Here’s John Ciardi’s poem, “Bees & Morning Glories”:
Morning glories, pale as a mist drying,
fade from the heat of the day, but already
hunchback bees in pirate pants and with peg-leg
hooks have found and are boarding them.
This could do for the sack of the imaginary
fleet. The raiders loot the galleons even as they
one by one vanish and leave still real
only what has been snatched out of the spell.
I’ve never seen bees more purposeful except
when the hive is threatened. They know
the good of it must be grabbed and hauled
before the whole feast wisps off.
They swarm in light and, fast, dive in,
then drone out, slow, their pantaloons heavy
with gold and sunlight. The line of them,
like thin smoke, wafts over the hedge.
And back again to find the fleet gone.
Well, they got this day’s good of it. Off
they cruise to what stays open longer.
Nothing green gives honey. And by now
you’d have to look twice to see more than green
where all those white sails trembled
when the world was misty and open
and the prize was there to be taken.
On the plane coming home from a weekend writer’s conference, I sat next to a very nice woman from Austin. She was unbelievably lovely, soft-spoken with a sweet Southern drawl. We talked, as passengers in tiny seats sharing breathing space do, about one thing & another. And I didn’t even realise that I had made certain assumptions — prejudiced assumptions — until Janet-from-Austin blew ’em up.
Digression: Dolly Parton was once asked, as she first began her library project, when she thought people would stop thinking speakers with Southern accents were stupid. Her reply doesn’t fit w/ my epiphany, but the question sure does. 🙂 Because I had assumed that this lovely woman — too pretty, too Southern, a monied stay-at-home mother (probably a Southern debutante) — wasn’t unusually bright.
At which point Janet mentioned she has a law degree and a master’s. In education curriculum & design. And I am frantically going back over what I’ve said — hoping I wasn’t a jerk, or even ‘just’patronising. Please note: it’s not that degrees (or even education) define being ‘smart.’ But I had made the totally bogus assumption that Janet wouldn’t even care about advanced degrees. And law school and master’s degrees ARE hard. I also wouldn’t have thought she’d stick even one, much less both.
At that point, our conversation deepened, obviously. And I’m left to consider, later, prejudice & stereotyping. How insidious it is. How difficult to see in ourselves. I wonder, over the next several hours, if the people who turn on Obama for things Bush also did see any double standard. And which of Janet’s ‘markers’ shut the door to my heart, initially.
Was it because she had a Southern accent? I have several close friends — and family! — w/ Southern accents. I know they’re smart.
Was it her soft, tiny, voice? Maybe — that’s been a problem for me (big-booming-voice me) for a long time. But it’s a lesson I thought I’d learned long ago.
How about her loveliness? Many of my friends — brilliant women — are drop-dead beautiful. Again, I know better. I don’t think it was any single one of these, really.
As for staying at home w/ her kids? I did that for years, and was grateful to have the luxury.
I can only assume it was gestalt: the Southern deb image. A stereotype? Sure. And one — ironically — that Janet really didn’t fit, once I visited w/ her. Yes, she has money. No, she doesn’t work outside the home. Instead, she’s considering returning to school for her doctorate. Because she’d like to teach. Something I relate to on every level. 🙂
So here’s what my beginner heart learned:
Next time you meet someone, consider this: are you — as Pema Chodron says — proceeding without intention? Listening w/out a filter? I would have said yes. But I wasn’t (obviously). And I suspect this is not the first time. Next time I meet a stranger, I will take a deep breath, and listen openly. Proceed without intention. For Janet’s sake. She deserves that consideration. Better late, right?
I don’t want to tell you how much of our retirement fund goes for bird seed. Not to mention bird feeders, suet and the containers to put it in, hummer feeders (and sugar for it — we make our own not-red ‘nectar’), etc. Thankfully my husband is a birdophile too. 🙂
Each spring it’s fascinating to watch as the fledglings learn to fly, and begin to frequent the feeders. Beginning last year, we have baby woodpeckers. Who knew they were sooo silly when they first start hunting food?? They will peck at ANY upright: a bird feeder hook (even a cast-iron one!), a post, the side of a hummingbird feeder… Not your brightest bulbs as they learn to shine.
