Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

at the fair ~

You can see almost anything at the State Fair. Cakes that look like Chinese porcelain, fried butter (really), newborn lambs so wobbly they fall over, grown men carrying giant stuffed animals, Golden Driller bottles of beer… And more. Lots more.

People come to the fair I never see at any other time of year. It’s not as simple as class — if that were it I’d see these people at the Dollar Store, where  both the need-tos and the want-tos shop. And it’s not as simple as rural/ urban, because I visit a lot of small Oklahoma communities. Never see these folks there either.

Nope, it’s something about the fair.  People drive for two hours, as the young man & his mother sharing the table with us in Food Court told us, to get to the fair. “Three fairs in three weeks,’” he told us proudly. But most are local. The 45+ guy with us on the free ‘park & ride’ bus to the fair. I almost never see people of his age wearing old visors (not ball caps — that’s part of it), tattoos from the military, a sleeveless sweatshirt and low-rise jeans, all pulled over a hot & sweaty meat-packer physique. Where is he the rest of the time?

Something in me loves this weirdness. I respond like a child to the butterflies hatching, to the enormous Santa Gertrudis bulls, to the entire spectacle of our agrarian roots, our technological present, and the hunger that seems a key element of the whole experience.

On the bus, people behind me are planning what they’ll eat. Me too! (we split a gigantic home-made cinnamon roll, a plate of real nachos — complete w/ lettuce & tomatoes — and I had a bag of cinnamon roasted almonds) The little girl behind me as I wait in line for admission is planning what animals she’ll see. Me too! (the Percherons, the Belgian blue cattle, the paint horses and the Santa Gertrudis) An older woman passing by is extolling the virtues of the exhibits, and we join the throng of people from all over northeastern Oklahoma as they wind down the aisles of sugar art, waterless cookware and information on keeping bees. I’m in heaven.

My beginner’s heart is reminded: we need to feed ourselves. Not just the fair’s once-a-year orgy of eating (although it’s sooo much fun to eat like you’re 11 years old!), but experiences. Ones that bring our much-missed dead to life, at least in memory: my grandmother’s painted china, exhibited w/ much fanfare at each year’s fair. My mother and I judging the quilts as we strolled past, arm-in-arm, and she wondered aloud if she could do that, given time. My father, as I look at the massive antiques and guns he would have loved.

For me, the fair is a return to a past I remember clearly — when Oklahoma schools were let out a day for students to attend, complete with free admission. When entire families went to the fair together, all three generations. When life was no simpler, but there seemed no end to it in sight… I miss that.The state fair — for one brilliant autumn morning — gives it back to me. Complete with indigestion :).

 

 

what we’re ‘meant’ to be: a story of changing lanes ~

This is, ostensibly, a dog story. Of a dog — Ricochet — who was born & bred to be a service dog, but disappointed. And what happened afterwards… YouTube Preview Image

Buddhism talks about letting go. The opposite of letting go is attachment, which Lama Surya Das likens to “holding on tightly to something that is always slipping through [your] fingers — it just gives [you] rope burn.”

It wasn’t Ricochet ‘holding on,’ nor was it Ricochet who had to ‘let go.’ Beginner’s heart is like that: I’m the one asking that my beginner’s heart be what it’s not — quieter, more disciplined, more reflective. All good things, and qualities I cultivate. But certainly not as much a part of me as passion, a hunger for equity, a fierce determination to ‘right’ things.

I’m Chinese Year of the Dragon — we’re known for being fighters. But a fighter can become an advocate. And passion can fuel social action. Like a service dog who chases birds can become a surfer riding wind & water… You just have to let go of attachment to what should be and look for what might be.

Sure you can drive all the way to the store in the right lane, w/out turning left. But it would be a lot simpler if you just let go. And changed lanes…

 

 

what art has to do with it ~

There are so many things right with this saying… I wouldn’t be alive today without ‘art.’ At a time in my life when even my two beautiful sons couldn’t make me want to go on — when the entire world seemed shattered and full of scarlet glass — a writer saved me. Laid her words down before me, like a thread out of a maze. Almost blind from grief, I followed it to safety, to light.

I’m a museum junkie. Absolutely addicted to them — I go nuts w/out a regular fix. And I buy artisan jewelry, sometimes on Etsy, sometimes at festivals, sometimes writing an artisan I saw in a store to ask where I can buy her jewelry (yep — that would be me :)). I believe that art feeds us, and I try to support artists so they can feed themselves.

