In addition to writing I’m also a yoga teacher. I’ve known for a long time how these two things come together for me and I’ve finally put together a workshop on how movement and stretches support thinking and creativity. Here’s the description that appears on the GateWay Taiji, Qigong & Taiji site.
The center that I cannot find Is known to my unconscious mind.” W.H. Auden
What could happen in three hours on a summer afternoon?
Together, we can create space to invite new thinking and well-being around being a writer. We’ll have focused time to bring attention to a piece of writing you want to complete, or begin, or approach with new eyes.
We’ll practice a yoga sequence to find spaciousness in the body. Poses can be done with a variety of modifications including staying seated. We’ll move through a series of writing prompts, building from a broad focus to a narrow one – developing that small sensory detail at the heart of your story that your readers will not forget.
We’ll write, doing our best to not call it right or wrong. We’ll move through stretches and write with the invitation to respond to both with kindness. As yoga has taught me, we don’t change or grow by rejecting ourselves or our work. We change and grow by opening to ourselves and our work as a witness and explorer.
Liking and not liking
can make us blind to what’s there.”
Lynda Barry, from Syllabus, a graphic memoir
We’ll end with an invitation to share a piece of writing with the group.
Who’s this for?
You don’t need experience in yoga. Writing skills come with the practice of reading and writing. This is a session to imagine and welcome your story. Bring paper and pen or the device of your choice. I’ll support you with handouts, reading list, & yoga poses.
I teach yoga at Gateway Taiji, Qigong & Yoga Studio. My books include The Good Braider, a novel in verse, Either the Beginning or the End of the World, a Maine Literary Award Winner, and the forthcoming Go Home with Lochan Sharma – “In a small New Hampshire Seacoast city, a teenaged girl’s loyalty is torn between the boy she loves and her burgeoning friendship with the son of recent immigrants from a refugee camp in Nepal.” From the publisher. https://terryfarish.com
So here’s a confession. What I thought I knew about Việt Nam mostly fell by the wayside. What I’m saying is, the trip was humbling.
Two weeks in the country and now another several weeks since I came back, I’m still recognizing new ways to see it, and how I can’t see it anymore the way I ever told you about it. Even the words I see differently. I spent the morning adding the Vietnamese language to my MAC keyboard ‘input menu’ so that I can at least add the diacritical marks to the letters. Vietnamese is spoken in tones and the diacritics tell the reader what the words mean. The marks are integral to the letter. They are the letters. (See my note below about the language.*) The marks help me come into a country in a way I had no room in myself to do in 1970.
Expect time, the entirety of time, to have its way with you. So many things got in my way in writing these “Letters” to you about returning to Việt Nam. You were with me all the way. We texted from all the airports and you told me what-on-earth time it was in some part of the world. I was so upside down with time. When I got back, I couldn’t, for the life of me, sleep at any time. Also, I’d gotten sick in a minor way in Hanoi, and that lingered. Then my brilliant editor for a forthcoming novel showed me a vision for fixing some things, and I leaped from Việt Nam back into the novel with huge excitement to rewrite. Now I’m letting the characters rest, so I can write to you way past the time I wanted to write this last letter.
The country might change you. For one, it entices you to shop. Give in to it. At least in small ways. One day, in some time, I texted you,
What’s your favorite color? knowing that it changes.
You were shocked. Are you shopping? I’ve never seen me shop.
Just tell me your favorite color.
Yes, I went shopping for blue silk on Hàng Gai Street (Silk Street) in Hanoi.
If you get something that needs an antibiotic to heal, you can do this in Việt Nam. I did. Take a fellow traveler with you to a street pharmacy. Travel to the pharmacy at night for the drama of the night, and with the fellow traveler and the pharmacist google your affliction and she’ll know right away. She’ll pick the pills from the wall of drugs, write on the box “Morning: 1 after/Evening: 1 eating”, and charge not much more than a U.S. dollar for a 10-day supply. This practice is frowned on by the National Institute of Health and the World Health Organization because of the danger of building resistance to antibiotics. When I came home I read about other dangers of pharmacies internationally on the Washington Post podcast, “By the Way.” The story is called, “Everything You Need to Know about Foreign Pharmacies” by Andrea Sachs.
There are cafes along the highways, there are cafes down side roads, there are cafes in villages. Sometimes beside the cafes there are trees strung with hammocks. I was curious about the hammocks and found that they were for people to take a nap at a point in the day when you need to stretch out, shut your eyes. Along the highway, I saw workmen in the hammocks and imagined them having a nap between lunch and getting back to the job. I think the hammocks are a brilliant idea and Americans should add hammocks to their restaurants.
