I’ve Lost My Senses

Back in March, I didn’t have much hope. Locked out of my country, my school, stranded in Thailand, by the end of March, I succumbed to the idea that my time in an art studio, with young artists for the school year had come to an end.

In its place, a computer screen.

The smell of Sumi-e ink and pencil shavings, the texture of wet clay, the diverse colours spread upon pages, canvases, sketchbooks, the leisurely chatter amongst middle schoolers while they draw, paint, create…all gone. The smells, the feels, the sights, the sounds…I had lost my senses.

I would ZOOM regularly with friends all over the world.

In January there were questions.

  • What’s this I hear about a virus in China?
  • Are you safe?
  • What do you mean China is shut down.

In February, there was pity.

  • I am sorry you have to go through this.
  • Is there anything I can do?

In March, I was sharing advice about how to cope with a virus that finally had a passport. By April, I told friends to buckle in; this wasn’t ending any time soon. By May, I was hoping just to get home. Now, in mid-August, my immediate future is no clearer.

Nothing really makes sense.

I see friends starting new jobs, in new countries, able to fly, able to go home. But here, in Thailand, we have had to make a new home.

Nothing makes sense.

Alas, I don’t have time to make sense of it all, the 2020-2021 school year must start and as teachers are trained to do, we have to figure it out.

I have to figure out:

  • how to start a new semester of a new year with students I have never met knowing I can’t be with them for the foreseeable future
  • how to set up a new art studio I have never seen with 45 unpacked boxes filled with treasures and no idea where to put them
  • how to incorporate effectively the use of an Instructional Partner as I deliver newly created curriculum designed for students in this new digital era
  • how to effectively use and train a new teaching assistant who is both new to the world of visual arts and to our school
  • how to differentiate between the students who are present physically in an at studio I have never been in and for students who are still scattered around the world with limited art resources.
  • how to lead and inspire students who I can’t observe and guide in real time.
  • how to deliver meaningful, engaging content in four different classes in a synchronous teaching environment while in a different country
  • how to collaborate with a teaching partner I haven’t seen in 7 months who is in a time zone that does not complement mine
  • how to organize and run a yearbook and design class, to teach a very sophisticated program when I can’t be beside them to answer immediate questions

Most importantly, I have to figure all of this out while trying to get my family of four to the only home we have known for the past eight years through a web of uncertain finances, expired visas, flight availabilities, intrusive medical tests and quarantines.

But, as a teacher, I’ll figure it out. I have to.

Here’s my Online Learning Planner.

While creating new units for my students moving forward, I have focused on the following three tenets:

  1. All units are to be project based, thematic units.
  2. All units will follow the ISB Design Process of Define & Inquire, Develop & Plan and Create & Improve.
  3. All Units will be driven by Student Choice. Choice of media. Choice of Project.

I won’t feel settled until I am in my art studio again. Until I can splatter the walls with art, laugh with the kids, move about the artists…that is when things will make sense again.

Until then, I’ll just try to make sense of a situation in a world that doesn’t make sense.

Caring, Sharing and The Glass Eater

I had no intention of telling the story about the glass eater. Organically, that is where my lesson led. I was introducing the idea of Basquiat’s neo-expressionism. About how our life and our stories inspire our art. I was trying to communicate how my feelings about travel have evolved over the years, sharing how the quote from Kerouac’s, On The Road, summarizes my evolution beautifully:


“You boys going to get somewhere or just going”.


Every time I read that book, that line gives me pause.


So as I was sharing with the students about this, my story eventually led me to the glass eater.


When I was younger, I used to travel alone. I loved it. I needed it. I could have gone days without speaking to anyone, but then there would be days when I couldn’t shut up. That’s just how it was for me. In those days I didn’t really plan much when it came to my journey. I would book a return flight somewhere and what ever happened in the middle, that was the filling of the sandwich. I just never knew what sandwich I was about to eat.