My sons were taught early on that we don’t do illegal downloads — it’s a crime against the artists. I ask my students — in every class I teach, from 2nd grade writers to 90-year-old ones — to think about what art means. What it is that is so important, so beautiful, so horrific, that it needs to be written down, painted, made by hand, sewn or forged or built or imagined. And I subscribe to  Alice Walker’s belief that quilters, and gardeners, and the nameless men & women who made ephemeral art from their daily lives are real artists.

I like to draw. Actually, I like to play w/ colours :). I like the way they can be blended together to make more colours, how they feel slipping onto paper. But I can’t draw worth crap. (and this is no-longer-secret grief, believe me…) My sister-in-law is an amazing artist. Her work invites, engages, intimidates. So I asked her to teach me to draw.

N.B.: the best content producers — folks who know things inside & out — aren’t always the best teachers :). But she did teach me something else. Something life-changing. Something I should have migrated from what I know (and teach) about writing…

You don’t have to be great when you begin. Just start. You’ll get better. Eventually you’ll be a LOT better, if you just hang in there. And isn’t that a metaphor for everything…? :)

Once I had my students lay on the floor beneath a  Dale Chihuly ceiling and just look at it. Then write about it, afterwards. I didn’t want to write (rare for me!) ~ I just wanted to look at those colours too clear and vivid for naming. For a moment, I was the poet Rumi : I can’t stop pointing to the beauty.

I want my beginner’s heart to be as full of light as that ceiling — as many-windowed as the earth. For me, a poem a piece of blown glass a hand-made chain a forged and chased knife blade a softly worn quilt a neatly plotted vegetable garden… They’re each of them art, if made with the intent to give beauty. And even horror can be beautiful, as Picasso knew:

We can do that, each of us: live our lives as if they were art. Make them meaningful to the viewer on the outside. More reflective of our own inner purpose. I’m hoping that — if I keep practicing :) — like the drawings in my journal, my life will become more coherent. More like what I imagine it to be. A bigger beginner’s heart…

 

the teacher is the web is everywhere ~

Lately it seems like everywhere I look I learn. I’m learning from the poems on the lists I subscribe to. I’m learning from the birds feeding on the deck (the much-maligned sparrows line up to take turns at their saucer of water). I’m learning (always) from my students. I’m thinking that’s what Buddhism means when it says that everyone we meet is a Buddha, teaching us.

And isn’t it also what Universalism means when it says that all beings will be ‘saved’?

When my elder son was little — 5 or 6 years old — he asked to go to religious school for a day w/ a friend. We lived in Saudi Arabia at the time, so ‘Sunday School’ was on Friday, the Sabbath in many  Arab countries. I said sure, always glad we could have contact with other belief systems. He came home with a fistful of questions about hell, which we don’t believe in. The metaphor I met these questions with was one I used throughout the boys’ childhood, and one I still liek: the divine force is a house, with many rooms and doors and windows and sides. The child whose family believed we were all going to hell, if we didn’t believe as they did, were in another room :). Or maybe outside…:)

Seriously? I wonder how much of my faith in the universality of all beliefs — that all lead to the same place, ideally, even the more outré of them — grows from my childhood. I went to Buddhist temple w/ our amahs, burning incense and bowing to the gilded image of the Lord Buddha. I watched as Chị Tám, the cook who ran the household, burned paper clothes for her dead ancestors on Tết, the Chinese New Year. I went to Catholic catechism w/ Jeannie Adams down the street, to synagogue w/ my sister’s best friend Sydney, to ecumenical Sunday School  w/ the family. It all seemed much  the same: offer something (from prayers to money) and try to be a better person.

Now? I see belief’s own teachers everywhere I turn. My journal is spilling over, its spine already cracking from quotes, poems, a cartoon, a picture. Each of which has something to teach me: Robert Frost on the dark night of the soul; a stencil from my niece, reminding me that love is often undeserved and all the more precious; a picture of a bubble, fragile and luminous; a hand-drawn thank-you from a dear friend’s granddaughter for a trinket. There are public transportation tickets, lists of things to buy & do, threads of poems I may or may not weave into something wearable… And each of them teaches me something different about faith, belief, what lies beneath the surface of my days.

So look around. Who — or what? — is trying to reach? To teach you? I know it sounds awfully New Age, but the world is a web — each of us connected to each other. Bee to honey to knife to mouth to me to breath to air to world to you… Each of us breathing in the air breathed by everyone and everything. Ever. It’s a lot to learn. But sweet.

 

 

 

 

http://www.storypeople.com/storypeople/WebStory.do?storyID=1104

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