Beginner's Heart

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You know that old joke about giving a party and nobody comes? Well, for presenters, it’s a truism. I’ve given workshops w/ only one person (and she left early!).

Last night, however, was a new one, even for me. An audience of four — I’ve had smaller 🙂 — all meeting to discuss a book. Four smart, funny, very nice folks, me, and a book. That NOT ONE of them liked. NOT. ONE.

At that point, you end up in a couple of places, depending on your training. You can panic (that hasn’t happened in a long time, thankfully!). Or you can draw on years of teaching a class no one takes for fun (writing 🙂 ), and go w/ the flow.

Going with the flow is sooo much more fun.

So we talked about topics related to the book (which, since I actually like it — and its author — I won’t name), and we shared stories much like the book’s chapters did. We wrote a bit (in any presentation I have a hand in, we always write!). And it was fun, despite the book falling flat.

photo the author's

photo the author’s

I love to read. And I love to learn. So a book that might bore someone else — or feel dated, out of sync w/ contemporary lit — may well still absorb me. I don’t think that’s a fault, either. But it can be, when you’re facilitating book talk, I assure you.

What? You didn’t like this book?? Are you NUTS?? What was wrong with it??

FAR too often, that’s the way my passionate nature leaps in to a conversation. Especially about deeply held beliefs, moral values. Sigh. So talking reasonably about books? It’s great practice for beginner’s heart.

I want to handle the more sensitive minefields of talking with people who support the death penalty, or colleagues who still think that school is only about student learning, not teacher teaching. There needs to be a way for me to do what I did last night: just let go of any pretense that the nice readers would ever come to like the book, and go from there.

So that’s my project, folks. Handle political and religious debates like a book club. It has to be better than yelling at each other!

tea & macarons I should be working on the presentation I’m giving in…oh, 3 hours. 🙂 I should be figuring out what to fix for dinner before I go. I should… I should.

Instead, tea break.

A cup of good ol’ house tea — Panyang Congou from Harney’s, And plain vanilla macarons from the Whole Foods bakery. Bliss.

And a lovely distraction from the mouse the cat released into the kitchen (now residing in mouse heaven (the pantry! 🙁 ). Or my husband’s ankle. Or any of the things that pile up in everyday living.

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Sometimes, you just need to stop and breathe. Life feels complicated, and most of us don’t — despite the fact that we know better! — meditate daily. Or even regularly. But everyday life can have rituals, which are a kind of contemplative practice. I don’t know what I’d do w/out the soothing rituals of my day-to-day life. Even making the bed (but not changing it!) can be a kind of making peace.

So —  take a break. Sit down, inhale deeply, and have a looong stretch. A cup of tea wouldn’t be a bad idea, either. And the cookies are just what this doctor ordered.  Feed your beginner’s heart a healthy dose of peace & quiet.

photo the author's

photo the author’s

I am NOT good at the boredom of keeping healthy. I blew my knees running. My joint replacement put paid to treadmilling. I hate my recumbent bike (and no, I don’t know why, except that it’s boring). So cardio is HARD.

But despite my whining about it, I actually quite enjoy much of technology (well, except when it doesn’t work, obviously!).

So a Fitbit seemed a way to get me back on track w/ walking and keeping a food log. (I’m trying to frame the whole logging food as a new journal, and/or a new kind of mindfulness… 😉 ).

The Fitbit came Saturday, and I’ve spent the past couple of days playing with it, trying to figure out how to best work it in to my everyday activities. My younger son says it’s all part of the new ‘Quantified Body’ movement. Wow! I’m on trend!

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For me, it’s just a way to make work feel more like play, a strategy I’ve learned to employ when I don’t want to do something. So, I have a new toy! And I’ve logged my food for two days now! Which was always a huge pain when I tried it before.

Watching my beloved struggle just to get around on his knee scooter has made me painfully aware that we are aging. It’s a topic I successfully avoid considering most of the time. But here it is, sitting down at the table w/ me for meals. I probably should pay attention to what it has to say.

One of the best things about being a writer — especially a poet — is that I think metaphorically. This means (as my beloved will attest) that sometimes my analogies are… well, off the wall. At least to others. And sometimes I realise things new & fresh that other folks got years ago.

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Like the recent clip on the spiralling solar system. I was mesmerised, to see the sun pulling that beautiful chain of planets in its wake, into the darkness of the galaxy. WOW! Until my husband said, well, yeah. That’s how it works. HELLO! Did I not just say I JUST GOT IT? Sigh…

The point to this is that I’m reframing aging. It’s  hard for any of us to look in the mirror, and not see who we think we still are. It feels like… well, un petit morte, a small death. Not fun, in other words.

red leaf

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Instead? I’m thinking… autumn. Possibly my favourite season, as the sun drops on the horizon, flooding the sky w/ that honey light. And the trees, their leaves aging, put on this incredible art show. Scarlet, incandescent chartreuse, vivid saffron and even purple. That’s what I’m thinking. I’m heading in to autumn, and that’s somehow more okay.

With the help of gadgets to play with (technology!), and my own nature (metaphor lover & poet), and some creative positivity, I can make this new journey. And even get healthier as I go. That’s pretty cool beginner’s heart, I figure.

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We’re big on adventures in my family. My beloved enlisted in the Marines during Việt Nam because he wanted to see what it was like. (My mother-in-law — loopy about many things — STILL goes ballistic if you mention this.)

We left for Algiers a week after marrying. Went to Saudi Arabia when my elder son was 7 months old. And my own mother followed my peripatetic father to the Philippines, to Việt Nam, to Thailand. That’s just what we do — travel.

So it came as no surprise when my younger son told us he’d decided to take time from work — a work sabbatical, of sorts, although he will work remote part-time — to travel. All of this makes his departure today no easier.

Part of being a mother is love. But love is kind of like fire: it can burn even as it warms you. And motherlove — that subject of lullaby and art — is a blaze of a fire. I’d like to pretend that I have my motherlove under control, managed, as it were. But I really don’t.

I love my sons, and my DIL, and the nieces & nephews that feel half my own, fiercely. Also tenderly, and w/ a sense of humour, quite often. But not when my beloved younger son is  going on a trip where I won’t see him for months. Maybe even a year or more…image

We’re also not the family who doesn’t see each other. Holidays — at least Yule, as my younger son would call it — are spent together. By choice, not fiat. 🙂 I am fortunate to be part of a family that likes each other.

Luckily, both my sons are well aware of my besottedness. Noah – -the younger, heading off to Sweden & Goa & Thailand, oh my! — test ran our Skype connection yesterday — He was wearing this same Tshirt (see? who but a mom would even NOTICE??).

My elder son, Nathan, tries hard, too, to find time in a schedule that’s as crazy as his father’s was. As crazy as mine was during grad school. But he still makes time. Time to FaceTime me w/ my adorable grandson. Time to remind me we’re trying to meditate parallel, if not actually together.

It’s just not the same as living within hollering distance (I love that old Southernism!). But when your own life is full of adventures still happening (Yellowstone!), you have to anticipate that the once-ducklings will follow their own compasses. To the west coast, to the east coast. To Sweden & Goa and parts unknown.

And that’s GREAT. But it’s a long way home. Which is the burn part of that fire…..