The World According to Kade

The World According to Kade

By Andrea Johnston


“My cheese stick is missing! My mom always packs one. What’s wrong with her?” muffles 13-year-old Kade, sulking in the back corner of the spacious creative arts room. Surrounded by vibrant colors and abstract shapes of adolescent attempts at pottery, Kade is sulking. His shape and color take on somber notes of muted grays, hunched shoulders, and a bleak outlook on the next 20 minutes of his life. “How can I write under these conditions?”

Kade is a newly 13-year-old at the American School in Japan, a private American school in Tokyo. He is small for 13; bones like a fragile bird and a disposition to match. He is often fidgety and walks with his small shoulders hunched into a frame for his ever-present frown. Kade’s delicate neck is constantly cloaked in a understated scarf, wrapped carefully to protect his vulnerability. The scarf is a stark contrast to the evergreen tracksuit he wears most days. A white stripe stretches from shoulder to ankle. He takes on his Hemingway-like demander, as he sits in the corner, staring at a blank page, ruminating on the latest chapter of his memoir. The steaming cup of tea at his side provides little comfort without its’ cheese stick companion. It’s little miseries like this one that fuel Kade’s pursuit to write, “The best pre-teen memoir ever written.”

Kade finds it difficult to connect with his peers and prefers the company of adults.  “The kids are ok I guess. I don’t really pay attention to them but sometimes I use them as characters in my stories.” A keen observer of the world around him, Kade finds misery in even the smallest moments. He comes from a broken home, so it’s easy to see why he’s got such a gloomy temperament. Despite that, he manages to mold his daily tragedies into seed ideas that grow into evergreen trees. His writing is timeless and poignant.

I glanced up at my teacher, holding the small object in my hands. I felt along its edges, and smiled, “Thank you so much, I won’t ever forget about you.” The words felt dry as the world turned blurry. I blinked away the tears and walked out the door knowing I’d never see her again. I rolled the ceramic thing in my hands, rubbing along its cold, hard feathers. As we passed the baseball field, I held the bird up to the light and grinned. My expression of joy disappeared as quickly as it came. The precious bird slipped out of my hands and onto the ground. With a great shattering noise, I could feel my heart break in two.
For Kade, the world is a place that offers boundless disappointments; parents, teachers, and friends haven’t been all that stable for Kade over the years. “The only thing that’s never left me is my ideas. Those are endless.” He is a champion of the written word and carves each one with the careful craftsmanship of a master carpenter. His poems, memoirs, and personal essays shed light into his dark world:.

Sobbing, I held up the two pieces.

“I’m sure we could just super-glue the pieces back together,” My mom said, reaching over into the cabinet. I didn’t believe her, but she proceeded to pull out a tube of superglue. She applied it gently onto the head and neck. Pressing the pieces together, I held the chicken in my hands, examining the damage I had done. A thin crack along the neck, and many bits of chipped glazing. It was changed. Altered at my hand. My mother’s “surgery” would have to do. It would do. It had to.

While Kade’s writing is rarely upbeat, it is often tender. He leaves his reader with a sense that everything really will be ok. Through his writing we get to see the real Kade; the slumped shoulders, downturned mouth, pre-teen, and a boy on the cusp of manhood. He seeks answers to life’s great questions through his close companionship with the pen. Kade masterfully connects to the world around him in ways beyond his thirteen years.
I shook my head. The chicken’s brown, clay interior stared back at me, seeming to taunt me, silently chastising me for doing such a thing. I wiped my cheeks, hastily putting the pieces into my bag, before sprinting down the hill, toward home. Broken like the chicken.



Sticky Situation

By Andrea Johnston

Walk into my classroom on any given day and you will see on the walls, in the books, in the notebooks, on the laptops, and in the hands of the students, sticky notes. Specifically, Post-its. More specifically, the Rio de Janeiro collection: tropical blue, orange, pink, and yellow in sizes ranging from full-poster to tiny tabs. I am obsessed. I love the feeling of peeling a new note from a pad. The small of the adhesive, the feel of a fresh note ready to be drawn upon. I love the satisfaction of a good Post-it note placement. Nothing beats a perfectly placed tropical yellow note in a text you’ve just highlighted with your tropical yellow Sharpie highlighter. It’s color coding heaven.


