Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

poetry, coloured sand, and changing the world

changing the world

via Google

I love Tolstoy. And I especially love this very Buddhist saying. Because the writer in me knows that every time I pick up a pen, or sit down to a keyboard, I’m going to change. It’s inevitable, like the sun rising in the east.

It may well be why I write: after all these years, I’m familiar w/ the process, if not the product. What will happen? Change. And what form will that take? Who knows! That’s part of the fun (and also the terror…)


Writing — especially poetry — never walks a straight line. Sometimes it doesn’t even walk! It skips, hops, pole-vaults, ride in bareback, does a hockey stop on skates, or flies hanging from a kite. Once I swear it came in on the back of a large elephant, swaying to the animal’s slow steps…

Can you tell I’ve been writing? :)

Today I heard back from my publisher, and my most recent poetry manuscript is going in to production! She sent me a cover mockup, editorial suggestions, and great input on my work. How cool is that?blue sky mind


I write mostly in a vacuum, it often feels like. The blog receives responses, but poetry is pretty solitary, unless you do a reading. Which I do, but not as often as I’d like. I have two scheduled this late summer, and they’re always fun. But the real work of writing is mostly sitting in front of a screen and sweating blood.

And while the Buddha reminds us that everything changes (big sky mind, remember?), the kinds of changes that result from contemplating your life closely, watching the world around you with attention, are sometimes… well, painful. Or at least discomfiting. But the change that results, when you examine the past — or even the present — with an eye to reframing it for art?

sand mandala 2

via Google


That’s the change I remember when I re-read my manuscript. Each poem is a window, really. A glimpse of a moment when the breakage of life becomes art, as shards of glass become a stained glass window.

Perhaps a more fitting image is the grains of sand that go into making a sand mandala. Because if we each change our own worlds — the inner world of our own individual lives — we are one person closer to changing the HUGE world, the world outside.Just like those tiny grains of coloured sand create beauty & harmony, together. Even if it only lasts for a moment.

And I’m thinking poetry’s as good a tool as any…



mothers by any other name

penguin motheringBy now, I’m sure most of America has heard of the two daddy penguins, Roy & Silo, who loved each other and raised little Tango. Who was, just FYI, no blood kin.

And that’s today’s post: mothering beyond biology. Because I have many friends (& family) who feel bruised, ignored, and downright out-of-the-club because they don’t have children. Some of these — men & women alike — have chosen not to have children, for various (highly personal) reasons. Others don’t have children for medical reasons. And a few have biological children whom they gave up for adoption into more stable family units (and what a gift is THAT!).


What my friends & family all have in common is society’s ignorance and cluelessness. Maybe the two are the same…

So this is a heartfelt paean to the many people I know who mother. My sister Jaynie, who mothers her sisters & friends with incomparable love and affection. My friend Dewayne, who ‘mothers’ his students, his mentees, and his friends, is another. My friend Betty Ann, who is a mother to her husband, her many friends (who adore her), and various animals passing through. My friend Ione, who mothered me like the daughter she lost to a hit&run driver.

seahorse father toy

via Etsy


I have so many friends who are slighted, even hurt, by their childless status. Not because they necessarily feel inadequate, but because for women, the culture at large EXPECTS you to reproduce. Period. And to not do so — even in this supposedly ‘post-feminist’ age — is to be, somehow, odd.

And yes, I KNOW this. Because many years ago, I was trying to get pregnant with no success. People would ask: why don’t you have children? Don’t you like them? What’s the problem? No, it wasn’t any of their business. But they STILL felt like it was okay to ask. Why, I’m not sure. It hurt badly enough I wasn’t able to support my dearest friend in her own pregnancy — just couldn’t go there.


There are also those of us whose mothers don’t even recognise us — Alzheimer’s makes Mother’s Day a mindfield for many. Or those of who are unhappily fostered, whose mothers aren’t in our lives in any good way. In other words? Mother’s Day is NOT a happy day for many many of my friends & family.

In the animal kingdom, all kinds of ‘mothers’ exist: seahorse fathers carry the eggs, and take care of the hatchlings. Elephants have aunts (my own helped raise me). Penguin fathers will raise an egg from an unknown donor. And don’t forget cuckoo chicks.

elephant family

via Wkipedia


So just in case you’re unintentionally clueless, pay attention! Having children is great — I adore my own. But it is NOT the only thing in life, and it shouldn’t define any one. There are very good reasons — not anyone else’s business!! — that couples may decide against children. Teachers often do — they mother their students. Gay couples often aren’t allowed to adopt. And then there are the many who can’t have children: do you really want to hurt anyone’s feelings, folks?

So on this day-after Mother’s Day, here’s to my dear friends & wonderful family who don’t have children: you mother me, you mother so many of us. And there is nothing more important than your kindness. Period.


bronze fennel, swallowtail butterflies, and perspective

via Google

via Google

Today at the Farmer’s Market I picked up some bronze fennel. I used to have swathes of the stuff, but over the past couple of weird winters it’s died out. Which is sad, because not only is it very pretty, but swallowtail butterfly caterpillars LOVE it.

Which brings me to today’s lesson in beginner’s heartedness:

When I bought it, the guy selling said it was all he would have this year. I said Yeah, the black swallowtail caterpillars eat it up. He said They do — just eat it to the ground. Then he looked it at me and laughed.


You buy it on purpose for that, I guess?

I do, I replied w/ a sheepish grin. I plant it in w/ my parsley, to feed the larvae.  He shook his head.

via Google

via Google

Thankfully they don’t eat my parsley, he said. But it’s not flatleaf; it’s ornamental.

They love my flatleaf, I told him. They can strip a plant in a day.

I know, he said dryly. I know.

And that, folks, is today’s lesson in looking at things from various perspectives. One man’s pest is another’s butterfly…


my mother-in-law’s tablecloth

lefkara laceMy whole family is nuts over housewares. Not just the women, either: my sons both asked for cast iron skillets. They also received teapots/ kettles/ and/or tea sets when they moved into apartments. When I went to my elder son’s last month, I took linens for the new house.

So it’s not just me, my sisters, my nieces. And in ‘sisters’ I also include both my sisters-in-law (who are like sisters to me). We LOVE linens, china, flatware, cast iron skillets, et al. Another reason I have waaay too much stuff!


But we use it, to be honest. Almost every day I make tea in the morning. Which means, as I’ve noted before, taking down one of the tea trays (the small one if I just want a mug, the larger one if I’m making a pot, the bigger wooden one if anyone is joining me) and spreading one of the many ‘tea cloths’ I have. Some are doilies my great-grandmother tatted; a few are singleton placemats I bought here & there. And depending on the time of year, I have some that are holidayish. Several have bees. :)2011-05-30 13.42.57


I missed a step. :( We should have already put on the kettle, filled w/ freshly drawn cold water, to boil. There’s a rhythm to making tea, as you can see.

While the water’s boiling, and after you choose the cloth, the teapot, the cup, the creamer & sugar & spoon, and of course THE TEA, there’s just sitting down and breathing. Utterly peaceful, inhaling the fragrance of whatever tea you chose, and drinking it slowly. There’s a reason that tea is a fundamental Buddhist sacrament: it requires patience, attention, and commitment.

So what does all this have to do w/ beginner’s heart, you might ask?

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