From Relentless Griever to Relentless Thinker

A few weeks ago, my friends, the Relentless Thinkers of “the idea works” put out a call on Facebook, asking people to create a list of five inspiring mentors. I did not realize it was a contest. But, I love when people ask me to share my thoughts. So I created my list. Five strong women: Pauli Murray, Dolores Huerta, Malala Yousafzai, Wangari Maathai, and Jane Goodall. These are women who didn’t (and still don’t) give up. I learned today I “won!” I will get a Relentless Thinkers business card of my very own and it will have my name listed with the five women who inspire me. I feel like I just graduated to a new plane of existence. I am beyond ecstatic.

Meanwhile, I have been wanting for the longest time to revive this blog. I do believe that recent events indicate that Georg is telling me it would be okay if I start to address matters other than him. My late father is ready for me to wear the mantle of a Relentless Thinker, as opposed to a Relentless Griever. I know this because as I was leaving work today, right on my path to the parking lot was this seagull feather. I know for a fact it was sent by Georg. He always does that when he wants to get my attention. It is because of the feather that I am sitting at my dining room table right now, crafting this blog post.

I need advice. I want to create a website that will promote my poetry books, poetry projects, poetry activism, and the Malawi reading garden project. Does anyone have experience making websites in WordPress? How easy is it? I would like to stick with WordPress and re-energize my blog to be coupled with a home page that provides links so people can buy books or learn about my various projects, things like 100 Thousand Poets for Change, Poetic Pairings, the Lilongwe Reading Garden Project, and more.

Will making a website in WordPress be easy to do? They have a lot of tutorials. Have any of you ever used them? I am eager to do this because I have a new book coming out later this year called Van Gogh Dreams (HenschelHaus Publishing). It is an anthology I compiled of poems by 30 poets about the life and art of Vincent van Gogh. It is also an homage to my dad, and will have one of his Van Gogh-related drawings on the cover. Proceeds from book sales will go to the Malawi project. I have other merch to sell and I will tell you all about it in a future blog post. Yes, I have a lot to tell you.

This evening, I may be a relentless thinker spinning around in an ecstatic tornado of ideas and father-memories and feathers, so I need to focus. Help me land with some solid ideas about creating a website. WordPress? Wix? Weebly? Others? Go!

 

 

The Fourth Anniversary

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Georg Vihos, Luminous Feather, c. 2004, 12″ x 12″, oil on masonite

Four years ago today, just after midnight in the wee hours, Georg died. My dad. Artist, teacher, chef, friend. I know I have been harping on him off and on for the last four years now, and I’ve also tried to make this blog talk about different things. But he was the impetus for starting this blog at all. His death started something new in me. Let me ponder that for a moment.

Anyway, even though it has been four years, my sister and I still haven’t settled his estate. This is huge, and I ask everyone out there who is reading this, before you die, please settle your affairs so your offspring don’t have to do it.

Even though it has been four years, I will feel the loss of him every day. I suppose there is a more positive way to say this. Every day, I still feel his presence. With every burst of swallows from a corn field, every seagull call, every lone feather appearing unexpectedly on the sidewalk, Georg is there.

Sometimes, when I’m driving and lost in thought, a bird will fly right past my windshield, startling me back to the present. I always take this as a sign from Georg. Wake up, Lisa! Keep your mind on the road! But, along with that, he is telling me that whatever I was just ruminating about is going to be okay. He is telling me, Trust your instincts. Yup. That is what he is telling me.

So, Dad. Thank you. Again. I know you had to move on. And, I am learning each day that you are actually still here. Your wisdom and knowledge will always stay with me, a bird on the wing.

 

 

Who Is Not an Immigrant?

Today, Donald Trump has continued to move lower than low by rescinding DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This program allowed the children of undocumented immigrants who came here as small children some modicum of protection and ability to live life here in America. No one protected under DACA is a felon. No one is taking a job someone else could have. These are 800,000 young people who go to elementary school and high school, go on to college, work at jobs, pay taxes, and abide the laws of this land.

These young people came here with their parents and they have worked hard to contribute to this place called America. I can’t see how this is any different when in a different time and place, other immigrants came here from Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, or elsewhere. What about the pilgrims? You remember them? Immigrants. Unless you are Native American, you have descended from immigrants. This is the very diversity that makes America the culturally rich and amazing place that it is.

Today is my birthday and it is very hard to celebrate when I see what is happening in my country, a country created by the sweat and blood of so many people who came before me, people I will never know. I will not accept this cruel and heartless act on the part of the current administration.

