Owie and Joei: Giving Back a Dropped Poem


If you love TED Talks as I do and have come across author Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on Your Elusive Creative Genius, there is a favorite image of mine that she tells in gorgeous, gorgeous detail:

I had this encounter recently where I met the extraordinary American poet Ruth Stone, who’s now in her 90s, but she’s been a poet her entire life and she told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it “for another poet.” And then there were these times — this is the piece I never forgot — she said that there were moments where she would almost miss it, right? So, she’s running to the house and she’s looking for the paper and the poem passes through her, and she grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her, and then she said, it was like she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail, and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards, from the last word to the first.

It’s the image of a muse coming to an artist and if the artist is ready and willing to be the conduit for the piece of art, whether music or poetry or even a business concept, then the piece of work comes to this world through that artist.  By artist, I mean the broadest sense of the word in that we are all artists creating something out of our lives.  If the person refuses the muse’s offer for one reason or another saying “I’m too busy,” or “Go away, not now!” then the muse has to find another and perch on another’s shoulder and whisper the art piece.

That’s how I felt when I met Owie.  I felt that I had picked up somebody else’s poem and I was handing the poem to somebody it was originally meant for.   The muse had gone to her, courted her and she accepted but along the way around February, just about the same time I picked it up, she said, “Pass.”  And I took the baton and ran with it knowing I may not be the person to do this but I’m sure going to find whomever it’s meant for.

Sure enough, through the uncanny, serendipity-inducing power of social media, I found Owie.  She had been dreaming of something like Abot Tala since last December and contacted friends who are likely to be on-board this crazy alternative education idea.  Then in February, she stopped the project and forgot about it for some time because of other pressing matters.

In February of this year, I started my first online conversation with Ken Danford.  The concept of an alternative school had been brewing in my mind and coagulating in my heart for two years since I was teaching in a university in China.  My Chinese partner, fellow university teacher and alternative education advocate, Donna and I have been dreaming of putting up an alternative school in China and the Philippines but I always thought it would be farther down the road after I’ve attended a few more conferences on democratic education and garnered a PhD.  But then events transpired that led me to where I am including meeting Owie in a cafe.

Reading Owie’s blog this morning about the first Abot Tala parent-teen orientation made me feel that I had really passed the baton.  Here you are, run!   I’d still be running alongside her and maybe we’d be passing the baton to each other or we’re actually holding two batons — one is the operations baton and the other finding the resources to realize the vision.

Still, it’s the gorgeous image of the muse alighting on an unlikely and a likely person and it doesn’t matter what degree of unlikely because people who heed the call, no matter the doubts, hope courage sees them through.


Check out: https://abottala.com/





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