Vol. 19, no. 1
January -- February, 2007
In this issue:
Girls on the Move!
New Beginnings for a New Year!
New Year's Greetings!
The New Year -- be it January 1st, Navruz (the Persian New Year), or the Chinese New Year -- comes with traditions and celebrations. In many cultures, we find the concept of a New Year's Resolution -- a new decision or activity that will help us advance in our life goals. What's your New Year's Resolution?
Many think of the New Year as a new beginning. But just changing the calendar on the wall will certainly not create a New Beginning, will it? Whether the date shows 31 December 2006, 1 January 2007, or 1 April 2019, it makes no difference in itself. For example, if you were born in 1995, the year 2007 will mean something very different to you than for my friend, Jim Lincoln, who is now 108 years old. Our concept of time is cyclic, continuous and yet also relative.
Moving to another city or country, switching schools, finding good friends, changing goals or taking a different approach to a situation will more likely mark a New Beginning. When we decide to adopt a virtue -- truth, compassion, kindness, nonviolence -- for our daily dealings, that's definitely a New Beginning.
There is a story of a thief who satisfied the material needs of his family by stealing money from unsuspecting travelers. When he realized that what he was doing was not ethical, he went to a holy man and asked for help. He told him that he did not know how to support his family without continuing to steal. Yet, he desperately wanted to change the course of his life.
The holy man agreed to help. He said, "I won't ask you to stop stealing. But I think it might help to take on a virtue that you can always hold on to in your life."
The thief promised to always tell the truth, no matter what. After thanking him, he went on his way.
A few days later, the thief was caught stealing, red-handed. During his trial, the king discovered the thief's commitment to truth. Appreciating this precious virtue, he appointed the thief as the treasurer of the kingdom. Soon, he discovered that just one virtue, telling the truth, helped him adopt many other virtues with relative ease. He led a respectable and virtuous life.
It takes firm determination to hold onto a New Beginning. But when we take it on with a conviction that it is for the best -- for ourselves, our family or society -- it is not impossible.
One value that we can try to hold on to dearly in our lives is non-violence -- not only refraining from physical violence, but also verbal violence, like threatening, yelling and name-calling. It's a path that arises out of pure love and compassion. Wouldn't it be great if many of us took this as a New Year's Resolution?
Often, we think that the path of violence gets us quick results. Without a second thought, we use words of judgement -- labels and name calling -- to get ourselves heard. In schools, name-calling and bullying are serious concerns for millions. So, for the last few years, GLSEN has organized a week of educational activities. To participate in the 2007 No Name Calling Week, January 22 -- 26, please visit: nonamecallingweek.org.
Often, we feel certain that we are absolutely right in our views or position on a given issue. However, as soon as we begin to use verbally-or physically-abusive means to impose our views on family members or friends, conflict flares. It pushes peoples away. No matter how right we might be in our position, we'll always discover that threats, yelling, name-calling, or other violent means bring unintended consequences, leaving painful, lasting marks on everyone.
How can we begin to "mend" previous hurts in our relationships? By sending letters of apology to our friends or family members, by offering a bouquet of flowers, or simply by telling them how truly sorry we are for the pain and hurt that we may have caused them. Now that is a New Beginning!
Regardless of who started the conflict, even when we feel that we were hurt by the other person, we can still take the initiative and extend our apology. But let's not expect miracles right away. It takes time to reestablish trust and friendships.
Best wishes for New Beginnings in your life and relationships with people and the planet!
-- Arun Narayan Toke'
If You Listen, You'll Hear Ophelia Speak
Teenage girls today are bombarded by media messages more than ever in magazines, popular culture, and music on everything from how to attain the model-perfect body to what's hot in fashion next season. Very rarely are we reassured that our self-worth doesn't have to be measured by our jeans size or how closely we resemble celebrities. As a fourteen-year-old girl myself, I can attest to feeling unconfident or worrying about my body and weight, and I knew that the media and popular culture were hardly boosting our confidence. It wasn't unusual to see friends or peers questioning their appearance, skipping meals in an effort to lose weight, or in need of someone to talk to. That's why I started the teenage girls' discussion group, Ophelia's Voice, after reading Mary Pipher's book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving The Selves of Adolescent Girls.
