Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

time and distance

words

courtesy Google

I’m working (hard) on a chapbook manuscript. Which is to say, I’m going over work I did — some of it a while ago — line by line, word by word, space by line break by punctuation mark.

I hate it.

But it’s become the metaphor of my week: revision. Or, if you prefer, re-framing. Because that’s what writing allows us to do: reframe our stories.  Revise and thus reframe our lives. Even fiction is, always, at least a foggy window into the writer.

revision

courtesy Google

My publisher said I need to work on ‘sequencing.’ For those of you who don’t do poetry, that’s which poem follows which, and the underlying ‘why.’ I’m pretty good at that for others, not so much myself. Kind of the way we can always give advice to someone else, but often would no more do that ourselves than … well, you know.

It’s taken time for me to disengage from each poem enough to query it. Time, in this case, = distance. At least a bit of objectivity. The newer pieces still seem better than the older ones, because what you’ve recently written is like that. The same way the actions of my recent past are far more difficult to evaluate clearly: I have neither time passed nor distance.

book pile

courtesy Google

But as I try to figure out why I wrote each poem — which helps me figure out the whole ‘sequencing’ thing — I’m learning how to look more closely at even the trivia of my everyday life. I’m better able see the whole picture: not just the overflowing box of books in the living room, but why it’s been so important, lately, to clear out junk (even beloved junk, like poetry books from my dissertation, and old fiction). Why it only really feels like spring when we put the table umbrella up over the deck table. Why I don’t work harder on ‘real’ exercise… :)

All of this is by way of saying that once you start revising/ asking ‘why’…? Well, you’re doomed. Your life begins to unfurl like a skein of impossibly tangled but beautiful ribbon. And when you start following it, it leads everywhere. It may just take a little time to get your bearings.

daffodils and drowsy spring

daffodils1

photo by the author

I love the first daffodils. In our front garden, they’re multiplying like spring rabbits — pheasant’s eye, narcissus, tiny jonquils, large trumpeted King Alfred, double Winston Churchill, and many more. They bloom between the canes of last summer’s Joe Pye Weed, and beneath the roots of my grandmother’s hardy hibiscus.

They’re just so cheerful! And after a couple of dreary grey days, when damp rain slanted into your face, they’re oh so welcome. I have a touch of seasonal affective disorder, and the short days with grey skies are often a real hardship. Even though I know that we need rain, I’d prefer it to fall when the sun’s shining…

Today, however, temps are in the mid-70s, bright w/ that clear spring sunlight that seems to fall from pale blue sky like heat from a patio heater. The dogs are laying on the deck, and I’m going to follow them out, and lay in a chair in the sun, as soon as I remind you all that spring really IS here.

Even if it’s raining where you are — as it was here, yesterday — spring is in full bud. The flowering crabs are pink with promise, and the dandelions are as yellow as daffodils. My roses are heavy w/ leafbud, and I’m cleaning the bookshelves of old books. Spring cleaning is a sure sign!

So hang on: spring is here to save us from the grey days of late winter. And I am sooooo ready.

mourning a mentor and friend

grieving 2

courtesy of Google

It feels like my world is losing important pieces, lately. A death here, a death there, a third one just behind them. A lot of friends, colleagues, and the family of both have taken wing. Elsewhere. Wherever the dead go.

This time, it was the dear man who, in many ways, made me believe I could do a doctorate. In all humility, I wasn’t so worried about the actual work: I was worried I’d hate it. That it would be useless, an exercise in esoterica that would have no real world application.

It was Ravi who showed me, in my first two classes, that I was wrong. He was funny — even goofy sometimes, a rare quality in a true scholar. He was also brilliant, in a low-key manner that never distanced anyone. A genuinely good person.

grief4

courtesy of Google

In my first class with him, I received an A- on a paper. He offered the opportunity to revise, so I did. When I turned in my paper, he asked: Britt, you have an A. Why are you revising?? I told him I wanted a higher grade — I’m not an A- girl. He laughed. And then he sent my final paper in that class — taken my first semester in my doctoral program — to a famous colleague, just to show him.

What kind of amazing is that? In one gesture, Ravi made me feel like a member of a very elit

e club: linguists and scholars. Wow.

Years later, as I became an administrator of a federal grant for teachers, Ravi was the faculty member I never failed to ask to present at our summer graduate seminars. He honoured the intelligence and acuity teachers bring to their classrooms — never speaking down to them, always providing witty embroidery for useful scholarship.

