Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

resolutions, birds, and new beginnings ~

This year’s holidays brought many gifts — some the kind you unwrap, others less tangible. An Amazon gift card — how intangible is that?? — morphed verrry quickly into a book on drawing birds that I’ve been eyeballing for weeks. Three days after opening the email w/ the giftcard, I held John Muir Laws’s Drawing Birds in my hands.

Although it’s (obviously) a book about drawing, it’s already becoming a metaphor as well, as so many things do in my life (and books are some of the metaphor-iest). I’m only on page 2, and the book is talking to me: We assume that if we can see, we know how to observe. But true observation is a skill that we must practice and learn. The deeper we look, the more the miracle of being alive opens to our eyes. How Buddhist is THAT?

Laws asks that I (the gentle reader) give him a year. One year of drawing birds. In return?… the world opens up to you in ways that you could never have predicted. All that for something I want to do anyway?? Wow — if only  my diet & exercise program would go so easily… :)

So today I sat at the breakfast table, the sketch book my wonderful husband bought me a year ago ready for birds. I took out a graphite sketch pencil from my small box of art tools, and watched cardinals feeding against the darkening sky. I made two lines; the cardinal moved. I made four new lines (always begin a new bird when it moves from a pose); that cardinal moved. I drew crests for at least three different birds — not one was vain enough to stay posed… Laws says to make lines that recreate the angle of the bird’s posture, or movement. I have crests in various states of deconstruction.

Now tell me: doesn’t that sound pretty metaphorical to you?

So share — what are you going to try that’s new this year? What are you trying yet again (that would be diet & exercise for me!)…? What would you like to deepen your understanding of? Who do you need to re-connect with, possibly?

It’s the time of beginnings, and fresh starts. Make a mark on the clean pages of January. Make another, and another if you need to, until you begin to see a shape forming. That’s the new year. Learn it well; use it wisely ~

for love of boys: a letter from a friend & colleague ~

A friend sent me a note after my previous post. Her husband, she said, had grown up in a family  that substituted isolation and alienation for love, hard ‘discipline’ (most of us would call it verbal abuse) for compassion, and religious fear for reflective belief. It was, she told me, a profoundly sad & ugly childhood.

Her husband is a lovely man: gentle, kind, very bright, and gifted in many creative arts. Not to mention just a heck of a nice guy. But his knuckles are scarred from the doors & walls and other things he has hit over & over. And there are equally deep scars — although not visible — he wears from being hit with words, over & over again…

What is it with this culture & ersatz manliness? Why must all boys be raised to be warriors? And not even warriors in the honourable ancient Asian traditions: trained in art & literature & language… I do the warrior traditions of Native American tribes & Japanese families & Chinese dynasties & Indian eras dishonour by comparing my friend’s childhood to these polyvalent traditions. What our culture does cannot be called training boys into warriors. No, we throw our boys away — discard them in childhood for the very traits we respect in many men.

Scientists have said in various articles that the obsessive passions fueling their childhood paths would not be allowed today. A diagnosis of Aspberger’s is probably the best many could hope for. Athletes? ADHD. The creative dyslexics (creativity & dyslexia often go hand-in-hand)? Unless they are in very good schools, no money to counsel. No time in a test-driven environment for poor test-takers. Medicate them (and I’m not impugning legitimate medication, but the tendency to over-medicate boys, specifically) or, eventually, expel them.

As a mother of sons, I plead a lack of objectivity about the plight of boys. And make no mistake: boys are endangered. Not as a ‘species,’ but as happy beings. As the logical terminus of millenia of evolution.

We lock many of them up — what else do you do with 10-year-olds who beat up homeless veterans? Never mind what causes a 10-year-old to turn from a child into a violent monster. We can ask ‘what do we do with these horrible monsters?’ But there are other questions… Are we even asking the right questions?? Yes, a 10-year-old who beats a homeless man is very sick. So is the society that produced him. And the veteran he beat up: what nation lets such a huge number of its (male) veterans end up homeless, after they risk their very lives for us??

It’s only been a few centuries that we have taught our boys how to read. Only a few centuries that boys haven’t had to help the tribe or family hunt for food, or scrape existence from the furrows of a field. It’s a few short steps backwards to a time when all men were hunters, warriors, scouts, & workers with their hands. Some men still are.

But as Mike Rose  says in his excellent work The Mind at Work, and as Matthew Crawford argues in his book Shop Classs as Soulcraft, we only pay lip service to our maker roots. The dream of the working class hero may be a Bruce Springsteen song, but with the demise of industrial arts programs, and the substitution of ‘respectable’ — if low-paying — ‘white collar’ computer jobs  for the hands-on skills of the past, it’s only a myth for today’s boys. Continue Reading This Post »

thoughts on hope, and healing, and making a difference ~

It is the season of peace, of good will to men. And yet it seems to me as if the world has gone a bit mad. A young man — barely out of HS — murdering little ones. An older man setting a trap to murder firefighters who came only to help. Virulent arguments between friends & family over to arm or not to arm. Talk of guards carrying weapons in our schools. What can we do, in the face of so much madness??

In a recent exchange on my own Facebook page, a friend suggested that instead of passing regulations on weaponry, we address current violence through arrest: ‘cracking down’ on repeat offenders, gang members. But we’ve tried a war on crime, and it hasn’t worked. We aren’t winning — all that seems to help crime stats decline is a good economy, or a lower birth rate (fewer of the wrong demographic — young white males).

