Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

the last time, or, separation anxiety ~

I’m taking early retirement this year. And it’s changed the way I view almost everything. For one thing, apparently it’s not retirement if you’re not old enough. It’s ‘separation.’ So perhaps what I’m having is separation anxiety…

Our culture defines us by what we do — our work, our roles. Now, I’m wondering what to tell people when they ask what I do… I could say, w/ all truth, that I write. But as the poet Mark Doty once told me, telling folks you write (poetry, especially)  scares them more than telling them your partner has AIDS. Having watched passengers on the plane, sitting next to me, sidle to the edge of their seats away from me as I read (or write) poetry, I have to agree.


Right now, I’m teaching. Teaching is a huge part of who I am: I do it for a job; I do it for a hobby; I do it for free. I do it for love :). And I won’t stop teaching. But as I wind down this chapter of my teaching career, I seem to hear a kind of refrain: last time last time last time.

There’s a rhythm to a class schedule. While I change things every semester, I always include what I think of as my ‘core values.’ Community building at the beginning, blank puzzles for new writing groups. Journals, always. A colouring day or 2 or even 3. The mid-semester talk where I remind my students that ‘it’s just school.’ As each of these has occurred this semester, I’ve found myself thinking: last time.


It means even grading (which I HATE) is imbued with the patina of separation. It also means that at least now, for this semester, I understand living as if each moment was your last.

My knowledge that my time doing these tasks  is ending gives them each a newness. It’s the actualisation of ‘live in the moment,’ I guess. So that I see each task as if it were, paradoxically, a first. That sense of excitement, the anticipation of the action. It’s both first and last time, if that makes sense. Each time.

So for the moment, I actually understand what Ram Dass meant when he said be here now. This afternoon, as I sat in circle with my students, I couldn’t help but think enjoy this moment ~ nothing lasts. And it made a perfect Tuesday class even more so…

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