I wrote this poem during my high school days when I was in my third depression, and when I found what an incredible healing tool writing could be. The 14th stanza (I’ve put it in bold.) has become a mantra for me when life splits at the seams.
(Woab! I just had a metacognition flash typing that paragraph: The act of finding something beautiful in a terrible time reflects the poem’s message itself. I found writing in my depression. [Oh, the isometric beauty!])
Of course, I’ve updated the poem a bit, and am offering it in hopes that it might be a source of solace for whatever life personal plagues you with while COVID-19 plagues our world.
Once there were three maidens,
Ms. Barty, Ms. Harty, and Ms. Higgins,
Who were all very close friends.
They had all suffered through hardships greatly
And wished with life to make amends
On a bright spring day,
With the sun and shadow mingled
under the lilac tree,
There, our ladies three made their way
To drink their afternoon tea
At Ms. Barty’s tea party
Their troubles they poured into one another,
As they poured out the tea,
And set the china on lacy doilies fanning splendidly.
There they sat and sipped reverently.
As the maidens sat abreast
Ms. Barty noticed that her guests
new possessions had obtained
“Such lovely-fine things,
What a gorgeous necklace you possess, Ms. Harty!
And, Ms. Higgins, what a glorious ring!”
For around Ms. Harty’s neck,
a string of pearls did rest
With such a hue with light a-dancing,
Such luster a-prancing
across the gleaming pearls
And on Ms. Higgin’s finger
A golden ring did linger
With gems sparkling like stars plucked from the night
Who forgot to sleep their light
When the morning dawn did bright
Such beauty were the treasures
For Ms. Barty’s eyes to take pleasure
That for a time she took and leisured
Upon the interest that seized her
Until remember her trouble did she do
“I too have something new for you,” said, Ms. Barty
Although, please you mine, it’s not so fine
But dim our sorrows might it do
At least until tomorrow
For now, these hours let us borrow,
And perhaps peace for us may follow.”
From her purse, she took a bottle
Filled with scarlet wine.
She filled the empty china cups,
And peace they did find for a time
While Ms. Barty sat a-thinking
Staring at her friends new wealth,
And swirling the wine in her cup,
a notion pierce her heart.
Such a notion that gripped her attention
That she could not drown it with the wine
And so ruminating with the time
Formed in her mind a revelation
And on this contemplation
her soul did sup
She placed back the china cup
On the fanning doilies
And turned to the maidens did she,
The maidens under the swaying lilac tree
“Friends, we have suffered greatly,
Our hearts broken often and lately,
But take this thought not lightly
For it troubles me more than all the others,
And I must know what it means to you, my sisters.
What if sorrow and pain are like wine? Their value becoming good over timeAlthough horribly bitter to go through,Adds richness to life once been brewed.
Their drinks they did forsake
As they let this ruminate,
The maidens three
Under the swaying lilac tree
“An interesting point you make,” said Ms. Higgins,
“Although I’m not quite sure what you mean.
Are you sure it’s not the wine talking
And rightly, you are not thinking?
What is good about sorrow and pain?
Surely, you do not wish to experience them again?"
“No. I have suffered tragedy plenty.
Dearest friends, just try to see
Even though the idea does seem strange
But, me, the drink has not deranged
I only mean that perhaps sorrow
Cannot be understood until tomorrow.
Just like wine is not good when first made.
Time must pass before it can be an accolade.
Or like the lilac tree,
In the shade that guards us three.
When it must be pruned,
Damage must be ensued,
So that the next season it will flourish
And bloom and joy bring for us.”
“Or like the oyster when the pearl
is in the making?” said Ms. Harry in a whirl,
Tossing her curls and clutching her pearls.
“Exactly, my dear friend,” said Ms. Barty
“Do you see too, Ms. Higgins?”
Higgins fiddled with her ring as she thought
And upon the ring the epiphany was draught
“Like when gold in fire is refining?”said, Ms. Higgins
Glancing at the gleaming band.
“Or how gems cannot form without stress?
But surely, you do not mean our troubles, we are to bless?!”
“Of course not,” said Ms. Barty
Our hearts do and will hurt from breaking,
But if I keep in mind that in the process
There are not only losses.
That while life is painstaking
There may be redemption for the taking
If I we seek the treasures inside the ventures.
Put away the wine they did
And brewed another round of tea
Seeing that it was heat that made the treat.
They poured back through their memories
As they relieved times of old,
finding portions of suffering now turned to gold.