I felt that teenage girls didn't have a safe, comfortable, supportive, or non-judgmental space to learn about relevant issues, discuss what mattered most to them, or get and give support. Girls today are plagued with so many issues that often float under the radar -- body image struggles, violence, abusive relationships, peer pressure, substance abuse, global apathy, misinformation about sex, and a lack of self-confidence…just to skim the surface. If girls had a fun, informal, safe space to share experiences, learn the correct information in a youth-led environment, and bond with other girls, they might have an easier time coping with issues and a stronger sense of community with other girls.
So my Ophelia's Voice journey began. I knew, as a fourteen-year-old, that credibility and respect for my project weren't going to be easy to find. Many people were skeptical about my commitment to the project, my understanding of these issues, or my capability organizing this. I met two adult women at the local university who agreed to serve as my mentors in organizing the project, as well as lots of other supportive people and organizations.
Obtaining funding and a partnership with another organization were my biggest concerns and proved to be quite challenging. Unless we had non-profit status, finding funding was virtually impossible, and many organizations that we requested a partnership with questioned how successful the project would be. Lots of people were uncomfortable with some of the sensitive issues I intended to discuss -- such as sex or suicide prevention.
A year-and-a-half since I initially started Ophelia's Voice, we will be piloting our project for the first time in October 2006. We received just under $2000 in funding, and will be holding our sessions at the local library. We have received lots of local media attention and support from community organizations. I have also started attending national conferences and workshops, presenting about my project and how youth can initiate similar projects. Each week approximately ten girl participants will meet for discussions, activities, and guest speakers. In addition to offering support and discussing issues, we'll also take some time to build friendships and do some fun activities -- cooking, yoga, and craft projects, just to name a few.
The more I learned about girls' issues in our society, the more I realized that these problems extend internationally. Maybe girls in Third World countries aren't being bombarded by negative media messages, but they are struggling to get the education they deserve and to be treated with the same respect as men. Many women and girls internationally are living in poverty or without the proper education to become employed. In some countries, girls as young as eight-years-old are trafficked in sex trades, or raped during violent tribal conflicts.
My goal through Ophelia's Voice is to equip Canadian girls with the leadership skills and awareness to initiate their own projects to address international girls' issues. I want to encourage teenage girls in my community to take leadership and make positive change. As I discovered with my Ophelia's Voice journey, youth can make just as much change as adults. It just takes passion and a drive to succeed!
-- Joanne Cave, 14
With its long nights and frosty reputation, winter is now in full swing. In some places, winter is also the rainy season, and days are not only short, but soggy, too. If you live in a cold or wet place, you know how to maintain your physical comfort by bundling up or putting on rain gear. But, remembering to protect your emotional well-being from the cold is also important, when the lack of light makes it more common for people to feel blue.
How can we keep cheerful in winter? We can learn from the people of Sweden, a country whose winters are exceptionally long, cold, and dark. As a Swedish-American, I offer some observations on how the Swedes cope with the extremes of the winter, followed by some tips on how we can adapt their wisdom to wherever we may live.
When we exercise regularly, we make ourselves less vulnerable to mood swings from external causes such as weather and season. While exercising indoors is an option, why not bundle up and get out there in the snow, or put on rain gear and brave those puddles? True, it may feel uncomfortable at first, but just imagine how much nicer our warm, dry homes will seem after we've just experienced the opposite conditions. Contrasts remind us that we're alive!
Maybe this is the incentive for Swedish sauna- bathers, who enjoy sitting in hot saunas after being outdoors. (A sauna is a room, often made of cedar wood, that is heated by pouring water over hot rocks.) Then, they jump into a cold shower, snow, or a lake before dashing back into the warmth of the sauna. Folk belief holds that this hot-cold contrast is good for the skin and for the spirit. Since sauna-bathing is usually done together with friends, the bathers also benefit from the mood-lifting effects of companionship. Sauna bathing is such a beloved winter activity in Scandinavia that many people build saunas right into one of their home bathrooms!
Even if our homes don't have saunas, we can still recreate similar feelings by inviting a friend along to exercise outdoors, then coming inside to our warm homes and enjoying a hot cup of cocoa together.
Seek and Soak up Available Light!
In Sweden, cross-country skiing is a popular activity that takes advantage of the available natural light that is so important in maintaining a sense of joy throughout the winter. While skiers fill their lungs with crisp air, light reflects from the snow, brightening everything around them as well as their moods! When the sun makes its brief winter appearances in Sweden, it's cherished by skiers who may lean against their ski-poles or against the walls of the rest huts, close their eyes, and face the sun to soak up its warmth and light. Whether we are skiing, hiking, snow-shoeing, or just out walking, if the sun comes out, we can turn our faces to it for awhile (with eyes closed!). This simple act of looking upward can lift our moods. We can even combine a yoga stretch with it: smile and stand with our arms thrown wide, like we are ready to hug the sun.