In the beginning…

My obsession with Post-it notes started in the fall of 2000. A first year elementary school teacher, my desk was organized beautifully: my daily lessons were neatly printed in my plan book, each subject highlighted a different color and accompanied by a small, yellow, sticky note. An empty void waiting to be filled with quick notes-to-self.  Very quickly my canary-yellow sticky notes took residence in my plan book, the novels I was reading with my students, their novels, their papers, and pages and pages of my own writing. They became interactive bookmarks, fueling my obsessive compulsive nature, designating specific colors for specific reading skills. A monster was born.


In the middle…

Throughout my teaching career, the Post-It has progressed. We now have Post-It easel charts, 22in x 22in squares for collaboration, 5 x 8 pads for quick teaching tips, and the original square pads used to communicate facts, queries, reminders, even the occasional love note. Post-it has taken communication to an entirely new level. Essays are no longer intimidating if you have to synthesize your thinking into a 3 x 3 inch square. Doctors use them to deliver news, parents use them to discipline children, offices use them to organize information, teachers use them as quick ways to collect ideas. Children no longer need to use tape to stick the “kick me” sign onto the backs of their friends. There’s a Post-it note for that. Carrie Bradshaw’s boyfriend even broke up with her via Post-it.


In the end…

A well-written Post-it can deliver an entire message within the confines of four edges. They offer the obsessive, compulsives of the world clear boundaries. These boundaries are great for some, but a cause of extreme stress for others. My more verbose students struggle within the confines of one Post-it note, where others revel in the challenge to summarize complex thinking. In the end though, for me, Post-its are a source of comfort. They’ve never let me down; they are reliable and they get the job done. I will always be loyal to Post-it notes, I’m stuck on them.

Shiva, God of Destruction

Shiva, God of Destruction

By Andrea Johnston


“Oh ya? Come at me! See what happens!” I screeched at the top of my lungs. Hot anger pulsed like a Bollywood drum through my veins churning adrenaline into outright rage and hatred. If she dared to step any closer, I would charge at her; an angry bull aimed to kill.


There’s an unwritten rule in India when crossing the road: step into traffic, avoid eye contact, and hope for the best. After 3 years, I’d become skilled at avoiding chickens, cows, steaming piles of feces (animal and human), ox carts brimming with colorful fruits, rickety bicycles balancing eggs, auto rickshaws, motorbikes, racing street children, and the occasional automobile; usually air conditioned, closed to the outside world, always driven by an upper class Mumbaikar.


“Wait for me!” I hollered at my friend as I squeezed my way across the busy road. One foot into the lane and I was immediately pinned between an ancient, yellow rickshaw and a shiny, black Audi with tinted windows; the kind that is air-conditioned and closed off to the world.


Hooooooonnnnnnnkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk! BEEEeeeeeeeeeppp!!! Beep!!


“What the hell?” I’m walking here!” I shouted over the din at the tinted window. Sweat dripping from my brow as I pleaded to be let free gesturing toward the tinted window, hands outstretched. I even threw in an authentic Indian head-bobble, you know, to show cultural empathy.


A middle-aged woman, whose husband obviously made a healthy income, probably illegally, peeked her head out the window. She was dressed in a lime-green sari, sapphire crystals dripping from her earlobes. If she weren’t scowling and waving her fists, she may have been beautiful. As it was, the dusty orange glow of sunset cast her in the light of Shiva rising from the depths of hell.


“Why are you crossing da road here, it is waaaay too busy. You are too stupid to see that. Mother-chode, idiot Americans tink you own da world ha! Stupid!”


This is unusual. I thought. I;’ve only been addressed this way when I won’t give the street kids money. How am I going to play this? She’s clearly upset, and I made her feel that way. On the other hand, she called me an idiot and I can’t just stand here and let that happen. I have to stand up for myself. What’s the worst that could happen?


“Look lady, I’m not trying to ruin your day here, I am just trying to cross the road. I would really appreciate it if you’d unpin me.”

Hooooooonnnnnnnkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk! She blared her horn, maintaining her icy gaze.


“Seriously? You’ve already busted my kneecaps, you want to bust my ear drums too? What the hell?”


“You idiot fucking American, coming to Mumbai to find yourself? How do you find yourself now bitch?”


“Wow. Ok. This is clearly not your day. I can assure you that I am not a mother-chode American intent on ruining your life, but if you do not unpin me I will damage your car.” I balled my fists into bullets aimed and poised. “Your choice.“

The Audi inched closer, crippling my stance. WHAM! I launched my fist onto the hood of the car, making a sizable dent.

