Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

accents, stereotypes, and get over it

y'allAt my niece’s wedding this past weekend, we all lapsed into Okie-speak: y’all, huh?, yep, et al. We were all family, and no one was judging us.

Which isn’t the case lots of times. Saying just y’all in a meeting will — I guarantee you — garner more  raised eyebrows than a profanity. For some folks, apparently, y’all is like wearing a sign on your back that says “I’m stupid!” Or so I gather from my own experience, which friends assure me is NOT isolated.

I shared this in the weekly writing workshop I lead, and each of us had our own anecdote (and more than one!) about being dismissed as ‘dumb Okies.’ Since there are several multiply degreed writers in any of my workshops, I find this telling.

A few years ago, I had a brilliant student from down around Durant, OK (Okies know to pronounce it DOO-rant). K spoke w/ the ubiquitous southwestern Okie accent — we all know it (and yep — WE can tease each other about it; WE aren’t outsiders). You know, like Boomhauer on King of the Hill?

K’s papers were exemplars of elegant logic — well-researched & well-written. When I told him how much I appreciated his keen mind, he hemmed & hawed, flustered. And then shared: Most folks thank Ah’m an idjit cuz of muh aksent.

I was furious. Not at K, obviously, but at a culture — a world — that teaches a young man to internalise bad appraisals of his worth because of where  he learns to speak?? GET OVER IT!

Instead of fuming, I told K what I offer to all of us: I may speak with an accent, but I don’t think with one. NOT that it would matter to me if we did!

Oklahoma breaking bad

tragedy maskI have no idea what to put as an image for this post. It’s a subject very difficult to ‘picture,’ as the search for images only reveals the profound decay of users — ‘before’ & ‘after’ pictures that somehow seem more tragic than enlightening.

Methamphetamine usage is big business in Oklahoma: Tulsa County has the most labs of any county in the country, according to a CNN article. Meth manufacture has replaced dog fighting and cock fighting as one of the state’s big moneymakers for the rural (and urban) poor. That’s why I can’t watch Breaking Bad: I’ve known too many cases similar in too many respects.

The lovely student whose father began meth use — once considered only a minor deal — as trucker driving trans-continental. The children my sons knew in elementary school: some dead, some in prison, all shattered lives. The young mother left alone with 3 children — father a confirmed meth addict & dealer.

The problem is not laws, despite what many say. Cutting back legitimate access to the various elements used to construct meth (like Sudafed) only penalises the allergy-prone (my husband, for instance). Instead, we need the only thing that seems in short supply these days, politically speaking: compassion & rehab.image

Under Richard Nixon (of all people!), drug rehab became the… treatment of choice (yup, I really did that) for drug offenders. And surprise! Drug use went DOWN! One of the very few times it has. Because face it: NO ONE wakes up as a child and says – I want to grow up to be a drug addict and dealer! It’s always circumstances (and there are many) that conspire.

One of the most critical circumstances is poverty. Oklahoma consistently places in the bottom 10 of states for median income — the bell curve hump. Last year we ranked41st nationally. Perhaps if we had work for the many urban & rural poor in our state, there would be fewer who turned to the quick fix of drug dealing…?

Certainly drug use is a choice, initially. But methamphetamines are tricky devils: they will addict you verrry quickly. And they’re pretty cheap. So before you know it, if you’re not well-up on their horrific effects, you too can be a meth addict.

heartbreakAnd that’s why ‘Breaking Bad’ is nothing I will ever watch. Yes, I realise that it might help people ‘understand’ meth use. But it also glorifies much of drug/ outlaw ‘culture.’ At any rate? I can’t bear to think of the thousands of Oklahoma lives wasted (which I do whenever I even think of the show).  It cracks big fissures in my beginner’s heart.

someone else’s road

Dalai Lama on happinessI need to remember this. It’s easy to forget, as we move from middle age into elder-ing. That’s my term for what seems to be happening these past couple of years: nieces, nephews, former students, younger colleagues & friends — sometimes even sons! — asking for advice. Seeking input on life choices.

I’m very lucky to have a wonderful extended family. This past weekend was the wedding of one of my nieces, the one who lived w/ us for awhile. So family was in from all over, and we spent a wonderful weekend talking and then talking more. All over good food, accompanied by great music. Even the rain couldn’t dampen the good times!