Always travel with Le Ly. One day we were in Huế. We saw what remains of the former Imperial City and walked along the moat and the thick stone walls around the city. We saw the Sông Hương that empties into a lagoon farther on. We walked through dense intersections of city streets toward our van, passing cafés and trinket shops and manikins in t-shirts that say Huế and that bright gold national star. Le Ly worried about our hunger and spotted a street-side café next to the t-shirts. No one was eating at the small tables. She talked briefly to the owner. She seemed to extract promises from him about feeding this small band of Americans. Le Ly had run a restaurant of her own. She knew how to do that. In Da Nang during the war, she ran a black market business to feed and house her baby and her mother. She makes things happen. When the staff at restaurant was not quick enough to set up for us, she moved tables. Brought us cups and water. Then she ordered for us. Platters of food came which we ate communally. And there is where I got the best pumpkin soup of all the pumpkin soups I ate the length of the country. Always travel with Le Ly.
Looking at the photo above and the garden where we ate under a canopy of trees, I wonder if this was the same place I was years ago when I was called to Saigon from my unit.
I found out that the blue silk scarf I got you on Silk Street in Hanoi near my hotel called The Silk Path Hotel, may not be silk. I heard from my friend that she knows of the place in Hanoi where the scarves are silk. I’ll get back to you on this.
Get a roller bag. Forget about being carefree with a bag slung over your shoulder. Like me. It nearly killed me those hours going through security at Nội Bài Airport. Get a suitcase that rolls.
I’ll get you a true silk scarf. I’ll go back. Even though I know you like the one you’ve got, and it is a beautiful blue. I’ll get a roller bag as small as they come, so I can still heft it into the overhead and happily wheel it through security for however many hours. I’ll just keep texting you. Maybe it’s you who’ll go and you’ll text me. If you do go to Việt Nam, do something for me. Wander around the grounds of Thich Nhat Hanh’s pagoda. You can sit at the outer gate and have some sweet Vietnamese coffee and read the book you love that day. The monks will chant for you.
*“Vietnamese [was] written using modified Chinese characters, derived between the second century BC until the tenth century, when Vietnam was a province of China.” Then later, “In the mid-seventeenth century, Catholic missionaries introduced Roman script, modified by diacritics to mark tones and certain vowels. The developed orthographic conventions were influenced by Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and French.” https://plc.sas.upenn.edu/vietnamese
Hạ Long Bay becomes a looming character to me in my story of Việt Nam. I have never been to Hạ Long Bay until this day in March on this second journey.
I saw a landscape extraordinary to me. There were karst towers and inside them were caves. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site of 1600 islands and islets “rising from the sea, limestone pillars unaffected by human presence” the UNESCO site writes in its description.
I boarded a riverboat with my group on Hạ Long Bay and as I did, I simply wanted to take in that such a boat as this exists and that the boat was on this otherworldly body of water with towers around us. I wanted at that moment to just write a story from the well of emotions the place brought up in me. So I began to write in the small green notebook I’d written in throughout the days. I did write a story; it’s in the notebook, safe beside me. Below is not that story, but a poem I wrote about the experience of boarding the boat on Hạ Long Bay.
I Wrote a Story on a Riverboat on Hạ Long Bay
I wrote a story on a riverboat on Hạ Long Bay.
We passed like a ghost ship among limestone islands shaped
by regressions and transgressions of the sea.
I wrote a story and was overwhelmed with love.
It was cliched and disarming to feel a tenderness
uncalled. But it was there, even for our tour guide who
will later teach us Taiji and how to make spring rolls.
I love him. I love my tour group. I love the cook
even though I only saw his concentration as he worked.
I wrote a story on a riverboat in Hạ Long Bay.
I wonder about the ways the sea transgressed.
Whatever, it has left me disarmed.
Limestone is soluble and offers itself to the rain and sea.
Hạ Long Bay is in the Gulf of Tonkin which is a shallow sea.
Today I and all I love are in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin,
not so shallow that the very name is not a drum-beat of war
that continues, if not here, then there and there and there.
Maybe this love I feel is simply an awe of life and the living.
On Hạ Long Bay, Quang Ninh Province, Việt Nam, the sea
overwhelmed the land and over millions of years created
underground lakes connected by hidden caves. I am saying,
My God! will you look at these hallowed walls of the caves
the sea made, and this crazy riverboat we’re on that looks
like it was built for the Mississippi.
I knew a soldier who never saw the north of the country.
He never knew Việt Nam contained a seascape
sculpted by nature so beautiful, so other-worldly, and the very
air whispered I love you. There is more, there is so much more.