Make the Indoors Cozy!
Even if we make it a point to get outside regularly, spending more time indoors is a reality of winter. If the interiors of our homes are cozy sanctuaries against the cold, we will look forward to snuggling up there. Perhaps this is one reason why Swedish decorating style has become so well known throughout the world. Candles are a staple part of the Swedish décor -- a fragile flame shows us how to stand up against the cold air bravely and beautifully.
We can create a warm atmosphere in our homes by spending some of our extended indoor-time rearranging furniture in our rooms so that it feels good and cozy to us. Cutting up old clothes and sewing decorative pillows from them, or making curtains out of used material can make a room warmer and softer. Maybe it's the right time of year to paint a bright sun to hang in each room, or to put colorful paper flowers in glass jars. We can also bring warmth into our homes by baking or knitting for our family members. Get a few books from the library to learn how or to deepen your abilities.
Extend the Holiday Season!
Traditionally, Swedes extend their beloved winter holiday, Christmas, for as long as possible. Some words to one of the most popular Christmas songs in Sweden are: "Christmas lasts all the way to Easter…" This song expresses how important it is to the Swedes that the holiday spirit stays with them all the way through to spring. So, in addition to New Year's Eve celebrations, there are Christmas-related holidays throughout January such as "Thirteen Days Christmas," held thirteen days after Christmas. Swedes even have an un-official holiday for throwing out the Christmas tree, complete with its own song: "Now the happy Christmas time is gone, gone, gone, so the Christmas tree is going out, out, out..."
We can also hold onto the spirit of the holidays by creating our own festive occasions for family and friends after the holiday season has passed. Maybe we can gather and read books together under blankets, with candles burning or a fireplace crackling. Or, have a special, warm meal together.
Eat and Sleep Well!
When the weather gets colder, we may crave food that is not only warm, but also heavy. Perhaps for this reason, much of Swedish cuisine consists of rich, creamy dishes. If we crave energy-dense food now, it's quite normal! Our bodies use extra calories to stay warm, and we may consider that in the collective human conscience there is memory of a time when extra calories were necessary to stay alive in the winter (before we had homes with good heating and grocery stores to keep us supplied with ample food all year long).
Wherever we live, whether it's winter or spring, we should make sure that we keep eating well. Let's enjoy the good foods our bodies craves during the winter, but remember to include vegetables -- such as the winter root and tuber vegetables that should be readily available -- and keep drinking lots of water, since this will energize us and lift our moods at all times of year.
Because darkness is a signal for our bodies to start preparing for sleep, getting tired earlier than usual is also common during these short, winter days. While we sleep a little more if we feel like it and if it works for our schedules, we can "rest assured" that once days get longer, we will likely need to sleep less. Of course, if you feel like sleeping all the time, or experience other extremes in mood or habits, talk with your parent. Feeling blue for weeks at a time may be a sign that you need extra help taking care of your emotional well-being during this trying time of year.
On a brighter note, you may be noticing that the days are already getting longer. Spring will soon arrive to warm your toes and spirits. Until then, let's raise our cups of cocoa and toast to an active, cozy, and happy winter season!
-- Nina Forsberg, Swedish American,
Young, Asian and Feminist
I am a feminist. For the first twelve years of my life, this identity didn't seem to apply to me. Somehow, I saw feminists as the picketers in the first fights for female suffrage, wearing the lumpy skirts and ugly blouses, or those of the 60s, declaring that women, socially, mentally, and psychologically, were the same as men. Since neither the fashion of the times nor the utter lack of romanticism appealed to me, feminism did not resonate. Besides, we were entering the 21st Century! Women had the same legal rights as men. We did better in elementary through collegiate education, beating men in almost every subject. Really, I thought that women had truly arrived. But that was then.
Last fall, I joined the Junior Commission on the Status of Women in Sonoma County, California. We meet on the second Tuesday of every month, setting up our official looking name cards, holding stern and formal meetings. We are supposed to explore and solve the issues facing young women today. We understand that we are the newest generation of women leaders being groomed for the spotlight, to push the boundaries for women further in the future. And our boundaries aren't even past the Appalachians, in Wild West terms.