Ravi never lost sight of the importance of teaching, even as he continued important research in learning language. Students loved him, and all of us appreciated his commitment to the next generation of scholars.

grim reaper 2

courtesy of Google

As a friend, he was encouraging of us all. You were your best self in his presence: funnier, smarter, kinder. And sometimes goofier (his puns were notorious groaners).

In lectures, Ravi often brought in family stories — he adored his wife & son, and it was evident in the way he spoke of each. Another of his many endearing traits.

Now, he’s gone. Just like that. A fluke infection from an operation that went well, otherwise. Days later, the mentor, friend, & scholar is gone. I know all the platitudes about no one is gone if you remember them. But there will be no more bad puns. No more summer lectures. No more admonishments not to use a restaurant in Tulsa, because he knew the kitchen. And that breaks my heart.

So I’m trying to remember that the cracks in a heart — even a beginner’s heart — let the light in. But right now, it all seems pretty dark…

 

 

friends with tea (pots) and books and music and…

imageMy friendship with my dear friend M is the product of technology, for which I’m very grateful. M started a book group several years ago, and we all talked books online. I’d met only one of the group f2f, as my students would say. And she wasn’t M.

M, whose background is Russian, insisted we all needed to read War & Peace (another of those things for which I’m thankful!). So we did. M only wears his equable demeanour to fool you: he’s pretty strong-willed.

Since then, we’ve probably met f2f 2-3 times; we used to both work for the same non-profit. I’ve since retired, but M continues to make the world a much better place.

Recently — possibly because I’m constantly posting pictures of tea, trays, and spouting off about tea (get it??) — he asked if I might like his beloved uncle’s Russian tea set. Would I?? You can see from the picture how lovely the set is. What you can’t see are all the stories: M and his uncle, sharing culture and family and sorrow and love. M’s partner, present in the vivid red amaryllis. The Russian tea I brewed for the teapot, in honour of M’s heritage.

You can’t see the museum membership M leant me so I could go to an expensive museum in Chicago w/ my best friend. Or the many many musicians of all types he’s turned me on to: Brazilians, classical pianists, violinists, orchestras, jazz, doo-wop… M’s musical tastes are eclectic as my teas!image

You can’t see the many emails about this and that — music, pop culture, the trivia of every day — that wing from the coast to the heartland. And more importantly, you can’t see how humbly astonished I am that someone would care enough about me — via the airwaves! — to send me something so precious, so treasured. But M’s like that. He thinks things should have good homes. And be used by people who love them.

The beginner’s heart in this equation is that M’s friendship reminds me of the wonderful twists life can take. Who  would think an online book club through work would result in a dear friendship? With someone who lives half-way across the country?

Who would have thought — those many years ago, when tea saved my sanity in a land long ago & far away — that tea would become such a part of my ‘brand’…? And who would have thought I’d be making Russian tea in an imperial blue & white teapot, courtesy of a very dear (virtual) friend…

Previous Posts

poetry, structure, and creative beginner's heart
Last night, discussing structure and writing with my elder son, I said I couldn't write w/ too much structure. That writing is -- for me -- a discovery process. Structure, I told him, can actually kill my ide

posted 3:03:47pm Apr. 16, 2014 | read full post »

what a difference a day makes (and other ways I wish I was like my grandson)
My grandson burnt his hands Sunday. Not horribly, but badly enough that he cried inconsolably for hours. Today? He's his usual sunny self: slapping the Cheerios on the highchair

posted 3:01:12pm Apr. 15, 2014 | read full post »

in the flash of a moment
My grandson hurt himself today. Not horribly, but bad enough that he's been crying for two+ hours. On a lovely spring day -- temps in the lower 70s -- he was on the deck w/ his folks, crawling happily around

posted 4:45:55pm Apr. 13, 2014 | read full post »

the poetry of every day
It's easy to forget that every day holds poetry. Especially if you're hectic: packing, moving, cleaning a new house, unpacking... Soothing a disolocated dog, holding a curious baby. Eating out of cartons while you locate the dishes and pans. All of this can make you forget the whole point of the

posted 2:46:45pm Apr. 12, 2014 | read full post »

what poetry gives us
Today's poem is actually a three-fer. I've been writing to prompts from NaPoWriMo, one of the national sites for National Poetry Writing Month. The poem today is written from yesterday's prompt, which asked wri

posted 6:30:22pm Apr. 09, 2014 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.