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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

sick leave, or, big sky mind

salmonella via wikipediaFood poisoning is the pits. Actually, I can’t think of a publicly permissible word that truly describes the experience. Suffice to say? Horrible.

It sneaks up on you, after what seemed like a normal meal, and suddenly you’re sicker than you can remember being. Fever, cold sweats, all the other less-talked-about elements. Miserable.

But here’s the deal: it’s kind of an exercise in beginner’s mind, if not heart: it does pass. It just takes far longer than you’d like. I came down sick sick sick Friday evening, and am only today feeling quasi-human.

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Ugh.

And was it salmonella? I have no clue. It might have been listeria. Or campylobacteri. Or who knows what?? It wasn’t anticipated — like most bad things. And it wasn’t welcomed. And it took forever to pass. But? It did.

And that’s the point to most of the trials — and even the bigger tribulations — in my life: they do pass. It just sometimes takes them forever, and the process is pretty painful in the meantime.

via google

via google

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Still, big sky mind is the rule: the clouds come, the clouds go. Only the sky remains.

The next time pain intrudes — whether the physical ache & nausea of food poisoning, or the wrenching tears of grief, or the sharp pangs of unwanted loneliness, remember: they’re all clouds. Like salmonella, they will pass. Treat them w/ proper attention — rest, rehydration. And then get back up, and prepare to watch the sky. That lovely clear sky (sometimes blue, sometimes black with night) that is always there for us, just beyond the clouds & storms we obsess over…

 

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in praise of fathers, or, Happy Birthday, Daddy

the author's

the author’s

Today is my father’s birthday. He would be so old: 98. He’s been gone more than 20 years, and I still miss him. In my memory, this is how I always see him — beside the spotless blue&white Buick, tall and still trim, dressed in tropical whites. He was, to me, the handsomest of men.

We didn’t always get along, my father & I. We were both stubborn, sure we were right, and unwilling to compromise. I remember a food fight over the Nixon election that had everyone else at the table in tears. Not me & Daddy — we were slamming our fists on the table for emphasis, until the food was flying.

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I don’t miss my father the same way I do my mother, daily. I miss my father when certain things happen I know he’d appreciate, or when I wish I could ask his opinion on things. While my mother was a very smart woman — she had a Top Secret government clearance in WWII — she read historical fiction, not history. Sang jazz songs instead of reciting poetry. My father was a scholar manqué, always learning from a book about something. I take after him that way.

I still have his Kipling, the child’s Shakespeare by the Lambs that he gave me. His multi-volume collection of Twain I gave to one of my sisters. I also have the oddities he loved: the ashtray made from a tiger’s skull, inlaid w/ silver in the mouth & eye sockets. My father was never politically correct. The brass gong, the brass dinner bell rung before many dinners. A tattered photo album he brought my mother from Shanghai.

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the author's

the author’s

It would be in adulthood that we would reconcile, when I became a journalist, or right before. I would have lunch with him at the small hotel where he had a suite, in a small town north of my own. I worked on the paper there, and Daddy would come visit me from the community college where he built a rifle range, where he taught gun safety and related courses. Sometimes I would accompany him to various gun shows, watching as he charmed everyone he met w/ his big laugh and intent listening. Everywhere he went he gathered people to him like a magnet gathers iron filings.

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When I was 16, I got in trouble that could have cost him his job. It wasn’t my fault, but he didn’t know that when he told me not to worry — we’ll be okay, he said. It meant everything to me. I was important, something I wasn’t always sure, in the shuffle of one move after another. Years later, when I was pregnant w/ my elder son, Daddy would come visit me while I was on bed rest, telling me stories of men long dead, of battle sites now green w/ grass. It would be years later yet, as he faded, before we were again as close. When I tended him, now confined to his bed. When he needed me, finally, as I had needed him always.

The world talks much about how our mothers shape us. And they do. Certainly my mother is a huge influence on who I am. But fathers are just as important. My father, through his own life, gave me literature, history, music. He taught me that you are there for your family & friends, even if it’s inconvenient, and even when they make you crazy. He passed on his wanderlust — his love of the next adventure around the next corner. And probably some of his not-so-stellar traits, as well (I’m still verrry stubborn!).

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Happy Birthday, Daddy. When I watch the boys — grown men now — I see you in the elder’s face. I hear you in the younger’s sense of humour. Both of them adore music, as you did. Both of them love rifles, as you did (One year I shared my bedroom w/ my father’s gun collection. The smell of gun oil takes me right back…). You would be so very proud of them both. As I am, of you. If my beginner’s heart is growing, much of that is due to you, and all you taught me.

I miss you. Still.

