Tag Archive: creative writing

Heya! I know, you’re hankerin’ to get those creative juices flowing, maybe a little writing, some instrument playing… you’re getting into the idea of …the ukulele. You really, really want to wow your friends with Somewhere Over the Rainbow but you need a little help, inspiration? Well, check this out, I teach music and I’d sure love to teach YOU 🙂 What, you’re not so into the ukulele and wanna learn some guitar instead? OK, we can do that. Or, maybe you want to transform that shoebox of lyric-littered scrap paper into a song or two?  Yeah, I can help push and pull words together—let’s get started on this and finish a song, or two, or three or four.

What are you (we) waiting for? Let’s get creative and learn!

Right now, I’m doing an introductory special—a free  half hour lesson to get an idea, a feel, for some of the things you’ll learn. We can meet at your home, local park, or other public place. My regular rates are $30 for half hour lesson and $45 for a full hour. An LA bargain, to be sure. Get in touch—email me at josephine.jhnsn@gmail.com. Josephine on Facebook. Josephine songwriting with the kids on YOUTUBE.

Let’s do this!

I will teach you ukulele

For reals, I can teach you, your children, your grandma–perhaps even your pouch–how to play ukulele 🙂


around the bend

around the bend

Songwriting, Saturday,
June 15, 2013
Gracewinds Music
Corvallis, Oregon

Hey! Thanks for being part of songwriting class  I’ve re-typed our song and have included it in two versions—the first is the way we completed it at the end of class; the second is how I have edited the song to ‘tighten’ it up. In my edit, you’ll see that I changed some of the structure that we began with—this is part of songwriting! In many ways it is very much like solving a puzzle, like playing a super fun language game that involves pushing and pulling language and music so that words and melody fit and work together. And of course much like writing essays for school (remember, songwriting has its parallels with academic writing—who’da thought?!), writing songs involves multiple drafts, editing, and peer feedback to make it as sparkle-y good as possible.

I will share your song on my blog at www.josephinejohnson.wordpress.com so more folks can have a look at what and how we did this. Thanks so much, Eva, Sonja, Sequoia and Ginger!!! Thank you, Gracewinds Music!

Version 1, the song at the end of class:

Verse The warm rain that joins the beat of crystal waves that shine with heat
Cannot dislodge your perfect day from its hold on love in every way
I’m paddling towards my future I must take this journey alone
To find my heart, soul, and self to find my own way home
Bridge: You never know just how far you’ll go to be yourself and finally show
Just who you are and what you’ll do to show this world
That you are you
Verse: The dark clouds came to spoil my day it started to pour but I know everything
Is OK and I think to myself there is no need to worry the wind and rain
Won’t blow my perfect day away

Pacific Ocean

Pacific Ocean!

So, we have a lot of great stuff here, but we need to shift things around a bit to give the song a sense of symmetry and completeness. For example, it still needs some kind of chorus or ‘hook’ and it needs a sense of story or narrative movement. And that main idea? The song’s gotta have a point, right? Most importantly, it needs a TITLE!
I’ll show you how I did it, BUT you can—and please do— play with the words, timing, and chords to create your own edit for the song. Great thing about songwriting? There’re multiple ways to make it the way YOU want it to be. So, feel free to edit and play with this song—push it to be even more than it is! Thanks for all your hard work. It was a blast spending a Saturday afternoon with you 
Version 2, Josephine edit
D Gbm
The warm rain that joins the beat of crystal waves that shine with heat
Cannot dislodge your perfect day from its hold on love in every way
D Gbm
I’m paddling toward my future I must take this journey alone
To find my heart, soul, and self to find my own way home
Gm D Gm D Gbm G
Wish I knew how far I had to go to be myself and finally know
G D Gbm G D
Love is all I need to show

D Gbm
Dark clouds try to spoil my day it may pour but I know everything’s OK
I know there’s no need to worry wind and rain won’t wash this away
D Gbm
shining toward the future and I am really not alone
Because my heart, soul and self are my home
Gm D Gm D Gbm G
No matter how far I have to go to be myself and proudly know
G D Gbm G D

Love is all I need to grow


Em D Em D
You never know how far you’ll go to be yourself and show
Em D Gbm G
who you are and what you’ll do to show
G D Gbm G D
That you are you