Recently, one of my teachers asked me why there wasn't a Commission on the Status of Men. I remember grinning and telling him that they didn't need one, that their status was pretty darn clear: one of superiority, domination, and rampant sexism. It was meant as a joke, but it's quite true across the world. It is the one thing that spans geographical and racial differences.
Sonoma County is a culturally diverse community. There are the Angel Island Chinese. There are the Indians left over from the telecom boom, the Hispanics from across the border, and sprinklings of Blacks and Native Americans. From each culture, girls are telling tales that reflect the fact that women still have a long way to go. There are general woes like body image, sexual harassment and the persistence of male-dominated jobs. But then there are those cries from specific groups, particularly the conservative Asian community that make your jaws drop and wonder whether we, as women, have made any progress at all.
One Indonesian girl who is Muslim, has been required to cover her hair since the age of twelve. Except for her hands and face, she must also never show any skin. At a friend's birthday party, when everyone goes swimming, she wears a wet suit. It was August.
A Hindu father is coming to the school for a visit with the counselor, and his daughter hurriedly tells all her friends to spread the word that boys are not allowed to talk to her. If her father sees, she will be sent to an all-girl school.
One of the favorite phrases of a Chinese mother is the ancient proverb, "For men, the trade is the most important decision, while for women, the marriage is." She is educated and intelligent, scornful of backward ideas, yet harbors this one.
It would be hard to imagine an all-American girl saying or doing these things. Even in the Asian American community, where you actually witness much of this gender stereotyping, it's often unthinkable. People are apt to respond that sexism this blatant is impossible in 21st century America. But it is possible. In fact, it is the reality. To reach their full potential, Asian American girls often have to overcome more obstacles, some imposed by their own cultures.
Many American women would look down the street and see the suburban houses with their names on the deeds, watching their daughters play on equal par with sons, and think that they have arrived, and can give themselves a pat on the back. But being Asian has given me a more critical eye. I see that women face smaller paychecks than their male counterparts, glass ceilings in the corporate world and possibly early exit from their careers.
Certainly women have come a long way. One-hundred years ago, we did not even have the right to vote. But to me, as a young, Asian American woman, and a feminist, it is a fight yet to be won. Through Asian eyes, I realized the cause, and began the fight in the sterile meeting rooms of the county buildings. The fight will not end until we can look across the rolling hills of Sonoma, and say with pride and dignity that we have arrived.
-- Yiren Lu, 13,
People enjoy seeing the process of a mural. When I stand on the ground or up on a scaffold, my paintings become performances. As people gather to watch, the pressure builds.
I try to please my audience by giving them a little taste of the finished product. I do this by fully finishing a fish, as an example. This attracts viewers who desire to see more finished work. I also create suspense by drawing guidelines for the mural. These drawings are usually difficult to understand and people ask me questions. When in the mood I will tell, but usually I say, "You'll see."
Public art is very powerful: it allows artists to interact with the community. I create conscious and educational murals to improve the atmosphere of my community and my artistic ability.
Techniques I have used vary by mural. In my YMCA mural (above), I created prototypes in watercolor, colored pencil and acrylic paint. When it came to transferring the image to the wall, I used an overhead projector to trace my original drawing.
The mural I painted at South Eugene High School was drawn freehand onto the wall after I created prototypes in my sketchbooks and on my computer with a Wacom tablet.
In another mural (see the back cover, above), I have tried to depict how Africa exists as a continent. I used the symbolism of a woman working in an environment where nature treads itself inside of society. I composed the image by using complimentary colors and images. The murals were painted with latex paint and clear glazes. In my future murals, I intend to incorporate metal sculpture and video projection onto my murals. Aside from techniques, creating a mural also isn't easy because it requires a lot of additional support from the artist, business and government or a non-profit. A mural takes a tremendous amount of work, and its function is to embellish the architecture of a building or a public space. A wall can cost about one thousand dollars and a mural cost ten times the wall. Our society tends to spend on "things we really need" and art is considered, at times, an excess.
I employ my interest in the natural world to produce art that addresses global warming and species extinction. Going back and forth between Oregon and Costa Rica, I have seen changes in both cultures. I also want to address issues such as cultural ignorance, political injustice, and wastefulness in modern societies through my art.
My passion is to draw and paint. I really hope to better understand the dynamic balance between nature, society and art -- and find my place in it.
--Esteban Camacho Steffensen, Costa Rican-American,
graduated in 2006. He attends Pacific Northwest
College of Art in Oregon.
Skipping Stones Magazine