, she had left me this brief voicemail message the night before:
“Mareesa-Nim:  tomorrow, teach 6 a.m. class in Crystal Springs.  After that, close the center and join training at the Golden Gate Bridge. We’ll meet on the southeast side.  I know you have a bad direction sense, so look for my special balloon.” Then a husky giggle followed by,”Ye, thank you! Kamsahamnida!”  I could hear her turning to talk with someone else before she ended the call.  And then a final “Click.”  I wondered why she had added the formal suffix, “nim” after my name, but I was honored that she addressed me this way.
The next morning when I arrived at the bridge, I imagined Master Yanni would be leading a group of ten to fifteen students so I focused on looking for a large group of people.  I moved briskly along the east walkway, hands jammed into my hoodie pockets against the strong wind, purple uniform pants flapping against my legs, forgetting about her hint to look for a special balloon.
“Where is your Mind?” a woman hollered above the wind, and then her unmistakably playful laugh.  I wheeled around to find Master Yanni leaning against the rail, dressed in blue jeans and a tan polar fleece turtleneck, one knee bent with her foot resting on the grate behind her, a rainbow colored balloon tied around her left wrist, and a khaki-colored baseball cap over her bobbed black hair.
“ Oh! Ban gap sahm ni da- nice to see you, Master Yanni,” Where are all the students?” I asked, embarrassed that I had walked right by her. Something in the air was distracting my attention.
“What ‘all the students’?  We’re all the students,” she smiled pointing at me, then herself.
“Cool,” I answered.
“Yes, ‘Cool’ Mareesa-nim.  So show me the beautiful, famous Golden Gate /Bridjii/.” 
/bridjii/, I repeated silently to myself, delighted by her inflection.
“Such a big smile. I think Mareesa-Nim is in love,” she said, handing me the balloon.
I just turned my palms upward and shrugged.  “Well, see that long stretch of green grass over there to the right?  It’s called Crissy Field.  When I was a little kid, my cousins and I flew kites down there. It’s the perfect place because it’s usually windy like today, and there are no wires.”
“Ah!  So the kites can fly freely there without getting stuck.”
“Yes, right. They climb right up into the sky, carried by the wind, free as a bird. “As we continued northward on the east side walkway, the wind was breaking up the coastal fog giving way to patches of blue sky. “Over there in the middle of the water, we have Alcatraz Island.  It was a prison until 1963.”
“Wow, what a pretty view from a prison island. Even though the people were called prisoners, maybe they wanted to be there for a long stay on an island that has a full view of Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco!” 
“It is said that no prisoners ever successfully escaped during its almost thirty years of operation.”
“Mareesa-nim.  I have something to share with you.  I am leaving the San Francisco bay area.”
I hated that my eyes filled with tears before I could even zip up my jacket against the wild ocean wind that I loved so much.  I opened my eyes wider and looked westward letting the ocean gusts tuck the tears into my hair where Master Yanni wouldn’t see, allowing more tears to come that I could attribute to the sting of the air. 
“No!” I watched the word writhe about silented by the wind and then evaporate out toward the ocean.
Other pedestrians filled the walkway. Master Yanni had advanced ahead quicker along the rail, creating a single file twosome.  I picked up my pace to match hers as I pulled my hood up over my head.
“Time to move on,” she turned back to say to me, smiling, looking at me over her glasses.
I remember the magical way, with just slightly raised eyebrows, Master Yanni’s look conveyed many messages straight to my heart.   Even now as on those other occasions, the ambiguity in her sentence struck me as profound in spite of the fact that, in this moment, she was simply moving along on our walk, over the Golden Gate Bridge, on this precious October morning.  I focused on breathing out and almost all the way to center span, we walked single file without speaking at all.
There was a song she would play after training sessions while she and her students drank tea together.  I never knew the name of it, but remembered that she titled her CD Playlist “Magic Class”. In my mind I filed that one song as “Yanni-Nim’s Magic Tea-Time.”  The melody was simple but what struck me as magical were the wind chimes infused in the piece. My ears heard them as if they were coming from anywhere else but the speakers.  Now, as we paused at the north tower, I took a moment to center myself before I spoke, and then taking another extra moment until I could clearly hear those wind chimes:
“When?” was all I could get out before my throat caught again.
“Not yet! In two weeks.  I’m going to Atlanta, Georgia.”
“But I am in the middle of preparing for the next level of training.  I thought you were going to be my teacher.”
“You are ready, Mareesa-nim.   You have everything you need inside,” she said tapping two fingers into my chest.
“I want--I need-I want-- a teacher-- for Me. Why do you have to go right now Master Yanni?  Shit!” 
“Again, Mareesa-nim’s fire mouth comes out. Please do not worry; there is still time. We have millions of time to do more training. Right now, more San Francisco sightseeing.  What is that place over there?” she said, pointing out toward the bay.
“Angel Island.”
“Angel Island. Good name. Let’s take a boat and bring the students there for weekend training! We can do hiking, core training, and meditation. And we’ll have a big picnic lunch. We can make bibimbop!”
“Ne, Master Yanni, I would love that. How about if bring avocado, seaweed, and that spicy red stuff we eat at the training center?”
Laughing, she answered, “You mean ‘gochujang’. “
“Ye, ye, ‘gochujang’.”  I enjoyed forming this complete Korean sentence with the two Korean words I knew.
“Speaking of spicy red stuff, why is Golden Gate Bridge called ‘golden’?  It’s a kind of spicy red color,” she asked.
“Well, this water between San Francisco and the other side, Marin Headlands is called the Golden Gate. It was named in the mid-1800s even before gold was discovered here.  So this is the bridge that connects two separate pieces of land.”
“Got it,” she said.  Then she added, “Mareesa-nim, you bring the students to Angel Island. That is your training.”  
Master Yanni put her arm through mine and pulled me in close.  “People come and go, come and go,” she said as she wiped away tears from my face and looked into my eyes.   “You can overcome the obstacle of feeling sadness when we have to separate from each other. Mareesa-nim, become the water that flows between the two pieces of land.”
The next day, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and went to the training center as usual.  After all the other students exited, I told Master Yanni about the dream I had about us at the Golden Gate Bridge.
“So, was my dream correct?  Are you leaving the bay area?
“Yes, of course someday I will move on.  But not right now.”  She looked over her glasses at me with eyebrows slightly raised, a mischievous smile on her lips.  Mareesa-nim, don’t get stuck by the boundaries in your dreams! Be like the water.”
“Mmm, hmm, I understand, Master Yanni.”
“Great!  After our lunch, let’s hang these up in front of the Center’s entrance.”  Reaching behind the rice paper screen, she brought out ten rainbow colored balloons.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

