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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

wanted: the perfect house to become a home

the author's

the author’s

This is the house I identify with childhood, on the left side of this giant ‘duplex,’ with the giant screened porches upstairs. It’s a villa, with a postage-stamp yard, from when my family lived in ViệtNam. This house — so Eurasian, not American at all — imprinted for me what ‘house’ looks like. There were 3 ‘real’ bedrooms upstairs: one for my parents, one for my two middle sisters, and one for me. A bath for my folks, and one for my sisters — each with its own European essential, a bidet. My room — at least until the baby came — had a tiny 1/2 bath, w/ an over-under toilet most Americans have never seen.

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After the fourth baby came, I was moved onto a screened-in porch, as my former bedroom was made in to a nursery. Then, that porch became the amah Chi Ba’s bedroom, and I was moved yet again. This time into the former wardrobe, where the big closets w/ their anti-moisture lightbulbs had been stored. There was just room for a single bed, a nightstand, a very small chest. The only ‘window’ looked into Chi Ba’s room, the old porch. Most of our ‘living’ was done downstairs, in the huge living room (where we pulled cushions off the bamboo furniture and built rafts across the tile floors). Or outside, beneath the carport. Or sometimes at various parks nearby. We rarely had a yard.

Grandma in front of the Birmingham house

Grandma in front of the Birmingham house

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So while this was my house — and home — for several very impressionable years, ‘real’ home was my Grandma’s & Aunt Bonnie’s house. A small, white clapboard house w/ only one ‘real’ bedroom. Uncle Charlie had to close in the back porch for Grandma when Aunt Bonnie moved in.

Here we had holiday dinners. Here we lived, kids nestled in with two generations when we were home on leave. Sometimes I slept w/ a sister on the twin bed in the dining room; sometimes I slept with Grandma. A couple of times I slept in the bathtub, or on the prickly horsehair sofa. Always safe, never worried about anything more stressful than school.

My ideas of ‘home’ and ‘house,’ in other words, have been shaped permanently by the transience of my father’s government career. There was home leave while we were overseas, so that I changed schools almost annually. There were never large yards until I reached junior high, and then only while we were in the US. Yards were more like Grandma’s, full of a small garden w/ vegetables, and fences clad in sweet peas, roses, & morning glories. The passalong plants of the South were her mainstays, and they grew for those two green-handed old ladies like weeds do in vacant lots. Later, as I grew to adulthood, I would realise just how tiny that house & yard were. But to me as a child, they were as large as the love my two old ladies wrapped around me like blankets.

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via wikimedia

via wikimedia

Now, when it comes time to move yet again, I find myself trying to articulate just why I don’t want a big new house. Why I find myself drawn to older homes, that need a bit of love & imagination. Even though I realise I’m a bit beyond the fixer-upper stage of my life!

My beloved, on the other hand, although he grew up in a small home, stayed in it all his childhood. He also had access to 350+ acres of virgin prairie woodlands. So his idea of home is more spacious than mine — that Oklahoma acreage translates in to more yard for him. A stable childhood means you can move more easily into what your needs are now, and not be governed by what you wanted as a child. :)

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So much of what we are today is inflected by what we were yesterday. We pretend this is not so to our own loss. If I can articulate to my beginner’s heart why I have such a visceral dislike of suburban sub-divisions, I stand a much better chance of moving forward with some hope of wisdom. :) If I can acknowledge that I don’t trust big houses — they never lasted — I can talk more clearly to my beloved about what I do like, and why.

Our past is not a determinant, but it’s certainly a vector, like wind that blows us off course sailing. We just have to figure out what’s changed our path, and how to take that in to consideration. That’s my job these days: to find a home that is now.  And to lay to rest some of the remaining ghosts of my itinerant childhood.

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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.

Previous Posts

wanted: the perfect house to become a home
This is the house I identify with childhood, on the left side of this giant 'duplex,' with the giant screened porches upstairs. It's a villa, with a ...

posted 3:01:12pm Aug. 30, 2015 | read full post »

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 »

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