D Gbm
Waves will crash and storms will blow But I carry deep what I always know
that love is key to heart, soul, self connecting all our mystery
D Gbm
future, past, and present certain I am my own
Laugh out loud I am strong I am home
Gm D Gm D Gbm G
So very far I have come to find out what I knew all along
D Gbm G D
I am love, I am loved, I am love

West End Road

West End Road Barn

map of Thailand

map of Thailand

a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction —Virginia Woolf

*equally applicable to women who write and sing

SuratThani is Thailand’s largest southern province. It’s also, confusingly, the moniker of the region’s capital

blue betty, hot, hot, hot G ride!

Blue Betty

city which frequently gets a bad rap. Guide books profess there’s not much to do, little spoken English, and that it’s a dirty, working-class backwater. And partly that is Surat, but a lively night market—chock full of traditional Thai dishes, fresh fruits and veggies, roasted insects, larvae!—nice roads and bike lanes, low cost of living and many near-by tourist hot spots make this hard-working city of farmers and fishers a very nice place to live. Really. Maybe this southern almost-coastal city doesn’t have galleria shopping or medical spas, Sirocco’s or an abundance of blinged out temples like some up-north metropolises, but what Surat lacks in iconic Thai attractions, it makes up for with its location near some of the country’s most amazing natural wonders.
Ready for this? Check that map. Uh, huh:

Surat is a seven hour night boat ride from Koh Tao—spectacular diving, snorkeling in the Gulf of Thailand; a two hour ferry from Koh Phangnan—long, white beaches, clear water and full moon parties; less than two hours from Krabi—Thailand’s rock climbing and caving mecca; two hours from Kao Sok National Park—home to the world’s oldest evergreen rainforest, elephants, waterfalls and floating bungalows; an hour by motor bike from a series of waterfalls mostly known by Thai locals. And these are just a few of the

sunset koh phangan

sunset koh phangan

biggies. There’s so much more—monkey training camps, Buddhist meditation centers, coconut plantations, mountain biking everywhere—Surat’s a great, great place to live and work, well-suited as a centrally-located adventure base!

So, I live in a veritable adventure zone. This is great! But I also appreciate that Surat is a real Thai city. There are maybe 120 foreigners, roughly 40 are teachers. (In China, I was ‘laowai.’ In Thailand, I am ‘Farang.’ Foreigner.) Not a big ex-pat community, so I will have to learn and negotiate the culture if I am to thrive. 🙂  Embrace and thrive!

Are there places to play if there aren’t many westerners? Ahh, Yes! Maybe not as many as in Xi’an (for those just tuning in, I spent a year teaching college English in Xi’an, China, a city of nearly 10 million), but I know, now, of at least four places, and really, one is all you need! Just down the street is Old Coffee, and then of course, there’s Big’s Bar.  Big’s is my favorite so far and caters to the teacher crowd…it’s where I went last night…

saturday night market, surat thani

saturday night market, surat thani

…On my bike at night after the air had cooled and traffic subsided, was mostly me and my thoughts riding on Donnok over to Big’s. Pedaling and singing, in my blue flower tank, smiling and thinking, happy to be in light clothing, sandals, no sleeves. No hat! A lovely exercise.  Elegance. On two wheels and thinking of nine months past, returning from China, digging in, getting bearings to focus and be Humboldt and work and sing, make music.

And then the incline how it lifted slowly steeper, steeper, measured, steady, gradual. The slope, rise over run, then over-run and no rise but clinging, clawing, tearing to make it, to hang on. Just hang on. Grasping, gasping. Hang on!

But I slid the slide slowly, pieces falling, chunks, who I thought I was and thought I wanted, sloughing from me, burning, burnt, exhausted, cast off, vertical slipping, slide down. When I let go, I relinquished but didn’t give in.

(that tiny flame somewhere, so far inside— still there burning—white hot and searing)
and landed here, Thailand, teaching. No more pushing, striving—just be and be renewed, renewed for writing, singing, performing, loving. That little white heat inside held itself to me, my soul heart beating a torch forced, examined, to acknowledge, reconcile me to that thing I love most. Forced me to admit, acknowledge, embrace:
I love singing. I love performing. I love writing.