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anticipation

via wikimedia

Charleston Battery via wikimedia

Sometimes I think what I love best about vacations is the anticipation. The planning, the tour guides, cruising websites, learning all I can about where we’re going.

Last night we confirmed our family vacation this summer. My beloved, my elder son, my DIL, and my grandson & I are going to Charleston! Actually — even better — we’re going to Isle of Palms, outside of Charleston.

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Think about it: ocean, sand, leisure time, small cafés. Shopping in Charleston, walking the Battery. Crab cakes, low country cooking. My grandson on the beach. What could be better??

I wonder how my life would change if I tried to look at every day w/ that kind of anticipation ~ trying to fill it w/things I love doing. Anticipating the next one as if it were a gift. I wonder if I could even sustain it…

Isle of Palms sunrise via wikimedia

Isle of Palms sunrise
via wikimedia

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Lately, since my beloved left ICU on his feet instead of on a gurney, every day has seemed like a gift. It’s one impetus behind this vacation. What good is retirement, and a small windfall, if you don’t spend them making memories? Which last. (Well, unless I get Alzheimer’s…) This is all we have, so far as I know: this life, these days. Each of them a gift to unwrap and enjoy.

Seriously? I’m going to order a tour guide of Charleston. I’m already researching places to have tea. And I’m going to begin the exercise program I have to dust off regularly. So I can be in fine shape to enjoy a week at the beach. Not to mention be able to keep up w/my grandson!

And I’m looking forward to all of it w/ huge anticipation.

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poetry as mentor

William Blake's watercolor of "Age teaching youth", a Romantic representation of mentorship.  via wikipedia.org

William Blake’s watercolor of “Age teaching youth,” a Romantic representation of mentorship.
via wikipedia.org

So by now everyone knows it’s National Poetry Month. And I’m also writing poetry daily, as NPM coincides w/ National Poetry WRITING Month (NaPoWriMo). It’s a very happy month for me.

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Today’s poem is by a poet who has been a mentor for me in both my craft, and in his thoughts. Jack Gilbert was a gifted poet — winner of several prestigious awards, and continuing to write until he died, in his late 80s. But there are poets I love for their craft (Mark Doty always comes to mind) and poets I love for what their craft translates: what they say, not simply how they say it. Jack Gilbert was both, able to reveal what felt like the world’s great secrets in a single line.

I’m sure this is another of those life metaphors writing continues to teach me, like age — as Blake noted — offers lessons to the young who will listen. I confess I haven’t always listened to my elders, unless they were/ are poets. Gilbert, for instance, helped me come to terms with the fact that writing poetry isn’t easy for me. I’m not prolific, and I revise far more than I draft. When asked on NPR why he only published four books of poetry in 50 years, he responded: “It’s not a business with me . . . . I’m not a professional of poetry, I’m a farmer of poetry.”

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I love that. The gardener in me knows just how hard it is to prepare dirt, to sow seed, to cultivate & nurture & tend. Endure the vicissitudes of weather, the vagaries of predatory insects. It’s one of the best descriptions of writing — at least for me — ever. I’m trying to live a life where poetry can be harvested, as Gilbert did.

In the meantime, I’m looking at one of the books in his collected works, a book I bought before his collected works came out. A book I’ve given away several times. A book with lines like We find out the heart only by dismantling what/ the heart knows. And We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars. Or …Our lives happen between/ the memorable. 

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Here’s a poem from his final book, The Dance Most of All. 

Waking at Night

The blue river is grey at morning
and evening. There is twilight
at dawn and dusk. I lie in the dark
wondering if this quiet in me now
is a beginning or an end.

 

Previous Posts

sick leave, or, big sky mind
Food poisoning is the pits. Actually, I can't think of a publicly permissible word that truly describes the experience. Suffice to say? Horrible. It sneaks up on you, after what seemed like a normal meal, and suddenly you're sicker than you ...

posted 5:16:20pm Apr. 26, 2015 | read full post »

in praise of fathers, or, Happy Birthday, Daddy
Today is my father's birthday. He would be so old: 98. He's been gone more than 20 years, and I still miss him. In my memory, this is how I always see him -- ...

posted 8:42:11pm Apr. 23, 2015 | read full post »

anticipation
Sometimes I think what I love best about vacations is the anticipation. The planning, the tour guides, cruising websites, learning all I ...

posted 5:15:55pm Apr. 21, 2015 | read full post »

poetry as mentor
So by now everyone knows it's National Poetry Month. And ...

posted 3:37:56pm Apr. 18, 2015 | read full post »

what poets do
I'm always trying to explain to people 'why poetry?' But today I found a poem that says it far better than I can, and by one of my favourite poets ~ Lawrence ...

posted 12:22:13pm Apr. 16, 2015 | read full post »

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