I am asking every friend to call your state senators and congress people today and every day in the time to come, as well as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and tell them that they MUST sit down and work across the aisle with each other to bring the Dream Act into being. This bill was first introduced in the Senate by Dick Durbin (D) and Orrin Hatch (R) on August, 1, 2001. The time is now. No more waiting. We cannot let down our Dreamers and we should be helping them on the path to citizenship, not deportation. These Dreamers? They are us, me and you. We must stand with them and see this through.

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March and rally to protect DACA, Sheboygan City Hall, September 4, 2017. Photo: Paul Kletzien

 

 

 

This post is in honor of my mother and father, first generation Americans. My mother’s parents came from Italy, and my father’s came here from Greece, both in the early 20th century. My father did not speak English until he went to kindergarten in about 1942.

 

Always Bring Nice Clothes

It’s not every day that you leave Malawi having met one of the Republic’s former presidents. Yes, I, Lisa Vihos had the honor and pleasure to meet His Excellency Dr. Bakili Muluzi on Sunday, July 16 for breakfast and conversation. Dr. Muluzi was the first democratically-elected president of Malawi, serving two 5-year terms from 1994 to 2004.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived in Blantyre and my friend Elizer Kalilombe informed me that I would be having breakfast with the former president at his home in Limbe on Sunday morning.

“President of what?” I said.

“President of Malawi,” she said.

“But I don’t have any nice clothes to wear!” I lamented. She assured me that what I wore would not matter and that Dr. Muluzi was a very down-to-earth person who just wanted to hear more about the children’s reading garden.

So, off we went, myself, Elizer, and another friend, Lakeland University graduate, Ndamyo Mwanyongo, up into the hills above Limbe to the home of the former president. We first chatted in the sunroom, and then moved to the dining room for a lovely three-course breakfast. First, cereal. Then, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes. Then, a vegetable omelet with sausages on the side, potatoes, and more veggies. It was delicious.

Dr. Muluzi had a lot of good questions for me about how the project came to be, how the work was progressing, how did we envision spreading the concept to other schools, and what was our timetable. We reviewed all this and he expressed his excitement that this project is underway. He recognized the reading garden as something that will provide a real boost to a culture of reading in Malawi. He asked to be kept apprised about how things go in the time to come. He hoped that when I return in the future, I will give him advance notice so he can arrange a meeting with the Minister of Education. But, he told us to keep moving forward and wished us the very best in this endeavor.

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Me, Dr. Muluzi, and Elizer Kalilombe. She and he are from the same area, and have known each other a long time.

We went out to the patio overlooking a vast expanse. It was a beautiful view and he was pleased to point out—way off in the distance—the campus of Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) that I had visited with my friends on Saturday. It shone like a glimmering island nestled far away in the rolling hills. Like everything else about the morning, it seemed magical.

We took photos. he gave me his card, and we said our goodbyes. I have sent him a handwritten thank you note and I will most definitely keep in touch with him in the time to come. It is not every day that a person meets a former president.

Just remember, wherever you go, always bring nice clothes. You never know whom you may have the honor to meet when you least expect it.

As I head home to Wisconsin tomorrow, I will cherish the memory of this wonderful meeting with Dr. Muluzi. I trust that having his eyes on this project bodes well for the Malawi Children’s Reading Garden. Although we did not yet break ground, we made some excellent headway. I think things should start happening in September. We are definitely on the road.

Today’s Good Omen: Blue Seeds

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Caroline and I in her office this morning.

Today was my first full day in Malawi and it felt so heartening and productive to be back with my friends in Lilongwe. I spent a good part of the morning at the Demonstration School with the principal, Caroline Majiga, and we talked about the steps we need to take to move forward on the children’s reading garden. The focus in the coming two weeks will be to plan how we will make this project be something of and for this community. I know we can do it.

I had a very warm welcome from everyone at the school today. All the children were smiling and waving when I pulled up with my bags of “stuff.” I connected with two of the Standard 4 (4th grade) teachers and showed them how I turned some of the drawings that were created by the children last time I was here into notecards and bookmarks that I plan to use as modest fundraising tools in the months to come. I visited with my friend Phillip Nachonie and talked briefly with his class of young teachers-in-training. What a great crew!

Very soon, there will be meetings with members from the Forum for Reading Education and visits with guest artists and thinkers who will lend their expertise. I don’t want to say too much more until these things start to happen. For now, rest assured that all is well.

IMG_3069I also want to say that I feel the spirit of my father, Georg, with me on this trip. He sent rainbows to Sheboygan just before I left, feathers to Kensington Gardens when I landed, and here in Lilongwe, bright blue seeds hiding in the grass having dropped from a Traveller’s Palm.  (The double L in “traveller” is the British spelling, by the way.)