And the breath of that tiny flame roared back, “Girl, thank you, love these, honor them, DO them.”

And I promised I would never again deny that I can write, sing, and perform. I love these. LOVE. And I am good at them.
Love to word wrestle and melody make. Love practicing a song over and over until it is seared into me. Am smitten when wrapped in that silver chain connecting a soul and mind to the ether flame where forged all great lines, turns of phrase, melodies.

Money, profit are not connected, here, not related to this. Money, no relationship to love. I embrace the fact that honoring these truths—all this love—may not ever be profitable. I accept this.

But I must: love writing, love singing, love performing. That’s all I need to do.



No more money-competition-blah-blah-blah, who’s-who-what’s-what. NO MORE!
I love what I do and that is enough.

All this thinking and singing out loud on the bike in the short mile from home to Big’s bar… No one was there when I arrived, an empty 10 o’clock Tuesday. Roofed but open-sided, the night breezes pass gently, street noises drift subtle—this is not China, the air is not loud, but soft with easy bursts of laughter, sweet with big, whole-toned Thai pop…parked by the frog pond, the bike leaning against slightly leaking cement. The pond, cluttered with jungle plants, a desk, maybe, other random furniture?… sang to him, the frog, this new understanding of honor, love, expression— his low croaks, rhythmic and resonant, intoning agreement, like how butterflies know when you know of them and they flirt and hover so closely, teasing with their awareness…

a Steady Boat, part of the collaboration…Sam.

…and then chatted with owners Big and Champ, who were busy working on their first edition of Surat’s new art, music and culture

passing it on

from one to the next

magazine—deliberately lo-fi and hand-drawn indie but assembled deftly in latest InDesign crack. These guys, four total, alties bent over screens, smoking cigarettes, gesturing and speaking fast Thai, a pause, exhale, laughter and cigarette smoke. Through the speakers, Dylan croaked Maggie’s Farm, and Marley wailed, then Brandi Carlyle.  Joni Mitchell.  Indigo Girls? And  Sarah Mclachlan—an ENTIRE Sarah McLachlan album/mix (the one with the rainbow connection). Girl music, these guys?  Softies for Sarah and the rainbow chicks…

Behind the counter Big turns down the music and  hands me his classical guitar: Play.

And so I did…sang for them until midnight while they worked on layout, ads and design. I let it all out, the real love …because I really,

really have to sing….because I love to sing…I love to share this love for singing, music…got lost in words and singing, the rhythmic frog honking, floor fans blowing. Two hours passed? Honest, unobtrusive, the sound tapestry for the working art-alti-writerly-Surat fringe trust.

As I gathered my things to leave, Big grabbed my hands and all alive and serious says, “You need to sing. Your voice can help people.”

koh tao super sunset

koh tao super sunset

Cannot speak words to respond.  Instead, a warm smile, pause, bow head: Gratitude, grateful for the compliment—perhaps the best thing ever heard after singing, really, like someone had faithfully peered through, knew and felt all the psychic battles, wars waged and recent reconciliation of the soul. That, really, more than anything I want this love—this singing, song, writing—to be soothing and healing. To help. As if Big got all of this and knew beyond the language and culture gap the kindest, most genuine thing to say—like he knew what my soul needed to hear.

That’s what love does. One of the things, anyway. It  helps people.

It does.

It transcends.

It heals.


12 plants 3 passenegrs 1 bike

12 plants 3 passenegrs 1 bike

recapturing the essence

recapturing the essence

By Josephine Johnson

Home.  Jet-lagged.  2 am and awake, awake, awake. On the floor in the parlor, street light falling silent through stained glass curved and great. This is my space, where I live, where I belong, where it all happens.  My spirit (and many, many others) are here.

We’re all much more than our possessions, right? No one is defined solely by what she owns, but it’s a warm,

Grandma, I'm home--brought you some feathers, blue one from Laos

Grandma, I'm home--brought you some feathers, blue one from Laos

identity-affirming hug to be here now admiring so many special feathers on the mantle, guitars, tambourines, amplifiers, scarves, hats, fossils, beads, books, Willie, Meows—my favorite things. And I am more than all this, but these sure do help recall who I am, help me remember that I’m not just an English-teaching,

sino-linguistically impaired specter haunting classrooms, buses, and crowded streets somewhere in central China. I remember. Yes, I am a teacher, but I’m also an artist, musician, writer, observer, lover, singer, priestess, passionate poet—a socially awkward geek with a flair for melody, rhythm, and the English language.