And so they had a wonderful time
Life had been turned to wine
At Ms. Barty’s tea party
The three maiden-girls
Now marveled at their new pearls
Valuing the sanctity Of life’s bitter-sweet,
Laughing at the serendipity
Did the maidens all a-three
Under the swaying lilac tree.
What is a quote and or mantra that helps you when life is difficult?
Being able to speak a language is subjective. I have many Japanese friends who speak beautiful English, but do not consider themselves to be English speakers. (This could just be Japanese humility though and not their true opinion： 本音 vs. 建前.
For example, I took a year of Latin and remember the basic sentence structure and vocabulary words. I do not, however, consider myself a Latin speaker. The same holds true for the other languages I have studied: Old English, Middle English, Spanish, American Sign Language, and Japanese Sign Language.
On the other hand, I have studied the Japanese language for years and still have many limitations, but have a proficiency level enough to work, live, and get in and out of trouble in the language. I use Japanese daily, occasionally dream in it, and while I still have much to learn, I do consider myself a Japanese speaker.
Life has come full circle. There is a completeness, and the story now has a happy ending.
Allow me to set the context:
An American student of mine, dutifully gave me a gift as his mother had told him to do. As it is no secret that I love plants (as they adorn my classroom, and I cultivate the edible garden outside the cafeteria) I am assuming that this gift was a thoughtful way of encouraging this passion of mine.
It was a vase of vibrant cerulean and scrolling gold motif. It also happens to be a 仏壇の花瓶(butsudan no kabin) or the vessel that sits on a Buddist alter in which flowers for the deceased are placed.
Without knowing the heart of the student, the intent of the mother, and only looked at this act through the lens of Japanese culture, the act could be seen as morbid nefarious aggression. I.e., The student wished for my death.
And yet, my reaction was laughter.
From an American lense, it’s a beautiful vase, and she wanted to give me a beautiful, thoughtful gift. This student had no idea what he was giving, the poor thing was just doing what his mom told him to do, and culturally she didn’t know what she had. I loved the gift. In fact, it might be the best tangible present a student has ever give me, but not for the vase’s merit itself. Unintentionally, they had just given me a happy ending to a painful past.
Allow me to put this context into context:
The first year I emigrated to Okinawa, Japan, my work visa was approved for three years. However, the contract I signed with the school was only for one year.
After a few months, I knew the school was not for me, but I would honor my contract and give the appropriate amount of time in advance for the school to find a new teacher.
The decision was excruciatingly painful to make.
One, because I believed in the mission of the school, just not its application.
Two, I loved my students (Like a first love, a teacher’s first group of students impact one deeply.).
Three, I could infer, based on the character of the principal (who was also my visa sponsor), that if I quit, she would call immigration to cancel my visa out of spite.
I was not wrong.
Before I could even explain how I intended to continue to support my students and the school. (I wanted desperately to revivify the library and garden.) She jumped up and spat, “I’m calling immigration!” I was deflated, but not surprised, and now the clock was ticking for me to find a new job with visa sponsorship before the Japanese government sent me back to America.
Allow me to put this context of context into context:
I had recently started dating my future husband at the time and I didn’t want to leave him, the country, or my students if I couldn’t find another job with visa sponsorship. Yet, I was willing to risk losing my relationship, home, and pupils, because that is how unhealthy the place was.
And unlike America, where two weeks are standard notice, I had to give two months. It was two monthsof knots in my stomach as I was vilified to prepare the parents for my “sudden departure.” It was two months of dirty looks. Two months of not nice things said behind my back or in front of my face in Japanese. Two months of tears streaming down my face while I rode my bike home. Two months of being, as a compassionate coworker said to me, “a wilted flower.”
I try to be fair by looking at things from the principal’s perspective. I think she thought my visa and contract were one and the same and this discrepancy blindsided her. I know that she also had experienced much heartbreak with foreigners running out on her, and I believe it was this past hurt that blocked her ability to see that I was trying to be honorable, even on her side. I just needed to be so and do so in a different capacity.
I really miss those students and wonder often what happened to them. I wasn’t even allowed to say goodbye…
The next day, I brought my boss a bouquet of what I thought were “happy yellow flowers.” I put much thought into this gift as I wanted to be culturally appropriate. I researched the meanings of colors, and yellow in western cultures means friendship, and in eastern cultures, it is good fortune or money. (Friendship and good luck and money! The was the rare Venn diagram middle of positivity in both cultures!) I also knew from my Japanese culture classes that this particular flower is used as a symbol of the emperor, so I thought there was a royal aspect too. Plus, this flower is on everything from hello-kitty to kimonos and traditional art. They are even sold in grocery stores as garnishes! I thought it was a win-win-win-win!
