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.

Seek the Encounter

This weekend I was lucky enough to participate in a three-day intensive improv workshop with the insurmountably talented Rob Adler. As part of the exercise, he asked us to encapsulate our experience into words. “Reflect on the experience, ” he said.  “Hold onto it by sharing it.” As much as I want to bask in the glow of the work we did as an ensemble and keep the work to myself, Rob is right. I have to open the box and let it out, it is the only way to hold onto it.

Seek the Encounter

What is the where?

the soft give of the laminate floor closing the space between our feet and it

squeaks of barefoot toes softly padding toward old friends

and new

sense the space around us, dense, pliable, malleable

porous streams of people weaving themselves into my space

then out

then in again, but this time

they stop

take a collective breath

and see me.

Seek the encounter.

where the

dull hum of florescent lights cast tungsten tones onto dirty, beige walls

see the color: orange, now yellow, now red, now green, now black

now orange again

one at a time we move through space, between us and feel

blind faith leading us away from our limitations

embrace the fear, the sting of unknown, heightened senses

see with your ears

then stop

take a collective breath

and hear me.

Seek the encounter.

where the

palpable beats of our hearts, rhythmic and tribal move us as one organism

driven by the collective experience

we mirror

follow no leader, just see, and hear, and feel, and move

toward one another, morphing, changing, transforming

again and again and again until you are me and I am you and we are we

hand in hand we sprint toward the unknown

then stop

take a collective breath

and become

one.

Almost Paradise

When you think of paradise, what do you picture? Sandy beaches with coconut palms waving in the breeze? Peaceful, clear water that looks as though it’s made of glass? That’s usually what I picture, but on Thursday I think I changed my mind. I think paradise looks more like this:

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and this

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and this

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To me, paradise is 140 American 7th graders, gathered together at Ground Zero in Hiroshima, Japan 70 years after the United States annihilated the city. I know this may sound odd because to most people, the thought of 140 7th graders anywhere at any time conjures images of panic and pre-teen chaos. Images of Hiroshima City following the bomb drop are heartbreaking, sickening. But to me, this image of young kids learning about and paying tribute to those who lost their lives in an unthinkable tragedy, is beautiful. To me, that’s paradise.

Let me give you some background:

In class we’ve been studying the Pacific War and I’ve asked kids questions like; Can war be justified? How does war effect people? What are the long term consequences of war? etc. We’ve studied strategy, survivor stories, the science behind the Atomic Bomb, and Hiroshima’s heroic desire to become a symbol of world peace. Then, we took the kids to see the city firsthand. To hear the stories, see the remnants,  and feel the magnitude of the event. They felt it. My amazing thirteens listened to the lost and they felt it: an overwhelming sense of the need for peace.

If you haven’t visited the Peace Park, Museum, or Victims Memorial it’s worth a visit. Hiroshima is a beautiful city with meandering rivers and parks. Peaceful gatherings of friends and families can be seen strolling past Hiroshima Dome, pondering the past, looking toward the future. It’s hard to believe that in my aunt’s lifetime, this stunning jewel of a city was a place of horror and indescribable inhumanity.  That’s what makes Hiroshima so remarkable. Rather than harbor anger and hatred, Hiroshima retaliated with a desire to be a symbol of peace and to bring an end to nuclear warfare.

Hiroshima is such a powerful reminder of the wreckless remnants of war and the overwhelming need for world compassion that when I snapped the photo of 140 13-year-olds in that remarkable place, I felt a sense of peace.

It really is paradise.

To learn more about Hiroshima City, please visit http://visithiroshima.net/world_heritage/a-bomb_dome.html