And much more of course…

Fixing the Washing Machine, Xi’an, China from Josephine Johnson on Vimeo.

Let’s catch up.

Shortly after June 1st, I was no longer able to post to this blog. The big folks in Beijing, an internet techno-junta of more than 30,000, finally decided they’d had enough. They were thorough, too, nullifying my ability to access

I've been a bad Mom. They refuse to look me in the eye...beg, grovel...wet food? Willie, Meows, Please?

I've been a bad Mom. They refuse to look me in the eye...beg, grovel...wet food? Willie, Meows, please?

gmail and all social media. I kept writing, confident that once back in the States I’d be able to post my adventures.

After 10 months in China teaching, singing, making Chinese friends, talking with other foreigners, and despite the dismal economic news, vanishing  American job prospects faithfully reported on CNN & BBC, I’ve come to appreciate just how great the good ol’ USA is. Watch out, about to get patriotic, but it’s merited, and the timing couldn’t be better. Why’s the U.S. so great? Number one reason: the First Amendment and the rights it guarantees.  The First Amendmentsupports an individual’s right to independent thought(s), and it guarantees the right to express those thoughts free from government interference— individual thought or opinion and freedom of expression make this nation great and strong. For the most part (let’s disregard Obama’s extension of the Patriot Act for a moment), in America we can enter into passionate debate and loudly profess how much we disagree with our government and/or its political acts and parties without fear of being black

street music

street music & Inner-Mongolian Student Friends

balled, censored, or worse. In the States we can agree to disagree safe from political retaliation for personal beliefs outside the Party line; we can rest assured that our home won’t be invaded and occupants taken away because someone turned us in for having and expressing thoughts subversive to the State. The First Amendment may well be the best part of being an American— wanna disagree? Go!

But I did have an excellent adventure in China, met some very kind people—many students, local Xi’an folks, and travelers and teachers from all over the world. Shared music with many

Bob & Peter: Two-thirds of the Brothers Hughes with whom I woulda gone to Hainan...

Bob & Peter: Two-thirds of the Brothers Hughes with whom I woulda gone to Hainan...

supportive people, too—I had three regular weekly gigs at Park Qin, the Belgian Bar, and Vice Versa.  But playing in bars, though, limited who could hear the music I had to share—mostly foreign travelers or wealthy Chinese business men could hear me. No children (personal demographic fave) could hear. This troubled me.  I’m a folksinger, of the people, and so the more I played the bar scene, the more I felt pulling at my heart the need to connect with everyday people and young folks.  Solution? I took to the streets and found that by playing various sidewalks and underpasses around Xi’an I could connect more genuinely with a broader range of Chinese folks—older people were baffled at first, and kids never failed to smile; college students often gave ‘thumbs up,’ and the wealthier set always tried to give me Yuan, which I occasionally accepted. I most usually refused money

musician bonding

musician bonding

because I wanted to share

A bird pooped on my shoulder & this kind guy wiped it away. We sang & people took pics. One of my favorite music memories

A bird pooped on my shoulder & this kind guy wiped it away. We sang & people took pics. One of my favorite music memories

music for the sake of love and connection—I didn’t want it to be obscured by transaction or to receive money as sign of appreciation. Though I couldn’t communicate this, with all my heart I tried to express that the best payment anyone could give was to listen, clap, sing, hum, harmonize, and just enjoy the moment. But if a rich business man insisted on a 100 Yuan bill, then OK. Sometimes insistence won. Don’t argue with the business set—they’re Party connected (mostly).