It is too dark now to take a picture, but I did go out on the lawn with my flashlight to collect some seeds. It was Mel, the proprietor here at Wendels Guest House (the best place to stay if ever you are in Lilongwe) who showed me the seeds. I know dad would absolutely love them, blue being his favorite color.

According to the website, annieworldseeds.com, The Traveller’s Palm has very deep roots in folklore and tradition. There is a saying, “If a traveller stands directly in front of a Traveller’s Palm and makes a wish in good spirit, that wish will definitely come true.” You know what I will be wishing for in good spirit as I head out each day here in Malawi.

 

 

 

Father’s Day Thoughts

As it is the fourth Father’s Day since Georg left, of course, I am thinking of him this morning. Earlier this week, Facebook sent me a picture of him that I had taken the summer before he died. The strain on his face is quite visible. He was getting ready to move on. Seeing him on my news feed like that was a bit of shock. It did not remind me of Georg-the-vibrant one, but rather, Georg-the-failing. After a life full of so much creativity, joy, and adventure, he was coming to the end and he could feel it. I wish Facebook would not just randomly send memories like that. Who can one complain to about this?

Anyway, after he died, many friends who had lost a parent told me that there would come a day when I would get past the grief. I would be able to think about him and smile instead of cry. I suppose that day has arrived, more or less. I just want to remember him today and honor a few of the things he taught me or gave me, the things about him that will stay with me forever. Here are ten things I miss about Georg:

IMG_05341. Going shopping with him. He was a foodie, my dad, long before foodie was a thing. He knew how to make grocery shopping really fun.

2. Watching him stand on a ladder to work on one of his large-scale drawings. He was so dedicated to his art. His dedication still inspires me.

3. Talking about a book or a film with him. Sharing ideas.

4. Being his sous-chef in the kitchen. I chopped a lot of parsley for him over the years.

5. Eating pizza with him. He loved a good pizza.

6. Feeling his generosity of spirit when he cooked meals for large groups of friends

7. Riding bikes with him. Challenging ourselves to get up the next hill.

8. Road tripping. He loved to drive to new places. He taught me to be adventurous in life.

9. Visiting an art museum together and just wandering.

10. Knowing that always, he loved me.

If your dad is still with you, call him today and let him know you are thinking of him. Overlook his foibles and any missteps. Instead, honor his strengths.

If your dad is gone, remember the things you love about him. It is not always easy to get through this life. Things happen. But a good dad is always there to guide you, even after he is gone.

 

Running up the Hill

I’ve started running again. As with blogging, I took a long break. But, now I’m back at it. Some of you might remember that when I got laid off in the summer of 2015, I developed an activity of mind in which I attached significance to the final run up the hill near my house. My goal was the trash can at the top. I told myself, “if I can run up the hill and not stop until I get to the trash can, then I will get a good job.”

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Well, that process worked, whether you buy the causality factor or not. Not only did I land a great part-time job working for the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership as its Development and Communications Coordinator, but I also got a grant from my undergraduate alma mater, Vassar College, to build a children’s reading garden in Malawi, Africa.

As the old saying goes, be careful what you ask for. I mean, I am very proud of this project, and I know that with continued work and communication with my colleagues in Malawi, something good is going to happen. But, getting the garden off the ground (or rather, in the ground) is turning out to be challenging. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the site is on the other side of the world from my current location. Yeah, possibly. That does add a level of difficulty, for sure. Hence, my upcoming trip to Malawi to really get all the pieces in place to help the garden move forward.

A project like this requires both hope and action. I need to do certain things, and I also need the right attitude about myself and the project. If the determination needed when running up the hill can be translated over to building the garden, I am all for that. In fact, my new thing is to run up the hill to the first trash can, then run around the gazebo to the second trash can, and then keep running until I get to the light post.

IMG_2929You see how my mind works? Get past the trash to the Light, then all shall be revealed! That is the key. Do that, and all good things will come. Gardens, jobs, friends, love, abundance. Maybe even a path toward mitigating global warming and simultaneously ensuring world peace, while I’m at it. Why not aim high? Determination and positive attitude mixed with a generous dose of gratitude can make a lot of things happen. It can make all the difference in the world.

On this God-only-knows-what-number Thursday it is since Georg died, I am determined to be more determined in my efforts to do the things I have set out to do.  I encourage you to do the same. Be determined, positive, and grateful. Find a hill and a trash can and a light post, and let all those things guide you to success in your endeavors.

And then, when you get to the top, smile and say thank you. Light the way for the next person to come up. What else is there?