Le Ly Hayslip welcomed our group to make this Heaven and Earth Pilgrimage with her. In Viêt Nam she showed us the wealth, the poverty, and the extreme beauty of the country. We saw entrepreneurs everywhere including the small islands of the Mekong Delta. She brought us home to meet her family, and hear memories of her Central region neighbors in what was Ky La. We saw the country’s cultures preserved in the astounding Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi, the vast cityscapes of high rises in the north of the country, and Halong Bay which still haunts me and when I boarded a boat on the bay, I felt something as cliched and disarming as love.
But a most memorable part of the pilgrimage has been the opportunity to see the humanitarian work of the Global Village Foundation founded by Le Ly in 2020. I was astounded by the reach of Le Ly’s work which she began even before the books, the movie, and the documentaries.
In 1993 while Le Ly was with East Meets West, the first Foundation she established, she founded Village of Hope. Village of Hope serves orphaned and hearing-impaired children in Danang. Since the founding, over 800 children have grown up there. Our group visited the Village of Hope, met many children, and also adults for whom the Village was their family. They have gone on to higher education, and have children of their own.
Groups of dancers, including dancers who were hearing-impaired students, performed for Le Ly in thanks for her work and the work of others in the Global Village Foundation.
We also visited two orphanages. Global Village Foundation delivered food supplies and cash to Mái Ấm Mây Ngàn Orphanage in Tay Ninh, a home for children of all ages. Here’s my fellow traveler, Vietnam veteran, and life-long teacher, Mike Stempe, who dressed as a clown to entertain the children.
Some at Peace Village are students born with disabilities that have resulted from Agent Orange. I learned more about the extent of the on-going damage caused by Agent Orange in the country. The United States Institute for Peace reports: “The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese have been affected by dioxin [the toxic chemical in Agent Orange], including at least 150,000 children born after the war with serious birth defects.” They also report that “there is no timeline [across generations] for when the health effects of Agent Orange stop.”
The documentary “From War to Peace and Beyond” tells the full story of Le Ly’s humanitarian work in her motherland. We on the 2023 pilgrimage had small, but life-changing, experiences in our visits with children and adults whose lives she has saved.
Next: Just two more Letters to My Daughter, Come With Me to Halong Bay and Travel Tips for the Clueless (Such As Me).
It wasn’t until I found my way down Trang Thi Steet in Hanoi and then to Hai Ba Trung that I found JD Salinger. He was there in translation in Vietnamese on a street with a sign that read Book Street. I was looking for a bookstore, but that’s another story. First I have to tell this one. I wanted to set this story up by referencing another, but I couldn’t remember it until I found it here. It was “For Esme — With Love and Squalor,” a brilliant story from Salinger’s NineStories, about a soldier’s chance meeting with a child, and the memory of their encounter was part of his healing from war.
This story I want to tell is a soldier story, too. I’m traveling with a small group in the country. Three of the men are veterans of the U.S. war here. Two of them, Chuck Forsman and Mike Stempe, were in the Information Office at Headquarters, 1st Logistical Command, I Corps in Danang. They were photographers and reporters for the I Corps newspaper and sometimes their work was picked up by Stars and Stripes.
Not far from their headquarters was an orphanage run by an order of Vietnamese Catholic sisters, called Thanh Tam. Mike and Chuck used to go to the orphanage on Sundays. “It was about a half mile from our compound,” Mike said. “It was freedom to us. We got all pumped up. ‘Let’s go see the kids.’”
Chuck has been back to Viet Nam four times since he was here as a journalist with I Corps. His book of photography, Lost in Vietnam, presents a collection of photos from his journeys back. The book includes a memory of a small child he has never forgotten. He met her one Sunday at the orphanage in Danang. In the book he writes that when she first came to the orphanage, she didn’t look at him; her eyes were vacant and her body was emaciated. Over the weeks, in hopes of engaging with her, he slipped off his wrist watch that had a twist-able band and she was drawn to it. She touched it. The watch was a small first connection between them and a friendship began.
On this trip, when we got to Danang we all wanted to go with Mike and Chuck to find the orphanage. Could there be a way to trace the children who had been there so many years ago? We found, though, that the orphanage was no longer there. The building was now a retirement home for sisters of the French order. We met Sister Ane Nguyen Thi Tinh of the order that had run the orphanage, and Sr. Ane welcomed us to come in. Inside, we heard a bell sounding. It was a call to the sisters, not to prayer as I thought but to lunch and we met many of the older nuns at their lunch. There, a remarkable thing happened: a sister introduced herself as one of the nuns who worked in the orphanage in 1969 when Mike and Chuck had been in Danang. They talked and exchanged memories of that time. Chuck put down his camera and listened.
After the war, Mike Stempe became a teacher and continued to find satisfaction working with children. He taught in Alaska for many years and as a photojournalist created a book of photographs about Alaska.
This trip we’re all on will be Chuck’s fifth trip to the country. He and Mike have been documenting our journey at every step as if they are seeing the country for the first time.