Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

vernacular scholars, pointy-heads, and regular folks: a tale of bewilderment ~

via google

via google

This is a story about what happens (far too often) when you have a PhD, or at least when folks find out you have a PhD (and I rarely confess to this!). It’s the sad story of a culture where folks either react w/ insecurity, or hostility. In about equal measures, depending on the conversation.

And here’s the deal: I don’t think you need a ‘scholar’ to lead a talk about a book you read. Even though I’ve done that, many times.  What’s wrong with your own opinion? Can a scholar help you identify subtleties, possibly give you background? Sure. But it breaks my heart to hear my sister, or a very bright woman at a presentation, tell me ‘I don’t read books the way you do, I’m sure.’ HELLO! I read junk mysteries, for cryin’ out loud! Just how ‘deep’ do you think those are??

That wasn’t really a digression, just FYI… :) It’s more by way of contrasting the overwhelming respect explicit in the warm handshakes and embarrassing gratitude for my presence at a recent event, with the dismissal of any useful elements of a Ph.D. in another venue.

the author's

the author’s

I’m not naming the 2nd event — only a small minority was straddling the us/them divide. And interesting to note?  The dismissive rhetoric stemmed most heavily from the bona fide academics — the Ph.Ds. — as ‘regular’ folks (re: non-pointy heads). The doctoral crowd was insisting they were ‘just folks.’ Well, if you have to insist on it? You probably aren’t. And doesn’t that seem… well, a little condescending?? “Yes, I have this degree, but you know what? It’s nothing.”

I’d like to believe that the issue is that these tactless folks were trying to let the many intelligent folks at the event know that knowledge doesn’t live only in doctoral robes. My Aunt Bonnie — 8th grade education — was as savvy a person as I know. She read omniverously, and knew more about plants, cooking, and other home skills than Martha Stewart’s entire empire. Still, just saying ‘I’m folks!‘ is… well, not enough.

It would be like me insisting that I ‘get’ racial discrimination . I’m a WHITE person, and one of privilege, at that. I can study racism all my life, and the closest I come to ‘getting it’ is thinking how it felt to have brown kids in Algeria throw rocks at me because I have blonde hair (prostitutes used to advertise — at least in Algiers, where I was living — by bleaching their hair blonde…sigh). Still, I could leave. In other words, not the same. I’m not clueless, but I can never (really) ‘get it.’

So here’s my question: what’s up w/ this schism? I know that having a doctorate puts me in about 1/2 of 1% of Americans, as a female. That’s privilege, folks. No way around it. But I also know I try HARD not to use my privilege as a ‘weapon.’ That said, somebody must be, because of the overwhelmingly insecure reactions I receive when it ‘comes out.’

via flickr

via flickr

Again, like racism: just because I’m not a racist, and try very hard not to take advantage of white privilege, doesn’t mean there’s no racism. And it also doesn’t mean that despite my rejection of this system, I don’t continue to benefit from it.

It’s only when I compare my doctorate to white privilege that I begin to understand why I felt so uncomfortable with the PhDs insisting they weren’t pointy-heads. I happen to know they’re very nice people, and they really don’t take their educations the wrong kind of seriously. But again — just saying something doesn’t make it so.  It took a different lens for me to understand all that was wrong w/ their insistence.

Until most American women — most Americans, period — have doctorates, I am NOT ‘just folks.’ No matter how modest my birth, no matter what I want to think. And until the rate of incarceration, poverty, and violent death for brown people is the same as for white people, racism exists. Just saying it doesn’t (I’m looking at you, Supreme Court) isn’t enough to make it go away…

 

autumn roses, a metaphor

the author's

the author’s

In the spring, when my roses begin to bloom, it’s wonderful: it means winter is over! And I’m always ready. But to be honest? The fall roses are more lovely. They’re more fragrant, more vivid in colour, just overall more beautiful. And oh so fleeting — you know winter is ahead, not spring. Cold and darkness, not sunlight and warmth.

This morning I had a meltdown. I’ve been tightly wound these past days, worried about this & that. I’m not prone to meltdowns, and I never cry. But today, I found myself in tears because I wasn’t here when my beloved broke his ankle. I’m not dumb enough to think it was my fault, but I’m also certain (in my neurotic beginner’s heart) that it wouldn’t have happened if I’d been here.

Because I follow directions. Most men don’t. Sorry, it sounds sexist, I know. But it’s true: evolution has bred direction-following out of the male of the species, for the most part. Hunters need to be nimble of impulse, to catch the fleeting spoor of a wild auroch. Gatherers? We need to know where the berries were last year, and the year before. Directions, in other words.

Then too, there’s my peripatetic childhood. If you pack just this way, you won’t forget your most important things. And if you wear your lucky dress the first day of school, you will make friends. Not to mention the right pen for the right journal, the right way to recondition a pan, the proper method to do whatever. The directions — the history — the magicking of pleasing gods that always seemed so very quixotic.

Roses. You’re thinking: what the heck does this have to do w/ roses? Much less beginner’s heart??

the author's

the author’s

In the spring, I’m verrry careful to nurture my roses. I have an almost empty garden — the blasted grapevine has died back, and I can see to prune it even more vigourously. Plus there’s been plenty of water, and I’ve fed them, cooed over them. Come fall? Life has gotten in the way of good intentions.

So I haven’t weeded in a month (at least!), haven’t fed the poor babies. Haven’t done any of the things the experts tell you to do. In other words, I haven’t followed the directions.

And still — the roses bloom. Beautifully. Fragrantly. Not with abandon, but every bit as lovely and even more appreciated. Because I didn’t  EARN them.

