Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

down time ~

This is my past few months: the sands of time in a huge gritty mess :). Complete w/ the occasional glass shard. But yesterday my largest summer project ended (successfully!), as did another project, and a third the week before that. So tomorrow, in honour of hard work and exhaustion, we’re off to relax. A balcony room overlooking the Ozarks, walking quaint Victorian streets, a haunted hotel, and breakfast someone else makes and cleans up :). Can it get any better?

Only if you add in a lovely drive through the hills up to our destination, dinner at a real log cabin (best steak imaginable), and artisan crafts. Those who know me will know how enticing that all sounds :).

Then feast your eyes on the hotel, built before the turn of the 19th century ~ complete with turrets, breakaway vistas to the church behind and 50′ below, and a ground floor spa. Sigh… My over-worked brain is already softening in anticipation.

We need R&R.  Otherwise, how can we find within our frazzled hearts any peace for the people who need us? I’m a smiler — and a hugger, my friends will warn you. And unless you make it transparently clear that you hate hugs, I will envelop you in one. Maybe even if we haven’t actually met, if there’s any pretext of me knowing. People need to touch :). We need hugs, in my opinionated opinion.

But in order to keep smiling (w/out the family Alzheimer’s to fall back on), I need to rest. And I need to feed my inner artist, as Julia Cameron says. So I’ve packed the portable oil set my indulgent husband bought me for my birthday a few months ago, a Moleskine for drawing and painting in, my new journal (the old one’s about full!), and a couple of books — both the e- kind and the traditional hard-copy kind :).

I’m going to sit like Denise Levertov used to do, watching a mountain (well, an Arkansas hill :)) breathe. And I will breathe almost as slowly. There have been fireworks exploding in my head for weeks now — well, some might call them neurons, but they sure felt hotter and more incandescent than usual! I’m going to celebrate silently. Peacefully. And maybe find the time to reconnect with what sparks imagination — R&R.

 

labels ~

Each year, in the summer graduate seminar I help direct, we do a roundtable about the cultures students bring with them into our classes. We try to invite different perspectives, highlighting cultural and social differences that may not be familiar to the teachers who attend. Today was that roundtable.

Listening to the four panelists — an elder from one of Oklahoma’s 39 federally recognised tribes; a lesbian undergraduate from a nearby private university; a professor of developmental writing, with a background in special education, and a professor and dean emeritus from Oklahoma’s historically black university — reminded me of what seems an innate human need to ‘label’ things. And people.

Many years ago, a beloved professor told me a story about post-war Japan. American surveyors were working w/ Japanese surveyors to map the country for post-war aid. But the Americans & the Japanese kept coming up w/ different distances between points. Nothing seemed to work, so finally an American surveyor followed a Japanese team on its survey.

The Japanese carefully measured from their starting point to the outskirts of a small village. They then circled the village, taking up their measurements on its opposite perimeter. The reason? The racially and linguistically identical Burakumin,  who lived in the village.

Did you get that? The racially & linguistically identical Japanese? Some of whom may well have been down-graded from samurai to eta (which means ‘filthy mess’) simply because their samurai was killed. While others were labeled for doing critically necessary work  — leather tanning, for instance, in a culture where armour was made from leather…

It’s not new, labeling. And it’s never been rational. Labels are windows into our fears: what we worry is ‘catching,’ what we need to feel superior, who’s new kid on the block, or just different. A kind of ‘green monkey syndrome,’ from the (mythical?) experiment where monkeys tore a fellow monkey to pieces after its fur was coloured green. We fear that which taps into our own internal nightmares.

Tetsuya Watabe / kamimodelAt the roundtable, the professor emeritus offered me consolation when I confessed my frustration w/ colleagues who continued in racist and homophobic behaviours. “They’ll change,” he assured me. “In the meantime, we’ll go on educating folks.”

So I offer the Burakumin, as an example no weirder than a society that hates and fears based on religion, that stereotypes based on skin colour, that continues to believe difference is threatening. While I try to figure out how to wait for the changes Doctor Darnell promised me ~

do-overs ~

Sometimes I want a do-over. You know – start from scratch: no mistakes, no mess-ups, no baggage. Like the class I taught once, that went awry from the first day. They didn’t gel. They didn’t really talk. They just kind of sat there. I’ve been known to refer to them as my squid class – kind of free-floating, no internal structure…(I probably shouldn’t admit that :))

Anyway, I told them we were starting over. Fresh and new, clean slate.

Let’s just pretend this is the first day of class, I said. I’ll assume each of you is going to make an A. And you’ll forgive me this weirdly uncomfortable two weeks.

It worked. Sort of – they were never contenders for ‘best class of all time.’ But they came around. And we managed to create a community of sorts.

Which contrasts strongly w/ the class I had last semester. It’s not my smartest class (don’t tell them, please). But it may well be the nicest class I’ve ever had. They seem to actively love each other. I’m not kidding — a college class that has movie night outside of class?? Holds a potluck? Sends each other cards? Let me tell you — that is NOT usual! So I tried to learn how it all came about.

There’s a term in teacher research: ‘teacher inquiry.’ It means that teachers decide what question(s) about their classroom – a single student, a process, a challenge – need to be researched. The teacher then looks for research, and/or designs a way to collect and analyse ‘data’ to help inform answers to the original question. Well, the class I had  this past semester sends me back to a question I’ve had for years: I usually know why a class goes ‘agley,’ as Bobby Burns would say. But what makes one work so well??

So here’s my point: too often, we chastise ourselves when things implode (or explode!). How often do we stop to appreciate when things go along swimmingly, and wonder how to help it happen more often…? When’s the last time you congratulated yourself on a job done amazingly well? A project handled w/ grace and elegance? What’s wrong with loving ourselves at least enough so the Golden Rule actually means something…? What if ‘do-over’ wasn’t a bad thing, but a kind of musical reprise…? Like… a song you’d like to hear more than once… What if? Just sayin’ ~

what’s important ~

So, following a night spent boring everyone w/ whining about my terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, reality asserted itself today. Funny how a night’s sleep, a beautiful morning of bird song and great tea will do that :).

And poetry. Today’s poem from poets.org is a perfect comment on ‘our precious human lives,’ as Ringu Tulku says. Daily Life, the poem reminds me, will not go on forever. And when so many of my friends are struggling with health and job and loss issues… what on EARTH am I whining about?

Enjoy the day “unfolding like a bird slowly/ spreading its wings.” And your precious human life :).

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