“Hit me again! I dare you!” I spit at her barely hearing the advice of my friend imploring me to calm down, catch my breath and disengage. I fired another fist into the Audi’s hood.


“You bitch!” She hollered, “You’ve dented my car! Wait until I get out of this car and show you what dented knees look like!”


“Oh ya? Come at me! See what happens!”


She opened her door to step out, but stopped. We stared at each other, hotly, seething in hatred, fear, anger, and racism. Eventually she turned, flipped the bird, called me a mother-chode idiot American, got back into her car and released me.


I fell into the arms of my friend and wept. I cried out all the anger and hatred, all the filth of India, the sickness, the noise, the dust, the smells, the poverty, the racism, all of it. I cried out everything I didn’t have the strength to face. I had become an angry human, unbalanced, and judgmental. I knew it was time to change. Shiva, the destroyer is a highly regarded God to Hindus. They believe the only way to rebuild is to first destroy. Shiva destroyed me that day, and I am forever grateful to her.



The Bounce Around Kid (Day 4)

“By the power of Grayskull, I am She-Ra. I have the power!”

-Adora, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

My mother tells me when I was little I was hard to pin down. I’d come to her lap for a quick snuggle than zoom off to discover something cool. I’d always come back, but not for long. There was a whole world waiting for me to explore.

In middle school, I bounced around from activity to activity. I participated in everything from drama to softball. The same was true in high school. My friend group consisted of the captain of the varsity boy’s soccer team, the president of the debate club, and everyone in between. I made friends easily and bounced from group to group, never settling in one place for long, but always touching base to remain connected. Spider-like I wove an intricate web connecting people and places and ideas. A web that, to this day, catches me if I fall.

It’s a superpower I have; maintaining close ties while forging new paths.  I move around a lot: Colorado to California. California to India. India to Japan. Japan to Colorado. In each home and work place, I’ve managed to spin new threads of friendship finding people who inspire me to be a better teacher, a better person, and a better friend. I thrive on the newness of a place or a situation, but know the value of coming back home to ground myself in the comfort of familiarity.

Thirty-seven years later, I still find my way back to my mother’s lap. We FaceTime, and have a family WhatsApp group that keeps us connected between visits home. I am thankful of forums like Facebook, Line, Instagram, and Snapchat help me spin digital threads to connect those I love who are far away. It’s comforting to know that no matter how far my reach extends, the web I weave is stronger than ever.

Wow I’m really going for this spider metaphor. Maybe it’s because it’s October.

Anyway, I gotta bounce.  Right now, there’s a whole new world waiting for me to explore. I’ll come back soon and show you what I found.

This blog post is in response to Natalie’s 10 Day Freedom Plan Blog Challenge Day 4

In the Beginning, There Was Light 

6:45 am 

Jack Johnson’s voice eases its way into my consciousness serenading me awake. Turning over, I trace my hands over  my man’s strong, broad back, and slip out of bed. 

Switching on the soft light of the Hymalian salt lamp, I light the burner for coffee. As the Bialetti boils the bitter grounds, I make my way to the big, red couch to catch up on yesterday’s news: The Daily Show or The Colbert Report (America’s most reliable news sources). 

7:00 am

“I’m going to start my book today,” I say to Stephen Colbert or whomever is delivering my news that morning. 

“Are you?” His eyes seem to say. 


“Ok. What’s it about? What’s your story?” 

“I’m not sure yet,” I reply. 

7:03 am

Bitter smells of boiled coffee reach my nose. I pour a steaming cup and open the laptop and begin typing.

My Perfect Day…. 

Sitting at my desk I stare at the blank screen contemplating the statement. 

7:05 am 

My Perfect Day…. 

7:10 am

My Perfect Day…. 

7:11 am

My husband makes an appearance. He’s smelled the coffee and senses my writer’s block. Pouring himself a cup he passively notes the news and shifts his gaze to me. 

“Stuck?” He asks. 

I nod. 

“How about a quick breakfast at the bagel shop and we take the dog to the beach? Maybe after we can hit up that museum of modern art you’ve wanted to see?” He beamed encouragingly. 

“I can’t. I promised John Stewart I’d start my book today.” 

“Ah ha. Well, I’m pretty sure John Stewart won’t mind if we go to the beach first. Maybe you’ll be struck by some inspiration. C’mon. Get Your shoes on.” 

7:45 am 

Everything bagels piled high with cream cheese, steaming coffee in take away mugs, Birkenstocks and jeans, one very excited Goldendoodle, and a gorgeous husband at my side we load into the Suburu Outback and head for the beach. 