This year, for the first time, we had a young blue jay. In competition w/ his parent (impossible to tell Mom from Dad, at least w/out a group; even the experts agree), he has been eating at the seed cylinder. Which has been so much fun to watch. Jays are big enough to shoulder off the darn starlings (we don’t encourage them, but we don’t do anything mean to keep them away), which is great. Somehow watching a jay eat is a lot more interesting than watching starlings war for turf.
Now the baby jay is gone, the victim of either an elderly, crippled cat (really — she’s 11, and limps badly), or a French bulldog with no good sense. And yes, I know a bird that can’t fly away from an old gimpy cat or a short, asthmatic dog, isn’t good evolutionary material. But still — my husband & I are grieving for a single wild bird, in the face of all the tragedy throughout our state. We returned to its passing over the course of the day ~ so sad about the baby jay… I wonder if it was Hugo or Sophie?…it’s just so SAD.
Somehow, the jay is immediate, tangible. Even though friends of mine have been impacted measurably — ranging from inconvenience to losing all they possess — I find myself mourning this nameless bird. Whom we knew for only a few weeks.
Everything passes, I know. I say it to myself frequently: a kind of Buddhist mantra. 🙂 And when tragedy strikes friends or family, it’s my go-to self-comforting chant: this will pass this will pass. As did the blue jay, his navy & indigo and cerulean blue feathers scattered in confusion around his limp body. And I’m very very sorry.
I’ve always been insatiably, even dangerously curious. As a child (a pink-cheeked blonde, whose mother too often made her wear pastels…), I took apart lamps, rewiring them (and only rarely shocked myself). I slept with a taxidermied squirrel, because it was real (lumpy, though).
I followed bugs to wherever they were going, and read anything in the house. Including the medical encyclopædia, sometimes. I watched the cook wring a chicken’s neck, and then asked her why it jumped around afterwards. I looked up EVERYTHING, long before the Google folks were gleams on the horizon.
Knowledge — and the research it required — was my ocean, and I immersed myself in it as much as I could. Reading up on every new fancy, from bees to dollhouses to China to Việtnamese history to tea. I still do.
People on the outside of academia — the university, higher research, ‘academe,’ as we academics like to call ourselves 🙂 — think we get to do pretty much what we want. Allow me to gently disabuse you of this notion. The cartoon is far more accurate. And this is scary.
Knowledge begins with curiousity. But for the past several years, both liberals and conservatives have — sometimes quietly & subtly, sometimes loudly and with great fanfare — influenced what academics research. Certainly grant funders — primarily the government and large private corporations — have agendas. And note: an agenda is not the same, necessarily, as bias. I used to tell my students: the American Cancer Society has an agenda about smoking: it causes cancer. So their research publishings are under that agenda. It does NOT mean they’re biased, as their studies are medical double-blind, primarily. The KKK, however, has both an agenda — to bleach America back to its ‘original’ purity (I always wonder when this fable began: how can anyone pretend the Indians weren’t here first??) — and bias: there is no viable research (of the double-blind type) that supports a return to white supremacy. There was never any argument for white supremacy in the first place.
So how do we break free from this cycle, and why is it important?
We have to realise — like the Buddha once said — that skepticism is good: Question everything. And that means being skeptical even of the agendas of those who hold power over us. Once, many years ago, I had a professor I knew wouldn’t agree w/ my politics. So I wrote the draft of my paper to please him. It sucked (to put it mildly). Well-written (just being honest! 🙂 ), but lackluster. No passion, no real point, other than the grade. I got a B. Would I have received an A had I stuck to my principles? Maybe not. But I would have LEARNED something. I would have made the paper work for ME.
Years later, on the other hand, I walked into another professor’s office, insisting that we find a way to make what seemed to me pretty useless class assignments (at least for a poet) into something I could use. He worked w/ me, to give him credit. And the result was a large body of scholarship I ended up using in significant ways, not to mention the cachet it gave me in my career.
These are anecdotal, I realise. But here’s my point: what we do for the furthering of our own knowledge, what calls to us in the dulcet tones of seductive curiousity? It will feed us, grow us, and even heal us. That’s good for everyone.