My Japanese readers have most likely figured out that I am talking about 菊の花 (kiku no hana): the chrysanthemum.
While all the above is true, it is also true that these flowers are the ones offered to the dead on Buddhist altars, and while it is OK to have a depiction of the flower, to give the real ones as a gift is taboo. (I still struggle to wrap my mind around this.)
I know that my boss recognized that my intentions were innocent. I did not wish for her death. I also know that she used this incident as an excuse to demonize me. She would not accept the flowers, nor tell me why. I went in tears to my boyfriend, who explained the situation and took me shopping to get an appropriate gift of delicacy cookies. I brought the right gift the next day, professionally gift-wrapped, with an explanation, apology, and bow that I had rehearsed in Japanese with my boyfriend. She would not accept this either. I believe she wanted to hurt me as much as she perceived I was hurting her.
How does all of this add up to a laughing reaction to the vase gifted by my American student? It is this vase that the “taboo flowers” are put in and placed on Buddhist alters to honor the dead. Inadvertently, this student blessed me with the opportunity to accept his gift-giving intentions and enact the grace that I wish my boss would have done for me. In doing so, that student gave me the ability to redeem apart of the pain.
I will fill this life-giving death vase with plants that will grace my classroom and be quite the conversation starter to those who know that they are looking at.
Death does bring new life if one has the eyes to see it. The death of my time at that school brought me to the 英会話 (English conversation school), where I discovered my passion for teaching English as a Second Language. The death of my time there also revealed how solid my then-boyfriend-and-now-husband is in a crisis.
Have you ever committed a cultural taboo or had a memory redeemed? Please share.
I was teaching a Mommy and Me English as a Second Language class to a lovely young mother and her two-year-old son. The lesson’s topic was body parts. Not wanting to use Japanese to explain the meaning, I would touch the location of the vocabulary word and then move such anatomy in a goofy way. This game was quite popular with the two-year-old, and I was feeling on fire as a teacher, for we were in that beautiful intersection of learning, engagement, and genuine joy.
I said, “Touch your chin,” and proceeded to place my finger on my mentum; however, Japanese-toddler logic mandated not the mentum as modeled, but what he very knew to be his chin. You see, “chin-chin” (ちんちん) is the Japanese kid word for penis.
He promptly grabbed his groin and proceeded to waggle it in the previously playful way. I started to correct/ apologize to the mom, but she was lost in a full guffaw, so I felt permission to laugh too.
It is a lesson that I will never forget, for it is true what the dear Anna Leonowens has said, “If you become a teacher, by your pupils, you’ll be taught.” (I highly recommend the 1956 version of the King and I. [♫ Getting to know you. Getting to know all about you…♪])
Now, as a mom of a toddler and further into my teaching English and learning Japanese journey, I appreciate this memory even more. I can see how my son is interpreting his world and the role that homophones play in inter-lingually and even within one language, as in the Homophone Horrors happening.
What are some inter-lingual homophone mishappenings you have encountered in your life?
At this year’s Christmas party, my 92-year-old grandfather in law said: “When foreigners eat sushi, it really is peace, isn’t it.” Well, actually he said: 「外国人が寿司を食べる時、本当に平和だね。
(Our family eats sushi in our Christmas spread, and the traditional KFC, Japanese Christmas cake as well as mash potatoes, turkey, and pizza. [We have a large extended international family, and everybody brings something they want to eat, potluck style, and all benefit deliciously.])
This was contemplating on how to work in a nap (I have a newborn.) without being rude when Ji-Chan (Japanese for Grandpa), who only says something when it needs saying, made the aforementioned comment. Three things happened at once.
First, I was thrilled that I understood his entire sentence in Japanese.
Second, I was thrilled that I understood despite Ji-chan’s voice. (I wonder what my vocal cords will sound like in almost a century.)
And thirdly, my philosophical loving mind pricked up at the prospects of a delicious thought morsel that most likely needed to be added to my Philosophical Art Collection, so I asked him what he meant.
He has been observing the newest addition to the family, my sister-in-law’s husband, who happens to be American, arrive at the party. Still dressed in his cammies from work, my brother-in-law courteously took off his combat boots at the door, strolled over to the feast, and promptly picked up some chopsticks to dish himself out a sushi assortment.
However, Ji-chan, who has seen Okinawa under Japanese rule, seen World War 2, seen Okinawa when it was an American territory, seen Okinawa become a part of Japan again, most definitely saw something in this masticating act.
