Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

clean slate/ past ties ~

This is my current journal — nothing fancy (I’m being a bit stingy using the beautiful rose-pink Italian leather journal a former student gave me :)). Just a black Moleskine. I like the blank pages — they beckon to me. Infinite possibilities ~ :)

But the pen is something special. A gift from my generous, thoughtful sister-in-law. Her grandfather’s green celluloid Parker fountain pen. 14k nib, beautifully broken in already (and yes — you have to break in fountain pens :)) The ink just flows from it.

If the blank pages are each a clean slate, suitable for a complete change of subject, voice, even heart, then the pen is like a ribbon that ties me oh-so-gently to the past. To history. To my husband’s family, so much  my own after so many years…

I collect fountain pens. At least I used to. Now, what used to be their appealing quirks seem over fiddley. I don’t like the way they blow up in my purse when I’m flying. Or run out of ink when I’m nowhere near a bottle of ink.

So I use rollerballs instead. If you write a lot — and I do — and actually like how it feels, a rollerball is verrry close to what writing w/ a fountain pen feels like. But it’s nothing like writing w/ your husband’s grandfather’s green celluloid fountain pen. It’s nothing like knowing this dear man, almost the stuff of saintly legend, held it in his hand and did his accounts, his letters, his doodling with it. More than 70 years ago…

So today I’m writing w/ sienna brown ink on the lines of the creamy pages in my journal. And thinking how grateful I am for small pleasures…The kind rife w/ both possibility & history :) ~

weddings and dreams ~

Our family doctor’s son married in June. I wouldn’t know this, but he was talking weddings to my husband after our return from our son’s wedding. And what Dr. X said seemed rather sad, to me. Digression — are doctor/patient conversations privileged on BOTH sides?

Dr. X asked if my husband became ‘emotional’ at or after the wedding. If it made Glen re-evaluate his life. At least that’s how I heard it, 2nd-hand. Because, Dr. X said, his son’s wedding had thrown him for a loop. Sent him in to a kind of tailspin. Metaphors of losing balance, of upheaval…

Dr. X said  his son’s & daughter-in-law’s vows were so beautiful that he thought: no woman has ever loved me like that. And ~ their life is just beginning, and mine is over. Please note: my doctor is married, a very nice man. We visit when I go for checkups, or the occasional problem. Sometimes I suggest books, and we talk about writing. I like and trust him.

So it worries me that he sounded — at least 2nd-hand — unhappy. Dissatisfied. He’s very well-liked at his clinic. And at other doctor’s offices — specialists whom he’s recommended for eyes, or joints :) — the office staff there knows who he is. Often he’s their doctor too. And they like him. He’s that kind of guy — quietly funny, very smart, dedicated and professional.

Our son’s wedding to a wonderful woman was possibly the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever attended. Including all three of my sisters’, my brother-in-law’s, and my own. And their vows were transcendently lovely. Most of us sat, misty-eyed, as these two beautiful people plighted their troth (I love that phrase :). What it did for me — and for my husband — was remind us of life’s cycles. How this lovely young man, standing so tall and happy beside this beautiful young woman, had been our baby boy. Long-sought and welcome. And now he was getting married.

But for Dr. X, it reminded him — he said — that his life is over. That it has not turned out the way it might have. And that he will not live to see his grandkids grown.  Mind you, this guy is my age. So I don’t get it — that is sooo not what I thought watching N&E’s wedding…

This story, passed on from my husband, reminds me of what I’m learning from Buddhism. That nothing external will satisfy us forever, if we’re not happy inside. And that such happiness isn’t derived from a successful job (he has one). Or marriage (he has that too). Or even being a very nice person (which he is :)). It comes from something else… Many religions believe you only find ‘real’ happiness in faith. I don’t know about that — call me a Buddhist agnostic :).

What I do know is that for me, at least, happiness comes from the moment. From feeling the rush of blood as I stretch. From the fragrance of wet wood as I sweep the deck. From the bristly-but-soft fur of my dog’s coat as I pet him. From trying w/out trying (if that makes sense :)) to be present.

This is pretty Buddhist, I realise :). But it’s also good advice for all of  us. And I wish I could somehow convince dear Dr. X that his life is not over. It begins new & fresh, infinitely possible, every minute. Honest.

public education & teaching teachers ~

This is how teachers learn best: caffeine & reflection :). Well,  at least the teachers I know ~

This week I helped with a two-day workshop with teachers in a town near here — one of the many small Oklahoma towns (population about 2,000 or so) that are fighting lack of funding as they try to keep their rural schools open.