My friend is correct, as well, when he asserts that stronger anti-weapon laws don’t always make a difference (although sometimes they do). So what’s the answer? Just hide our heads and attend funerals?

Part of the problem is so old we elide it through over-familiarity: we’re Puritans. We believe in punishing sinners. And we believe in a kind of moral thriftiness, as well. You don’t spend $$ on people who should help themselves. We pretend that justice is blind, but it falls heavily on boys, especially today. And especially boys with limited options…

Perhaps worse, is that punishing after the fact means a crime has to be committed. Someone has to suffer — possibly even die — before we can punish. Babies & fathers & mothers & wives & partners… They have to be shot, wounded, killed. Loss must take its toll.. And whatever formed the heart of the violator? Still out there. Still working. Still spreading darkness like a cancer.

Many of us who have worked in education, in social welfare, and with children of violence, know something I wish people would listen to: only positive action works to undo violence. To live my by the sword (or gun, or knife, or even violent anger) is to die by the same. I propose, instead, something experience has shown me works far better: love & listening & more love & hugs & more listening & more love. Did I mention love? And yes, we’ll also need some money. Dollars spent in prevention, not punishment and retribution and incarceration. And ultimately not only fewer of those dollars, but far fewer wasted lives.

Research tells us that if we want to stop young white males from killing people (and young white males are the profile for mass murderers) we need to reach out to boys. And here’s a digression (an important question, to my mind): why aren’t people upset about the hundreds of black children killed each year in their neighbourhoods? Why does it take the death of white children to arouse public indignation…?

So that’s my recommendation: HELP BOYS. As a mother of sons? I want us to HELP BOYS. I want us to find ways to engage them before gangs recruit them. Before they realise there are so few options for play in their own neighbourhoods. And I want to change THAT, too.

The man who recently opened fire on the firefighters he duped, killing two? He said it was ‘fun’ to kill people. We need to figure out ways for boys to have other kinds of fun. Our boys need to grow up outside, running off  energy, learning to make things, learning to be healthy men. Not killers of children.

Please — let’s reach out to boys, find services for the ones who need help. Yes, the 18-year-old who slaughtered the innocents at Sandy Hook was crazy. It’s not enough to just say so. It dismisses what we can do, makes us secondary victims of his madness. Instead? Let’s fund social services, adding more (not taking away) counselors in schools. Let’s offer parents help when their children are more than they can handle. A mother of a boy much like the dead manchild who slaughtered the innocents at Sandy recently wrote to explain how horrible it is to live with such a child.

Little boys have so few loving role models in today’s violence-driven culture. Terminator? World of Warcraft? The Avengers? This is what we want our boys to grow up to be? Even our heroes — soldiers and men in capes, anyone? — bring good through violence. Steinbeck nailed it when he said we pay lip service to the virtues of Christianity (or any other faith of love & compassion), but admire robbers & barons and outlaws.

So here’s my plea: reach out to a little boy you know. Reach out to a middle schooler. A high schooler or even a college boy isn’t too old. Offer the image of any of the world’s great men as boys: Jesus, Gandhi, Einstein. Or today’s icons: Neil Gaiman the writer, or U2 the musician, or Matt Damon the actor. Show a boy another way to grow. They need us, our boys. And we need them: healthy and happy, so they can grow up to be tomorrow’s great men.

tea & girlfriends ~

In the kitchen, ginger scones remain on tray. A triple layered server still holds peppermint bark and chocolate biscuits. Various leftovers decorate the dining table. It’s the night after the annual Girlfriends Holiday Tea.

I started this years ago — I don’t even remember how many. It’s what I do instead of presents:  make three big pots of tea  (China black, a second — tonight we had both Lapsang Souchong & a Temi Sikkim — and a decaf English breakfast blend) in the family silver and good china. Set the table w/ tiered servers & silver flatware and holiday linens, load it w/ homemade scones & quiche & chocolate biscuits (English — NOT homemade!), and kick back w/ my girlfriends.

Most of my friends are teachers. Over the years, we’ve become as close as extended family. Shanedra & Sherry have gone through their doctorates. Stephanie was a brand-new teacher when we first met; now she’s a district teacher leader. My best friend Pat has moved 1/2 way across the country, but we were lucky enough to have her last night. We’ve seen Jo through her divorce (and now 2nd time around dating); Robin is pregnant with her 2nd child (a boy this time!) & Donna has retired. We have history!

It’s late. The house is quiet — dogs snuffling softly, one on the sofa beside his master, the other curled by the heating vent. On the Christmas tree, the lights glitter as if they have tiny wings — iridescent, brilliant.

And there’s family, of course — my sisters come. One of my nieces comes, and brings her BFF (who is a bit like another niece by now). My sister bringsher bff. We drink waaay too much caffeine, talk fast & furious and in multiple layers, like a complex sound track. It’s heaven.

I can’t imagine how the few women I know who lack female friends & family manage. So many times my girlfriends and/or my sisters (and in my case, they’re often the same) have saved me ~ given me a shoulder to cry on, told me stupid jokes when I needed a laugh, been resource and conscience and compassionate ears. Not to mention that we have enormous fun, of course!

What do women w/out girlfriends do? This time of year, when I count my many blessings, the many wonderful women in my life — from my young nieces to my older mentors — are some of the most important. As the poet Gina Meyers writes, “the way/ my heart shatters/ a little each time/ I think of my friends/ & how lucky in life/ I’ve been to get/ to know them,/ to have/ had the time to laugh &/ drink & dance & to argue...”

 

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