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Peace (in honor of Boston, and victims of violence everywhere)

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I am a terrible blogger, I know. I haven’t updated this place in way too long, but after seeing a post on the Humans of New York tumblr, where the photographer has captured a Boston local’s hip-hop poem about peace in honor of the victims of Monday’s bombing, I wanted to share this with everyone.

First, a little background:

aerial view of book

Me standing next to the entire “book” in D.C.

In preparation for the Dalai Lama’s “Power of Nonviolence” summit in 2011, the GlassBook Project collaborated with Rutgers MCJ Scholars and middle school students from Newark’s S. 17th St. School to create a forty-foot long accordion structure glass book that focused on finding peace.

Specifically they were asked to look at the differences in how young people and adults seek, explore, and find peace. We did this to illustrate the many paths people take to find peace and to bridge some common misconceptions or presumptions adults have regarding youth.

And with family violence and dysfunction playing such an important role in the development of children, the connection, dialog, and understanding stemming from this piece can facilitate peace.

This book was unveiled at SAMHSA’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day in Washington, DC. Student-artists also received recognition by Congressman Donald Payne, (D-NJ) and the U.S. Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus.

While some of the students were initially skeptical of how an abstract concept like ‘peace’ applied in their daily lives (many of whom had been touched by violence and tragedy), the end result was a gorgeous sculpture filled with love, sharp insight, empathy for others, and a view of the world around them that made us all truly hopeful and proud of the future in a way that sometimes the words and actions of adults do not. I wrote this poem for them.

View of the book

A closer view of the book.

The New Tie-Dye
For my students in the “Finding Peace” GlassBook Project from S. 17th Street Middle School in Newark, NJ

We’ve decided. Peace is silence. Or,
music. A pen, a black & white marbled notebook.
Tattoos that hide scars,
bright stars in the night sky.
The green of your lucky shoelaces,
grins on your hand-drawn smiley faces
a stained glass butterfly.

It’s knowing why.
it’s sometimes slippery, sly.

It’s a giant pair of headphones like saucers on your ears,
microphones, horses
soft clean sheets, baby’s feet
your own room, your own place
your friend’s face, mother father sister brother:
who kept away the night monsters?

student artist with book

One of the student-artists explains her images to a visitor.

We’ve turned these things and more into bits
of blue, yellow stripes, flowers
like a puzzle like a rhyme
sixteen by twenty inch wide
words and worlds side by side
our own magic carpet ride.

Here’s the secret: it’s not
what you see on the panes.
It’s the empty spaces between,
the curve and the clear,
the tape joining all our shapes
and colors and clutter and clamor,
the swirl of all this and the absence
of that. We’re hip or not, sixties
hippies, soul, hip-hop or rock
it’s a new colored world like oil paints
layered fresh on the old, and this
is our new tie-dye.

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Fifteen-Minute Field Trip

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Plants and pinwheels

plants and pinwheels

What do you do when the weather is beautiful outside but you have to work all day? Take a mini-vacation at lunch time, of course.

My original plan today was to walk over to this little local place that makes great cupcakes and have myself a treat during lunch. Unfortunately, the icing was not set to arrive for another hour. “You could get it without icing,” the man at the counter suggested. A cupcake without icing? What’s the point? I wanted to say, but instead I just told him, “That’s okay, thanks.”

Plants and Pinwheels

I was disappointed, but something two doors down caught my eye. Plants and flowers were set up in pots right on the sidewalk with colorful pinwheels and doo-dads decorating them. What was this place? I’d walked this street dozens, if not hundreds of times and never noticed it.

I paused, about to take out my camera to snap a photo or two, and saw a small Asian woman had come down the steps and was bending over the plants. She smiled and waved me over.

“Is this a shop?” I asked.

She nodded, and insisted I come inside. “My husband is out, so I was about to close up the shop, but for you I’ll make an exception.”

The tiny space inside was packed with one-of-a-kind jewelry (her husband’s designs), paintings (both her and her husband’s), sculptures (hers) and pottery (her husband’s) as well as tons of jewelry and statues and knicknacks from Thailand, where she told me she was from.

The Peace Project

As I was looking over one of her paintings, a large purple and yellow piece with what (to my untrained eye) looked like an image of a Thai deity, she invited me to the back to see her studio, an even smaller space that she shared with her husband and had crammed full of sculptures, works-in-progress and a large TV. “I like to watch the news while I work,” she told me.

Shadow of Peace

Shadow of Peace by Ing-On Vibulbhan-Watts

She briefly pointed out what was hers and what her husband was working on, but what she was most enthusiastic about was what she called the Peace Project. Half a dozen prints of a large peace sign throwing a shadow over the landscape, filled with quotes, scribbles, doodles and sayings made by Newark students, teachers, friends and others.

She showed me several prints, each filled with quotes from a specific group or school. The one at left was for an exhibit at Salon Creative Lounge in New York City (the photo links to more information). She was very passionate about it. Her entire face would light up when she imagined what it would be like if each teacher would start the school year asking their students what peace looked like to them. “It only takes ten minutes, once each year. But imagine what would happen if our children began every year thinking about peace for 13 or 14 years?” And not just children. Adults. What if we all spent just ten minutes thinking about peace every year?

The woman’s name is Ing-On Vibulhan-Watts. Her website is She insisted that I not take her picture, because she said she looked awful (she didn’t, and I wish she had let me just so you could see the beaming smile.) She didn’t want any credit, just pleaded with me to share this project with my circle and ask everyone I know to think about peace for just ten minutes. “If you don’t know what peace means to your own family, then what do you know?”

Jasmine flowersAs I was leaving I snapped a few photos of the plants that had first drawn me in. She came back outside, and pointed to the tallest one. “It’s avocado,” she said, “I planted it from the pit.” “This one is jasmine,” she said, and when I told her I love the smell of jasmine she plucked two delicate little blossoms and handed them to me. The perfume alone was like a mini-tropical vacation.

I told Ing that I would share her project, so I’m passing along her question to all of you.

What does “peace” mean to you?