The research is pretty clear that students do better in smaller rural schools than larger consolidated ones. But that doesn’t ‘save money’ ~ it just keeps kids in school. And even as I say that, I realise how negative it sounds. Like a song I was listening to  yesterday says, when negativity surrounds/ I know some day it’ll all turn around. But it won’t if I don’t help it :). I have to make the effort to remember that most of us have good intentions. It’s the ones who want to abolish public education whom I don’t understand ~

I went to both private and public schools. Overseas, English-speaking schools are usually private, paid for by a parent’s employer. But when we lived in the US, I attended public schools. And despite their many warts, that’s the decision my husband & I made for our own two sons. We talked it over seriously, and realised that public schools are much of what makes America American :).

So I do not understand the current discussion of all that’s wrong w/ public schools. People jump on the ‘bash schools & teachers’ movement w/ very little idea of what’s actually involved in teaching, or in education overall. They’ve read none of the research — something unheard of when we speak of medicine, or energy or other professions. Is it because more than 75% of teachers are female? (NEA — 2007-08) Does that make us think that teaching is like parenting, and anyone can do it? (I don’t believe that either, just for the record :))

Around the world, those countries trying to move towards democracy are envious of our public school system. We try to educate all comers: you can enroll in a public school regardless of your background, your abilities, even your language capabilities. And I absolutely support that. Charter schools pick & choose, and still don’t beat public schools, research confirms. In fact, more than 1/3 of charter schools under-perform, compared to public schools, while only 17% out-perform. That’ doesn’t strike me as confidence-inspiring :).

Back to the teachers this past week: They spent the two days before they began school working on how to be teachers. They heard research, tried new classroom strategies, and used each other as resources for the difficult challenges they face daily: one-parent families where the parent is working 3 jobs to make ends meet (Oklahoma is a very poor state); lack of money for resources (teachers spend on average $356.00 annually, each, out of their own pockets — a whopping 1.3 BILLION dollars per year). On the pittance salaries most make…

But most people who blame the problems with contemporary education do not read research. They don’t know that consolidating schools may save money, but it harms real live kids. They don’t understand that classes of 60 online students is not a good idea for many research-based reasons. Ask them if they want their child traveling 20 miles to a school, or studying only online, and they may hem & haw. But usually? Americans look at the ‘bottom line’ — the dollar$ :(.

As I’m always asking — what does this have to do w/ beginner’s heart? :) Perhaps, if we take the time to study issues, we will see at the heart of each ‘other’ a person much like ourselves, struggling to make it in increasingly complex daily lives. Working hard to help the people around us (including our students :)). And not always managing, certainly. But trying. As public school teachers do, day in, day out.

Perhaps we should place human beings above dollars, trying to find solutions that are ones we ourselves would buy into, for our children, for ourselves :).

And maybe we should offer each other a smile and a pat on the back for our efforts :). Or at least buy a teacher you know a cup of coffee (preferably an iced mocha, these hot summer days!) and maybe a pretty journal ~ It’s little enough :).

Joplin, a tornado, an Arab emirate, & good neighbors ~

Credit: Aerial imagery courtesy of MJ Harden, a GeoEye Company.

Those of us who live near Joplin, MO will never forget the tragedy of the May tornado. Such devastation that, as the photo shows, there was a scar where the tornado tore through the earth.

But the thing about tragedies is they often show us who our friends are. And this one brought people from all over the world to the aid of Joplin. Most recently, the United Arab Emirates donated 1/2 million dollars to Joplin high school.

The donation is 1/2 of a $1,000,000.00 donation — the second 1/2 million to be used as matching funds for other contributors. Joplin Schools hopes to provide each of its 2,200 high school students w/ a laptop to help w/ research, online textbooks and schooling, following the tornado’s destruction of the high school.

These days it’s easy to hear that Arab nations and citizens are anti-American. But you don’t give 1/2 a million dollars to your enemies. You give it to your friends. You give it because you’re a good neighbor. And you offer another 1/2 million dollars to encourage others to give, as well.

Blessings to the UAE this Ramadan season. To give during Ramadan is doubly blessed. But to give to people who often revile you and your religion is especially charitable. And to give to children, so they can continue their education — what lovely neighbours. May we all be so generous. :)

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