Near the end of the adventure I had two offers to join music ensembles—one in Hainan (really, read this NYT article link), the other in Xi’an. Hainan is an island in the South China Sea and is often considered the Hawaii of China. It’s a tropical paradise

Because you will

Because you will

that attracts uber-wealthy vacationing Chinese business people as well as Russian oil barons. The gig I was offered there would entail playing three, forty-five minute sets of popular covers 6 nights a week. OK. The initial compensation package was something like 10,000 RMB per month for each member (four total), plus the company would provide two, two-bedroom apartments at no cost to the musicians. But when it came time to talk real terms—before we all got our instruments on a train headed to Hainan—the offer became more like 7,000 RMB per month—plus we each would have to put 1,000 RMB (monthly) toward renting one, three-bedroom apartment. Uhhh… It didn’t sit right with me the whole arrangement—plus, I would have been the only woman of four musicians—not a prude on this, really, just not so sure I wanted to live with three dudes

Oh, Bob!  Peter wields voo doo behind you...

Oh, Bob! Peter wields voo doo behind you...

(John, Bob, Peter, love you, but a girl like me needs her space ). By the time we would have gotten to Hainan and were essentially captive, who knows how much further the terms would have slid (a two bed-room apartment for all four of us? Yikes.) The guys went on without me and have vowed to keep me in the loop—I wish great times and music to them, fine weather for sure!

The other musical opportunity was to play with this multi-cultural group that specifically wanted a western

Oh dear

Oh dear

woman who played guitar. This project would have been based in Xi’an playing a variety of music—Chinese pop, American country (big in China), and folk from South Africa and Ghana. These folks are great musicians. There’s Malvern an ethnomusicologist on sabbatical from teaching music in South Africa; Naomi sings American pop and folk music from Ghana, (she’s from Ghana) hip hop dances, too; Tommy is a Chinese pop music genius. These three also know a keyboardist and trumpet player.

Andrew’s Song (multi-cultural) from Josephine Johnson on Vimeo.

The project really could be a (and likely will without me) force of international scale, love, and unity. Or just a lot of fun with really nice folks.  This came up just a week before I left. We played fuzzball and jammed together one afternoon. They

Big Goose Pagoda, June 4, 2011

Big Goose Pagoda, June 4, 2011

hot times + water = happy kids & people

hot times + water = happy kids & people

want me to go back. I will miss them tremendously. We will keep in touch. I guess I still have an out (in?) if jobs here at home don’t pan out…let’s hope it’s not as bad as CNN Asia & the BBC have portrayed—maybe all that crappy economic news was Chinese-crafted propaganda, re-tooled and crafted especially for English-speaking foreign teachers…to keep us there, keep our heads down…

Lastly, I have photos to share. These were taken on Saturday, June 4thin Xi’an.  Some are images of the afternoon fountain show at Big Goose Pagoda—little kids playing in the water too precious. There’s a busquing  pic (or busking? disagreement re: correct spelling. Playing on the street, street musician), a fruit


super fun

vendor, and an image of a visual artist who crafts and draws her own bookmarks and post cards. She uses earth tones and a muted color palette of mellow teals, a range of mustard yellows, soft burgundy, and subdued pine greens. Fine illustrations, too. Check out her work. Order online Support a ‘local’ Chinese artist!!!

in the water

in the water

Here she is--she's great. Buy her stuff!!! Quality.

Here she is--she's great. Buy her stuff!!! Quality.

I have a few more China posts to make mostly documenting final goings on in China.

fresh fruit always

fresh fruit always

More soon.

little red princess

little red princess


~love, Jos



Joy Luck Club

Our book looks like this.

forever will be (a song sketch thing-y) from Josephine Johnson on Vimeo.

Josephine Johnson

Recently, we finished Amy Tan’s, The Joy Luck Club, and as part of that unit, I required the students to keep vocabulary lists within their reading response journals. I asked them to look up twelve to twenty words for each chapter (sixteen chapters in all), write the definition and part of speech for each word, then use the words in their own sentences. As I graded the journals, I made my own list of words that were common among all the students’ vocab entries.  From my list I selected twenty words and devised a ‘fun’ final vocabulary test. On a Thursday, I gave the students my list of words that they would study over the weekend. I explained that on Tuesday we would have our test; they would be required to write a creative short story using correctly in both meaning and grammar at least ten of the words from the list.  They would have fifty minutes to craft their story. Creativity, proper usage, correct grammar are of the essence!

