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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

cultural burdens, with homage to Carol Emarthle-Douglas

Carol Emarthle-Douglas' 'Cultural Burdens.' Photo: Daniel Nadelbach.

Carol Emarthle-Douglas’ ‘Cultural Burdens.’ Photo: Daniel Nadelbach.

This may be the most moving piece of art I’ve seen in many many months. When it came across my FB feed today (via Indian Country), I caught my breath. I grew up in “Indian Country,” which is what too many of the wrong people call Oklahoma. Friends, boyfriends, and family were Indian. We didn’t have the term ‘Native American’ all those years ago, and many of my friends & colleagues still eschew it. Indian is what they are, they will tell you — if they don’t insist (& rightfully so) on tribal affiliation.

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Oklahoma has the second highest percentage of Native Americans, right after Alaska: 12.9 %. We have a large number of varied tribes, as well as NA languages still spoken. Several tribes have their capitols in OK, the result of massive relocation efforts by the US government at various times (Choctaw, Cherokee, Seminole, Muscogee (Creek), & Chickasaw, to cite the most familiar). Here in Oklahoma, we know both the many beautiful, powerful elements of Indian histories, and the profoundly tragic.

the author's

the author’s

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So this basket resonated on many levels for me: as a mother, as an Oklahoman, as a social activist, and as someone who has always thought basketry one of the highest arts. I’m the person who traded her stuff in Kenya for baskets — beautiful hand-made Kikuyu & Samburu baskets that still have places of reverence in our home. I’ll get rid of a lot of stuff, but not my baskets. They are art — the art of nameless women making beauty out of everyday need. So the art of Carol Emarthle-Douglas’ prize-winning basket awes me.

But I’m also drawn in as a mother, daughter, grand- and great-granddaughter. My old women remain such significant vectors in my life, even decades after their loss. Basket-weaving is, generally, women’s work. This one honours not only that quotidian artistry, but also the ways in which our mothers, grandmothers, aunts & wise women & elders hand down our stories, our histories. The way my grandmothers told me stories of wagons, and journeys, and their youth. The way my great-aunts made their childhoods come alive. And the stories with darker threads: the loss of the blood-knowledge of healing, the uncle not to be trusted, the husbands who left them left them. The planting by the moon, the looking to nature for healing and help, the calling to birds and animals. These are woven as surely into the small baskets the women in Carol Emarthle-Douglas’ art carry as they are into my own small life.

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the author's

the author’s

Beginner’s hearts are fed on stories, like the ones the women carry in their many varied baskets, each one honouring a different tribe, a different history. I have watched friends & colleagues grieve as the last native speaker of their tribe passed from teaching, and I know that some of these baskets are bereft of language. But they are never empty of stories. And it’s that certainty that makes this art so deeply moving: each of these baskets holds more than ‘simple’ history: it holds the cultures of a hundred thousand thousand men, women, & children. Each holds losses, dreams, legacies. All in simple baskets, carried on a woman’s back.

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silver linings

via flickr

via flickr

For those d’un certain âge, the Rolling Stones said it best: You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometimes you just might find/You get what you need.

In other words? The whole silver lining thingie.

Because the problem (of course there’s a problem!) is that we don’t always see a silver lining. Maybe it’s the light or something, but I KNOW I rarely think: Oh! Just because C or D or X or Y fell through, doesn’t mean I should be disappointed. I’ll get what I need, instead! Right…

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Instead, I’m thinking: WHAT! And not happy. Nope. Not thinking the whole ‘get what you need’ thing. Whining because something didn’t work out, fell through, etc. Disappointed in the universe, in other words.

via google

via google

Take the house we should be moving to even as I type… Deal fell through. So did the deal for possible house #2. And the deal for possible lot. And then everything just kind of went haywire. Or snafu, as my military dad would have said. Punchline? It will be probably a year before we move… IF we can find a house.

