Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

taxes, rural students, and my grandma

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via google

In Oklahoma (like most red states) we believe taxes are an unnecessary evil. That we can — and should — get rid of them. Especially on corporate interests.

I understand not liking to pay taxes. Too large a portion of my meagre teaching income has gone to the government over the years.

But here’s what I try hard to remember when I file away receipts over the months leading up to April: rural students I’ve taught. My grandmothers and other old ladies. The homeless guy who died one freezing night, just blocks from my house.

Because that’s who my taxes are for, America. Yours too. And you know what? I would sooo much rather pay for those real people than for bombs. Rather every child in America be fed free breakfast and lunch at school than pay for a single drone. Rather every homeless man/ woman/ and child (and there are MANY homeless children) have a home, than every again pay for invasion of a sovereign nation for no good reason.

Despite lip service, education of our young is not a priority in Oklahoma. You only have to look at our track record: heaviest cuts to education funding in the country (22.8% since 2008). We weren’t doing very well before that, either: we were fourth-lowest in the country in the 2007-08 school year. (figures from the Rural School & Community Trust)

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via google

As an educator, I KNOW that education changes lives. I’ve seen it every semester. But classes of 45+ in high school, classes of 30 in elementary, don’t provide the time for a teacher to do anything other than keep order and lecture. All the things that make education so important — collaborative learning, individual encouragement, project-based learning — take time. Something that money CAN buy, at least in education.

As for my our elderly… My grandmother would have starved w/out her Social Security. It was little enough. And yet we continue to talk about cutting Medicare, privatising it (that’s worked so well for other projects), cutting Social Security.

My taxes are as high as most middle class Americans. But you know what? So is my commitment to the things that taxes pay for. Well, except for the military industrial complex. Unfortunately, I’m not able choose to pay my taxes only to support veterans’ benefits and not kill power. However, I’m also not going to throw out the entire system, even though I believe devoutly in peace before conflict.

So here’s a thought for you: the next time someone wants to cut taxes, ask what services they’re willing to do without. What the education of our young, support for our elderly, and benefits for those who gave life and limb to our wars is worth. Ask them why corporations are worth more than my students. My elderly. My veterans. People I KNOW. With names, and lives. Who benefit in concrete, life-changing ways from taxes.

Because I want answers. And right now, Oklahoma — along with other anti-taxation states and organisations — doesn’t have any that make sense.

coherence of the heart

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via google

I love folks who question. To interrogate our beliefs is so very difficult. Believe me, I do it daily.

Where’s the line on this? Do this and this cancel each other out? If I think this, how can I feel this? If this is ‘right,’ is this other thing/ belief/ action ‘wrong’? If I buy this, can I square it w/ this belief?

It’s hard.

So when a friend on my FB recently asked me how I reconcile my position on hospitals refusing to provide fatal drugs for state executions, vs. my position on hospitals refusing to prescribe birth control, I was fascinated.

Not because she asked, but because of how rare it is that we as a culture engage in dialogue — honest dialogue — on issues of belief.

What is it about our differences that so often precludes us talking about them? I still remember how hurt — and terminally angry — I was when I tried to talk w/ a friend’s friend about gay rights. Framing my own conversation with the statement that my niece and MANY dear friends are gay, I asked that we talk w/ respect about whatever topic had come up. Including an understood respect and acceptance of my OWN respect and love for my niece and her wonderful partner. Again, on FB.

A (hopefully relevant) digression: I adore FB. It allows me to reconnect w/ old friends (two in two weeks!). It keeps me up-to-date on my beloved grandson’s life, in pictures! It sends me silly cat pictures and videos to break up my work, and it is a way to stay in touch w/ a far-flung group of dear friends and family.

That said, it sometimes feels like manners go out the window when we engage a keyboard.

via google

via google

This woman proceeded to say TERRIBLE, HURTFUL things about my niece (referrring to her, specifically, as my niece), and was flat HATEFUL. What’s up w/that?? She obviously didn’t want to talk: she wanted only to hurt, it was quickly apparent. NO conversation was going to happen unless I first agreed w/ her completely. N.B.: that is NOT conversation, folks. It’s capitulation. And all too often that’s what seems to be the unspoken objective of most ‘conversations.’

I understand that for many folks, religion is outside of logic. For me, however, it is not. In fact, the Buddha actually encouraged folks to question — it’s part of our dharma, or the Buddha’s own teachings. One of many reasons that Buddhism is a good wisdom tradition fit for me. :)

But no religion says ‘be as angry as possible when you discuss your beliefs with others.” Unless there’s a new one out there, thought up by folks who don’t believe we can EVER work together.

I do. Believe we can work together. However, it requires a hard 1st step: questioning the coherence of our own hearts. Am I against the death penalty? How then, do I square that w/ my pro-choice stance? And if
I’m against a woman’s right to govern her own body, how do I square that w/ an anti-birth control position? And if I won’t allow a woman birth control OR the right to choose to terminate a terrible mistake of a pregnancy, how do I square THAT w/ a refusal to fund programs for single mothers and children?

These are questions that drive contemporary politics, and have (literally) life-changing consequences for me, for my family and dear friends. For ALL of us.

