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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

the intersection of then and now

via commons.wikimedia

via commons.wikimedia

I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my life, as have many people. But I’ve also had several ‘careers': jobs where you invest time & education to advance, to become better at what you do. Where the work becomes one defining element of who you are.

One of the more important ones — it still influences me in many significant ways — was as a journalist for a large daily newspaper (circulation more than 75,000). I worked there for only about six years, but they shaped me like wind does a tree: slowly, but inexorably.

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I began as an intern, talking my way into a paid position while I was still in college. Then the usual stair steps: copy person, obits, bedroom edition, city, and finally a beat. Mine was science & medicine, my favourite.

via pixabay

via pixabay

I haven’t been a journalist in many many years. Instead, I became a teacher at the university level, and a working writing coach. Now, retired, I’m on yet another adventure, serving on a couple of boards of organisations I adore. One is our state Humanities Council.

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Today I went to an awards banquet, where the magazine of our state council was up for an award. Sitting w/ my two colleagues and good friends (the editor of the magazine and the director of our council), I watched as a few friends left from those early days circled through the large room. A woman on the editorial board, a colleague from another board. Mostly I listened to the keynote speaker, a well-known national journalist.

She was reminding us — but mostly me, in my self-centric world — that it’s all connected. That we can’t have a world w/ strong freedoms (the freedom for humanities scholarship, for example) if we don’t also have free press. And that we are a country quickly losing our press, as newspapers downsize or flat disappear. My own city newspaper — the one where I worked — has riffed probably close to 1/2 the people who worked there when I did.

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via pixabay

via pixabay

How does this connect to beginner’s heart? The humanities (as I’ve said often before) are US, folks. Human beings. They feed our beginner’s hearts. For as surely as we need protein to grow physically, we need the humanities to grow mentally & spiritually. We need history, and science. We need architecture, literature, music & medicine. We need all these very human gifts.

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In other words? Of course my different lives connected today. Because they’re always connected, as all things are. But in my case, my entire life has been grounded in writing. From very early childhood to this very moment. I just forget. :)

I shouldn’t. Because ‘then’ and ‘now,’ ‘here’ & ‘gone,’ are really all the same place, in a kind of relativistic way. It’s all one web, with these various life nodes bumping up against each other. It’s just that I need reminders, every so often. We all do. Hence the humanities, which remind us that we’re all humans, bumbling along. Needing the company of others, and their many many gifts.

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catching up on poetry

poetry imageEach day of this month I’m writing poetry. (You ought to try it — really. It’s a LOT more fun when you aren’t being graded!) I’m also reading poetry daily — my own, that of others. And whenever April comes, I wonder how these habits got away from me.

Because they feed me. I feel like one of those wrinkled, just-hatched butterflies exiting the chrysalis. Sitting in a kind of poetic sun, growing stronger. I know — pretty metaphorical, huh? But it’s true: poetry is like a tonic to me.

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I don’t expect I’ll convert you to writing it, necessarily. But maybe — if we’re both lucky — I’ll remind you how poetry can speak to deep places in you. And how it can even heal them.

So here’s one I love, by Elizabeth Bishop, one of my favourites. It’s a bit sad, but so lovely. And perhaps you need it, as I once did:

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

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birthdays, FaceBook, and gifts of love

the author's

the author’s

Today was my birthday. And it’s been one of my nicest yet. My family rolls their eyes when I say this, reminding me I always love my birthday. Which is true.

But today was a bit different, even so. And better for it.

My gifts ranged from phone calls to music to a cartoon portrait to gift cards to a 6-month subscription to free books. I had beignets for brunch (I dearly love beignets!) and Thai noodle soup for dinner.

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My gifts were as diverse as my world is. My husband, laid up and a bit too ill to really shop, gave me gift cards to two of my favourite places: Etsy & Kindle. Plus earrings (another fave!). My sons both called — one from Bali, w/ tales of beaches & hostels & adventure. The other w/my grandson in the backseat, calling to me GiGi! GiGi! My elder son had to call me after they arrived home, because Trin kept pointing to the phone & demanding GiGi! Once on FaceTime, he blew me a kiss, and at a scant 2 years (only 23 months!), said quite clearly: I love you. What gift is better than THAT?

courtesy the artist,  Bryan Loftis

courtesy the artist,
Bryan Loftis

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A dear girlfriend found me several music videos on YouTube, ensuring I will have new things to listen to this next year. My sister and her daughter, my niece, called to sing a Happy Birthday! duet. Former students sent lovely notes; old friends & colleagues sent best wishes, and one student even drew me the cartoon, right. It even looks like me, as my beloved aunt noted!

In other words? The best of my gifts were the ones that knew ME — music, art, family. Tea & coffee, poetry & bees. My grandson’s I love you is every bit as valuable as the pricey screech owl house my sister & my niece went in on for me. Because each of them is about ME, a link to who I am this year, who I am becoming. As are all the shout-outs from so many friends I don’t f2f any more. FaceBook is its own gift, in many ways.

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At one point in my life — perhaps more than one :) — I would have wanted other things, more tangible, perhaps. A trip, maybe. Certainly dinner out. But today’s beignets at my favourite local breakfast place were better than any fancy dinner the city could provide. And the cartoon from my former student — now friend — is every bit as dear as a ‘real’ present (re: in a box, with a ribbon). So was the music, chosen w/ my next listening moments in mind.

the author’s

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Yet another present? From someone who doesn’t even realise he gave me a ‘present’ at all? Hector the cat not only came back downstairs, but sat on my desk for a lengthy belly rub. What a gift!

Here’s my point: presents (the best ones) needn’t cost money. Yes, your mother told you that. But it’s true. I would rather have music and a cartoon and a subscription to unlimited books and a screech owl house and phone calls from my loved ones than an expensive cashmere sweater, one of my previously fave gifts. Because there is nothing like offering someone you care about a small piece of you. Honouring them.

Happy Birthday to me. I can’t imagine a better day!

 

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slow, steady, and all that jazz…

the author’s

Hector (our ‘new’ cat) came downstairs! And it’s only taken a scant 6 months!

Seriously — I was wondering if we would always have an ‘upstairs’ cat. He has shown very little interest in exploring downstairs. At least, not while we’re awake.

Since he’s more than 1/2 as large as either of our French bulldogs, it’s not that he can’t hold his own. But one of Hector’s myriad appeals is that he’s a lover — a beta cat, not an alpha. He likes to roll over on his back and have you pet his belly. Fear isn’t a word in his vocabulary. But inertia, and easy-going? Both of those certainly are.

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All my (numerous) cat-loving friends assured me, months ago, that Hector would come downstairs and interact. Eventually. But frankly, I gave up months ago, resigned to only being able to visit w/ Hector upstairs, on his terms.

Until today, when he came downstairs, and one of the dogs chased him onto the bar counter. Where he sat for almost 1/2 an hour, surveying the territory. With, I might add, great aplomb.

I’m not patient. Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance w/ me will agree — it’s not one of my virtues. So Hector is — as most things that occur in my life are — a metaphor. A reminder to let things unfold in their goodness of their own time. My clock doesn’t necessarily keep the time of others. There is a good reason different cultures carry names for their diverse ways of seeing time and schedules.

Still, I’m hoping that today’s appearance is the beginning of a cat who does venture downstairs — it would be nice to have the big lug sit in my lap while I’m reading, and not just walk on me when I’m trying to sleep. I’m ready. It’s time.

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