In the spirit of uploading content on a daily basis my recognition that this will take more than I had planned out, I will be excerpting my manuscript Passing in the Middle Kingdom, explicating the story behind the poem in hopes that people might be encouraged to scribble their own. I’m a believer in creating text and how this can change your life. I began writing this collection of poetry/prose, a type of hybrid work, honestly, in 2008. That’s right. It’s not 2021. It’s been rejected by many people. It also has had nearly all of the content published and the manuscript itself was a finalist for the Wilder Poetry Prize.
I’ve taken one poetry workshop, but my most acute memory of studying poetry was in high school. The most intense moment from that class was writing about my racial identity, a poem called Barbie Wish, and me praying like anything as the teacher read the poem out loud that people would think it was the other Korean American girl. Not me! LOL. I have a lot of fondness for that teenage girl who wrote that and know what it takes to write that stuff. When teenagers write their truth to power, faculty should stop shutting them down. I can’t even tell you how many people shut young students down.
Adventures in Substitute Teaching
I had the opportunity many years ago to substitute teach at an orthodox Jewish girls school. The girls were pretty out of line–I’m not sure where you get the ideas of behavior drawing down ethnic lines because these white wealthy Jewish girls were standing on chairs, shouting, being totally out there! I had them write something creative and this is when it got interesting.
They were sharing and reading it out loud when the headmistress came in for a visit. One girl was reading her story which involved working as a spy, parachuting from an airplane. She apparently spent the summer living a life straight out of a Bond movie. It was fantastic. All the girls listened: glued. Headmistress walked in to listen. After it was over we’re clapping and headmistress yelled at the girl for LYING! She said, you must tell the truth! The truth is that you went to heritage camp and met other Jewish kids and sang around a campfire. Or something like that. The class went silent (myself included, I was smiling and enjoying it the entire time, until Bummer Boss Headmistress walked in).
I was very sad for that girl. After school I did a brief one-on-one meeting with the headmistress who complained that the girls were so out of line she couldn’t get anyone to take the full-time job because they kept quitting. She was so frustrated and said that thank god, that after they all got their periods they calmed down. Or is it that the community further squashed their lives to the ground? Hard to say. I could see the big thumb smashing that girl’s imagination out of her brains right then and there! You think headmistress might see the connection between silencing the girls and the girls jumping on chairs. They were running around in their ankle length skirts and yelling outside having fun. But it was clear that once they got their period, the big headmistress rules would reign. People make excuses in the name of culture, but they need to cut it out. All cultural expectations and rules are rooted in patriarchy which is tied to silencing women. Don’t dream! Don’t make up stuff! Don’t imagine a new world! What a great imagination that young girl had. I’d be surprised if she was able to rebel, but part of me hopes that one day she will think about that huge tale she spun that day in class, the headmistress yelling and just maybe, think about what she used to dream about–jumping out of planes, working as a spy, living a life that everyone around her wanted her to deny.
I hope that parents register their daughters for girls’ creative writing classes this summer with Reema Rajbanshi grades 11/12 and
Ishle Yi Park grades 9/10!
My desire to see girls respected and their imaginations encouraged was partially a result of what I used to see in classes. These are fantastic women authors and writing instructors who will encourage your daughter to write imaginatively and beautifully.
Register at drstephaniehan.com