It was Pulau Samosir. More commonly referred to as Lake Toba. It’s not on every traveler’s list. In fact, those three weeks I spent there in 2005, I only saw four other foreigners, so I reckon it’s not on many traveler’s lists at all. The description of Lake Toba paints quite the picture. In northern Sumatra, an Island situated in the west of the Indonesian Archipelago, there is a volcano. A dormant volcano that hasn’t erupted in around 100,000 years. In the center of that volcano is South East Asia’s largest and deepest fresh water lake. That’s Lake Toba. And in the center of that massive lake, inside a volcano, in the center of Sumatra is an Island. A tiny Island called Pulau Samosir. For three weeks, I lived on an Island in a volcano. I wasn’t going there to see anything specific or do anything that I had been planning, I was just going. No agenda. Alone.


My first few nights were simple. Very simple. I mainly read and would draw and I would eat my meals at this simple roadside stall every night. I would come close with the owner, Rinto and his wife, Jenny. He would spend his days fishing and most evenings performing in a local Batak Band singing traditional folk anthems for the dozen or so ‘tourists’ on the Island. They had a young daughter, Grace, who took a few days to warm up to the stranger who would come daily to eat her mother’s home cooking. In my time on the Island, I was the only person who ever ate there. At least the only person to ever pay to eat there. But for those three weeks, I dined with that family. They eventually became my family. Comfort.


I would spend my days and evenings exploring. On the days when I felt like talking, I would venture out in hopes of finding curious locals who could handle conversational English, or the rare foreigner with an interesting story to tell. In 2005, if you were a foreigner on Samosir, the chances are you had at least a few stories to share.


One night, I met a Swiss fellow (for the purposes of this story, I’ll now refer to him as Dennis. Dennis most certainly was not his name, but I can’t keep calling him Swiss fellow and I can’t remember what his actual name was). Dennis was in the autumn of his life, retired from a fulfilling career as an architect. Twice divorced. Extremely talkative.




I saddled up next to him and his girlfriend on a stool on the side of the road. We drank luke-warm Bintang and shared stories. Dennis shared, I listened. After a few hours, he asked if I wanted to come back to his guest house. “I have a great room overlooking the lake. The reflection of the stars is breathtaking,” he shared. Because I never, ever had anything else to do, I agreed and we grabbed a few bottles to go and headed to ‘his place’.


Dennis’ companion didn’t speak English. 14 years later, I am sorry to say that I do not remember her name either, so for the purposes of this story, we’ll call her Vanessa. Dennis’ enthusiasm for an English speaker did not sit well with Vanessa. The attention had been shifted, and she was determined to draw the attention back to where it belonged. So as we sat lakeshore, I continued to actively listen, laugh when appropriate and then I noticed at the corner of my eye his companion, wine glass in hand, take a bite out of her wine glass. Not a small bite, but a I-haven’t-had-food-in-three-days-I-am-going-to-annihilate-this-burger sort of bite. Dennis hadn’t noticed and my attention now turned only to Vanessa as she didn’t take her eyes off of Dennis as she just chewed. Purposefully and steadily. Dennis kept talking. Vanessa kept chewing. I had no idea what was going on. She turned to me and opened her mouth. No glass.


Incredulously I asked her, “Did you just take a bite out of that glass?!”


As Dennis turned to her, Vanessa redirected her stare at Dennis and slowly raised the now broken glass to her mouth and took another enormous bite. It was incredible.




“THIS IS AMAZING”, I screamed as I watched Vanessa keep Dennis at arms length until her finale, the reveal, that she had chewed the entire bite of glass and swallowed the remains.


She ate all but the stem of the wine glass.


My students were blown away, a little skeptical, and had a ton of question. I answered them all.


I believe that stories are an incredible way to connect with people. As teachers, it is our job to connect. One of many jobs we have. I love stories that are real. That engage. That shock. When we are honest with our students, when we share about us, when we peel back the curtain about who we are and what we are I believe it shows that we care and that the students see that we care. As an art teacher, I try to convince my students that in order to make art well, we must be vulnerable, tell the truth, and be honest with ourselves, without fear. But I feel for students to buy in, I have to make the first move. I want to care for my students. But even more importantly, I want them to know I care. I want them to know who I am and that I want to know who they are and that I care for them deeply. Stories help me do that.


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