Below are two of the best. Though she only used nine instead of the required ten words, Mia’s was by far the most creative; hers is the “Lovely Rings.” *Mia wants to study design,

computer lab

computer lab Sharpay Corinne Ainder Vicky Asuka---getting down the details of portfolio requirements

jewelry and metals at HSU. Olina, I think, took more risks with her choice of vocabulary words. *Olina also tells me her mother makes her play piano when she goes home, though I think she’d rather not…  The vocabulary quiz stories below incorporate words (bolded) from Tan’s, The Joy Luck Club. *One last bit of disclosure: The students initially hand-wrote these stories in-class. I asked Mia and Olina to correct a few errors then send me their final drafts typed, so these two pieces have been revised from the original. 🙂

Lovely Rings

There were a couple of ornate rings lying in the jewelry shop. They were blue and red. They were dainty and loved each other. They wanted to stay with each other forever and have a happy life. If one ring had some wonderful experiences or sad times, he would confide in the other ring.

However, distress happened. One day, a man went to this jewelry shop and found this couple of rings. He thought they were

Ladies from the movie The Joy Luck Club

Ladies of the Joy Luck Club from the film

beautiful, and he wanted to buy them. He took them home, and then the man wanted to take apart one to know how the ring was so beautiful. The two rings realized that the man was a jewelry designer and that he wanted to know the structure of the beautiful jewelry.

The blue ring decided to scrape himself because he wanted the man to destroy him, not the red ring. That was an ordeal for him, but he could stand it. The red ring felt so sad.  She knew that the blue ring’s love penetrated her life, but she couldn’t prevent him from doing what he thought he must.

When the man wanted to begin his work, he found that the blue one had some scratches, and he started to destroy the blue one. At that time, his wife went to his room, and she nudged him and said,

computer lab Eunice Carrie Flora Mia Vicky

computer lab Eunice Carrie Flora Mia Vicky---the task at hand

Cease. Don’t do that please.”

“Darling, I wanted to know the structure of this ring.  You know, I’m a designer, and this blue one was scraped,” the man answered.

“I know, but they were so delicate, and they were beautiful and matched. It’s a pity to destroy one,” she said.

“Okay, darling, I will not do that.” A warm smile appeared on his face. Then he put the red ring to her finger, and he put the blue one on his.

A Free Bird

Read the book & watch the film 🙂

Tomas is a ten-year old boy, but he is not a normal person-he is a noble. There is rose embroidery on his cuff, which represents his noble status. Tomas is a piano prodigy, and he practices piano all day. His mother always applauds him because he is so diligent. No one but himself knows that he is lonely. He tries to be a perfect boy in front of others, but he has nausea to practice the boring piano. The only thing he can confide in is a vase that his dead father gave him on his eighth birthday.

One day, he broke the vase accidently, and when he wanted to pick the pieces up, one piece penetrated his hand’s skin. The blood flew, and he had much distress. He stared at those pieces and felt very sad because his memories of his father were also broken. He wanted to cease this boring life, so he started to rebel against his mother. Tomas made big noises when he was eating a meal, and his mother said impatiently, “Tomas, according to protocol, you shouldn’t make noises when you eat such a dainty meal. Understand?”

“Mom, why do you always interfere with me? I don’t want to be a hypocritical man, and I must express my real feelings. I don’t like playing piano, and I want to play with other boys…”

“Stop, Tomas! Don’t forget you are a noble. How can you speak like that?”

“No mom, you never understand me. Do you know how much I admire the birds flying in the sky? I won’t be a puppet any more. I want to be a free bird,” Tomas said firmly.

Tomas went back to his room and packed because he wanted to leave this house which was like a big cage that trapped him. As

Amy Tan, so eloquent, bright & beautiful

Amy Tan, so eloquent, bright & beautiful

soon as he went out of the gate, he would be a free bird, but he would also meet a lot of difficulties. Was he ready to face everything? His mom couldn’t see his expression on his face, but she could feel his firm back view.

“I am a free bird now.” Tomas said to himself and smiled.


computer lab Eunice Vivian Olina Icy

computer lab Eunice Vivian Olina Icy---serious business

*OK, I don’t know about that last bit of  ‘feel his firm back view,’ but Olina did a great job, and I’m really proud of her work.

HSU, are you ready for this, ALL this awesomeness headed your way August 15th? Get ready—they’re gonna rock your redwood world!

let our life be magic & open

let our life be magic & open---yes!