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Now here is (one) silver lining I’m trying (hard!) to focus on: I’m back on the board of my state humanities council! Whoohoo! As someone who often says that the humanities are the best of studies (here, here, and here, for instance), this is great news! I reeeaaallly hated having to give that up. The nicest of people, and such an important cause.

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There are other glimpses of silver as well. One is that I was able to apply for a job I may even get! Seriously — it’s a job I”d love, and I have the perfect background for it. Does NOT mean I’ll get it, though. As we all know — the universe quite often has very different plans than the ones we make.

via commons.wikimedia

via commons.wikimedia

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But … at least today I’m aware that losing the house I wanted so much, the lot I was so excited about building on, aren’t the worst losses possible. And that there may even be benefits — my beloved & I can brainstorm a house better. We may pay less. If I can work a while, we’ll have more $$. So: if I can just keep my perspective, I don’t feel loss. I feel … possibility. The silvery gleam of possibility. That’s sooo much more fun than whining about what didn’t happen!

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the impulse to art

coffee art by Kazuki Yamamoto

coffee art by Kazuki Yamamoto

This, my friends, is art. And better than anything else I can think of, it demonstrates our deep-set need to create beauty. The Dalai Lama says that any profession  – every profession – will be a calling to 1/3 of its workers. I would bet being a barista is just that to Kazuki Yamamoto: a calling. An art.

Aside from its loveliness, this piece of totally ephemeral art makes my beginner’s heart happy (despite my current mad-on for the inept tech support where I just lost a very important piece of deadline-driven work). It exists for no other purpose than the artist’s joy in its creation. And that, friends, is the best of artistic impulses.

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cleaning house, reprised

the author's

the author’s

As we come closer to moving — even though we no longer have a house under contract, nor do we know when we’ll find one! — I’m getting ever more serious about ‘cleaning house.’ Which means that we emptied the storage unit. We cleaned out the attic. And I’m through all the easy passes on my (numerous) books. Now we’re into hard choices.

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We’re also into interesting learning, if that makes sense. Do those of us who love books (and boy, do I LOVE books) keep them to reread? Do we keep them because the tangible presence of the book reifies our first and/or later reding experience(s)? Or do we keep them to impress others with our full bookshelves (I sooo hope I don’t do this!),?

If I thought I’d read them again, I’d keep far more books. But right now, I don’t even know if I’ll have a study! OR if it will be large enough to have my book case right beside my desk, as it is now. Certainly with my current set-up, I pull out the dictionary of music for poetry terms, sometimes. Or an anthology I dearly love — No More Masks! — to read a poet I miss. And the Writer’s Market, the Synonym Finder…all my ‘tool’ books? I still pull them out frequently. But what about my collection of Billy Collins? Or Merwin? My collected Auden? How can I give those away? They’re such a part of me! And this doesn’t include all the books in the living room! TWICE what the picture shows; that’s just 1/2 of what we still have!

Previous Posts

cultural burdens, with homage to Carol Emarthle-Douglas
This may be the most moving piece of art I've seen in many many months. When it came across my FB ...

posted 5:48:11pm Aug. 26, 2015 | read full post »

silver linings
For those d'un certain âge, the Rolling Stones said it best: You can't always get what you want/But if you try sometimes you just might find/You get what ...

posted 6:20:17pm Aug. 24, 2015 | read full post »

the impulse to art
This, my friends, is art. And better than anything else I can think of, it demonstrates our deep-set need to create beauty. The Dalai Lama ...

posted 9:41:23pm Aug. 20, 2015 | read full post »

cleaning house, reprised
As we come closer to moving -- even though we no longer have a house under contract, nor do we know when we'll find one! -- I'm getting ever more serious ...

posted 5:10:21pm Aug. 17, 2015 | read full post »

laundry and blackberry pie
This is my reward for a gruelling two weeks spent with the family my mother-in-law into a new, more secure  Alzheimer's facility. It's the break from the ...

posted 4:38:45pm Aug. 15, 2015 | read full post »

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