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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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…

 

 

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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.

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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

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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…

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International Poetry Day!

poetry goes around

courtesy of Google

Poetry — the breath of love, life, grief, terror, justice. And more…

We woo with it, grieve with it, celebrate and commemorate and just plain live with it. All around the world today, poets and readers and appreciators are joining together in praise of the mystery of poetry.

In other countries, poets have the fame and star power of movie stars here. Poets can — and have — destroyed totaliarian governments. They’ve also won the hearts of fair love, from Albania to Zimbabwe. It’s only right that the world should join together to honour the vastly colourful and infinitely varied body of poetry our various countries’ poets have written.

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poetry image

courtesy of Google

Next month, fittingly (since it’s my birthday month!) is National Poetry Month in the U.S. So prepare for an onslaught of poetry. Today, though, I want to share a goofy poem by one of my favourites, Ogden Nash. I’ve never understood why Nash ‘gets no respect’ in academia. Lauded poets are far less skilled, in my humble opinion. And as far as laughter at his antics? Who doesn’t need a laugh? Almost any day of the year??

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Here’s “Spring Comes to Murray Hill,” courtesy of The Writer’s Almanac this week:

Spring Comes to Murray Hill

I sit in an office at 244 Madison Avenue
And say to myself You have a responsible job, havenue?
Why then do you fritter away your time on this doggerel?
If you have a sore throat you can cure it by using a good goggerel,
If you have a sore foot you can get it fixed by a chiropodist,
And you can get your original sin removed by St. John the Bopodist,
Why then should this flocculent lassitude be incurable?
Kansas City, Kansas, proves that even Kansas City needn’t always
be Missourible.
Up up my soul! This inaction is abominable.
The pilgrims settled Massachusetts in 1620 when they landed on a
stone hummock.
Maybe if they were here now they would settle my stomach.
Oh, if I only had the wings of a bird
Instead of being confined on Madison Avenue I could soar in a
jiffy to Second or Third.

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