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via google

In other words, it’s not as easy as being for or against this or that. At least not for me. And — thankfully! — not for most of my friends. Which is why I was so happy to have my friend question me on the consistency of my own beliefs. Talk about what’s most important to my spiritual growth? Sure! (And yes — I know that sounds verrry hokey.) As long as you really want conversation — dialogue, not anger. I learn so much more that way. Whereas, I learn zip/ nada/ rien when you yell at me in all caps on FB, or (this really happened) spit while you’re talking to me because I won’t confirm your own opinions.

After all — aren’t we all searching? Each one of us trying — w/ our fragile beginner’s hearts — to figure out what’s up with this weird journey we share? And wouldn’t it be nice to share our individual maps…

crowd-sourcing and ‘no’ as a learning tool

poetry 2

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I’ve been working on a book manuscript for ages. Recently, however, it’s taken on immediacy, as I want to get it in the mail today. There’s one rather large problem: no title.

Yep, I haven’t a clue what to call this labour of love, craft, frustration and confusion.

So I did what any artist these days can: I crowd-sourced. There are some of the best of poets on my FB, so I sent ‘em a message, and asked for input on the titles I’m considering.

What did we do before technology? When people moved in wagons — or even trucks — half-way across the country? How did we feel connected? Letters — as I mentioned before – are wonderful. But they take time. And telephone calls are clunky when there are more than 2-3 folks.

photo via google

photo via google

My friends are all over the place, of course: Colorado, Kansas, Missouri. On vacation here & there, too. And all over the place for titles, as well — only quasi-agreement. But that’s useful too.

What I’m learning as I study beginner’s heart is that even ‘no’ — or a negative of some sort — is helpful; it’s informational. Response of any kind provides clues to what I think/ want/ should do. My husband says to imagine how you would feel if you didn’t have to do something, or if you did. That’s a similar kind of clue.

Hence the crowd-sourcing. My wonderful writer friends confirmed that some of the titles I considered were clunky. Or too ‘poetic’ (the kiss of death for real poets, I assure you). And since they’re all reasonably familiar w/ my work, they had other suggestions, all helpful.

A very dear old friend — gifted in her own write — contributed several useful insights. And it’s all going to require time to digest… In other words? The MS probably won’t get out the door today, after all.

And that’s just fine. The whole point to consulting a crowd is to get lots of opinions. Now I just have to figure out how best to use them. A task best accomplished by applying seat to chair. :)

FB, letters, and other little things

photo the author's

photo the author’s

I’m huge on writing, as you know if you’ve read almost any blog post of mine. What you might realise, however, is that I’m huge on letter-writing, as well. In fact, I actually bought a life-time membership to the Letter Writers Alliance. Which then sent me a darling membership card, now pinned onto my bulletin board.

So recently, when my aunt posted that she thought of me when she read a James Baldwin story, recently, I sent her a card. Just a note saying that it really touched me that she took the time to post the comment(I’d posted a shout-out on Baldwin’s birthday, the 2nd of August).

Her one-minute comment prompted my 10-minute note, complete w/ pretty card (she so deserves one!), my bee seal w/ my name & address, and a flower stamp. And pretty washi tape (with birds — sooo Portlandia!) to secure it all.

And that prompted a half-hour phone call yesterday, from her to me, where we just reconnected.

As she notes, we see each other a couple of times a year, at least. But there are always her 3 daughters, often my 3 sisters, my niece(s), her granddaughters… It’s a crowd, and far too happily crazy for us to talk about old times.CarolDeborah

My aunt Carol is the closest I have to an older sister. As a baby, I lived w/ my mother, my grandmother, and Carol while my father was in Korea. Carol is one of my first memories, up there w/ my mother and Grandma. The picture is taken at Grandma’s, when I was about a year old.

When I was little older, I was in her wedding as a flower girl. From then on, I was at her house, visiting my Uncle Jim’s family — his mother was like a 4th grandmother to me (along w/ my own two grandmothers and my great-aunt Bonnie). Sometimes I would stay for more than a week. She would load up on colouring books & crayons — new ones, each time! — and I would sit happily in the floor, colouring away.

My other aunt (I’m fortunate to have TWO wonderful living aunts!) is also very dear to me, but as I hit my tweens and teens, I spent a great deal of time w/ my aunt Carol. It was Carol who taught me make-up, baby-doll pjs (her hand-me-downs made me feel absolutely elegant), the lotions and potions so many American girls still love. Music (although I never quite caught her fondness for Elvis…), books, just about everything.

Carol & DeborahWhat I didn’t want to talk about w/ my mother I could take to Carol. She’d listen. And as her own three daughters grew, I would babysit them as she had me, although I’m pretty sure I was neither as patient nor as loveable! Years later, one came to me for help w/ college. Another exchanged info on doctors. And each time, I would be grateful I could give to her children the way she so often gave to me.

This is a convoluted way of saying: small actions bring HUGE dividends, folks. I had noooo idea, when I posted my Happy Birthday, James Baldwin to FB that this blog would result. But here’s the deal: it was also the tiny amount of time it took to send a card, stick a stamp on it. Let someone I love dearly know that I often think of her.

Take that moment. I can’t tell you how grateful you’ll be that you did.

 

 

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