Watching my soaked puppy and spry husband play in the waves, I whip out my notebook and start to write:  

In the beginning there was light, and that light was an idea. A seed of a story waiting to be exposed. It burned bright, piercing the eye of anyone who looked directly at it. This light was a portal into the mind of the writer. A gateway into the deep recesses of memory. 

One day, the light grew brighter and started to grow…

This blog post is in response to Natalie’s 10 Day Freedom Plan Blog Challenge Day 3

Who’s on First But Why’s at Home [Day 2]

It’s Major League Baseball playoff season in the United States. This means my dad is anchored to his red leather lounge chair; computer in one hand, television remote in the other. Donned from head to toe in orange and black (go O’s) he anxiously awaits the first pitch. Sinking deeper into the supple leather  that cradles his despair as he watches his beloved team lose to the Yankees. Again.

My dad knew, long ago, why he woke up in the morning. Baseball. Specifically, American League baseball. More specifically, the Baltimore Orioles. To him, freedom is beating the Yankees, but it’s also walking barefoot in the garden picking flowers for my mom. To him, freedom is retirement from a long and fruitful teaching career. That’s why he gets up every day: to enjoy the life he’s built.

So why do I get up every morning? What motivates me to open the comforting chrysalis of my bed and stretch my wings? It’s hard to pinpoint. Some days, it’s the anticipation of a new adventure: new people, new places, new experiences. Other days, it’s knowing that I don’t have to leave the house: yoga, tv, coffee on the big, red, comfy couch. Simply being home is freedom to me.  Whether home is baseball or flowers. Yoga mat or airplane seat.  Sliding into home means that I am free to be my authentic self. And it feels pretty great to leave Who, What, and I Don’t Know in the dust.

This blog post is in response to Natalie’s 10 Day Freedom Plan Blog Challenge Day 2

Saudade, Day 1

“I love you,” he said as he took my face into his hands and kissed me. He looked at me in the way that transforms the rational world into one of fantasy. I was loved, cherished, wanted, and needed.

Abandomnent comes in many forms, shapes, and sizes. My abandonment came in the form of a gorgeous 32 year old man with chocolate brown eyes, a strong jaw line, and eyelashes for days. He had broad shoulders, the kind that make you feel small and safe, and a full head of black hair. Abandonment was beautiful and strong, and he was mine. We fell deeply in love.  Crashing into it, letting the euphoria wash over us.

“What’s holding you back from finding love again?” My friends and family ask. “What’s blurrimg your focus?”

I no longer feel the sting of abandonment as immediately as I did the day he didn’t come back, but he’s still here. Lurking in the deep caverns of my heart, waiting. Buzzing in and out of my awareness, ready to swarm at anyone who dare disturb the fragile balance of the hive.

I want to be free of this fear; the startling notion that if I get too close, I’ll be left behind. Forgotten. Tossed aside for something better. It’s this fear, above all others, that creates obstacles in my life and prevents me from opening up and leading the life I’m meant to lead.

The Portuguise have a word for this sensation, Saudade. It means”an intimate feeling and mood caused by the longing for something absent that is being missed.” [The Dictionary from the Royal Galician Academy]  I find myself fading into routine and feeling saudade for the life I want to live.

This blog post is in response to Natalie’s 10 Day Freedom Plan Blog Challenge Day 1

Ode to an Onion

My brilliant friend, Mary, is retiring this year. She has taught literature and advanced placement English at my school for over 20 years. She is, without out doubt, one of the most incredible writers I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. This evening, our writers group met and shared and laughed and celebrated this marvelous woman. Here is my ode to you Mary Onions: 
Ode to an Onion 
SEASON of Keats and Silas Marners
Close bosom-friend of the maturing teens; 
Conspiring with her how to peel the layers and bless
With verse the open pages of retirement that round the head with dreams of solitude. 
To bend with words the eager minds of youth
And fill their heads with herbaceous seeds of inspiration;
To swell the bulbous plants of their heads
With the sweet kernel of knowledge; to set the budding minds more
And still more later as treatment to the wounds of departure
From the safe, sweet, warm of High School.
Until they think these days will never cease
For an Onion’s career has o’er-brimm’d their tuberous thoughts. 
And left them ever full. 
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy stacks?
Sometimes whoever seeks the fistulosum abroad may find
Thee sitting carelessly in thy library chair
Thy curious eyes darting from page to page; 
Or on a half-reap’d recliner fast asleep
Drowsed with the fume of whiskey and sausages while thy hook
Thine waxy husband’s interest in a script-based puzzle or two. 
And sometimes like a cepa thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across the pages of Shakespeare or Austen
Or by a pint of beer with a patient look
Thou watchest the lazy breath of retirement pass hours by hours. 
Where are the songs of teens? Ay where are they? 
Think not of them thou hast music too
While the powerful aroma of solitude doth seep through paper thin layers, 
Thine eyes, blink back the odorous stench of essays
Then, in waitful stupor, the small gnats mourn the 30 year routine;
And full-grown sorrow burrows into the putrid holes of regret. 
But then, the crickets sing; and now with treble soft
New red bulbs break earth and begin to grow ever toward the promise of sun
Mild flesh: The Pearl, The Red, The Semian, The Sweet 
Signaling the song of new chapters yet to be written.