But what I found was that it’s sometimes hard to articulate the difference (really to EVINCE the difference) between non-attachment and DEtachment. Of course I care what my colleagues, friends, & family do. But I’m trying (and it’s not always easy!) to remember that people have their own paths through their own lives. And their lives are not mine, in any way.

Sometimes all someone you love needs is an ear, and a hug. Not advice at all — just love. Beginner’s heart.

So I’m remembering that lovely line from a poem by the inimitable Tolkien: not all who wander are lost. And working at taking it deeply to heart ~

theories: empirical and not-so

YouTube Preview Image

Total science nerd here. I  adore science. Really — every year I buy the Best Science Writing 20-whatever. Or else my husband gets it for me as a present. :) If I had my life to redo, I’d probably be a scientist. Or at least write more about science.

Which may be why I’m ambivalent about the above animation. Like many, I believe Stephen Hawking is a great mind — but there are some pretty obvious holes (and no, I’m not punning on the infamous black kind) in this short.

First of all, this is a theory. And here’s where we begin to have semantic issues. The word ‘theory’ pivots on two separate ‘meanings’ in science. Ergo the conflict with creationists over the ‘theory’ of evolution.

It’s not hard, actually, to untangle the semantic snafu. Gravity is a theory just like evolution: empirically derived. Meaning, folks used observations to craft it. They saw things drop. Experimented with dropping them. Measured time, distance, all that stuff. Same with evolution. People find fossils all the time. Including ones that prove pretty indisputably the interconnections on the tree of life.

evolution treeAn aside: no scientist says men ‘descended’ from ‘monkeys.’ People share with all primates a long-ago common ancestor. We also share a common ancestor with all other mammals. And, ultimately, with all life on the planet. Kind of a nice Buddhist thing to think about…:)

But back to the point: the difference between Stephen Hawking’s ‘theory’ and the theory of gravity or evolution is that Hawking’s theory is NOT arrived at empirically. In other words, his theory is internally rigourous, IF you accept his premises (basically Hawking radiation & his description/ definition of a singularity). The other stuff he bases it on is pretty commonly accepted. Maybe not verifiable — borderline empirical — but far more mainstream. Kind of like the way we accept certain ‘theories’ about the centre of the earth. No one’s been there, so we don’t know. But we’re pretty sure of certain things about it — like magma, the magnetic core — they fit what evidence we do have.

That’s the rub. Creationists say there’s only a ‘theory’ of evolution. The term in their sense — theory — means ‘you don’t (and can’t, really) know this.’ But actually? We have evidence. Fossil evidence. There is incredibly strong empirical evidence to support evolution; about 97% of scientists say it’s so. In 2006, only 600 scientists signed on against Darwinism, and this from a pro-creationism source. There is NO empirical evidence to support a creationist world view, any more than there was for a cosmology of Greek gods.

Are you bored yet?earth on turtle back

Because this has a point, and it’s about beginner’s heart. We often want to believe things — it’s called attachment. And, sometimes, faith (still a kind of attachment :)). But seeing is a form of believing. The Buddha was a skeptic, dismissing the whole discussion of an afterlife and/or reincarnation until we got our heads around the lives we lead here. Now. Remember the part about it all passes…?

So yes, I follow science. And I’m a tad insulted when people who don’t say, “Oh! You BELIEVE in science.” Well actually? There’s no ‘belief’ involved. The sun rises and it sets. The earth revolves around the sun, which thus rises and sets. And we are not carried through the void on the back of a turtle, which was once a popular belief throughout the world. You can SEE these things. It takes far more ‘faith’ to believe in not-science. In other words? You believe in whatever isn’t science.

This matters because as long as people feel they can do whatever they want — think: priests who molested children, nursing home workers who abuse their patients, criminal politicians and bad teachers and whomever… — and receive absolution from their guilt? They’ll continue to do it. And as long as science is sidelined by religicos, we’ll continue to pollute the planet, citing not-science to excuse the change in climate. After all, it’s all only theory, right?

My beginner’s heart is trying hard to breathe through my frustrations w/ anti-science folks. I’m sure this is good for me . But I’m not so sure about the planet…

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