 Here at year-end, I decided to post this lovely article by Johaina Crisostomo, fellow writer participant in the 2011 NVM Gonzalez Writing Workshop.  I really like the picture of all of the writers, here with our teacher, Peter Bacho.  This event rooted my writing in ways that allowed me to grow my stories, and cultivate new connections.  Here at year-end, I am appreciative.

By Johaina Crisostomo

As build-up to the Filipino American International Book Festival (FIlBookFest) on October 1- 2 in San Francisco, the Literacy Initiatives International Foundation (LIIF), the lead organizer of FilBookFest, is collaborating with various libraries, colleges and universities, and organizations in the Bay Area to hold monthly events to encourage writers and booklovers to appreciate Filipino literature.  Following is among the events:

Eight writers gathered on a July weekend in the comfortable guest suites of Sonoma State University for the fourth NVM Gonzalez Writing Workshop.

Michael Gonzalez, youngest son of the prominent author and the mastermind behind this project, said of this latest one: “The energy and intent of the participants to find their own voice through craft and by inspiration was like none other.”

The sentiment was echoed by renowned Filipino American writer, Peter Bacho, who has been leading the workshops since the project started in 2005.
“This year there were more students who brought with them pretty sophisticated skills, at least as revealed by their projects,” Bacho said. “This one was the best so far.”

The eight participants represented writers from various stages in their literary careers—some already published, others on the brink of publishing their first major piece, while others were still in the experimental stages of their writing. Regardless of previous experience, however, one thing all participants had in common was the urgent desire to voice the Filipino-American experience and stake their presence in the world.

Gonzalez opened the workshop by emphasizing his father’s belief in the power of writing to combat the invisibility of the Filipino in America. The workshop started with a viewing of a clip from the Leong-Academia documentary, “NVM Gonzalez: A Story Yet To Be Told,” which gave participants a more intimate look into NVM’s writing philosophy.
The second day brought on a series of challenging craft exercises that participants could execute at their own pace. Bacho promoted his own writing philosophies by pushing for the importance of knowing one’s protagonist, controlling dialogue and imbuing one’s piece with poetic resonance.

Tess Crescini, a real-estate broker, joined the workshop, in part, for the prospect of working with Bacho. After having experienced his mentorship, she said, “As a workshop leader, Peter was not your typical ‘sage on a stage’ but more like a friend who really wants to see you accomplish the task you set out for yourself.”
Prosy Delacruz, a four-time participant, calls Bacho “a writer who has made this world better than he has found it by giving birth to more writers—like NVM Gonzalez did.”

The workshop fostered a sense of community among story-tellers whose diverse narratives exhibited the complex, multifaceted perspective of the contemporary Filipino. This became especially evident on the last day when each one got the opportunity to share his/her work with the rest of the group.
The group was joined by Prof. Leny Strobel, associate professor of American Multicultural Studies at Sonoma State University and director of the Center of Babaylan Studies. Strobel was among NVM’s numerous mentees and said the workshop lived up to NVM’s dream in the way that it “bridged the gap between immigrants and FilAms.”

Gonzalez shares the same sense of fulfillment.
“The workshop builds on the dream—the vision—of NVM, that we as a people have important stories to tell the world, to show the world that our unique history is and should be the source of our strength and creativity,” he said. “We only have to apply ourselves to the task. This workshop is but a small effort for others to build upon.”

The workshop was co- sponsored by the American Multicultural Studies of Sonoma State University, the Literacy Initiatives International Foundation, the Filipino American International Book Festival, and Poets & Writers Inc.