The Eve of Forty

It is on this, my eve of forty, that I march feet first into a new decade. Birthday eves have rarely been joyous occasions for me. When I turned 10 I cried because I would never again be single a digit. At 12 I panicked at the thought of being a teenager. 16 was an anxiety filled nightmare: me + driving a car = unwanted responsibility. 21, designated driver because I was scared to find out what alcohol would do to my system. And 30? That was the number I feared most. 30 meant I had to be a real adult. One that loved and married someone. One who had to have babies and raise them. An adult who had to have life figured out, and college loans paid. Adults are supposed to have a house, and a husband, and kids, and a dog. Right?

On my eve of thirty, I lay in my soft feather bed, staring up at my loft ceiling and gently chanting away the fear. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. At the 29th breathe out, it came to me. A voice. A clear, caramel, voice singing, “Hello? Is it me your looking for?” It`s true, Lionel Richie`s iconic 1983 chart topping song, “Hello” rang loudly in my ears. I bolted up in bed and screamed, “Yes! It is me Lionel. It`s me I`m looking for!” It was at that moment that I decided that being an adult was going to be ok. I chose to believe that real adults can be whatever they want to be. They can collect stamps in passports, and go back to school to learn how to take pictures, and fall in love with accountants and artists. Being an adult meant that I would have the power to choose my path. And I did.

I don’t have babies or a husband or a house but I do have a decade packed full of living. In this decade, I have learned what makes me, me. I’ve learned who to trust and who to avoid. I’ve learned how to survive in the most dire of circumstances, and how to thrive when all seems lost. I’ve learned not to take my health for granted and to be thankful for the beautiful gift of friendship. So, on this eve of forty, I look forward to the what the next decade will bring. In the immortal words of Lionel Richie, “Oh what a feelin’ when we’re dancing on the ceiling.” Come on 40, let’s go dancing.

Some statistics:

                                          Eve of 30                            Eve of 40                      

Name on passport:      Andrea L Johnston         Andrea L Johnston

Hair color:        Brown with highlights                Brown with highlights

Relationship status:      Single                                                Single

Pets:                                    None                                                  None

Living status:                   Lives alone                                        Lives alone

Career:              Middle school teacher                   Middle school teacher

Country of residence:    Greeley, CO USA                              Tokyo, Japan

Weight:                              125 lbs.                                             1**lbs.

Cell phone:                  Nokia Razor, pink                            iPhone 6s, rose gold

Amazing friends:            yes!                                                    yes!!!

Number of engagements:   1                                                    1

Number of broken bones:   0                                                   0

Number of stamps in passport:    3                                         103

Number of countries visited:                 4                                 36

Number of countries lived in:                1                                  3

Deathly illnesses suffered:                     0                                  2

Yoga poses mastered:                               0                                 15

Number of college degrees:                    2                                 3

Number of framed pieces of art:           4                                 18

Cameras:                                                       0                                 5

Blogs:                                                             0                                  3

Madonna  concerts:                                   0                                   1

Airplane rides:                                             23                                 too many to count

Number of things regretted:                   24                                   0






Glam Parade

Five years ago, on July 4, my friends Sara and Aaron decided it would be fun for us to shoot the Fairy’s Ferry ride to Fire Island, NY. I can say, without hesitation, that this was the most fun I’ve had on July 4th, ever. These ladies, in all their glory, arrived on the pier at Cherry Grove and brought the glamour. In honor of the United States’ recent news on legalized marriage for all, I thought I’d celebrate by sharing a few of my favorite moments from that momentous day.