So much of life is like this. I haven’t ‘earned’ the love of my sons, my beloved. Certainly not my DIL or grandson, who owe me nothing. I haven’t earned the love of my friends, or my dearest colleagues. They are autumn roses, offering  themselves freely.

I’m also thinking: aging isn’t a single rose, progressing through stages to death. Aging is seasons, and it’s autumn — at least for now. still filled w/ roses, some just buds, some of them unfurling, some of them wide open to sun & bees. I’m still learning. I’m also proficient in many things. And with a few things, I am sooo over them! In other words, I’m just as all over the place as my beloved roses. So it’s autumn. And today, the sun is out, the birds are at the feeders, and I’m grateful. The roses are beyond beautiful.

a happy birthday for my beloved

happy birthday1

If you’ve been following the blog, you know that my beloved broke his ankle about 6 weeks ago. He was unable to walk these past weeks, since the accident and the surgery. Noooo load-bearing on that foot, the doc said. And believe me: we were NOT happy about it. It’s amazing what you can’t do when you only have a knee scooter to do it on…

He had to move downstairs to the ‘fishbowl,’ as he calls it — the family room (we don’t have a downstairs bedroom). Plus, the showers in the full baths are upstairs. Luckily, we have wonderful family, and they moved our guest bed downstairs for him. We made a ‘recovery’ room of sorts. recovery room for  Glen

Today — his birthday! — the doc gave him a clean recovery ticket at his 6-week checkup. Full weight-bearing on that foot! Whoohoo! What great news!

So, wondering what the tie is to beginner’s heart? Here goes: I’m not this happy for strangers, and yes, I know that’s normal. But I still would like to celebrate for strangers. Because doesn’t beginner’s heart mean I’m filled w/joy — or at least its calmer cousin, happiness — for the happiness of others? Shouldn’t I celebrate their good fortune?

And yes, I do. When I remember. :) So my lesson today is that my good fortune is like everyone’s good fortune, and theirs is every bit as important. Hokey, but true. Today, I wish you happiness and good fortune. That I celebrate! (When I remember…)

the healing comfort of quiet

via flickr

via flickr

When it’s noisy, I can’t think. My mother used to say — I can’t hear myself think!! Now, these many years later, I get it. When the dogs are barking (frequent!), and the phone is ringing, and someone (or 2 someones) is talking? I’m hopeless.

That’s when I want to be sitting on the deck. Just sitting. Not even meditating, but that too. I want to be outside, in the green aerie that’s our deck, surrounded by trees and birds and sky. And noisy as the birds are, it still feels like quiet.

Noise is everywhere, even when you’re not paying attention: “dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, and hair dryers can all reach or exceed 90 dBA.” At 120 dBA, you experience pain… Me? I take ear plugs to the movies. They’re too loud!

So, obviously I’m anti-noise.  When we bought our new dishwasher, we sported for one w/ a low noise rating, even though it was more. And if I could afford a less noisy hair dryer? Believe me, I’d buy one!

artist Leonard Peng, Nautilus

artist Leonard Peng, Nautilus

Until then, there’s the back deck. :) Where the (loud) birds may be noisy to some, but whose bright banter comforts me.

Almost as much as sitting, still, in the spaces between crows calling to each other, and mockers trying to impress each other. I don’t need recent research to confirm the benefits, although it’s interesting.

Finland, for instance, is counting on people paying for silence. Using the image of the country’s  ‘quiet’ as a tourist draw, hoping that the promise of a place where quiet is the norm will lure paying customers.

What I know about silence began w/ my attempts at meditation, just sitting in silence. Of course, the mind (at least mine!) is never quiet. But finding a space in my day for silence became a source of comfort.

via google

via wiki commons

Research, again, bears me out. Silence has a longer impact on the brain that does noise. Noise is forgotten, but silence? Over time, it builds new cells, neurons that are useful. And that, my friends, is amazing. Not to mention the slowing heartbeat, the softer breathing, the settling of tension out of the body.

So I’m voting for silence, w/ my ears. I’m trying to drive w/out music (at least some of the time). And sit on the deck w/out electronics in hand. Because, again, I know it comforts me. Like a cool drink of water in the hot Oklahoma summer. Or a soft warm quilt on a chilly night. The appropriate counter to what ails me. Maybe you, too ~

Previous Posts

vernacular scholars, pointy-heads, and regular folks: a tale of bewilderment ~
This is a story about what happens (far too often) when you have a PhD, or at least when folks find out you have a PhD (and I rarely confess to this!). It's the sad story of a culture where folks either react w/ ins

posted 8:43:15pm Oct. 23, 2014 | read full post »

autumn roses, a metaphor
In the spring, when my roses begin to bloom, it's wonderful: it means winter is over! And I'm always ready. But to be honest? The fall roses are more lovely. They're more fragrant, more vivid in colour, just overa

posted 3:47:34pm Oct. 22, 2014 | read full post »

a happy birthday for my beloved
If you've been following the blog, you know that my beloved broke his ankle about 6 weeks ago. He was unable to walk these past weeks, since the accident and the surgery. Noooo load-bearing on that foot, the doc said. And believe me: we were NOT happy about it. It's amazing what you can't do when yo

posted 5:50:32pm Oct. 21, 2014 | read full post »

the healing comfort of quiet
When it's noisy, I can't think. My mother used to say -- I can't hear myself think!! Now, these many years later, I get it. When the dogs are barking (frequent!), and the phone is ringing, and someone (or 2 someones

posted 5:11:19pm Oct. 20, 2014 | read full post »

sitting with suffering
"Instead of asking ourselves, “How can I find security and happiness?” we could ask ourselves, “Can I touch the center of my pain? Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it go away

posted 6:27:09pm Oct. 18, 2014 | read full post »


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