I am translating, and it is not exact, but he explained along the lines of “60 years ago, Americans wouldn’t even try sushi. They physically couldn’t eat it. It would make them gag. Now, they eat it. They like it. Japanese culture has been spread and shared. This means there truly is peace now.”
I have been inspired by Ji-chan’s words and my new found love of Instagram! Shameless Plug: Check out Right Rice Paddy on Instagram!
With the incredible sharing power of the internet, I would like to show Ji-chan just how much peace there truly is, but I need help. Please take a picture of yourself eating sushi and tag it as #sushipeace and tag me @kendra_migita on Instagram. I will present Ji-chan with the photos for Christmas. I think that it will bring him joy.
Peace and Joy for Christmas. How perfect.
Will you please help me out? Eat sushi. Share peace. #sushipeace
“How did you hurt your face?” Asked my concerned coworker.
“I hit my car,” was my matter-of-fact reply. Their looks of consternation made me realize that I had hit upon lexical ambiguity as well.
You see, lexical ambiguity is the linguistic property of a sentence containing more than one meaning. Puns are, arguably, the most well known form of lexical ambiguity.
In this case, “I hit my car” could mean: I was driving, and my car was hit by something in which the accident cause my wound. In the same manner, English speakers say, “I cut my hair.” When, in actuality, they were the recipient of the action.
I was driving, and I hit something with my car in which the accident caused my wound.
As I had intended to mean: I hit my own parked car with my own face.
Allow me to extrapolate: I accidentally hit the edge of my open car trunk door with my face at five am while trying to load the pineapple plants.
The McDonald’s House has a chocolate stoop that sits two steps higher at the top of my car’s inclined parking spot. This means that when the trunk is open, it is perfectly head height, as I found out. Therefore when one is rushing to load pineapple plants before having to depart for work, one is apt to meet a rude awakening. (Pun, oh so very, intended.)
The collision hurt, I cried, and my husband wiped up my tears, blood, and embarrassment.
Yet, the pineapple made it into the school’s community garden, and I collided into this fabulous example of lexical ambiguity as well. (Did you catch the other pun in there too?)
What are some examples of lexical ambiguity you have encountered?Or leave me a pun pertaining to pineapples, because that would be sweet!
I keep a list of some of the humorous, if not ridiculous, verbal combinations that have come out of the mouths of students, myself, and colleagues while teaching middle school. The list is sure to grow as my teaching experience does. For anonymity and alliteration, All teachers’ names have been changed to “sensei” and all students’ names have been changed to “student.”
Language, though shared by a group of people, is also unique to each individual. A word’s sound may have a personal feeling to someone different from the shared speaker’s connotation and or denotation.
(Metacognition Flash: Isn’t it interesting that humans have feelings about the words that we use to express feeling?!)
Linguists and poets have noticed this subjective association of pleasantness, or lack thereof, surrounding a word regardless of its meaning, and this has lead to a subbranch of linguistics called phonaesthetics.
(phone= Greek for sound and aesthetics= Greek for beauty) Phonaethetics is divided into euphony and cacophony, with euphony referring to words that sound beautiful and cacophony ruling over the ugly.
The famous example “cellar door” is supposedly the most beautiful English word in terms of euphony. I, personally, am not a fan.
I like the words serendipitous, thrive, and diarrhea (Discusting meaning, I know, but what a pretty word!) in English.
In terms of cacophony, I do not like the word orchid. It sounds crass, akin to ogre or orcs. (Plus I think the flower itself looks pornographic, but that’s a different topic. Scientifically though, flowers are the sex organs of the plant. The more you know…)
This has nothing to do with the word’s actual English connotation or denotation of orchid: the flower that most consider to be beautiful and symbolizes luxury in both Japan and the West. It is just how I feel about that particular word’s sound.
(I looked up the etymology of the word orchid to see if it was related to ogre or orcs and while ogre and orc are related to each other, orchid is not. Um…apparently I’m not the only one who thought orchids looked pornographic. This blog post is turning out so much differently than planned. On the bright side, I am feeling such solidarity with my Indo-European ancestors!)
My three-year-old is currently enjoying the euphony of ぴかぴか (pika-pika). The Japanese onomatopoeia word for sparkle, glimmer, shine, twinkle. (I’ts the same pika in Pikachu.) My son went about all afternoon chanting it until, at least for me, it lost all its euphony and took on cacophony.
What are words that you contain euphony and cacophony for you?